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Trip Report Two glorious weeks in the southern Iberian peninsula!

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We are back from our wonderful, incredible, exhausting, educational and all around fabulous trip to Spain and Portugal! Everyone was so helpful in our planning, So I'm going to do my best to post a helpful trip report. No doubt it will be in installments!

We are a family of four - myself, DH and 2 DD's, age 16 and 18. It was our first trip to Europe as a family and my first trip there in 20 years! I lived in Scotland for 6 months in college on study abroad and traveled all around the continent, in addition to a few other trips in my life as a young adult, but had not been since before my kids. I didn't realize how much I missed it! We left from Philly airport (although we live in NY - flew on frequent flier miles and these were the tickets I could get!) on a Saturday night. The flight was fairly empty, surprisingly, and we managed to each get a row to ourselves! Combined with earplugs, eyes shades and a little Benadryl, we managed to get some sleep, and landed in Lisbon the next morning ready (relatively speaking) for the day. First order of business - some food! (We slept through all the food service on the plane to maximize our sleep time). But first, clearing immigration. UGH! Two and 1/2 hours on line in the Lisbon airport just to get through immigration! The line was incredibly long and got even longer while we were in it. At one point it stretched all the way out of the building! I think the problem was especially bad because it was a Sunday, but one of the staff told me it is like this most days in summer. Really? Can't they get more people to work? (Fewer than half the desks were staffed with immigration agents - only three agents for literally hundreds of people!). I heard they tried to call to get more people to come to work but no one answered the phone. But I don't understand - they know how many flights are expected. Why is there not better advance planning? I realize I am probably showing my American-ism here (maybe even my New York-ism), but the situation was astounding to me. Perhaps this is where we were seeing the results of the economic crisis?

In any event, there was nothing to do but wait, hungry and tired as we were. Eventually we cleared through and our reward - pastéis de nata and European coffee! I'd been reading about pastel de nata all during my planning and they were everything I'd heard and more! Even the airport variety. We were in love at first bite.

We got our rental car and headed out for Évora. We would be seeing Lisbon later as our last stop on the way home. We had about a 2 hour drive through lovely rolling hills, with olive and cork trees, and arrived at the walled city of Évora! We stopped just outside the city at a grocery store for water and fruit and to buy a cooler for the car (this is a theme with our family - we are continually in grocery stores everywhere we go, and we are a little obsessive about water, fruit and snacks). It was thrilling when we got our first sight of the city wall, and we found our hotel with no problem. We stayed at Albergaria do Calvario, and I cannot recommend it highly enough! (I won't say this about every place, by the way. I'm a little picky - my family would say more than a little - but had no complaints about this hotel at all). We pulled in next to a beautiful courtyard covered in jasmine, and smiling staff came out to greet us, took our luggage, parked our car, offered us fresh squeezed juices, showed us to our room, and gave us advice on sites and made dinner reservations for us. Rooms were spacious enough, comfortable, charming and immaculately clean. Upscale rustic, not luxurious. They had little refrigerators - empty, so we could put our own things in them, and complimentary bottles of water. Really the staff could not have been more friendly and helpful. There was one young man who was especially wonderful - my daughters joked that he has only one emotion - cheerful! For the rest of trip we talked about him fondly as "smiley-guy" (he told us his name but sadly we couldn't remember it!).

Off we went to see the city. At this point it was already mid afternoon and we had only one day in the city - cut somewhat short by our excessive stay in the airport! - so we needed to get going. Our hearts were immediately captured by the narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings, large central plaza with a fountain and everyone sitting all around at outside cafe tables - in short, Europe! The people at the hotel said it was too bad for us that we were there on a Sunday, as most shops were closed, but it was fine - all the tourist sites that we wanted to see were open and we enjoyed seeing all the families out and about. We covered the major sites - the Cathedral, cloister and tower with wonderful views of the countryside, the Roman Temple, the Chapel of Bones (connecting Church of St. Francis was closed for the day by the time we arrived), the Public Gardens, the Church of the Cadavals, and the main square. We didn't have time for the Museum of Évora, which I understand is quite worthwhile, and the central market is closed on Sundays. We walked back and forth a few times down Rua 5 de Outubra, a charming little market street where everything was open even though it was Sunday. I wish I'd had time to browse a bit more - we were short on time, things were a bit expensive, and I thought I'd have better opportunities in Lisbon. That turned out not to be the case.

Évora really deserves more time than we had available - I adored it. At a minimum you need an entire day, rather than an afternoon. But, the clock ticks on, we were tired, and we needed to get back to shower and get to dinner before we hit an absolute wall of exhaustion. Very few restaurants are open in Évora on Sunday night. We ate at the acclaimed Restaurante O Fialho, which was good, but a bit expensive and honestly not fabulous. We had a good traditional Portuguese meal and an excellent bottle of Alentejo wine, had a lovely chat with the British couple at the next table (virtually every table was filled with English speaking people, plus one French couple who we saw at breakfast at our hotel the next morning), then went to bed and slept like the dead.

Next up - the megaliths! That will have to be the next installment.

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    About that wait at immigration.... The US can be just as bad. Back when I was still a permanent resident and before they let us in the same line as citizens I missed a connection at Newark because of how slowly the line moved. I recently reentered through Miami, and even the citizen line took a good half hour, I can't imagine how long the alien line took. Since you haven't been out of the country for so long, wait until you're back in before you complain about Portugal.

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    I think people were in danger of missing connections in Lisbon too, because they started pulling people off the line and sending them up front. Then they started taking people off our line and sending them through the EU citizen line (if they hadn't done that we would have been there even longer!). I do understand that things are different in different countries and that when you travel you have roll with it, but this was a bit extreme.

    But in any case, not to dwell on the negative, let's get back to our wonderful visit to Évora! We woke up the next morning to Albergaria do Calvario's phenomenal breakfast, at which I discovered several important truths that would remain constant for the trip:

    1. European coffee and American coffee should not even both be called "coffee." How did I not notice this on previous trips to Europe? Or did I forget? More importantly, how can I duplicate the European coffee taste at home? Because now that I'm back I can't even drink this dishwater we call coffee here!
    2. Repeat everything I said in #1 above except substitute "yogurt" for "coffee".
    3. The Spanish custom of eating tomato puree on toast for breakfast sounds weird but is actually fabulous (yes, I know we were in Portugal, but they said they had the puree "for our Spanish friends.")
    4. I need to move to Europe for the figs alone.

    I could write a whole trip report about this breakfast alone, but I'll summarize by saying it included not only the previously mentioned delicious-ness, but also fresh squeezed juices, several wonderful freshly baked cakes, other fresh cut fruit, multiple selections of local jams, jellies, granola, wheat germ, bee pollen (yes!), ham, cheese, and an entire menu of eggs, omelets, french toast and the like. All included with the price of the room. We had trouble tearing ourselves away from the table.

    But tear away we did, because the day's agenda included the very reason we had come to Évora - the megaliths! If you don't know (and why should you?), megaliths are pre-historic stone monuments, such as are found in Stonehenge. Except the ones in Portugal are even older, but were only "discovered" in 1964. ("Discovered" is a relative term, as we learned, because local farmers have known about them forever, but didn't understand what they were). I read about them in Lonely Planet, then read elsewhere that there is very little if any information available at the sites - essentially you arrive at a field and see a bunch of standing stones, and leave as ignorant as when you came. That sounded like a disappointing experience, so I made what turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip and booked a tour with Mario of Ebora Megalithica - recommended both on Trip Advisor and by our hotel.

    Mario and Katarina, his - wife? friend? business partner? Not sure - picked us up at our hotel. We were joined by an older American couple, so there were 6 guests on the tour (the maximum number), and off we went in Mario and Katarina's van. What followed was an incredible, informative, educational, eye-opening and all around wonderful half-day of touring three major megalithic sites and learning about the structures themselves, the evolution from hunter/gatherer to farming societies, the summer and winter solstice and their importance to early societies, current and ancient Portuguese history, Portuguese politics, cork trees and the families who farm them, the Alentejo region, bullfighting, local flowers, and why Portuguese people don't like speaking Spanish to Spaniards but don't mind speaking Spanish to people of other nationalities. Mario is extremely well informed and educated, and very passionate about the megaliths and the region. He's also just a pleasure to be around and learn from. If you go to Évora - which I recommend - and if you have any interest in these types of structures, I highly recommend this tour.

    We were sorry to see our tour - and our time in Évora - end, but we were back at the hotel by about 1 or 2 pm and needed to get on the road. We had arranged with the hotel to pack us a picnic lunch - a small one, after the enormous breakfast! - and we picked up the lunch and our bags and headed out for Córdoba.

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    Before I go on, DH wanted me to mention a few things. First, we mostly got around using the iPhone GPS. That worked great for driving and was also very useful walking when we couldn't figure out where to go in a city. We also got Michelin maps for both Portugal and Spain, and those came in handy a few times. Second, the guide books we carried were Lonely Planet and Rick Steves' - one each for each of Portugal and Andalucia. Plus the Michelin red book for restaurants. I used all the books at different times for different things.

    Ok, on to Córdoba. We stopped again at the grocery store on the way out of Évora (I told you it was a theme!) to stock up on water and fruit, and get some of the fabulous yogurt we'd had at breakfast, some Alentjo wine recommended by Mario and some wonderfully smelly Portuguese cheese. The drive from Évora to Córdoba was pretty long - 4 1/2 hours not counting bathroom stops, and you lose an hour going from Portugal to Spain (I think one is on daylight savings time and the other isn't). Combine that with a missed exit, a few wrong turns in the city, and the usual delays with checking in, parking the car, finding the rooms, etc, and the result was the first heartbreak of the trip (and the first of a series of mishaps in Córdoba) - we arrived too late for flamenco at Arte y Sabores de Córdoba. I hadn't booked in advance because I knew our arrival time was too unpredictable and we'd be cutting it close. Their dinner service starts at 9 with the show at 10. My plan was, if we had time, to have a quick dinner elsewhere and then see the show. As it got later I revised the plan to just eating there if we could, and seeing the show, but by the time we actually got out on the street it was already 9pm. We decided to head over anyway and see if they would still take us but, alas, it was full. I was terribly disappointed! It still pains me to think about it, but nothing to be done. (We did see flamenco in Seville, which I will talk about later). Instead, we walked to Taberna Salinas and had a very good, although not spectacular, meal of tapas. We had our first of many servings of Andalucian gazpacho, croquetas, and sangria, among other dishes. Now would be a good time to mention that - lucky us! - my older DD is conversationally fluent in Spanish. She loves to speak and the Spaniards all loved speaking to her. It was like traveling with our own private translator. Not that it was at all necessary at Taberna Salinas, but she spoke it anyway and several times on the trip it came in very handy.

    After dinner we took a stroll through town and over to the Roman Bridge to see the Bridge and the Triumphal Arch lit up. Beautiful! I forgot to mention we did this on our night in Évora too, to see the Roman Temple lit up. Strolling the streets after dinner became a regular practice, and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love how people are all out late, strolling the streets, sitting at outdoor tables, and the cities are all lit up beautifully. I guess it's actually light pollution, but I couldn't help enjoying it!

    I didn't mention the hotel - we stayed at Casas de la Juderia. It's a lovely and comfortable hotel with beautiful courtyards, well located. The staff were reasonably helpful and friendly, although I would not say they were falling all over themselves trying to help us, and they were quite slow in everything they did. Maybe I was still on NY time. In any case, it was very nice and we slept well.

    The next morning fatigue finally caught up with us. No one could get up. We got a late start, which I have to admit made me a bit grumpy, because as the keeper of the itinerary I knew we had a lot of ground to cover. By the time we finally got ourselves up, organized and out and headed to a little cafe for breakfast, they weren't serving breakfast anymore! (It was after 11 am). We had coffee and then spotted a churros stand farther down the street. Bingo! Churros and chocolate on a park bench. Worked for me! While we were eating a group of very young Spanish schoolchildren came by headed for a bus stop, all dressed in white polo shirts and little red plaid skirts and shorts. They seemed to be about 3 or 4 years old (I know, too young for school - pre-school maybe? They were little!), walking in a single file line, and each one was holding the shirt or skirt of the one in front, all bunched up in their hands, so the line was unbroken and no one could get lost. It was about the cutest thing I've ever seen and my mood immediately picked up! Or maybe it was the chocolate. Hard to say. Either way, I started to cheer up.

    Appetite satiated for the moment, it was time for the Mezquita. It was the reason we were there. I had done all the research for the trip, so on the way over I was trying to explain to my family that they were about to see one of the great sites of the world. No real need, though, because at first glimpse of the Moorish arches stretching away into seeming infinity, the wonder of the place was apparent to all. We followed Rick Steves' tour through the mosque, leaving the cathedral for last. The juxtaposition of the Moorish and Christian architecture was amazing, and probably the most dramatic of any other examples we saw in the Iberian peninsula. We were there for a few hours, and when we finished we were ready for lunch.

    I had this planned. We walked across the street to Bar Santos for their famous mile high tortillas Español. We took them back into the Naranjos courtyard and sat down on a curb to eat and plan the rest of the day. A stroll through the Jewish Quarter and a quick tour of some of Córdobas courtyards was on the agenda. Although it was not the courtyard festival, I had read that many residents leave the outer doors open and lock the entrance gates, so you can peer into the courtyards and admire. Long story ensues, but suffice it to say that we misread the map and the guidebook, ended up on the complete other side of town, utterly lost, hot, tired, baffled by the map, and having seen few if any courtyards. Finally Spanish speaking DD stopped a very nice gentleman on the street, who proceeded to give her a detailed account of every important courtyard in the city, marking them all on the map for us, and circling back after leaving us to mention a few more. The man could not have been nicer or more generous with his knowledge! But unfortunately, it was now late and we didn't have time to go to most of the courtyards he pointed us to! We went to a few, walked around a bit more, and then had to head back. Although it was late in the afternoon by the time we got back to our side of the city, we took time to walk across the Roman Bridge to see the city from the other side. Well worth it, although we didn't climb up to the top of the museum.

    Time to get on the road. Next stop - Granada! Where several very important things would happen. We would spend more than one night in the same place, we would have an apartment, so all 4 of us could be together, and we would get to do some laundry. Oh, and yes - the Alhambra.

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    Thanks Di! I hope this isn't too detailed. I'm having fun writing it, so hopefully others are having fun reading it.

    The drive to Granada was uneventful and short (about 2 hours) compared to the previous drive and we arrived by early evening. We had rented an apartment through veoapartments, and it had no parking. In fact you couldn't even drive all the way to it - you had to park the car in a garage, get a cab, and then get dropped off and a walk a few blocks. This, or some variation of it, happened everywhere in Spain, with both hotels and apartments, and I had read this in advance, so we packed accordingly. Everyone packed in carry-on size luggage, plus backpacks, and we had one large canvas tote bag for quickly throwing everything that was loose in the car - maps, water bottles, fruit that didn't fit in the cooler, guide books, all my notes, etc., - and toting it up to the apartment. That all worked well. We obviously had to pack light to fit in a carry-on for a 17 day trip - hence the importance of laundry!

    The only real difficulty we had in arriving was finding the garage. It was one of the few times the iPhone GPS failed us. We followed the directions through all the labyrinthine streets, saw a sign for our garage (recommended by the folks at veoapartments), turned where indicated, and the iPhone announced in a self-satisfied voice, "Arrived." Except we hadn't. There was no garage. I remembered that the apartment folks had also sent detailed directions to the garage and I had them in my folder of copious notes, so we pulled over as best we could (the street was about 6 inches wide, so challenging to pull over) and fished them out. Yes, we were on the right street, but needed to make another turn or two. Great. And lo and behold, there was another arrow sign for the garage! Even greater. Except that then the signs stopped, we found ourselves back on the road we had started on, going in the other direction, and still no garage! Called the apartment folks. Drove around in the exact same circle several more times, became increasingly baffled and slightly frantic, before realizing that we'd driven by the garage several times - there just was no entrance sign indicating it and you couldn't see it from the road! And it was not at all where the iPhone said it would be - it was back on the main road, but because the main road suddenly became one-way, the opposite of the way we were going, just before the garage, you had to drive around in a little circle and head in the opposite direction to actually get to it! Phew!

    Ok, parked and in a cab, DD chatting away happily in Spanish with the cab driver, who dropped us right at Plaza Nueva and pointed to the street where our host would meet us. There she was, friendly and pleasant as could be. Rolled our luggage down the street, up some steps, then up a few internal flights and finally there!

    The apartment we rented was perfectly clean and very comfortable, contemporary in design, but sparse in terms of supplies. One sponge, no paper towels, only little packets of shower gel, no laundry detergent for the clothes washer. I had rented it for the location, which was perfect!, and for the view. Up a narrow flight of internal steps and out onto a large balcony and - GASP! Yes, we actually gasped. We were looking directly over the rooftops of the Albaicin, all the way up to Mirador de San Nicolas, and in the other direction the tops of some of the towers of the Alhambra, so close you thought you could touch them. I could have spent two weeks just on that balcony! We fell in love with Granada immediately and were reluctant to leave a few days later when our time in the city ended.

    I had read about Granada's famous free-tapas with a drink culture, and we were eager to try it out, so we showered and changed and headed out into the Plaza Nueva. (Another point I should mention, for family travelers - having two showers was essential! It was one of my criteria for apartment rentals and I'm glad it was. The weather was very, very hot in all of Andalucia, everyone needed a shower before dinner, and we would never have gotten four people out the door in the evening if we were sharing one shower. Especially in a family with two young women with long hair! My DD's take forever in the shower - but that's a story for another day.) We headed off for Bodegas Casteñeda, which I had seen recommended multiple times. If you go - take care: there are two with the exact same name, around the corner from each other. One is a quieter sit-down type of place ("for tourists" our apartment host told us), the other is a bustling, jostling, stand-up, shout your order, muscle-your-way-to-a-standing-table-if-you-can place with a mix of tourists and residents, and that is the one you want. It's on Calle de Almireceros. So we went in and bustled and jostled and (since this was our first time and we were newbies) finally got the hang of shouting the order, and out came not only drinks but, as promised, free tapas! And, as I had also read, the tapas get better with each successive drink. It seems there is a standard tapa everyone gets with their first drink, another everyone gets with their second, and so on. This was true everywhere we went. Somehow the bartender kept track of all that in the chaos - I have no idea how!

    We decided to ask for one of the the few tables to sit down, rather than do a "tapas crawl," (we kept thinking we'd do a tapas crawl but never actually did). We went through a few rounds of drinks and free tapas before a table opened up and we sat down and ordered more tapas to share. The menu was only in Spanish and you got about 15 seconds of the busy waiter's attention before he sped off again and disappeared into the crowd, so Spanish speaking DD took over and got us all taken care of. Again, the food was good but not fabulous. We had heard they had paella and we wanted it, but they did not (more on that later). We ordered sangrias and then a house drink made of sherry and something else. I have no idea what it was (we saw others drinking it and gestured to the bartender). It was good and I'm glad I tried it but I didn't feel the need to get it again.

    Finally full and exhausted, and needing to get up early for the Alhambra, we stumbled back throughout the Plaza Nueva and up to our apartment and fell into bed.

    Next up: the long anticipated Alhambra!

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    Thanks to others too for your comments! (was writing more as you posted so didn't see them!) billoburgler, I'm afraid what they say is true - you can take the girl out of NY, but you can't take NY out of the girl. :-) We did often feel, as we were walking from place to place, that people were moving impossibly slowly and they needed to pick up the pace! Of course, we were the ones out of sync, but it's hard to adjust. That said, the day after we got back, I stepped out of Grand Central Station and onto 43rd Street on my way to work and thought, "Wow! Why is everyone walking so fast here!" So somewhere along the way we must have slowed down a little, but perhaps never to local standards. I'd probably need to move there for that to happen. Maybe when I retire. :-)

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    Enjoying reading about your trip.
    Our iPhone and iPad GPS work great until they don't. In Europe it has directed us to pedestrian only streets, one way streets, alleys, fields and no road sometimes. But getting lost is part of the adventure…sometimes.

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    Yestravel, I'll write about one of those times later! For now - our first morning in Granada we took our fabulous yogurt and fruit up to our spacious deck with our to-die-for view of the Albaicin and enjoyed a lovely breakfast, then headed out for the Alhambra! Based on advice from this forum (thanks Fodorites!) we had found a terrific guide named Juan and booked a private tour. We had a 10 am entrance time to the Nasrid Palace and Juan was meeting us at 9:30, so we headed out into the Plaza Nueva for morning coffees and sandwiches to take with us for later. We were running a bit behind (too much time admiring the view on our deck!,) and ended up getting both at the single most expensive place in the Plaza - the very place that, later that day, Juan told us not to go to because of the prices! Oh, well, live and learn. It was better than being late for the Alhambra. In case you want to avoid it, it's Cafe Hacienda (or something like that - it had Hacienda in the name). It is right in the center of the plaza, and it was quite expensive, but I will say that the sandwiches were good.

    We had read to take a bus up to the Alhambra rather than walk, but were advised that for 4 people, a taxi was the same as the bus or less, so we jumped in a taxi and off we went. Spanish speaking DD struck up a conversation with the taxi driver, who told her all about where he grew up and other fun facts about Granada, and taught her how to say all kinds of new things in Spanish - none if which the rest of us in the back understood, but she had a great time! Up, up, up we went, and when we finally got out at the top, DH, who is both very fit and active and notoriously frugal, said "That was money well spent!" Wow, I'm not sure I've ever heard him say that before! Based on that, I would advise anyone going to the Alhambra to take transportation up rather than walk!

    We found Juan with no problem, picked up our tickets (don't forget to have the credit card you used to purchase them with you!) and headed off to see the wonders of the Alhambra.

    There's nothing I can say here that will do justice to the Alhambra. It is phenomenal. You can't even really take it all in and appreciate it all while you are there. Take lots of pictures, because you will see things later in your pictures that you didn't notice at the time. I think you could visit many times and see and experience new things with each visit. We were in awe.

    Having a private guide was fantastic. First of all, we didn't have to think at all about where we were, where to go next, what we were seeing, or try to find the page in the guidebook that explained it. We could just enjoy. More importantly, we learned things from Juan that we would never have known on our own about the history of the Moors and the Christians, about Moorish architecture, about the Alhambra itself, and about Granada. Coming relatively early in our trip, we found ourselves, at other sights around the Iberian peninsula, referring back frequently to things he had taught us and noticing things in the architecture that otherwise we would have looked right past. For anyone who is interested in a guide, his email is [email protected]

    We were there for hours, spending most of our time in the Nasrid Palace, and a fair amount also in the Generalife. In addition to learning about the Alhambra, DD took advantage of the opportunity to learn some new Spanish words from Juan, and I got restaurant recommendations. In particular, I asked him where we could get good paella. Sadly, he said "Valencia." Well, gee, Juan, we're not going to Valencia this trip. How about in Granada? He scratched his head, and finally said, "Bodegas Casteñada." No, I said, we were there last night and they didn't have it! Oh, says Juan, that's because they only have it at lunch time. Seriously? Yes, seriously, and also, it's not necessarily typical paella, but it is rice-based and it's good. Other than that - Valencia. Wow, not really the answers I was expecting, but I guess I'm glad I asked.

    Finally, at about 2 pm or so, we took our leave of Juan and the Alhambra. We had had an amazing visit and we could have stayed longer in the gardens of the Generalife if we had chosen to, but we had had enough at that point, and we were all starving. We sat down on a bench near the entrance and broke out our overpriced sandwiches, then debated whether to head back to Bodegas Casteñada to try the paella. Why not, we decided, and off we went.

    I'm pretty sure the bartender recognized us from the night before. DD asked about the paella. Yes, indeed - they had it! We noticed they were serving it as a free tapa, and since we had all already had sandwiches we decided that would probably be enough. We all ordered a drink, the paella came with it, we ate it and felt happy, and headed back out into the city.

    Next installment: the Albaicin, a trip to the commercial district and (yet another!) grocery store, and dinner at Oliver's.

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    Picking up where I left off, in the middle of our first full day in Granada....

    After the detour for paella tapas, we walked over to the Plaza Isabel la Católica to sit down, have a look at the guidebooks and decide what to do next. It was strangely quiet - very few people on the street, water turned off in the fountain. Didn't know why. In any event, we decided to go see the view at Mirador de San Nicolas and have a stroll around the Albaicin, so walked back to Plaza Nueva and jumped in another cab. When we arrived at the Mirador it was blazing hot, so we found some shade to admire the view and then set off on Rick Steves' walking tour. Again, strangely quiet. Where was everyone? Also, all the shops were closed. Why ? Finally, light dawns on us! DUH! It's siesta! The guidebooks had said the best time to visit is morning or late afternoon. What they didn't say is why - it's because absolutely no one is out and about between 2 and 5! Not the ideal Albaicin experience, but we were there, so we walked around a bit, enjoyed the narrow streets, the Moorish doorways, the plazas with cafés, and then started trying to find our way back down to the main part of town.

    Eventually we ended up walking along the river on the Paseo de Los Triste. Now here were the people! If you are looking for something to do during siesta in Granada, this is a lovely choice. Lots of people out strolling (although not as many as later in the evening) and cool by the water.

    DH and younger DD went on ahead while older DD and I fell behind when suddenly we happened upon a sign for the nun baked cookies! I had read about these in both Granada and Sevilla but hadn't made note of where to find them. Lucky chance! We followed the signs and found ourselves in a small entryway down a side alley with a sign on the wall giving instructions of how to get the cookies. Spanish speaking DD tried to read the sign but could only make out part of it. Strange. I came over to see if I could help. Between the two of us we figured out that you ring the bell and when a nun answers you say something very specific in Spanish, and then you tell her which cookies you want and how much. Why did it take two of us to figure this out? Because the instructions were in French but the words you have to say to the nun are in Spanish! I could read some parts and she could read others, but neither of us could do it alone. Apparently ordering the nun cookies is an international effort!

    Anyway, while we were out there blundering along trying to get ourselves sorted out a nun on the other side of the wall must have heard us, took pity on us, and opened the slot even before we'd ring the bell. I'd worked through enough of the French at that point to have a general idea of what we wanted, so we told her and out came a box of cookies! We paid her and hurried back to the apartment, grinning like two little cats who caught canaries!

    Back at the apartment, we were popular with DH and younger DD - we had cookies! And we shared. They were good, by the way, but not amazing - not as good as the pastries in Portugal, for instance - so I didn't feel the need to seek them out again in Sevilla. We had another family confab about how to spend the rest of the day. Although we'd already done a lot, it wasn't even 4 pm yet. Since dinner isn't until at least 9, we figured we could do a few more things that day. We're really not ones for sitting around! We needed to go to the grocery store (of course!) for laundry detergent, breakfast and water, and I wanted to see the Royal Chapel. So we headed back out, arriving at the Royal Chapel just after 4. Unbeknownst to us, it closes at 4:30, and the ticket agent told us that the remaining time was not really enough for a full visit. Another confab, and we decided it would be better to come back the next day. At that point younger DD decided she'd had enough and went back to the apartment for some down time, while DH and older DD and I struck out for the commercial district and El Corte Inglės.

    At this point the city was starting to get lively again, and on the way we passed by the Cathedral, through a few more plazas with cafés, people making those giant soap bubbles, people posing as statues, impromptu flamenco dancers - overall, what I call "Central Park in summer" type sights (other than the flamenco dancers of course!). It's touristy, but fun! DH commented that it was like a carnival. We were wishing younger DD was there to see it. We found El Corte Inglės, got what we needed, and headed back home to shower and get ready for dinner.

    We had decided we wanted to sit down for dinner rather than crush into a tapas bar and shout our order over the crowd, so we set out for Plaza Pescadería to choose either Oliver's or Cunini. One look at Oliver's menu and our minds were made up - they had paella! Although Juan had told us that we really needed to go to the coast for paella, older DD and I really wanted to get it, and our little bite-sized tapa at lunch hadn't entirely satisfied our appetite. We wanted more, and our theory was that even average paella in Spain is probably better than most you get back home. Juan had warned us (so I am warning you! ) that a lot of places advertising paella just stick it in the microwave, and that was obviously to be avoided, but we felt confident this wasn't one of them, so we claimed an outdoor table and sat down.

    I loved the atmosphere in the Plaza Pescadería! It was a warm summer night, the flamenco dancers came by again, alternating with guitarists, singers, and other musicians, the tables at Oliver's and Cunini spilled out into the plaza, all filled with diners, and we sat and had a lovely dinner. Again, the food was good but not fabulous (paella included), and our waiter, who may not have been the brightest bulb in Granada, steered us a bit wrong on the wine, but the overall experience was wonderful and we left happy.

    The next day was supposed to be our "down day," but clearly we don't really know the meaning of that phrase, because the agenda included the Royal Chapel, the San Agustin market, and a hike in the Sierra Nevadas. Oh, and we also wanted to do a tapas crawl and be back at the Mirador San Nicolas at sunset. We figured that if all went as planned there should be no problem. Right.......

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    We ended our day up on our balcony, reveling in the nighttime view of the Albaicin and the lighted towers of the Alhambra. Even at night, the sparrows were swirling endlessly around the rooftops of the Albaicin. Do they ever sleep? Do the lights of the city confuse them into thinking it's still day? They looked just the same as the sparrows during the day, so I don't think they were bats. Can't quite figure it out.

    We left the balcony reluctantly for bed, and returned in the morning with our breakfast. In the light of day, it was a viewpoint to observe some of the city residents going about their morning routines. A surprising number were washing windows, while others cleaned balconies and windowsills. Something about it was very calming, like watching the city wake up and purify itself.

    First up for the day: the Royal Chapel, and the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand. The Chapel is small but really interesting and deserves some time to visit, and we were glad we hadn't tried to rush through the night before. 20 or 30 minutes would not have been enough. We learned an enormous amount about Christian and Moorish history on this trip - some of it disturbing to us, in terms of our own religious history - and a lesser amount about the Inquisition, all of which was disturbing. I won't go into any of that, for fear of offending someone, but suffice it to say that I have always believed one of the important results of travel is to open one's eyes to the way others might see the world, why it might be different from the way you see it, and why they may have good reason for their perspective. I've always said - the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle.

    Another interesting and educational fact from the southern Iberian peninsula : Mary is revered, especially in Andalucia. Many churches had a statue of Mary in the central place behind the altar, with a statue of Jesus on the side altar, and there were uncountable statues and paintings of her. We liked that! And I saw two things I'd never seen before: in the cathedral in Évora, a statute of a pregnant Mary, and here in the Royal Chapel, a painting of Mary breast feeding baby Jesus! I'm not going to dwell on these either, but will just say I was fascinated and delighted to see representations of Mary in a very natural mother role, which I have never before seen in my life.

    Exiting the Chapel we did a quick pass through the nearby Cathedral, which was all we felt necessary, and set off to find the San Agustin market around the corner. More people posing as statues, giant bubble creators, and general hustle and bustle of late morning in the city. We had a great time poking around the market and the stands just outside it, and picked up whole grain bread (yes, you can find it! You have to look), fresh and dried fruit, beautiful red tomatoes, avocado, chorizo, cheese, jamón, and some saffron to take home (on the recommendation of Juan, our Alhambra guide). As is her custom, Spanish speaking DD took the opportunity to chat with some of the vendors, and many of them encouraged us to try samples, asked where we were from and exclaimed when we said "New York" (which we didn't know quite how to respond to, so we just encouraged them to visit some day). It was one of my favorite mornings.

    A word about the chorizo. DD wanted to get it and insisted I try some. I'm realizing that I never explained that DD spent several weeks traveling with a group and living with a family in northern Spain two summers ago when she was in high school, which explains her comfort and familiarity with the language and the culture, and her eagerness to re-visit some of her favorite foods, such as paella and, it seems , chorizo. I was skeptical - I'm really not a huge fan of chorizo back home. It is not the same thing, she insisted - you have to try it.

    I tried it. Remember what I said about coffee and yogurt? Add chorizo! It literally melts in your mouth! Maybe I'm buying it at the wrong places at home, but here it's dry and chewy. Not the same thing at all! Everyone tried, and loved, and we took some with us to snack on with wine, cheese and bread in the early evenings before dinner.

    We went back to our apartment with our wonderful picnic supplies and made ourselves some fantastic sandwiches of jamón Serrano, Manchego cheese, tomato and avocado. We were so happy to have some veggies for our sandwiches! We eat a lot of veggies and salad at home and found them a bit in short supply in some places on this trip. It was one of the few things we missed from home while we were away. This sandwich, or some variation on it, became our staple lunch for the rest of the trip.

    Next on the agenda was the Los Cahorros hike outside Monachil, about 8 km southeast of Granada in the Sierra Nevadas. We had a bit of a trek to get to our car, and it was after 3 pm by the time we hit the road heading out of the city. The drive was short - maybe 20 minutes, and despite very sketchy directions, we had only a little trouble finding the parking for the trail head. By about 4pm we were on the trail.

    I had read to follow the trail map and directions from, and this was good advice with one notable exception that I will get to. It was a really hot day, but most of the first half of this hike is in the gorge next to the river, so it was really comfortable. You do need a lot of water, though.

    This is a great, great hike and if you are at all interested in hiking and have the time, I really recommend it. There are multiple hanging bridges to cross, a waterfall, the river, a striking gorge, and the beautiful backdrop of the mountains. The gorge section of it is mildly challenging in that there are places where you need to hang on to metal rings to get around the rocks, and one or two places where you need to crawl under an overhang. If you've done any amount of hiking you will be absolutely fine. If you are a complete novice you will still be fine, if you are up for a little bit of a challenge. I had read you could swim in the river and reminded everyone about 5 times to bring their bathing suits. So who forgot hers? Right, Mom. I was determined to go in anyway one way or another, if we decided to swim. As it turned out, we never did - the water in the river was really cold and we never got back to the waterfall (not that it would have been any warmer!). Also, as you'll see below, we ran out of time.

    Interestingly, as we went along we saw many people heading in the opposite direction from us, and when we started out we ran into a group who said they'd been swimming under the waterfall, but we seemed to be always heading away from the waterfall. After we came out of the gorge we started seeing fewer and fewer other people. DH started wondering if we should turn around, but I was following treksierranevada's directions and urged us onward. Not sure that was the right decision. In retrospect, we were being a bit clueless again, and the reason we kept seeing people going the other way is that virtually everyone else turned around at the end of the gorge and went back! I wish treksierranevada had mentioned that option. We started climbing, it started getting hotter and drier, and now we were clearly the only ones on the trail. Still going onward and upward, per treksierranevada, and the scenery was quite beautiful, but it was getting later, we weren't entirely sure how much further we had to go, and we started regretting that we hadn't turned around! Younger DD was starting to fade and DH and I were starting to worry about when we'd get back to the city and how we would be able to shower, eat and make sunset at Mirador San Nicolas - it was our last night in Granada and we didn't want to miss it. Anyway, long story short, we eventually crested the small mountain we were on and started heading back down, past farms and cherry trees, finally reaching the car, a bit hot, sweaty and exhausted. In retrospect, it wasn’t really such a long and difficult hike, it was just a bit more long and difficult than we had planned. If I had it to do again I would leave more time, or, more likely, turn back at the end of the gorge or shortly thereafter. If you do the hike, this is all probably useful information for you to have. If you do the whole thing bring lots of water - the second half is hot. All in, it takes about 3 hours even at a good clip. You could probably do just the gorge section and then turn around and go back in about 2.

    On the drive back into the city we did the math and realized that we didn't have time for everything we had hoped to do that evening. Under no circumstances did we want to miss sunset and the lights coming up on the Alhambra, and we needed to eat. Showers seemed to be the thing that would have to wait. Not a great solution, since we'd just been hiking in the heat on a dusty trail! But, you do what you have to do, so after parking the car we got a cab and headed straight to Plaza del Carmen to try a tapas crawl.

    If you've been following along, you'll recall that I said earlier that we never actually got around to doing a tapas crawl, so - sneak preview - it didn't quite work out that way. We took a stroll along Calle Navas, which is supposed to be a famous tapas route. It was quite early for Spain - not quite 8pm (sunset was at 9:30 so we wanted to be at Mirador San Nicolas by 9:15 latest), so the only people eating were tourists and it was hard to judge which restaurants were good and which weren’t. Some had servers who would come out and accost you and quite aggressively try to call you in to sit at their tables, which had the opposite effect on me. The only bar or restaurant I had seen explicitly recommended was Los Diamontes, which wasn't open yet. I took another look at my list and saw that I had a star next to another restaurant on the Plaza, Puerta del Carmen - not for tapas as much as for a meal, and my notes indicated it was a bit of a nicer place, but - what the heck - we decided to go check it out anyway.

    It was open, and it had a very nice bar with a few people having drinks, as well as tables set up on the plaza where, if you had more time and weren't marked with trail dust as we were, you might sit and have a very nice meal. I suggest you do that, and wish we could have! As it was, we walked on in and sat ourselves at the far end of the bar where we were less conspicuous and ordered some drinks, hoping no one minded our appearance. (It wasn't as bad as I'm making it out. We're generally a pretty presentable crew, we just clearly were not cleaned up enough and dressed properly for dinner there). We thought we'd have a tapa or two and then try again for Los Diamantes. What we got was some of the best sangria and tapas of our trip! True to practice, the free tapas got better with each round, so we decided to just stay right where we were and keep on ordering. The tapas started with shrimp and mushrooms, and progressed to some form of pâte, octopus, and I can't even recall what else. It was all very good! By the time we needed to go, some nicely dressed people were sitting and eating at the tables outside and their meals looked wonderful! We had a vague plan to clean up and come back after the sunset - sadly it never happened.

    We finally tore ourselves away from what was the first really notable food of the trip, and set out for Mirador San Nicolas. We headed toward Plaza Nueva, trying to flag down a cab the whole way, but never succeeding, so we made it all the way back to the Plaza Nueva before we were finally able to get one (there is always a line of cabs there, available and waiting). The cab dropped us up at the Mirador, where half of Granada seemed to have had the same idea as us! People were playing guitars, singing, snacking, drinking wine, and sitting and waiting, all for the same event.

    I should note that the sun sets behind you at this spot, so you are not seeing the sun set over the Alhambra - rather you are supposed to see the walls of the Alhambra start to glow red as the light of the setting sun hits them. That didn't really happen this night, but the view was beautiful anyway, and a full moon rose over the Generalife as the sky darkened and the lights began to come up on the Alhambra. It was spectacular! I'm glad we didn't miss it - I just wish we had had time to clean up and eat first so we would have felt more comfortable!

    Right about now you may be noticing that this was our last night and we did not do a tour of the Nasrid Palaces at night. Some would call this sacrilege! The reason is that, when I went to book the tickets, the night tours were sold out online. We learned from our guide Juan that you could stand in line for same-day tickets. They go on sale at 9pm for a 10pm entrance, and he advised that we get on the line by 7:30 or 8 to be sure to get them. It was a choice - give up the entire evening to standing on line and hoping for tickets, and sacrifice seeing the evening view from San Nicolas, or reluctantly skip the night tour. You see which one we chose. We're a bit more about views than about touring palaces in our family, and we felt like we'd spent plenty of time at the Alhambra the day before, so I have no regrets, but then again, I don't know what I missed! If I ever come back to Granada - which I would love to do - I will book farther in advance and do the night tour. It is supposed to be magical.

    When we left the Mirador the moon was fully up and it was getting late. We were still hungry, but too tired to trek all the way across town back to Puerta del Carmen as we'd hoped we might do. What to do? We decided to make a quick stop at home, jump in the shower long enough to rinse off the trail dust, and see what we could find in Plaza Nueva. We walked back along the Paseo de los Tristes and, as luck would have it, noticed that there was a little café right on the river and near the bottom of the steps to our apartment that was serving tapas. A quick preview of the menu, a quick search on TripAdvisor (good reviews!) and we were decided - mini showers and back down here for a bite!

    It didn't disappoint. It had very creative dishes like asparagus with smoked salmon, grilled prawns over a bed of avocado and arugula with some sort of wonderful mango dressing (this we ordered a full plate - not tapa), and melted goat cheese drizzled with honey on toast. We loved everything! And there were vegetables! And it was 20 feet from our apartment. What a great and lucky find! The only surprise was that the tapas we ordered were the size of little bites, like what you get for free in the bars (they were only 2 euros each - I guess that should have been our first clue!). Really only enough for one person each - not enough to share. No matter - we just ordered more! Three more of the same thing please! And some sangria while you're at it. Thanks! We'll just sit here and admire the view of the Alhambra while we're waiting. I cringe to tell you that I didn't make a note of the name of the place! But I did a quick internet search and I'm 95% sure it was La Fontana.

    At midnight we finally stumbled away from our table and up the steps to our apartment and to bed (not before stepping out onto our deck for a last night view of the city, though!). It had been a great day and, somewhat by accident, the best food so far of the trip, both at Puerta del Carmen and La Fontana. The next day we would have to say a very reluctant goodbye to Granada.

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    I love the focus on food. I have never had a problem with getting paella in the evening - is this a Granada thing? The best paella I ever had was in Almeria but the taste has never been replicated elsewhere and I am mostly disapointed whenever I order it.

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    Oh, you noticed how much time I spend thinking about food? :-)
    Kidding aside, it's one of the things I always find this forum so helpful for. I mean, presumably you can figure out for yourself that if you are going to Granada you should see the Alhambra, but how do you figure out where to eat? I find guidebooks not discriminating enough (other than Michelin - and even that one let me down once or twice on this trip), and TripAdvisor is helpful, but you can't rely on it exclusively. Fodorites always give food advice!

    About the paella, the lunchtime-only thing was just that one restaurant. We did get it at night at Oliver's. But in general, Juan (our Alhambra guide) warned us away from all the restaurants around Granada that were advertising paella, and said that for good paella you have to go to the coast. That sounds consistent with your experience.

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    Thanks CGS. So that suggests that for a really good paella I head to the coast (especially Valencia) and avoid any place that blatantly advertises it. I think I should learn to speak Spanish and head to Valencia and ask the locals where to get my paella. I wonder if Fodorites could recommend a particular place?

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    I couldn't agree more about the deliciousness of Portuguese breakfasts (most of the places we stayed had champagne on offer as well though we never took them up on it) and I couldn't agree more about the coffee - they know how to do it right. Don't think I can go back to Starbucks super sweet drinks after the cappuccinos. One approximation we have found is the Nesspresso espresso machines. And we loved the megaliths as well - it was so tranquil out in the fields, so amazing thinking what it meant to those people so long ago.

    When were you in Evora? We were there June 15th-17t

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    We were there June 8-9. Sounds like we just missed you!

    Sorry for the delay in continuing my report. Busy holiday weekend. I'll get back on track this week to report about Ronda and then Sevilla. Happy 4th!

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    Ok, picking up as our time in Granada came to an end...

    The next day we said a sad goodbye to Granada and headed out for Ronda. We would be making a number of stops, and figured the drive with stops would take most of the day. Due to the late night and all the packing up and checking out, then getting to our car, etc, it was 11 by the time we got on the road. Not a great start, but that's what it was.

    First stop: Antequera. We didn't have a ton of information and we drove around in circles a bit before figuring out where we were and finding a good parking spot. DH was a little worried about leaving the luggage in the car. Before we left the parking lot in Granada we took everything we needed with us in the car so we wouldn't have to open the back when we arrived (we had a station wagon), tied all the suitcases together with straps we had brought with us for this purpose, and then - stroke of genius by DH! - locked them all to the car with a bicycle lock! Then pulled the cover over the back so you couldn't see what was there and were on our way. Even so, we tried to park in very open public places, or back the car up against a wall so you couldn't lift the back door up. We figured the more deterrents the better. DH and I are maybe a little more paranoid about this than normal, because many years ago we had everything - everything! - stolen out of the trunk of our rental car in Seattle. We had stopped to do some sightseeing on the way to the airport, parked in a sketchy area, opened the trunk to get something out (thereby advertising to everyone in the surrounding sketchy area that there were bags in the trunk - right, not so bright, but we were 20-something. Insufficient life experience at that point to anticipate what now seems obvious!), and when we came back everything was gone - bags, clothes, cameras, and our plane tickets. Remember paper plane tickets that you had to have physically on you or you couldn't get on the plane? Yeah, they were stolen, and our flight was in about an hour. It was a bit of a nightmare.

    So, bags secure and car parked we set off to briefly explore the city. It was blazing hot, and the city was oddly quiet - we were practically the only ones on the street! - so the exploration ended up being a bit brief. We wandered up to the plaza at the Santa Maria La Mayor and had a look at the church and the walls of the Alcazaba. There is a good view from this plaza of the nearby mountian Peña de los Enamorados, with the striking profile resembling a face gazing up at the sky. We didn't have time to tour the Alcazaba, but I had read in Lonely Planet that the Iglesia del Carmen was really worth seeing so we walked down to that. Again, we were bumping up against siesta - they were closing in 10 minutes (maybe the reason the streets were so quiet too). But it's a small church and the woman at the door said we had enough time to see it, it was only a few euros, and we were there, so we paid and went in. It was actually quite spectacular and we lingered a bit past the 10 minutes - she was kind enough to wait. The whole interior of the church was very beautiful, and of particular note was the elaborate Baroque altar carved all of wood. DD later said it was her favorite church of the trip.

    Back in the car and out to the outskirts of the city for a stop at the dolmans. There are three in the area - two are right there at the outskirts of Antequera, with a nice visitors center and a short film about the dolmans. We watched the film and visited the two dolmans that were on site. They were interesting to see, especially after seeing the dolman outside of Ėvora as part of our megaliths tour. I don't think I'd make a special trip, but they are an interesting stop on the drive.

    Next stop was El Torcal Natural Park, about 11km south. El Torcal is an area of natural granite rock formations that to me were reminiscent of Utah, except the rock was grey rather than red. The entire area used to be the bed of a pre-historic ocean. We did a 1.5 km hike that leaves from the visitors center and it was really dramatic scenery. We met a Belgian couple on the hike who were looking at something they called a "deer" through the zoom lens of her camera. We pulled out DH's binoculars and finally spotted what she saw, way up on top of one of the peaks of granite - a Spanish Ibex! It was really far away and I have no idea how she spotted it, but I'm glad she did!

    All the stopping and hiking and finding our way around, added to the drive itself, took essentially the whole day, so it was early evening by the time we approached Ronda. More of the usual wrong turns and difficulty finding streets (even with the iPhone), but eventually we arrived at the marvelous Hotel Montelirio. The hotel is right on the edge of the gorge, with a spectacular view of the Ponte Nuevo. Once again, we actually gasped when we stepped out on the restaurant balcony and got our first sight. Ronda is absolutely worth visiting, and well worth an overnight. That became especially clear the next day when hordes of day-trippers arrived and completely changed the atmosphere of the city. I was happy we had been there in the evening and morning, before the large groups arrived. Ronda was one of my favorite parts of the trip, but if we'd gone only for the day I'm not sure I would have liked it nearly as much.

    The hotel was quite small so even though DDs were on a different floor it made no real difference. The staff could not have been nicer or more helpful in every possible way. Rooms were lovely and perfectly clean. Location is perfect - right across from the Ponte Nuevo, on the old city side. There's a restaurant - which is supposed to be very good, and if we'd been there more than one night we might have eaten there - with that spectacular view of the gorge and the bridge, and a small dipping pool on a lower balcony. They also serve breakfast, but I went and checked on it in the morning and I didn't think it seemed worthwhile. It's the one area where I think they could improve. Otherwise, very high marks for Hotel Montelirio.

    We had a little time before dinner so we set out into the city to get what is supposed to be the famous view of the Ponte Nuevo in the late afternoon sun. We found the spot to go down the steps into the gorge, and also found several viewpoints along the way. Whether we ever found the "famous" one or not is debatable, but the view was beautiful everywhere, so we decided not to worry about it.

    Back to the hotel for showers and to get ready for dinner, which was to be tapas at Traga Tapas, a casual sister restaurant of the Michelin starred Tragabuches. It was a great meal! When we arrived the outdoor tables were all taken (although all the surrounding restaurants had plenty of space!). We were told we could start our meal inside and move outside when a table opened, so we did. Inside does not have much ambience, but the World Cup was on and Spain was playing so the atmosphere was very lively (every restaurant on the block had screens showing the game both inside and out). We had an absolutely fantastic meal, ordering a little of this, a little of that, some local wine, then a little more food, then moving outside and ordering more until we couldn't fit another bite. We got up the courage to try pork cheeks. One DD loved it, the other said one bite was enough. That's the beauty of tapas! This is not fine dining, but the food was really good and creative. I would go back in a heartbeat. It's worth arriving early for an outdoor table if the weather is good.

    After dinner we took a stroll to see the Ponte Nuevo lit up at night. There's a promenade along the gorge on the new city side, and the views are beautiful! We decided to run back up to our hotel to get the good camera, and when we got back the promenade was gated and locked! Apparently they lock it at midnight. We sort of wondered what happens if you're out there strolling when the clock chimes! Anyway, we were disappointed, but took it as a sign that we should go to bed.

    The next morning we had a very full itinerary: tour Ronda, check out, drive through the mountains with stops at some white villages, and make it to Seville by evening. We had originally hoped to also see the nearby Pileta Cave, but we were playing those two days between Granada and Seville somewhat by ear, and by that morning we could already see that something would have to go, and the cave was going to have to be the thing. I'm sorry we missed it.

    We followed Rick Steves' walking tour through Ronda. We hiked down (and back up!) the water mine at Casa del Rey Moro. We were a little skeptical but actually it is really worth doing - the mine itself is interesting and the view of the water and the gorge from the bottom offers a completely different perspective. The guide books make it sound like it's some horrible climb back up the steps, but it really wasn't. We were back at the top by the time our thighs had started to burn. If you are in halfway decent shape you will be fine. We saw the Ponte Viejo and walked across the Arab bridge, and toured around the Arab Baths. Again, it was quite hot that day - hotter than we had expected, and we learned that we were on the front end of a heat wave that followed us into the already hot city of Seville! Lucky us!

    Early on in the trip we had made a family decision that we were not going to visit any bull rings. The bull ring in Ronda is one of the oldest and supposed to be really worth a visit, so if you are planning to visit the city you should factor that in. I think you need to leave a fair amount of time for it, if you plan to see it. Since we weren't doing it we were able to cover all we wanted to see in a matter of about 3 hours. We ended our morning with a daytime stroll along the promenade on the new city side, with spectacular views of the gorge, the Ponte Nueva and the surrounding countryside, and headed back to the hotel to collect our luggage and check out. It was at this point that we encountered the crowds of people getting off buses for day trips to Ronda. Wow, what a change from the evening and morning! You could barely get across the Ponte Nuevo, even on foot! We figured it was time to leave.

    The actual leaving always takes longer than you think, and we had about an hour's drive to our next stop - Grazalema. The drive was beautiful through the mountains and the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. I had told my family, with the pueblos blancos, it's as much about the drive as it is about the destination.

    I was giddy when I first saw the town of Grazalema all nestled in the crook of the mountain! It was exactly like the pictures and I was so happy to see it with my own eyes! Just before making the turn to head into the town we saw a gatepost leading to a long driveway and a sign for fresh goat cheese. In the middle of basically nowhere! Pit stop! We drove down the driveway to a small house with a parking lot in back, and an open door led to a small cheese shop in the back of the house. Several tastes later we were back on the road with our freshest snack.

    We parked in Grazalema and did a short walking tour around the town. It was a Saturday and a festival of some sort was setting up in the main square. There was a basketball tournament going on and a DJ setting up. Down another street an older gentleman was up on a ladder trimming the spectacular flowers planted in window boxes outside his house. His friend stood on the street below offering advice - solicited or unsolicited? Couldn't tell. I wish we'd had more time there - there is a Michelin starred restaurant, so a meal might have been nice! - but as a general matter this part of the trip was a bit rushed, and after some strolling and picture taking we took our leave of Grazalema.

    I typed our next destination - Zahara - into the GPS and off we went. I wasn't paying attention to the route the GPS was taking - we were already slightly worried about the time and when we would get to Seville. After 10 or 15 minutes we came to a "T" intersection. The road we were driving on came to an end - to the right was the road we had come on from Ronda. To the left was a bridge. The GPS said to go left to Zahara. Just one problem - the bridge was closed! Barricaded - no passage. There was no other road as far as the eye could see.

    Now what? I had a map. Two, in fact. The Michelin map I'd purchased at home, and a map of the Pueblos Blancos I had gotten at an info station in Granada. I forgot to mention that this info station - in Plaza Nueva - had great maps not only of Granada but of all of Andalucia. We got a map of Ronda, one of the Pueblos Blancos (very handy at this point in time!) and a better map of Seville than any that we got when we were actually in Seville.

    According to both maps, there were two options: head back along the road toward Ronda and turn off for the main highway to Seville, skipping Zahara, or go back the way we just came, towards Grazalema, and pick up a road that clearly wound like a snake through the mountains to Zahara. Dilemma. It was already late afternoon and even by the most direct route we had a 2 hour drive to Seville. Doubling back and going through the mountains would probably add at least an hour, plus the time to stop in Zahara. But I wanted to see it!

    Suddenly something dawned on me - the mountain road was the one I had read you are supposed to take. That was the route we should have taken all along! The GPS just didn't know that and I wasn't paying attention to how we were going. That decided it - the drive is just as important as the destination, and that route was the intended drive.

    We doubled back - even so the GPS kept trying to turn us around and take us back over the barricaded bridge. We tried to follow the map but got turned around a few more times looking for a road that didn't seem to exist, until we realized we had to actually go back THROUGH Grazalema, and up and over the town and the mountain above it!

    It was an absolutely beautiful drive and we loved it. I don't regret it for a minute. By the time we reached Zahara it was proabably 5pm and we didn't have much time, but we parked and walked around, wandered into a church, stopped for a tapa, drove up to the base of the castle, chatted (via DD) with some local gentlemen, decided based on what they told us that we really didn't have time for the castle, and finally got back on the road, stopping on the way out to take pictures of the town wrapping itself around the peak of the mountain like a lock of white curls.

    Then we were on our way to Seville - long anticipated, the place I most wanted to see, and sadly our last stop in Spain.

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    CGS - just found this - what a delightful report of what sounds like a great trip.

    our only forays into southern Spain so far have been to Granada and Seville - i loved your description of your time in Granada so I'm very interested to see what you have to say about Seville, but we did go to Valencia at the end of May, where we had....paella, of course.

    FYI paella is pretty ubiquitous in Valencia, where it also seems to be a lunchtime dish [which in Spain means from 2-5pm] rather than for dinner. They have several sorts which have different names, made with different ingredients and types of rice but we pretty well liked every one we tried, though I preferred the less "soupy" ones.

    Lincasanova is the fodorite to ask about paella etc as she lives in Valencia.

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    Fabulous! I looked through this quickly and can't wait to read this later when I have time to go through it more carefully. Wonderful report, great details of all the places I am planning to visit. I'm really savoring your trip report, and getting excited for next year's trip!


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    Glad you are all enjoying the report!

    MiriamC, so you got to go after all! You mentioned on my other thread, from before my trip, that your DH hurt his back and you might not go. Glad you went and hope he was feeling better.

    Maitaitom, I read about Juan on these forums in someone's trip report from a few years ago. I think it was ekscrunchy. She took a different tour with him in Granada, and gave him high marks so I emailed to ask him if he does Alhambra tours.

    So, the last time you saw us we were on our way to Seville...

    I'll just come right out with it: I loved Seville. I want to go back already. It was my favorite place on the trip, followed by Granada, Évora and Ronda, in no particular order.

    By the time we left Zahara, it was clear we'd be lucky to make it to Seville before 9pm. For a hotel, this would not be an issue, but we had rented an apartment, and we had rented from an individual owner through HomeAway. I was a little stressed about arriving so late when we had to arrange to meet up with an individual person.

    As it turns out, no worry was warranted. The apartment was managed by the owner's sister, who lives in Seville, and we had been in touch with her by cell phone to give her our ETA, and then to revise it as the day went along. We called when we left Zahara to say we'd be late and she said not to worry, they'd meet us when we arrived. It was helpful to have DD to be able to communicate all this in Spanish. The sister spoke English, but it was a bit limited.

    When we arrived we met up with the sister's husband who showed us up to the apartment. It was perfectly located - just off the Plaza Nueva and Plaza de San Francisco and a few blocks from the Cathedral - and had AC and two bathrooms with showers. All of my criteria met! In retrospect, I wish it had had some nice outdoor space for morning coffee, and we were a bit dismayed to find no wi-fi. That surprised me. I had brought the iPad for any research, directions, etc that I would need to look up. In this apartment I had to rely on my phone, which was a bit of a pain. But otherwise the apartment was very nice and comfortable, with a full kitchen and not only a clothes washer but also a dryer! Very handy.

    We arrived on a Saturday night, and would have Sunday and Monday in Seville, with plans to leave Tuesday morning. Those are not ideal days. Many restaurants are closed Sunday night, and many attractions are closed or have limited hours on either Sunday or Monday. Add that to the fact that nearly everything closes between 2 and 5, and it made it a challenge to see what we wanted to see in the days we had. It really wasn't enough time and I wish we'd had 2 more days. As it is we ended up spending part of Tuesday morning in Seville, which we hadn't originally planned.

    First order of business was to get cleaned up and get dinner. By the time we got settled in and everyone got showered (which we could not skip - heat wave!) it was well after 10pm. OK, that's not so bad for Spain, but it's late for us, especially since we were just walking out the door, not already sitting down to a meal. To complicate matters, the restaurant I had chosen was a good 20 minute walk away, and I expected to find a line when we arrived. Gee, you may be thinking (if you know Seville), there are plenty of good restaurants closer to where you were staying. Why not just go to one of them? Yes, that would normally make sense, but here is where the days of the week came into play. I wanted to go to Eslava, based on reviews here on these forums and in Michelin, and it would be closed both Sunday and Monday nights. If we were going to go, it had to be now. Gave everyone my reasons, quick family vote: off to Eslava.

    I won't leave you in suspense - it was the right choice. We set off into the hustle and bustle of Saturday night in Seville. We crossed through Plaza Nueva and joined the throngs walking along the parallel streets of Calle Sierpes and Calle Tetuan. What a great introduction to the city! We walked these two streets many times over the next couple of days and never tired of them. When I think of Seville, this is the area I think of, not for shopping (which we barely did), but just for the "feel" of the place. Loved!

    We noticed two things right away: 1. Virtually every person in Seville was out and about, strolling the streets, especially in that district which is pedestrian only, lined with shops, and so near the bars and restaurants of Santa Cruz and 2. It was hot! At nearly 11pm! Not warm summer evening hot - daytime hot! Need another shower when you get home hot! It did not bode well for the next day.

    We wound our way through the streets and the crowds thinned as we left the Santa Cruz and El Centro area. We passed a plaza where an outdoor play was going on on a temporary stage set up in the middle of the plaza, and a big crowd was standing around watching and laughing and fanning themselves. Ladies of my generation, remember those paper fans we used to have as toys when we were little girls? People in Seville actually use them! And need them! The next day we noticed vendors were selling them on every street corner. We should have bought some.

    Soon there were very few people on the street until we rounded a corner and wow! It was like a party at Eslava! Loud, boisterous, people spilling out the doors and onto the street, everyone talking and laughing and eating and generally having a great time.

    We muscled our way through the crowds to the bar and DD asked how long a wait for a table. Inside or outside, he asked. Either one, said we. 12 people ahead of you outside, 8 inside, come on in and start ordering at the bar. This was pretty much what I expected at a popular place at prime time on Saturday night, so we squeezed in tighter and started ordering.

    I had read to order the honey glazed ribs and some kind of egg on pâté tapa, and this was confirmed by helpful people at the bar, all of whom were happy to tell us what a good choice we made in coming there and give recommendations on what to order. I ended up next to a guy from Norway who was in Seville on a 6 week stint for work and told me this was one of his favorite spots and what all his top choices were on the menu. Basically everyone in the place was happy as could be to be there, and thought everyone else in the place deserved to be congratulated on their good taste for choosing it too!

    When the first round of tapas came out we all agreed - everything was fabulous! We especially like the ribs and the croquetas, as well as a chocolate dessert at the end that we had no room for but ordered anyway based on Norway-guy's recommendation and how good it looked when I saw him get it! We also had pork cheeks again, and several kinds of fish tapas that I can't recall. The award-winning egg on pâté one was good but not as great as I expected, but then I'm not a big fan of pâté.

    One thing Eslava is not, at least on a Saturday night, is relaxing or elegant. When I say we were squeezed in, I'm not speaking with poetic license - you could barely move! And when our table finally opened up outside, guess what? It was a standing table with one stool for all four of us! Everyone else outside was in the same position (maybe they should buy more stools!), but as the night wore on and the crowd started thinning we were able to get a few more until finally only DH was standing. Then a table next to us got up to leave, and a crowd of Spaniards was waiting to take their table. DH darted over to grab a stool before the new group could sit down and got into an argument with one of the men - the guy shouted that they had 4 people. DH said we did too. The guy said it's our stool. DH basically said it's a free-for-all and we've been standing for hours. DH made off with the stool and we continued our meal (we still needed to get our cholocate dessert!) then when we were ready to go we brought them our stools before someone else could take them. Suddenly the guy was our new best friend! Oh, thank you, thank you - here have some wine! No, no, I insist, here, try it - he brings a glass of white wine over to me. Try it, try it! (His English was very good!). I try it - I love it. Here, write it down, it's good, you should get it! Their whole table is now giving me the wine information and encouraging me to get the wine. It was like the whole stool argument was over and forgotten! In New York, I'm sorry to say we probably would have gotten a different reception when we returned the stool. (I looked for the wine in restaurants and in the grocery store, by the way, and wasn't able to find it, although I did get a similar one the next night. There was a wine bar down the street from our apartment where I thought maybe I could get it, but it was literally never open at any hour of the day or night! It must have been a Sunday/Monday thing). In the end, this was one of our top two meals of the trip, and half the price of the other top one (which I will get to later). The consensus was that it was worth the walk, the wait, and the late night. If it had been open another night we would have come back.

    Based on how hot it was at night I thought the best thing to do was to get an early start in the morning, but it was 1 am before we even left Eslava (full and happy!) so an early start was really not in the cards. Plus the next day was Sunday, so really nothing was getting going early.

    We were out on the street by about 10 am the next morning. We expected a wall of heat to meet us when we stepped onto the sidewalk, and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually quite comfortable! That didn't last long, though.

    Our top priorities for Seville were the Cathedral and the Alcazar, and I wanted to do them on separate days, since I knew each would take a few hours. The Cathedral had very limited hours on Sunday while the Alcazar did not, so we started with the Alcazar.

    The first thing we noticed about it was that it was very much like the Alhambra. Turns out there's a reason for that: the Moorish king who built it was - cousins? friends? Something. - with the king in Granada and had some of the same artisans sent over to build his palace! We thought it was one of the highlights of the trip. We did the optional tour of the royal chambers, which are still used presently by the royal family when they are in Seville. We happened to be in Spain during the brief few days in between when the old king abdicated and when his son was crowned, so there was actually no king during our visit! But interestingly, that was never mentioned during the tour of the royal chambers. The tour was interesting but moved a bit too quickly for us - we like to linger a bit - but I would say it's worth doing.

    We used both Rick Steves and Lonely Planet to guide us through the palace, and by the time we finished the palace itself and were ready to tour the gardens it was truly unbearably hot. We did a quick Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion and determined that it was over 100 degrees F! You could not be in the sun. We stopped at the cafeteria for a bite to eat, and then set off into the gardens, doing our best to stay in the shade. Because we were coming from the cafeteria instead of from the main part of the palace we saw the gardens somewhat in reverse, and ended up at the famous pool with the statue of Mercury last. That may have been good, because it was our favorite part, and it was cooler with some of the fountain spray blowing. We felt a bit refreshed and ready for more sightseeing.

    What to do next? It was mid-late afternoon and we had a long awaited event planned for the evening: flamenco at the Casa de la Memoria with Pastora Galván ! I'm not an expert on flamenco by any stretch of the imagination, but I had done enough research to know that this was a lucky coincidence that she would be dancing the same night we were there. We booked in advance for the early show - 7:30 - with the plan to have dinner afterwards. Even so, we had a couple of hours available.

    I wanted to see the Parque de María Luisa, but truly you could not - you would wilt in the afternoon heat. We wanted to see the Basilica Macarena, and we needed to go to the grocery store (it was a whole new city! We hadn't been to their grocery store yet! :-) ) I looked at the map and came up with a brilliant plan: take a cab to the Macarena, which was pretty far away and certainly too far to walk in that heat, and then go by the grocery store on the way home. Geographically, this was perfect. Luckily, before we got too far in the execution something made me check the hours of the church. It was closed between 2 and 5! And we had flamenco at 7:30. Plan foiled.

    Finally DDs decided to go back to the apartment for a rest and DH and I set out for the grocery store. Too bad my stroke of genius in checking the hours of the church didn't extend to the grocery store - we arrived to find it was closed too! We were flabbergasted! It never occurred to me the grocery store would be closed! I know, I know - I'm so American. I think it was actually closed all day Sunday, but I had never thought to check that.

    So now we're hot tired and frustrated. We give up on the idea of being able to see more that afternoon and end up back at the apartment for a rest, to research which restaurants would be open on a Sunday, and to shower and change for the flamenco show!

    You might recall that I had been very disappointed to miss the flamenco show in Córdoba, so I was especially excited for this one. Unfortunately, our experience was a bit marred by the heat. The Casa de la Memoria is a lovely venue, but there are no windows and certainly no AC and it was uncomfortably hot. More so, I'm sure, for the artists. The dancers were both excellent, and Pastora Galván in particular was so emotive! But I didn't love it as much as I had hoped, which I am sure was because of me and not because of the artists. I had wanted to be carried away. I'm sorry that I was not.

    Our tickets entitled us to a drink and a tapa after the show for 3 euros, so we figured why not. They had paella!

    It was not good. At all. It may have been the microwaved kind that Juan had warned us about. Not worth lingering over. We paid and headed out into the sweltering evening.

    I had made a list of restaurants I wanted to go to that were supposed to be open on Sunday night. Enrique Becerra was on the list. We got our bearings on the map and trekked over. Doors shut, lights out, chairs up on tables. As in "closed." Hmmm. Not sure what went wrong, but luckily I had the list, so, next up: Casa Robles, recommended here and in Michelin. This one was open, but had a bit of a stuffy atmosphere. Something told me to check the menu - very traditional, which is not quite our thing. Nothing on there that anyone in the family would want. Discreetly slipped away.

    Feeling frustrated, we headed into the heart of Santa Cruz to look for Cerveceria Giralda. This looked more promising - bustling, varied menu, lots of outdoor seating. A prospect. Let's check one more place, I say - it's right down the street. On the way we pass La Azotea! Wait, that's on my list of places I really want to go but that are not open today! Except it's open! (At this point we have lost all faith in any available information about opening and closing hours and days and start to wonder whether Eslava might actually be open! But too far to go check). Nevertheless we turn the corner just to peak at the last place on my list, Bodega Santa Cruz (also called Las Columnas). It's a crowded bar with basically no seating and we're not really in the mood. La Azotea it is!

    No outdoor tables available but we can sit inside, which works for us. I see the menu has the cold garlic and almond soup that is traditional to Andalucia. I've been meaning to try it - maybe now is the time. The restaurant is supposed to be known for contemporary twists on traditional cuisine (which is what we like - it's what I didn't like about the menu at Casa Robles: seemed all traditional, no "twists") and the English version of the menu says the soup is topped with a dollop of frozen red wine and "pop rocks." We figure that has to be a mistranslation of some sort, but we better find out what it is so we don't end up with some horrible surprise. We ask our waiter (who, it turns out, spent three months living on the Upper West Side in NY). Pop rocks, he says. The candy. We stare. The kind that explodes in your mouth, we ask? We're still thinking something is lost in translation here. Yes, yes, he says, the candy. The soup is great, he says! One of our specialties! You should try it.

    I'm game. Where else can I get traditional Andalucian soup with red wine ice and exploding candy? Nowhere else, clearly. I order it. It comes and everyone in the family has to taste. We are passing the bowl around the table and all laughing at the sensation of the popping candy! Dinner and entertainment! I have to say that the red wine ice really worked in the soup but the pop rocks went too far. Glad I tried but wouldn't get again.

    I didn't mention, by the way, that younger DD also takes Spanish but it is not, shall we say, her favorite subject. I'm OK with that - she has many other strengths - but it pains older DD, who loves Spanish. She had so far spent the entire time in Spain pestering her sister with lessons, vocab quizzes, and forced repetition, to encourage her to start to use the language. As you can imagine, this was sometimes a bit irritating to younger DD (although she generally played along good-naturedly) but all of a sudden this day it started to pay off! Younger DD announced that from here on out she would do the food ordering. We were all in support of that, as a theoretical matter. Practically, it was a bit slow and painful, but she persevered. I wish we'd had more time in Spain for her to really get on a roll!

    The rest of our meal at La Azotea was creative and delicious. Not as good as Eslava, but overall a great choice and, for our personal taste, the best option of all the places we'd looked at that night.

    We finished around 11 or so and, even though it was Sunday night, Santa Cruz was in full swing. I wanted to stroll around the area. DH was too tired. Both DDs decided to come with me and we split up, DH heading back to the apartment.

    He has a great sense of direction and I have zero, so I took the map. (We were only a short walk from our apartment, but that wouldn't stop me from getting lost! He, on the other hand, could find his way without a map even if he'd never been there before!) DDs and I set off down the street, wandering this way and that, enjoying the night and the people, and everyone out and about, eating, drinking and strolling. Somewhere along the way we headed down a less populated street, and then another, until we suddenly found ourselves alone and a bit lost with no other people in sight. Younger DD said "let's look at the map!" Here's where I taught DDs a little street lesson: when you are lost and alone on a dark street, you do NOT pull out a map and stand there looking clueless and vulnerable! You adopt a very confident air and stroll purposefully back the way you came, or otherwise in the direction of other people. THEN you pull out your map. In a well lighted area. With lots of people. Preferably by a restaurant or other commercial establishment. (You may be wondering why I've never had occasion to teach this to DDs before, since we are from NY after all! I should have explained that we live in the suburbs. I'm in the city every day for work, but the girls are not, and younger DD does not yet come in alone with friends. She only goes with us, and we don't get lost in NY! So, a good teachable moment in a foreign city.)

    We retraced our steps to a well populated plaza that we recognized, pulled out the map, got oriented, and headed back to our apartment.

    When we got there DH said that, funny coincidence, he had seen a guy on the street that looked remarkably like someone we know from our hometown - I'll call him John Smith. John must have a double, says DH. I'm amazed! Maybe it WAS John Smith, I say! No, he says, how could it really be John Smith? Because, I say, I've been on Facebook with John's wife - call her Mary - and they are in Spain too! Last I heard they arrived in Granada the day we left. Maybe they are in Seville now! Now DH is disappointed, because of course he actually HAD seen John and Mary Smith and family and was trying to lead me down the garden path before making the big reveal! Turns out he was walking back to our apartment and - lo and behold - there they are having dinner with their kids at an outdoor table as he walks directly past! What are the chances!

    I want to see them too so we run back out onto the street and jog down to where they were eating, but sadly they were gone. Mary and I email and text several times the next day to see if maybe we can meet up, but unfortunately it never worked out. We agree to get together back at home and exchange notes.

    The next day we would have a lot of ground to cover: the Macarena, the Parque de María Luisa, the Cathedral and the Feria Market. Too much ground, as it turned out. But that will be the next installment.

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    Yes, CGS, we got to go. We decided at the very last minute because, besides my DH having back problems, I was still recovering from pneumonia. I have suffered from the heat in Córdoba and in Granada but it was worth every cent! So sorry you didn't get to see the flamenco at Arte y Sabores. It was magical.

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    Absolutely wonderful report, CGS! Following every step of the way! Many thanks for sharing all the details, warts and all!

    <<Here's where I taught DDs a little street lesson: when you are lost and alone on a dark street, you do NOT pull out a map and stand there looking clueless and vulnerable! You adopt a very confident air and stroll purposefully back the way you came, or otherwise in the direction of other people. >>
    And I love this lesson to your daughters -- "spoken" like a true NYer!


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    I googled it and the Iglesia del Carmen is gorgeous. Ronda (at night) sounded wonderful as well. Did any of the performers do that loud shouting/singing at the flamenco you saw?? Great TR!

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    CGS - we got hopelessly lost on our last night in Seville and did indeed stand around with our map looking witless until we were rescued by some celebrating matrons who pointed us in the right direction. Without them, i think we'd still be there now. it certainly stretched out Spanish to the full understanding their directions.

    loving the TR, BTW.

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    Thanks everyone! I'm so glad people are enjoying the TR!! It's a lot of work, as you can probably see, but I've gotten so much good advice on this forum that I'm happy to give back. And it's helping me to solidify my memories of the trip, so I'm happy to be doing it for that reason too. Also have told my mother and my mother-in-law to read along so they can get all the details!

    TDudette, yes, they sometimes shouted "Olé!" and other things I couldn't understand. Not a lot, but some. And sometimes people in the audience shouted. And yes, Ronda at night was beautiful! I really recommend an overnight there if schedule allows.

    lobo_mau, that is truly a very nice complement and I thank you for it.

    I know lots of people are interested in Spain (for good reason!) - promise me you'll keep reading when we loop back to Portugal, which was the last several days of our trip! I'll try to have lots of interesting things to tell you there too! But first one or two more installments of Seville and of Italica. And a change in the weather is coming, but just at the wrong time!

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    Regarding your flamenco experience, Pastor Galván in Casa de la Memória is a great intro to the art. But flamenco is usually ten times more powerful at the theater or peña (local flamenco club) performances than at the more tourist oriented venues. For the next time, the major theater performances are updated here:

    A clip from a couple of flamenco performances in theaters to give you an idea:

    - Joaquin Grilo and Dorantes:

    - David Palomar and El Junco:

    - And the very same Pastora Galván brought the house down in the old world Lope de Vega theater in Sevilla during the Bienal in 2010. Here she's doing a tribute to the way Andalucian women "always" have danced flamenco in their patios and homes.

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