Spain 2017

Anne and I went to Spain for a month in Spring 2017. We spent the month in Seville, with side trips to Granada and Cordoba. We became very familiar with Seville and some parts of Andalucia. In this blog, we’ll share some highlights and photos of this amazing trip. Your comments and questions are welcome!

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Granada: The Alhambra

We took a day trip to visit the Alhambra. Tickets are extremely difficult to get, except far in advance, so it’s easier to use a tour service. We used a tour service linked from the Alhambra web site – AndalSur Excursions. The fee was reasonable (E120), considering it included transportation to and from Granada from Seville. The tour guides were knowledgeable and interesting. We took the optional walking tour of Granada, which was well worth the time and money. The guide took us through the old town neighborhood and to the famous lookout with a panaramic view of the Alhambra.

The Alhambra is spectacular. It’s so well preserved and authentic, representing the Moorish period of Spain which lasted 700 years. The palace, gardens, vistas of the region are memorable – see photos of the Alhambra. 

Seville: The Royal Alcazar

The Royal Alcazar is one of the top attractions in Seville. It was constructed in the 10th century by the first Caliph of Andalusia. It remains in excellent condition and is a World Heritage Site. It consists of the Palace and the Gardens.

To see the Alcazar, one must wait in line. As a popular tourist site, with limits on occupancy, getting in takes patience. Being in Seville a month gave us the benefit of watching the line length and skipping it on days with a line longer than usual. On the two days we visited, our waits were about one hour (day 1) and 40 minutes (day 2). There is a sign posted that says you can go online and get an advance ticket and skip the line. In my experience, the web site that sold those tickets was broken. While waiting, tour companies will offer to get you in faster. If you want a tour, that’s fine, but we prefer to walk at our own pace and saving the wait time wouldn’t have been worth the extra cost (about E20 each person). At the counter, be sure and ask for the senior or retired rate (E2), if you qualify, and be prepared to show a government issued ID to prove your age.

The Alcazar of Seville is spectacular, with wonderfully preserved Moorish and Mudejar features. Upon entering, the first site is the Patio de la Montería, surrounded on three sides by beautiful buildings waiting to be explored. We spent most of an entire day going in and out of the many rooms (see details in the photos). We returned another day to see some of the rooms in more detail. The gardens behind the main buildings are beautiful. We took our time and strolled among the palm and orange trees. The long walkways with overhanging trees made exceptional views.

We enjoyed eating in the tree-filled garden cafe. The sandwiches and pastries were excellent and reasonably priced, and the view of the garden was lovely.

A Walk in Old Town Seville

We walked toward the center of town, just south in Macarena, stopping along the way at various attractions. We walked down narrow medieval streets, too narrow for a auto traffic, only an occasional car or motorcycle. The houses on some of these alleys are beautiful, with elaborate tiles, window decorations and murals, especially along Gonzalez Cuadrado.

Anne noticed people piling into the Church of Regina Sacratissimi Rosarii at the Plaza de Motesion. We followed and admired the beautiful art and their float on display.

Our next stop was San Pedro on Imagen Street. Their float was also on display and of course beautiful. The faces in the characters in the display were so real and dramatic. I noticed a sign on the wall saying that this is the church where Valazquez was baptised (1599).

Across the street we stopped at the Ferriteria San Pedro (hardware store) for a piece of rope to hang our laundry on. I did pretty well with my Spanish with the clerk, until I next asked for a drain stopper. Soon I saw one (tapon de desagua) and this became my word of the day.

Near San Pedro, we stopped to admire the Metropol Parasol at Encarnation Square. A wooden piece by German artist Jurgen Mayer, it’s a dramatic piece, cooling the plaza and providing soothing shapes to contrast with the urban landscape.

Parque Duque to the Cathedral Walk

Not far south of our apartment on the Alameda Hercules, we explored Parque Duque and Calle Velazquez. Across from Parque Duque is the Cafe Duque which has the most amazing and delicious Churros and Chocolate. This dessert (it’s not really the national dish, as suggested by a tour guide) is found all over town, but this was one of our favorites. Nearby is El Corte Ingles, a giant department store. We visited “El Corte” almost every day, on the lower level, for the deli items which we took home for dinner. We got to know several of the deli workers as regulars.  It was a great way to get local dishes economically. Walking south from Parque Duque, toward the Cathedral, Calle Velazquez is a vibrant tourist zone with shopping of all the famous brands found everywhere.

Perdigones Tower

Just north of the Alameda is a small park and the Torre de los Perdigones. Originally built to manufacture gun shot, it was restored for Expo ’92 and for a small fee, one can climb to the top (135 feet) and see outstanding views of the city. Also located at the top is the Camera Obscura, which the guide operates and shows amazing views of the city. The tour is well worth the few euros charged, but check the schedule on the door for hours are limited.

Museum of Fine Arts

Just west of Parque Duque, the Museum of Fine Arts, building from 1594, used as a former convent is a worthwhile stop. While not a large museum with a huge collection, the building itself is beautiful and worthy of some time to explore.

Triana

Across the Gualadquivir River from Seville is the neighborhood of Triana. Originally settled by pirates and gypsies, it is now gentrified. It’s streets are fun to walk, with lots of shops, restaurants, and markets. Plus, some of the best views of Seville are from the Triana side of the river. Immediately across the Puente de Isabel II, to the right, the Ceramic distict is interesting to explore. There are lots of shops with ceramic pieces, filled with tiles, mugs, plates, flower pots, and souvenirs. The lovely church of Santa Ana, with its beautful architecture and art pieces, is just south of the ceramic district. Back on the Seville side of the Isabel II bridge, we found the Mercado Lonja del Barronco a great place to have lunch. It has many food stalls and open tables for seating. We‘re still talking about those fried sardines.

Seville Fair

About two weeks after Holy Week, the Seville Fair is held. Originally, a horse trading event, it retains its equestrian theme. Many fair goers arrive in horse-drawn carriages wearing Andalusian traditional clothing, “traje de gitana” (gypsy cloths). Families gather in casitas or tents for food and drink until the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, our host family participates in a tent cooperative and we were invited to the festivities. Our visit to the fair was memorable.

Travel Tip!

Easily accessible WC’s are available in “El Corte”, the Starbucks just south of “El Corte”, and FNAC near the Cathedral.

Cordoba: The Mezquita

We took a fast train from Seville to Cordoba and returned the same day. It was a great experience. When we arrived in Cordoba, we wandered our way through the modern part of the city to the old town and eventually found our way to the Mezquita. Though there was a short line, we were able to bypass the line by using an automated ticket Kiosk, which no one else seemed to notice. So we were into the building in less than 5 minutes.

The space itself is amazing. It’s actually just one huge room. The Moorish arches dominate the space, with their red and white stripes (please see photos). Inside the Mezquita is the Cathedral, with loads of contrast. Here you have side by side, the delicate Moorish curves and lines – next to a traditional 16th Century European church with it’s gold and silver garishness.

Behind the Mezquita, a foot bridge (the Puente Romano – Roman Bridge) crosses the Guadalquiver River. On the other side we found the Torre de La Calahorra. It’s a musuem featuring the history of Cordoba – how it’s Islamic, Jewish and Christian peoples lived together peacefully for many centuries. It also shows the scientific and cultural advances of the period. Climbing to the top of the tower gave us impressive views of the Mezquita and the surrounding area.

Before entering the Mezquita we stopped across the street at the Caballo Rojo. We had the continental breakfast for just a few euros. It was actually a piece of toast and a coffee. But it’s a beautiful space with friendly staff. After leaving the Mezquita we had a lunch at Casa Pepe de la Juderia (Calle Romero 1). Another beautiful space. The gazpacho is remarkable, the Andalucian recipe, with bread mixed in to make it seem very creamy.

The Cathedral of Seville

Next to the Alcazar is the Cathedral of Seville. By watching the entrance line, we were able to gain admittance with only a 10 minute wait. Once inside, we saw the alter and the chapels. Some or perhaps all of the remains of Chrisopher Columbus are buried there. There was nothing remarkable about the Cathedral, except for it’s huge size.

However, just before leaving, we saw an entrance to the “Tower Tour”. Somewhat confused (we hadn’t wanted a tour), we investigated and found that the “Tour” was nothing more than a set of steps up the Giralda Tower. We climbed up and saw spectacular views of Seville – see photos of the Cathedral of Seville.

Macarena Basilica

We walked around the neighborhood of Macarena, north of the Alameda de Hercules, where we stayed. We visited the Basilica de la Macarena, known for it’s statue of “La Macarena”, “the Virgin of Hope”. La Macarena is the Patron Saint of matadors, as well as a favorite of Spanish gypsies. We saw the float (which was used during Holy Week), as well other beautiful treasures in the Basilica.

This was the week before Holy Week, during which all the parishes participate in the many processions through the city (about 70). Each parish has a Procession Float (Paso) elaborately decorated depicting the life of Christ, his mother Mary or events of the Passion. At the Basilica, their amazing Paso was on display for viewing up close.

Nearby we saw the Puerta de la Macarena, one of the original city gates. Built in the 12th century in the moorish style, it was “modernized” when the Christians took it over in the 15th century. Of course, Mary is depicted at the top of the arch. Near the gate are Roman walls, the original city walls dating back to Julius Caesar.

River Walk

We enjoyed the river walk by the Guadalquivir one evening. Located only a few blocks from our apartment, this provides a scenic evening outing. We first walked by the Puente de la Barqueta, which spans the channel. A little farther north is La Puente del Alamillo, designed by Santiago Calatrava for Expo 92.

Alameda de Hercules

Our apartment faced the Alameda. It is lined with restaurants, bars and tapa places. Our favorite was Pomodoro where we could get a small pizza for 4 euros (we got two!). The Alameda is best known for its columns, two at each end.

We stayed at an airbnb two bedroom apartment (“Piso céntrico luminoso…”.) The owners live out of town, but were helpful and friendly. This was a perfect location, just on the edge of the old town and walking distance to all attractions. The photo above shows the view from our front terrace.  We also had a rear patio, where we ate most of our at home meals. 

Two blocks east of the apartment we found the Feria St Market. The market stalls were well-stocked with fresh produce, including lots of delicious strawberries, which we were able to bring home whenever we needed.

Santa Cruz Neighborhood

Near the Cathedral and the Alcazar is the Santa Cruz neighborhood. The medieval area has narrow streets and passageways, as well as lots of shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon exploring. The Hospital de los Venerables is in the Santa Cruz neighborhood. Originally built to care for the Church workers, it is now an art musuem and well worth the visit.

Real Atarazanas and Hospital de la Caridad

West of the Cathedral, on Calle Almirantazgo, the Google map shows the Real Ataraznanas. These are the Royal Dockyards from back in Spain’s glory days. Not able to find the Dockyards, I asked the City Tour office, but they didn’t know where it was. So, I asked a local shopkeeper who told me that the Dockyards are no longer open but directed me to where they used to be (across from the Tourist Office). We saw a row of glass windows in a building that now covers the Dockyards. One of the windows was broken and I was able to peek through and shoot a couple of photos.

Around the corner from the Dockyards we found the Hospital de la Caridad which has been turned into a lovely musuem. When it was built, it incorporated some of the structure from the Dockyards, as shown in the photos.

Holy Week

During our visit to Seville we watched numerous processions of Holy Week. Each of the approximately 70 parishes has a procession to the Cathedral. The procession includes an elaborate float and parishioners dressed traditionally. There are also the Penitentes, men who dress in black wearing pointed hats. The outfit pre-dates and has no relation to similar looking outfits worn in the US.

Maria Luisa Park

South of the Alcazar, east of the Guadalquivir, we found the Maria Luisa Park to be a beautiful spot. It has tree lined walkways and benches – the Central Park of Seville. At the lower end of the park, we found several museums but ran out of time to explore them. Also inside the park is the Plaza de Espana, with grand buildings and a water feature. It was built for the Ibero-American expostion of 1929 and still retains it beauty.