Monday, November 09, 2009

Granada: 4th Stop

After a (way too) early morning train ride, we arrived in Granada to a surly cab driver swearing and dodging pedestrians at 8 am. We had hastily picked out a hotel the day before based mostly on availibility, well, it wasn't the worst place I've ever stayed but Las Nieves isn't a place I would recommend. Don't get me wrong, it was clean enough and everything worked but the place had no character and in a town that is SOAKED with charm and quaintness, this place just doesn't cut it. My first time in Granada I stayed at Hotel Lisboa, which was marginally better. So we left the front desk our passports as we checked in as they said they needed them for some reason. Weird. We did get them back but WTF?

We set out for some churros and to orient ourselves a bit. After the jolting cab ride through the 'transitional' neighborhoods, things seemed better. We got a picnic lunch and headed up to the Alhambra. We were SO glad we had our tickets reserved because the day was sold out as I think the following day was as well. It was a mess. We sat just out front of the Alhambra lunching, listening in every language, the swearing of not being able to buy entrance tickets. My last trip to Spain, this was by far the highlight and it didn't disappoint this time either. But I have to say that after seeing the Alcazar, I couldn't help but compare the two. The Alcazar was in better condition but the location, surrounding hills and small town feel of the Alhambra still impressed.

After spending the day checking out every nook and cranny of the Alhambra, we took the Cuesta de los Chinos trail out the back way at dusk and ended up at the Paseo de los Tristes. What an amazing view up at the Alhambra at dusk. Feeling beat, we stumbled off to for some tapas at Bodega Castanedas. Not the best of the trip but really good. Then back to the 'hotel' for a nap before the planned evening wander around Plaza Carmen and the little side streets, etc... well that turned into passing out till dawn the following day. I guess we had been pushing ourselves too hard and it showed up for sure.

So Cafe Futbol for breakfast churros, wandering around the Albaycin with it's amazing views, the Cathedral and Taberna Salinas for one of the top three tapas of the trip. I wanted to go in initially for the cider but they had these little slider burgers and fries. Ah, and we found a place that made homemade Agentine style Alfajores. I haven't had any this good in 15 years. Then the 10 PM overnight train to Barcelona.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Seville: 3rd Stop

I have to admit that I was very reluctant to make a second trip to Seville. I had been there once before and was decidedly unimpressed. In fact, I pretty much couldn't wait to leave. But I wanted to be fair and had heard good things about the city so we booked a couple of nights there at a upscale-ish place, Hotel Murillo, located just off Plaza Santa Cruz. Due to delays getting out of Toledo, we didn't arrive until 8PM-ish but we were determined to make the most of our time and to take Mike and Angie's advice about a great little tapas place with a Mom and Pop flamenco bar near by. The action didn't start until midnight anyway so we actually had plenty of time. The tapas bar, Las Golondrinas, didn't disappoint and almost was the best tapa of the trip. It was a simple was a thin pork cutlet on a slice of baguette, called a Punta de Solomillo. With a glass of red wine; fantastic. The link to the bar has some great photos so check it out.

We hung out there till just before the doors opened at midnight at Casa Anselma (the flamenco bar). The link pretty much explains the situation. A small bar that is run by the Patrona, it gets totally packed to the point you are trapped in your seat. Throughout the night various guests come up to sing or dance with the house musicians. The show started with some standards by the house band. Then a couple of young ladies from the audience did a great little dance number (video below).

Finally, what must have been a professional singer in the audience, came up to sing and close the place down to the shouts and cheering from everyone (video below):

The next day we hit the tourist hot spots starting at the Alcazar, which I had somehow missed the first time around. In fact I think I was too cheap pony up the entrance fee. Lesson learned. The palace was beyond description and one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. The detail, beauty and opulence were amazing. The way they used light and water was spectacular. I couldn't imagine the decadence that this must have been when built over 500 years ago.

Then a little bit of a wander around to try out a few of the recommended tapas joints, where at La Flor de Toranzo, we found the best tapa of the trip, the Lomo con Manzana. It's a little ciabatta type roll with a thin slice of ham, apple and a bit of creamy white cheese. Wash that down with a glass of Tinto de Verano. Awesome-ness

Then to the Giralda Tower, Cathedral and off to the oldest tapas bar in Sevilla, El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670. Yeah, it's that old. You must go to this place if you are in Seville. The character was so cool and rich. Also try the amazing spinach and garbanzo bean tapa. We would have stayed longer but had an appointment at the Arabic baths for an hour of soaking before turning in a bit early because we had to catch the 6 am train to Granada. Ugghh.