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13 nights in Cordoba, Seville and Granada, September 29-October 12

devarae

100+ Posts
We just recently returned from a lovely trip to Spain, focused on the region of Andalucia, and I’m going to do my best to post some detailed notes here, updating when I can.

Originally this trip was going to be just me, my husband Bob, and my mother. I made the reservations for flights and AirBnBs with that in mind, booking things back in February or so. Then earlier this summer things changed, and my dad and brother Dave were also able to join us. It turned out that all the apartments had room for five (though it would be a tight squeeze!) and they managed to even find seats on the same flights we had, so we decided to make it a whole-family trip. If I were planning it over again I would have gotten larger apartments, but we made it work.

DAY ONE: BOSTON TO CORDOBA
We started off taking the bus from Portland ME (USA) to Logan airport in Boston, where we flew directly on an Iberia Air flight to Madrid. There were probably flights that would have worked better for our itinerary, but the price was very good! I debated how to handle our first day and ultimately decided that it was most important to get to our first destination as quickly and easily as possible (we didn’t want to spend the first night in Madrid). So we splurged on a private driver to meet us at the airport and drive us to our apartment in Cordoba. I have no regrets at all about this choice, even though it was pricey, especially because my mom hurt her leg shortly before our trip, and it would have been miserable trying to get to the train station and negotiating all that after a long flight.

We arrived in Cordoba after a pleasant four-hour drive through some pretty countryside, and were able to leave our luggage in the apartment even though it was too early to check in.

I was very happy with the apartment, especially the location! It was within a 15 minute walk of the Roman bridge, the Mezquita, and many other notable sites. And it overlooked a peaceful square decorated with a gentle fountain and several orange trees, where the locals sat to socialize and watch their kids play in the evenings.

We ambled down to the riverside walkway, where we found a recommended vegetarian-friendly restaurant called Amaltea (my parents and brother are all vegan, and I am mostly vegetarian, aside from the occasional chicken dish). While we waited for it to open, I walked a bit further and saw my first glimpse of the Roman bridge, which is striking.

After a delicious and very fresh lunch of Mediterranean salads and spreads, we headed back to the apartment so that Bob and my mom could rest/nap. Meanwhile Dad, Dave and I headed out to get groceries. We were going to be in Cordoba for three nights, and planned to eat most of our breakfasts and dinners at the apartment. It was Sunday (September 29) and I had checked in advance to see if any grocery stores were actually open. Thankfully there was ONE Carrefour Express nearby that appeared (according to Google) to be open! We walked over and found it was, indeed, open, which was a relief! I stocked up on milk for my morning tea (which I brought from home this time, after missing my favorite blend on previous trips), and some pasta, tomato sauce, frozen spinach and chickpeas for our quick at-home dinners.

I also brought with me in my suitcase a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and jam just in case the grocery store was closed. As it turned out, it was nice to have those on hand for quick snacks/breakfast, especially on travel days.

I was very tired by then, but too wired to sleep, so I went out to walk around a bit through the charming narrow streets of the old city, powered by some tasty merengue gelato. My first impression of Cordoba was a very good one! The weather was gorgeously blue and sunny, hot but pleasant in the shade. I loved the quirky narrow streets wending this way and that, the white-washed walls and tiled roofs, the glimpses of green patios and spills of bright pink bougainvillea (I am sure it would be even more gorgeous in the spring). Once Bob had rested, he and I went out and walked out along the river again. There was a wonderful festive air along the Roman bridge, with buskers playing guitars and tons of smiling tourists and locals.

I'll continue with separate posts for each day, as I have time to update. Here are a few photos from Day 1!

The Roman Bridge:

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The square we could see from our apartment:

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A nearby street:

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Palm trees and the beautiful blue sky that we saw every day of our trip...

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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY TWO: CORDOBA

I slept deeply, thanks to jet lag, very dark window shutters and air conditioning. When I woke, I blearily checked the time and discovered it was 8:10. Meaning there was just enough time to throw on proper clothes and rush over to the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral for the free early morning opening at 8:30! My parents and Dave had woken earlier and left a note that they were heading there as well-- as it turned out I managed to catch up to them waiting in line at around 8:25. You have to pass first through the outer walls, into the Patio of Oranges, and then line up to enter the actual Mosque-Cathedral structure.

There are several entrances in the outer wall, and by the time I arrived, all of them were open. The Patio of Oranges is not the original, but preserves the idea of a space dedicated to purification, with a large fountain and waterworks running throughout the grove of orange trees. Even with crowds milling around, it was a lovely space and felt peaceful.

A few minutes later we were on our way inside. There did not seem to be any sort of dress code enforcement (we had worn long skirts/pants just to be safe) but there were a LOT of other tourists! No tour groups, but many loud, chattering parties. I found that my later visit (with a ticket, in the afternoon) felt more peaceful and less crowded, which I had not expected! But still, it was cool to be able to enter for free. And it is such a large space that you could still find spaces without crowds inside.

My personal trick for appreciating crowded sites is to carry headphones and atmospheric music on my phone with me-- I plug in and drown out the chatter so I can focus on the site. I did so in the Mezquita, wandering though the forest of columns with their red and white striped arches, admiring the intricate Arabic inscriptions and other designs that remained in places. It was strange and a bit jarring to see the places where the newer Cathedral elements had been added (mostly in the center of the structure). But also fascinating to see the layers of history. We stayed as long as possible-- the security guards start directing people to leave shortly before 9:30. After that we spent some time in the Patio of Oranges and enjoyed the ringing of the bells in the tower.

After some puttering around, we all gathered up again and headed to another vegan-friendly restaurant not far from the Mezquita, called the Salon de Te. This was a picturesque place serving more delicious, fresh Mediterrean food in a colorful patio and a number of cozy side rooms with padded benches and tiny tables. We were so excited by all the tasty options we had to take over nearly all the nearby tables to have room for it all. But it was really good. My salad with arugula, buttery roasted eggplant, pita chips, chickpeas, and tahini was one of the best things I ate on the whole trip! I also had a slice of potato and egg tortilla, and shared a delicious salad with oranges and dates and lettuce.

After this fortification, we wandered the old town a bit more, then Bob and I decided to return to the Mezquita (he had slept in so had not yet seen it and I wanted to see if it might be less crowded in the afternoon). There was no line for tickets, and we got in easily.

It seemed less crowded to me at that point (around 3PM) than it had in the morning, which was nice, and we also had access to the treasury and to the center portion that holds the newer cathedral elements. I enjoyed the visit and was glad I’d come at a later time and had another chance to enjoy the beautiful architecture.

We departed after we had seen our fill, and decided to stop by the Casa de las Cabezas on our way back to our apartment. This is a small museum in a building with a rather gruesome legend associated with it concerning decapitation (Cabeza is the Spanish word for “head”), but has now been set up to recreate a historic home from the middle ages. We enjoyed the short visit though I am not sure I’d suggest going out of your way to see it. You can observe the narrow old street/alley along the building from the outside without paying to enter, if you wish.

Bob and I decided to eat out that night to try to sample some more traditional (non-vegan) Spanish tapas, and wandered about for a bit before settling on a place that ended up being pretty unremarkable, alas. I did really enjoy my fried eggplant with cane syrup, but the patatas bravas were just average fried potatoes with hot sauce, and the chicken croquettes were super tough and tasteless. Oh well! We got gelato from Buonisssimo afterwards (pistachio for me) that made up for that disappointment.

Overall I was still really happy with Cordoba. It was nice to start off in a smaller city where we could walk everywhere, with such a lovely charming feel. By the end of this first full day I was feeling quite comfortable, and happy to have seen my most-anticipated site (the Mezquita).

The Mezquita forest of pillars and arches:

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Beautiful ornamentation inside the Mezquita:

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A simple but delicious salad at the Salon de Te.
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Some interesting street art in a square near our apartment:

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Lucy BC

New Member
I'm enjoying your report. We'll be spending 3 nights in Cordoba this December as part of our month long trip to Southern Spain.
 

devarae

100+ Posts
I'm enjoying your report. We'll be spending 3 nights in Cordoba this December as part of our month long trip to Southern Spain.
Oh, I hope you have a wonderful time! If there are any specific questions I might be able to help with feel free to ask! We were in Seville and Granada as well (five nights each) and I'll be hopefully posting more on them as I have time here.
 

devarae

100+ Posts
DAY THREE: CORDOBA
I went back to the early-morning opening of the Mezquita again at 8:30, but it was once again very crowded so I didn’t stay too long, and instead just spent some time wandering. We were planning to visit the Alcazar after lunch so I wanted to check out our different options for getting there in terms of what might be the best route for my mom with her injured leg. While walking along the river I noticed the old waterwheel which is no longer in use and from what I can see has been colonized by a pack of feral cats who seemed to enjoy sleeping out on the spokes in the morning sun. I also noticed many feral cats near the Alcazar gardens, where someone had left out food and water for them.

After heading back home to reconnect with everyone (we generally spent our mornings independently, some of us sleeping in or resting, others going out on independent ramblers) we all headed out for lunch at another vegan-friendly Mediterranean restaurant, D’uchles. Once again, the food was very good, very fresh, and tasty. I had a delicious salad and a very good slice of tortilla (the Spanish potato-egg omelet version). Traveling as vegan/vegetarians did pose some challenges but so long as you enjoy Mediterranean staples like falafel, hummus, babaganoush, tabboleh, and the like, there seemed to be plenty of options around. And as we found later, Seville and Granada offered even more diverse choices.

We walked onward to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. This was an interesting site but not my favorite. I enjoyed seeing the old stone bath houses and the various Roman-era mosaics, and the city walls and towers were impressive, but I think the gardens are probably the highlight here, and by the time we visited they were a bit ragged and past their prime. Also the bathrooms were horrible-- half of them out of commission, and the portopotties meant to compensate were turn-your-stomach filthy. We did enjoy seeing the large pool of fish and resting in the pleasant shady areas. But overall, not a highlight.

We walked back to the apartment by way of the gelato shop and had some more delicious gelato to sustain us all-- there were several vegan options including a dark chocolate, which made my family happy.

After that we escorted my mom back to rest, while my brother went off to look for a vegan bakery he’d read about, and Dad, Bob and I walked to the Palacio de Viana. And I’m so glad we decided to do so, because it more than made up for my disappointment in the Alcazar. The Palacio is made up of a series of patios, which Cordoba is famous for. I am sure that it’s more impressive in the spring/early summer, but even on October 1 we found plenty of greenery and flowers. You can see one of the patios for free before actually entering, if you like, though it is not the most impressive one. You are given a good map with your ticket, and can follow a roughly circular route through the dozen or so patios, which each have a different character. My favorite was the Chapel Courtyard, which was green and peaceful. We took our time wandering through, sitting to rest as needed. There were two different bathroom areas and both were well-maintained! :)

Bob and I finished earlier than my dad (who was busy with his camera) so we had some granita-type drinks at the cafe in the square outside the entrance. It was probably around 6 but of course the kitchens rarely open that early, but they did bring us a small bowl of potato chips to snack on which was nice. It was definitely a bit hard to adjust to not being able to eat out at what would be a “normal” time for us!

Eventually we headed back home, walking past the old Roman temple ruins and enjoying the local color-- and also admiring the various techniques to keep the city cool. It was fascinating how every time we passed an open door leading in to a private patio (there were many of these) we felt cool air wafting out. We also appreciated how many of the streets had cloth shades hung up above them to filter the most powerful sunlight (we also saw this later in Seville and even in the smaller town of Carmona, though not in Granada that I noticed).

We had a quiet night at home with more pasta for dinner, as we needed to pack and prepare to leave the next day for Seville.

Scenes from the day, starting with my tortilla:
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The gardens at the Alcazar:
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One of the patios at the Palacio de Viana:
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Another patio:
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The sunshades over one of the Cordoban streets:
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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY FOUR: CORDOBA TO SEVILLE
I went out with my dad for one last ramble, over to the Puerto de Almodovar and along the scenic old city walls, through some of the more modern (but still attractive) sections of the city, then home to check out.

Our AirBnB landlord (who lives in the apartment across the hall from the rental) had kindly agreed to set up two taxis to come collect us at 11AM to take us to the Cordoba train station. He tried to get a single large taxi but apparently none of them would honor an advance reservation (we would have needed to call ourselves that morning and hoped for the best, which was too much uncertainty for me). Our train to Seville was scheduled for 12:45, but I was nervous being unfamiliar with Spanish trains and the station layout. As it turned out, it was more time than we needed, but it gave us time to get some boxed sandwiches and snacks from the station cafe. I was pleased to find a turkey sandwich on cranberry bread which was decent, though a bit soggy. My vegan family members had made PB sandwiches at home to take with.

I had bought the tickets for our train well in advance (I set an alert in my calendar and kept checking to see when they became available in the hopes of getting the best price) using the main Renfe site. I ended up using paypal to pay for them because using my CC did not seem to work. It was a long and somewhat frustrating process as I needed to provide details including passport numbers for all travelers (I also needed to do that for the Alsa bus tickets and the Alhambra tickets I bought in advance).

We arrived at the station after a 10 or 20 min taxi drive, and found it very easy to navigate-- all one level for the shops and sitting area, with the tracks down below, reachable by escalators. The train we were on required passengers to go through security, but the station did not open until maybe 20 min before the departure time. So we waited in the upper area until then. The security check was easy, and soon we were down on the platform. Everything was well labeled so it was easy to see what train was on what track.

When our train arrived, we had plenty of time to board and there was plenty of room in the large luggage rack for our suitcases. The trip was quick and comfortable. I ate my sandwich and enjoyed a chance to read (I always expect to do a lot of reading when I travel, but then feel compelled to stay so active I end up not actually “relaxing” that often, unless I am in a train or airplane or bus and have no choice!).

I had originally planned that we would just get taxis outside the Seville station (which was laid out very similarly to the Cordoba station). However, I waited until I was in Cordoba before looking into where to find the taxis, and when I did, I happened across several posts warning that the Seville train station taxis were unreliable/scammy. I probably overreacted, but between that warning and my worries about keeping us all together and my mom’s walking, I decided at the last minute to arrange a pickup with a single large private driver (I used Sun Transfers). This ended up costing more, of course, and if it had just been me and Bob I wouldn’t have done it, but it was worth it to allay my anxieties.

So, we met up with our driver up on the main level, and were transported easily to our Seville apartment. Not right to the door, as the apartment is on a very narrow pedestrian-only street, but pretty much as close as we could get.

Our Seville apartment was the most “luxurious” of the three, and very well-located (within a five minute walk of the Alcazar and Cathedral) but probably my least favorite in terms of comfort. It was quite loud with the windows open (I did know this in advance from the reviews) and someone had made the strange decision to make all of the doors out of panels of translucent glass. Which meant you had to be careful just how close you walked to the doors in, say, the bathroom. And that anyone trying to sleep in had to deal with the light from the rest of the apartment beaming in through the bedroom door! But other than those quirks, we were quite happy there, and quickly settled in.

Dad and Dave went out for groceries, Mom needed to rest, and Bob and I decided to go and check out the neighborhood. I had noticed there was a Portuguese bakery called De Natas just around the corner, so we headed there and had a snack of fresh lemonade and natas (custard tarts, very good).

We wandered on, checking out the exterior of the Cathedral and the Alcazar and some of the lovely streets and quieter plazas. Seville already felt a lot more loud and bright than Cordoba-- and there were definitely a LOT more tourists. In Cordoba it seemed easier to get away from the crowds by just taking a few turns onto side streets, but in Seville there were people everywhere. But it also had a different energy than Cordoba that I appreciated as a change.

We walked over through the Jardines de Murillo that run along the Alcazar, enjoying seeing local walking their dogs and letting them play with friends, then past the university and over to the Plaza de Espana. We really just sort of ducked our heads in, as it were, listened to a busker on his guitar, and admired the overwhelming and impressive architecture of the giant structure (a huge half-circle with balconies and waterways and pools and lovely tiled bridges running over them). But it was getting late by then and we needed to get back to meet up with others, so we headed home to the apartment, though I knew I wanted to come back to the Plaza for a longer visit later.

Dinner that night was at El Libraro, a wonderful tapas place that happened to be right within view of our apartment. This was probably my favorite traditional Spanish restaurant of the trip-- I had a tapas sampler with four different tapas and all but one of them were amazing (the spinach and chickpeas needed seasoning). The waitstaff were also really lovely and the atmosphere was fun and colorful. We ended up returning the next day for lunch!

After dinner we walked up to see Las Setas, the enormous modern art wooden structure that resembles a stand of mushrooms. I’d definitely wanted to see them, but I hadn’t expected them to be a highlight of my trip. But it turned out they were! We arrived just around sunset, and even though we had to wait for about 10 minutes in line to get tickets and the elevator up to the viewing platform/walkway, we arrived just at the perfect time. Even the masses of other tourists didn’t diminish the atmosphere-- in fact in this case it kind of added an edge of excitement and cheer as we all crowded together watching Seville begin to glow, the sky turning pink, then darkening.

We probably stayed up on the walkways for about an hour, with my Dad busily trying to capture the perfect photo, and the rest of us taking it all in. It was cooler, with a breeze, but still warm enough I didn’t need a jacket or sweater. But eventually the full dark took over, and we decided to head back down (though I believe the platforms are open quite late if you want to stay up, and there appeared to be a bar/cafe serving drinks). We headed home and collapsed after a long day jam-packed with experiences.

Some photos of the day, starting with our pastries at De Natas:

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A glimpse of the Plaza de Espana:
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Cool trees in Seville:
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Delicious tapas! Clockwise from top left: chicken with almonds, pistou, spinach and chickpeas, salmorejo soup, marinated artichokes
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Las Setas:
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The walkways on top:
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The view:
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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY FIVE: SEVILLE
On the morning of the fifth day, Dad, Dave and I headed out to walk up along the river. We headed out and walked over to the Archivo General de Indias which is between the Alcazar and Cathedral. Since it was free to get in (though there is a security screening) we decided to pop in. The building itself is impressive and they had what appeared to be a very detailed temporary installation on the spice trade (with both Spanish and English signage) but we didn’t really have time to do it justice, so we continued on.

We found the wide pedestrian/bicycle route along the water (between Puente de San Telmo and Puente de Triana) to be very pleasant and shaded by trees to keep us cool (it was fairly warm and overwhelmingly sunny our entire time in Spain). We saw a lot of folks out jogging and a number of bicycle tour groups. We passed beneath the Torre del Oro that stands near the water, but decided not to go inside.

When we reached the Puente de Triana we split up on different missions (Dad to photograph something, Dave to look for a vegan bakery, me to find Dulceria Manu Jara, a pastry shop with French-style pastries that had been highly rated online).

I found the shop easily and was sorely tempted by the many delicious looking options. I ended up getting a single white chocolate and strawberry pastry and a six pack (in an egg carton!) of cream puffs, as the place is known for their interesting cream puffs.

I walked back along the other side of the water, crossed the Puente de San Telmo, and headed home with my goodies. Throwing caution to the wind, I sampled the white chocolate treat (amazingly good) and three of the cream puffs (such intense and interesting flavors! Pistachio, passionfruit and violet/blueberry, all perfectly balanced and not overpowering. As good as the pest pastries I had in Paris!

Once everyone was back and ready, we headed out for lunch at El Librero, where several of us got the paella and enjoyed it (they even had a vegan paella!). Once fortified, we headed over to the Alcazar at around 1:40. I had gotten us tickets in advance online (including the reduced-price tickets for my parents) with an entry time of 2PM. From scoping things out previously, I’d seen there was a line for people without tickets (which was extreeeeemely long pretty much every time we walked past it. Getting tickets in advance was definitely the right call!) and another much shorter line for ticket-holders. When we arrived, we found a cluster of other folks with 2PM tickets waiting on the side (apparently it was too early for us to get in line). But at around 1:45 they motioned for us to form a queue so we all lined up and relatively quickly we were scanned through and into the Alcazar.


I’d gotten us all audioguides, so I went to collect those first (there was a short wait) and handed them out. They were the type shaped like phones you hang around your neck and hold to one ear. In retrospect I am not sure they really added all that enough to my experience that it was worth the cost and the annoyance of carrying around. There were English signs at each major site, and I’d read some travel guide overviews to get the highlights. Also, it was so crowded and loud that it could be hard to listen to the guide in some places!

I also wonder if it might have worked better to get us 3PM entry tickets. I was worried that might not be enough time as the Alcazar was listed as closing at 5, but we actually stayed until 5 and there did not seem to be any effort to get folks to start leaving right at that time. So I am not sure if perhaps they allow visitors to linger after the official closing-- in which case it might empty out even more. But since we had arrived at 2, we were pretty much wiped out by 5 and didn’t have the energy to see how long we could stay. It had cleared out a bit by then, but there were still large tour groups in all the main areas even at just before five, which made it hard to find the peace I’d really have liked to appreciate the beauty.

But, as in the Mezquita, even the crowds and noise couldn’t overwhelm the architectural beauty. Especially since most of it was above us! I really wished I had a better camera-- or maybe binoculars-- to get a closer look at some of the intricate work. I was just overwhelmingly detailed and intricate! After a while, it was like my eyes could not take it in any longer!

We had split up since it would have been nearly impossible to keep five of us together, even if we did all want to see the same things and go at the same pace (which we didn’t!), but Bob and I had mostly stayed near. We made our way out into the gardens, and found the cafeteria and bathrooms, which we made use of. We were highly amused to see all the peacocks strutting around not just in the gardens but among the tables of guests having snacks and drinks.

After getting ourselves some cold beverages, we wandered in the gardens, which were extensive and lush. I also found the site I most wanted to see: the Baños de Doña María de Padilla beneath the Patio del Crucero. I’d seen photos of the mysterious long pool with the atmospheric lighting and old stone arches over it, and it looked like the sort of place I would really enjoy, and I was right. It’s not very big, and there were quite a lot of other tourists there, but I hung out long enough that I enjoyed some stretches of near-solitude to enjoy the mesmerizing atmosphere.

After we’d had our fill, we gathered together and headed out, home to have a simple dinner of pasta/leftovers. After resting up a bit, Bob and Dad and I walked over to the Plaza de Espana again, to see what it was like in the evening.

It was even more magical-- there are buskers who have a gig where they create these giant swaths of bubbles using a kind of net of twine, earning coins from folks who want to get their photos taken in a cloud of bubbles in front of the large fountain. It was very popular! We saw two different bridal couples with their professional photographers taking advantage of it.

We had the chance to more fully explore the various tiled nooks that line the inside of the Plaza, each representing a different region of Spain. We also climbed up the massive stairs to get a view from one of the large balconies (very crowded with other tourists taking large amounts of selfies, but otherwise lovely).

We lingered for quite a while, enjoying the festive atmosphere as the sun set and the colorful lights that came on to turn the large fountain blue and green and purple by turns. It was a magical end to a really excellent day! (Oh, and I had the last three creampuffs for dessert that night: chocolate, coconut almond, and pineapple (I'd expected lemon but it was still delicious, with a tiny pipet to squeeze into the puff just before you ate it).

Photos from the day, starting with the riverside walk:

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Creampuffs (taken from our window balcony)!
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Trying and failing to capture the beauty of the Alcazar:
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The Banos:
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The magical Plaza once again:

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Tiles!
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The bubble-man:
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Happiness at the fountain:
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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY SIX: SEVILLE
The next day I breakfasted on the last of my bounty from Manu Jaru, a delicious pistachio croissant, while updating my neglected paper trip journal. Mom had been feeling better, so we decided to try a longer walk that morning, heading over to the Plaza de Espana on foot. At our pace, it was about a 25 min walk, once again through the lovely gardens. I was really happy we got to see the plaza again, especially since Mom had not been with us the previous times. We had fun just sitting inside on the benches and enjoying the atmosphere, as the bubble people were back at work filling the air with rainbows. We arrived around 9:30, and I found that the public (pay to enter) bathrooms opened at 10 which was appreciated.

I wished I’d had time to more fully explore the park itself-- my brother did make it over to the Archaeology Museum which is on the other end of the park, and said it was fairly extensive. There’s never enough time to do everything!

After we’d had our fill, we walked back up to the nearby tram station (Prado de San Sebastian) to see if we could figure out how it worked. I’d read about the system online but it was still a little hard to follow. We found the platform and the very helpful electronic displays telling you when the next trams are expected (we wanted the one that ran toward Plaza Nueva, as we could get off at the Archivo de Indias stop.

I wasn’t sure whether I got our tickets there or on the tram, but fortunately saw some helpful signs in English warning me to get my ticket. I eventually found the machines and got a single ticket with two uses. When the tram arrived we got on, and I watched everyone else to see what they did-- but alas all the other passengers had cards that they swiped at a machine. I must have looked confused because a helpful Spanish fellow tried to tell me what to do but I didn’t understand enough, though eventually I did hear him say “No preocupar” (don’t worry) so I figured I didn’t need to do anything. Later on I tried again to research what to do with tickets from the machines and all I found was that you were supposed to get them “stamped.” It wasn’t until a later ride that I finally learned that a conductor will come around eventually and put a little tear in the paper to indicate it has been used.

We got off the tram and serendipitously found my dad standing only a few meters away, near the Cathedral. I noticed that there were already folks lining up to get tickets for the Cathedral (it was about 10:45 then, and the Cathedral opened at 11). I had not gotten us tickets in advance for that since it hadn’t been something anyone had specifically mentioned wanting to see, but we had decided the previous evening that we did want to go and were hoping to do so later in the day. It was too late to buy them online so I figured I might as well get them when I could. In retrospect I wish I’d gotten them in advance as I did have to wait for about 30 min in the hot sun. Also I wasn’t able to get the cheaper tickets for my parents because I didn’t have their IDs with me to show. Oh well! I was still happy to be able to save everyone else from a wait. Once I got our tickets I just headed back out again with the paper slip and we reunited for lunch (the ticket seller assured me that we could just come back later and use the ticket-holder line and get in.

Lunch was more Mediterranean food at Al Wadi, not far from the Cathedral. Once again it was fresh and delicious: I had a salad with feta and olives, fried halloumi cheese, and some potatoes with a cilantro sauce. The portions ended up being much larger than I expected so we ended up with more than we could finish! Fortunately having our apartment so close to the center of things meant I could run home with the boxed up leftovers and drop them off, returning to meet back up and head to the Cathedral.

The line by then (2PM or so) was much shorter but I was still glad we didn’t have to stand in it. With our tickets in hand, we passed right inside. I had read that you could not bring backpacks inside but that did not appear to be the case. There were also lots of tourists in shorts and sleeveless tops. I did see a poster inside that was requesting below-the-knee and shoulder-covering clothing but no one seemed to actually be following it.

The structure is lofty and impressive, but to be honest, with SO many people inside chattering and taking photos, I had a hard time feeling much holiness. It was better when we found our way into some of the side chambers. And I did really enjoy watching a number of folks at work restoring the marble floor in one section.

Bob didn’t want to climb the Giralda tower and we’d already split off from everyone else, so I left him to rest in the Patio of Oranges (pleasant but not as serene or picturesque as the one in Cordoba, in my opinion) while I headed up the tower. This was originally the minaret of the mosque that once stood on the site, and has sloping walkways spiraling upwards, rather than steps. It was-- like the rest of the cathedral-- quite crowded. There were always people ahead and behind me as I climbed. My favorite part were the many windows where you could step to the side and look out to glimpse either the city or get a lovely close-up view of the hidden bits of roof and gargoyles and stonework of the cathedral itself. I probably spent more of my time at those windows than at the top of the tower, which was so jam packed you could barely move. In fact, it was so packed I didn’t even realize my dad and Dave were up there at the same time I was (I found out when I got back down and checked in with my mom.

Once I was down, Mom, Bob and I were ready to leave, so we headed out and availed ourselves of the nearby Amorino gelato shop. It is a chain, but I’ve always enjoyed their wars and found them dependable, and they do have a lot of non-milk-based options.

We headed home after that to rest up as we had one more big adventure that night: a trip to see a Flamenco show at La Casa Del Flamenco. I’d read up on several different venues for seeing a traditional show, and ultimately chose this one because they were the closest to our apartment (in fact, they are on the same street, about 3 minutes walk).

We arrived at 6:40 for our 7PM show and there was already a long line of fellow ticket-holders waiting to be seated (the seating is not pre-assigned). In fact it turned out the bulk of them were a tour group and ended up snagging all the front row seats. But we were fine with where we ended up, in high chairs along the back left corner. It seemed like all the seats had a good view, given how they wrap around the stage in a U. And the small size of the room makes it feel relatively intimate.

The announcements were all made in both Spanish and English, which I didn’t expect but appreciated. We were told no video at all, but that photos were allowed at the very end when the performers indicated it was okay. Then we sat back and enjoyed the performance. There were four dance numbers: one with both the male and female dancer, one for each of them individually, and a short bit at the end with both (the part we could photograph). There were also sections where the singer and guitarist were highlighted.

I am very glad we got to see the show! It’s not necessarily an artform that speaks strongly to me, but I loved seeing the passion and emotion that all the performers brought to their work. And those gorgeous ruffled gowns!

We headed back home after that to have a late dinner in the apartment. The next day was going to be pretty active as we were taking a day trip out of town to Carmona.

Some of our bountiful lunch at Al Wadi (potatos, halloumi, fried samosa-type appetizers).

AlWadiLunch.jpg


The Cathedral interior:

SevilleCathedral.jpg


Secret rooftop glimpses:
SevilleCathedralRoof.jpg


Color-coordinated pigeon:
SevilleCathedralPigeon.jpg


View from the top of the tower:
SevilleCathedralViewFromGiralda.jpg


Exterior door stonework:
SevilleCathedralExterior.jpg


Blurry flamenco shot during the finale:

Flamenco.jpg
 
Last edited:

veronicafrance

100+ Posts
Just for info, you can go to the large church that's near the cathedral (can't remember what it's called) and buy a joint ticket for it and the cathedral without queueing. Then you can skip the lines in the cathedral and go in via the ticket holders' entrance.
 
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devarae

100+ Posts
Just for info, you can go to the large church that's near the cathedral (can't remember what it's called) and buy a joint ticket for it and the cathedral without queueing. Then you can skip the lines in the cathedral and go in via the ticket holders' entrance.

Thank you for adding that! Hopefully it will help future travelers. I think the other church is the Church of El Salvador?

I actually did know about that and considered doing so, but from my map it looked as if the other church was far enough away (10 min walk) that it wouldn't make a big difference based on where I was in line. I think that was the wrong call because the line didn't move at all for 15 min (waiting for the ticket window to open!) so I probably would have been better going to the other church! Oh well!
 

veronicafrance

100+ Posts
Thank you for adding that! Hopefully it will help future travelers. I think the other church is the Church of El Salvador?
Yes, that's the one. It was a tip from our AirBnB host, who was a tour guide. BTW we also did a guided tour of the Mezquita in Cordoba. More expensive than a normal ticket but we felt it was worth it as it skips the queues completely and our guide was very knowledgeable and gave us an excellent tour. We had time afterwards to wander round on our own; it was almost lunchtime and much quieter by then.
 

devarae

100+ Posts
DAY SEVEN: DAY TRIP TO CARMONA

My brother Dave is particularly interested in Visigothic and Roman history, and thus had suggested a day trip to the town of Carmona on Saturday, when we would be able to visit both the Church of Santa Maria (which features a Visigothic column) and the Roman Necropolis. It also seemed like a good opportunity to see a different side of southern Spain, as it is a smaller town (though still a tourist site).

Dave had done the work of researching how to get there, and thus led us out fairly early to the San Bernardo bus station where we could get the M-124 bus to Carmona. There appear to be other buses that also go there but this seemed the best option for us as it ran fairly regularly and we could take the tram right from over by the Cathedral to the station. We arrived quite early, just to be safe. There is a single large building that holds the entry to the metro/train lines (you need to have a ticket to pass into the are where the bathrooms are, alas!) as well as a small cafe that was doing a brisk business in breakfast toasts and coffee. Knowing the bus was not going to have a bathroom and that we had a 45 min ride ahead, I decided to buy a fresh zumo de narajas (orange juice) at the cafe so I could use their for-patrons-only bathroom. The juice was delicious!

Outside on the streets around the building were all the bus stops, all with posted times and most with shelters and seats. Bob was able to get a quick breakfast ham and cheese croissant from the nearby McDonalds (more bathrooms!) though the service was strangely super-slow. We had a panic when we saw in the distance that the M124 had just pulled in (30 min early!) and raced back. But the driver let us know that he was not going to actually leave for a half-hour (I am guessing it was his breakfast break or similar). At the appointed time he returned and we all boarded, paying the driver for our tickets. There were maybe 10-20 other passengers at that time. The bus did then stop at a couple other pickup locations, including the Santa Justa train station, and a mysterious stop out along a highway with no nearby buildings (there were people there to be picked up!).

45 min later we pulled into the main downtown of Carmona, which has a sort of double street wrapping around a central park/plaza that runs in a strip along the center. The bus stop has posted hours and a waiting area, and it was clear this was where we could board later for our return (there were folks who got on after we got off to do just that).

Armed with googlemaps, we headed for the Puerta de Sevilla, a dramatic golden-brown stone fortification not far from this central street, passing markets and shops. It was active but definitely quieter than the bigger cities we’d been in so far.

There is a tourist office inside/under the Puerta de Sevilla that proved very helpful, giving us handy maps and English advice on where to find bathrooms (they were notes on the map too). We also noted that there was a little electric “tourist train” nearby that you could get tickets for that took you on a tour. It appeared to cover mostly just the area between the Puerta de Sevilla and the Puerta de Cordoba. It seemed like a decent option for someone who didn’t want to walk. At that point Mom was feeling good and we wanted to head right for the church so we decided not to get tickets for that.

We began making our way to the Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción (it was maybe 11AM, and the church would be open until 2 from what we understood. We passed by a lovely public library (with bathrooms!) and the main market center Plaza de Abastos, which was mostly empty at that hour.

Reaching the church, we found it nearly empty and very peaceful, especially compared to the busy tourist-crowded cathedrals. The smell of hot candlewax and the silence gave me a powerful feeling of peace and holiness that was much appreciated. The small orange patio was also lovely (and is the site of the Visigothic inscription (a liturgical calendar) which is carved on one of the pillars. We happened to be in the patio preparing to leave when the bells began to ring (I think it was noon by then?) which was thrilling as they were right overhead and very loud. Just around that time a large tour group (all men in matching blue shirts) arrived so it was good we arrived when we did!

From there we continued on to the Puerta de Cordoba, another large and impressive gate that stands at the outskirts of the old city, with a gorgeous view out over the countryside. Carmona is up on a rise, so from the gates the land sort of falls away into a wide golden plain of what I believe are mostly sunflower fields (not in bloom, alas).

We took a break out on the far side-- it was quite hot and dry that day, and as relentlessly sunny as ever. A few of us paid the small fee (2 Euro I think) to climb up the walls for the view, which was decent.

At that point we decided to split up, since Mom, Dad and Dave had brought along PB sandwiches and other snacks for lunch, whereas Bob and I needed to find a place to buy something. The others went off to see if they could see the old Alcazar fortress, while Bob and I set off back in the direction we’d come to find somewhere that might be open for lunch.

As we passed back by the church, we discovered another reason it was good we’d gone there right away: there was a big elaborate wedding taking place! We enjoyed watching the many female guests in vivid dresses and fancy hats, and even glimpsed the bride arriving.

We continued on and settled on eating outside at a restaurant on the Plaza San Fernando, a very attractive round plaza with a ring of shady trees along the circular street that encircles it. The food was just okay, but the atmosphere was great. We had fun watching a table of several old men. I ordered the tapas-size servings of tortilla and salmorejo soup and the waiter seemed upset that I wasn’t ordering a full meal, so perhaps I committed some sort of dining faux pas? Bob had a Russian salad tapa and a meal of chicken with peppers but it was too much!

Near the end of our meal we had more local entertainment, in the form of the bridal party riding a celebratory loop around the plaza in a beautiful carriage pulled by some stunning pure black horses. They waved at everyone as they passed, like royalty. I wonder if this is something many of the local couples do, or perhaps they were some sort of local celebrities?

Mom, Dad and Dave rejoined us in the Plaza and had their lunches sitting on the benches there. We made the decision at that point to not rush the rest of our visit to try to make the 4:30 bus back to Seville, but instead to take our time and plan for the one after that, which was not until 7. I am glad we made that decision as there was still plenty to do in Carmona, and we didn’t want to be so anxious about the bus that we missed things.

Dave and Dad decided to go to the Carmona History Museum, while Mom rested a bit, and Bob and I stopped at a market for cold drinks, then headed back to the Puerta de Sevilla to pay the small fee (3 Euro I think) to climb up the walls. This was much more impressive a climb than the one at the Puerta de Cordoba, in my opinion. You can go up a number of levels, seeing the tops of the walls and the other fortifications. There was information in English to explain the history-- several different groups having controlled the city over the ages. There was also a set of bathrooms and some curious modern meeting rooms (full of tables and chairs) up there. From the very highest point we had marvelous views of the entire town.

After that, we started the longish walk to the Necropolis, on the other end of the town. It’s not a particularly attractive walk in places, and parts of it were out in the unshaded sun, but it only took us about 20 minutes I think.

The Necropolis turned out to be free to visit (not sure if this was special for the day, or always the case) but we did have to check in at the main building first. There was a small museum there with some of the artifacts recovered from the tombs, including the charming elephant statue that is the mascot of the Necropolis.

We then rested a bit on the benches outside, and when I looked back along the road (the Necropolis is on a bit of a rise) I saw Mom, Dad and Dave on their way. So we waited for them to join us before continuing out to explore the sites.

The Necropolis consisted of a network of pathways across a large section of rather dusty land, marked by a few trees and bushes and a collection of very sad cacti that all seemed to be dying of some wilting rot. Not particularly attractive, but maybe well-suited to nature of the site?

This isn’t a place where you saw a lot of well-preserved walls and mosaics and the like- it was mostly rough stonework, much of it fallen. But what the site does provide are some quite helpful signs that feature images showing you what it would have looked like originally, and descriptions (in Spanish and English) of the various funerary practices of the Romans. My photos don’t really do it justice, so if you are curious, definitely look up more info online.

One of the tombs also had a ladder (which honestly seemed a bit dangerous-- not secured to anything, and just one bored-looking museum worker off in the distance) that you could climb down to see inside one of the underground vaults. Of course I couldn’t miss that so I did climb down, with Bob steadying the ladder for me.

We explored the entire property at our leisure-- there were only a handful of other visitors. I was very grateful for the water fountain down at the far end of the property, which had ice-cold water that we used to refill all our bottles.

I also enjoyed the views from on top of the main building, which you can take in if you climb the (unmarked) stair along the outside. You can look down on the nearby amphitheater, which is not particularly impressive from ground level (it looks like mostly-bare rock and earth) but which is easier to imagine in its original form when you see it from higher up.

Eventually we headed back to town, where we were probably about 45 min early for the bus. This gave us a chance to seek out a small spot of lemon cream gelato (I love that you can get tiny single-scoop cones in so many places) and do some people-watching. It seemed as if many of the locals liked to hang out on that central narrow plaza.

Eventually the bus arrived, we paid the driver for tickets, settled in, and were back in Seville 45 min later. It had been a long day so we pretty much just went home, had a quick meal of leftovers, and retired for the night.

Overall I thought Carmona was a very pleasant day-trip and am glad we went!

The Puerta de Sevilla:
PuertaDeSevilla.jpg


And the Puerta de Cordoba:
PuertaDeCordoba.jpg


A narrow street in Carmona:
CarmonaStreet.jpg


Lunch!:
CarmonaLunch.jpg


The view from up on the Puerta de Sevilla:
ViewFromAtopPuertaDeSevilla.jpg


The Elephant at the Necropolis museum:

NecropolisElephant.jpg


Example of the signage at the Necropolis:
NecropolisSignage.jpg
 

devarae

100+ Posts
DAY EIGHT: SEVILLE AND ITALICA
Several of us really wanted to visit Italica to see the Roman ruins and amphitheater there, but the day we had open was our final full day in Seville, a Sunday. My research led me to understand there were fewer buses that day, and I was also concerned about getting us to the bus station, spending time waiting, etc. Especially after a long, tiring day previous in Carmona. So I decided to get us spots at the last minute (I bought them two days before, online, using my phone!) on a group tour that would visit both Italica and a nearby monastery. I wasn’t sure what to expect but there were some decent reviews, so I took the risk! And I was happy with how it worked out.

I got a followup email with instructions on where to go for pickup, and it was only a 10 min walk from our apartment, over along a nearby major street. We headed over and at 9:45 as promised a large bus pulled up and the tourguide met us and a handful of others. The seats were comfortable and the bus was air-conditioned. There was a bit of a bump in that a large march for women’s rights was going on and thus the major road the driver had planned to take was closed down. He had to turn the bus around at the police line and go another, slower route to reach the second pickup point where we were eventually joined by a much larger group of mostly Spanish-speaking tourists. The guide informed us that we would be split into an English and Spanish group at the site, with a guide for each, so our actual tour size ended up more like 15 people or so, I think.

The trip to Italica was quick and we got off right at the entrance to the site. We had a chance to use the toilets (which were not ideal: all out of TP, and the handicap stall was missing its door entirely, unfortunately for the one poor woman who had to use it!). After gathering up with our guide, we went in to the main attraction: the amphitheater!

This was a truly impressive space. And were were fortunate to arrive when it was virtually empty, in spite of there being several other large tour groups at the site. Our guide wisely gave us 10 min to just wander and explore and take photos before starting her tour, which was informative. We probably spent another 10-15 min with her there, before moving on up the slope to the other part of the site: the ruins of the many houses and businesses, many with beautiful mosaic floors that have been restored and are visible in situ.

It had been pleasant when we were at the amphitheater, but by the time we climbed the slope and were out in the full sun of the rest of the site it was pretty hot for us New Englanders. Fortunately there were fountains where we could refill our water bottles (which we all carried everywhere!). The signage was very good and included English descriptions. Our guide was also helpful, though I will admit her somewhat frenetic energy kind of overwhelmed me!

We eventually returned back down the slope, where we had about 20 min free to tour on our own before we were to meet up at the bar across the street for a free drink and snack. The original itinerary said we would be visiting a winery, so I am not sure if this changed because of the traffic delays, or whether that info was inaccurate. None of us minded because we don’t drink much and preferred to have more time at the historical sites!

We weren’t going to turn down free drinks though, so we did go and get complimentary sodas in place of the wine (I myself did try the orange wine, because I was quite curious. It was strong, sweet and powerful, and a bit cough-syrupy to my tastes. But an interesting experience!). We were also offered bread and cheese, though of course the three vegans couldn’t eat the cheese and when they asked if they could just get bread instead no one ever did provide any. Oh well!

After that break, we all returned to the bus and headed to the nearby Monastery San Isidoro del Campo. This also wasn’t something I would have sought out on my own, but we were all happy to go there as it was a lovely place, and my brother was excited to discover it had a bunch of Visigothic connections.

I did, however, think it was a bit too small for our tour group(s). Many of the rooms didn’t allow everyone to fit inside, even with our smaller sub-group. And the other Spanish half of our tour was often so close that the competing voices of the guides made it hard to focus. I ended up just leaving the tour and exploring on my own, which was much more peaceful and enjoyable.

We then headed back to Seville, and after a bit of a delay dropping off most of the other tourists at one drop off (the guide spent 10 minutes answering a bunch of questions while we waited on the bus), we finally got off ourselves at the same place we’d been picked up.

Overall I don’t think I’d necessarily recommend this tour because of some of the weirdnesses, but it was the best option for us at the time and I am happy with how things turned out. I do think Italica is worth seeing!

By then it was fairly late and we were hungry. Bob and I split off to get lunch at You Sushi as we were craving something different. This was a good experience, and we felt very restored by our cucumber-seaweed salad and a variety of vegetable and fish sushi. We continued to cool ourselves down with gelato from the nearby heladeria, Bolas. The pistachio was one of the best I’ve had, though the white chocolate was just okay.

We continued on back to the apartment, where I dropped off Bob who needed a nap, while I set of solo to visit the Palacio de Lebrija.

This is a truly sumptuous house in the center of the city, which served as the home for the Countess of Lebrija, who was an avid collector of antiquities. She even remodeled her rooms to better accommodate various mosaics. I had a wonderful time just strolling around trying to absorb all the beauty and detail. It was relatively uncrowded and peaceful, and cool. A nice balance to the heat and crowds of the morning!

I particularly loved one mosaic featuring an image of Medusa, whose eyes seemed to follow me everywhere, and the mosaic that had one section missing, so the Countess had them fill it in with a simple statement of SALVE! (welcome).

I also went on the short guided tour (in Spanish and English) of the luxurious upper floor, where the Countess had her gorgeous bedroom, several sitting rooms filled with gilt and porcelain, a beautiful crimson library, private chapel, dining room, and a Moroccan(?)-style tea room. No photos allowed up there, though!

After I’d seen my fill I headed around the corner and visited another pastry-shop from my list of recommendations: Confiteria La Campana

It was so hard to choose! Fortunately I had plenty of time (I had to take a number from a machine on the wall and wait for a server to call it out-- there was also a display) to consider the options. I ended up picking a Bomba de Nata (two layers of cake with a giant pile of whipped cream sandwiched between, and a sort of sticky toffee or jam on top) and an unlabeled sweet pretzel sort of thing. I also got three small wrapped yemas, one of the convent treats I’d read about (these are made with egg yolk and sugar, primarily).

I hurried home to sample the goodies, passing through more of the gorgeous plazas and streets as I did. I was particularly fond of the pair of trees in the Plaza de San Francisco that have been perfectly trimmed into giant cubes. One of these was also at that time the roosting spot for what must have been hundreds of small twittering birds. It was rather disconcerting, since you couldn’t really see them, just hear them and see the branches stirring.

Back home I found that the Bomba de Nata was everything I hoped it would be. The yemas, alas, were not at all to my taste. Perhaps it was this batch, but they tasted more like egg yolk than anything else, and the coating of sugar had crystallized in a way that was unappetizing.

We capped off the night with a final dinner out, which ended up being sadly disappointing. It was in a lovely location but the experience was a bit uncomfortable because of the rude manager (I looked up the place later and discovered it has an average 1 star rating with over 100 reviews, nearly all of which mention the rude manager). We watched him berate a patron at a neighboring restaurant because his chair had crossed the invisible line separating the two regions of outdoor seating, and he came running up to me as I was waiting for the bathroom to demand I point out where I was sitting to make sure I was a real patron of the place. The food wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t worth being uncomfortable like that! Thankfully this was the only experience we had like this in the entire trip. But it was a good reminder to check reviews in the future, I guess!

Italica Amphitheater (you may recognize it, as it was used as a filming location in Game of Thrones!)
ItalicaAmphitheater.jpg


One of the many mosaics at Italica:
ItalicaMosaic.jpg


The Monastery:
MonestaryWall.jpg


Our tourguide said that the missing tiles here were stolen only a few years ago. Grr!
StolenTiles.jpg


The central cloister/courtyard of the monastery.
Monestary.jpg


The main patio at the Palacio de Lebrija
LebrijaPatio.jpg


WELCOME!
Salve.jpg


My favorite Medusa!
Medusa.jpg


So hard to choose!!!
PastryShop.jpg
 

devarae

100+ Posts
DAY NINE: SEVILLE TO GRANADA
Sadly, it was time to leave Seville but happily that meant we were on our way to Granada! I had booked us bus tickets in advance via the ALSA website, on a 12PM bus that would take about three hours to arrive at the Granada bus station. Our bus left from the Plaza de Armas bus station, which was definitely too far away to walk to with luggage, so we planned to take a taxi. Our landlord told us we should have no trouble getting two taxis over by the Cathedral so that was our plan.

We weren’t planning to leave the apartment until 10 (which was pretty early, but as mentioned previously, I worry a lot about connections!) so I did go out for one last walk. While passing by the Cathedral I noticed that it was open (this was, I think, at around 8:30) so I popped inside. Most of the interior was roped off but this was still an unexpectedly peaceful chance to take in the atmosphere, as there were very few others there (also, no fee). I am not entirely sure whether this is a normal occurrence-- perhaps it was open for services? Either way, it was a nice discovery.

Eventually I headed home and we all packed up and got things in order, then headed downstairs and over to the taxi stand along Calle Alemanes. There were, indeed, plenty of taxis! We found two of them, I gave both drivers the destination, and we piled in and shortly thereafter were deposited outside the bus station. We lugged our suitcases around to the ramp, went up into the waiting area, and found some chairs to claim for our wait. The actual bus terminals were downstairs, but we figured it would be more comfortable to wait upstairs near the bathrooms and shops.

We made good use of the time: Dad wanted to take photos of some street art on the walls outside that he’d read about, Dave went to another vegan eatery nearby, and Bob and I went to go find some lunch fixings at the supermarket across the street. We found quite a few good options, including a delicious boxed kale salad with nuts and fruit (there were a bunch of other very good looking salads for meat/poultry/vegetarian/vegan eaters). Stocked up for our trip, we returned and eventually moved downstairs to the terminal for our bus. It had just pulled in, and there was a sort of chaotic scramble as all the passengers loaded their large luggage into the underneath compartments with some help from the driver. Then we boarded and found our assigned seats (with a bit of confusion as to which letter was the aisle or window). I was a bit distressed to see there was no bathroom on the bus! I had read that there would be. Thankfully we’d all used the facilities at the station, because the bus did not stop at all during the three hour trip!

I spent the time eating lunch and reading and watching the changing scenery as we moved into a more mountainous region of Spain, approaching the Sierra Nevadas. And before too long we were in Granada!

We got off, collected our luggage (in another scramble) and then made our way up the escalator (these were often not moving sets of steps as I am used to, but more like sloped conveyor belts) and then outside to the taxi stand. We once again found two taxis, and I showed both of them our apartment address, asking to get us “cerca” (nearby) since the street itself was supposedly narrow/pedestrian. They seemed to understand my not-so-great Spanish and off we went.

The ride from the Granada bus station to our apartment took a bit-- maybe as much as 15 min? There was a lot of traffic. My first impressions of Granada were that it was a bit grimmer/darker than either Seville or Cordoba, even with the bright blue sky and sun. But it was a very nice change to be able to see a different landscape, and I was excited to see more of the city.

We arrived just around the corner from our apartment entrance, and soon were met by the owner, whom I had contacted earlier to let her know when we were arriving. We spent quite a long time getting settled in as the owner was very chatty and helpful in giving us lots of info (maybe too much!) and we also had to spend some time figuring out how to fit ourselves into the space (because of our larger than originally planned party). It was a very cheerful and spacious apartment though, with both a washer AND dryer. The streets immediately outside were nothing special-- full of clothing shops, mostly-- but there was a supermarket right around the corner, so that was very convenient! We headed down shortly to stock up for our final five days in Spain!

Everyone was a bit wiped out from travel, so several of us took some time to rest. Bob and I eventually headed off on our own to explore a bit, with plans to get dinner at an Indian restaurant. But since that wasn’t going to open until 7, what other choice did we have but to tide ourselves over with gelato?

We headed over to Plaza de la Trinidad, which was very picturesque and full of lush trees. We got ourselves gelato at Grillo, over on one corner of the plaza, and ate it while wandering up to Plaza de la Romanilla and then over to the wide and impressive Plaza Bib Rambla. At this point I was definitely feeling like I was in a new city. There was something about the wide, rectangular Plaza Bib Rambla with its fountain and roses and ornate lamps that felt more generically “European” (I don’t mean that as a bad thing!).

We continued on through the touristy “shopping mall” sort of area that runs between Plaza Bib Rambla and the Calle Gran Via de Colon (the large road where you can find stops for many of the local busses). At the Gran Via we spent some time looking for the stop for the airport bus, having been advised by our landlady that this was our best option to get to the airport when we left on Saturday (given the ride would be very expensive by taxi as it’s about 45 min outside of the city center). We found the local busses all had very clear signs with electric boards telling you how long to wait for the next one. The airport sign was harder to find, but there happened to be an attendant on duty at one of the bus stops who pointed it out. It’s on the opposite side of the street from the Cathedral, near one of the electronic displays-- just a smallish plaque with the schedule, posted on a streetlamp.

I had one more mission before dinner: to locate the Hammam al-Andalus, where Mom, Bob and I would be going the next day to bathe. We headed over to the Plaza de Santa Ana, then up to the lovely narrow road that goes along the Darro river, where we found eventually found the Hammam. We also stopped in at a perfumery, lured by the offer of a "Perfume Museum." This was actually quite fun (and free) as it had a cool setup where you could see if you could identify different scents (there were at least 20). I wished I could tolerate perfume well enough to have bought some-- but most of the time scents give me a headache eventually, so I didn't risk it.

Having accomplished our reconnaissance, it was time for dinner! We headed back to Muglia2, which was good and filled our need for chicken tikka masala and samosas very well. We headed home, enjoying the festive evening activity in the plazas as we passed through.

I have to admit, I think I was starting to get a bit worn out by this time-- I tend to push myself hard while traveling, trying to go out and walk as much as I can and absorb everything. And of course there’s the general fatigue that comes from travel, from being away from the familiar. For me, there was also the tension of being the main organizer who was responsible for a lot of the logistics. Which is not a bad thing-- I love organizing and research and would be super-uncomfortable and even more anxious if I had to let someone else be in charge. But it was taking energy, even though everyone else was very good about not making me feel responsible if there were any hiccups.

All that is to say: I was kind of relieved to now be in Granada, where there was really just one BIG THING I had to see (the Alhambra). I was hoping I could trick myself into relaxing a little more!

Yum, GELATO!
GrilloGelato.jpg


Plaza Bib Rambla
PlazaBibRambla.jpg


Lights in Bib Rambla
LightsInBibRambla.jpg


The souvenir mall:
TouristSouvenirMall.jpg


Plaza de Santa Ana. One thing we noticed was some of these outside eating spaces had sprays of fine mist that went off every so often to cool down the diners outside! Like you sometimes see in the produce section of the supermarket! :)
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A lovely fountain near the Darro
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The perfume museum
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Chicken Tikka Masala and Garlic Naan!
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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY TEN: GRANADA
I went out on my own early on the first full day in Granada, on a mission for churros! I found them at the Bar Bib Rambla. We’d actually gotten some on the street in Cordoba as well, so it was interesting to compare the two. I think I preferred the Cordoban ones. These seemed just a bit too greasy (like they had been fried in oil that wasn’t quite hot enough). But still, it is hard to go wrong with fried dough and thick, sweet chocolate! I enjoyed my sweet treat with tea, reading my book and people-watching.

After that, I met up with my dad for a walk up into the Albayzin/Albaicin neighborhood (the old Medieval Moorish section of town) with a plan to scope out the Saint Nicholas Mirador (viewpoint) by daylight. We were also hoping to go back up later in the evening for the sunset, as well.

We had a very pleasant ramble up along the Darro (with fewer crowds at that hour, around 9) and eventually up to the overlook. It was a bit of a hike going up the inclines and stairs but not bad, since there were plenty of switchbacks that were flatter along the way. We found it relatively uncrowded at that time, and enjoyed the views very much!

After that we headed down again, taking a route that passed more directly back towards the Cathedral and our apartment. We passed through some very picturesque streets, as well as some areas that were a bit more gritty/run-down. Closer to the Via Grande we found ourselves in the section of streets that seems to be full of tea houses and souvenir shops. It was interesting, but felt a bit repetitive-- every shop seemed to have the exact same mass-produced wares.

After we reconnected with everyone else at the apartment, we all headed out to get lunch at El Oju, a vegan restaurant (there were several in Granada!) a few minutes walk away. After a short wait for it to open, we eagerly entered and found a table. I was very happy with my order, a mushroom-based burger on a really good soft bun, with fresh fried potato slices. It was one of the best things I ate on the entire trip! I think everyone else quite enjoyed their food too! Definitely recommended!

After lunch, Mom, Bob and I took our time stopping back at the apartment for our bathing suits (for the bathhouse) and then walking up to the Plaza de Santa Ana, stopping at various shops along the way, and then spending some time just sitting in the square people and bird-watching by the fountain. Once it was getting close to 3:45, we continued on to the Hammam Al Andalus for our 4PM reservation.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love atmosphere, hot water, and cool architecture and my research seemed to indicate the Hammam would provide all three. Initially, it was a bit hectic and confusing! All the folks with 4PM slots show up at the same time all the folks from the previous slot are in the washroom getting showered and dressed, so it was very chaotic and there was not enough space to move without bumping into anyone. But there were plenty of helpful attendants (English and Spanish speaking) who helped keep everything moving. If I were to do it again (and I would!) I would not have arrived early, or would have just waited in the changing room for the crowd to subside before trying to get situated. Assuming they would allow that!

Anyways, the changing rooms had plenty of sinks (with hairdryers, complementary combs, various lotions and toiletries, etc) as well as toilets and showers. There were lockers that you could key in a code to and then lock and unlock with that key, to keep your valuables safe. It was nice but not out-of-this-world luxurious. After we had changed, Mom and I met up with Bob outside in a sort of waiting area near the cold pool.

We were able to help ourselves to tiny silver cups of mint tea (there were several pots constantly on hand, some sweetened, some seemingly unsweetened, though there were no labels to tell which was which). After a short wait an attendant brought us through the chambers, pointing out the two hot baths and the medium-hot bath, as well as warm sitting areas and the steam room. Then we were sent to the shower area to wash off before we entered the pools.

You could combine your soak with a massage, but I had not gotten that option for any of us. If you did have a massage, you wore a wristband that the attendants could use to find you when it was your turn. Free of any such commitment, we spent the rest of our 1.5 hour visit at leisure, moving between the pools.

The hectic energy of the “getting settled” time passed away, as all the guests were eventually checked in and set up. I would say we spent about 45 minutes or maybe an hour in the pools once we were oriented. These were all very beautiful, with Mudejar-style arches and faux-plasterwork decorating them, pillars marching along the sides, and lots and lots of candles (real candles) lighting the otherwise dim and steamy space. The ceilings were low in all but one of the hot baths, which had a gorgeous high dome. None of the rooms/baths were particularly large, and occasionally it did feel as if there were a few too many other guests for it to feel truly peaceful. But for the most part folks were quiet, following the rules against loud conversation.

Overall I loved this experience, and wish I could go back! But knowing how uncomfortable the press of people as we were arriving had been, we decided to leave a little early (5:10 I think), in the hopes of avoiding this same experience at the end of the visit. This worked out well-- Mom and I were the only ones in the ladies’s room, and had plenty of peace and calm to shower, wash our hair and dry it, before heading out refreshed and relaxed to meet Bob outside. It was just about 5:30 when we left, and the rest of the 4pm folks were starting to come in, so we felt our timing was perfect.

We ambled back home, where we had dinner in the apartment (more pasta and chickpeas and spinach!).

Mom and Bob were ready to call it a day, but Dad and Dave and I wanted to try to see the sunset at the mirador. We also wanted to try out the bus system as we planned to use it the next day when we visited the Alhambra.

We found the stop for one of the small city busses that does a loop through the Albaicin. The first bus was so crowded we didn’t bother to get on, seeing that there was another due in about four minutes. Thankfully this next one had more room! We paid the driver, took our tickets, and found seats. More folks got on at the next few stops, and we were also quite crowded when we reached the stop for Saint Nicholas.

But not nearly so crowded as the mirador itself! It was PACKED! I imagine you would need to come pretty early to get a prime spot at the overlook itself! It was, by then, shortly before the prime sunset glow (the sun sets opposite the Alhambra, not behind it, so the effect everyone looks for is a sort of reflected rosy glow).

The number of people was a bit too much for me so I headed back down to a smaller unofficial viewpoint down the steps from San Nicholas, where there were only a handful of people. Not as perfect a view for a photograph, but more pleasant for just taking in the view! I loved seeing the mountains behind the Alhambra-- something about that vision truly was magical. Even more so knowing we’d be up there in the palace itself the next day!

I went back up eventually once it was darker and some of the crowds had left. We walked back down once we’d had our fill, and were lucky enough to stumble on another quite nice view from the Mirador de Los Carvajales. By then it was full dark but the Alhambra is all lit with a golden glow by spotlights around the base of the walls, so it is still a beautiful sight, if harder to photograph.

Then it was onward, back down to our apartment to rest up for a busy day: Alhambra Day!

Churros & chocolate at Cafe Bib Rambla:

Churros.jpg


Walking along the Darro. That's one of the small city busses ahead, just squeezing through!
NarrowBusRoute.jpg


My dad the photographer at the Mirador San Nicholas with the Alhambra in the background:
DadThePhotographer.jpg


Street art in the Albayzin/Albaicin:
AlbayzinStreetArt.jpg


Delicious mushroom burger at El Oju
ElOjuVeggieBurger.jpg


Outside the Hammam al Andalus
HammamAlAndalus.jpg


Night view of the Alhambra
AlhambraNightMirador.jpg
 
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devarae

100+ Posts
DAY ELEVEN: GRANADA

Today was the day! My greatest logistical fear when planning this trip had been that somehow I would flub things and we would miss the chance to see the Alhambra while we were in Granada. I set myself a calendar notification right after I first booked our plane tickets and reserved our apartments, to remind me to check for tickets to the Alhambra the day they went on sale. For our trip in October, that was July 1 (three months early). I bought the tickets via the official site.

This was a bit of a chore as I needed to enter a bunch of ID info, including passport numbers, for all five of us. And I needed to do it twice, because I got both daytime tickets and evening tickets to the Nasrid palace! But I did get them, and that was a huge relief. Our daytime tickets were the version that included Generalife, Alcazaba and the Nasrid Palaces. For the Nasrid Palaces, however, there is a timed entry: you need to show up at the specified time or within the following 29 minutes or you cannot entire, though you can remain inside as long as you want. I chose 3PM for us, since not all of us would be up for an early morning visit, and I was hoping that being there near the closing time (6PM) might mean it was less crowded. In spite of having two different printed copies of the tickets, I was perpetually anxious that we were going to lose them, or get lost, or otherwise miss our entry time. So while I was really looking forward to this day because I’ve long dreamed of seeing the Alhambra, I was also pretty nervous!

The general tickets allow you to enter the Generalife and Alcazaba at anytime during the day they are for, so my dad and Dave decided to go over in the morning to have a better chance to see those two sites first thing. Bob slept in, and Mom was resting as she knew that (with her injured leg) she was only going to have to conserve her energy for the Nasrid Palaces, which are what most folks would consider the “highlight” of the site. So Mom, Bob and I decided we would head out at 11, taking lunch with us to eat in the gardens and see what we could of them in an hour, then mosey over to the Nasrid entrance after that.

That meant I had the morning free, so I decided to head out on a little more exploring of the Albaicin neighborhood. I wandered around a bit, heading up towards the Palacio de Dar al-Horra. I found some charming streets up that way, I think it was the Plaza Larga area? It was a nice neighborhood I would have liked to explore further. But I was interested in checking out the Dar al-Horra exhibits on Science in Al-Andalus, and only had limited time, so I cut short my wanderings and headed over to the Palacio. Unfortunately I had misread the opening time (the winter hours were in effect so it opened at 10AM, not 9:30) and I was a early, but enjoyed my wait watching a handsome cat who was hanging out on the windowsill outside. Just before 10 (when the museum was scheduled to open) the cat jumped down and walked over to the door where he stood as if waiting. A moment later a woman opened the door and greeted the cat, who went inside. I laughed, and the woman said he is always the first guest of the day, and that his name is Vincent.

I quickly bought a ticket using a ticket machine (the woman helped me figure out how to do this) which was actually a combo ticket for several sites in Granada. Sadly I wasn’t able to see any of the others. If I had done my research, I’d have gone a different day when I could make better use of the ticket. But oh well! I was there and didn’t want to waste the trip.

Though I had to make it pretty quick, since I had to get back by 11! It is a small museum, but with very professionally presented exhibits. I had to resort to taking photos of a lot of the signs, since I didn’t have time to read them fully, but I did really enjoy just wandering through and seeing the artifacts (and beautiful reproductions of various devices) that were on display. There were some quite nice views from the highest tower, as well, and some old plasterwork that was in the process of being restored.

But then it was time to leave. I rushed back down the hill to the apartment, where I met up with Mom and Bob. We stopped at the grocery store for some boxed sandwiches/fruit/rolls for lunch, then headed up to the Gran Via to take the bus to the Alhambra. There are two different busses that go past the Alhambra (C30 and C32 I think). I think we always ended up on the C32! You can get off at the main visitor center if you are going to the Generalife first (the next two stops are closer to the Nasrid/Alcazaba).

We got off the (crowded!) bus and found our way to the queue for entry into the complex. We needed to show our tickets here, but it was not scanned (there is a QR code on the ticket that is scanned each time you enter one of the three ticketed areas, Alcazaba, Nasrid, Generalife, which you can only enter once). There was no real wait. There were a lot of people though! Especially a lot of tour groups.

We passed through and used our map (we borrowed one from the apartment but there were many posted as well) to orient ourselves. We walked up along a pretty walkway edged by a large bed of flowers and found a bench in the shade, with a view of the lower part of the complex (Nasrid, and I think the Parador hotel) across a sort of grassy gully from where we were. By then it was just after noon so we decided to have lunch. Our grocery-store turkey and cranberry sandwiches were nothing special, but they filled us up! We also, as usual, had each brought bottles of water along to stay hydrated.

Bob and I checked out the Generalife gardens and also found the public bathrooms. The gardens were quite lovely even in October, with roses, morning glories, and other flowers still in abundance. The views were also very beautiful, and it was fun to explore all the circuitous passages through the tall, dark green hedges. Eventually you come to the actual palace that is at the far end of the gardens, which is where you actually need to present your ticket and have it scanned. We went back to check on Mom before entering, and she decided she would move up to the gardens (there were plenty of benches there too) but would skip the palace to save her strength for later.

So we continued on, into the Generalife palace, which was more elaborate than I had been expecting, with some of the beautiful plasterwork I had seen in photos and only expected to encounter in the Nasrid palaces. We saw our fill, dodging the larger crowds and tour groups, and eventually passed out into more gardens. We were already getting a little worn out, so we skipped seeing all the overlooks, and walked back along a nice shady walkway that led back down to the bench where we’d eaten lunch. Mom met us there (we coordinated via phone) and we rested up a bit.

Then it was time to start heading down to the lower section. I think it was only around 1PM, but that was good as we were going slow and taking plenty of breaks (to buy sodas at the souvenir shops, to take breaks in the gardens along the way, etc). It was quite hot and the sun was blazing so we were trying to keep cool and not push too hard.

Eventually we reached the Carlos V Palace and the tourist building with more bathrooms and a luggage check. I got us a package of Oreos from the vending machine (Oreos are vegan!) which was a nice treat to bolster us for the big finale.

We actually had enough time (I think it was around 2:15) to do a quick walk through the Alcazaba, the “fortress” section of the complex. Bob and I entered (scanning our tickets again) and took in some of the excellent views. We didn’t climb up to the heights as we were conserving strength, but we did go through the center section where you can see the remains of the old walls outlining the various structures that once stood there. We continued on out through the quite nice small garden area along the far side, then back towards the Visitor’s Center.

I was still feeling nervous about getting in for our 3PM slot at the Nasrid Palaces. There was a queue formed in front of the Carlos V entrance (across from a stand renting audio guides) that I was pretty sure was where we needed to go. I asked the audioguide attendant and she confirmed this. But I wasn’t sure when we were allowed to get in line for 3PM entry. Folks in the line were still being allowed in, presumably having tickets for the 2:30 slot. Around 2:45 it looked like the line stopped moving, so I decided we should go get into it. My only hesitation was that part of the line was in the unfiltered sunlight (there were some umbrellas shading the front of the line, but that was already full up! Some lucky folks had even gotten spots sitting on the benches that were in the shade of the umbrellas. We were able to sit on a bench, but it wasn’t shaded. Even so, it was only 15 minutes and then, finally, we could see movement. Oh, and I should note this line was labeled as being for individuals only. I am not sure where the group line was. I did see that before they allowed our line to enter, they had a separate group of folks with mobility enter via a ramp (our entry involved going down some steps).

The attendants checked our tickets as we exited the waiting area, making sure that we were in the right time slot I assume, and then we continued on down to the entrance to the building itself. There we actually had our tickets scanned, and proceeded into the first room. This was PACKED with all the new 3PM tourists, including several tour groups, making it had to really appreciate. Bob, Dave, Mom and I all made the decision to try to go on ahead until we could find a less crowded area, and to return to this first room later. Accordingly we hurried on, and I think we ended up pausing in the Court of the Myrtles. I believe my Dad, on the other hand, decided to just wait in the first room until the tour groups moved on, which also worked.

There were chairs scattered throughout the complex, which was helpful for Mom who needed to rest her leg occasionally. In general, it was fairly crowded everywhere, but if you were willing to wait, it seemed that you could eventually find a lull where there were fewer people in each room. And since the most glorious of the sights were above us, thankfully the crowds didn’t impact our ability to see much of the beauty.

I was, of course, expecting crowds, given that this is the most visited historical site in Europe, from what I’d heard. So I had prepared myself mentally and told myself not to be disappointed if the “atmosphere” suffered. And I was one of the people making it crowded, so I can’t really complain! :) Thankfully, once I had adjusted to the crowds and gotten over my initial anxieties, I had a really wonderful time!

It’s truly an overwhelming place. There are many similarities to the Alcazar in Seville, in the sense that there is just SO MUCH beautiful detail it is hard to absorb it all. And it was very hard to stop taking photos, because I so desperately wanted to try to capture it, even though I knew I couldn’t. And even here, my words really can’t capture it either. It’s so fascinating to think that the place was virtually abandoned for a period of time in the 18th century. Imagine being able to actually walk through it completely alone! Or to live there, as Washington Irving did in the early 19th century.

Anyways, I was satisfied with my visit-- I wished I could have stayed even longer, but there are no bathrooms inside the Nasrid Palaces, so by 5PM I was forced to leave by my bladder. But maybe that was a good thing -- I kind of felt as if I’d absorbed all I could. And it helped knowing we would be back the next night for our evening visit, which I was hoping would provide a quieter and more atmospheric experience.

We reconnected out in the Partal gardens and headed up to the Visitor’s Center, then out the Gate of Justice to the bus stop along the road there. Before too long we spotted our trusty C32 bus and it took us back down to the lower city of Granada.

On the way back to the apartment Bob and I took a detour to pick up slices of cake at La Tarta de la Madre de Cris, where they specialize in cheesecake. We got one slice of traditional/plain (a little eggy for my taste) and one chocolate (very rich and intense, my favorite of the two).

We had dessert first because our plans for dinner involved a meal at highly recommended vegetarian restaurant Al-laurel, which didn’t open until 7. But the cheesecake tided us over, and after a bit of a rest for our weary feet, we walked over to the restaurant.

This was one of my favorite meals of the trip, and a lovely way to cap off a long, exhausting, but glorious day. We feasted on an amazing tempura onion tapa with teriyaki tempeh and mango sauce, delicious Maghrebi iced tea, and various interesting and flavorful main dishes.

And then, finally, thankfully, it was time for bed!

Victor the cat:
Victor.jpg


Generalife Garden:
GeneralifeGarden.jpg


Generalife palace:
Generalife1.jpg


Generalife2.jpg


Trying to capture the Nasrid Palace:

Alhambra1.jpg


Alhambra2.jpg


Alhambra3.jpg


Alhambra4.jpg


Alhambra5.jpg


Al Laurel tapas:
AlLaurel.jpg
 

veronicafrance

100+ Posts
I'm not a person who thinks of hotels as a destinations in themselves, but the parador inside the Alhambra is really worthwhile, at least once. It has a fabulous interior courtyard for guests only where you can sit and look at the stars to the sound of trickling water. But as a non-guest you can use the bar/restaurant which have very nice views (food good but not exceptional for the price).
 

devarae

100+ Posts
I'm not a person who thinks of hotels as a destinations in themselves, but the parador inside the Alhambra is really worthwhile, at least once. It has a fabulous interior courtyard for guests only where you can sit and look at the stars to the sound of trickling water. But as a non-guest you can use the bar/restaurant which have very nice views (food good but not exceptional for the price).

Yes, I think if I ever go back to Granada I would try my best to spend a night (or two) there! That sounds magical!
 

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