Saturday, June 20, 2015

Seville, More Than Oranges

I had been wanting to go to Seville since my first trip to Europe, but didn't have time for it. I was really looking forward to spending a few days in what I heard was one of the prettiest cities in Spain. I'd now argue that it is one of the prettiest in Europe.

The train to Seville from Madrid is just 2 1/2 hours and we practically had the car in Preferenté class to ourselves.

A quick cab from the train station took us to the 5* Hotel Alfonso XIII. This hotel was absolutely stunning. As it was August, when most people don't travel in southern Spain, I had gotten some great deals using for our hotels. Our room, on the 3rd floor, was huge! Marble bathroom, king size bed, chandelier, and a large balcony with a view of the Cathedral next door. And of course a wonderful pool area for a daily dip. Easily one of my favorite places I have ever stayed.

Did I mention the hotel's bar, Bar Americano? Awesome cocktails, and the perfect place for an evening nightcap.

Seville is a stunning city, especially at night when the buildings are lit up. It is very easy to walk around -- we never took a cab, but you can take a horse and carriage if you like -- and places were easy to find. Plaza Espanol is especially pretty!

A morning spent at the Real Alcazar is a must. From the moment you enter you are completely surrounded by the most beautiful gardens and architecture. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. Pictures just don't do it justice.

You'll want to be done by lunch as the heat is shocking. There is a lovely shaded square behind the Alcazar called Plaza de Dona Elvira that we enjoyed some refreshing gazpacho in.

I also loved walking across the bridge to the Triana area. This side of the Guadalquivir River has an interesting past and its residents feel they are separate from Seville. Unique. It reminded me of how residents of the 18th in Paris feel. We visited the Mercato and stocked up on jamon iberico, witnessed people queuing up and being interviewed for a restaurant job while having lunch at Las Golondrinas II (the Spanish unemployment rate in Aug of 2013 was over 25%), and shopped in the tile and ceramic district, one of the main things Triana is known for.
Crossing back over the Puente de Triana we walked past Seville's bullring which dates back to 1749.

Seville Cathedral is another eye candy stop. Chambers, alters, and chapels prove the city's past wealth. There are rooms completely filled with silver, gold, and bronze display items. Climbing the ramps and steps to the top of the Giralda (tower) gives you stunning views of the city.

A lot of the normally recommended restaurants were closed for the August holidays, but we still found deliciousness. As always, the only bad food we had was when we sat down at a restaurant that had the menu in every language and included pictures. Our own fault. La Autigua Bodeguita was very fun and served delicious trendy tapas like mini hamburguesas. It's just a tiny stand up place where people spilled out into the Plaza del Salvador with their wine and beer.

Las Teresas is another very old school style tapas bar. Its got a great atmosphere for a sit down dinner. Highlights here were the whole grilled mushrooms (champion plancha), fantastically tender octopus (pulpo), and meaty tuna collar(morrillo de atún).

Vineria San Telmo was perfect for a little nicer and modern style tapas dinner. It is very popular so we strolled around the neighborhood, which is incredibly lively, during our 45 minute wait. An amazing oxtail in phyllo, queso fundito, and banoffe pie were standouts.

We also had dinner at the highly recommended Meson de la Infanta which was good but not excellent. The space however is very cool.

I loved everything about this city and will look forward to visiting it again some day!

All photos of Seville are here.
Jerez is also an easy day trip from here.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Weekend in Madrid

The first time I visited Madrid was also my first time in Europe- 1999, wow that was a long time ago!

August 2013 we headed to southern Spain to do some vacationing and to meet up with friends who graciously invited us to spend a week with them in the Alicante region.

We flew into Madrid and checked into the Hotel Urban, originally we had booked into the Hotel Real but their A/C was TU and Madrid in summer is crazy hot, so they made alternate arrangements for us at their sister property just a few blocks away.

The Hotel Urban is a very nice, modern, 5* hotel fantastically located just steps from the Plaza Santa Ana. There is a wonderful rooftop bar and plunge pool, and the basement houses the Egypt Museum. Both the common areas and the rooms display an assortment of Egyptian and New Guinean artifacts. The lobby offers complimentary juices and Cava and the hotel's bar Glass has over 30 different choices of gin and tonic pairings. Obviously I approve and highly recommend this hotel when in Madrid.

We were only in town for a weekend so we didn't do too much, I had really liked the big city, masculinity of Madrid from my first visit so I was content just to wander. We would also be hitting Madrid on our way out of Spain 2 1/2 weeks later.

Multiple lunches/beer breaks were had in Plaza Santa Ana, there are numerous casual tapas places with outdoor seating, perfect for people watching and just chilling. It was an easy walk from here to the Plaza del Sol––a hubbub of political demonstrations, knock-off purse vendors, and pan-handling backpackers––and then on to the Plaza Mayor––a gorgeous enclosed square of beautiful building facades and street performers.

One afternoon was spent window shopping on the spendy Calle de Jose Ortega in Barrio Salamanca while strolling to the Prado. On our way we stopped for a wonderful lunch at Meson Cinco Jatas. Modern tapas, a nice outdoor patio, and good service. There are a few around Madrid (including one in Plaza Santa Ana).

What can one say about the Prado? It is such a different collection of art than most of the museums in Europe have. And it's a very interesting building close to the park Retiro; and again, just near our hotel.

As previously mentioned, August in Madrid is hot, so a dip in the rooftop pool followed by some drinks and a siesta were the perfect accompaniments to our afternoon.

Dinner at Botin that night might sound cliché but I really wanted Dayne to experience the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Madrid, not to mention the exceptionally crispy suckling pig. Is it touristy? Yes. Is it over-rated? Probably. Is it a really fun experience? Without a doubt.

The evening started with sherry at La Venencia which is an incredibly old bar next to our hotel. If you are interested in sherry and looking for a true local experience don't miss this gem. We ended it with churros and chocolate at the famed Chocolateria San Gines and then huge, Madrid style gintonics (not a typo, that is how they are referred to in Spain) at a random bar on the way home. As it is in Paris, Madrid closes down a bit in August for annual vacations so many places that we would normally check out were closed, but there are still so many good and inexpensively priced places in the city that you can get along just fine without a bunch of pre-planning.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Museo de Jamon, a local chain with all things ham, and relaxed a bit back with a few beers in our neighboring Plaza Santa Ana before grabbing out luggage and heading to the train station to take the 2.5 hour train to Seville.

All Madrid photos here.

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