Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On the Way Home from Spain, Tuesday 10/8

The Best Western shuttle delivered us to the airport, and next thing you know USAirways #741 was on its way to Philadelphia.  This first leg of the journey was comfortable and easy.  Gloria watched three movies, and I drafted some of these blog posts.

Immigration/baggage claim/customs in Philadelphia has never been an efficient process.  Today they seemed especially proud of their reputation, and were making an extra effort to be even worse.  I think they were conspiring to minimize the value of our pass to use the USAir lounge during our layover.

Twenty-three travel hours after departure, we were sure glad to arrive home.
Hope you've enjoyed reading about our Spanish adventure!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Barajas - Monday evening 10/7

By the time we returned from our little excursion to downtown, Mary and Ed had checked into the hotel.  (They loved their visits to Spanish beaches and mountains, and returned their rental car at the Madrid airport.)

Tonight is our last chance to savor Spanish cuisine before flying home tomorrow.  The obvious choice is to return to La Latina and introduce our friends to Adrian.
Adrian chills the cava

I was feeling celebratory, so ordered cava (sparkling Spanish wine).  As Adrian was pouring two other people from the hotel walked in.  We had met Harvey and his friend at breakfast and told them about La Latina.  He shared a glass of champagne, and thanked us profusely for the restaurant recommendation.  Maybe this place needs to hire us as international publicists!
La Latina's new publicist?
A bowl of traditional stew appeared on the counter; Adrian asked if I wanted to try it.  It smelled smoky good, so sure why not?  This was a Spanish menudo, made with tripe (pigs' stomach) and chorizo sausage.  That's something I would never have ordered from a menu.  In all honesty, it tasted good and I know people who would have loved it.  But I wasn't prepared for the texture and mouth feel of the tripe.


Finally It was time to say good-bye.  We crossed the street to the Best Western and prepared for tomorrow's departure.  If we come back to Madrid, we'll be sure to re-visit La Latina.  If you want to check on Adrian, here's a link to his FaceBook page.

Ed, Mary, Adrian, Gloria, & George

Madrid - Monday, 10/7

Our room rate at Best Western Hotel Villa de Barajas included a very nice breakfast.  Then a one-block walk took us to the metro station.  Our public-transit excursion involved two transfers, beginning with the modern Linea No. 8 from Barajas.

Tourist Tip:  I love to try the public transit in cities that we visit, but encourage caution (having been pick-pocketed twice in Paris).  The Internet can scare you with warnings about thievery on Madrid's Metro, but we experienced no problems during our daytime round trip.

A surreal glow from George illuminates the Barajas metro station. 
Emerging from the underground at Gran Via, we were in familiar surroundings.   Just half a block from Apartmentos Caballero de Gracia that were our home for eight days in September!  This is the gateway to Puerta del Sol.  Gloria was determined to have lunch at Artemis II, a vegetarian place recommended by Rick Steves.
Gloria's lunch was "Not too bad."
OK, I'm not going to be kind here.  I always go into these vegetarian places with low expectations.  Let me just say that my four-cheese pizza did not disappoint.  Gloria had a salad with some crusty thing that she says was "not too bad".

But there is a food-enjoyment-recovery plan.  Remember La Mallorquiña, the pastry shop in Puerta de Sol?  Gloria has been scheming for two weeks to return for a Borracho.  That pastry appears to be a mouth-watering caramel covered rum cake.  Unfortunately it did not meet her expectations:  first of all there was no rum; and its intense granular sweetness was more candified than she prefers.
Gloria prepares to savor a Borracho
This large building surrounded by shrouded scaffolding is rumored to be … the future "World's Largest Apple Store".

We stopped at a few shops, including the massive Corte de Ingles, and then it was time to take the metro back to Barajas.
Everyone is afraid to sit next to Gloria on the Metro.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Barajas - Sunday 10/6

Barajas is a quiet commuter town, not much was happening when we walked around on Sunday night.  A couple of Irish-themed bars were open, but we happened to walk into a great place named "La Latina".  As a bonus, it was right across the street from our hotel!  No need to worry about finding our way home!

We sat at the bar and were greeted by Adrian ("Adriano"), a super friendly guy who instantly served up  drinks with a complimentary tapa.

Gloria actually enjoyed these anchovies!

We sampled octopus prepared two different ways:  marinated as a ceviche and panko tempura on a skewer with vegetables.  Yummm!

Mark and June from Orange California happened to sit next to us at the bar.  They were pretty courageous; together we sampled just about every tapa on the menu!  Good food mixed with drinks, conversation, and a great bartender … our three hours at La Latina are a terrific memory.

Mark,  June, George, Adrian, & Gloria

Sevilla to Madrid - Sunday 10/6

Travelers Tip:  The few dollars extra for "Premier Class" on the Spanish trains are well spent!

We arrived at the Sevilla RENFE station about an hour early for the train to Madrid.  But our first-class tickets entitled us to use the Premiere Class Lounge.  The seating is comfortable; there are light snacks and most importantly FREE DRINKS!

Seats on the train are roomy and comfortable; the meal was good (they even provided a vegetarian selection for Gloria), served on a linen tablecloth.  With more FREE DRINKS !

The 3-1/2 hour ride passed quickly, we arrived at Atocha station in downtown Madrid, then took the airport express bus to Barajas airport.  We'll decompress at the convenient Best Western Hotel Villa de Barajas.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sevilla - Saturday 10/5

It's our last full day in Sevilla.  Gloria celebrated the morning with traditional "chocolate con churros" which were being freshly prepared a few steps away from our apartment.

Our feet were feeling pretty good, so we strolled through the gardens toward Plaza Nueva, where the street music of three young women added some needed culture to our otherwise pedestrian lives.

Boutique shops had strung sunscreen fabric between their buildings on Camino Sierpes, creating a shaded outdoor pedestrian mall.  Gloria walked through the back door of a sweet shop looking for caramel gelato.  Imagine our surprise when we emerged in front of La Campana, the same place where she bought gelato on Thursday!

This was a perfect opportunity to re-visit the Chinese restaurant.  The food was not as good as we remembered … here I am draining the cooking oil from a piece of chicken:

I guess the Ciudad Dong Hai killed our appetites for dinner.  For a late snack we returned to Cafe Carmela, shared a bottle of nice Rioja, relaxed and enjoyed our last night in Sevilla.

Tomorrow we'll pack and take the high-speed train to Madrid.  This vacation is seriously winding down!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sevilla - Friday, 10/4

Our tourism target today is The Alcazar.  Many cities in Spain have an Alcazar (they are royal palaces); the one in Granada happens to be spectacular.

Worth mentioning (as something to avoid) is the Alcazar's cafeteria.  The overworked employees serve up tasteless sandwiches, but the HENBC Chicken enjoyed watching peacocks on the outdoor patio.


Triana is a community just across the river from Sevilla.  There are many popular restaurants and nightclubs near the waterfront

La Murilla in Triana's old marketplace was recommended on the Internet.  People around us were enjoying their meals; unfortunately we did not select wisely.  But beer is always a good choice!

After this long day of being tourists we needed a midnight snack.  Good excuse to go back to Cafe Carmela for a beer and a tapas!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sevilla - Thursday 10/3

It's morning we started the day by taking a taxi to the flea market at Calle Feria.  Gloria bought this book for 2€:

Commonly known as "Las Cetas" (Mushrooms), this central square is used for concerts and civic events:

Ciudad Dong Hai restaurant offered a break from typical Spanish luncheon menus.  Plus they crowned me "Chinese Food King for a Day"

These devices can be found at most of Sevilla's major intersections.  They resemble Daleks from Doctor Who; but their function is not science fiction.  Residents deposit their trash in the hatch, then crank the handle so it drops into an underground bin.

The Museo del Belles Artes is a beautiful building with pleasant gardens.  At first it seemed to offer only the typical religious paintings, but Gloria discovered a gallery of secular art after my feet had given up.
This 16th century piece bends history a little bit.  Notice how the Moors are crucifying Jesus?  This is  some twisted-up history!

Ristoranté San Marco is an Italian-themed restaurant located in a 15th-century Turkish bath house.  A seeming cultural mismatch, but their Spanish/Italian lasagna tasted great!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sevilla - Wednesday 10/2

It seems like we've never gotten an early start unless there's a plane or train to catch.  Today is no exception.  The apartment has a kitchen, so it's easy to prepare a little breakfast -- I even brought oatmeal from home!  YouTube provided instructions for using the crazy-looking stovetop Spanish "Moka Pot" coffee maker.

It's ironic that Gloria and I both have aching feet. At any given moment, one or both of us are hobbling.  I'm really feeling like an old man, constantly leaning on my cane and trying different combinations of shoes, orthotics, and heel cushions.  Normally we would be walking at least ten miles every day; this trip is much different.

Today Gloria decided that we are going to visit the Cathedral.  It is immense and typically ornamented.  But The Catedral de Sevilla holds the unique treasure of Christopher Columbus' tomb.  Queen Isabel may have launched the Spanish Inquisition here, but this is also the city where Chris convinced her to pay for his expedition to the new world!

Fortunately, climbing is easier than walking.  At level thirty-five of the bell tower, and were rewarded with incredible views of flying buttresses and the city.

Daniel told us that the Casa de Pilatos was "free" today.  After the Cathedral, we were both feeling frisky enough to walk there and see the old castle of a wealthy resident.  We were rewarded with the news that free admission only applies to European Union residents.  Since California has not yet joined the E.U., we were obliged to pay full admission.  

But the price was worth it!  One of the rooms is dominated by this portrait of a bearded woman nursing her infant.  Now that's what I call fine art!

Wow.  An exhausting day!  We rewarded ourselves with a siesta, and after a snack at Cafe Carmela set off to see some flamenco at La Carboneria!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sevilla - Tuesday 10/1

The RENFE train from Granada to Seville is what they call "Medium Distance".  There is a single class of service for the three-hour trip.  Several months ago I had purchased our comfortable seats for less for less than thirty Euros each.

Daniel was waiting and helped move our small bags down the narrow Calle Mariscal to the apartment building that he manages.  We've reserved a nice one-bedroom place that will be home for the next five nights.
He pointed out some of the local attractions, but no amount of explaining will prepare us for the maze of narrow twisted streets in this  neighborhood ... the Santa Cruz neighborhood challenged my genetic compass for the next five days!

All that map reading works up an appetite, and we need to stock up on a few groceries.   We shared a non-traditional but delicious pizza at this place on the way to the supermarket.

After a siesta, we wandered randomly in Santa Cruz, eventually finding the cathedral.   Just one stop along the way for tapas, cerveza, and Gloria's new favorite: tinto de verano.