Thursday, September 9
Even though we are in Seville (Se-vee-ya), today we are taking a day-trip to Jerez de Fronterra (Heh-reth).
We start with a beautiful buffet breakfast. The choices are not as nice or extensive as at La Bobadilla, but breakfast (desayunos) is served in an open-air courtyard in the middle of the hotel! Yhen at 9 we meet our driver, Pepe, and our new guide Virginia (Vir-hin-ee-ah). What a cute couple! Pepe is in his 60s and is like Tio Pepe. He has known Virginia and her mother Pilar (also a guide) for years. We head out of the city and hear more about crops, castles, and kings. It's all very interesting, but our heads are bursting with information! Pepe tells us jokes and they begin to open up (as the other guides have done). We learn that a lot of towns are suffixed with "de la Fronterra" because they were "on the frontier" between Moorish and Christian controlled areas. After an hour we reach Jerez and our first stop is the Sandeman Sherry Bodega. "Jerez" => "Sherry". Get it? It was pretty much the same as the brandy visit in Africa: a tour of the production areas (several rooms with varying 100s of barrels) followed by a tasting session of several kinds of sherry. Their logo is a cape and a hat (think Zorro), so they asked our group (there were other folks on the tour with us) if anyone wanted to "dress up". Even though we hadn't had any sherry, we volunteered...and were the only ones to do so!
Then we had to hurry over to the arena to see the famed Dancing Spanish horses.
Woo Woo!!! About 1,000 people in a horse-shoe (coincidence?) shaped building (we were in Row 1, but did not get sprayed or anything), and they play very Spanish marching music and several horses / riders come out and prance across the sand floor. Then, amazingly, they go back and do it again, and the crowd goes wild with excitement! Then they criss-cross, and, yes, they do it again. Then another group comes out and basically does the same thing. We must have missed the good parts as we were having trouble staying awake. Then (thank goodness), it was intermission. Virginia came in and asked if we liked it and wanted to stay for the second half and we said "Oh, sure!", but she could tell we'd been sleeping (maybe she was watching us!). Then, it was the best part: The Zamboni tractor came out and smoothed the sand!!! Act II was pretty much the same with a big finish as ALL 10 HORSES WALKED AROUND AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!!!
All in all, Jerez is a definite "must miss".
Then we went to a real fancy meat place, "El Bosque" for lunch and we asked Pepe and Virginia to join us. Pepe liked to be like the papa, so we let him order for everyone to share. First a plate of Iberian ham and a plate of cheese and a plate of chicken croquettes (plus they brought us a teaser of little toasts with a salmon puree). Then their specialty: rice with shrimp; not paella - this is a little more saucy rice. They spoon it from the big pan onto everyone's plates. We eat, and then they come back to spoon more! Then we had several desserts which we also shared. During this time we had a great conversation about Pepe's family and our family and other tourists and how things have changed over the last few years. Another 2 hour lunch! But oh so delicious!
Then we drove back to Seville and relaxed a while, then went out to buy a new suitcase to take home all of the stuff we have bought. Plates, purses, scarves, photo albums, etc., and more to come! As we are south now, it is hotter; about 37C. So between that and all the eating we've done, our dinner tonight was: gelato! Si! Muy bien.
Friday, September 10
Finally it was time to explore Seville in depth. Virginia and Pepe picked us up at 9:30 and drove us around town. We saw the Palm Tree street (again). Then we stopped and walked through Maria Louisa Park. She was the niece of the 2nd Isabella (late 1800s) who died very young. A really beautiful park, kind of like Retiro in Madrid. They sell bird seed so you can feed the pigeons.
Then we went on to the Spanish Pavilion from the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. Wow! Fantastic, but unfortunately in very bad shape. Virginia told us she and Pepe had brought George Lucas here and he used the setting in one of the Star Wars movies!
Then we got back in the car for a short trip to the Alcazar. This was the Moors castle in Seville. If you thought the Alhambra was neat, wait til you see this place! Each wall is covered with tiles in different tessellating patters. So colorful! Great arches and pools.
Really fantastic. And it has its own wonderful gardens. Too beautiful for words. Then we went across to la Catedral - the 3rd biggest in the world. Some wonderful stained glass windows (though many had been replaced and modernized). This is also the place which has (so they claim) the remains of Columbus (there is some disagreement with the folks in the Dominican Republic - seems he's been moved a few times and they sort of lost track of where he ended up!). You are able to climb to the roof and get a nice view of the city.
Then it was time to eat again. They took us to Manolo Leon, a place the locals go to. Again, Pepe ordered....
...this time we had ham on garlic bread, chicken croquettes, an omelet with veggies inside, and a plate with pork and veal slices. We all shared...yummy, but so much food! Then, the dessert: a combo platter! Oish! Again we had a great conversation: US politics, Franco, Pepe's time in the army. Then we went to Pontius Pilate's (yes, that one) house/palace. It was built for (by?) him, but he never lived there. A lot like the Alcazar - many beautiful arches and tiles.
Then back to the hotel to rest up prior to the big Flamenco show! We actually thought about having tapas first, but were so stuffed from lunch that we couldn't do it. Pepe picked us up at 8:30 to drive us 3 blocks (!) to the show. It is authentic (so they say) but totally attended by tourists.
As usual, we were one of the first ones there, so we were again in the front row. What that meant was that we were packed in by the time the show started and had no way to leave if we wanted to. The guitar players were great and there were several guys wailing away some Spanish words and various ladies dancing (plus two "angry" boys). It was actually very good, way better than the dancing horses! The finish was an old (yes..old, old) woman who did her thing (mostly hands, very little tapping), but the crowd loved it! It was over about 10:30 so we went back to the hotel and had ice cream!
Saturday, September 11
Our last day! :-(
We told them to pick us up at 10 (we are getting lazy) and they drove us out into the country (past some of Seville's oldest walls) to the town of Carmona. Supposedly it's been inhabited for 5,000 years! This was the area where the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the 2nd Punic War. We went to the Roman necropolis and saw various types of tombs - from simple pits where they put ashes, to a full-size house for "Servillia" - no other reference to who she was or why she was so important.
Then we stopped at the Parador for a Schweppes because it was in the 90s and getting hotter. Here we talked about the Spanish education system and Pepe told us about his grandfather and uncle. He said his uncle always told him "You are the master of what you think and the slave of what you say". Then we walked through the old part of town - more narrow streets where you could see the Roman wall, on top of which was the Moorish wall, and on top of that the Christian wall!
Then we went to the church - very nice - and when we came out there was a commotion as a wedding was just starting! The friends and family were there....
...and then the groom drove up and took some pictures and then the bride came. How exciting! Totally truly Spanish!
Then we headed back to Seville. This was just a half-day tour, so it was time to say good-bye to Virginia. But before we did, she took us to our lunch restaurant.
This place was so beautiful - tiles on the walls and colorful painted plates!
But, once again, we were the only ones there!!! Pepe says the food is great, but the locals don't go. We had soup (gazpacho and Basque fish soup_ and split chicken kabobs with curried rice. Pretty light and delicious. Then we walked back to the hotel and relaxed a while. We packed, and barely managed to get everything in. Then we got ready for our last dinner. We walked 3 blocks to Oriza ("Oritha") the fanciest / best restaurant in Seville (according to Pepe). We had asked the concierge to make a reservation last Thursday, but when we got there our name wasn't on the list! They were all full, but since we were staying in the Alphonso they said they would squeeze us in if we promised to be done in 90 minutes! OK..it's a deal. There was a plate with capeberries, olives the size of walnuts, and cloves of garlic. Next we had crab salad and cod with peppers for starters. Then fish and scallops. Then fruits and cakes for dessert. And we were done in 89 minutes! A great end to a fabulous trip!
Sunday, September 12
We had to be ready for Pepe's pickup at 8, so we went down to breakfast at 7. The restaurant (in the courtyard) was supposed to be open, but no one was inside and it was so dark. Then - major D'OH!!!! We realized why it was so dark: IT WAS BECAUSE THE SUN HADN'T COME UP YET!!! We tried the door and discovered it really was open. We ate in the back near the buffet table where there was some light. Then, pepe was there and he whisked us to the aeropuerto (talking non-stop all the way). It was very hard to say goodbye to him and to all of the other wonderful people we had met and especially to Spain. We didn't know what to expect and it turned out to be one of the best trips ever.
Labels: Spain 2004