a brief bit of Barcelona

a brief bit of Barcelona

fBarcelona will always be special to us – our oldest proposed to his girlfriend in front of la Sagrada Familia, and she said yes! If you declare your love and intentions there, you have to mean it!

It was a fast and furious two days – just a small bit of the city.

Of course, we started at Sagrada Familia, cuz you HAVE to do that. We booked our tickets several weeks ahead of time and arrived about an hour before our tour time to take pictures of the outside – and get engaged, of course. The exterior is, as expected, overwhelming.

 

I was afraid to go inside: with all of that going on, how on earth do you concentrate on God? But the inside was relatively much more calm than the outside. And is Gaudi’s design any more distracting than those of medieval churches would have been to their worshipers? Beautiful. And it will require several more visits to even begin to understand the layers of beauty.

 

Unlike for Sagrada Familia, we didn’t know we needed to get tickets for Park Guell. So, after tramping uphill to the entrance (we weren’t near the escalator end), we were denied entrance to the “fancy” part of the park and were limited to the open admission area. Husband and I sat and people-watched while the Newly Engaged toured the park. Next time, tickets ahead of time and start at the right end (with the escalator).

The food was awesome. Just around the corner from our apartment was Peix D’OR, where we got to pick our own fish for dinner. The woman manning the counter thought we didn’t know how it worked, but quickly realized we were just having a hard time deciding on what we wanted. The fish arrived perfectly grilled and covered with the best pesto I’ve ever tasted. YUM!

 

We had a lovely brunch at Firebug with the young set.

A visit to the aquarium – always a favorite activity!

 

Our most interesting sight: the Mercadona in our neighborhood. We entered to a foyer and check-out area much larger than our local Mercadona in Alicante. Followed the signs to an elevator lobby: the actual grocery store was in the basement! WHAT?!?! Huge, nice store, but you had to deal with the elevator to get back up to check-out with your groceries. Too weird.

 

 

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first visit to the Prado – and more in Madrid

first visit to the Prado – and more in Madrid

I love the Madrid tourist bus. I do get tired of the tedious comments about architecture, but the views are marvelous. For the best photos, sit on the left-hand side of the bus.

We were very excited to arrive at Mercado San Miguel before the tourists. At 10:00 we had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to explore and sample to our hearts’ content.

We dutifully booked our Prado tickets online, including one combo ticket that included the guidebook – a bargain if you are a collector of guidebooks, as my teacher friends tend to be. The Prado is overwhelming, so you need a plan before you go. We didn’t have one, so we ended up focusing on the 50 masterpieces. We took a break between floors for a cold drink, which helped. Still, we barely scratched the surface.

After the Prado, we headed back toward our hotel and encountered a surprise parade. It was the day of the Feast of the Virgin of St. Carmen, but I don’t know if this was that…

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The Royal Palace was beautiful. I think I can get much more out of it next visit, after I’ve had time to process a bit and read up on my Spanish history. You can’t take photos inside, which doesn’t stop many tourists, but I’m a rule follower in those regards.

We’re slowly chipping away at all that Madrid has to offer. So, until next time…

 

another visit to Cordoba

another visit to Cordoba

We trained from Granada to Cordoba – well, sort of. The first leg of the journey was via bus, since the tracks were under construction. The Granada train station is also under renovation, so we had to tow our luggage a couple of blocks away to have breakfast while we waited for our not-train bus to arrive and begin loading.

Upon arriving in Cordoba, we took a taxi to our hotel: the NH Amistad. We love Cordoba, and we love this hotel. It’s just inside the wall in old town, with an entrance outside the wall and parking in a lot underneath the wall. I expected our taxi to drop us off outside the wall, but he turned the corner into old town and made his way through the narrow streets to drop us off in front of the hotel.

There’s no way to make sense of the old town and Jewish quarter, so it’s best to just roam and let yourself get lost. You’ll find a familiar landmark eventually. And in the meantime you’ll discover lovely gardens and shops and cafes.

We headed to the Mezquita for the afternoon. Just inside the entry, an area was roped off for excavation. We couldn’t tell what was going on exactly, but I assume the work is ongoing at such an important site.

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This second trip to the Mezquita, I found it easier to understand the expansions that occurred over the years. It stirs my soul to know that so many people of different faiths have managed to worship there over the centuries.

 

another visit to Granada

another visit to Granada

My husband loves me. We were looking at a 5-hour bus ride from Alicante to Granada. And as much as we love us some Spanish trains, we’re not big fans of the buses: they’re just not as comfortable. So he rented a car, drove us to Granada, (literally) dropped us off at the hotel, then drove back to Alicante.

We stayed at the NH Collection Victoria, where we had stayed before. It’s in a great location, the rooms are very comfortable, and the staff is great.

Monday night, we roamed…… We made our way to a side street, where we discovered Bodegas Castaneda. What a find! We ordered the grilled cheese and the smoked fish and were about to order more when the waiter stopped us: “Basta. Is enough for two.” And it was! We managed to finish the cheese, but not the fish.

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Tuesday we tackled la Alhambra. It was no less spectacular the second time. Todd and I went in February, when it was in its winter state. This time: the COLOR! Much easier to enjoy the second time when I didn’t feel compelled to take hundreds of pictures. I decided to focus on the colors outside in the gardens and the ceilings inside the Nasrid Palace. I think the thematic focus worked out well.

The color:

Near the end of our tour of the Generalife, we encountered a dig team: a group of students from American and British universities were working with local students to uncover a glass works site. This was their first day, and they were excited, even though all they were doing was lugging water to make mud to clear off the “ugly” detritus from the 1960s that covered the original site. They agreed that their excitement would probably wane by the end of the week.

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After spending a couple of hours in the Generalife, we stopped at the Parador for a bite of lunch. Another tasty cheese plate, a couple of revitalizing Cokes, and a spectacular view of the Generalife—but the service, as we noted on our last visit, was slow.

On to the Nasrid Palace.

The ceilings:

The corners:

The doors:

And, of course, the tile:

Tactical error on my part: we didn’t have any water with us while touring the Nasrid Palace. We were pretty miserable by the time we were done. We staggered into the Hotel America and had water in the sitting room (the patio restaurant was full). As an added bonus, we had entertainment: an 80-something-year-old woman who was taking care of a 90-something-year-old man. He got up shortly after we sat down, and she delightedly explained to us that he was going to the bathroom-alone. Her accent was British, but they lived in Spain and had come to the Alhambra for an overnight visit. She announced that she conversed with strangers and proceeded to do just that. At one point, she mused that she wished there was someone who could plait her (long, gray) hair. She asked us if either of us could do it for her. We demurred. When we finished off our bottles of water, she offered us her glass. Again we demurred. So many questions about her, and about them…

We shopped before catching the C3 back to the hotel. The final C3 stop is in front of the University of Granada’s bookstore. Of course we had to go in. It was there I realized that I didn’t have the two bags of souvenirs that were my responsibility. The bus driver that was there when I realized it told us not to panic, that our bus would be back down in 5-10 minutes. He was right, but there were no stray bags inside. That bus driver hadn’t seen or been given anything. The other bus driver pulled up behind her and came to check on us. Nothing for it but to take the bus back up to the Alhambra. I backtracked and found them: in the store where I had popped in to get us some Cokes for the trip back to town. They had stashed them for us. Much gracias-ing and cheek kissing.

Finally back to the hotel for a shower and a drink. Then, at the recommendation of the hotel desk clerk, we headed for the river (a misnomer indeed) and Las Titas. Another wonderful meal in a lovely restaurant.

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Wednesday we had a leisurely morning before heading off to the Cathedral. Another second visit for me.

We returned to Bodegas Castaneda for dinner and opted to eat inside. In chatting with the waiter, we found that both Bodegas Castaneda and Las Titas had the same owner. No wonder we loved them both! A little friendly conversation netted us several free dishes and some delicious drinks.

All in all, not bad for a second trip to Granada!

Tips for visiting the Alhambra:

Book your tickets ahead of time, especially in summer; to pick them up, you’ll need the credit card you booked them with. Bypass the ticket lines and go past the book shop to the kiosks on your right. The red machines will take you through the ticket-printing process.

Allow a minimum of 2 hours to explore the Generalife before your ticketed time. I’d suggest 3-3 ½ and take a break between. The Parador restaurant has a lovely view (don’t be in a hurry). The Hotel America was open this time as well, and they have a nice garden restaurant area.

I recommend getting in line for the palace 15-20 minutes ahead of your ticketed time. Take water! We completely forgot, and we were miserable by the time we finished our tour.

 

 

How Italy is different from Spain

No judgment either way, just general observations, and not universal:

·       Women are either dressed stylishly, or really not.

·       Women don’t wear hose.

·       Men don’t wear socks with suits or dress pants.

·       Parents push strollers, but carry babies.

·       Small children cry and scream – perhaps related to the point above?

·       People move with more purpose.

·       People don’t stop and block sidewalk traffic just to chat – perhaps related to the point above?

·       While many shops also close in the afternoon, they close for good by 8:00.

·       Lots of bicycles.

·       Pay phones and condom machines on the streets, but no mail boxes.

an excursion to Jumilla

an excursion to Jumilla

We joined our local friends Mark and Vicki on an excursion with Tu-Tours to the town of Jumilla, a local wine mecca. The group was larger than I would have liked (54), but the size provided us the advantage of English tour guides at our stops.

We began at Bodega Finca Luzon, a century-old winery that has been modernized but still prides itself on its attention to traditional methods. Our Portuguese tour guide was very knowledgeable and had an excellent command of English, although we had to clarify the distinction between flies and fleas for her. What we didn’t know: they encourage spiders in the vaults because they eat bugs that might attack the wooden barrels. She referred to them as “guards of the wine.” The wines were lovely—and they’re available in the U.S.

Our second stop: the Monastery of Santa Ana del Monte. There was some debate as to whether it was a convent or a monastery. Apparently, Spanish doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the two. In English, a monastery is for monks and a convent is for nuns. But traditionally, a monastery lay outside the walls of a city, while a cloister (or convent) was protected inside the city walls. Makes sense, therefore, that women would be in a convent and men would be in a monastery. In any case, Santa Anna is a monastery, perched atop a mountain with views of the valleys below.

The church, founded by Franciscans in 1573, was small but beautiful. Only five monks are in residence at this time. The monk who talked to us was delightful, with a sense of humor and an ability to share a lot of information in a little time. In the early days, the monks served as priests for the surrounding villages, and they carried large crucifixes with them as they made the rounds. While the largest “only” weighed 90 pounds, it was well over 6 feet tall. Imagine lugging that up and down the mountainside!

One highlight of the visit was a large museum of reliquaries containing objects left by pilgrims who journeyed to the monastery, a good 6 kilometers uphill from the Jumilla town square. Many of the items were archaeological finds, as well as natural history-type items.

Throughout the monastery were over 100 hand-painted signs which provided texts for daily inspiration.

A long day. A lot of walking. A good day.

lunch at To-Bar

lunch at To-Bar

A note about Retired in Spain before this post actually begins…

I began this blog as a promise to friends and family back home that I would report on our adventures. I had rules in mind when I started, but those rules have evolved as time passes. I want this blog to be not only a record of our time here in Spain, but a help to others who might want to move here. So – my mental rule about not dwelling on individual restaurants has morphed into…if it’s great, post it!

We first heard about To-Bar from our conversation exchange partner. She hounded us every week about it, saying we HAD to check it out. We finally did. It’s behind the green door on a street near the Mercado. Like many places here, it looks like nothing from the street. We made a reservation, then showed up, not really knowing what to expect. As is still typical for us, we were there at 1:00, and we were the only ones in the restaurant for a while.

When we arrived, all of the tables were set up with carafes of red wine and half loaves of bread. The waiter arrived. Upon our request for white wine, he returned with a bottle and left it on the table. He also brought a selection of sausages—morcillo (Spanish blood pudding), mortadella, and spicy Iberian sausage—and toppings for the bread—aioli and a tomato/red pepper paste. We had a choice of seafood paella or not-seafood paella. We chose the seafood.

Then the real food started coming.

And coming.

  • Thin fried rice paper topped with tuna, goat cheese, cucumber, tomato, olives, and pickled onion.
  • Tempura fried vegetable. After several exchanges with the waitress and some help from google translator, we determined it was aubergine (eggplant). With a honey and red wine reduction.
  • Steamed bao bread with fresh grated tomato, tuna, and wilted baby spinach.
  • Shrimp. A lot of work to peel, but SWEET!
  • Pulpo Galicia: octopus on a bed of polenta with oil and spices.
  • THEN paella! With mussels, shrimp, and octopus.

By this time, the restaurant was packed – and LOUD. As I looked around the restaurant, I wondered how on earth these people could return to work after a lunch like this.

But we weren’t finished yet:

  • Dessert: a light sponge cake topped with sweetened condensed milk and a very light and fluffy chocolate mousse.
  • Alicante sweet wine
  • And – finally – coffee

Then the bill: 15€ per person, plus a whopping 5€ for the wine.

We finally finished and left 2 hours later, with the other diners still going strong.

Vale!