Wednesday, March 31, 2010

6 March: part 2

Where was I? Ah, yes, it's the afternoon of our first full day in Seville, and after a light snack we headed off to the Macarena area. Unfortunately, things went a little pear-shaped at this point, with the weather still not great and, having left the hotel without any guidebooks, something of an inability to find much in the way of interesting streets.

We decided, therefore, to regroup at a restaurant we've been to before: El Rinconcillo, which we were able to find easily enough, thanks to Red's pretty good sense of direction. I'm shit at that stuff! However, as is often the case with great eateries (often, but not always; more on that later), it was rammed. So we left there and headed instead in the general direction of the Casa de Pilatos, figuring that we could eat at somewhere that took our fancy en route.

TV: procession on a loop

And that's what we did, having found a cool little tapas bar called Taberna Peregil, which was showing religious processions on a loop on the small TV above the doorway (see pic, above). We ordered a grilled cheese on toast with caramelized onions to share, followed by Iberico sausage for me and salted tuna to share. Red had some water, while I drank beer, which I chased with a Manzanilla sherry. It all came to just shy of €20 -- and payment of the bill resulted in the ringing of a large bell and a "Vaya con Dios!" as we left -- excellent!

Virgin on the wallThe Casa de Pilatos is just a couple of minutes' walk from the tapas bar, but since it was 4pm when we arrived, it seemed a touch late to go in, given that it closes at 6pm, so we wandered slowly back towards Santa Cruz, debating where to eat that evening and the next day. Yes, we like to eat when on holiday!

When you walk a city all day long, instead of jumping in cabs or on buses, you really see it properly. And Seville is one of those cities that is just filled with amazing sights everywhere. Even some of the entrance ways to hotels are picture-worthy! Once back in "the Cruz", as we don't call it, we visited Los Gallos, a flamenco club, to book tickets for the following night, and then we hit up the hotel for a bit of a break. It was now about 6pm, and the T-shirt I'd tried washing and drying that morning was still wet and still stinky.


Speedy bartenderWe decided, after not too long in the room, that we'd take a walk to see if a certain Argentine restaurant that we had visited last time was still open. I'd eaten the most amazing burger there, and we'd got chatting to the waitress, who was Sicilian. Sadly, it seemed to have changed hands. Damn, I was really jonesing for an awesome burger. Instead we went to what might quickly be becoming our fave tapas bar, Casa Placido, with its hams hanging from the ceiling, just around the corner from the hotel. We just wanted to take the edge off the hunger a bit, rather than have dinner proper, so we had a couple of tapas of huevos a la flamenca. So good!



And then we returned once again to the hotel to get changed and ready to go out to dinner at Mesón Casa Luciano, on the other side of the river. Since this is quite a walk, we had the hotel receptionist call to make sure it was still in business and open tonight. Success! We always fear Luciano's might go out of business because it's almost always empty, and yet it serves the most incredible food, as long as you are feeling fully carnivorous. We have seen other people in there, but rarely. And when the locals do turn up, it's usually very late. And tourists rarely seem to venture there, since it's not in many guidebooks, it seems.

We got there at 9:35pm, and it was empty, just as we might have predicted. But the same two waiting staff were on hand -- an older dude and a woman -- neither of whom seem to speak any English. But this has always been part of the huge amount of fun of Luciano's: struggling to understand what each other means. This time, we'd taken some Spanish lessons for a few months in advance of our trip, and we were better prepared all round, but it was still crazy trying to communicate.

IMG_1642We ordered a salad to start, followed by a steak each and a portion of chips to share. I ordered a beer to start; Red, a water; and we had a half-bottle of Ramón Bilbao Tempranillo Crianza to share. I went to the butchery counter at the back of the restaurant to choose our steaks. I love that! While we were waiting, they brought us some complimentary chorizo and bread. Mmmm....

The food, as ever here, was just awesome. The steaks were cooked "a punto", I think the Spanish was, meaning "properly", and not well done or any other bastardization some folks inflict upon their steak to rid it of blood, flavour, and tenderness. This was great, melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Too full to tackle a dessert, I was -- again, as ever -- offered a shot of pacharán to finish, which I happily accepted. Such a lovely liqueur... By this time, it was about 11:15pm, and still the place is empty. Why?! It's Saturday night -- this place should be heaving. During the course of dinner, the door did open and someone stuck a head inside. They didn't look round far enough to see us. Not that it mattered; I suspect they decided it must be shite because it was empty. Bad decision, amigo.

Walking back to the hotel, we went via the Plaza de Santa Cruz and spent 10 minutes or so in the company of one of the neighbourhood cats. We know the streets are in safe hands with this one on patrol!

“We are the cats, and we run this town”

And just a bit further on, we stopped in Lope de Rueda at midnight to celebrate the start of my birthday with a kiss. Of course, it's still another hour until my birthday in the UK, so on returning to the hotel (the courtyard of which is shown below), we had to stay up a bit longer just to get it right.


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Saturday, March 20, 2010

6 March: The first full day

me-gb-shirt-smlSo, back to Seville... Woke up at 7:40am after a night of heavy rain and massive thunder. I spent a good 10 minutes washing and trying to dry my Gallows Grey Britain T-shirt, which was uncharacteristically stinky after a day's travelling. I'm not really much of a sweater, but humping luggage and running from place to place in the overheated airports wearing a heavy-ish coat clearly took its toll. We both got showered and dressed ready for the day ahead (my last day in my 30s!), and then we would go off and talk to reception about our bed situation (remember?). Checked my watch just before heading down... Shit! It's 10:20am. How did that happen?! Ah, forgot to put my phone's clock to Spanish time.

I mentioned it was my birthday, we were disappointed about the beds not being a double, etc, and reception told us that they would upgrade us from tomorrow to their superior suite. There was no mention of extra cost, just that we should get all packed up in the morning and go down and see him again. Cool.

Ready for the rainSo then we set off, pausing in the hotel doorway to don our "Jack in a Pack", since it was pissing with rain. Fab. And then we made our way to a bar for some breakfast. This first day we settled on a place we'd never been before, Bodega Santa Cruz Las Columnas, which is opposite and a little way up the road from usual haunt Cerveceria Giralda. We each had tostada (toasted bread) with aceite (olive oil) and tomate (or salsa de tomate, a tomato sauce but not like ketchup!); a coffee (con leche for me, manchado for Red); and a glass of OJ between us. It's always great just watching these guys in Spanish bars working. Any Spanish bar I've ever been in is essentially the same in this one regard: it's like a super-well-oiled machine. So fast and efficient, they totally put the UK service industry to shame.

Baños Árabes entryBreakfast done, we next made our way to the Aire de Seville baños árabes (Arab baths) to book a slot for tomorrow, my birthday proper. The baños árabes played a key part in my choosing Seville as the destination for my 40th birthday: that's how fucking great it is. It seemed a slight blow that we couldn't get anything earlier than 4pm, but only for a moment. Thing is, once you've had a lunch on Spanish time, it's almost 4pm anyway! Plus we have to do all that checking out and back in nonsense tomorrow, too...

The rain continuing unabated made us think we should take some indoors time for a couple of hours, so we opted to do something else we'd never done yet in Seville: visit the Archivo General de Indias (the General Archive of the Indies). This absolutely massive structure is surprisingly anonymous from the outside. Indeed, we've walked past it probably hundreds of times hardly giving it a glance but knowing what it was called, even if we didn't really know what it was or even whether it was open to the public. One of the guides we had mentioned that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we figured we should check it out finally.

First things first, as a Brit abroad (and I know it's slightly unfair to say this latterly, given there have been changes as regards our galleries in the past 10 years), it still takes me aback that there are some important places you simply don't have to pay to enter. We had to put our stuff through an x-ray machine first. (Spain is very good on anti-terrorist measures, even here in Andalucía, which is apparently the European hub of al-Qaeda, so they probably needn't worry: who shits on their own doorstep?) And then, once through, they gave us a little guide thing and said to head on up the stairs.

Archivo stairwell
Well, the stairwell itself (above) is a thing of some majesty! You know it's huge. You're on it, and you know it's big, but somehow you don't really get a sense of quite how big until you take a picture of yourself on it, dwarfed by its vastness. Really. (Actually in the image above, at the bottom right, you can see a fire extinguisher by way of scale.)

There are, of course, the eponymous archives of billions (probably) of papers and documentation, which itself is astonishing, with all these identical box files behind lockable grilles (check the locks among the images at the end of this post) and on beautiful bookcases, but also on display are maps and items brought back from historic voyages of centuries past -- the times when we in Europe were off globetrotting and killing natives and taking their land... Bringing civilization to tribespeople on the other side of the world and offing them if they weren't interested. You know, all that good stuff.

And there's also a little room where a film plays on a loop, chronicling the history of the archive, as well as of the building itself, which was totally fascinating. It's incredible to think that such a jaw-dropping architectural beauty could ever have been converted into a tenement building, but that was exactly what had happened at some point in its past. Unbelievable. Thankfully, you would never know, looking at it today.

Forbidden fruitWe took pictures where we could, but in one whole big room it was not permitted, which was a shame. I couldn't really see the problem, though I know a lot of places with historic ephemera have concerns about the use of flash. I wish they could just have a "no flash" policy instead, if that's the case. I fired off one quick shot in the forbidden room (see right), being all nonchalant and avoiding as much as possible the eye-in-the-sky security camera. Ooh, I'm such a rebel! And after that, while in a different area, I got told off for putting my camera on top of a glass case. I mean, really? My camera (I didn't take my dSLR for space reasons) weighs little more than a wallet. Do me a favour, mate!

All done there by about 1pm, we next hit the bakery just opposite: the Horno San Buenaventura. This is a hugely popular tourist trap, yes, simply because it is massive and has lots of tables and chairs. But there are plenty of locals, too, due to the wide range of top-quality baked goods on offer. And of course, if you stay at the bar, like a local, rather than taking a seat, like a tourist, you pay less for your purchases. I had a café solo (an espresso) and a tocino de cielo. I think Red just had some water. The sugary gorgeousness of the tocino and the caffeine kick of the espresso would keep me walking until lunchtime (which was now, really, but since we'd had such a late breakfast...)

Off we trotted, then, to the Macarena area of the city. But I'll save that for the next post... Meantime, here are some pics from the Archivo General.



Ceiling and doorway



I am cannon, hear me roar.

Archive lock 2

Behind an unlocked door

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring cleaning

Between posts about my Seville hol, I've decided to have a little clear-up of links. I've deleted any blogs in my blogroll that haven't been updated for a loooooong time -- I mean even longer than mine wasn't! I've updated some of the new homes of those who have shifted address, and I've also got rid of some of the "invited readers only" blogs (though I've left a couple of those in, hoping I might blag an invite sometime).

If you wanna get reinstated cos you're kick-starting your blog, no probs: just let me know. In the meantime, I'm streamlining.

'Sta luego.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, 5 March, and we’re off

The day of our Seville holiday to celebrate my 40th birthday finally arrived. We'd already taken Cat to the cattery the day before and had decided not to work today, in order to be able to pack and make sure we had everything we needed... including, unfortunately, a Jack In A Pack from Millets. This fold-down-into-a-small-bag raincoat is what we used to call a cagoule back in the day. They are super-sad, but those of you who remember the great wet Seville trip of 2008 will know we had to go prepared.

We left home at about 1:30pm after an early lunch, allowing plenty of time to get to Stansted airport. We were due to be there at about 4pm, and it usually takes about 90 minutes, but I wanted to leave an extra hour because the M25 on a Friday afternoon fills me with dread. As it happens, 90 mins was adequate, so arrived an hour early. Still, better early than late, I like to say. We kept as occupied as possible and finally boarded the plane at 5:45. I was the first passenger to board the plane, which I thought was fitting for my birthday trip.

On arrival, since we travelled hand luggage only, we were able to dash through customs (if one can ever really dash through customs) and grab a cab straightaway. While on the ride to the hotel I was able to practise my first bit of Spanish. "No es posible abrir la ventana?" I asked, noticing on this hot evening that I wasn't able to open the window to get some air. It seems he didn't quite understand ventana as car window, so I guess there must be a different word. Even so, he knew what I meant, flicked a switch up front, and I was able to breathe again.


IMG_1476We arrived at the El Rey Moro hotel, checked in, checked out the room, and headed out for food. Cerveceria Giralda, formerly a hammam, is always our first port of call in Seville. By 11:30pm we were eating our first dishes of the trip: tortilla en salsa de comino (delicious), tosta de queso de cabra (also delicious), and huevas fritas. But the huevas fritas don't look anything like the fried eggs we've had there in the past. Bit odd...


Ah, nota bene, my friends: Don't order huevas fritas if you want fried eggs. I've suddenly had the realization that it's a set of bollocks, fried. But they taste weirdly fishy, both in taste and texture. Red decided she can't eat them, but I plough on, aided by another cerveza. But even that didn't help me to finish them. As the waiter came for our plates -- only one of which was unfinished -- I asked him for clarification of what we had only half eaten. "Fish roe," he said in English, possibly embarrassed that I was pointing at my balls. "Ah, fish roe..." Phew!

Huevas fritas (detail)

As we sat there, chilling, we noticed people were starting to get turned away. It was only 11:50, so we guessed they must close at midnight. This was a surprise, but it forced us to get off our arses and have a wander around and back to the hotel. It had been a long day.



IMG_1493On returning, we noticed for the first time that what should have been a double bed was in fact two singles pushed together. This isn't totally unusual in hotels, but they weren't even made up as a double; they were made up as two singles pushed together. A request to reception didn't yield much success due to a lack of Spanish on my part and English on his. "Ask tomorrow," I was told. "I've not been here long."

"Okay." Hasta mañana, then...

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

A new age

I know I've already sort of reneged on my promise to post at least once a week, but there is a good excuse: I've been away for a few days to celebrate my 40th birthday!

But now I'm back. And the first order of business will be to elaborate on and type up here the notes I made on my few days away. And I'll even add in some pics for some local colour and to illustrate the stuff I describe. Cos that's what pictures do.

The posts will go up in order, one day at a time, though there may be a couple of days or more between posts. I appreciate this might have limited interest for readers, but I just want to scrapbook the trip, so bear with me.

Until the next time, adios.

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