Friday, December 12, 2008

Spain Pics: Round 3

Finally got the rest of the pictures together...

2008.12.06 - Barcelona

...And I'm already planning our next excursion.

Back to Business

Well, at least it is already Friday... 

JCB and I wrapped up our tour of Spain with two days in Valencia and one more night in Barcelona. Valencia was great - we stuck our feet in the Med and had a good tour of the city, but for the most part, we were pretty tired of all the travel. And since we were cashing in on Hilton points and staying in an Executive Suite with complimentary snacks and beverages in the Executive Lounge, we did just that - stayed. We rested, hung out at the hotel bar, and really just relaxed a bit. 

We made it back to Barcelona on Saturday afternoon, toured Gaudi's Park Guell, and re-visited our favorite restaurant in all of Spain , Cerveceria Catalana. It felt great to be back in Barcelona - after all of our sights, we both loved the city the most. Nevertheless, after 18 days on the road, we were ready to go home. I missed Puck and my new apartment. And JCB was really Jones-ing for a burrito from El Castillito. 

We made it home on Sunday, late in the afternoon, Pacific Time. We ordered some Thai food - I was really Jones-ing for Asian cuisine - and went to sleep around 7PM. Exhausted. But Rested. And  definitely delighted. 

Four days later, after a week of work, Asian food, and Burritos, I am ready for another vacation! Where to next?!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Spain Trip - The Quoteboard Top 20

This post will likely amuse no one but JCB and me. But here we go, in no particular order...
  1. "Yay - dah. Lleida!" - JCB, in reference to anything unexpectedly fun.
  2. "That's OK, I know you love me." - JCB, in reference to his driving.
  3. "This church as a bar!" - Nic, in reference to the cathedral in Lleida.
  4. "This isn't mass. That man is holding a sword." - Nic, in reference to a strange service.
  5. "We're back on track." - JCB, after every wrong turn.
  6. "No more eating at restaurants with signs that have fallen off." - JCB, in refernce to some Lonely Planet dining suggestions in Zaragoza that were BUNK.
  7. "I'm a gracias machine!" - JCB, on his Spanish skills.
  8. "I think I need one of those opium things." - Nic, on the cough drops in Siguenza.
  9. "Margaita pizza, por favor... No, no con jamon. Margarita!" - Nic, on reitterating that a plain pizza without ham is all that we want.
  10. "At least it's not a tapa." - Nic, on the Margarita pizza that came with ham.
  11. "Cordoba - where tortillas are tortillas." - Nic, on the first omellette being an omellette.
  12. "I can't go to sleep yet, I'm not drunk." - Nic, on sober siestas.
  13. "El coche es blanco." - JCB, responding to a taxi driver who asked him if he speaks any Spanish.
  14. "Let's hug it out." - JCB, after each argument about how to drive.
  15. "Adios, coche; hola, el mundo." - JCB, upon returning the rental car in Sevilla.
  16. "Everyone is so Euro here." - JCB, multipe times, in reference to all Spaniards.
  17. "I'm not even Catholic and this shit gets me off." - JCB, in a cathedral. (!?!)
  18. "Oh look, that looks Cathlolic!" - Nic, appealing to JCB's sightseeing interests.
  19. "You look pretty when you're drunk." - JCB to Nic.
  20. "No, I look pretty when YOU'RE drunk." - Nic to JCB.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Miercoles Madness

We were both a bit apprehensive as our taxi dropped us off at the bus stop in Granada. Planes, trains, automobiles… and now busses. But Lonely Planet did say bus travel in Spain was more economical and often faster than travel by train. But as we boarded our Alsa Supra express connection from Granada to Madrid, our apprehension quickly faded. The bus had an attendant! She greeted us warmly, passed out candies, newspapers, coffees, teas, sandwiches… And we had wifi on the bus, too, slow as it was. Most would even argue that our treatment on Alsa Supra was better than our treatment on our United flight in Economy Plus. JCB and I might be even be two of those people

The trip was a little over four hours, during which JCB played games on his iPhone and I imported pictures from the past few days of our trip. We passed through some beautiful scenery in South Central Spain, but for the most part our trip was uneventful. We arrived in Madrid ready to explore. And of course, to also eat and drink.

My how different Madrid is to me now that I’m here with someone. I gave JCB a brief tour of some places I remembered near our hotel (we stayed in Sol / Cuenca) and we even found a few things I hadn’t before seen. We dined on patatas fritas (French frieds – in vinegar and garlic) as well as pimientos de pardon (fried green peppers) in Plaza Mayor, wandered to Palacio Royal, onto Templo de Judo, then back to Plaza de Espana, where we took in a large statue of Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Sancho. By now it was after 5PM, and Madrid was bustling.

We headed back to our hotel via “Gran Via” but first stopped at Cerveceria de 100 Montaditos for Round 2 of lunch. What a great stop! This bar/sandwich stop features 1 EURO BOCADILLOS EN MIERCOLES. That’s $1.25 Tiny Sandwiches on Wednesdays. Madness! We ordered a round of jars of beer and 4 tiny sandwiches and our bill was only 6 Euros. SIX! And since tiny sandwiches didn’t really fill us up, we had another round of two more bocadillos, this time with jars of sangria. Sangria from a tap. Amazing. Only 10 Euros for one of our favorite meals in all of Spain. No joke. Que bueno!

We unsuccessfully siesta-ed that evening. Not sure why, but neither one of us could sleep. Not sleeping was not boding well for the plans we constructed over Lunch Round 2 to stay out all night in Madrid. If only Spain liked to get the party started around 9PM instead of 1AM! I’m just not a night owl these days.

But at around 10:30 PM, we sat down to dinner at another great Lonely Planet find: La Gloria de Madera. “…oh-so-stylish, oh-so-good, and oh-so-cheap.” Lonely Planet can be pretty annoying some times, and they’re not always spot on with recommendations, but this time was a direct hit. To start, we had tomato soup with fresh mozzarella. JCB had a huge lamb shank with potatoes, while I had salmon with asparagus. For dessert, we basically had ice cream, but it had amazing biscuit-spinkles and syrups and a really long name on the menu that took up two lines. Needless to say, I don’t remember what it was called. Throughout the meal we sipped a crisp Ribera del Duero (red wine). And our entire excellent meal (in Madrid!) cost only 40 Euros. Can I get another, que bueno!?!

Sleepy and satisfied, we strolled back to our hotel, past drunk Spanish college kids and other crazy Madrillenos. I wondered to myself, “When did I get so old?” But before I let it bother me, I also wondered, “When have I ever been so happy?”

And I couldn’t come up with an answer… 

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Grand Granada

For the first time without our car, we made our journey to our next town. To Granada, by train. No arguing about how fast one is driving on the highway, about the need to actually slow down so that I can actually read the Spanish signs. And of course, no getting lost. We were only on the clickety clank regional train, but it was glorious. 

We arrived in Granada around 2PM and took a taxi through the twisting, narrow streets of Granada to our hostal. Again, we were so glad to not be driving. 5 Euros later we paid our taxi and walked down the narrow alley to Hostal Lima, where we met "La Madre." La Madre was an adorable middle-aged Spanish woman who runs Hostal Lima. She does not speak English. However, she had no trouble getting her messages across to JCB and me. 

This little woman carried our bags up two flights of stairs to our quaint room. She schooled us in the use of the heater, and then instructed us to have lunch at Bodega de Antonio. She drew a map, and essentially said, "Now go." By then it was almost 3PM, and Bodega de Antonio was surely closed for siesta. We never ended up finding it. But we did have luck scarfing down a few bocadilllos and beers.

We wandered around town, noting how many snowboarding shops are in Granada. Spain's highest mountain range is pretty close by, so it makes a lot of sense. And yet again, JCB and I looked at each other thinking, "I think I could live here."

Our feelings were only further confirmed after we stopped into a cute bodega for a glass of wine and were served our first FREE tapa. Yes, Granada is the last city in Spain in which the tradition of serving a free tapa with each drink is alive. And it is awesome. We enjoyed our wine and free food, and then headed back back to the hostal for siesta.

We slept well, almost too well. Happy to again be in a double bed instead of two singles pushed together, we found it almost too hard to wake up for dinner when 9:30 PM rolled around. But then we remembered all of the free food that was headed our way, so we got dressed and set out for Plaza Nueva, one of Granada's main squares. 

Our first stop, Bodegas Castaneda, was packed with locals yelling for drinks and tapas. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and some basic tapas (tortilla de patata, jamon y pan) before wandering over to Antigua Castaneda. This bar was less crowded, which surprised me, because the food was far superior. In fact, Antigua Castaneda served up the best spinach and garbanzo beans we've had on our entire trip. We stuck around for a couple more drinks, then headed back to Hostal Lima to get a good night's sleep.

The next day, we made our way to the Alhambra. Atop a hill overlooking Granada, the sheer size of this Muslim Castle was impressive. We toured both the Generalife (gardens) as well as the palace and castle. JCB took an audio-guided tour that fed him all the facts about the building and city's history. I opted to simply walk around and take pictures and have JCB fill me in on the good stuff. It's kind of difficult to describe the Alhambra, so I'll just leave it up to the pictures...

After our trip to the Alhambra, we visited a Hammam for an afternoon bath. Baths, actually. We visited an Arab bath house! We spent two hours soaking in different pools of cold, lukewarm, warm, very warm, and hot water. And in between baths, we received massages with aromatherapy. It was a warm relaxing way to end our day. 

Free tapas, the Alhambra, and Arab baths? Granada has definitely edged out Sevilla to become our second favorite town of the trip, just behind Barcelona. I wonder what's in store during our quick stop in Madrid followed by two nights in Valencia?!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Sweet Home Sevilla

Adios, coche! Hola, Sevilla! Upon our arrival in Sevilla, the first order of business was to return the rental car to Hertz at the Train Station. Oh, happy day! We loved the freedom of our car, and our road trip through rural Spain was unbelievable. However, now that we will be spending the rest of our time in larger cities, we have opted to travel by foot/bus/train. JCB and I can go back to being our normal selves. (Meaning, no more arguing over how the other one is driving!)

After returning the car, we made our way back to Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the liveliest neighborhoods of the city. At the recommendation of our taxi driver, we made our first stop in Bar Alfalfa for cerveza and tostada con queso y salmorenjo. Toasty, cheesy, delicious. We decided to continue our bar hopping while heading back to the hotel – it was time for siesta!

After a long afternoon / evening nap – I think we woke up at 9:30 PM – we showered, dressed, and headed out onto the town. JCB had planned several tapas bars for us to visit, and they were all fabulous. By midnight, we were stuffed, but we had a couple more drinks before heading home for good. We really wanted to stay out and see some of the club scene, but the clubs weren’t really going to pick up until 2AM, and there was no way I was going to make it that late. We will make it out super late once. I promise!

Our Sunday was busy, starting with breakfast at a cute, cheap tapas place called La Companara. We then ventured over to El Alcazar, which put all of the other castles we have seen to date to total shame. This castle was gigantic. Elaborate tiling, a beautiful garden, and so much space. I think we wandered throughout for over an hour. And I’m pretty sure we took over one hundred pictures…

After the castle, more tapas. It is so fun to eat in Sevilla – lots of great food, but in small portions. It is fun to be hungry every two hours again! We continued to wander around, next to La Plaza Espana, and just hung out for a while. Watched Spanish toddlers get into trouble, mostly. We’re both intrigued when we hear little Spanish voices. It is frustrating that they can speak better than us!

Last on our agenda, was La Catedral de Sevilla. Another cathedral. I have had my share of cathedrals by now, but this one was pretty cool. It boasts being the largest of the worlds Gothic cathedrals, and also the third largest of all the world’s cathedrals (regardless of architecture). In addition, the cathedral houses two paintings by Goya, as well as the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It also has one of the most elaborate altars I ever seen, with a backdrop of 40+ gold statues and religious scenes telling stories both of Christ and Sevilla. I have never seen anything like it, before.

After a quick climb to the top of the cathedral tower, we realized that 4PM was quickly approaching: time for another round of small plates. We chose a spot not too far from the cathedral, next to some locals, and had gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimp – with heads) and a fried fish of sorts. Very good. During dinner I checked my pedometer and saw that we had walked 14 KM that day. No wonder we were so tired! So we headed back to the hotel for our favorite time of day, siesta.

We loved Sevilla. So much so that we thought we could actually live here. And we think we will probably return again, and hopefully soon. But for now, it is time to get ready for Granada!