Wednesday, November 27, 2013
We are back in Valencia after a rather busy week in the south of Spain. Our motivation for heading south was to attend the Festival de Hocus-Pocus put on annually by Miguel Puga in his native Granada. This was the twelfth time that he had put on the weeklong event. The events that take place on Monday through Wednesday are intended for non-magicians and Thursday through Sunday there are lectures for magicians only, as well as a series of stage shows. In checking out prices it turned out that it was cheaper to fly to Seville and take the train to Granada than any other possible solution. Since that was the case, we decided to spend some time in Seville before we made our way to Granada.
Our flight left Valencia at 1:30 and the 50-minute flight to Seville was a smooth one with a slight bit of turbulence as we climbed to cruising speed. Our luggage was waiting at the carousel by the time we reached the terminal. It was easy to locate our bags since there were only five checked bags on our particular flight. A twenty-minute cab ride took us to our hotel, the Alfonso XIII, which is part of the Starwood Collection. Since Susan receives a substantial discount on a room because she is a Starwood alum, we were more than happy to pay the 70 Euro price for what is normally a 210 Euro room. We unpacked a headed out in search of some lunch.
It was a brisk afternoon and as the week progressed the temperatures continued to drop. We discovered a restaurant, Casablanca that was a short distance from the hotel. The place was jammed and that is always a good sign. Even though it was a little before 4:00 we still had a fifteen-minute wait for a table. As it turned out, the wait was worthwhile. We lunched on a dozen gambas a la plancha and a fritura (a selection of small fish, shellfish and fish filets that have been fried) both dishes recommended by our waiter. Fortified with a little wine, a little coffee and a little dessert we set out to explore the old part of town.
We spent a good couple of hours roaming and exploring and that afforded Susan the opportunity to shoot a goodly number of photos. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit. We ventured forth again around 9:00 PM in search of a bar, Enrique Becerra, that our friend, Andrew Handelsman had recommended. He insisted that we had to try the lamb meatballs made with mint and so when we sat down at the bar that is what we ordered. Susan liked them so much that she asked for the recipe at which point our server produced a book by Becerra himself with a variety of his favorite recipes. Since he was a short distance away from us, working on some project or other, he was more than happy to sign the book. It was a short walk back to the hotel and we called it a day around 11:30.
We left the hotel Wednesday a little before noon and after a quick breakfast we continued our adventures. We paid a visit to the cathedral, which is enormous. Every time I visit an ornate cathedral I have the same impression. I think that the money would have been and could be better spent helping out parishioners who are in dire need. Since there are six million unemployed in Spain that list would be a long one. After our visit to the cathedral we went in search of our lunch destination, a restaurant called La Azotea, another Handelsman recommendation. We walked for quite a while and, since our destination still seemed rather far away, we hopped a cab and ten minutes later we were within hailing distance of the restaurant.
We walked in and introduced ourselves to the owner, Juan, who spent five years in Southern California, ending with an extended stint in San Diego. His wife, Janine, is a California native and we had the chance to chat with her later. Together they own four restaurants in Seville and all of them are wildly successful. We had arrived a little after 2:00 so finding a table was easy. That would not have been the case had we arrived later. We started our meal with a scramble of wild forest mushrooms and ham, tartar de salmón marinado and a plate of sliced steak. All dishes were both eye appealing and very tasty. For dessert Susan chose crema de naranja con helado a la hierbabuena y granizado de ginebra – an orange cream with spearmint ice cream and a gin granita. I went a more traditional route and had a chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream. We finished the meal with coffee and a little magic. After lunch we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. We packed up our few belongings in preparation for the next day’s train ride to Granada.
The train trip from Seville to Granada takes a good three hours. From the train station we took a cab to our hotel, Hotel Casa 1800 Granada. Located in the old quarter it is a former barracks that has been renovated and turned into a very nice and welcoming hotel. We unpacked and then went in search of lunch. It was rather late in the afternoon, but we stopped in at a nearby restaurant that the desk clerk at the hotel has recommended.
We ended up eating twice at Carmela Restaurante during our four-day stay. The food was excellent and so was the service. Standout dishes were homemade croquetas de jamón and croquetas de morcilla, a boldly sauced dish made with monkfish and shrimp and a plate of seared tuna. We also had lunch one day at Los Arrayanes, a Moroccan restaurant. They make a great lamb tagine. A Saturday late lunch at Los Manueles was also remarkable. We had a great grilled vegetable plate and a dish that featured clams and shrimp. Sunday there was a farewell luncheon at a local restaurant where, of all things, we enjoyed sliced roast beef, oven roasted potatoes and several vegetables.
The Festival was one of the best magic events that I have ever attended. I cannot even begin to imagine the number of man-hours that went into the preparation of this event. It is intended for the citizens of Granada and magicians are invited to attend, but the number of attendees is limited. This year there were fifty of us. All lectures took place in a facility called La Expositiva and all stage shows took place in the Teatro Isabel La Católica, which has a capacity of 700. Truth be told I only attended a few of the lectures because we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing since this was out first visit to Granada in thirty-three years. The two stage events that we enjoyed the most were Jandro TV on Friday night and an international gala on Saturday night. There was also a Sunday evening show that we had to miss because we needed to pack everything up for the following day’s return trip to Seville.
We paid a return visit to The Alhambra on Saturday and, to be honest, it was a bit disappointing. Many changes and upgrades have been made to the tourist experience necessitated by the throngs of visitors who come here every day. Dirt roads have been paved and marble has replaced the dirt floors of several patios. The patio of the Lions that used to be surrounded by a ring of ever changing flowers according to the season is completely surrounded by marble and seems lost on the expanse of white. Thirty plus years ago it was easy to imagine yourself back in the day when the caliphs used to roam the grounds. I found the modern-day version to be a bit sterile and antiseptic. The buildings are still a wonder to behold, as are the gardens of the Genralife.
Monday we trained back to Seville and checked in at the Alfonso XIII where they upgraded us to a spacious room that overlooks the pool. We visited La Azotea once again, but it was the one on Calle Zaragoza. We had a lovely meal of baby clams and baby artichokes, a sashimi of lemon fish and a small prime filet. Juan’s brother, Davis, runs this restaurant and we stayed until the place closed down for the afternoon. Then it was back to the hotel where we packed up the few things that we had taken out of our suitcases during the day and then it was an early bedtime because we needed to be up at 6:00 to catch our 8:30 flight back to Valencia.
It felt good to be back home. We have traveled quite a bit this fall and now it is time to stay put for a while. Susan is busy preparing thing for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal. There will be fourteen of us gathered around the table and it promises to be a fun event will all the traditional dishes on our table. The weather promises to be cold and that brings back memories of the many Thanksgiving Days we celebrated back east. I will post photos after Thanksgiving.