Andalusian Travels

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We made it back home last night around 9:00 after a seven-day road trip to the south of Spain. We divided our time evenly between Seville and Granada and in the process did some touristy activities, caught up with old friends and attended a couple of concerts. The average temperature for those seven days was 104 degrees and I, who has a tendency to sweat when it is merely warm, constantly felt like I had taken a shower with my clothes on.

It is not easy to get to Granada from Valencia. There is one direct train a day and it leaves late at night and gets to Granada at 6:00 AM. It is a sleeper train and if you can sleep in a smallish couchette all the more power to you. The alternative is to find a cheap flight to either Malaga or Seville and to continue on from there. Wednesday afternoon we flew to Seville and from the airport we made our way to the NH Plaza de Armas Hotel that, according to descriptions, was close to all major tourist attractions.

The hotel was a plain vanilla hotel that was comfortable and quiet. It was a good fifteen-minute walk away from the Cathedral and the Giralda and normally that wouldn’t be an issue. However in 104-degree weather it is. We unpacked and then went in search of lunch. We ate at a restaurant called El Cairo and had an enjoyable meal. I thought it was rather expensive for what it was and I find prices, in general, to be higher in Seville in comparison with other cities it size. Seville is a tourist destination and I think that probable explains its higher prices.

On Thursday we caught up with ex-colleagues Andrew Handelsman and Melanie Boswell Handelsman. I taught Melanie my first year at Westridge. She was a 7th grader back then and our paths have always crossed since then. Andrew taught Spanish at Westridge for a number of years before heading off to Woodberry Forest twelve years ago. He is the director of the Woodberry in Spain program and the group was half way through their Seville experience.

We ate at a Moroccan restaurant called Al Medina. While we worked our way through an excellent meal we caught up with the goings on in our respective lives. Andrew and Melanie invited us to join them later that evening on the rooftop terrace of their hotel, the Doña María. We split up around 5:00 and at 10:00 we joined them on the terrace.

The Giralda is so close to the hotel that you feel that you could reach out and touch it. Susan took a number of photos and we then sat down for a round of drinks and some more conversation. I normally catch up with Andrew and his kids in Valencia. For the past few years we have arranged a dinner and magic show for him and his kids. They reach Valencia the 8th and that is the very same day when we head back to the States. As fate would have it, we managed to connect in Seville. Around midnight we headed back to our hotel, having agreed to meet for lunch the next day.

Susan and I visited La Casa de las Indias on Thursday morning. It houses all the original documents related to the discovery and the conquest of the New World. We received a guided tour of the current exposition and learned quite a bit about the life and times of one Antonio Ulloa. It was a morning well spent. Around 1:30 we took a cab and had it leave us on the doorstep of a very popular restaurant called Eslava.

When we arrived we discovered that all the outdoor tables and the indoor tables were filled and the bar area was jam-packed. We put our name on the waiting list for a table and found an empty corner of the bar. We had a drink while we waited for Andrew and Melanie to arrive.

We tried a variety of tapas many of which are unique to this space. One of them is called el cigarro para Bécquer and the other dish was a plate of honey coated pork spare ribs. It is a dish that took third place in a nationwide tapas contest a few years ago and is one of the seven finalists in a rib competition that is being held in Asia.

We made our way back to the hotel after lunch and basically vegged out for the rest of the day. We did mange to get out for a while and have some ice cream and when we returned we packed our bags in preparation for our Saturday trip to Granada.

The train trip to Granada is currently complicated by the fact that they are working on the tracks between Antequera and Granada getting them ready for the fast train, the AVE. They are supposed to finish by the end of the December. That means that in 2016 it will be easier to get to Granada from Valencia. For the moment it means that the train takes you as far as Antequera. You then got off the train and get on the bus that takes you to the Granada train station. The trip lasts about an hour and a quarter and the scenery along the way is quite pleasant. From the train station it was a short trip to our hotel, the Vincci Albaycín.

Since it was a little bit after 3:30 we looked for a place where we could have some tapas and call that lunch. We found a spot near the hotel called Platos and we had a little bit of this and that. We left filled, but secure in the knowledge that it was not worth a return visit. When we returned to the hotel we unpacked and rested up a bit for our evening excursion.

Granada has hosted an international festival of music and dance for 64 years. Most of the events take place on the grounds of the Alhambra. There is a theater located in the lower gardens of the Genralife that accommodates larger audiences and the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V is also a performance space. Here is a link that will help you visualize the space

Saturday night we saw the National Ballet of Norway in their performance of the ballet version of Carmen. They debuted the ballet in March of 2015 and this was its second performance. It was a privilege to be seated in such a historical space watching a moving performance on a stage that was surrounded by trees that dated back centuries. The performance began at 10:30 and ended a little after 1:00. Getting back to the hotel was a challenge. Taxis were few and far between. One would think that there would be an abundance of taxis at the end of the event knowing that hundreds of people needed transportation. We did finally manage to get one, but it was a little after 2:00 when we returned to the hotel.

We did some sightseeing Sunday morning and had a rather noisy lunch at Restaurante Carmela. The food was excellent, but since it is a rather small space the noise level was close to unbearable and with all the waiters scurrying past to deliver the food it was difficult to focus on the food. We had eaten there before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but it was in November and it was not the height of the tourist season.

Sunday night we had the pleasure of seeing Vicente Amigo, a flamenco guitarist, in concert in the patio of the Palacio de Carlos V. Rather than pure flamenco, I would say that he is clearly part of the flamenco fusion movement. In addition to himself, his group consisted of a percussionist, a bass player, a singer and another guitar player. The group played for two hours without a break. They also played two encores, much to the delight of the audience. Getting back to the hotel we experienced the same problem as Saturday night.

Drained from the heat we decided that Monday we would take things easy. We found a nearby Galician restaurant for lunch and were satisfied with a bowl of salmorejo, a heartier version of gazpacho and a seafood platter featuring octopus, mussels, and clams.

At 4:00 we caught up with an old friend of mine, Amador Javier García Piñeiro. We met sometime in the 90’s in Madrid, but neither of us can remember the exact date. I think we first made contact via e-mail and then we caught up with each other in Madrid. He now lives in Valencia and in addition to his work with computers he is a co-founder of a non-profit that is building schools in Ghana and Uganda. He needed to be at work at 5:00, but we had a good long chat about a variety of things.

The impetus for visiting Granada was the fact that a good friend and fellow magician, Miguel Puga, was going to debut a new work entitled El Brujo Amor which is a rewording of Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. The title is appropriate since it is a tour of de Falla’s life using music and magic. There are seven projection screens used in the telling of the story and six musicians interpret the score. While rehearsing earlier in June, Miguel suffered a fracture to his right leg and as a result had to cancel all his appearances for two months. Since there was no performance Monday night we thought this would be the perfect time to visit with Miguel and Ana and at 8:15 that evening we rang their bell.

We spent a little more than four hours together talking about his new production and magic in general. We had a lengthy discussion about magic as an art form. It was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. We were back at the hotel at 12:30 and we did a little packing in preparation for our return to Valencia.

It took a bus, a train a plane and three taxis to get us back home. We left the hotel at 10:30 and we were back in our house at 9:00 PM. It is Thursday as I write this section and Susan’s brother, Saul, and family will arrive at 7:00 tonight to spend four days with us before they head south. Next Wednesday we board a plane for the States to help my niece celebrate her 50th birthday.

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