Tag Archives: Spain

Seville 2018 – Day Four – (not so) Open all Hours

One thing that never ceases to amaze me when visiting Mediterranean countries is the odd opening hours kept by the shops here. To be honest I still haven’t worked out exactly when, or in some cases, even if they DO open. There is, of course, the loooooonnnnnng siesta that is taken from about 11 AM to 5 PM but not many seem to be open that early in the morning. Nor do they seem to be open that late in the evening to compensate for the lack of being open any time in the afternoon. How do the places make any money?

The shops here also seem to be very individualistic unlike the incessant chain stores that are to be found in the UK. A small haberdashers, a butchers, bag shop etc. That’s not to say that there aren’t chain stores here, including the ubiquitous Costa, but it is mainly small stores that never seem to open.

By this stage we had pretty much “done” all that we wanted to do in Seville with the exception of going into the cathedral. So we went over at opening time (11 AM, it seems the Catholic Church isn’t keen on early starts either) to get a head start but there was already a sizeable queue there. After dithering a bit and having a coffee we finally joined the queue and eventually got inside.

As I hinted at yesterday I am not a huge fan of the over-blown style of Catholic churches and the Seville cathedral very much fitted into this category. The adjoining tower, however, was interesting and would have been perfect were it not for the rude tourists that we had to share it with. They all seemed to be from the same country which I won’t name lest I slight the wrong one but they weren’t a great advert for whichever country it was.

The afternoon was spent pottering before taking an open top bus ride around the city. While the weather has been very pleasant for a January it was probably still a bit too chilly for an open top bus. We did, however, get to see parts of the city we had not previously explored. This included the areas built for Expo ’92 and the cantilevered Alamillo Bridge. Like every country the highlights were bigged up as the biggest, best, first etc. but there was a bout of honesty when describing the bridge. There was, it seems, supposed to be a twin bridge but due to “economic difficulties” it was never built. The architect was said to be “extremely disappointed”!

So that’s Seville done. I can imagine coming back here again and revisiting the Alkazar and other sights. It was also very pleasant to get some vitamin D so early in the year. It’s going to be a struggle returning to the UK where it is currently snowing.

Seville 2018 – Day Three – Cordoba

Today we left Seville behind and got the train to Cordoba. The station at Seville is a thoroughly modern affair, clean and efficient. By the time we reached the train we’d been through an airport like security check and had our tickets checked twice. The latter seemed very much like a job creation scheme to me. The train too was modern, clean and fast with bags of room – so the complete antithesis of anything in the UK.

On arrival in Cordoba we walked through a tree lined green space that went right down to the Alkezar. Unlike yesterday this one was a small affair with none of the geometric patterns that fascinated me so but it did have some nice mosaics on the wall in a church which looked as if they’d been on the floor somewhere at some point.

Whenever you mention Cordoba to anyone that has been there they always say “oh that’s the place with the church inside a mosque… or is it mosque inside a church?!” For the record it’s a church inside a mosque and we went there next. The mosque was another thing of beauty. A simple, clean open space with repeated pillars joined by red and white striped tops. And there, right in the centre of this beautiful mosque, was a garish Christian church. It was incredibly ornate with all the bling that you associate with the Catholic church. It was jarring to see it where it was but fascinating at the same time.

Our next stop was the Roman bridge. This seemed to be a bit of a con to me as the deck of the bridge was definitely not Roman in fact it looked very twentieth century to me. Peering over the edge and looking down what I saw could have been Roman but who knows?

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the beautifully maintained pedestrian streets. There is a very simple palette of colours used both here and in Seville consisting of white, terracotta, sandstone and blue. It all looks very appealing, especially in the warm January sun.

The temperature has been just right for us over the last few days getting to about 20 degrees. If I find it pleasant in January that tells me that it is going to be pretty hot in the summer. And while I am happy to go around in a jumper you can tell the locals as they are the ones in the bobble hats and scarves!

Seville 2018 – Day Two – Moorish

The hotel we are staying in is lovely, especially as we are in a “junior suite” which has a separate lounge as well as the bedroom. We weren’t supposed to be in a suite but swapped with the mother-in-law so that she could have the bath that the standard room we had paid for offered. Result! When it comes to hotels we are, to be honest, cheapskates. We regard it as somewhere to sleep and so given we spend so little time there it doesn’t have to be that posh, just clean and tidy.

Similarly we won’t overpay for breakfast. The current hotel want €16 per person and there is no way I’ll ever eat that much. So we tend to wander out and find a local cafe and have a coffee and a croissant there. This is what we did today and ended up paying about €3.5 each for what was billed as coffee with croissant and marmalade. Seville is, of course, famous for its oranges and marmalade is made of said oranges. So it came as a surprise when the marmalade turned out to be jam! I suspect that this is because the Spanish for jam is mermelada.

Anyway, despite not having had my marmalade, we still went out to visit the Real Alcázar de Sevilla. The Alcázar is to Seville what the Alhambra is to Granada – a royal place left by the Moors. Unlike the castles left in England by the Normans which were boxy affairs the palaces left by the Moors are intricately detailed places with fascinating geometric designs (some shown below). It must have taken decades to achieve the quality of workmanship on display.

What appeals to me most is that sense of order and regularity. Everything seems to be in place and is aligned symmetrically with clean lines. I have always had a fascination with repeating patterns and it is still my favourite boring meeting doodle involving different sized boxes radiating out.

We wandered through the palace and the gardens before heading out and towards the Plaza de España built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. We approached it from the back and from that side it was pretty uninspiring but there was a real wow factor from the front. There is an ornate building in a U shape with the plaza in front of it which also has a small canal on which you can row. It was very attractive but it did also remind me of the front of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas so make of that what you will!

Today was my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday and the reason for making this trip. In celebration of that we had booked to go for a special meal at a restaurant that bills itself as the oldest in Seville (they are clearly proud of this fact as the Est. 1670 is printed on everything). So it is fair to say that they have had plenty of time to get the experience just right.

I knew before we arrived that the place was going to be quirky. It is basically a bar with a couple of small rooms at the back sat out as a restaurant. If you are at the bar area you can only stand but you can have tapas. The rooms, such that they were, at the back are seated but there is a more traditional menu. We arrived and it was packed, always a good sign that somewhere is popular. We had difficultly attracting someones attention to get our table but finally tracked it down and seated ourselves.

Menus were provided in a number of languages so this made it relatively straight forward for us to be able to choose a starter and main course each. When the old fella that was to be waiter for the evening finally deigned to take our order it was quickly obvious that we were to be an inconvenience to him. When one of our party couldn’t find again the in the menu with the item he wanted the waiter let out a very audible sigh and rolled his eyes!

When the food started to arrive it came in dribs and drabs rather than all at once. So first the quick and easy cold cuts came. Fair enough we thought, next must be the rest of the hot starters. This was confirmed in our minds when next arrived a soup. At this point there seemed little point in wait so those that had their starters started. While we were not more that a few bites into these than the main courses began to appear (and far too quickly to have been cooked from fresh I felt). This led to some interesting juggling of plates as the table wasn’t big enough to accommodate all that had been ordered. Finally all the main courses had arrived but we were still short of one starter – mine of course. This finally arrived pretty much as I was half way through my main.

It should be said that the food was very good even if it did arrive in a peculiar order. Had we been having tapas it might not have been a surprise but given the menu was laid out into starters and main it was very odd. We got the bill and went to pay by card. The waiter arrived with the card machine and no sooner had he done so but another waiter came over and sent him away so off he went without a word but another obvious huff. We were left with no idea what had happened and had to wait another five minutes before he arrived back again and finally took payment.

All in all it was an entertaining meal!

Seville 2018 – Day One – Oranges

Our first trip in 2018 is for some early sunshine in the Spanish town of Seville. I can’t remember the last time we went away so soon after Christmas but based on today’s experience I might be tempted to do it more often.

Getting here required an early flight on the smallest plane I have been on since my honeymoon to Guernsey some 27 years ago. At least this time there was somewhere in the hold for luggage. On that occasion our bags were placed behind netting at the front of the plane! To go with the small plane was the small airport and we were through passport control and out in next to no time. Let’s hope it’s the same in Orlando in April…

It’s an odd experience to board a plane with the temperature being close to freezing and grey and to step off at the other end and it be (almost) tee-shirt weather and brilliant blue skies. The other thing that is a little different is that this time we are here with my mother-in-law and her husband to celebrate her birthday.

Armed with approximately zero Spanish we managed to get a taxi from the airport to the hotel. Even without a shared language the driver did manage to mime how pleased he was to see the sun. Not as pleased as I was I can assure you!

The afternoon was spent orienting ourselves and trying not to do too much that we have allocated for other days of the holiday. Normally decisions on where to go are relatively straightforward with only two of us travelling. As on this occasion there are four of us and more weight is given to the birthday girl it is more, complex.

In the evening we went out to a local tapas restaurant that had been recommended by the hotel. Unfortunately it was still closed post New Year (that must have been one hell of a party!) and so we moved onto the next one on the list. This too was shut but only because it was still early as far as the Spanish were concerned (it was just before 8pm). We walked on and found ourselves in an open plaza with a number of restaurants around it. We rejected a few before finding one that looked welcoming and ate there.

Even as we walked the short walk back to the hotel it was a pleasant temperature and you could easily forget that it is still January. It is going to be a real shock to the system when we get back to the UK on Sunday!

Barcelona 2017 – Day Four – Where is Espanyol?

It is always difficult to fill the time before a flight but we were determined not to waste the time that we did have, especially hearing that it was raining in the UK and the sun was out in Barcelona. The hotel where we were staying was very well located close to the Gothic Quarter so we headed out that way through the back streets as Alex wanted to try and buy a football shirt.

Like most big cities Barcelona boasts more than one football team: FC Barcelona and Espanyol but you wouldn’t know that from the variety of shirts on offer. It would have been easier to find a Real Madrid shirt than one for Espanyol but Alex had his eyes on the latter so an extensive search was required to secure. In the end one was found, and I literally mean one as that was all the shop seemed to have, for the very reasonable price of €30 in Las Ramblas.

Las Ramblas runs from the Placa de Catalunya down to the sea front and has a bit of a reputation as the place where you are most likely to lose your wallet to pick pockets. However, it is an attractive street being very wide with a tree lined pedestrian bit in the middle filled with street traders. About half way up, off to one side, is a market packed with both traders and tourists. This is a fascinating place as you can buy produce such as fish, meats and vegetables as well as stopping for a tapas snack. It very much reminds me of the covered market in Oxford.

Finally with gifts secured for all those that required them we headed back to the hotel to check out and make the trip back to the airport and home. There was a final reminder of the main event at the airport too – a Williams FW40 – going about as fast as it did on track!

Barcelona 2017 – Day Three – Grand Prix

The whole point of this weekend away was so that we could go to the Spanish Grand Prix, everything else was really built around that. The circuit is only half an hour out of the city and so is an ideal venue to visit, although it can be a fairly pedestrian race but live sport always tops what you see on TV.

In order to get to the circuit we had pre-booked a bus which would take us directly from the city to the track. There were, however, a number of unknowns in all of that: how early would we need to be at the bus station to secure a place? How long would the coach take? How close to the circuit would it drop us? Our answer in times of transport uncertainty such as this is to leave plenty of contingency, much to the dismay of the boys. So it was that we arrived at the bus station at just before 10 and we certainly weren’t the only ones there. Fortunately it was all well organised and we were onto a bus within ten minutes and at the circuit a further 30 minutes later.

I was convinced that we had booked a covered grandstand and so when we reached the corner with our stand it came as a bit of a shock that it was in full sun and 25 degrees. By the end of the day the the boys and myself all had red knees despite slathering on the sun tan cream several times during the day. Rather than sit there and fry we went off to take a look at what was on offer around the circuit. It was interesting to see the size of the concessions selling team merchandise were proportional to the teams popularity (I assume). McLaren seemed to have been afforded a stall the same size as those of Mercedes and Ferrari which initially I couldn’t make any sense of until I remembered Fernando Alonso. The Williams concession was half the size of the big boys and minnows (in terms of merchandise sales) Force India and Haas had to share a stand half the size again. Although I was already kitted out in my Williams hat and top I was in the market for a tee shirt at least. However, the prices were eye watering, particularly when you consider that Williams are currently offering 40% off on their website so I passed.

We were back in our seats in plenty of time for the start and had a really good view of the last few corners before the start/finish straight and the pit lane entrance. There was also a big screen in the distance so we could follow what was going on in the parts of the track that we couldn’t see. For me, as a Williams supporter, my race was over before the end of the first lap when Felipe Massa came past with a puncture and sparks flying from the bottom of the car. The race looked as if it was going to be pretty dull until there was a virtual safety car (brought on by Massa) which allowed Hamilton to make a late stop and close the gap to Vettel. Track-side I’m still not sure quite how he managed to cut the deficit so I’ll probably watch the race re-run to find out exactly what happened. This did, however, make for an exciting last laps as Hamilton closed in on the Ferrari and took the lead to take the win.

Grand Prix racing isn’t as tribal as football and so it was not unusual to see someone wearing, say, a McLaren hat with a Williams tee shirt, which really messed with my head as, to my mind, McLaren are the arch enemies of the boys from Grove. Similarly while the fans in the stands did give a big cheer for local drivers Alonso and Sainz they also cheered, well, pretty much any action so when Vettel took the lead from Bottas and when Hamilton passed Vettel.

Once the race was over everyone was up and out of their seats to make a swift exit. We retraced our steps to the bus stop where there was a looooong line of people waiting to board the buses back to the city. I steeled myself for a long wait but Sagales, the bus company with whom we had booked, were incredibly efficient and with so many buses available we were on one and away within 15 minutes. I cannot praise Sagales highly enough for the service there and back – it was tremendous.

Back in Barcelona we went out for a tapas meal and then found a local bar where Mat got through what was two very large glasses of sangria. It was a great end to a fun day.

Barcelona 2017 – Day Two – Going Topless 

We are a family of different sleeping patterns and so today to accommodate that we had a more leisurely start to the day. While one of the boys caught up on his beauty sleep Helen and I found a local coffee shop to have some breakfast consisting of a chocolate croissant and foul tasting cup of tea. To be fair the tea wasn’t the issue, it was the hot, UHT milk served with it.  We then regrouped ready to catch a hop-on, hop-off bus to take us to the sights.

Barcelona is an interesting place but the real interest lies in the architecture left behind by Gaudi and not just the famous, unfinished, church. We a number of examples of his work on the journey and made our first actual stopping point to be the Gueli Park which has a monuments section featuring Gaudi’s work. Unfortunately the first tickets available for this weren’t available for entry until 6pm. Instead we walked round the free bits of the park which are interesting in a dull sort of way. All the architecture in this part seem to have been constructed before Gaudi discovered colour.

From here it was back to the bus and onward to the next stop, which turned out to be lunch. I make no excuses for this but lunch turned out to be a KFC, something that we’d normally only do in our hour of need but it was convenient, cheap-ish and filling.

After lunch we took the bus to the palace. We should have been able to walk from the grand square at the bottom right up to the entrance but there was a motor show taking up the walkway so we had to arrive via the backstreets which wasn’t quite the grand entrance we’d hoped for. It was an impressive place nevertheless. The final stint on the bus took us down to the seafront from where we walked back to the hotel.

In the evening we went out to see the Sagrada Familia (that unfinished church) at night. Only the front was lit and it didn’t look that impressive as it had during the day which was disappointing. What wasn’t disappointing was the meal – it was great to find a traditional pizzeria in the middle of Barcelona 😉

Tomorrow the unknown that is the Spanish Grand Prix.

Barcelona 2017 – Day One – Nou Camp

Since the boys left home a couple of years ago our holidays have been strictly child free (not that they are children now of course). Today, however, we set off for a weekend away with all four of us in attendance for the first time in a while. Destination Barcelona. This meant a 5am start to catch the early plane from Heathrow. On arrival at Barcelona we dumped our bags and headed for the obligatory tapas lunch. No matter how hard we try we always seem to order too much and it’s impossible to stem the flow of plates arriving at the table Fortunately having the boys with us helps with this issue as they suck up everything in sight.

This weekend has a very sporty feel to it with the main event (for me at least) being the Grand Prix on Sunday. However, Alex may feel differently as he likes some game called “football” so this afternoon we we to Nou Camp, the home of FC Barcelona. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t really something that I was greatly looking forward to, not being a football fan but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn’t all that interested in the museum at the beginning, although the number of trophies was initially impressive until I noticed that they had sneaked in those from their winning roller hockey team too!

Once released from the museum you were allowed to go through the stadium itself. It wasn’t quite a free for all but I was impressed with both the areas you were allowed to go to and the fact that you weren’t unduly supervised or herded. So we were able to go out into the stands and see the impressive stadium. As with most modern stadiums the view for most seats seemed pretty good although given how high up some seats are you might need oxygen. Next it was down to the touch line and the technical area where Alex had great fun recreating yet another Man U loss!

We were then able to go to the press room and the “pens” where manager and players are interviewed post match and up to the view from the media area.

Finally, like all good tours, it was exit via the gift shop where we all managed to avoid picking up a Messi shirt. My money is staying firmly in my pocket until I get to the circuit on Sunday and pick up a pair of these…