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Friday, May 6, 2011

Southern Spain | May 2011 - Part 1

May 2, 2011 (London – Seville)
We were up to a nice day; Masood picked us up at ten for our drive to Gatwick, about a half hour further from us than Heathrow. It was our first flight from this airport. Check in went smoothly, but the plane was delayed about an hour because of “dirt on the wing tip,” one might say a seemingly shoddy excuse “on its surface.” The time in the air was fine; we landed in Malaga an hour late at about 6:15.

I couldn’t get a car from Hertz, so rented with Europcar; a nice Mercedes, with navigation provided separately by TomTom. The agent set the language to English for me. I had trouble mounting the unit; I stupidly tried to seal it to the dash rather than the windshield. It was flopping around but we left the garage anyway; I set the destination to our hotel in Seville.

We entered the road, immediately hit a bump, the unit flopped in between our seats; I heard a muffled male voice speaking German directing me. The agent set the screen to English, apparently not the audio; I pulled into a gas station swearing profusely. Eventually I was able to set the audio to a sweet and soothing British female, and overcame my stupidity and realized I needed the smooth surface of glass to have the suction mount hold firm; absolute idiot!

We drove north away from the Mediterranean to A92 and headed west; it was about a 2 ½ hour drive in some quite heavy rain and wind. We had some trouble interpreting the final navigation commands and made one or two aborted attempts, but finally arrived to Las Casas Del Rey de Baeza, our hotel in Seville. It is part of the Hospes chain; our first choice was Hotel Alphonse XIII, but it was fully booked. Our little suite was okay, but far from great. The property is a converted palacio in the rustic style.

We hurriedly unpacked, had a quick dinner and crashed to bed about midnight.

May 3, 2011 (Seville)
We were up early to a sunny seventy degrees and a nice breakfast. The hotel is on the northern outer fringe of the old city; it was a half hour walk through a labyrinth of winding streets; in some spots less than ten feet wall to wall. Cars flew by at excess speed; pedestrians the least of their concern.

The old city has two parts: Arenal along the Guadalquivir River; and east of Arenal; Santa Cruz. Our sightseeing started in Santa Cruz with the Real Alcázar, a royal residence established by the African Moorish Almohad and a brilliant example of mudéjar architecture; rebuild in 1364 by Pedro I. Later monarchs added their touches; Isabel I dispatching navigators to explore the New World from her Casa de la Contratación. The massive and ornate complex of buildings and lush gardens were magnificent to take in.

Our next stop was Seville Cathedral and its bell tower, La Giralda. The tower was built as a minaret in 1198 under the Moorish occupation; after several transformations, the current belfry dates to 1568, with its bronze weathervane, or giralda, in Spanish. This gothic cathedral, the largest in Europe, still has a Moorish legacy throughout.

A very late lunch was at nearby Bar Giralda on Mateos Gago; a well known tapas spot. The food and wait staff were a bit worn; burnt out by the tourists I suppose. Still the interior, a converted Moorish bathhouse had a certain charm.

We weaved our way back to the hotel through the maze of small streets; there wasn’t a straight stretch of more than ten yards, the sidewalk sometimes shrank to a mere six inches. Las Casas Del Rey de Baeza has a small and cozy rooftop pool; we took a snooze in the shade, each with a glass of wine precariously balanced in our hand (mine never seems to last too long).

We cleaned up but were too tired to explore for dinner; we just stepped across the street to Palacio de Villapanés. They have a nice patio; we had some tapas, then a lovely dinner in the restaurant. Again, we weren’t to bed until after midnight.

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