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Friday, May 13, 2011

Southern Spain | May 2011 - Part 2

May 4, 2011 (Seville)
We had a restless sleep, but awoke to a beautiful day and a pleasant breakfast. Our first stop of the day was to Hospital de los Venerables; we had an awful time finding it in the patchwork of lanes, but eventually found it. I’m sure we were yards away several times. It was a home for elder clergy completed around 1700; now a cultural center. The highlight is its church, a Baroque splendor; we spend hours there.
We had lunch at another tapas bar on Gaga, this time the Belmonte; it is known for its beef, decorated in a bullfighting motif.

After lunch, we walked to the river and the Torre Del Oro, part of the 13th century fortifications. Judith then talked me into a “step-on-step-off” bus tour; it was as horrible as expected, baking in the sun on the upper deck while touring what could only be described as the top ten most uninteresting things about Seville. Live and learn; thankfully the audio wasn’t working properly so we didn’t have to listen to the canned presentation, and it only lasted one hour.
Next it was to Hospital de la Caridad, a charity hospital founded in 1674 and still a sanctuary for about 85 elderly gentleman. More Baroque splendor, as well as some well preserved frescos. We briefly visited Seville’s bullring, its season in full swing.

We crawled home exhausted, had some wine poolside and had another dinner at Palacio de Villapanés; sleep came after midnight (again).

May 5, 2011 (Seville)
It was another wonderful sunny morning. Today we were off early to Parque María Lucía, donated by its namesake in 1893 in preparation for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. It is well maintained and picturesque; although Disney may have gotten some inspiration here; something a bit unnaturally natural. We left the park via Avenue de Maria Luisa and visited the imposing façade of Palacio de San Telmo, built in 1682 with an exuberant Churrigueresgue portal. We had a quick break and drink at the Hotel Alfonso XIII’s patio.

Lunch was on Calle Rodrigo Caro at Restaurant La Cueva, in the heart of the old Barrio Santa Cruz. The chicken was terrible, but the entertainment uplifting. This is the time for the Spring Fairs, or la feria; where ladies dress in the traditional and flamboyant flamingo costumes. These fairs date back to the gypsies and the 19th century. We bumped into a frolicking party of geriatrics, seventy something’s as limber, energetic and fun loving as a group of twenty year olds. They weren’t beautiful like their younger lithe counterparts flaunting themselves around the city, but their fluid movements were amazing to watch; we all have hope!

It was then on to Casa de Pilates, a palacio inspired by the High Renaissance and the Holy Land; built in the 1500s by the Marquis of Tarifa to resemble Pontius Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem. There were more wonderful examples of mudéjar architecture throughout.

We were back to the Hotel Grand Alfonso XIII for drinks and dinner, very pleasant; the property will be closing in about a month for a ten month renovation. A taxi home had us to bed late again. The custom of late dinners at ten or after is starting to wear on our tired, old bodies.

May 6, 2011 (Seville)
Most of the city’s sights had been seen by us; today was a “clean-up” day; weather remained wonderful. Our first visit was to Iglesia de la Magdalena in el Arenal; its special Madonna and Child. It is an immense Baroque church completed in 1709. Then it was on to Museo de Bellas Artes; a breathtakingly converted convent dating to 1612, the Seville School well represented. Next was Casa Palacio Lebrija, with a wonderful Baroque chapel. Finally, the grand Baroque Iglesia Del Salvatore.

We had a leisurely lunch at Robles Laredo on Plaza de San Francisco. We finished our tour of Seville with Archivo de Indias, a museum dedicated to Spain’s exploration of the New World. Ironically, the temporary exhibit was about piracy; I couldn’t help but draw the strange parallel between the British and French terrorism in the Caribbean during the 17th century with that of the scourge of their Somali counterparts of today in the Persian Gulf. Not much changes.

We had a light and quiet dinner at the Palacio de Villapanés, and then crashed to sleep.

May 7, 2011 (Seville – Córdoba)
We were up early to a cloudy day, had breakfast and packed for our drive to Cordoba, less than two hours to the north and east. We left Seville without fanfare; however, our entrance to Córdoba was tough. The navigation was technically correct in guiding us to the destination in the shortest time, unfortunately trying to take us through several pedestrian zones. To complicate matters, this Saturday was the height of First Communion services at many churches; I tried desperately not to run over pretty little girls in their white dresses. After a few failed attempts, I noticed a taxi driver able to lower a mechanical bollard by speaking into a pedestal near the barrier. I drove up right after him, begged in poor Spanish for entry; miraculously the bollard lowered and we made it through. After a few more turns, we arrived at our hotel, Palacio Del Bailío.
We didn’t unpack much; the hotel will switch us to a suite tomorrow. This done, we headed off to Córdoba’s main sight, the Mezqutia; an 8th century marvel. This structure showcased the power of Islam in southern Europe, built between 785 and 787. With the fall of the Moors at the hands of the Catholic monarchs in the 1400s; a part of the mosque was destroyed to accommodate a cathedral. What a sweep of history is contained within its 850 arches, vestiges of Islam and Christianity coexist. The mihrab prayer niche nestled next to the Christian Churrigueresgue cathedral choir. We wandered around for hours; there is no way to capture this immense structure in a picture; in much the same way as you cannot capture the Vatican’s proportion. Deeply moved and satisfied, we meandered our way back to the hotel.

Dinner was at the hotel’s restaurant. We met Jimmy, an affable transplant from New York working for the hotel, now living in Spain since 1984. But he hasn’t lost his accent or Big Apple flare – six degrees of separation proved once again.

May 8, 2011 (Córdoba)
The weather remained perfect. Our morning took us to Córdoba’s 14th century Sinagoga and the Capilla de San Bartolomé, a small church built in a Gothic-Mudéjar style. It was then on to Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos; wonderful gardens built in the 14th century, very expansive and exquisite.

In the afternoon we went back to Palacio Del Bailío, had lunch and transferred to our new suite, the Gran Captain, #109 – very special. After the move, we had a leisurely lunch on the patio. We met a nice couple, Conrad and Lorraine, from Los Angeles. Both were Spanish-American, growing up poor; an American success story, both professionals. We discussed life, politics and current events until after nine.

Saying our goodbye to them, Judith and I went to a late dinner at the hotel, and after a frustrating late night with Internet issues, we crashed to bed.

May 9, 2011 (Córdoba)
We awoke to another nice day; most sights were closed on Monday so we had a lazy day. We were at the pool for an hour or so; then had a relaxed lunch at Taberna Los Berengueles.
It was more wine on the terrace, eventually leading to a light tapas dinner and then off to bed at a more reasonable hour, eleven o’clock.

May 10, 2011 (Córdoba – Granada)
Up early, we had breakfast, packed and left for Granada, about two hours south and east of Córdoba. The drive out of the city was easy, and A45 took us south in the direction of Malaga, then A92, east. As we approached Granada, we could see snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains; this when our car registered an outside temperature of 77°F; such a contrast. The navigation this time smartly guided us to Palacio de los Patos, our hotel. We checked into a room that was odd in an unpleasant way; very modern and quirky, housed in an 18th century palacio masterpiece. Some architect must have thought he or she was just fabulous with the concept; poor him, or her (and us).

By three we were unpacked and out, walking up Calle Recogidas toward the historic district. We stopped at Restaurant Oliver on Plaza de la Pescadería for a quick bite; not too bad. We visited Capilla Real, the royal chapel, built in 1506, now the internment for Fernando and Isabel. The reja, or grille, by Bartolomé de Jaén was magnificent. It was then to the adjacent Granada Cathedral, a massive structure, at first a Gothic conception, it was transformed into its current Spanish Renaissance brilliance by Diego de Siloé in the 16th century. Its circular capilla mayor in place of the usual semi-circular apse was breathtaking. We took another short walk to visit Casa de los Tiros, a 15th century mudéjar palace. We then dragged ourselves back to the hotel, and had a drink on the terrace; a poetry reading was being hosted there, in Spanish unfortunately.

Dinner was at the hotel; adequate, not wonderful. We flopped into bed near midnight.

May 11, 2011 (Granada)
Today was our day to explore the Alhambra, “the red fortress.” Were up to an early breakfast and off to the #32 bus on Gran Via de Colón to take us to this “city within a city.” I took the luxury of hiring a private guide; we met Lourdes Ayllón at the Alhambra Map, as arranged.
This was the scene of the Moor’s last stand in Spain, the Nasrid dynasty moved its court here in 1232; construction of the palace complex took over 100 years. In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs defeated Boabdil, and Granada and the Alhambra were forever reclaimed by Christianity. This outcrop of rock was witness to changes over centuries, from the Romans to the 16th century Palace of Charles V. Our visit lasted hours, and ended at the summer residence of Generalife, or “garden of lofty paradise.” The Arabic script repeats a line many times on the walls throughout the complex, roughly translated as: “In the end the only winner is God.” Perhaps there is some truth to this; look at the suffering this place and the world have witnessed.

After exiting, we walked to the Alhambra Palace Hotel and had lunch on their marvelous terrace looking out to the cathedral and the Sierra Nevada range. There was a threat of rain, but it did not materialize. A #23 bus took us back to Gran Via, and then we walked back to the hotel; stopping for a better pair of walking shoes for Judith.

We were back out for a half hearted attempt at more sightseeing, but the rain eventually came and sent us scurrying back to our room. A late and light dinner was at the hotel.

May 12, 2011 (Granada)
We were up early for a planned day trip to Baeza, about two hours north in Jaén province. This town dates to the Romans. It was won back from the Moors by Fernando III in 1226 and its splendor climaxed in the 16th century. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. The Antigua University was formed in 1542 and is still bustling with energetic students, still hotly debating current events. The cathedral and cloister were beautifully maintained; I climbed up the narrow winding stairs to the bell tower, Judith was wiser and stayed behind.
We had lunch at a quaint spot, Taberna El Pajaro on the main square Paseo de la Constitución. It was more tapas for us, including interesting avocado frites called alcachofas. On the drive back, the canyon vistas, with the back drop of the snow capped Sierra Nevada, made the journey seem short.

We got back to the hotel around four; had some wine on the terrace and rested and got some work done in the room. Dinner was at the hotel’s patio, relaxed and pleasant.

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