Bailamos Flamenco

With thoughts of Tapas and Flamenco, we boarded our Vueling flight to the city of Sevilla.  The date was 25th September 2010.  We were supposed to stay there for a couple of nights but due to the visa delay, we had to be content with just one night.  Sevilla is actually a huge city.  Most of the attractions are in the old part of town where we stayed.  During this stay, we tried to use this booking site that I found called Airbnb.  The concept is renting a room with the owner of the house.  It’s like staying with a friend who lives overseas but here you are strangers.  Some rent the whole place out.  Some just rent off one of the rooms.  Even couches are offered in places like Paris.  Anyway, getting back to Sevilla.  We stayed at Calle Aposentadores.  It is very near the center but since we couldn’t find the place in the map we had, we found out after we took a cab.

They weren’t kidding when they said that the tapas here are good.  We went to a very small tapas bar where the lady can only speak Spanish or Russian and got some tapas which were so delicious.  It didn’t look like gourmet stuff but it tasted really good.  That evening, we tried a place called Bodega Gongora where we found out that roasted red peppers are fantastic especially with anchovies and that adobo in the menu means marinated fried fish cubes.  We also ordered some Calamares.

Once we got food in our system, we tried to get out of our little neighborhood.  We kept on going around in circles so we decided to take a cab.  The pretty lady cab driver told us that it is really quite near.  But due to the small one way streets, it would be harder to drive around.  At the city center, we saw THE Cathedral.  Believe me when I say it is HUGE!  The camera can barely capture the immensity of the whole structure.  They started construction in 1402 and continued well until 1506.  Their idea at that time was:  “Let a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad.” Before Seville Cathedral, Hagia Sophia held the honor of being the biggest cathedral in the world.  It is currently the largest Gothic Cathedral and the third largest cathedral in the world.  We wanted to go in to see the interior and to see Christopher Columbus’ tomb but there was an ongoing funeral service.

While Jore was getting bored and asking where we should go to see a live Flamenco show, we heard the sound of music and shoes tapping against the cobblestones.  We followed our ears and found a big group of Sevillanos doing the Flamenco.  It was loud, fun and wonderful.  You just start clapping to the tune and smiling as they twirl in their lovely costumes.

All in all, I have to say that Sevilla is as charming and warm as people claim.  It is one of those places you immediately fall in love with.  The food, the people and the place itself were so nice and quaint that you feel like staying a bit longer to know it better.  We really wished we could have stayed longer but we couldn’t extend as the room we stayed in has been booked and with the Huelga General just around the corner, it would be wiser to chug along to Madrid via the AVE.

The Legend of the Roman Aqueduct

Since I still have my Spanish Holiday loaded in my hard drive, I will continue with Segovia. It is just 2 hours and around 12,80 euros away with trains every hour. What got me interested in Segovia is the roman aqueduct. There is a legend behind how it was built. Since it is such a huge and marvelous feat of ancient engineering and me, being such a sucker for legends, it became a must see.

Legend starts with a maid to a very rich household who had to bring water from the river far away to the house everyday. One day, in despair, she made a pact with the devil that he could have her soul should he be able to solve her dilemma before the next day starts. That night, she was awakened by the sound of thunder and saw thousands of demons working — building an aqueduct. Gripped by fear, she prayed that the devil would fail. Before the last stone was placed, the cock crowed announcing the devil’s failure. The maid then quickly went to the priest and confessed. The gap for the last stone now holds the figure of a saint.

My first reason to visit Segovia is the Aqueduct. The second would be Alcazar. The third is the Cochinillo Asado. We got 2 out of 3. Not bad, right? The Aqueduct is in the center of the city itself. There is no way to miss it. It is a colossal structure made without the use of mortar. The Alcazar, on the other hand is a medieval castle said to be an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Before you dispute me, the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I have to agree though that they both look Disney-ish. When buying tickets for Alcazar, check if your knees and lungs are fine battling with around 6 stories worth of winding, slippery stone steps. If yes, buy the ticket with the tower access. If no, just save your money and buy the basic entry ticket. The way down is the same winding, slippery stone steps…

Ah! The Cochinillo Asado, was sadly a failure. We got lost trying to find a non touristy restaurant. We ended up not getting to try it since we had to make sure we get to the train station to catch our train back to Madrid. But before we went in the station, we grabbed a bite at a bar in front which served the coldest beer in frosted mugs! The food was so-so only but the beer was good:) For those planning to visit, let me know if the Cochinillo Asado is worth coming back for…

Gaudi on my Mind

Since I am starting this based on past travels and would be journeys, I shall start with one of the most memorable trips we had – Barcelona. Barcelona is not Spain’s capital although you have to admit, you thought it is. It is the 2nd largest city in Spain and is the capital of Catalunya. It is mostly famous for Gaudi and the Olympics which was held there in 1992. You must know one thing — they don’t really speak Castillano or the Spanish that we know. They speak Catalan.

Getting on with the story — 24th September 2010. We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport around 11 am due to a flight delay on KLM via Amsterdam. Since France and Spain were having transport strike, it was expected. We took a cab to our hotel which was located at La Rambla. The guy was quite nice. He was trying to make small talk with us. Unfortunately, he knows no English and I know no Catalan. What I gathered from what he was trying to say was: “Be very careful. La Rambla is not a very safe location. Take care of your belongings and make sure your camera is not just slung over one shoulder.” We have been warned within the first 30 minutes of arriving.

The main reason we were in Barcelona is Gaudi. My friend is very much a fan of his works. First stop, we visited the exterior of La Casa Battlo. I have to say exterior as everyone had the same idea. The queue outside was a long dragon’s tail. Next stop was La Casa Mila, better known as La Pedrera as it looks like a stone quarry. You could say that George Lucas might have been influenced by the sculptures at the top of the building for Star Wars. Last stop, was La Sagrada Familia. This is Gaudi’s most famous work. 200 years after, it is still a work in progress. If you only have time to visit one place in Barcelona, make it La Sagrada Familia. It is like the Eiffel Tower of Paris. It is THE place you really have to see to say that you’ve been to Barcelona.

Visiting Barcelona needs a strategy. You need to know where you want to go and what you want to see before you start walking. There is this famous old hospital way up north near Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. Near the middle are Casa Battlo and Casa Mila. Near the port are Palau Guell, La Bocheria and La Rambla — which is nice for a walk or people watching.

Oh I almost forgot! Remember the cab driver’s warning earlier? My friend’s purse was stolen while we were dining at a restaurant in front of our hotel. We didn’t notice as we were so tired and each of us thought that the other was carrying the purse. We only realized the theft the next day. My friend accidentally stashed all our credit/debit cards and identification cards in her purse. O_O You can imagine the horror of not having any way to get money on the first day of your trip. We spent the whole morning calling the banks for cancellation of cards and filling a police report. Judging by the queue at the station, we were not THAT stupid. It was a widespread problem and one of them was even mugged. Good thing we still had our wits with us. I had Jore (my friend) call our friend to wire some money to us via Western Union. To pay the hotel, I asked my sister for my debit card info which is with her via instant messaging. So you wouldn’t see us pouting in any of the pictures. I have to say this — BE VERY CAREFUL IN BARCELONA! The place is nice but be very careful. We were not the only victims. I have a friend who is over 6 feet tall whose wallet was stolen in Barcelona. After that, his iPhone was taken in the Metro. Because he was so upset, he shouted. His phone miraculously was being returned by some stranger who “picked” it from the floor because my friend “dropped” it. My friend noticed the pickpockets calling for reinforcements so they got off at the next stop.