Spain

Alfama

We arrived back in Lisbon at around 9pm yesterday. Compared to the really cold weather and showers in Madrid, Lisbon was like a ray of sunshine. We booked a car with driver from http://www.mydaytrip.com for the drive from Seville. Florian, our driver arrived promptly at our hotel before 5pm for the 4 hour drive to Lisbon with a brief stopover at Alfalfa.

It was good to check-in at Hotel Rossio Inn knowing that we were parking our bags much longer this time and wouldn’t need to wake-up early for another bus ride.

Today was my last “free” day as the conference would start tomorrow. We took the Metro from Rossio to Martin Moiniz which was the boarding station for Tram 28 which heads to hilly Alfama. There was already a line at the tram station just a few meters from the metro which meant we were going to have to stand. It was drizzling by the time we got off the crowded tram at Graca. I made a mistake with the Google maps direction and we ended up walking in circles trying to get to Igrecia Sao Vicente. Finally, we found it. It’s not as ornate as San Roque but beautiful nevertheless.

We scrounged for some souvenirs at the nearby street market (the reason why I scheduled Alfama today, a Tuesday, which is when the market opens). There were lots of unique items for sale apart from the many stalls selling pre-loved items. It wasn’t very crowded and the vendors weren’t pushy.

I bought a couple of magnets at 1.50€ each and a soft eyeglass case made of cork (8€) for which Portugal is famous for. I never realized how versatile and beautiful cork could be. There were shoes, bags, and other fashion items made of cork. I only thought it was good only for boards and wine stoppers.

Beside the market was the massive Panteon Nacional, a multi-domed church that houses the remains of some of Portugal’s most illustrious names.

At one of the side rooms called sala were the tombs of renownes Portuguese artists such as famous fado singer, Amalia Rodrigues.

From the pantheon, it was a 10-minute downhill walk on cobbled streets to the wonderful Museo de Fado. I thoroughly enjoyed this museum as it was very informative and you could listen to fado recordings and even watch a few video clips. It’s not a big museum but it is very well-organized.

The attached shop has several good items for sale including music scores should you want to sing some fado. I was able to score an English-language book on fado and a small replica of the Portuguese guitar. Both would come handy when I teach European music in my Global Music course.

We walked uphill again to Miradour Sta. Lucia. There were many steep stairs but it was an enjoyable walk as there were many quaint alleys and streets.

The view from the miradour was fantastic.

We decided to just head to the Lisbon Cathedral on another day as it was drizzling and there were so many people waiting for Tram 28E. We jumped aboard the less crowded Tram 12 which stopped at Praca Figueroa.

Alfama is a lovely neighborhood that makes for a nice day of walking. Especially interesting are the many apartments with small balconies.

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Last Day in Spain

Today, we wrap-up our trip to Seville and take a car back to Lisbon. This morning, we went to Taller Flamenco for Rhoda’s one-hour flamenco lessons which she thoroughly enjoyed. While waiting for her, Tita Cel and got to chatting with two ladies from Germany and France who were waiting for their 10am-1pm class. It seems the Taller is really popular as there was another class going on in another room. After the class, we stopped at a shop called Flamenco y Mas on our way to the Basilica de Macarena. Grabbed some instructional videos on the compas and castanuelos as well as some compact discs and a book on flamenco. On a glass case were some high-quality branded castanuelos which were different from the more commercial ones readily available at the souvenir shops. The pair I bought cost 29€ and was crafted by the workshop of Manuel Velez.

We barely had time to really take in the beautiful interiors of the Basilica de Macarena as it was 11 a.m. already and we had to grab a taxi to the Catedral de Seville.

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he taxi dropped us off at the entrance for groups so we had to walk in the rain to the opposite side. Thankfully, it was a breeze to get inside as there was no line in the queue for those who bought online tickets.

The cathedral, the largest Gothic one in Europe, was jaw-dropping with its vaulted ceilings and wide spaces.

On its sides are many chapels with some containing tombs.

The piece-de-resistance was the tomb containing the bones of Christopher Columbus.

We bought some last minute souvenirs at Artesanal Sevilla by the Plaza de Pilatos. I got a cheaper set of castanuelas (8.99 €) just so I can have another one. According to the box, it’s fabricado en españa rather than Made in China which I saw in sets at other stores.

I really enjoyed Spain and long to be back.

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Postres

Spain is heaven for dessert-lovers like me. There’s a huge variety and they’re always very good. After all, fantastic tapas and tasty main courses need to be polished-off with perfect postres.

We stopped by this small pasteleria along Calle Huertas in Madrid so we can use the toilet. Of course, we had to order something and that was this delicate lemon merengue tart with burnt sugar.

In many places, you’ll see these flaky desserts filled with cream and/or yema. They’re also huge.

The restaurant of the Hotel Palacio del Pilar del Toro where we spent the night in Granada a dessert specialty—- a baklava-like pastry that was served warm. Very very good.

Tocino del Cielo is a thick flan made heavy with loads of egg yolk resulting in a chewy consistency which I absolutely adore.

This one is El Giralda’s in Seville. The bitterness of the burnt sugar was a perfect counterpoint to the flan’s sweetness.

Another tocino del cielo but this time served with ice-cream at Becerrita in Seville. This was really really good.

Much lighter is the Catalan flan. It’s just like our leche flan.

These slices of bread soaking in milk and cinnamon is served everywhere.

Of course, when in Madrid, go get some turrones.

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Seeing Seville

Morning brought blue skies so we took a taxi to Plaza de España.

This grand open space was constructed for the 1929 Expo and has since been refurbished. Of all Seville’s sights, nothing can beat its grandeur.

It sits like a beautiful queen awaiting her guests.

You can rent a small row boat to navigate the canal.

From the plaza, we crossed the river to Triana to the Mercado de Triana which turned out to be closed except for a few stalls such as this pasteleria with delicious French pastries that beckoned us to sit and have some coffee before exploring the neighborhood.

Seville is known for its ceramics and the workshops in Triana are the best place to buy them. We headed to one at Calle San Jorge just across the tile museum.

So many different stuff. I would have wanted to bring home plates, platters, and cups if I could.

Opposite the tile shop was the Callejon de la Inquisicion where prisoners of the notorius Spanish Inquisition passed through on their way to the Castilo San Jorge to be tortured by the monks. I imagined I was one while walking through it.

The short passageway led to the river. It’s so clean, there are ducks and people paddle boarding.

Being a Sunday, there were many people out on the streets. We headed to the small Capilla de los Marineros with its huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

At the side of the chapel is this interesting statue of Christ. You hardly see statues of him post-crucifixion. I wonder what the sculptor had in mind when he created this?

Just a few meters away was the beautiful Iglesia de Sta. Ana with its many Virgin Marys all with different facial features.

At the back of the church is an old altar with a lovely retablo.

One of the two pipe organs.

In Triana are the many tiles on houses and other buildings with the image of the Virgin Mary.

There were also shops selling religious items such as those beautiful appliquè textiles used in the Virgin Mary’s clothes.

We had lunch at the Mercado de Barrera back on the other side of the river. Unlike the mercado in Madrid, this was larger and had more seata and not as crowded. we had some morcilla and Sevillan chicharon together with the black paella.

Next stop was at the Real Maestranza, Seville’s bullfighting ring.

The mandatory guided tour took us throug the small museum with its paintings and prints of bullfighting scenes and famous matadiots.

The more interesting gallery was the one with the matadors’ intricate tight-fitting costumes.

I noticed how small they seemed to be.

This the stalls where the bulls are kept.

There’s also a small chapel.

Finally, we were led out to ring, the largest in Seville.

The seating capacity is 12,000. According to our guide, these can easily get filled-up.

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This is where the bulls pass.

This is the gate where they come out to the ring.

To be able to pass through the Prince’s Gate, a matador must have had 3 wins.

Back to Triana to watch a flamenco show at the CasaLa Teatro. The small theatre only sits 28 but didn’t feel cramped at all.

The dancing was different from the flamenco we watched the previous evening at the Casa de la Guitarra. This had more dancing and also featured castanets. The female singer was superb. Very emotional singing.

We ended the day at La Despensa for some cochinillo.

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Hello Seville!

Our last stop in Spain before heading back to Lisbon in a few days. Another Alsa bus ride but this time on Supra Economy rather than Premium. The difference is that the former doesn’t have an electrical charger, no attendant, and no snacks. Same 1+2 seat configuration, though. It was an easy 3-hour trip through the lovely countryside.

We dropped our luggages at our beautiful hotel, Hostal Atenas at the Barrio Sta. Cruz neighborhood then went in search for some tostada with jamon Iberico.

Back at our hotel, the lovely girl at the reception allowed us to check-in early. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve noticed how the people working at the hotel industry are so overly friendly. Our hotel is very homey with tiled walls and plants and was built in traditional style. It doesn’t have an elevator which wasn’t really much of a problem even if it means lugging our bags 2 floors. At least, we get to work-off our calories from all the good Spanish food we’d been having.

We couldn’t get a taxi to bring us to Plaza de España so we decided to walk in the rain to the Catedral de Seville hoping there would be lots of taxis there. None. It was past 3pm already and our entrance time to the Real Alcazar was at 4pm so we headed there instead which, thanks to Google Maps, turned out to be just one minute walk away. The line for those who have bookings was a bit long but it took us less than 20 minutes to get past security and walk into the complex. The rain had stopped by then lending a fresh sheen on the palace grounds.

The buildings are beautiful with their ornate carvings and colorful tiles.

Very reminiscent of the Alhambra. Just like the other sites we’ve been to previously, it was easy to take nice pictures without anyone crowding your frame.

This painting of the Virgin Mary is so beautiful.

From the palace, we just walked around as there weren’t any taxis.

We have only been in Seville less than day but I already love it from what I have barely seen of this place.

The narrow cobbled streets are lined with beautiful houses with small balconies and grilled windows. There is beautiful architecture everywhere.

Also, there are ornate churches and leafy plazas at almost every turn.

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Granada and the Alhambra

The Alsa bus promptly pulled into the Estacion Autobus at Granada at 1:30pm. The premium class bus with its 1+2 sitting configuration, entertainment, snacks, and onboard toilet was worth the price. It was indeed a very pleasant ride that passed through endless olive tree plantations. The clouds promised rain and by the time the taxi we took from the station dropped us off at our hotel just a few steps away from Plaza Nueva, the heavens had opened-up.

We were booked at the grandiosly named Hotel Palacio del Pilar del Toro. This palace turned botique hotel was beautifully quaint with its wooden furniture, courtyard, and walls filled with paintings. After lunch at the hotel restaurant, we took a taxi to the Alhambra.

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he rain had ceased by now and the sun was out. There were not as many people as I expected which allowed ample opportunities for photographs.

Alhambra was truly a magical place.

Back at the Plaza Nueva, we boarded the cute hop-on-hop-off tram for a quick tour of Granada. We got off at the cathedral to explore it and the surrounding area and to buy souvenirs.

Just outside the cathrdral was this guitarist playing Albeniz’s “Asturias.”

In the evening, we witnessed the start of a procession from the small church just behind our hotel.

We were only staying a night in Granada which was really too short a time to truly feel the city.

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Art Day in Madrid

Our visit to the Palacio Real Madrid was originally scheduled yesterday but a few days before our flight, I received an email from the Patrimonio Nacional, the government agency handling visits, that the palace would be closed on the 3rd of April and that they had refunded our payments. I panicked a bit because I knew that the queues were long and bookings were appropriated specific time slots. So, back to the website and fortunately, was able to get a 10:15am slot for the next day.

It took about 20 minutes to walk to the palace from our hotel near the Puerto del Sol in the crisp cold air. It was still early when we arrived so we just waited at the park to the side of the palace. A few minutes before 10, we walked to the front of the palace and stood in line at the queue for those with tickets already. It took about 30 minutes before we were able to get in due to the slow security check. (Tip: put all your stuff including your mobile phones inside your bag)

Past security, we walked across the spacious ground to the entrance.

It was my first time to enter a European palace and it was so awe-inspiring with its grand columns, arched ceilings, colorfully-tiled floors.

Unfortunately, only the first few rooms were allowed to be photographed.

I especially liked the painted ceilings.

One of my favorite rooms was the one that was inspired by the raging Chinese-theme in the 19thc (sorry, pics not allowed). The sculpted Chinese figures (made of porcelain?) were intricate and seemed to leap out of the ceiling.

There were multitudes of people visiting but it wasn’t in the magnitude of the crowds during my visit to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul last year. THAT place was really crowded. You couldn’t even spend time to admire any of the interior details. We spent about two hours wandering the different rooms.

From the royal palace, we took a cab to the Museo Nacional Del Prado which was currently getting a face lift for its 200 year anniversary. This museum was one of the reasons why we decided to go to Madrid. In its halls are two of my favorite paintings: Diego Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and Herionymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Both were artworks that I always discussed in class back when I was still teaching Art Appreciation. There were other masterpieces at the Prado I was familiar with but it was those two that I was so very much looking forward to seeing. I had downloaded an app on my phone that showed in which hall those paintings were so it was easy to seek them aided with the museum map and the helpful aides.

It was sheer joy finally being face to face with the two masterpieces. Being able to see every bit of detail of Bosch’s strange work was enormously thrilling. Of course, I fell in love with the “Las Meninas” all over again.

Next in my search was Goya’s riveting “3rd of May.” It was at the lower level along with his other “black paintings” such as “Saturn.” I took a seat at the wooden bench across the painting and just took in the scene of tragic massacre of peasants that Goya so vividly and metaphorically presented. I cannot forget the expression of the central figure, the man in white.

I almost missed the “La Maja Desnuda” and its dressed counterpart. Fortunately, while walking to the exit, Rhoda mentioned she had seen it. We stopped, turned back, and asked her to bring me to her. I also almost missed El Greco’s “The Resurrection of Christ.” Fortunately, I happened to look to the left at one of the rooms while walking along the main hall.

After the Prado, we took a cab to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia for Picasso’s “Guernica.” I could just have stared at the sprawling canvas for hours. I knew that this masterpiece was huge but seeing it before me was just overwhelming. If not for the limited time we had, I could have easily spent an entire day at those 2 museums, especially the Prado which also housed works by Tintoretto, Titian Rembrandt, and Caravaggio.

The final stop for the day was Casa Cervantes and the Convento Delascalzas Trinitaries to pay hommage to Miguel de Cervantes.

TIPS

1. Get your tickets online to save yourself from lining-up to buy them.

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Beautiful Madrid

Madrid was a last-minute squeeze in our already tight itinerary. We had originally only meant to go to Granada and Seville but being just a train ride away from Lisbon, we figured might as well. Plus, the chance to see Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” at the Prado was too tempting.

As the taxi slowly made its way to the city center, Madrid unravelled her spectacular beauty of wide avenues flanked by gorgeous architecture.

It was all so breathtaking. Later on, standing at a corner of Puerto del Sol while munching on a bocadillo of Jamon Iberico, tears would well-up as I thanked God for bringing me to this place and letting me have a jamon. Seriously.

As always, we just dropped our stuff at the Casual del Teatro Madrid and headed to the plaza to just soak in the giddy atmosphere of being here.

We met a Filipino couple from Canada who were on holiday too while were talking pictures at the Oso y Madroño statue. The guy seemed surprise that we were from Manila.

The only real site we had scheduled for today was the Monasterio delas Descalzas Reales. Unfortunately (or was it my carelesness when booking the tickets and the mandatory guided tour online) the 12:45 spot was in Spanish. The inside of this royal monastery was beautiful with gorgeous paintings, religious sculptures, and interior decorations. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed and the pacing was a bit too fast for my liking. I would have wanted to stay longer and look at the fine details of the statues.

It was past two by the time we emerged from the monasterio so we just decided to skip lunch return to the hotel and check-in. We were still full from all the churros and other snacks we had earlier at Los Artesanos 1902 on the way to the monasterio.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to Plaza Mayor and took an outside table at the Museum del Jamon for some sopa de ajo, bocadillo de calamares, and tortilla España. The soup was really tasty and not like the sopa de ajo I grew up with at home.

We headed to the Mercado San Miguel but didn’t eat much as it was too crowded.

I had these chorizos which were served in a tin (5€). It was very very good. Most of the food at the mercado were tapas there weren’t any proper tables.

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