Eating in Madrid, Granada, and Seville

I have always enjoyed Spanish food with its hearty meals. That being said, one of the goals of this trip to Spain was to taste all the Spanish dishes my sister and I have grown fond of after countless dinners at Señor Alba’s, Señor Terry’s, and Las Paellas, three of Manila’s legitimate Spanish digs.Jamon The beautiful and delicate Spanish ham. I could live off this. My first bite into this delicacy was at breakfast at a cafeteria at the Chamartin Train Station in Madrid after an 11- hour trip from Lisbon. Biting into my bocadillo filled with jamon Iberico, I wondered, if a bocadillo at a train station could be this good, what more if it would be in a proper cafe?Taking a walk at the Puerto del Sol, after dropping our luggages at the hotel, we were delighted with all the jamon shops with tantalizing displays of bocadillos which proved too tempting to resist. Thus, in less than 2 hours, we had our 2nd jamon.Jamon is everywhere and compared to prices at delicatessens back home, are quite cheap. Bought about 180 grams at 2.34€ at a small grocery.It’s often served as a sandwhich (tostada or bocadillo) or as an appetizer.One thing we learned with eating jamon in tostada is they use crusty round breads in which you spread some olive oil and tomato puree. Life changing. Sopa de Ajo This garlic soup was one of my mom’s specialties. Hers was a clear soup loaded with garlic and croutons fried in butter. Our experiences with all the sopa de ajo we had in Spain totally blew our minds away. It was so flavorful and had a delicious homey feel. Nothing could be better than taking a table at the Plaza Mayor and taking spoonfuls of the soup to ward off the cold. Museo de Jamon’s soup had achuete which accounted for the reddish color.More savory was La Turcha’s which was brownish and had morsels of ham. Totally different from what we had been having at home, the sopa de ajo had thick slices of crusty bread much like French onion soup.Callos MadrileñoWhere else to have this than Madrid? I was warned by Rhoda that the original Spanish version was of pure tripe, something I was too fond of. Not if it was melt-in-your-mouth the way it was served to us at El Hylogui. It was perfect with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.GambasAgain at El Hylogui. Large succulent shrimps in olive oil and garlic. According to the restaurant manager, a little brandy is added which explained its slightly sweetish taste. La Dispensa in Seville had smaller shrimps and much more oil. Paella and Arroz A Valencia original, this heart rice dish is truly iconic of Spain. This mixed paella at a restaurant by the Teatro Nacional Madrid had chicken, seafood, and yummy chorizos.At El Giralda in Seville, the menu indicated this oxtail rice dish (22 €) and black rice dish (22 €) as arroz rather than paella. I wonder what makes one different from the other? Both were delicious, though. The black rice was flavored with squid ink and served with aoili.When ordering paella, the prices indicated are per person and restaurants require a minimum of 2 orders (about 16-19 € per person). However, at El Giralda, the two arroz we ordered were single serve.The paellas were served steaming hot and as it cools, it gets even better as the arboreto rice absorbs the sauce. At Mercadero de Barrera in Seville, you can see the paella being cooked.Asador An asador is a restaurant that specializes in roasts. The pollo asador at El Aguador in Granada was the tastiest and most tender roast chicken I’ve every had. The meat just falls off the bones. It’s a really large chicken, too.The cochinillo at Las Despensa in Seville according to Trip Advisor reviews was tops. Originating in Segovia, we wanted to see how Alba’s roast in Manila compares to the one here. The cochinillo was meatier and tastier. Unfortunately, the skin wasn’t crispy. I think it’s because we arrived quite early. The old man running the restaurant hesitated when we ordered it.Aside from the roasts are the grilled meats. The salted Iberian pork shoulder at El Gradual in Granada was perfection personified. The meat was just the right thickness. It was grilled lightly and very juicy. It was salted perfectly.A hearty stew of rabo del toro (oxtail) is perfect for cold weather. Huge chunks that fall off the bone in a tomato-based sauce at La Turcha in Madrid.Fried Food. When in Spain, be sure to order the starters as they’re very good and if you’re ordering a salad, go really well with it. They also help keep your tummy happy as it waits for 20 minutes for the paella to be served.Trust the Spanish chefs to turn an orherwise mundane dish such as fried food into something extra ordinary. Whether fish, seafood, or meat, it’s always perfectly seasoned and battered and fried just at the right temperature to seal in the juices while keeping the meat cooked and tender.A plateful of El Aguador’s delicate fried baby squid.El Giralada’s pan of fried mixed seafood.Fried lamb at La Turcha.Where to EatWe mostly ate at restaurants as we wanted main courses rather than just tapas. These were always well-appointed places with table settings and well-dressed wait staff. That’s why it’s always good to be dressed well all the time. For breakfast (desayuno) we headed to one of the many cafes for some sandwhiches and coffee. Some are self-service (remember to bring your utensils and plates to the counters before you leave) while others have table service. These places were also perfect for Spain’s famous sweets.We ate so well in Spain. The food was of very high quality and the portions were generous. It would be difficult to taste the main courses when dining alone as you won’t be able to finish all of it. Best to stick to the tapas. What to Order We always ordered a salad, meat, and fish. Sometimes, we had starters too.Bread was also always served before meals.There are also free starters.How much? Main courses are about 15€ to 25 € while tapas are 3.5€ to 8 €. The set meal for the day (menu del dia) is abour 10€ to 11€.What time to eat?Breakfast can be early but lunch is 1:30 to about 4pm and dinner at around 8pm-12 md. Some even OEM at 9pm. There are some restaurants with a sign that says “kitchen all day” which means they don’t close. Perfect for people who can’t adjust their eating times. We stuck to the Spanish way which worked for us as it gave us more time to tour.

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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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By Train from Lisbon to Madrid

The Lusitania train which departs nightly from Lisbon for the overnight trip to Madrid is one of the most popular means to cross the border from Portugal to Spain. We ended up with turista class (reclining seats) as familia cabins were all booked out and we didn’t want to take the sex-segregated tourist cabins. We figured, if we lasted on flights strapped to a seat, what difference would it make on a train?

True enough, the seats were comfortable enough. Our coach had only less than 10 people so it was quiet.

The train was ready for boarding by 8:30pm and departed promptly at 9:25pm.

The ride was comfortable as the train didn’t shake much and it was relatively quiet. The toilet was also very clean and the water strong. I woke up at around 5am as the train pulled in to Salamanca. Didn’t get much sleep anymore and just counted the few stops until we reached the Chamartin Station in Madrid at 8:35am as scheduled.

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Fatima

We booked a taxi with our hotel for the roundtrip transpo to Fatima for 225 €. At 70 € each for a bus ticket, multiplied by 3, taking a taxi was the better deal. It would save us the trip to the bus station at Siete Rios and the walk to the shrine. We were promptly fetched at 2pm and drove through the highway flanked by fields of green. Edwardo, our English-speaking driver was pleasant. There were beautiful views on both sides of the road. The drive took an hour and a half with little traffic. Arriving at the shrine, I was awed by the sheer expanse of the complex. With everything painted white, it seemed to glow under the spring sun.

We headed to the information office just to help us get oriented on the structures that bordered the complex. Behind the office is a corner with candles of different sizes placed on trays. You get what you need and drop your payment at one of the boxes. Honesty system. Rhoda and Tita C took a a big candle and lighted it at the dedicated space to the left of the office. I took some plastic candle cup holders to give away back home.

The entire complex is very modernist except for the Church of the Blessed Trinity.

The Chapel of the Apparitions marks the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared. The exact spot is where her statue is placed. Many people were seated on the wooden benches praying silently, some including myself, with rosaries on hand.

I’ve been a devotee of the Virgin Mary so praying the rosary at Fatima was such a privilege.

Inside the spacious Church of the Holy Trinity are the tombs of the three children. Jacinta and Lucia’s on the left and Fernando’s on the right. Just like at the Church of the Apparitions, everyone was really quiet. No one was even taking photographs of the tombs.

It’s the peacefulness and serenity of the entire complex that makes it so attractive. Makes you want to imagine how it was when it was still the woods before the entire place was paved and modernized to suit the huge crowds that continue to come during the apparition’s anniversary. Perhaps, for the non-believing tourist, Fatima isn’t much. There are far more interesting religious structures in Lisbon such as the Igreja de Sao Roque. However, for a devotee, going to Fatima is a pilgrimage to one of the most spectacular moments in salvation history and the role that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays in our lives.

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Hello Lisbon!

We landed at the Lisbon airport almost 1pm. Immigrations was a breeze as there were many counters open and the line ahead wasn’t that long yet. All-in including luggage claim and the long walk from the gate where we deplaned to immigrations took less than an hour.

Bought a Vodafone travellers sim (20 €) at the booth at arrivals while Rhoda bought the Lisboa cards we were going to use much later in our trip and also booked a taxi (23 €) to our downtown hotel. Was surprised to have a distinguish-looking white haired gentleman pull-up in a Benz.

After checking-in at Hotel Americano Inn Rossio just a few steps away from Rossio Square, we headed to Confeitaria Nacional for some pasteis de nata for our first taste of Portugal.

After years of Lord Stowe’s Portuguese Egg Tarts, it was time for the real thing, the original, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was crustier and the custard was heavier. So perfect with a cup of strong coffee on a cool afternoon.

We ditched Google Maps and just strolled the Baixa and Chiado areas starting at Praca de Commercio.

I loved the wide open square and the esplanade by the sea.

We headed up to the Chiado neighborhood for the oldest living bookstore in the world, Livreria Bertrand, where Rhoda bought a copy of Jose Saramago’s “The Tale of the Unknown Island” and had it stamped saying the copy was bought at the oldest operating bookstore in the world. How cool is that!

Unfortunately, there aren’t much English-translated books by Portuguese authors. Found 2 books on fado but were all in Portuguese.

We made our way to the Convento del Carmo which was unfortunately closed for restoration work.

Plazas, beautiful buildings, cobbled streets, and the cool spring weather made for a really nice time just wandering the streets and finding something interesting such as a beautiful building

an outdoor cafe, or a nice view.

Also, it wasn’t as hilly as I thought it would be.

After all that walking, we had dinner at a buffet! The Buffet Livre de Leao was just a few steps from the hotel. For 8.99 euros, we had our fill of salads and grilled meats. My favorite was the Portuguese sausage and roast pork.

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A First Timer in Europe

After 16 hours of flying and a 6 hour layover in Dubai, we (my sister, tita, and I) finally landed in Lisbon.

“It’s your first time in Europe?” asked the immigration officer.

“Yes!”

So many firsts for this trip: first time to take an Emirates flight (nice plane, good food, excellent service), first time to get a Shengen visa, and first time in Europe. Yeah! I wanna say that again with a fist pump in the air. It’s my first time ever in Europe! Last year, it was a bit disappointing that after a USD 1300 flight and 15 hours, landing in Baku in Azerbaijan, I was still in Asia. Heading to Turkey after, the closest I got to Europe was crossing the Bosphorous Strait and setting foot on the European side of Istanbul. So, this time, it’s the real thing! I really am in Europe!

This trip was the most heavily prepared for in all my years of travelling. With just 14 days including the 3 for the conference (the primary reason for this trip), I had to make sure everything was so well-thought of so as not to waste time and money. So here’s what I did.

1. For first time visits to any place, I always craft an itinerary just so I get a bird’s eye view of my trip. We were doing Lisbon-Madrid-Granada-Seville-Lisbon. Yeah, too many places but I so much wanted to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado to see Velasquez’s Las Meninas and Madrid was just an overnight train ride away. Granada also deserved an overnight just so we could relive Washington Irving’s magical Tales of the Alhambra. The Google Trips app was so helpful in planning my itineraries as it indicated the walking time to one sight to another.

2. Bought all the museum and sight fees online to save us from the long queues at the ticket booth. Also, some sights such as the Alhambra and the the Royal Palace in Madrid have limited slots, so I needed to make sure we had reservations on the days we were there.

3. Budget! We’re talking Euros where the exchange rate is 1 Euro to Php 58. Surprisingly, pricesreally wasn’t that exorbitant as I found out, at least with food.

4. Typed “what to wear in Europe” in Google and discovered the following donts: shorts, rubber shoes, and baggy clothes. True, my first impression on seeing the locals was: “so fashionable” and that included the little old ladies having their pasteis de nata at Confeteria del Nacional or the bookworms at Livreria Bertrand.

So for the next 2 weeks, I get to find out if all my preparations were all right. In the meantime, I’m gonna enjoy every minute of this trip.

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