Spain: Nuts and Bolts Recommendations

September 27, 2009
Here are my Nuts and Bolts Recommendations for Barcelona, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Madrid, Ronda and Sevilla.  These recommendations are by no means the last word or even each city’s top picks – but they are places, foods, sights, etc. that I personally experienced and can heartily recommend.

Random ice-cream-in-Spain suggestion:  If you have access to a freezer, load up on delicioso Magnum ice cream bars that you will find in supermarket/Chinese shop freezers throughout Spain, and indeed throughout Europe.  How Magnums are not available in the U.S., I’ve no idea.  It’s criminal. [Note in 2018: Magnum abounds in the U.S., thank you baby Jesus.]

Note on the Spanish language:  It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that Salon de Juegos was not House of Juice or Hall of Jews – it’s Hall of Games, as in video.  Just so you know.

Barcelona sidewalk tiles

Barcelona sidewalk art

BARCELONA

Do:

Go to the beach.  It’s an easy walk from ‘downtown,’ or you can take the metro to the Barceloneta stop and walk the rest of the way.

Eat:

A general note on ice cream.  There are ice cream shops everywhere in Barcelona, so don’t be afraid to be a bit picky.  Wherever you can, choose the artesanal (look out for various spellings) ice cream or gelato shops.  It is indeed a bit more expensive, but well worth the extra euro or so.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  So worth it.

The most orgasmic gelato on the planet at Amorino Gelato e Cioccolato, Gran de Gràcia, 53 (Gràcia neighborhood).  www.amorino.es.

A-freakin’-mazing Thai food at Thai Gardens, Diputación, 273 (right off the Paseo de Gràcia and not far from Plaça Catalunya).

Delicious pastries and bread at Forn Sant Jordi Flequeria, C/ Llibreteria, 8 (not far from the Catedral Barri Gòtic, just off C/ de Ferran).  Founded in 1798 and still going strong.

Bubo won the Best Chocolate Cake in the World at Lyon in 2005.  Visit two locations in Barcelona – Bruc, 150 and Caputxes, 6.  Mmmmmm. www.bubo.ws.

Order iced tea to go – té frio para llevar! – at Tea Shop of East West Company, many locations in Barcelona and Madrid. www.teashop.es. (Not all shops offer iced tea to go – a shame.)

Eat the best falafel ev-ah at Maoz, two locations in Barcelona – Carrer de Ferran, 13 and La Rambla, 95.

See:

Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Conjunt Monumental de la Plaça del Rei), Plaça del Rei, s/n. Walk over and among the ruins of the old Roman colony, Barcino.  Your imagination will be fired.  6 €. http://w3.bcn.es/V64/Home/V64XMLHomeLinkPl/0,4468,335907851_335943991_1,00.html.

Barcelona Walks by Barcelona Turisme, the Gòtic tour (walk of the Gothic barrio), 12 €.  Other routes offered.  www.barcelonaturisme.cat.

Parc Guell tiles

Parc Guell tiles

The architectural wonders of Gaudí, in this order of impressiveness:

Sagrada Família, 11 € entrance, 2.50 € to take the lift to the top of one of the towers (pay on elevator).

Casa Batlló, 16.50 €.

Parc Güell, Free.

Shop:

Wander around the Gràcia district (not the street, but the barrio).  Fabulous boutiques and restaurants, mellow atmosphere.

Revérsika, C/ Torrijos, 37, fantastic reversible clothes and bags, imported from Colombia.  (In the Gràcia barrio)  www.reversikaeuropa.com.

Happy Pills, C/ Argenteria, 70, fantastic kitchy gifts o’ candy pills.  www.happypills.es.  They said they’ll be selling online soon.

Casa Batllo roof dragon

Casa Batllo roof dragon

Funky clothes at Desigual, C/ Bruc, 49, and other locations. There’s one shop in the U.S., in Soho in NYC.  www.desigual.com.

English bookstore, Hibernian Books, Carrer de Montseny, 17 (Gràcia barrio).  Http://hibernian2.cpvsolutions.com.

Stay:

Barcelona Bed & Breakfast, wonderful location and hosts. For more information, www.barcelonabb.com.

Cadiz Roman Amphitheatre

Cadiz Roman Amphitheatre

CÁDIZ

Do:

Check out the old beach, within the old city limits, and the new beaches, just outside the city gate.  It’s all good.

See:

Teatro Romano, C/ Campo del Sur, s/n.  The entrance to this ancient Roman theater is easy to pass by and they have wonky opening times, but it’s worth heading back until you get in.  It’s basically around the corner from the Catedral.  Wonderful ruins from 60 A.D.  Free.

Catedral de Cádiz, Plaza de la Catedral, 5 €.

Stay:

Hotel Argantonio, C/ Argantonio, 3.  Charming, nice location. www.hotelargantonio.com.

Cordoba Angel

Cordoba Angel

CÓRDOBA

Eat:

Great tapas at affordable prices with lots of locals at Mesón de las Flores, on the corner of C/ Velázquez Bosco and Calleja de las Flores.

See:

Mezquita, or Great Mosque, Córdoba’s main attraction.  A treasure, a joy, and a photographer’s paradise – bring your tripod.  Also, enjoy the ludicrous interpretation of history as offered in the official pamphlet called “The Cathedral, Córdoba.” 8 €.

The Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the past home of King Fernando and Queen Isabel.   4 €.

Madinat Al-Zahra, Ctra. Palma del Río, Km 8.  Archaeological site of Moorish city from 940 A.D.  www.junta-andalucia.es/cultura/museos/CAMA. Reserve a spot on the bus at a tourist kiosk, 6.50 € roundtrip. Madinat admission is 1.50 € for non-EU citizens.

Mezquita Christian motif atop Muslim

Mezquita Christian motif atop Muslim

Stay:

Hostal Lineros 38, C/Lineros, 38.  Fantastic small hotel in a terrific location.  www.hostallineros38.com.

GRANADA

Eat:

Nemrut Kebap, Plaza Nueva, 2 and C/Acera de Casino, 11, as well as eight locations in Madrid.  Great Turkish food. www.nemrutkebap.com.

Generalife Roses

Generalife Roses

See:

La Alhambra, can’t miss it.  A spine-tingling experience.  Read Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra” before you go, or better yet, bring it with you.  13 €.  Reserve in advance. More information on tickets at  www.alhambradegranada.org/guias/alhambraEntradas_en.asp.

El barrio Albaycín, the old Moorish neighborhood alongside the Alhambra. Excellent views of the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás.  I didn’t have any problems there, but heard again and again to be careful at night.  Leave your valuables in your hotel room, travel light.

Stay:

Hostal Lima, Lauren de las Tablas, 17.  Great location, nice accommodation.  www.hostallimagranada.com.

MADRID

Day Trip:

To Toledo, to get lost walking the medieval streets, shopping, eating, and visiting the impressive Cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, C/ Cardenal Cisneros, 1. 7 €. www.catedralprimada.es. Construction began in 1227 and finished (more or less) three hundred years later.  It’s a beautiful Gothic Cathedral, containing a mini art gallery in its Sacristy.  There you can view many dark El Gregos, a Goya, and a Caravaggio with spellbinding shadows.  Also plan on standing on the very spot that Mary Mother of God visited in 666 A.D. to thank Bishop Saint Ildephonsus for sticking up for her virginity.  Toledo is a one-half hour train ride on RENFE from Atocha Renfe Station, costing approximately 15 € round-trip.

To the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, to see the famous monastery and lovely basilica. You could easily spend a full day there.  The building tour showcases paintings, the burial vault for kings and their moms, an extended underground cemetery for other relatives, the fantastic library (spend some time with the ceiling murals), and the basilica with its stunning high chapel.  www.sanlorenzoturismo.org/ingles/default2.htm.  8 € for an unguided tour; 10 € guided.

Madrid swingers

Do:

Hear some fantastic music in a cabaret setting at Galileo Galeleiwww.salagalileogalilei.com.

Visit Cock Bar, just so you can say you did.  www.barcock.com.  Chueca neighborhood.  The blinds are lowered around midnight and you can’t see in.  Knock on the door and see if they’ll let you in.

Eat:

Yummy tapas at La Botillería de Maxi, C/ Cava Alta, 4, La Latina.  www.labotilleriademaxi.com.

Forego the more fast-foody Turkish kebap places in favor of somewhere that offers full platters. I can vouch for Nemrut Kebap on the corner of Gran Via and C/ de Fuencarral; there are other locations, too.  There’s usually not much seating space. www.nemrutkebap.com.

Best chocolate napolitanas ever

World’s best chocolate napolitanos

Note on Sol:

Go for a stroll from Sol and enjoy the old Spanish men in suits, carrying canes and wearing top hats.  Start out with some falafel at Maoz (C/ Mayor, 4 – another location at C/ Hortaleza, 7), grab a 1 € chocolate napolitano at La Mallorquina (Puerta del Sol, 8 y C/ Mayor, 2), shop for some funky clothes at Desigual (C/ Mayor, 11) and then enjoy the sights and smells of Mercado de San Miguel (at Plaza de San Miguel).

See:

El Prado, the world-famous museum of paintings (and some sculpture), Paseo del Prado, s/n.  It’s immense, so plan multiple trips.  Don’t miss Velázquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco and the beautiful absurdity of Bosch.  www.museodelprado.es/en. 8€. Tip:  Purchase the set of six (small) gallery guides at the information desk near the main museum shop and cafe to get a nice understanding of many of the prized artworks at El Prado.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s (1863-1923) delicious paintings in his old home and studio, Museo Sorolla, Pso. General Martinez Campos, 37.  www.museosorolla.mcu.es. Only 3 € entrance fee; a steal!

The turtles at Atocha Renfe, the main train station in Madrid.  Adults seem to love watching the turtles – puttering around in their pond, swimming drunkenly under the lilies, and lumbering on top of each other (smallest guy on top) – even more than the kids do.  It’s a built-in meditation station, perfect for when your train is running late.  Breathe in, breathe out, smile at the baby turtles.  Repeat.

Quintessentially Spanish fashion

Shop:

Look for Desigual shops throughout Madrid (and the rest of Spain).  The clothes are expensive, but it’s hard to pass up this quintessentially Spanish shop.  You’ll see Desigual knock-offs all over Spain, but this is the original.  www.desigual.com.

For funky t-shirts and jackets, stop by Blue Velvet, several locations in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, www.mystress.es.

The whole length of Calle de Fuencarral is a pretty great shopping street, with all of the usual suspects mixed in with funky boutiques.  It ends/starts at Gran Via/Bilbao metro stops.

The streets off Sol offer a wide variety of shopping; check out Calle de Arenal, between Sol and Opera.  There are funky boots and shoes to be bought at Vas (C/ de Arenal, 5) and at Iris (C/ de Arenal, 3). Art and El Naturalista are two unique and eye-catching Spanish brands.

Also look out for the only cheap clothes you’re bound to find in Madrid, at Lefties, (yes, the comma is included), usually found alongside a Zara store.

Ronda cliffside buildings

Ronda cliffside buildings

RONDA

Eat:

Enjoy coffee, tea and chocolate at Chocolat, C/ Sevilla, 16. “Un placer para los sentidos.” www.serraniaderonda.com/choc.

See:

Baños Arabes, C/ San Miguel, s/n, incredibly well-preserved Arab baths from the 13th – 14th centuries.  3 €.  Photographers, bring tripods.

One of the coolest churches anywhere, Colegiata Santa María la Mayor, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, 4 €.

Plaza de Toros/Museu Taurino, C/ Virgen de la Paz, 15.  Bullring built in 1785; stand in the middle of the ring and let the sand blow in your eyes.  Nice small museums included.  6 €.

Stay:

Hotel Don Miguel, Plaza de España, 4 y 5, right next to the gorgeous Puente Nuevo.  www.dmiguel.com.

I'm your Venus

I’m your Venus

SEVILLA

Day Trip:

Ruins of the ancient Roman colony, Itálica, birthplace of Trajan and Hadrian, is only 9 km from Sevilla, and in my opinion, a must-see.  Avda. De Extremadura, 2, Santiponce.  Founded 206 B.C. and flourished until the mid-3rd century.  Take the bus from Plaza de Armas, Bus M172, Bay 34, 1.25 € each way, pay on board, 20-25 minutes each way.  Cheap or no entrance fee depending on the mood of the guy in the kiosk.  www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/italica.

Do:

Go to the Arab Baths at Aire de Sevilla, C/ Aire, 15.  20 € for a one and a half hour ‘appointment.’ Can request ‘extras,’ such as massage.  RSVP. www.airedesevilla.com.

Eat:

Taberna Coloniales, C/ Fernandez y Gonzalez (very close to the Cathedral).  Have the tapa or media of pechuga de pollo con salsa de almendras – chicken with almond sauce over friend potatoes.  You won’t be disappointed.

Bar Eslava, C/ Eslava, 5 (close to Alameda de Hercules), excellent tapas.

Tex Mex meets Giralda

Tex Mex meets Giralda

Restaurante San Marco, C/ Meson del Moro, 6-10 (Barrio de Santa Cruz).  Atmospheric Italian restaurant in the ruins of old Arab Baths.  Don’t pass up the tea and dessert at the end of the meal.  And look out for the Moroccan waiter who looks just as dreamy as, and could be a brother of, A-Rod.

Confiteria La Campana, C/ Sierpes 1 & 3 y Alphonso XII (at the top of one of the main shopping streets).  Buy some fantastic chocolate artesano, which can be bought regular (milk chocolate), blanco (white chocolate) or puro/negro (dark chocolate) at 30 €/kg.

Bypass Flaherty’s Pub if you want to watch sports and head further up the wee hill to Tex Mex, Calle Asunción, 67, a stone’s throw from the Catedral and Giralda.

See:

Flamenco at Casa de la Memoria, C/ Ximenez de Enciso, 28 (Barrio de Santa Cruz), www.casadelamemoria.es.  Excellent place to see flamenco for 15 €.

Flamenco at Tablao los Gallos, C/ Plaza de Santa Cruz, 11.  30 € for two hours of flamenco dancing and music, includes one drink.  Twelve artists each show.  A bit touristy but they put on a good show.  Casa de la Memoria edges them out, in my opinion.  www.tablaolosgallos.com.

Sevilla Real Alcazar

Sevilla Real Alcazar

La Catedral de Sevilla and Real Alcázar, located side-by-side in the heart of Seville.  Cathedral entrance will also allow you to climb the Giralda tower, a holdover from Moorish domination.

Casa de Pilatos, Plaza de Pilatos, 1.  An old mansion in Sevilla with Roman, Mudéjar and Gothic themes.  Entrance not well marked but you’ll see people coming and going. 8 €.  www.fundacionmedinaceli.org.

A corrida, bullfight, at La Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, if you are there during the season and if you have a strong stomach for that kind of thing.  Go to the bullring itself to buy the tickets and don’t buy from the hawkers – go to the sales agents within.  It’s ideal to get a seat in the shade; otherwise, bring a hat, sunscreen and a strong constitution.  You can also get tours of the bullring and bullfighting museum most days.

Shop:

Piaf Ropa & Plata, Conde de Barajas, 8 (near the Alameda de Hercules).  Small boutique with interesting dresses and jewelry.

Las Moradas, Rodrigo Caro, 20 (near the Plaza Doña Elvira in the Santa Cruz district).  Nice shop with ceramics and jewelry.

Generally, I wasn’t thrilled by shopping in Sevilla.  The shops seemed to have the same clothes and shoes over and over.  Antonio Ortiz shoe stores seemed to have a more interesting variety – I particularly enjoyed the rather pricey Vialis brand.

Books are expensive in Spain, but if you need something to read in English, head over to Casa del Libro, which had the best variety of English books I found in the shopping district.  www.casadellibro.com.

Get your little butt out there!

Italica, just outside Sevilla - Trajan and Hadrian walked these roads

Italica – Trajan and Hadrian walked on these stones

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Spain: Tales of the Alhambra

September 6, 2009

Tales of the Alhambra

Washington Irving

1829

La Alhambra

In the present day, when popular literature is running into the low levels of life, and luxuriating on the vices and follies of mankind; and when the universal pursuit of gain is trampling down the early growth of poetic feeling, and wearing out the verdure of the soul, I question whether it would not be of service for the reader occasionally to turn to these records of prouder times and loftier modes of thinking; and to steep himself to the very lips in old Spanish romance. -p. 314

another closeup of arabicMany are apt to picture Spain to their imaginations as a soft southern region, decked out with the luxuriant charms of voluptuous Italy.  On the contrary, though there are exceptions in some of the maritime provinces, yet, for the greater part, it is a stern, melancholy country, with rugged mountains, and long sweeping plains, destitute of trees, and indescribably silent and lonesome, partaking of the savage and solitary character of Africa. -p. 5

To the traveler imbued with a feeling for the historical and poetical, so inseparably intertwined in the annals of romantic Spain, the Alhambra is as much an object of devotion as is the Caaba to all true Moslems.  How many legends and traditions, true and fabulous, – how many songs and ballads, Arabian and Spanish, of love and war and chivalry, are associated with this Oriental pile! -p. 33

Alhambra court and pool

Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.  One is irresistibly transported in imagination to those times when Moslem Spain was a region of light amid Christian, yet benighted Europe; externally a warrior power fighting for existence; internally a realm devoted to literature, science, and the arts; where philosophy was cultivated with passion, though wrought up into subtleties and refinements; and where the luxuries of sense were transcended by those of thought and imagination. -p. 321

Such is the Alhambra; – a Moslem pile in the midst of a Christian land; an Oriental palace amidst the Gothic edifices of the West; an elegant memento of a brave, intelligent, and graceful people, who conquered, ruled, flourished, and passed away. -p. 59

two doorsA grand line of distinction existed among the Moslems of Spain, between those of Oriental origin and those from Western Africa.  Among the former the Arabs considered themselves the purest race, as being descended from the countrymen of the Prophet, who first raised the standard of Islam; among the latter, the most warlike and powerful were the Berber tribes from Mount Atlas and the deserts of Sahara, commonly known as Moors, who subdued the tribes of the sea-coast, founded the city of Morocco, and for a long time disputed with the Oriental races the control of Moslem Spain. -p. 106

The Arab invasions and conquest brought a higher civilization, and a nobler style of thinking, into Gothic Spain.  The Arabs were a quick-witted, sagacious, proud-spirited, and poetical people, and were imbued with oriental science and literature.  Wherever they established a seat of power, it became a rallying-place for the learned and ingenious; and they softened and refined the people whom they conquered. -p. 312

tilesAs conquerors, [the Moors’] heroism was only equaled by their moderation; and in both, for a time, they excelled the nations with whom they contended.  Severed from their native homes, they loved the land given them as they supposed by Allah, and strove to embellish it with everything that could administer to the happiness of man.  Laying the foundations of their power in a system of wise and equitable laws, diligently cultivating the arts and sciences, and promoting agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, they gradually formed an empire unrivalled for its prosperity by any of the empires of Christendom; and diligently drawing round them the graces and refinements which marked the Arabian empire in the East, at the time of its greatest civilization, they diffused the light of Oriental knowledge through the western regions of benighted Europe. -p. 58

[Alhamar] organized a vigilant police, and established rigid rules for the administration of justice.  The poor and the distressed always found ready admission to his presence, and he attended personally to their assistance and redress.  He erected hospitals for the blind, the aged, and the infirm, and all those incapable of labor, and visited them frequently; not on set days with pomp and form, so as to give time for everything to be put in order, and every abuse concealed, but suddenly, and unexpectedly, informing himself, by actual observation and close inquiry, of the treatment of the sick, and the conduct of those appointed to administer to their relief.  He founded schools and colleges, which he visited in the same manner, inspecting personally the instruction of the youth.  He established butcheries and public ovens, that the people might be furnished with wholesome provisions at just and regular prices.  He introduced abundant streams of water into the city, erecting baths and fountains, and constructing aqueducts and canals to irrigate and fertilize the Vega.  By these means prosperity and abundance prevailed in this beautiful city; its gates were thronged with commerce, and its warehouses filled with luxuries and merchandise of every clime and country. -pgs. 64-65

There are two classes of people to whom life seems one long holiday, – the very rich and the very poor; one, because they need do nothing; the other, because they have nothing to do; but there are none who understand the art of doing nothing and living upon nothing, better than the poor classes of Spain. -p. 53

Throughout all Spain the men, however poor, have a gentlemanlike abundance of leisure; seeming to consider it the attribute of a true cavallero never to be in a hurry; but the Andalusians are gay as well as leisurely, and have none of the squalid accompaniments of idleness. -p. 28

arabic close up on column“Enjoy the moment” is the creed of the gay and amorous Andalusian, and at no time does he practise it more zealously than on the balmy nights of summer, wooing his mistress with the dance, the loveditty, and the passionate serenade. -p. 94

…For whatever may be said of Spanish pride, it rarely chills or constrains the intercourse of social or domestic life.  Among no people are the relations between kindred more unreserved and cordial, or between superior and dependent more free from haughtiness on the one side, and obsequiousness on the other.  In these respects there still remains in Spanish life, especially in the provinces, much of the vaunted simplicity of the olden times. -p. 154

shield and arabicThis talent of singing and improvising is frequent in Spain, and is said to have been inherited from the Moors. -p. 8

Thus the country, the habits, the very looks of the people, have something of the Arabian character. -p. 6

In fact, Spain, even at the present day, is a country apart; severed in history, habits, manners, and modes of thinking, from all the rest of Europe. -p. 312

"There is no Conqueror but God"

“There is no Conqueror but God”

As [Alhamar] approached Granada on his return he beheld arches of triumph which had been erected in honor of his martial exploits.  The people thronged forth to see him with impatient joy, for his benignant rule had won all hearts.  Wherever he passed he was hailed with acclamations as “El Ghalib!” (the conqueror).  Alhamar gave a melancholy shake of the head on hearing the appellation. “Wa le ghalib ile Aláh!” (there is no conqueror but God) exclaimed he.  From that time forward this exclamation became his motto, and the motto of his descendants, and appears to this day emblazoned on his escutcheons in the halls of the Alhambra. -p. 64

The airy palace, with its tall white towers and long arcades, which breasts yon mountain, among pompous groves and hanging gardens, is the Generalife, a summer palace of the Moorish kings, to which they resorted during the sultry months to enjoy a still more breezy region than that of the Alhambra. -p. 81

vertical columnsHere the hand of time has fallen the lightest, and the traces of Moorish elegance and splendour exist in almost their original brilliancy.  Earthquakes have shaken the foundations of this pile, and rent its rudest towers; yet see ! not one of those slender columns has been displaced, not an arch of that light and fragile colonnade given way, and all the fairy fretwork of these domes, apparently as unsubstantial as the crystal fabrics of a morning’s frost, exist after the lapse of centuries, almost as fresh as if from the hand of the Moslem artist. -p. 99

With these thoughts I pursued my way among the mountains.  A little further and Granada, the Vega and the Alhambra, were shut from my view and thus ended one of the pleasantest dreams of a life which the reader perhaps may think has been but too much made up of dreams. -pgs. 344-345

Get your little butt out there!

elaborate room