A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

Top of the Tourist Trail - Alhambra

sunny 32 °C
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"How lazily the sun goes down in Granada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra!" - Ernest Hemingway

Foodie moment

Once again, we found our favourite food in Granada on our last day. Omkalsum serves Moroccan themed tapas which was a unique twist on the norm. For 11 euro we got our choice of 4 tapas of 2 serves each and a litre of beer. The special highlight was the chicken wings tagine.

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Cultural moment

You can't visit Spain without seeing a flamenco show. So we booked tickets at The Andalusian Dog. We were first treated to a 2 man show, one amazing guitarist who improvised based on the singer who had a very Arabic influenced style. The dancer was invited on stage and she was filled with passion and energy. The interesting thing with flamenco is that it is the only dance where the dancer leads the music rather than the other way. The dancer dances according to what they are feeling and the guitarist and singer follow her on the journey. You have to watch carefully to see the little signs and signals which pass between them so they all stay together... Really amazing to watch and a great night!

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Wow moment

Alhambra is one of the most graceful architectural achievements in the Muslim world, and a great symbol of Granada's 8 centuries as a Muslim capital. The Alcazaba is the oldest part of Alhambra. It is the fortress and dates from the 11th century. The palaces have been lived in by many rulers over the years including sultans and king Charles of Spain. The palaces, gardens and surrounds are opulent and beautiful... fit for a king you might say!

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What we learnt today

During our walking tour the guide taught us an interesting fact about why traditionally people drove in the left hand side of the road. It dates back to when people had swords and shields and they would always want their sword holding hand to be closer to the passers by. Because swords were always held in the right hand, people passed each other on the left. Most of Europe changed to driving on the right as a sign of rebellion against the British empire.

Also we learnt that hidden behind tall fences all around Granada are small beautiful gardens. Some of them dating as old as 800 years. You just need to know where to look.

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Posted by travellinglise 09:58 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Getting our Moroccan on... in Granada

sunny 30 °C
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"Leave me in Granada in the middle of paradise where my soul wells with poetry" - Jose Zorrilla

Foodie moment

Figuring that Granada was the closest to Morocco we were going to get in this trip, we decided to have a Moroccan meal. We went to Restaurante Arrayanes and had a delicious chicken cous cous and meatball tagine (although Mark thinks my tagines are better). Our livers had a rest for the night due to no alcohol allowed, so Mark enjoyed a home made mint lemonade.

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Cultural moment

The Arabic influences from the time that the Moors lived in Granada is still very evident today. Big fragrant and colourful stalls sell any kind of spice or tea you might dream of, and small alleys look like middle eastern market bazaars.

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Wow moment

The biggest selling point of hostel Polaroid Siesta was its amazing rooftop balcony, and it didn't disappoint. Stunning views of the red rooftops of Granada with the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains towering above it all.

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What we learnt today

Many of the houses of Granada look normal enough but in fact they are what they call caves. They are houses that bury into the side of the mountain both for protection in the old days and also for relief from Granada's hot sun.

Posted by travellinglise 08:53 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Sultans, Sangria and Hot Hot Sun in Seville

all seasons in one day 26 °C
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"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Portugal any more"

Foodie moment

Hyped as the oldest tapas bar in Seville, El Rinconcillo is quite the experience. The bar is manned by perhaps the oldest waiters in Seville who don't seem to have much patience for tourists. Regardless, you stand at a barrel or the bar, guess what you want from the menu, it appears quickly and your waiter chalks the tally of the bill on the bar in front of you. Noisy, atmospheric, tasty but not the best tapas we have had so far.

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Our trip to Coloniales tapas bar was the start of an annoying tradition of us finding our favourite restaurants, on our last night in the city! The prices were cheap, the portions were huge and the food amazing. We had beef in port wine sauce, Quail eggs with pesto and Stuffed eggplant with cheese. We highly recommend this one!

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Cultural moment

After being in Portugal, it was a bit of a shock to return to Spain and find an unwillingness to make an effort to communicate with us in English. This is particularly the case with bus drivers, old man waiters and any shop keepers in general! It was hard to get used to not being able to rely on English as a backup again.

Seville have an interesting way of designating bike lanes. The use silver disks on the footpaths to create a path, safer for the bikes, but be careful if you're a pedestrian!

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Wow moment

The Real Alcazar is truly the highlight of Seville sightseeing. It is a royal palace built during the tenth century and is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use. Many highlights of Spanish history have taken place here, and the amazing mixture of architectural styles is amazing to see. With a large focus on Arabic designs, tiling and scripture it was unlike anything we have seen.

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Plaza de Espania was much more impressive than we were expecting, it is a large square that features towering buildings surrounding a man made lake that flows around the outside of the square. It has tiled murals with mosaic designs of each region of Spain. There are neat little bridges that cross the lake at points. The whole place is very symmetrically laid out. You can hire row boats for the lake as some teenagers did and we watched them mistake them for dodgem cars with each other.

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What we learnt today

Although much of history focuses on the conflict between the Moors and the Spanish, in fact the times of peace and even mutual respect were much longer. There are many traces of Moorish culture which can still be found in Spanish culture.

Posted by travellinglise 10:48 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Food, Food, Glorious Food!

sunny 28 °C
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If you are feeling hungry at the moment, DO NOT read this blog now, you have been warned! This was a foodie day and it was AMAZING!

"In everyday life there is always manana. There is no urgency"

Foodie moment

Today we visited the San Miguel Market in Madrid. We had seen it a few days before but it was overwhelmingly full at the weekend, so we waited until a week day so we could peruse foodie heaven at our leisure. The market wasn't cheap but the food was fresh and smelt amazing. You could buy meats, cheeses, paella, fish, oysters, pintxos, cocktails, olives, macaroons and any type of wine . The choice is huge! We had some croquettes (king prawn and chicken ones), a Jamon Iberico (the best ham in Spain) hotdog, little salamis and a yummy Rijoca red wine (not our best though...keep reading!). Yummy market food!

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So, fresh after our Tapas tour the night before we decided to get all Spanish and have some afternoon drinks and tapas at our new favorite local 'Malaspina'. We sat at the bar (you get cheaper drinks if you're at the bar, it goes up on the tables and up again if you're at a table outside) ordered a drink each and got the same delicious tuna and potato salad as the day before to enjoy for free. We hadn't even finished our drinks and two pieces of bread with smoked salmon and lettuce appeared in front of us! We then ordered another drink and were given a slice of Tortilla each.... I LOVE FREE TAPAS!!! I am writing to the Australian government immediately to make it law in Australia!

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We chose a popular restaurant from Trip Advisor which was near our hostel, Venta El Buscon. The review recommended the 'Parrillada de Carne' which was a meat platter for two which included Steak, Ribs, Chicken, Chorizo and Sausage. Mark was in meat heaven!!! This came with a big salad and of course...chips! We also had a bottle of our new favorite wine (see below) and finished our meal with a free shot! We rolled out of there satisfied and VERY happy!

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Cultural moment

Spain has a certain pace of life... and our tour guide put it really well.... 'Manana', everything is done 'Tomorrow'. This is the case with the building of monuments, which are often not finished until well after the person who commissioned it is dead! It is the case with their jobs, where their family, personal life or even lunch break takes massive precedence over finishing what they are doing. I do love that they prioritise family and 'living', Australians work far too much and forget to 'live' with the money they earn, but in the same way I would hate trying to get something done here, and I can kind of understand why Spain is suffering in the recession!

Wow moment

Today we visited the Parque del Retiro in the middle of Madrid. It was stunning weather and there were people sunbathing and rowing boats. We also visited the Palacio de Cristal whilst at the park, which was a nice, if a little strange!

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What we learnt today

Today we found our favorite Spanish wine so far! It was called Ramon Bilboa - Limited Edition from the infamous Rioja wine region. It was amazing! As good as the wines Eric feeds us from McLaren Vale, yup i said it! Plus for only €2.50 a glass or €14 a bottle in the restaurant you can't go wrong!! Wish we could get it at home!

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Posted by travellinglise 11:21 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Totally Tapas! with Spongebob Squarepants

overcast 21 °C
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We love a country that gives free food with your drinks!

Foodie moment

Following the recommendations of a friend we met in San Sebastian we went to Malaspina for lunch. The free tapas we got with our drinks was a delicious potato salad. For our lunch we ordered Mark's new favorite snack, Jamon Croquettes and the local specialty, roast pig. Of course it was served with fries which we are starting to notice most dishes are! All of it was great, and the restaurant was really welcoming and friendly so we'll be back!

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Today we went for a 'Tapas Tour' through the same company as the walking tour. The food at the first venue just kept coming and coming! There was bread with cheese, Jamon, Tortilla, Meatballs, etc etc and even our old friend Tripe made an appearance again!! The second venue was interesting as we needed to order a drink to receive a free plate of tapas. These plates were piled up with paella, croquettes and calamari, all for free! It was packed with people paying for drinks and getting their dinner for free

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Cultural moment

The area we stayed in was called Sol, and it was a huge public square where several roads met (the roads all branch out from the square like beams of sunlight, hence one of the reasons for the name). A busy square where people meet to go out, travel across to go for food, shop but you realise very quickly that this is not a completely normal average place... it all begins when you first spot SpongeBob, then Mickey and Minnie, then another SpongeBob this one with his friend Patrick by his side! Sol is FULL of street performers, they range from dressed up cartoon characters (Tigger, Chuckie, Pooh and Dora the Explorer were some other familiar faces), to people dressed as statues (Dalai Lahma, Jesus, Aliens, Soldiers). We seriously wonder how much money they could possibly make in a day when they depend on tips from people when they take a photo! What was also strange is that people were having photos with them but not seeming to understand that they would then need to give them some money, they were quite surprised when an angry Mickey would chase them down, with his head off demanding payment for the photo! Not sure if they thought these guys were just doing it for fun? Or even that the Spanish government (with their financial worries) were paying the performers to be there just for the pleasure of the tourists??? Either way the photos I took were sneaky ones so we didn't have to give them any money, so at least we knew we were doing the wrong thing!===

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Wow moment

Today we headed to the Palace in the centre of Madrid. The current palace was built during the time of King Philip V and he wanted it to be even grander than Versailles in Paris. So he ordered to to have over 2,000 rooms! In typical Spanish fashion it took over 17 years to construct it so unfortunately for Philip V he died before it was completed and never got to live there!

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Whilst visiting the Palace we came across a huge stage set up for a free concert. There was a full orchestra and choir, and hundreds of people watching. The music was amazing and it was crazy to stumble across something which was probably a big event on the Madrid calendar!

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What we learnt today

We actually learnt this information about Tapas during our walking tour from Sabella but thought we would include it here as it is more relevant. In Spain (more relevant in the South now) you will often be given a tapas (small plate of food) for free with every drink order. There are two historical stories behind this. Firstly the word tapa means cover or lid, so the snacks were named Tapas because one of the kings didn't want to get insects in his drink so he put piece of bread over it to form a 'lid'. It then became tradition to serve bread with drinks to cover them and this evolved to become snacks called Tapas.

The historical story behind the tradition of giving free tapas with each drink spans back to the time of King Alfonso X (Alfonso the wise). At that time the people did not have much wealth so at lunchtime when given the choice between spending their money on food or alcohol they chose the alcohol and came back to work drunk. So Alfonso X, knowing banning the drinking would be impossible, made it law that all drinks must be served with food so the workers came back from lunch in a much better state! Hense the beginning of the free tapas... which is a great thing i think!

Posted by travellinglise 11:51 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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