A Golden Evening in Granada

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Andalucía

I arrived in Granada via train in the late afternoon. Looking out from my cab, one of the first things I noticed about my surroundings was the change in the colour palette. While architecture in Sevilla often featured bright yellows, pinks and reds on a white background, Granada was painted in softer shades and especially, browns. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada amongst the buildings which created a pleasant hill town atmosphere. A few minutes and a mere €7 fare later, I checked in at my hostel Granada Inn; the “Inn” is a lovely, rectangular low-rise in Andalucían style with a long courtyard and I would definitely recommend it.

After freshening up, I realized that lunch was long overdue and headed into one of the many elegant restaurants on a nearby street. I read through the list of soups on the menu and since trying Gazpacho, I was looking for something thicker when I came across its cousin, Salmorejo.

Simply made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic, the cold soup is topped with boiled egg—and usually, bits of bacon but I opted out of those—and it’s very creamy. I took my time savouring it and then returned to the hostel to grab a few things but ended up meeting one of my roommates who had just arrived. She was a solo traveller too so we decided to go explore the town together.

We headed down the lively shopping street Calle Reyes Católicos and passed by a few different sites.

The Santa Ana Church in Plaza Nueva.

Soon, we made a left and began walking uphill into the Albaicín. This quaint neighbourhood was one of the main Arab areas of inhabitance and filled with mosques, shops and even a royal court of the Zirid dynasty in the 11th century. Today, parts of it can be a little run-down and might not smell the best because of the dogs but it’s still charming.

We wandered through the narrow alleys and turned corners at whim getting wonderfully lost.

There were other tourists around too along with locals and children laughing and playing.

The homes in the Albaicín, including their entrances, remain quite influenced by the original Moorish style.

I also loved that many had beautifully overgrown plants. The scent from this cármen’s jasmines wafted through the lane.

We then made our way to the Mirador de San Nicolás. Given the hilly setting of old Granada, there are several great viewpoints and this is one is located in the square behind the Church of San Nicolás. I remember walking towards the wall and thinking, “so, this is where the photos of the Alhambra are taken from!” It was like the Mount of Olives all over again.

The weather, those cyprus trees and that Palace. I mean, can you say wow? The view was breathtaking and I had one of those moments which remind you that this is why you travel.

Looking out towards the more modern part of Granada.

Once we had taken in the scene and snapped enough photos, we considered going to the highest Mirador shown on the map but following a couple dónde está, we realized that it was not only much further uphill and confusing to get to but also isolated. So, we abandoned that idea and continued exploring the neighbourhood.

The minaret of a mosque is seen above with a verse written in Kufic script.

As we were strolling around, we stumbled upon a moroccan tetería, i.e. tea house, called As-Sirat in Placeta de la Charca. I am quite glad we found this place because it was beautiful, authentic and well-priced! The decor was lovely and the owner very hospitable.

We took a brief look around and eagerly sat down for some tea at one of the hexagon-shaped tables. I had no idea which one to try so I asked for a recommendation. Within a few minutes, she brought over a flower-based one called Nazari tea which smelt really nice and had a strong, unique taste. We chatted with her over our drinks and listening to her talk about Morocco made me want to visit it even more.

Happily filled with tea, we thanked her for her time and continued our wanderings.

By the time the sun got close to setting, we were famished and decided to stay in the Albaicín for dinner. We chose El Ladrillo II and enjoyed our free tapa as we waited for the paella to arrive.

Paella is a popular Spanish dish which is rice-based and originated in Valencia. There are a few different types but we went for the seafood option or Paella de Mariscos. Given its size, the dish is best shared between two or more people but when ordering, keep in mind that the listed prices are per person and not total. Also, when the Spaniards say seafood, they mean seafood.

The paella included mussels, shrimp, baby squid, fish and clams which were soon drenched in lemon juice.

My friend and I enjoyed the decor along with our food and we liked that the canopy was withdrawn at night so that we finished our meal in the open air. However, our service was only alright and the restaurant seems to get some very mixed reviews online so I am not sure if we just got lucky.

With the rest of our paella packed to go, we headed downhill and to our hostel. We tried to get to bed early but being women, this was easier said then done and it was past midnight by the time we set our alarms to 5am and finally, went to sleep. In a few hours, we were going to the Alhambra!

The Cathedral of Sevilla

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Andalucía

On my final day in Sevilla, I decided to start off by checking out the gothic Cathedral. It’s huge and so, it comes as no surprise that it’s the third largest Cathedral in the world. Finished in the early 1500’s, there are numerous chapels within the building and a large Main Chapel. Fun fact: it also has the tomb of explorer Christopher Columbus.

The ceiling in the Sala Capitular.

After walking around inside the Cathedral and seeing the various rooms, I went out to the Patio de los Naranjos which is so named because of its orange trees. The Cathedral was actually built on the site of the Almohads’ Great Mosque but this courtyard—previously used for ablution—and the Giralda are one of the few remnants of it. The Giralda used to be the minaret of the Mosque until it was converted to a bell tower; an additional section was added to the top of the structure as well. I sat in the Patio for a few minutes and relaxed before heading up the tower.

The Moors climbed the Giralda on horseback and once you start walking up, you can easily understand why. It’s a work out. However, the hike is not nearly as bad as it may seem at first. If you are healthy and able, there should be nothing stopping you! Plus, there are windows on the way and once you get to the very top, you are rewarded by these gorgeous views which are much better than those offered by the Metropol Parasol due to the 100m height.

To the left is the neighbourhood of Santa Cruz. To the right, you have Plaza de España (top), the Alcázar (middle) and Plaza del Triunfo (bottom).

In the back, you can see the Guadalquivir River. The square building in the centre is the General Archive of the Indies.

The Giralda is definitely my favourite landmark in Sevilla!

I then took a long walk through the city and ended up by the river on the other side.

The City Hall in Plaza Nueva where I sat the night before.

Loving the building to the right of the lamp post.

On Calle Velázquez.

In the Macarena neighbourhood. This gate dates back to the Muslims who called it Bab-al-Makrin; it is now known as Puerta de la Macarena.  To the right, is a Basilica.

I eventually found my way back to Santa Cruz and ended my afternoon with some tapas. One of the dishes I had were these yummy garlic potatoes. Can you tell I started eating first only to remember that I had not snapped a photo?

Flamenco and Tapas

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Andalucía

Before seeing a live flamenco show in Spain, my limited exposure to the dance came entirely from bad television where—like most things in pop culture—it was often sexualized and did not leave much of an impression on me. I am not sure what I expected an authentic outfit to look like but upon seeing flamenco dresses in tourist shops around Sevilla, I realized that it was relatively modest. The dresses were always full length with frilly layers and half or even full sleeves. The fierceness and sexuality must come largely from the dancer’s performance then, I thought, and this intrigued me.

So, after spending an afternoon seeing the historic Alcázar, I decided it was time for some flamenco and began thinking about where to go. Besides, since the dance originated in Andalucía, going to a show in the south was often recommended in travel guides and Sevilla felt like the perfect place to do so. I ended up choosing La Casa del Flamenco in Santa Cruz for its location and affordability and it was so worth it. The performance lasted for about an hour and the dancers went through different styles of flamenco with a singer and guitarist in the background. Here’s a video taken near the end in case you missed the link last time. Awesome, no? I love how lively it is! In fact, just this weekend, my sisters and I were at a street festival here in Toronto when we came across a flamenco performance and I made them stop to watch the whole thing.

I then sat down for some tapas. At first, I thought that “tapas” referred to specific small dishes but in actuality, a tapa can be anything since it indicates the size of the serving instead of what is being served. Hence, there are hot and cold tapas and endless options. I grew to love the idea because they are perfect for when you are hungry but not too hungry and/or want to try more than one dish. I don’t remember what either of these were called but they were good!

Later that night, I went out for a walk. I headed down Calle Tetuán, one of the main pedestrian shopping streets in downtown, and while stores like ZARA were closed, the area was remarkably filled with people and not just diners. It was 10 pm yet there were old people, families, groups of friends, couples and single Sevillanos enjoying a stroll or chatting at a bench. Talk about paseo! I eventually took a seat in Plaza Nueva across the City Hall and continued people watching. There were also some kids kicking around a football to the right and a group of girls sitting on the steps near me by an equestrian statue. All in all, it was fascinating to be in a place where socializing continued so late at a communal level.

The Alcázar of Sevilla

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Andalucía

I absolutely love Islamic architecture. The way a design can be so incredibly detailed, intricate and geometrically perfect yet somehow, appear simple and effortlessly beautiful at the same time just blows me away. From the floral patterns and Arabic script on the walls to the placement of fountains and plants, every element feels like it is exactly in the right place; there is harmony. For this reason, I was beyond excited to go to Granada but I got a small taste of what I would see earlier than expected when I visited El Real Alcázar de Sevilla i.e. the Royal Palace of Seville.

My day began with a late desayuno (breakfast) at a tapas bar and restaurant on Avenida Menéndez Pelayo. In Spain, the first meal of the day is quite light as lunch is usually the biggest one and the breakfast menu is often available up until close to 1pm. At Casa Carlos, I ordered a typical tostada which is a long bread sliced in half with tomato spread and olive oil. I added cheese to mine and had a cafe con leche as well along with a zumo naranja. The total cost was under €4 and even that was only because of the fresh orange juice as it added an extra euro or so to the bill. Casa Carlos had a nice atmosphere with white walls and wooden furniture and I ended up going there for breakfast over the next couple days too. After eating, I went back to Plaza del Triunfo where I waited in line to buy my tickets for the Alcázar.

Around twenty minutes later, I paid a few euros at the entrance and upon passing through the gate, I was greeted by a small rose garden and the Palace of Don Pedro in the distance.

I walked up to the inner court called the Patio de Montería and stood there for a few seconds taking in the Palace’s Façade. The Abbadids were the first to build a palace on this site but since then, changes and/or additions have been made to it numerous times by later Moorish and Christian rulers. In fact, the Alcázar continues to be used by Spain’s royalty today as it is their residence in Sevilla. The Palace of Don Pedro was built from 1364-1367 in a predominantly Moorish style because apparently, Pedro liked their architecture so much that he hired Muslim architects from Granada for its construction.

The Arabic sentences in blue use the Kufic script and they say, “there is no conqueror but Allah [God].” Above and below them, in Byzantine-style alphabets, are sentences praising Don Pedro. The rhombus patterns that you see above the arches are called “sebka.” 

I first entered the building on the right which had a couple rooms with old hand fans, paintings from the 19th and 20th century and a small chapel. In my excitement to get back to the Façade, I did a quick walk through it and returned to the Patio.

The elegant hall inside soon led to the Patio of the Maidens. This was my favourite part of the Palace!

Stars are a common theme in Islamic architecture such as the 8-pointed star seen on the ceiling in the left photo. The beautiful honey-comb like design inside the arch is called “muqarnas.”

Across the Patio were some of the private rooms.

The ceiling in Salón de Embajadores (Hall of the Ambassadors) is incredible.

The Patio de las Muñecas or the Patio of the Dolls.

The left photo shows the ceiling in Cuarto del Príncipe (the Prince’s Room).

Once I was finished looking around Don Pedro’s Palace and the relatively newer Palacio de Carlos V, I went out to the gardens. They were lovely and definitely an upgrade from Maria Luisa Park. Strolling around them was a great way to wind down my visit to the Alcázar.

Sightseeing for Free in Sevilla

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Andalucía

On my first day in Sevilla, the capital city of Andalucía, one of my hostel roommates and I headed out to join a walking tour. We made our way down Puerta de la Carne which is lined with restaurants and I waved an Ola! to the owner of the shawarma place I had eaten at the night before. As we turned onto one of the quiet, narrow streets of the neighbourhood Santa Cruz, I could sense myself getting excited and once the paths opened up, voila. I found myself in Plaza del Triunfo.

There was a white monument on a raised platform in the middle of the square and plenty of tourists around with cameras resting around their neck. Horse carriages were coming and going and like most days, a man was probably playing the Spanish guitar by the wall of the Alcázar. The most impressive structure though was over to the right. Instantly, I recognized the Giralda which towered boldly further ahead and was the first obvious sign of the town’s Muslim history.

My friend and I began looking around for the tour group but after waiting for some time and stepping into the tourist office behind us to double-check the location, we gave up on it and decided to go explore ourselves; the tourist offices in Spain are a great resource by the way and there was at least one in the centre of every city that I visited. But we needed to grab some food first because in our rush to not miss the tour, neither of us had had breakfast.

The pink and white building on the left was one of my favourites.

So, we walked for a bit before stopping at a cafe around the corner and seating ourselves at one of the many tables on the wide sidewalk. Almost every restaurant in Spain has outdoor seating available across from it which makes eating here a very lively experience and great for people watching too. As we waited for our order, my friend began telling me about her solo travels in Europe.

When our food arrived, I was quite delighted to find my cafe con leche in a glass and added a generous amount of sugar. I’m rarely in the mood for coffee at home but when in Europe, it just feels right! The sandwich was good too albeit a little salty which is partly a Spanish thing and partly a result of the fact that I take very little salt. After eating, we continued down the street.

The flags from left to right are those of Andalucía, Spain and the European Union (EU).

Our first stop was the University of Sevilla as the 18th-century building initially housed the famous Royal Tobacco Factory until the 1950’s. We walked in the black gates and took a look around admiring the architecture. We couldn’t visit its courtyard as the doors were closed that day so we had to leave it at that and move on to the Plaza de España. On the way, we stumbled across the Mercados Medievales which was essentially a typical medieval fair but their music was pretty catchy and got stuck in my head. Can you imagine trying to hum medieval tunes? It’s hard.

As we got closer to the Plaza, I was taken aback by how huge it was. Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition, there are five buildings in total in a semi-circular shape; two towers at either end and two smaller buildings with a bigger one that is the Plaza itself in the middle. There is a similar semi-circular canal in front of the structure and throughout the area, you can hear the birds flying around and the rush of the fountain in the centre. We entered from the left side and made our way towards the right. Halfway to the Plaza, there was a double staircase leading upstairs to balconies from where you can better view the scene below; the tile work on the way up is lovely with gold patterns on a royal blue background.

By the time we made it to the south tower, we had taken more than enough photos from the inside and went out to the bridges. There are four of them to symbolize the four ancient kingdoms of Spain with blue and white ornate railings. After a few final poses in front of the Plaza, we crossed the street to Maria Luisa Park.

Personally, I love large parks and especially gardens and while Maria Luisa is by no means the most impressive one from either category in Spain, I enjoyed the shade and being amongst the trees. There were a lot of families around with children and even the sight of a rectangular fountain with water spouting in arcs made me happy as it reminded me of what was to come in Granada. Next, we headed to Triana.

Triana is the name of a neighbourhood across the Guadalquivir River which has its own unique history and character. The streets were emptier here and the vibe was different too. I would have liked to visit the Mercado de Triana but the market was closed then and I actually forgot about it afterwards. Due to all the walking, we now needed some rest and sat down at a restaurant by the second bridge for drinks. I had a zumo naranja, orange juice, which is a great go-to and it is always made fresh with pulp! We then crossed the bridge out of Triana to go see the Metropol Parasol.

The small tower in the centre of the photo is the Torre del Oro. It was initially built by the Almohads in the 1200’s. To the right, you can see the colourful buildings of Triana overlooking the river.

The Metropol Parasol was interesting. I can definitely understand why people might hate it but as a tourist, I thought it was nice to see something so modern in contrast to the surroundings. As you may be able to tell, the Parasol is German in design and it was completed just recently in 2011. However, the project faced delays and millions of Euros were spent on it which only added to the controversy. A set of escalators takes you to the ground level where you can walk around underneath the wooden mushrooms.

You can also walk on top of the structure for a small fee but it took us some time to figure out where the entrance was and I still cannot remember where it ended up being. When we finally made our way up and began walking around, I realized to my amusement that maybe it wasn’t the best time to be up here after all. It was warm yet we had chosen to do something that involved hanging out under the open sky in direct sunlight. Good thing the views made up for the heat! After making our way around, we took the elevator down and sat in the cool indoor restaurant for a free beverage which was included in our ticket. We rested for a bit and then parted ways. She was off to Plaza de toros (de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla) to see a bullfighting show while I returned to Santa Cruz to see more of the charming old Jewish neighbourhood.

In the Patio de Banderas.

The oranges on these trees had such a sweet and strong scent that I could easily smell them from afar.

Back on Puerta de la Carne, I stopped by an ice cream parlour called Bolas Helados Arte-Sanos that I had also visited the night before. Their ice cream is quite good, natural and if I remember correctly, the flavours are based on the season. I tried a few different ones over time but I liked pistachio the most. There are a pair of benches under the orange trees right outside the parlour so you can eat on the sidewalk if you’d like; talk about ambience!

I then rested for a few hours at the hostel before going back out after sunset. I met my roommate at the corner for dinner and we decided to eat at a small restaurant nearby. I chose the Menu del Día, menu of the day, while my friend opted for a few tapas. I was very eager to try the gazpacho and ordered that. It’s one of the more famous cold Andalucían vegetable soups and especially popular in the summer. I am glad to say I liked it and the taste reminded me of the South Asian dhaniya or coriander chutney. However, since the soup was thinner than I expected, I think I would rather drink it than have it in a bowl as done in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown but without the sleeping pills, of course.

I had fried fish next which was alright but the potatoes were good. Meanwhile, my friend told me about her bullfighting show and noted that the crowd was mostly tourists and old school men, cigars and all. A UEFA Europa League soccer game was also on which locals were excited about as Sevilla was playing against Valencia; Sevilla would later win leading to celebratory honking in the streets that I initially mistook for bad traffic. After these two courses and the large servings, I had no space for dessert so we asked for the cuenta, bill, and my Spanish flan was kindly wrapped to go and enjoyed later.

We then went back to our hostel and said our goodbyes. She was taking the night train to Portugal, which I would soon learn is a popular destination for tourists in the south of Spain along with Morocco, while I was glad to know that I still had a few more days in Sevilla.