The Alcazar and Barrio Santa Cruz

CollageCredits:  Template by J Sprague Photo collage; Paper by Scrapmuss Designs

After a night of soulful music and dancing, elated from the cultural assimilation, we were back on the street the next day for more. The Santa Cruz district, also known as Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarters, is just a hop away from our hostel.

Best known for its small plazas—Plaza de Santa Cruz, Plaza de los Venerables,

plaza-alianzaPlaza Alianza
plaza dona elviraPlaza Dona Elvira

Plaza Alianza, Plaza de Dona Elvira among others—hidden around the lively labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys awash with shops not only of touristy souvenirs

shopSangre Espanola–burnt my MC here.

and bars indulged too by locals,

bars

it is a natural gathering of visitors and the community alike. Picturesque lime-washed houses added to its charm.

And in this district stands 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites:

cathedral-from-triunfoThe Cathedral from Plaza del Triunfo

the Cathedral and its Giralda, the Archivo de Indias (which we failed to enter), and the Alcazar.

On the southeast side of the Plaza del Triunfo stands the Real Alcazar, supposedly the oldest European palace still in use.

alcazr-from-triunfoThe Alcazar from Plaza del Triunfo

Walking through the Alcazar is like walking through the history of Seville.

alcazar-collage

Art and architecture designs throughout the palace are marked by the diversity of cultures starting in Moorish times to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Baroque, and the XIX century.

Before it became the royal palace of Christian Kings, it was once a Moorish fortress. Today, it is still used as a part-time residence of the Spanish royal family, although only a few rooms are closed to the public.

alcazar-2

Built by Moorish architecture, the structure standing today still has details of a medieval fortress.

gardens

The gardens are outstanding, but I say that the picturesque Patio de las Doncellas, the Ambassador’s Hall,

patio-de-los-doncellas-2

patio-de-las-doncellas

patio-de-los-doncellas-3

with its tranquil pond that reflects the Mudejar plasterwork will transport you to another time. The intricate carvings and mosaic will leave you in awe.

The castle is huge, which took up half of our day. All the walking left us craving for tapas. And my notes tell me that Bodega Santa Cruz is the place to be when in the area.

bodega-santa-cruz

The bar wasn’t swarming with people yet, as it was only half past 11, so we easily found a table at the corner, in plain view of our bartender who wrote our orders down in chalk.

Bodega-sta.-cruz-dishesLeft to right: pringa, berenjenas con miel (fried aubergines with honey and salt), lomo chipiona

One by one, he calls out our orders, pringa, lomo chipiona, alitas de pollo, berenjenas con miel… all good that left us gratified.

And after wandering through the barrio, we were back for more tapas, al fresco this time.

Cafe-Alianza

We settled for Café Alianza at the plaza of the same name.

Restaurant-Alianza

Satisfying early dinner in a lovely square, a great way to cap the day.

Useful Info:

Bodega Sta. Cruz
Calle Rodrigo Caro, 1A
+35 954 21 32 46
 
Café Restaurante Alianza
Calle de Rodrigo Caro, 9
+34 954 21 76 35
 
Royal Alcazar of Seville
Patio de Banderas
+34 954 50 23 24
 
Sangre Española
Calle Santa Teresa, 4
+34 954 22 72 26
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Our Flamenco Fling

I took a leaflet. “This is better,” the lady at the counter recommended a different one. “If you don’t mind, it’s at the outskirt of Sevilla. You will be picked up,” she added. “It’s €38 per person and comes with drinks and tapas.”

plaza-del-toro

And so, there we were in front of the Plaza del Toro a quarter before eight as instructed. At exactly eight, a van stopped in front, a lady came out greeted us and off we went.

Maria introduced herself as the co-owner of Flamenco Esencia, the company on the leaflet. They promised an authentic flamenco performance in an intimate setting. Not that easy to come by today, so I heard. Most performances are produced with tourists in mind. Maria, being a flamenco dancer herself (and respected one in the industry at that), had thought to revive flamenco performances the way it was intended to be: up close, spontaneous, and unplugged.

artists

With her influence, she has established and upcoming but promising flamenco artists on stage together resulting in performances that vary in style and temperament, depending on who are performing. We were awarded an outstanding, heartrending performance.

countrysideWe had a glimpse of the Sevillian countryside on our way to the venue in Salteras, a small village 10 kilometers away from the city center.

saltero

In a narrow street, we walked into a high 19th-century bodega where we were greeted with a glass of wine.

seating

stage

It is a small space with a high ceiling that has seats only for a limited number of people, I estimate about 40. Aside from the eight of us, a few more people arrived; I assumed were regular enthusiasts and friends.

tapas

A flavorsome choice of tapas, which included freshly carved Jamon Iberico, cheese and mouth-watering patatas tortilla, followed after the impressive, soulful performance.

jamon

The informality and friendliness that was shown the entire evening evoked a sense of genuine hospitality that I suspect isn’t felt in a regular show in the city.

Flamenco was an expression of denial, a means of escape of the persecuted gypsies back then. It was a mockery of paradoxes, which symbolizes their way of life evident in the supercilious dancers in bright costumes, the intricate rhythm set by hand clapping and foot stomping, and the raspy wail of singers echoing the Muslim’s call to prayer. And for at least 200 years, Flamenco has existed and has become an important part of Southern Spain’s cultural heritage with Seville as the center of this performing art.

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Exploring Seville’s City Center

I found Anton at the front desk chatting with the guy in charge. He seemed impressed that Anton could pretty much carry a conversation in Spanish. Here’s a tip: if you can speak even just a bit of the local language, try to use it to the best of your ability not only to impress but because it is the fastest way to a local’s heart. This was actually how we found our way to Casa Jimio for some interesting tapas.

Calle-Jimio

Front desk guy pointed us there; it is only a short walk from our hostel, La Casa de la Luna and a stone’s throw away from Plaza Nueva. From there, he said, we could hop from one excellent tapas bar to another. Following his lead, we got ourselves a table at La Flor de Toranzo, also known locally as Casa Trifon.

lunchLeft to right: Salmorejo; olives; Jamon Iberico “bellota”

Apparently one of the more famous bars in Seville, it offers a traditional menu with specialty tapas like foie gras, marinated turkey breast, anchovy rolls…

sandwiches-of-La-Flor-de-Toranzo

Anchoas con leche condensada (anchovies with condensed milk) sandwich caught our eye and suffice it to say that we were so blown away with the flavor combination, we got another order even if we were attempting to do a tapas bar crawl, a time-honored tradition that has Spaniards walking, drinking, and nibbling almost daily.

Seville. This beautiful Andalusian capital sitting on the lower reaches of the River Guadalquivir oozes with charm.

The-Adriatico-BuidlingThe Adriatico Building

As with most European cities, historical monuments are scattered around but what sets Seville apart is its seductive atmosphere—starting with the Seville orange trees found in every corner perfuming the air with its blossoms, its passion for flamenco

condetria-fillelia

and its love for food.

One thing Seville does not have little of, is its tapas bars and restaurants. Being a city of eaters and drinkers, tapas joints abound in Seville.

food-lovers

A day for a true Sevillano starts with a pre-breakfast snack (around 7am), then followed by the real breakfast at 10am. A beer or a glass of vino accompanies lunch at 2pm and at 5pm, the Sevillano head to the bars to tide them over till supper at home, usually around 9pm.

With our bellies full from a very satisfying lunch (we only managed 2 bars),

people

we headed to Avenida de la Constitucion, taking in its vibrancy—people of all kinds (locals, tourists, students…)

old-and-new

fill the street, historical monuments and buildings share space with modern shopping malls,

tram

modern trams ply the cobbled avenida, and adding to the gaiety, music filled the air from a guy playing Besame Mucho in his accordion…

accordion-man

madness in a good way is what this major thoroughfare is.

The Cathedral and the Giralda

The-Cathedral-along-Avenida

The largest Gothic building in Europe sits in the heart of the city on Avenida de la Constitucion. The Seville Cathedral, its flamboyance an expression of the city’s wealth during the 15th century.

grandeur

Replacing what was once a grand mosque of the Almohad Dynasty in the 12th century, it dominates the city today with its splendor and size. The astonishingly large building breaks several size records, making it the largest church in the world when measured by volume.

cathedral-interior

I was filled with awe at the massive size of the cathedral, at its sumptuous simplicity: the ceiling is about 13 stories high (42m) at the central nave and gilded in gold.

high-ceiling

The huge interior has a large collection of artworks from Murillo, Zurbaran, and Goya among others.

Its bell tower is called the Giralda. It was the large and beautiful minaret of the mosque, built to resemble that of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech in Morocco.

giralda-2

Not only is it now the bell tower of the largest church in the world and the tallest landmark in Seville, it is also an excellent example of the cultural blend that molded Spain into what it is today.

giralda

It stands 343 ft. (105m) tall above sea level and instead of steps, a series of ramps were built so that the person calling the faithful to prayer (when it was still a mosque) could easily ride a horse up to the top.

view-from-the-giralda-2

Do make your way up the ramps because when you reach the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic view of Seville.

view-from-the-giralda

view-from-the-giralde

And after walking up the tower, we did as the Sevillanos always do; we found our spot and had an afternoon snack.

afternoon-meriendaUseful Info:

La Casa de la Luna
Calle Mariana de Pineda (near Puerta Jerez)
+34 954-218-389
 
La Flor de Toranzo
Calle Jimio 1-3
+34 954-229-315
 
Seville Cathedral
Avenida de la Constitucion

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How the Andalusian Horses Dance

“We must see this” and so we did.  What sealed the deal for Cadiz to be part of our itinerary besides Anton’s family were actually the horses.  And if you too love horses, this you must not pass up.

stable

Jerez de la Frontera, a municipality of Cadiz, lies in a fertile upland region on the southern edge of the Andalusian plains, between sea and mountain.  This fertile land that surrounds the city produced some fine wines and sherry that has given rise to some of the most prominent families in the area.  This wealth enabled them to invest on impressive stud and bull-breeding farms all around the city.

Horse-performance

And for breeding the famous and the beautiful Andalusian Horses, Jerez became the cradle of Spanish horsemanship.   Beautiful, docile, and gentle, the purebred Spanish horse impresses with its sculptured beauty of noble bearing and natural high action.  Extremely elegant, naturally graceful in its rhythmic pace, and extraordinarily beautiful, the PRE (Pura Raza Española) is a horse breed from the Iberian Peninsula with 3,000 years of history.  It has been known for its deftness as a warhorse and was prized by nobility.

The-Royal-Andalusian-School-of-Equestrian-Art

One of the best places to learn more about these beauties is in the Royal School of Equestrian Art or the Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Escuetre, a riding school comparable to the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

palacio-de-las-cadenas-2

garden-2

A beautiful garden surrounds the premise.  A 19th-century palace, the Palacio de las Cadenas, serves as its headquarters and visitor center.

And whatever else you do, make sure to catch its equestrian ballet show entitled “How the Andalusian Horses Dance.”

Horse-performance-2

To the beat of traditional Spanish music, the horses perform complex and arduous movements with effortless grace and control.

An absolute must.

Useful Info:

Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Escuetre
Avenida Duque de Abrantes S/N,
Jerez de la Frontera
+34 956 319635
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Cadiz

well-preserved

Bounded by the sea on a narrow wedge of land is the province of Cadiz, said to be Europe’s oldest inhabited city.  A typical Andalusian city with a wealth of well-preserved historic landmark in its charming old quarter.

It may not have architectures that shout “look at me!” like Barcelona’s Casa Batllo, Bilbao’s Guggenheim, or Granada’s Alhambra, but the Moorish looking old city offers a taste of the great days of the 17th century.

cobblestone-streets

Walk around its cobblestone narrow, winding alleys and open squares and you will feel like nothing much has changed.

narrow-alleys

This and the easy-going, everyday vibe of Cadiz makes for a pleasant walk around the ancient city, the rain notwithstanding.

open-plaza

Friendly locals would always strike up a conversation, if you speak Spanish that is; otherwise a welcoming smile is always at the ready.

Founded as the Phoenician port of Gades a millennium before Christ, Cadiz has an old and interesting history.

museo-de-cadiz

A worthy place to learn more about it is at the Museo de Cadiz, on Plaza de Mina.

phoenician-sarcophagy

It offers a journey that goes from Phoenician and Roman culture through to the 20th century Spanish paintings.

Just across Cadiz is El Puerto de Santa Maria, our home for a few days.  A lively harbor town and beach resort during the summer.

el-puerto-de-santa-maria

It was quiet, however, when we there in April.  We’d walk around and end up at La Playa de Valdelagrana, the beach closest to where we stayed.

fine-golden-sand

la-playa-de-Valdelagrana-promenade

It is one of the Costa de la Luz beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean.

la-playa-de-valdelagrana

The various cafes, restaurants and pubs dotting the promenade are a telltale sign that this playa can be very busy during summers.

Never on my radar, if truth were told, but thanks to Anton for wanting to visit his roots, I am happy to have made it to Cadiz.  We had the grandest of time chilling as activities get halted every afternoon for siesta.  Nothing beats excellent home cooked meals coupled with fantastic stories shared till the wee hours of the morning.

Useful Info:

Museum of Cadiz (Museo de Cadiz)
Plaza de Mina s/n
11004 Cadiz, Andalusia
+34 8 56105023
+34 8 56105034

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Andalusia’s White Town Jaunts

Ruta-de-pueblos-blancos

Between the provinces of Malaga and Cadiz, lodged between the valleys and mountains or clustered high on the hillsides within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, lies a cornucopia of sleepy white towns and villages.  Traditionally lime-washed but now painted white houses make up these towns.  Known as the Pueblos Blancos, they create a striking contrast amid a backdrop of rugged limestone mountain.

Out of the 6 or 7 noteworthy villages on the Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, we managed 3 on a rented Opel.

our-route

After breakfast, from Ronda we headed north via the A428 and found our way to the first village on our route, Setenil de los Bodegas.

Senetil-white-houses

This quaint little village has houses built into rock overhangs above the Rio Trejo, many of which have the rock as its natural roofs and walls.

Setenil structures-built-on-caves

Fetching in an unusual kind of way, this Setenil.

Setenil-narrow-hilly-roads-2

Looking for a place to have a few beers and tapas (as it was nearing lunch time), we discovered that the hilly, winding streets in some parts of town are intimidatingly narrow

Setenil-narrow-hilly-roads

especially if one’s stick shift skills are rusty and the car is rented.

Setenil rocks-make-natural-roof

On Plaza de Andalucia, we found Bar Restaurante Dominguez quietly tucked in a corner of Calle Herreria.

Setenil Restaurante-Dominguez

I don’t remember anymore what drew us there (hunger perhaps) but following the recommendation of the owner, lunch was truly satisfying.

Let me first tell you about this stunning natural park, Sierra de Grazalema.  It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977 because it has an exceptional variety of flora and fauna.

Grazalema-limestone-mountain-rangesDo you see the eagle perched on the craggy edge of the limestone?

A karstic region set in 51,695 hectares of land that is surrounded by a string of limestone mountain ranges known collectively as… Sierra de Grazalema.  So imagine the spectacular vista of rugged limestone cliffs, and impressive gorges, magnificent forest of rare Spanish firs, and the attractive white towns dotted around the sierra.

Grazalema-from-the-road

The village of Grazalema is located right at the center of its foothills.  A beautiful white town beneath the craggy peak of San Cristobal.

Grazalema-Plaza-Espana

It has its own charm with a simple central square, the Plaza de España, and cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses with wrought ironed railing covered windows.

Grazalema-Iglesia-de-la-Encarnacion-from-afar

The town has two beautiful churches, Iglesia de la Aurora on Plaza de España and Iglesia de la Encarnacion.  It is an ideal base for those who want to hike the sierra.

The last village we managed was the most picturesque among the three and a real must.

Zahara overlooking the lake

At the northern end of the Grazalema Natural Park, this pueblos blanco overlooks the turquoise water of El Embalse, a huge reservoir that dominates the view from the village perched atop a hill.

Zahara-castle-remains

Zahara de la Sierra, once an important Moorish town has the surviving tower of the 12th century Moorish Castle looming over the valley.

Zahara-town-beneath

Scattered below on the slopes are the red-tiled roof whitewashed houses of the village.

This couldn’t be a more outstanding finale to this excursion.  Although we barely scratched the surface, like Ronda, visiting these pueblos blancos gave us a taste of the real Spain, its laid back way of life.

real-spain

Amid such splendor, how can you not stop and smell the flowers?  Cherish its beauty?  Why would you even want to go anywhere?

Useful Info:

Bar Restaurante Dominguez
Plaza de Anadlucia, 11
Setenil de las Bodegas, Cadiz
Contact: +34 956 13 45 31
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Magnificent Town of Ronda

Tired from traveling the whole day, but I look out the window of our train plying Mr. Henderson’s railway en route to Ronda and all is well.

view-from-train

The scenery was stunning and the countryside, beautiful.  It was a good decision, taking the train to Ronda as it was a gloriously scenic route.

 

rock-outcrop

On the plateau of a large rock outcrop stands the magnificent town of Ronda,

rugged-tracts-of-mountains

surrounded by rugged tracts of mountains, the Guadalquivir River running through it.

guadalquivir-river

Gorgeous city steeped in history, set in and around a deep gorge known as El Tajo (the edge),

el-tajo-gorge

and spanned by an astounding 18th century arched bridge,

puente-nuevo

the Puente Nuevo, connecting La ciudad, the old Ronda with the new.

The old quarter charms with cobbled stone streets,

cobbled-stone-streets

lovely churches, striking white houses

Sta.-Maria-la-mayor

and buildings with wrought iron balconies

wrought-iron-balconies

but not to let pass the cafes, tapas bars and restaurants that sprinkle the town.

tapas-bar

For decades, Ronda has been favored by those with a passion for Spanish food and likes to eat well. Tapas, small portions of food, both hot and cold, are served in bars and bodegas to go with a copa de fino (dry Spanish sherry) or beer.

A pleasant and enjoyable way to take in its rich heritage is to wander around town to savor not only the sights but its cuisine as well.

performer

We spent a whole lot of time walking the streets of Ronda, captivated by the spectacular views it offered at every turn. No wonder Welles and Hemingway spent so much time there.  I wish I had taken their cue and spent more time there.

Ronda delivered beyond my expectation.  It was a fantastic kick-off to an Andalusian adventure.

More of Ronda through my lens:

on-the-bridge-to-the-old-townOn the Puente Nuevo
plaza-del-toroPlaza del Toro — Ronda’s bullring known to be the world’s first purpose-built bullring.  The first fight in this bullring took place in 1785 with the famous matador, Pedro Romero and Pepe Hillo.
Iglesia-de-Sta.-Maria-la-MayorIglesia de Sta. Maria la Mayor
white-housesRonda is symbolic of Andalusia’s white town
la-cuidadOn the bridge facing the south side of the gorge, La Ciudad and the heart of Moorish Ronda.
Ronda-at-nightRonda at night.
modern-townPlaza de España– Ronda’s modern ide of the gorge.
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