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Published: November 17th 2018
Fake it 'til you make it.
Yummy free tapas to go with your Rioja or Tinto Verano con limon. Pretty sure I was Spanish in a previous life!
Spain. My dream destination.
Since, like forever.
I had it all planned out. Retire. Burn my uniform. Move to Spain. Never leave. Eat tapas and drink wine until I die. The End.
But something preemptive happened. I found myself invited on a quick trip of Spain via Morocco with my Canadian travel buddy, "Winnipeg the Pooh."
I couldn't say no. Plus I had a free, round trip airfare. The stars were aligned!
We enjoyed Morocco, immensely. What a fascinating country it is, steeped in Berber traditions with a rich, diverse culture. Marrakech Express Sharif Don’t Like It
On the way from Tangier to Tarifa by ferry, Winnie the Pooh had a rough go. To be fair, she did say she gets seasick in a Jacuzzi.
In less than one hour, we landed in Europe. I was starving, and Winnie too whinged mildly, having left most of her breakfast back in Africa.
Luckily, we found a seaside artsy-fartsy Vegan cafe that reluctantly opened early, to feed us. We had avocado toast...like how hard is that to make?
There wasn't much time to do anything else but dip our toes in the Mediterranean. Me for the first time, so
In the lovely central park of Madrid, this lone man serenaded the crowds
it was surprising how cold it was for this sunny 30 degree day in September. A topless couple meandered by and said it was always like this. With a quick hike up the hills of Tarifa to their local bus station, we catch the late evening express to Sevilla.
So far my Spanish is holding up. I've only have to repeat myself occasionally as I ask for directions, or a decaf coffee, or to make conversation. No one seems to mind that I'm bastardizing their language. Pretty sure these holidaying Brits have been doing that for a millennial.
In Morocco, I did my usual translation charades until Winnie and her fluent French showed up. Then I got lazy. Here in Spain, it's effortless when you have a decent grasp of the language. As the world goes by my bus window, I can read street signs, and graffiti. One spray painted wall has a slogan that says, "Where are you Papa?" and then someone else spray painted below, "In jail." Politically charged, I started to laugh out loud when I realized they might mean the Pope. Trying to relay what was so funny to Winnie was, well, lost in
The dancing so intense and sweaty. Loved it!
We arrived right in the middle of a torrential downpour. Streaks of light dance across the overcast sky. The town is very quaint, very Spanish. Like I know what that means.
Our boutique hotel is in the heart of the Regina, not far from the Las Setas de Sevillas...a strange mushroom shaped artsy plaza. I love Spain already. It's quirky and weird.
Too tired to venture far, we find a tiny bodega in an alleyway, jam-packed with locals. The atmosphere is lively and it seems like the place to be, so we scrum in. Oddly decorated with dozens of cured hams hanging from the rafters. There are tables way in the back, but we sidle up to a stand-up bar, not knowing exactly what to do. I shout-order for two glasses of the house Rioja, and some assorted tapas. The first counterman ignores me, but the second finally saunters over and writes our tally down in white chalk right on the bar surface, before he serves up exactly what I yelled. Jam packed amongst the hoards, we meet some Brits who are more than generous to yell their recommendations at us, being self-proclaimed Spaniphiles and all.
Gardens of Spain
Stunning Alhambra and the gardens of Generalife in Andalusia Granada
Our day tomorrow will be action packed, and according to my calculations, equivalent to that of a full marathon. I'd better hydrate.
Turns out Sevilla is really easy to navigate, without Google. Winnie and I leave our quaint digs really early and find a tiny bodega that makes those Churros. A must in Spain,
those Brits had insisted. However, choux pastry, deep fried, and then dipped in a gloppy chocolate isn't exactly breakfast. Immediately bloated, we watch as a portly, stray dog waddles in, and the shop owner feeds him tidbits of Churro. Apparently, he comes in everyday at the same time. Aw! My heartstrings.
We leave just as our sugar buzz kicks in.
Winnie the Pooh literally runs us through all the tourist sites, with me keeping a close vigil. It was a blur, but I think we saw the Catedral de Sevilla, the Alcazar, the Museo del Baile, the Giralda, and the Plaza de Espana.
We ended up along the waterfront, surrounded by Spanish families in their finest wedding attire, making us keenly aware of our own frumpy backpacker couture. As we watch them strut by with their fancy hair fascinators and
Winnie the Pooh and I
Having a great lunch at one of the Veggie places in Madrid
three piece suits complete with tails and top hats, I'm hoping Winnie won't notice we are in front of Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Cabelleria de Sevilla. The bullfighting ring.
Usually Winnie the Pooh is a tranquil vegetarian, but get her anywhere near something that hints of animal cruelty and she goes completely bat-shit crazy. I've witnessed it before. Ask me about the great 2016 incident at the Prague Zoo involving a colony of penguins and a sneaky gate, left open...
But today, she seems somewhat subdued, exhausted, or maybe just situationally unaware, I'm surprised she's not begging me to find the nearest store that sells red paint (to throw upon unsuspecting patrons lined up around the block). I further distract her with the job of official photographer as we wander about capturing the beauty of Sevilla.
Tonight we have tickets to see a Flamenco show. But first, another tapas and wine stop, because, well, we can
The flamenco experience was oddly captivating. About 100 tourists crammed around a tiny wooden stage, the guitarist and singer incoherently wail in unison, building up a frenzied atmosphere before some very thin gypsies
This is Bullshit
My veggie friend wanted to go to the bullfight ring. I however draw the line at throwing red paint on patrons going in.
took center stage. They stomped angrily and flared their nostrils. It was brilliant
. Didn't know where to look really...being eye level with their crotches for most of it.
Midway, the lone male dancer (who looks like Adrien Brody) is flirt winking with Winnie and I, before he aggressively whips his stringy hair around. We reel simultaneously as a tsunami of sweat hits us both in the face. Lots of applause and bravos for the encore performance, I left the theatre feeling confused by what I saw. maybe because I had nothing to compare it to. As we walked along the narrow cobbled streets, we discussed our interpretations. Lovers scorned? A bit of a shady backstory? Maybe a love triangle?
We take shelter in yet another cozy tapas bar for a nightcap. Salud! Chink glasses to another wonderful day in Spain.
Manaña, we make our way to the city of Granada.
Side note: I’ve been eating way too much cheese, and I know this because each morning I feel like I’m shitting out plastic toy Legos. Can’t stop, won’t stop.
Spain so far has charmed my apprehensions. When you dream about
A one time thing, kinda nice to eat a bit of shoe pastry with thick chocolate for breakfast.
a place all your life, severely inflated expectations can be a real let down. What will it be like? Will I fit in? Are the Spainards gracious or unfriendly? Can I live there? My sketchy retirement plan appears to be right on track. Now if only I could find a rich Spainard that looks like Enrique Inglais with acreage on Ibiza.
Getting to Granada from Sevilla by public bus was super easy. While Winnie drooled on my shoulder, I enjoyed watching the dry, rolling hills dotted with olive groves go by as the landscape transforms into mountainous vistas. Here we are staying in a old priest monestary that was converted into a boutique hotel. It's more than suffice, but their breakfast buffet is unbelievable! Winnie's new nickname is squirrel, she's cramming as many sweet buns and treats into her purse for later. Granada itself is quite navigable. While Winnie shopped, I queued in the post office to send myself home a conquistador poster and some ceramics. For most the day, we try to tourist between the heavy rain showers, the slick street tiles make me as agile as a camel on roller skates. No problemo, its a valid excuse
Las Setas de Sevilla
Fascinating mushroom sculpture in the old streets of Sevilla
to stop every few blocks for more wine and tapas. Did you know that tapas are free in Granada? Like I needed another reason to love Spain.
Granada means pomegranate in Spanish, and the fruit is depicted everywhere. In the art, the ceramics, the city sewer covers, and I'd probably like the fruit a whole lot more if I could just peel one properly without it looking like I've murdered someone.
We wait out the periodic downpours in another tapas bar, under duress...of course,
before taking a steamy bus up to the Alhambra de Granada.
Last night we hiked up the hill to a viewpoint to see this old fortress rise from its ancient forested garden, the glow of the day stunning upon its fortified walls. The name Alhambra has its origins in an Arabic word meaning red castle but Muslim chroniclers describe it in a more poetic way, as being under the light of the torches.
Created originally for military purposes in the 9th century, Alhambra wasn't a residence of kings until the 13th century. The first kings of Granada, the Zirtians, had their castles and palaces in the hills of Albaicin, but nothing
Comida con Perro
Street dog comes in each day for his share of a churro
remains of them. The Ziries, were in all probability, the emirs who built the Alhambra in 1238, but the Alhambra became a Christian court in 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs conquered Granada. Later, several structures were built to house prominent citizens, military barracks, a Church and a Franciscan Monastery.
This monumental complex is surrounded by extensive orchards and gardens called "The Generalife" which was once the solace for the Granadine Kings. We enjoyed wandering around the peaceful manicured grounds amongst the 4 million Asian tourists all trying to get that perfect instagrammable snapshot. I was attracted to the kaladascope of patterns that seemed to adorn every tile wall around Granada. Moorish charm steeped into the very fabric of Spanish heritage. Plus, it would look amazing as my kitchen backsplash.
We both wanted more Granada.
Wandering the streets with gelato drawn in by a spontaneous flamenco practice in a square, or squishing into a lively pub for some Spanish guitar, or sitting at the fountains near the promenade and watching the large sauntering crowds, it was all heaven. And of course, the free tapas.
But with our travel time restraints, we pushed on and caught a double
From the viewpoint of Alhambra Fortress
decker luxury bus with a gaggle of Nuns to Madrid, two Netflix later and we were navigating the fairly simple metro line, surfacing first in a suburb to drop off our backpacks at our mediocre hotel in Legazpi, and then again at the Plaza Sol.
Both of us wanted to go to the big 3 art galleries but decided to paper-rock-scissor for only one. My rock crushed Winnie's scissors and we went to the Prado. Good choice, even Winnie said afterwards. The 12th to 19th century works depicted the very essence of the renaissance era of Spain. The endless Goya and Ruebens paintings gave a commissioned richness to the suffering. My favourite of course was Bosch's Garden of Earthly delights. I've seen interpretations all over the world but seeing the actual original was mesmerizing. I fought my way to the front of the painting and held my ground for a long survey, before my brain started swimming and I had to move away.
Next morning, a cheap standup breakfast with all the commuters at one of the museo de jamons, topped off with my favourite hot drink colacao. We cooked in the sunshine with all the other tourists,
So lovely, everywhere we went, loads of flower displays and pretty decorations.
queued for the palace and cathedral tours. When we got sick of that, we strolled through the city garden, silently. I had said no, when Winnie, who is missing her boyfriend terribly, tried to get me row her around the gigantic lake in a commandeered dinghy. I had to draw a line at some point.
Instead, on a shady park bench we were serenaded by a gypsy accordianist while I wrote out postcards to my loved ones. Yes, I still do that.
Finally, we are mysteriously drawn to a market near the oldest square in Madrid, we'd walk around the confusing backstreets only to find ourselves right back there again. Display cases full of stuffed olives, cured meats, cheeses, fruits, dulces, fruit tarts, sardines, and fried things beckon us back, time and again. That and another glass of that tinto verano con limon. Don't mind if I do.
Winnie preferred the Aperol. Shoppers and lookie-loos strolled through the charming chaos, soaking in the atmosphere. Why don't we have something like this at home?
Granville Island you really dropped the puck on this one. Sorry. Eh.
The night ended with some consolation drinking in an overstuffed tavern, watching an
Mas Tapas Por Favor!
OMG I've never eaten this much cheese and olives in my life. Heaven.
exciting footy match as Madrid lost to Barcelona. We met some Mexican friendlies who walked us back to the metro.
Early rise tomorrow. Madrid to Barcelona is only 2.5 hours by train. I can't wait!
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