Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holiday in Andalucia

A's birthday, so we didn't get to breakfast till nine. After, he opened cards and presents in our room - very jolly, before we finished the packing and made our way across the courtyard to check out. We tried to check the email, but the connection was down. At 11.15 the taxi came for us to go to the station, just a short distance, but it was a bit showery. The train was spot on time and we had coffee travelling at 250kph. Groves of olive trees rushed by and we could see quite a lot of flooding in the fields. The train arrived in Seville very promptly and a driver was there to collect us and take us to the hotel. It is another Hospes hotel, in a series of houses from the family Rey del Baeza. Several picturesque courtyards follow each other surrounded by three storey buildings with turquoise paintwork and balustrades all round - very pretty. The public rooms look very comfortable.

After settling in, we grabbed the cameras and brolleys and headed down to the famous Santa Cruz area where there is the Giralda, the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar. It all looks amazing from the outside, but we will have to wait until Saturday to see inside as everything was closed for NYEve and NYDay. We then took a walking route around Santa Cruz with its winding streets, houses with oriel windows and wrought iron balconies. Along one footpath we found a house where we think Washington Irvine lived. It was showery, and eventually we got caught in a heavy hailstorm - time to get inside, so we looked for a suitable tapas bar. Many were full as no-one wanted to be outside, but we did find one. Everyone smokes in the cafes, which is quite a surprise. We order some tapas - potatoes, aubergines, ratatouille and cheese with beer and coffee, then A spotted crepe with dulce de leche and we shared one, too.
It was much brighter if cooler now, so we walked up to the Plaza Nueva where the townhall is, and where everyone goes to eat the New Year grapes - one for each strike of midnight. We will eat ours at the hotel, so we went to see the square before the crowds arrive. There is a Christmas market there, so lots of stalls, but all closed until Saturday. They will make it even more crowded tonight. We took some pics of a sculpture installation - some rusty seated budda-like figures, then gradually made our way back to the hotel. Jodie of Kirkers has sent A a bottle of wine, which we will sip before dinner, and fruit as a birthday present.
Dinner was a tour de force: an amuse bouche of tempura to dip into soy sauce, boullabaisse with lobster medallions, seabream with marinaded vegetables, fillet of beef with vegetables and a creamy goat cheese sauce, green tea mousse with chocolate shavings and vanilla sauce. There should have been a 'Christmas selection' but this never materialised - just as well after all that!! They served us glasses of Cava, Giro Robot Penedes and Sierra Cantabrica Rioja. We brought our peppermint tea and champagne into the lounge and our waitress has given us a tin each with 12 peeled and stoned grapes for seeing in the New Year. Everyone has disappeared - to the crowded town square or elsewhere, so we watched the NY in on TV and ate some fresh grapes as a token to the Sevillian custom. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday in Andalucia

Violet jam for breakfast, only served at Hospes Hotel Palacio Del Bailio and made in France. After breakfast we set off to see if the market was open. The square was deserted, but the inside market was in full swing selling fish, meat, chicken and veg. We left the market making our way straight to the Mezquita.

We entered the orange grove gardens to buy our tickets and walked across to the entrance. It was amazing walking into the mosque area with its many columns and striped arches, row upon row; and then in the middle, everything changed to an ornate Christian cathedral, made up of Gothic renaissance and baroque styles ,which was instigated by Ferdinand III in 1236 when the Spanish took Cordoba from the Muslim Caliph. The main parts of the cathedral were begun in 1523. We spent quite some time inside, seeing the main areas including the Mihrab, taking many photos and wondering at the mix of architecture.
Eventually we left in search of coffee. A convenient place appeared just outside and we had our best value coffee and cake so far. As ws were on the street leading down to the river, we went along to see if the water was higher than yesterday following the rain of last night; we think it was. On the way down we stopped by the Andalusian council office with its courtyard and info boards explaining some of the features of Cordoba that contribute to its World Heritage status. There were even drawings of the Roman waterwheels in place against the buildings and we wondered if there was a plan to put one back in working order. How interesting.

Now we were ready to look round the old Jewish quarter, which we would enter along Dr. Fleming Avenue, but instead we found the entrance to the baths belonging to the Alcazar where the Caliphs bathed. We went in and had a lovely time visiting the archaeological site with an interpretive film in Spanish - but we could guess what they were saying having read the English captions on the boards. Now we did start walking through the Jewish quarter; lots of small streets with balconies and a few glimpses of hidden patios. We arrived at the Synagogue, but it was closed until 3.30, so we threaded our way back to the area near the Mezquita to find a cafe for a sandwich. We found a good place selling bocadillos and ordered ham and cheese bagettes with coffee sitting outside with a view of one of the gates into the Patio de las Naranjos. Alan then went for ice creams and it suddenly started to rain, so we rushed indoors to eat them. As we finished them, the Synagogue would be open again so we made our way back there to see one of only three synagogues in Spain and the only one in Andalucia. It has Hebrew lettering in a decorative pattern around the walls, which is apparently very unusual.

Our last visit of the day was to the Palacio de Viana, the home of the family Viana until bought by a bank in 1981. It has 14 patios arranged around the building, which is filled with all sorts of treasures such as porcelain, tapestries, paintings and furniture. They all are a little shabby, and we were hurtled through by a fast speaking Spanish guide who gave us a leaflet with a very brief English translation.
At last we got back to Palacio del Bailio and decided on a 'tapas' dinner in the hotel bar. Fried fish, pork skewer and tomato salad followed by 'moorish' pastries and herby teas. We had extra dry sherry with the tapas.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday in Andalucia

After breakfast we were just about to leave the room when reception rang to say our driver was waiting for us. We proceeded to reception; checked out after removing an extra €20 from the bill for none existant drinks; and joined the driver who whisked us off to the station. We were a bit early for our train, Altaria, but joined a queue to go through airport style security once the train arrived. We were in the first carriage behind the engine and the crew car, as were a large party of Americans travelling to Madrid. The weather looked threatening, but as we set off through miles of olive trees it cleared a bit leaving clouds nestling in the valleys. There were some spectacular outcrops rearing up from the plains as well as pretty white villages. It took about two and a half hours to Cordoba during which time we were served a second breakfast - again like being on a plane.
When we arrived, we decided to walk the short distance - less than a km -to our hotel. We hadn't reckoned on the rain, and got rather wet when it started halfway there. The hotel is in an old mansion, but contains an amazing surprise; in the dining room there is a glass floor through which we can view the remains of a beautiful 200bc Roman villa with a huge hexagonal design mosaic floor. Apparently this is lit during dinner and provides quite a diversion. Our room is across a courtyard on the first floor. Again it is exquisitely, minimalistically decorated; the perfect mix of old and new.

As soon as we were ready, we took maps, cameras and brolleys to walk via the market square down to the river. There are lots of little winding streets, but not up hill, leading in all directions, so easy to end up going in circles, but we didn't. The market was over but the square reminded us of the temple courtyards in Bhutan with its rows of arches and windows. We continued on to the river passing some interesting tile shop signs. At the river we crossed the road to the Milleflores Bridge. Here we could see that the river was very swollen and swirled by with lots of debris. Downstream is the 'Roman' bridge; built on Roman foundations with multiple archways, it has recently been restored and is a really ochre colour. The water whirled around its bases. Crossing the river via the new bridge, we climbed down steps to walk through a landscaped area along the opposite bank, then under the Roman bridge to see a restored waterwheel house, one of three, but the high water level had cut it off, so we couldn't get along to it. We climbed up the slope by the tower, Torre de la Calahorra at the end of the bridge and onto the Roman bridge which is now pedestrianised. Lots of people were walking along it and it gave wonderful views of the city. There is much renovation going on as the old part of the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The arch at the city end, Puerte del Puente, is surrounded by construction, so difficult to see. In the square next to it is the Triunfo de San Raphael which is a bit 'falling down'.
We walked away from the Mezquita - that's for tomorrow and followed the tile signs to Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos 1328. We visited this ancient area - a palace, arabic baths and extensive gardens, getting wet as it was getting more and more showery. It is a beautiful place.

At last it was time to walk back to our hotel, passed the city walls, through alleyways and squares. When we got to our room, Kirkers had arranged a chilled bottle of champers for us and we had a couple of glasses catching up on the photos during a thunderstorm.
Dinner at 8.30 was in the 'floating' restaurant,quite busy as mostly foreigners were eating there. We had slow cooked egg with vegetables and mushrooms, carpaccio, Iberican ham and beef fillet; and a delicious bottle of Aalto Ribero del duero 2006.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday in Andalucia

A bus came for us and a few other guests at 9.45 to whisk us up the hill to La Alhambra. On arrival we, about thirty English speakers, met our English speaking guide, Patricia. She started by showing us some metal relief plans of the development of the area over several hundred years, then we walked down the hill and back up again to the entrance. We stopped in a little square outside Carlos V's palace and the church. The palace was built up against the Nazrid Palace, taking away its impressive double door entrance.
We began at the Christian Palace, then moved along to the Nazrid Palaces. Everything is amazing - well worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status. One thing we did miss was the fountain de los leones, which has almost completed a three year renovation. The bowl of the fountain is there in a glass box, but the lions have not yet returned - they are expected in the Spring.

After all this we had a short coffee/loo break, then Patricia took us up the hill to the Generalife with its summer palace. More beautiful courtyards and gardens with panoramic views across the city. The caliphs and their families would spend the day here among the water, flowers and trees, but would return to the safety of La Alhambra with its walls and garrison at night. At the end of this we left the group which was to make its way back to the bus, and gradually made our own way back to the little square via the Parador that was an Arabic nobleman's house within the Medina, then a convent and now a small exclusive hotel.We needed sustenance, so stopped for a kitkat and some water.
Now we made our way through the grounds and down the steep path to Plaza Nuevo in the town. We strolled back into Albaycin and across towards the other mirador at San Cristobal. Again we took steep stepped lanes over the hill to the view of the other side of the city. We came to a really good viewpoint and just behind us there was a plaza with a couple of open cafés. Here we managed a second coffee, a cheesecake and an apple pie. There were loads of cats in the square and it rained on us, but only a little. We found another alleyway leading off the square and followed it around and eventually down to the Puerto Elvira. This was as far as we went and turned for 'home' through the shopping areas. A grey day weatherwise has faded away into darkness, and dinner at 20.30.

Cold Crab served with mustard breadcrumbs, Barbary Duck served with sautéed pumpkin and mushroom; tartar of red tuna served with ginger salad, radish and sea lettuce, steamed Roosterfish served with noodles and truffle ravioli. As we still had some red wine left we ordered some cheese to nibble on as we finished it. The wine was ABSUM Varietales 2007 from Somontano. The 'varietales' are: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and it is a very good wine.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday in Andalucia

Although we were all ready to board, the first officer was late, so after a quarter of an hour we made our way to the buses that took us to the plane. An uneventful flight passed quickly and as we approached Malaga we could see the snowy mountains, the Sierra Nevada. We arrived at Malaga in good time and soon met up with our driver. He swept us off out onto the motorway towards Granada. All around us we could see many groves of olive trees; Andalucia is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world. Tantalising glimpses of the Sierra Nevada teased us as we drove the 150km or so before we came into Granada. Our hotel is a beautiful mansion which has an ultra modern annex in the grounds, where we are staying. It is a lovely room - lots of white fabric, marble and glass with dark wood highlights and slate floors.
Despite A's cold, we decided to walk up to the 'mirador', through the streets of Granada. The Alhambra dominates over to the south, and we climbed up the 'cuestos' on the other hillside to the viewpoint at The Plaza de San Nicolas, at the highest point of the Albaycin, is famous for its magnificent view of the Moorish palace. The view across to the Alhambra was greatly enhanced by the snow capped Sierra Nevada - quite spectacular. Lots of people had taken their Sunday afternoon constitutional up here, and the two restaurants set back from the square, were thronged with diners.
We decided to wander through Albaycin - a labyrinth of steep alleyways leading back down in the direction of the Cathedral. We came to a busy little street with a 'teteria' at the top, Los Cuevos, where we drank Egyptian tea; a mix of black tea, mint, cinnamon and roses; with a slice of date tart. The street that fell away from us was lined of small shops full of North African goods and artisan goods. It smelled of the souk in places!

We were now just at the back of the Cathedral and walked around the side to the entrance - €3.50 entry fee. Inside is beautiful, with lots of white marble and gold leaf. One window above the main entrance was lit up spectacularly, which we discovered was the setting sun. When we walked around the outside to the front facade, it was bathed in evening sunlight. As we walked around we noticed that there were different Christmas decorations for each street.

The temperature was dropping quickly, as was A, so we headed back to the hotel to review the day's photos, book dinner and have our feet up for a while. Our dinner was beautifully presented and consisted of: prawn ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, apple and prawns olive oil; scallops over sesame oil noodles and crispy veg; veal chop with rustic garlic mashed potatoes; acorn pork served with scallions and romesco sauce. We shared a bottle of Isabel Negra Pedes 2005 cabernet sauvignon/merlot from near Barcelona - Manuel Raventos.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Lumiere is an event at RHS Garden Wisley and we visited it tonight on one of their late nights (6-9pm). A company called Creatmosphere has installed creative lighting throughout the main areas of the garden. They are lighting trees, The Glasshouse, The Canal etc. with coloured floodlights, strip lights and tubes of lights, not to mention flowery slide shows in the Laboratory building windows. It is a magical experience and such an unusual event for Wisley. There is plenty of time to catch it as it will run until 3rd January, from 4 - 6pm each evening. Go to the Wisley website for the latest info.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Weekend Dinner

 A delicious dinner at m at the Mandolay Hotel, Guildford. Surprisingly good, it has just reopened after total refurbishment. We really enjoyed our meal and the place was really busy.