Looking down on Cadiz

Jesus said to spread his word throughout the world but Cadiz cathedral says you can’t. The place is hardly even a cathedral anymore with an exhibition taking up all the worshipping places. I have no problem with an exhibition and I love a cathedral but when the two are combined it’s just wrong.

And why no photos? Surely they want free advertising; they want people to comment on how wonderful it is so more and more suckers pay at the door. I’m not sure what kind of cultural rights are being protected but I think it’s pretty pathetic when you can walk into any other Christian church and take as many photos as you want.

It is a deeply depressing reflection of religion today. They happily take your money but give nothing in return. Surely a couple of pictures on Instagram or Flickr would be a great thing for them. Alas, they do not see it that way. There’s no way I’d recommend this travesty.

I have to assume there’s no longer a cathedral in Cadiz because what I saw today was not one. It was a museum of things that may or may not have once been housed in a cathedral. It made me quite angry.

If you’re looking for God he’s not here. A cynical hypocrisy, on the other hand, certainly is.

Fortunately Cadiz cathedral was only a tiny bit of today. Mind you, I did find a toilet which came in rather handy after drinking about 38 gallons of beer just prior to visiting. The beer was had at a small bar just off the town market and enjoyed in the sunshine after being buffeted by chill winds in the lead up to beer o’clock.

Actually the morning (after a lovely Spanish breakfast) hadn’t exactly been a huge success. Our tour guide made the cardinal mistake of not checking opening times with any great degree of accuracy. This meant, having wandered the very long way around, we turned up at the Cadiz Museum to find it closed for the day. Every Monday, actually.

So we wandered some more. Mind you, the wandering did give us a lovely walk through the botanical garden where we saw the famous broccoli tree as well as lots of ducks and dogs.

Broccoli Tree

On the way we found a boyfriend for Denise. Called Carolos Edmundo de Ory, he was a poet born in Cadiz in 1923. Sadly he’s dead. So a pretty lousy boyfriend really. 

Here’s one of his poems, written in Amiens in September 1968 and translated by Google:

THE STARS AND BEAUTY
Under the sky everything is temptation
and death comes after
Eat drink and coitus
what was called sin
Throw me wine and throw me women
Beauty is spent and health
There is Paradise
and here the earth and the coal
Give me your hands that kiss me
while so far we are
of the Onyx and the stone Bdellah.

I like him. As you can see from the next photograph.

Me and my mate Carlos

There was quite a bit of walking today, wandering the ever more interesting streets of Cadiz. It seems in Cadiz that the further you walk the more crowded it becomes and the more crowded it becomes the more places are actually open. Which is how we found the black Madonna.

We were sitting in a cafe having a coffee/tea when we realised that a Franciscan convent just across the plaza was open. Having finished our much needed refreshments, we sauntered over and popped inside.

It was all a bit dark and oppressive, if I’m being really honest. And, naturally, there was a lot of St Francis and many Marys. Jesus obviously did get a bit of a look in though my favourite bit was the saint who was lifting off his head as if showing off a particularly spectacular party trick.

Not David Blaine

The black Madonna was hidden away in a back room. I think the main problem may have been the fact that she was proudly holding and displaying a little white Jesus and the nuns may have had an issue with this sort of thing being too much on public display. Of course, I could be wrong.

But our relentless tour guide was saving the best for the last today as she proudly turned up at the Camera Obscura tower. She knows how much I love this sort of thing. Of course we had to buy tickets and then go away for a few hours in order to be included as part of the 3:20pm group but we didn’t mind. It was well worth it.

The amazing live view of the city from above was simply spectacular. Of everything we’ve seen so far this trip, this was possibly my favourite. 

Looking out over Cadiz from the camera obscura tower

The Tavira Tower is one of the many Cadiz towers. In the past they were used to spot trading ships arriving. Presently there are 133 but the Tavira (named after Antonio Tavira who was the first watchman in it) is the only one with the camera obscura, mainly because it is the highest. It stands 45 metres above sea level which gives a wonderful view of the whole city.

Our guide (a young woman who lives next door – she showed us) took us on an incredible tour of the city, pointing out various landmarks and areas of importance. She also told us that, in a wonderful piece of understatement, the 1812 Constitution of Spain which was signed in Cadiz is locally called The Paper.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a camera obscura is a series of lenses and mirrors which reflect live images down onto a big round concave surface, creating a live picture. It is brilliant because it doesn’t use anything mechanical (except to raise the surface up or down to focus) and the image is exactly what you’d see if you were standing on the roof looking down. The first mention of anything like it was by a Chinese person writing in around 500BC.

The walk down the tower felt a lot further than the walk up so I can only assume it rises and falls with the tides. Still, as I said, it was a million times worth it. Plus we headed back to the hotel for our siesta afterwards, which is always a bonus.

On the way back we saw something a bit odd. A woman in a big wedding dress with clunky aquamarine shoes and a chap in a morning suit were heading down to the botanical gardens with a couple of other people armed with camera gear.

There appeared to be no wedding party and the poor woman in the wedding dress was forced to hoik her dress up herself. Mind you, no amount of hoiking could prevent the bottom of the dress from turning quickly black with dirt.

I suggested that it could possibly be for a photoshoot but it was pointed out that if this was so then they wouldn’t really want the dress being dirty. Maybe it was for a play. We’ll never know.

After the usual siesta (I’m seriously going to miss them when we go home…eventually) during which an insane Mirinda sat on the balcony in the freezing breezes working on her DBA, we met up downstairs for a lovely meal at the hotel restaurant. Denise even had a glass of the local sherry which she pronounced excellent. Naturally she also had a bucket of vodka.

Dinner was a delight but bed was an even greater one. It was a good but tiring day.

Crazy Mirinda
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Jesus pastries

The parade we spent most of yesterday afternoon expecting finally happened. Rather than skirt our apartment it did manage to pass beneath our small balcony. Like Half Term Mary, it featured a massive tableau, this time with a wobbly Jesus and an unnamed angel. When I say massive it barely managed to fit between the walls either side of the lanes.

But it was more than just Jesus and an unnamed angle. It was also a thirty piece brass band with an entire section made up completely of drums. Within the confines of our narrow little plaza, this was very, very noisy. It was also quite eerie the way it kept stopping then starting again.

And the people! The place was wall to wall with them. They were even squashed up between the walls and the tableau. It’s a wonder no one was crushed beyond recognition. Maybe there was. We’d never know.

The whole place lit up with smoke from the huge candles and the air thick with the scent of whatever Catholic churches use in those swaying incense burners they use. And we had front row seats on our balcony. In fact, we didn’t even need to take our pyjamas off which was very handy because it was gone 1am.

Seriously, I defy anyone who is not deaf to have slept through it. Actually I don’t think a profoundly deaf person would have slept through it. It was unbelievably loud. And it continued until gone 2am but it was far enough away by then that one could sleep.

Earlier in the day we had passed a cake type shop called Pastries of Jesus and we wondered whether this parade had been sponsored by them. It was delightfully mad.

I missed the brass section but this gives an idea

Finally, though, we went back to bed filled, as we were, with the love of Jesus and drifted fitfully back to sleep. 

Waking up to a new end of daylight saving Sunday we adjusted the time…actually we didn’t because our phones just automatically did it for us. The one thing that was instantly noticeable was the fact that the sun came up earlier. This was a good thing because Mirinda wanted to be woken up at 8am and yesterday it would have still been dark.

We were up early (sort of) because today was about moving. We were leaving Jerez de la Frontera and catching the train to Cadiz. Our train left at 10:45 and we ended up being about 40 minutes early for it. Still, the cafe at Jerez station is possibly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen so there’s little to complain about. It sort of goes with the entire front of the station in the beauty stakes.

Jerez de la Frontera Station

The train was the same one that we caught from Seville except it kept going to Cadiz which sounds remarkably like Gary whenever the recorded announcer says it. And the conductor who before taking my ticket said “Gary?” nodded to himself and handed my ticket back. I wondered how he knew my name. I then realised he’d said Cadiz.

The train was awfully busy as you can see from this photograph.

Denise and Mirinda waving

And then the moment we’d all been dreading. The moment on every holiday when everything falls into a heap with no hope of retrieval. The moment when all your travel plans wind up shredded on the ground around your world weary feet like so much confetti. The moment you get off the train at the wrong stop.

It’s a little known fact that ‘Estadio’ in Spanish can mean stadium as well as ‘nothing to see here’. I can vouch for it having been there. It is so full of nothing that taxis actually avoid the station. 

I have to ask one vital question: Why do Spanish trains announce the final stop one stop before the final stop? This merely leaves the traveller open to confusion. It would be like catching the train from Farnham to Waterloo and just before you arrive at Clapham Junction the public address system announces “This is Clapham Junction one stop before Waterloo the final stop on this train.” Of course, while weird, this would be fine for English speakers but not so easy for Spaniards. Well, announcing the final stop immediately after announcing Estadio had the effect of making us get off the train.

I hold my hand up. I am entirely to blame. Not for the fact that Estadio is a featureless, God forsaken hole, mind you. That it does quite easily on it’s own.

The crowds at Estadio station

The person (apart from me) that deserves a little bit of blame would be the conductor. The man who, standing nonchalantly and secure in his little back of the train compartment, told us we were at the wrong stop just as the doors were closing and the train was departing the station.

And so we waited for the next train after trying to get a taxi – the only one we saw smiled helpfully and gestured that we should ring him instead of waving vigorously in the time honoured tradition.

Half an hour later a suburban train arrived and took us five minutes further down the track to Cadiz. It was ridiculously close.

We then managed to get a taxi for the trip to the Paradore.

We have stayed in three other Paradores and this one is just as amazing. The views, looking out to the sea are as gorgeous as they are extensive. We had a room on the sixth floor (Denise is on the fifth) with folding doors leading out to a terrace. The bed is arranged so you are permanently looking out. It is splendid and more than makes up for the impromptu visit to Estadio.

Looking towards San Sebastien

After dumping our bags and having a rather pleasant cup of tea/coffee on our balcony, we three headed into town to find somewhere to eat. We wound up at a little place called Meson Criolle.

It’s in a small street that heaves with eateries though when we first turned up there were few people outside in the cold wind, the tables soon filled up with brave, hungry souls.

A brief interlude: We discovered after lunch that this street was saved from flooding by the grace of Mary, riding to the rescue on a cloud of snakes. This was in 1755 when most of Lisbon was wiped out instead of Cadiz where ‘only’ 40 people died. Every since, on November 1, Mary is paraded around the town in thanks. Sadly we won’t be here for it which is a shame given Half Term Mary and Pastry Jesus have been witnessed on the trip so far. A Snake Cloud Mary would have completed some strange sort of set.

But back to lunch…

I managed to get my mouth around some grilled sardines which both Mirinda and Denise turned their noses up at to such a degree I’m surprised they could still smell anything afterwards. The sardines, by the way, were delicious. As was the paella I had as a main.

Possibly the most exhilarating part of the holiday happened then. Mirinda took us out on the breakwater to the Castle of St Sebastien. The wind was blowing, the sea was choppy, waves crashed all over everything. It was an amazing mix of weather.

The weather was so exhilarating, in fact, that none of us wanted dinner tonight. Denise and I went down to the bar for a couple of drinks while Mirinda watched The Blue Train with Hercule Poirot. I was rather surprised he didn’t stay in his own room.

And so, an early night for all of us, lulled to sleep by the constant flashing of the lighthouse directly outside our windows.

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Giggling Swedes

Yesterday at the horse show there were these chaps with little trays around their necks (like cinema ice cream sellers) selling long packets of roasted and salted almonds. Then, today as we sat in the plaza near the apartment having lunch, I spotted a couple of chaps with these baskets on their shoulders.

At first I thought they were selling fish but then Denise or Mirinda suggested it was possibly cured meat. Eventually I walked over to the shop and passed one of the chaps up close. He had a big basket full of almonds. The area is known for its sherry and horses but, I guess, it’s also big on the almonds.

When I think of shop, I can’t really help but remember the three hours Mirinda and Denise spent in the gift shop across the way from our apartment. Clearly very well versed in the Slow Movement, the woman proprietor spent an inordinate time wrapping purchases.

While I thought this was a great way to go through life, it was pointed out that there is a limit to how long you can stand around watching someone measure out bits of sticky tape, discarding the bits that were a millimetre too long.

Apart from waiting for gift wrapping and tapas, we also went and visited the Alcazar today, going via the little fish market. It wasn’t hard to find. I mean the fish market. It was just a matter of following our noses. The Alcazar, on the other hand, was not smelly at all.

There was probably something built at the same location in the 11th century however, what mostly remains was built in the 12th by the Almohad rulers of southern Spain. Eventually the Almohads were ousted and the Christians moved in, making it a place for their mayors. No, I don’t know what that means either.

The Alcazar courtyard and Tour Group #2

Apart from a bit of work in the 17th century, the whole place suffered away into a bit of a messy state until restoration started in the late 1930’s. Now it’s looking very good though there’s still some areas to go.

Possibly my favourite bit was the Mesquita (Mosque) which features not just the qibla to show the direction of Mecca but also a place to keep the Koran, matting on the walls and a lovely little bubbling fountain.

Of course we managed to see it after Tour Group #2 had left. (I’m fairly certain I saw Polly and Dennis with the group.) Then we were joined by a small group of giggling Swedes. At least I think they were Swedish. I’m obviously not 100% certain but they sounded exactly how I suspect Swedes sound.

Reconstructed waterwheel

They managed to stay either just ahead or just behind us for the rest of our wander around the grounds. It didn’t make any difference how fast or slow we walked, they were always there. Not that I minded. They weren’t as annoying as Tour Group #2 would have been…though they did giggle a lot.

As well as the Mesquita, I rather liked the Arab baths which reminded me of the Roman baths, so similar in style, purpose and engineering.

The gardens

Actually, to be completely honest, I liked the whole place not least because of an absence of crowds. Mind you, as we were leaving, there was a queue at the ticket office as the tourists started to arrive. 

My biggest sadness is the fact that the camera obscura was not working. I don’t know why. It was quite annoying particularly since I could walk right up to it only to be turned away by the old velvet rope at the last steps. The room where it lives is atop the Villavicencio Palace.

The Palacio was built by Lorenzo Fernandez de Villavicencio in around 1664 after he inherited the Alcazar. As well as having the big house built he also set about doing a bit of restoring of the grounds generally.

For reasons known only to a few, the Municipal Pharmacy from the 19th century is on the second floor of the palace. This includes all the original furnishings and pots. It’s unclear whether the pharmacy was there to begin with or whether someone decided it would make for a nice little conversation starter at dinner parties.

Chemist shop

Having walked the length, breadth, heights and depths of the Alcazar (without, I should add, finding the shop), we left, heading back to our little square in order to have lunch. We decided, for our final lunch in Jerez to revisit Gabriela’s. And so we sat, for about an hour, watching people wander by, eating our various dishes at our sun soaked table.

I’m sure no-one has said that if you sit long enough at Gabriela’s you’ll see the whole world pass by but it certainly felt like it today as our various dishes took a very long time to arrive. At least there were sizeable intervals between each one. Not that it mattered a jot. There were a lot of dogs to spot which is always a pleasure.

(Actually, we’ve noticed that an awful lot of people have dogs in Jerez, at least where we’re staying. It’s all very lovely.) 

I particularly enjoyed watching the well heeled heading for what we figured was a christening at the nearby church of Mary’s ascension. Particularly interesting was the fact that the mother of the very small child was not a happy mummy. Perhaps she was an atheist but her overbearing Spanish husband insisted the poor kid get splashed into Catholicism. Who knows. Whatever the reasons for her sullen expression, I rather liked her flying saucer of a hat.

Then, of course, it was siesta though today it was with a bit of a difference. It was like the whole of Jerez de la Frontera was coming to our little square. Noise filled the narrow lanes as some sort of parade roamed around out of sight. We think it was probably like the Half Term Mary procession we saw in Seville only some other Mary. Possibly the ascending one.

Whatever it was, it went on for a long time. There was noise and chatter and screaming and yahooing; even the occasional almond selling wagon. And it didn’t stop when whatever the procession was stopped. The band stopped playing but the people kept coming.

And most of them were dressed up. Thousands of them with the whole family, strolling the streets, heading somewhere, happy and unhurried. And all of them passing beneath our balcony. It felt good, as if we were part of the town life.

Eventually we went out to dinner though we started with a drink at the Gorilla Bar. I had another Punk IPA while Denise and Mirinda had a couple of buckets of white spirit with scant room for mixers.

We tried a place for dinner that Mirinda had picked earlier but they sent us outside, pretending they were completely booked up inside. We sat for a moment then decided to try the next place up. It was an excellent decision.

The place we ended up at was a narrow place attached to a bar. It was a sherry place with an entire menu of them to choose from. We (Mirinda and I) started with a medium and I ended with a Pedro Ximinez Nectar, which it was. It would have been impolite not to.

And the meal was lovely. We felt no qualms at leaving the first place.

We then walked back to the apartment via a few back streets, marvelling at the amount of people still roaming the streets including three and four year olds with their parents, old couples and people with their dogs.

I really like this about Spain. The whole treating life as a pleasure and not too serious. Utterly works for me. Mind you, they were still wandering around when I went to bed at midnight.

Inside the Mesquita

Well, that’s it for Jerez de la Frontera. Tomorrow we move to Cadiz.

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Princess Vanilla

According to Mirinda I should like ballet if I like performing horses. This would be something of an odd assertion if it were not for the horses we saw today, high stepping and generally prancing about to ballet music. After she told me I should like ballet I asked her why she didn’t like opera if she enjoyed flamenco. That had her stumped.

The weather almost had us stumped because it was actually raining this morning. I was pretty certain this kind of thing didn’t happen in Andalusia. I was wrong. The rain started sometime in the early hours and continued through to after lunch. Mind you, when I say rain, it was mostly faint and not particularly wet.

 

The wet streets of Jerez de la Frontera

After a coffee (and a chance for Denise to go and buy the only unbroken umbrella in a nearby shop) we headed off, the idea being to visit a Domenican convent on the way. Sadly the convent was closed so we just kept walking. Anyway, as it turned out, we didn’t really have a lot of spare time.

Today we were booked in to see a show called How the Andalusian Horses Dance at the Fundacion Real Esculia Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre. This is where the famous Andalusian performing horses live and train. Mirinda insisted that I organise some tickets. I managed to get some in the front row.

The show was excellent. The horses were beautiful and graceful, the riders pictures of serious concentration. I’m sure they spend years learning to cement their facial features into something approaching grim.

It was nice to see a couple of women in the troupe given it’s nearly always males who do these things. I do wonder why one of the women wore light coloured boots though. My guess would be because she is still in training and it’s a clear indicator for the other riders. Either that or she just left her dark boots at home today.

The only thing missing was a massive audience. The place was barely a third full. Still, though small, the audience was fully appreciative as the horses went through their paces.

I’m fairly certain I saw Polly and Dennis across from us. At one stage, the person I thought was Dennis, looked about to leap onto one of the horse’s backs. Fortunately the person I thought was Polly, pulled him back in time. As it turned out, this was not the last time we saw them today.

After the show, as we left the arena, the rain had gone, the sky was blue and the sun started heating things up again. So everything was back to normal for our walk back.

The fountain below is at a major junction on the way to our apartment. It features penitents and Christ and various other religious figures. Mirinda is always quite concerned about the penitents given they resemble the Klu Klux Klan and hark back to a darker time when the Spanish Inquisition wore clothes that disguised.

But enough of the darker side of Spanish history (and America today) and onto lunch. Today’s tapas came courtesy of a small place just across the road from the apartment. A very amusing and excellent waiter lured us in with his faltering English. We had delicious tapas. And the beer was good too.

As we ate, he managed to lure in a very big group of Germans. I congratulated him and he gave me a very cheeky and triumphant thumbs up.

A little later, as our siesta started to kick in, Mirinda suggested we go to a Flamenco show. Tickets were booked almost immediately.

Ole!

And the flamenco was excellent. Full of pain and passion and muchos noise. From the moment we walked in and the guy behind the counter recognised me instantly calling me “Senor Gary!” before filling me in on all the gossip I needed to know. He showed us to our tables which were in an excellent spot with a wonderful view of the stage.

And then, you’d never guess it, but in walked Polly and Dennis and sat next to Mirinda. Oddly enough they’d also had dinner in the same restaurant as us earlier on. Polly even tried to knock Denise over on exiting the toilet. They never stop amazing me.

Mirinda admiring Denise’s book collection with Polly and Dennis studying the menu behind.

Dinner was interesting. Mirinda asked for assorted fish and this plate turns up with a while load of fish which had been dipped in batter and deep fried. The fish were whole. They were very crunchy. I really liked the sardines. I didn’t eat the heads.

Meanwhile back at the flamenco…we had some great high passion in dance and singing. It was Denise’s first and she enjoyed it though she did say she’d like to know what the story was. I said I wasn’t bothered about the story that it’s all very sexy which is good enough for me.

We walked home with the cante screeches echoing in our ears.

Flamenco!

Princess Vanilla was a dessert option in the restaurant where we had dinner. I have no idea what it is.

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Santa Gabriella

San Bernardo station

When a church charges you admission they abrogate any restrictions they want to impose. That is my belief. Take for instance the Cathedral in Jerez. It would appear that it is okay by God to take photos all over the place except for certain areas.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with an embargo on photographing people in private prayer or the worship of their own personal nonsense. People should be free to mumble whatever they want without fear of the paparazzi snip snapping away at them. No, my issue is when you enter a big church, having paid for the privilege and get told by a security guard to stop taking photos of something.

I’m not complaining about paying for admission. I realise that with the decline in church attendance there is an equal decline in church funds. I love the edifice far more than the stupidity it represents, after all. I’d pay to go into a museum of art so why not for a museum of nonsense?

The little known story about Mary getting stabbed with a sword when Jesus was knee capped

But when a pumped up guard tells Mirinda she can’t take a photo of something so innocuous I can’t even remember what it was, then that makes my blood boil.

Which reminds me, since when did Mary take the Eucharist? Isn’t that the blood and body of Christ? There was a painting in the cathedral showing a young Mary doing just that. How did she know? Somehow quite odd and possibly inappropriate.

The cathedral (which didn’t feature anything even remotely like a queue) was at the end of our morning travel from Seville to Jerez de la Frontera.

The trip featured a sleep in (for Mirinda and me anyway) and a taxi to the station where my buffer was big enough to mildly irritate Mirinda.

As we sat on the platform, there was some discussion about where coach number 1 would be. Given the buffer, the discussion went on for some time.

Obviously we had two choices unless RENFE went for a random number shuffle which seemed unlikely. Naturally we went for the beginning of the train. When it finally arrived, coach 1 was at the back. There was a mad scramble down the platform, sending various passengers flying.

It wasn’t really a problem. We found our seats then sat somewhere else because someone was actually sitting in our seats. The trip was an hour of nothing but relaxation as the predominantly featureless landscape sped by outside.

A Spanish chap who can paint a roof and talk on the phone at the same time. That may be Dennis on the balcony below.

During this break in our trip, it seems like the perfect time to talk about our shower in the hotel in Seville. It was fantastic. A waterfall effect in a standalone, walk-in shower with excellent pressure and perfect temperature control. I’ve had a lot of showers in a lot of hotels but this has to rank up there with the best. It was so good that I actually had two showers most days we stayed.

In the meanwhilst we left the train at Jerez central and took a taxi to our accommodation. And what a most excellent place. We were booked into a self catering apartment for the next few days and it was just off an amazing square with an almost infinite choice of eateries.

View from our apartment

Our first choice was chosen for us as our very own happy Santa enticed us into his establishment where tapas after tapas was delivered to us by his grinning waitress. The beer was ice cold and fabulous and I need hardly mention the perfect lemoncello Gabriela gave us to celebrate spending time at his restaurant.

Mind you, Denise wasn’t that pleased with her general lack of milk delivery. She has been having increasing difficulty in getting a weak enough coffee and today was no exception.

After lunch we went for a bit of a pre-siesta wander, heading up to the cathedral where I’m sure I saw Polly and Dennis enter ahead of us. I’m fairly certain that Polly was wearing a wholly (holy) inappropriate ultra short pair of shorts. While Jesus wouldn’t have minded I think the priests would probably have a few conniptions had they seen her.

As for me I was fooled into climbing what I thought was a spiral staircase to a tower but what turned out to be a spiral staircase to one of those prayer chairs and a painting of Christ wearing his crown of thorns. It was most disappointing. I guess it was evened out with my discovery of a St Sebastien on the side aisle altar.

Then, of course, back to the apartment for our siesta after picking up some milk. The apartment is a two bedroom fully furnished flat with kitchen and everything, including a much needed kettle. It was rather nice coming back to the place and having tea and coffee in the dining/family/lounge room.

We then sat and listened to some ghastly flamenco music while Mirinda worked on her DBA before, eventually, heading out for dinner.

On the way back from the cathedral I had noticed a little bar that sold Punk IPA on tap and felt we really should stop there for a pre-dinner drink. Mind you, we’d already had some pre-pre-dinner white sherry that the owner had conveniently left in the fridge. Coincidentally it was the same stuff we have in our fridge at home. Mind you, Jerez is the home of sherry so perhaps it’s not so much a coincidence.

So we sat at a table outside along with a lot of other bustling groups of pre-dinner people making as much chattering noise as possible. A man with a very big piano strapped across his chest played tunes, imploring people to drop coins in his bucket, beggars dropped bits of cardboard on tables to catch out unsuspecting tourists and Milan was playing Betis on a very handy TV screen.

It was like all the life in Jerez was in this little square. At least it was until we headed further up the town and found an almost continuous river of people eating and drinking and celebrating birthdays as the night wore on.

Finally we made it to a Mexican restaurant (apparently there’s ten in Jerez though we only saw one) and sat down for some street food. I rather enjoyed my beef and cheese but thought the nachos were a bit much.

I liked the restaurant very much. It had an air of informality that accurately or not, felt very Mexican to me.

After dinner we swung by the jazz club in order to sniff it out but it was closed so we have no idea whether it smelled good, bad or indifferent. We, instead, walked back and up and around the Jerez central square where we stopped for an ice cream of unknown flavours before heading for bed.

Welcome to the Fundador!

The revellers seemed to carry on all night in the streets outside our flat.

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Where gin comes in pints

Today we slept in, Denise had churros and we caught the bus to Italica. It was also very, very hot. We also visited a rather grand house in order for Denise to see how people lived in Seville once upon a time.

I also saw my favourite fast food sign:

But to begin with, we had a long sleep in. Mirinda is a bit upset with getting up before the sun so we didn’t leave the hotel until after 9am. Mirinda didn’t leave till a bit later as Denise and I had a coffee across the road first thing.

Eventually, Mirinda joined us for the short walk to the cafe next to the Alcazar for churros and chocolate. Denise wasn’t that keen but she almost ate them all. I, of course, had a second coffee while Mirinda had her first.

“I’m only having two!”

There was then a rather long but interesting walk to the bus station. I was in charge today and Mirinda was ready for any slip ups of which I made absolutely none. I was well pleased.

The bus station was the usual Spanish affair with lots of bays and just as many buses arriving and leaving for all parts of the country. I do love the bus network here. It feels so efficient and easy. Getting a bus to Italica was even easier because it was a normal local bus.

Estacion Plaza Armas

The bus ride to Italica was through some pretty grim looking areas of Seville made mostly so by the amount of roads. There seemed to be more roads than cars until we returned when there was clearly not enough road for the amount of traffic. Still, the roads weren’t too bad on the way out.

There was a moment of panic on the bus when a chap up the back was suddenly concerned that the bus wasn’t going to Italica and he and his family would have to walk from Santiponce. All was well and he settled down when he discovered the bus actually terminated at Italica.

Which it did. Of course having endured the long and dusty road in, we had to stop for some life giving refreshment at the very handy tavern across from the entrance. Besides it was just gone beer o’clock and we all know what that means.

Eventually we crossed the road and entered the site.

Let me say right from the off that I was a bit disappointed with the lack of a shop. I was not, however, disappointed with the entrance fee seeing as it was completely free. Mind you, this is no excuse for a lack of toilet paper in the toilets, a fact reported to us by Denise. (She also told us that the toilets had a bin next to them for the placing of paper after use. This seems altogether completely and unnecessarily gross to me.)

Toilet aside, the first thing the visitor to the site comes to is the amphitheatre. And while the amphitheatre is brilliantly amazing, we had the added advantage of a whole load of gladiators practising their skills as we wandered around. You don’t get that very often.

Young Spanish gladiators in training

I should give a bit of background about Italica. It was a Roman town built just outside Seville (though Seville wasn’t there then) in around 206 BC. It was founded by Scipio primarily as a retirement home for his faithful and victorious army veterans following the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Cathaginians.

Naturally there was an original town there to start with. It was called Turdetani where the local Iberians lived. Of course Scipio had them turfed out and built a much nicer place. (I don’t think Turdetani means shithole in some ancient dialect.)

From luxury retirement resort to bustling town, Italica became the birthplace of a few great Romans, most notably Trajan and Hadrian.

Of course as the Roman Empire crumbled so did Italica, eventually having the Spanish town of Santiponce built on top of it. In fact a fair bit of Roman masonry was used in the initial construction of the present town.

The bit of Italica we see today is merely the rich bit over the hill and the amphitheatre because the normal town is underneath existing buildings possibly never to see the light of day…again. Still, what we do see is pretty amazing.

Panno of the amphitheatre

The amphitheatre is pretty brilliant on its own but when you climb further up the hill the magnificence of the villas becomes apparent with the multitude of mosaic floors spread out before your eyes.

Mosaic in the House of the BIrds

Of course, given there was no signage to speak off (well, in English anyway) Mirinda and Denise had to make do with me so I made up a lot of stuff and we moved on.

We ran into Polly and Dennis at Italica and, for a change, they weren’t queuing. In fact Polly was having a rather heated phone conversation with someone, insisting that she’d been told not to email something which she’d accidentally done to two people anyway. Meanwhile Dennis was wandering around the Roman ruins waving a pink bag around, waiting for her to finish.

She did eventually end her call but it had embittered her mood I’m afraid. Poor Dennis was not happy. I didn’t have that much sympathy for him given the amount of queuing he’s put Polly through.

We spent a long time wandering around Italica and I enjoyed every bit of it except, perhaps for the fact that the House of the Planets was inexplicably roped off, barring any viewing of the mosaics for which perfectly placed gangways had been constructed. This was very annoying.

Another rather odd thing but in equal parts very entertaining was the young woman taking selfies. She had her phone on a tripod, leaning up against a pole and would then strike poses. She wore more than enough make and a rather dressy dress accompanied by one of those flamenco type scarves. I’d like to think she is one of the super-selfie #Me brigade. She certainly worked very hard. While being clearly self obsessed she wasn’t all self conscious.

Having walked the length and breadth we decided to have a late lunch at the lovely little place across the road, thinking (incorrectly) that it was the only place to eat. We had a selection of tapas which included a super refreshing gazpacho, something highly recommended as a cure for hot days spent wandering around Roman ruins.

Eventually we caught the bus back to the bus station and then started heading back to the hotel by a route planned by Mirinda. This was, I thought, as a reward for my expert handling of the day so far but, it turned out, she had another motive.

Yesterday Denise had said she’d like to see how people lived in days gone by rather than just empty rooms like the Alcazar. Too many places are completely devoid of furniture that it does make a pleasant change when it does remain. And so, enter the Countess of Lebrija.

She managed to steal a whole load of stuff from Italica and put it in her house in Seville. Understandable I guess given Lebrija wasn’t the loveliest of places. It was best known for its swamp more than anything else.

So the countess, or Regla Manjón Mergelina to her intimates, managed to secret away a bunch of mosaics and put them in her house. If they didn’t fit she just moved the walls to accommodate them. She was extremely versatile when it came to her household boundaries. What her husband thought is anyone’s guess because he doesn’t seem to figure in anything.

The house (palace really) is a delight from top to bottom. For an extra few sheckles the casual tourist gets to go upstairs with a lovely Spanish tour guide and peek into the countess’ upper regions. I’m very glad we did for several reasons not least because up there is a triptych featuring a very big St Roche and two St Sebastiens (before and after). Sadly no photography is allowed so I have to remain disappointed on the reproduction front.

Still, it was marvellous. She was quite an amazing woman and I guess it’s good that she preserved so much stuff while another part of me thinks it would be better to have a context for where it came from as far as historic records go.

Actually, I reckon we get a bit hung up on that sort of stuff. If I consider that an awful lot of Italica went into making the modern day town then why not save a bit of it the way it was meant to be in some rich person’s house? At least we get to see it. All power to the countess, I say.

Saying bye bye to Regla (I wonder if the count called her ‘Reggie’?) we headed back towards the hotel under Mirinda’s self assured and deadly accurate guidance. We managed to go up the Calle de los Vestidos, which featured confirmation frocks for little girls, wedding dresses for bigger girls and all manner of flamenco dresses for girls no matter what age or colour preference.

It’s quite the fascinating street if you think about how women are packaged through their lifetime.

Anyway, we stopped at a cafe where I ordered a beer, Denise ordered a tea and Mirinda ordered a gin and tonic. I was given a lovely cold beer, Denise was given a perfect cup of tea with milk and Mirinda was given a gallon of gin with a capful of tonic. To say the trip back to the hotel was hysterical would be putting far too fine a point on it.

Still, we managed it and had a short (two hour) siesta before heading out for dinner.

We spotted Corral del Agua the other night. It has an outside eating area inside a garden wall just off an alley. It looked most enticing. And tonight we ate there.

The food was lovely (particularly the refreshing gazpacho) and the wine excellent. I could have done without the two desserts but what can you do? I couldn’t let it go to waste when Denise declared she didn’t like hers.

We then had a final walk around the ever bustling late night streets of Seville before one final walk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we hit Jerez de la Frontera and adventures anew. But before that…here’s a short video I took in Italica at one of the mosaics.

Posted in Gary's Posts, Spain 2018 | 1 Comment

The famous hydraulic organ

Today was Alcazar day as far as we were concerned. Two years ago we tried to go to the Alcazar but the queue was horrendous and not worth joining. This time I bought tickets in advance. We still had to queue but for about ten minutes and we knew we’d get in.

Our plan had us going for coffee at 9-ish. I’d picked a place that I’ll swear had a sign outside yesterday saying it sold churros and chocolate (something Denise really wants to try). When I asked the waiter if they had churros he shook his head in a fashion that declared not only did they not sell churros but they had never sold churros in the 348 years they’d been open nor were they ever likely to sell them. We had coffee and tea instead.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the tapas place near the cathedral which has a permanent churros available here sign. Hopefully that will prove to be real rather than in my fevered imagination.

Having had some brain aid we sauntered down, walking with an air of superiority by the very long queue of non pre-booked tourists and joined the much shorter queue just outside the Lion Gate.

It was shortly before 9:30 so I told Mirinda and Denise they could go for a wander and I’d keep our space. They’d been gone about three minutes when the gates opened and the line started moving forward. I managed to contact Mirinda but Denise was nowhere to be seen. Mirinda then said she’d go and find her and no sooner had she disappeared than Denise turned up. It was one of those crazy things that are sent to try me.

Eventually we were once more together and started to move forwards. Then a woman in an official jacket scanned our tickets and told us to leave the line and wait for three minutes. I thought we were being given preferential treatment because I had a walking stick. I was wrong. We were early and had to wait for the 10am part of the queue to start.

Eventually we were through the gate, through the security, collected listening sticks and were into the beginning of the Alcazar. There was, as it turned out, very little hassle. We settled in for the next few hours.

The Real Alcazar de Sevilla is the extraordinary result of a continuous process of construction, destruction and adaptation of buildings which came as the consequence of historical developments.” Official Guidebook

The Alcazar was possibly started in 929AD by the then emir of Cordoba and bad boy of the Umayyad dynasty, Abd al-Rahman. He decided to dump the rest of the Islamic world and proclaimed his kingdom as the Caliphate of Cordoba which included Seville. He had built the so-called Governor’s Alcazar which was (possibly) the beginnings of what we see today.

Salon de Embajadores

There was a bit of peace for a while and then a sequence of invaders decided to take over lots of places in Andalucia including poor Seville. And so the Alcazar grew and fell and grew some more, was adapted, destroyed, rebuilt and redesigned many, many times over the centuries.

What remains is an amazing mish-mash and clash of styles that reek of the many inhabitants of the city over its long and almost always violent history. Thankfully the only violence at present comes from the thousands of tourists stepping on feet and posing for photos every few seconds.

Taken just before that little kid had a wee in the pool

The place reminded me of a little Alhambra (or an even smaller Forbidden City) in that it was all housed behind a huge wall to keep the hoi polloi out. Now the hoi polloi are allowed in to run rampant and they take complete and utter joy in doing just that.

Actually the Alcazar is still used as a royal residence. They live on the second floor. Because they were in today, we weren’t allowed to go upstairs. At least that’s what I reckon.

I could carry on for (digital) pages about the Alcazar but I’ll only talk about what was possibly my favourite bit: The Fuente de la Fama (the Fountain of Fame). The reason it is so special is because it plays music every hour and we just happened to accidentally be there when it did.

It is what’s called a fountain-organ. The music played every hour is generated by water flowing through various pipes. It’s sort of like a normal organ but uses water rather than air to make the noise.

Fountain-organs have been around a long time. The first known one was in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, invented and created by Ctesibius, a genius of Ancient Greece. The one at the Real Alcazar was built in the 17th century and is the only one still working in Spain and one of only four working in the entire world.

The entire mechanism was repaired and restored in 2006 and now the whole thing starts playing every hour, on the hour. There are rows of seats set out in front of the fountain, sort of like a church, and people start to gather, expectantly waiting. And then it starts. And it’s an absolute hoot.

The tune is unrecognisable and somewhat tinny but even so, it is brilliant. I just loved it. We sat and listened to the entire recital before moving on, everyone with smiles plastered on their faces.

A wonderful fact about the organ is that there is only one person in the entire world who has the ability to fix it if it breaks down. He is a Brit called Rodney Briscoe so I’m wondering whether they’ll let him fix it post-Brexit.

I thought I’d taken a video of the fountain in action but, unfortunately and due to terrible planning, my phone was full. The situation has since been rectified but it doesn’t help me much. However, below is a link to someone else’s video on Youtube so at least the sound can be heard. It goes on for over four minutes. There’s no need to listen for that long.

According to the guidebook, the organ plays two pieces of music from the period. One is a religious piece while the other is right off the hit parade and called Glosa al canto Ilano. That really had us tapping our toes, I can tell you.

We spent a lot of time in the Real Alcazar, wandering to and fro, getting in as many photos as possible, dodging the huge tour groups as they swept into rooms and out the other side in an effort to see as much as humanly possible in the shortest time.

One tour group is the infamous Tour Group #2. The group is so large you can wait at least half an hour before you can safely cross a path they are on. Diabolical. I know because I ran foul of them while trying to take a photo. I never did get to take the photo though I stood, ready for over an hour.

However, not even the efforts of the awful Tour Group 2 could dampen my ardour for the Real Alcazar. I quite simply loved it.

I also loved the tapas we then indulged in at a small cafe on the road that leads down to the cathedral. As well as some delicious and varied tapas, Denise and Mirinda had a bucket of sangria each while I devoured an ice cold beer.

After a jolly good foot rest and tummy fill, we headed slowly and meandering back to the hotel for our now traditional siesta though we did stop for an ice cream from the worst sales woman in Seville. I was amazed how abrupt and rude she was. Still, the ice cream was yum.

Back at the hotel we had our siesta while Denise braved the streets of Seville. We were worried about her being on her own in a strange city but we hadn’t figured on her running into the always helpful Polly. Okay Dennis was with her but he was quiet and therefore didn’t managed to confuse things with his usual talk about famous queues he’s joined.

With Polly as a navigation aid, Denise managed to do some shopping of some kind then successfully found the hotel again in time for a siesta of her own.

Tonight Mirinda had found us a jazz club. It is a very small jazz club though it’s surprising exactly how small a jazz club can actually be and still be a jazz club. We walked over via streets we’d never been down. It was all fascinating.

The shops had all opened after siesta and the streets were abuzz with people dodging taxis and scooters. Groups, singles, couples, everyone was awake and roaming the streets of Seville. It was wonderful feeling a part of such a night full of life.

We found the jazz club but it was yet to open so we had a drink in a nearby bar, sitting outside enjoying the football and the passing populace. This part of the city was very much awake and enjoying it. After our single drinks we headed back to the jazz club which was now open and empty.

For some reason we thought the jazz club served food but, on close inspection this proved not to be so. Apart from it being remarkably small, there appeared to be nothing but a bar, three tables, four bar stools and a floor. There was also a rather strange smell.

Mirinda wrinkled her nose and we all went next door to the Middle Eastern restaurant and had a fantastic meal of various Lebanese, Jordanian and Moroccan food. Denise also had another five gallons of sangria to wash it all down with.

The food was lovely as were the serving staff. It was all very friendly and in sharp contrast to the jazz club which we popped a head in before deciding there was no room (there were already eight people and the band and the bar man there) and headed back to the hotel through the still busy streets.

There was a bit of a treat for Denise on the way back. We stopped at the Giralda tower to show her the lights. It always looks particularly good at night.

Then, finally, back to the hotel. Tomorrow is our Roman day with a trip out to Italica. Hopefully it won’t be as hot as today.

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An excess of dead flying ants

There’s a lot to be said for queuing but there’s even more to be said about having a holiday that consists of more than standing in lines in the blazing sun. Today we had a lot of one and saw too much of the other. Not that we were in any queues. Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know that I do not do queues!

The beauty of going to places that not many people have ever heard of is that queues are unlikely. Or they consist of about five people, four of whom are lost.

And so it was this morning when we visited the Hospital de la Caridad.

Mirinda in the church

We strolled in and wandered around without any form of queue whatsoever. And the place was excellent. Lots of lovely Murillo artworks (Mirinda claimed we’ve now had enough art for the whole trip) and religious iconography scattered around with bits of Moorish influence to underline the changes in style.

The founder of the hospital was a chap called Don Miguel Manara. There are two stories about his early life. The official Catholic version has him being a good saintly chap who, when his wife died was so devastated that he pledged his riches and life to serving the poor by carrying them to a hospital he founded.

That story is all well and good, however, the real story is somewhat different.

Don Miguel Manara was a bit of a wild boy and he was the inspiration for Byron’s Don Juan. He decided, having seen an opera at the age of 14 to go out and make love to a woman, any woman and he found that he liked it. He spent the next 20 odd years carousing around the world having sex, fighting duels, killing people indiscriminately, basically having a damn good time and to hell with the consequences.

Then, one night, returning from a particularly entertaining orgy, Don Miguel happened to be coming down the Coffin Road (the road via which the charitable people would carry the deceased destitute who couldn’t afford funerals) when suddenly he was stunned by a vision. He was confronted by a group carrying a coffin within which his body resided.

No doubt he turned whiter than he probably already was and vowed, there and then, not only to straighten out his crooked ways but to also build and maintain a hospital for the poor. And so began the Hospital de la Caridad.

I reckon the second version is much better and far more likely to be true. The reason for the sanitised version is, I think, because when it came time for the canonisation of Don Miguel, the brothers of the local chapter decided to cleanse his past a bit before attributing any miracles to him. As we all know the Vatican doesn’t mind the pontiff being extremely hypocritical but saints are another matter entirely.

There’s not a lot to see of the hospital given it’s actually still a hospital and I don’t think the old destitute patients really want people looking at them being sick in their beds. Still, what there is to see is well worth it.

The church is full of some amazing paintings. The Murillo’s are superb especially the two huge ones that have recently been restored. Instead of being high up on the wall and very difficult to see, the restored originals are presently completed and sitting at floor level in a special room while copies are in situ in the church. As Denise pointed out, it means we can see them really close up, sort of like the Painted Ceiling in Greenwich which we had to climb the scaffold to see late last year.

Detail of Moses striking the rock to make water by Murillo, late 17th century

Sadly I didn’t manage to get a photo of the comedy camel at the other end of the photo above though I think Mirinda did so that may get included in some later post.

One more art thing…Murillo’s depictions of children always seem to be full of life and joy (I’m ignoring the one of a kid with ringworm I saw in the church) just as most people want children to be. The child on the horse and the young girl holding the jug above are perfect examples.

I hadn’t heard of Murillo before our last visit to Seville but I’ve grown to be quite fond of his work and rather enjoyed this renewal of our acquaintance.

We were tempted to go to the bullring after the hospital but were in desperate need of refreshment so, instead, we headed down to the riverside and a small but convenient kiosk. I noticed it was just passed beer o’clock so I had a delightfully cold one while Mirinda had coffee and Denise had tea.

The tea was a bit of a battle to get, almost as bad as the one she had this morning after her morning coffee was too strong. We’ve tried to tell waiting staff she likes it weak but they never understand. They even fail to understand the Spanish for weak coffee. Tea is a different kettle of problems. They aren’t really particularly knowledgeable when it comes to leafy stuff. Still, she managed to get what she wanted, eventually.

After our refreshments and rather than go to the bullring (after I’d almost convinced them that the building behind us was a theatre and not the bullring) we decided to go on a cruise up the river which is always delightful.

And so we did. We even managed to run into Polly while we were there.

On the boat with Polly

Polly told us that she’d left Dennis in the queue for the bullring because she figured he’d be there for the full hour the cruise took and she might as well enjoy the breeze in her hair rather than the heat from the cobbles on her feet.

I asked her how they’d managed yesterday. She said that after the five hour queue at the Alcazar, they then switched across the plaza to queue at the cathedral for a further three hours. She said she managed to see a lot of people. When I asked where they’d eaten she said they didn’t. The queue for the restaurant was too long and by the time they reached the door, the place closed for the night.

In the meanwhilst, the boat slowly chugged up then down the river, the voices from the speakers telling us about the bridges across it. Last time we were in Seville we took the boat cruise and it’s nice to see that some things just never change. It was fortunate we’d forgotten all about the bridges because it was important to relearn. Especially the fact that one of the bridges is in the Guinness Book of Records. We still don’t know why.

Not the record bridge

Back on land, we headed for the Rio Grande restaurant for some much needed sustenance. We ordered more food than we needed then sat back and ate it. The starters were fine. Denise and Mirinda’s meals were fine. My main meal was very, very long in arriving…though after arrival it was actually really nice.

Mr Grumpy from Madrid, our waiter, had forgotten to add my salmon dish to the overall order. He told us it would take two minutes. While everyone scoffed at this extraordinary fast turnaround, inside I was hoping it would take a little bit longer than that in order to cook properly. 

It took at least 15 minutes and was cooked perfectly.

We left the restaurant after about three and a half hours and headed for the Triana Bridge (the one designed by Monsieur Eiffel) in order to cross over to the bullring. This took longer than expected because the bridge was not where it was supposed to be.

While it was quite a distance, it did give me a splendid opportunity to admire the vast quantity of dead flying ants littering everywhere. There were quite a few live ones in the terrace restaurant but along the path it was like a full scale, genocidal massacre. It was almost as if some evil power had left the decimated Ant Air Force along the banks of the river as a warning to any other foolish invading force. Wasps perhaps or stick insects.

I cannot find anything that can explain this density of slaughter except that flying ant swarms tend to increase in magnitude during the hotter months and this year had been a rather warm one. Whatever the reason, there were a lot of little dead bodies all over the riverside footpath.

And of course, by the time we reached the bullring, there was a long queue (we didn’t see Dennis so we figured he’d gone to find another, longer queue) so we decided an ice cream was a much better option. So we strolled (very slowly) up to the little area where we went to see the Flamenco last time and Denise bought us all ice cream cones. They certainly beat standing in a queue, particularly given the heat of the day.

By the time we’d finished slurping our delights, it was time to return to the hotel for our siesta.

Well worth the wait

After this obligatory siesta we headed out at 8:30pm for a small tapas dinner. I was given the choice so I selected Peko Peko, a Spanish/Peruvian fusion tapas place not far from the hotel. And I’m so glad I did.

Mind you, things did not look particularly promising when Mirinda and Denise ordered cocktails only to be told that they couldn’t make any because of staff issues. Mirinda looked like she was going to have a jolly good argument with them but the cute as a button waitress managed to remain unscathed and we set about eating some delicious food.

And I managed to have some paella. Most of the time you can only get it for two but at Peko Peko you can have a small tapas version for one. I do love a paella. And I certainly loved this one. It went perfectly with my Iberian ham. And Peruvian beer.

As most people who know me know, I always like to try a country’s beer when eating their food so it only seemed natural to have a bottle (or two) of Cusquena, a delightfully crisp golden lager. Perfect on a hot night.

While at Peko Peko Mirinda and Denise had a grand old time studying a couple sitting directly behind me. They were both stuck to their phones. She was even playing a game at one stage. They barely put them down to eat. We wondered if they were texting each other or, I posited, Facetiming each other across the table.

There were many theories as to their story but, basically, they appeared to prefer the company of their phones to each other. Given they were both married (perhaps to each other) it seems a little bit sad. Someone should tell them that human contact is nothing to be afraid of. But not me because I don’t really care.

After dinner we went for a meandering, getting-lost kind of walk which managed to take us through some sort of space/time warp thing enabling us to cross the city without actually doing it. It was most strange. Mirinda took complete credit for this impossible feat of navigation. We didn’t argue, it was just very, very weird.

Denise trying to lift her usual bucket of alcohol
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Bad weather red alert

Mirinda decided to test the strength of her forehead this evening. Walking through the labyrinthine tunnel network at our hotel in Seville, she stopped to look at a display of statues in a small glass shop.

The glass was very thick and she was closer than she thought and she headbutted the thick, immovable glass. It hurt. A lot. However, the glass came off worse. Mirinda had managed to give it a hair line fracture. Extraordinary.

But that was on the way to the piano bar many hours after we all woke bright and early, ready to walk up to Malaga station. At first Mirinda and Denise didn’t believe it was actually 07:30 because it was way too dark. Mirinda accused me of being ridiculous and Denise figured her watch was lying. I knew it was 07:30 because…well, because it was.

So, we headed off.

According to Google Maps, the station was an eight minute walk. Given my inability to walk very fast, I figured it would probably take more like 16. And so it did.

We found a much needed cafe (we ignored the Dunkin’ Donuts option and not just because they can’t spell) and had some life affirming coffee before heading for the train.

There was the usual check in and scanning, pat down and extensive interview by the National Police before we were allowed to enter the space before the trains. Mirinda and Denise went off to the loo while I waited with the bags, refusing to sit down because the numerous seats did not include a power-your-mobile via USB option. (Cheap bastards.)

The Rita Hayworth Station, Malaga

The train was very comfortable and, apart from the guy who kept asking Denise if it went to Seville and which coach he was in, quite normal. We crossed the country, through all kinds of weather (at one point a vicious storm blotted out the view entirely) before stopping in Cordoba for a bit then, finally, into Seville.

I have a feeling that the vicious storm had just visited Seville because when we arrived, everything was very wet and black, ominous clouds were slowly leaving, shame written large on their faces. (A little later a coach driver’s smartphone told me that the Plaza de Espana was closed because of a red storm alert which I think says it all. Incidentally, it was open again by the time we reached it so we did see it.)

We checked into our favourite hotel (Casa de la Juderia) and were instantly upgraded. I can only assume this is because I am extremely nice to service staff. Denise was given the maid’s room that is attached to our rather extensive suite. Her room was not quite ready so she left her bag in ours and we headed out in search of food.

It’s a little known fact that there’s a boundary between breakfast and lunch in Seville. Well, little known to me before today. In yet another instance of me not listening to my wife, I suggested we eat first and walk later. Unfortunately this meant having to have breakfast because the invisible boundary seems to occur at around 12:30.

On the boundary, the staff go crazy, changing tables, chairs, cutlery; shooshing people away until they’re all ready. It’s quite a flurry. I guess had we walked first and ate second, we would never have seen the flurry. It was very impressive, particularly when it’s happening around you.

Properly chastened, I let Denise pay and we headed through the back streets before finding the cathedral which was exactly where I’d said it would be. (Apparently if you filled it with beer it would be fuller than any other cathedral on earth.)

The streets were remarkably crowded, phones held high everywhere. You almost couldn’t see for the screens. And horses! There were so many horses and carriages we just had to get in one merely to escape the crowds. Also, Denise had never been on a carriage ride so how could we not?

We then spent a lovely time clip clopping through some back streets and some very busy front streets, around buildings and through the park before reaching the wonderful Plaza de Espana which was no longer closed because of the red alert.

It looked beautiful beneath the mostly blue sky, and was very, very crowded. Having been before, I reckon the best way to see it on such a crowded day is from the back of a carriage.

We then continued back to where we’d started, right by the enormous queue for the Alcazar (we have tickets for Tuesday so there’ll be very little queuing for us.)

Actually it was in the queue for the Alcazar that we saw Polly and Dennis. For reasons known only to him Dennis rather enjoys standing in a queue for four hours waiting for the thing he’s queuing for to close so he can then continue on to something else. I’m fairly certain that Polly doesn’t agree but what can she do? I think their relationship is such that she is just happy enough to be carried along with whatever he says.

I have a feeling we might run into Polly and Dennis a few times during this holiday but, for now, here’s a short video of Denise’s first horse and carriage ride. (She made Mirinda swear we wouldn’t canoodle.)

Shortly after that video was shot, we ran into a guy trying to get out of a parking spot that was smaller than his car. He decided to leave the car there. There was also a dead cat which Mirinda unsuccessfully tried to avoid seeing by holding her iPhone at just the right height and angle. We were stopped in this street for quite a while.

Having missed out on the beginning of beer time, we headed for a little place we may have visited last time we were in Seville for beer and tapas. It was lovely sitting under the umbrellas as the sun beat down, drying the previously soaked streets. We clearly came to Seville at the right time.

Finally we headed back to the hotel for our Spanish siesta. 

The view from our room

Eventually we headed off for a cocktail in the piano bar (Mirinda trying to break the glass wall on the way) before heading off for dinner. We wandered the narrow streets of the Barrio Santa Cruz until we found a place we visited last time and settled down to dinner.

On the way we saw a rather strange sight. A man in a white doctor’s coat was standing just back from his window stirring something in a cup while people stared into his room. The man in the coat was staring right back at the people outside. It was quite weird.

Later, on our way back, he was still there but this time was sitting at a dining table playing with a remote. I don’t know what it all means.

Another wonderful surprise was running into the white Mary on the way back. A Taiwanese lady asked me who she was. I told her it was Mary, mother of Jesus wearing a big white dress being carried around the streets before heading back home for the night.

She was very happy, praising god for letting her be there just at the right time to see her.

Posted in Gary's Posts, Spain 2018 | Leave a comment

David Ratinbrough

We need a dedicated calendar that shows when the half term hell happens. Imagine my horror when I discovered our plane to Malaga was not just full but it was full of kids and their exasperated parents.

I felt sorry for the poor BA staff aboard the plane who had to almost continually tell the kids to sit and buckle up during the takeoff and landing. Pity really because I was kind of looking forward to seeing them flying around the cabin.

Actually the flight was delayed a bit because something happened to the original pilot (half term angst maybe) and the replacement had to be summoned to take the captain’s seat.

He told us all about it as we sat on the tarmac. He was quite jolly for someone who, two hours ago, had been sitting at home watching the wrestling. Mirinda said he should stop being so jolly and just fly the bloody plane. Eventually he did and we all had a reasonable flight to Spain.

Apart from the delay, the whole morning had been smooth and problem free. Carol turned up on time and delivered us to terminal 5 with time to spare. My walking stick allowed us a quicker trip through security than most people and eventually we were sat, waiting for our gate.

We had wanted to get a drink at a bar but that proved impossible because of inefficient staff and people too rude to queue. We just sat instead.

Arriving at Malaga we eventually left the hordes behind us, including one incredibly awful woman who Denise managed to deliberately on purpose, cut up at the airport exit.

We jumped into a cab which delivered us to our cool and funky hotel in downtown Malaga.

Picasso the fish painting the room yellow

After a short rest we headed out for dinner.

The first few recommended restaurants were packed, the next restaurant we came to had a waiting time of an hour so we settled on an interesting Spanish-Japanese fusion place called El Imperdible.

The food was imaginative and delicious. It was also quite beautiful.

My ox tail dumplings were amazing.

Denise’s barrel of vodka was quite extraordinary. I’m surprised they didn’t just put the lemonade into the bottle of vodka and be done with it. She staggered all the way back to the hotel.

Fortunately the storms announced by our pilot did not eventuate and we remained dry and warm.

The title comes courtesy of a fellow passenger telling his companion that it would be an excellent name for his pet rat.

Postscript

Today saw an estimated 750,000 people march through London asking for a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal we really don’t want. It was extraordinary.

Posted in Gary's Posts, Spain 2018 | Leave a comment