Friday, September 12, 2008

Labor Day in the South of Spain

Having heard so many good things about the Andalucia region (South of Spain), Jim & I decided to have ourselves a tourist weekend before heading on to our regional partner meetings.
Our arrival was non-eventful except that our luggage didn’t land with us. Being the experienced travelers we are, we took this snag in stride and headed off to check out the city. We knew about the afternoon “siesta” but had no idea just how serious it was! Seville was a ghost town at 4pm, all the shops were closed up and all the streets basically deserted. Thankfully our hotel was still functioning so we were able to get in our rooms and freshen up, before heading back out into the quiet streets to wait for the city to wake up again.
We walked to bar Gran Tino in the Plaza de la Alfalfa and although it didn’t have the interesting range of refreshments or great people watching that our guidebook promised, it did have sangria, which was all we really needed after a travel day with lost bags.
After the sangria had worked it’s magic we walked on to El Rinconcillo, the city’s oldest taberna (bar) and the place that invented the tapa. Since dinner time – 10pm in Spain – was still a long ways off we ordered some tapas of manchego cheese, chorizo sausage, and jamón (regional ham) that was sliced from the dried legs of meat hanging from the ceiling. Not the prettiest site, but it sure was tasty!
We had a dinner of seafood paella & delicious red wine just in front of La Giralda, a grand tower building in the late 1100s that is known as the symbol of Seville.
The next day we were still luggage-less so we went on a morning shopping spree for bad tourist outfits and toothpaste! We ran into our boss, Gerry and his wife, Christina, who were also taking advantage of some site-seeing opportunity before our meetings, and made a plan to meet up for dinner. The rest of the evening was pretty low key, Jim was extremely disappointed that no bull fights were going on, but I managed to persuade him that a flamenco show the next night would be just the right alternative.
Our third day in Seville, we finally made it to the major sites, and in our own clothes. The Real Alcazar, a beautiful, Moorish style (there are lots of Arabic influences in the region since South of Spain is so close to Morocco) palace, was our first stop and it did not disappoint. The architecture and detailed carvings throughout were just amazing. We went on to check out the Cathedral, the biggest highlight was getting to see Christopher Columbus’s magnificent crypt.
We had our fill of Seville after 3 days, so we decided to take a road trip to Granada to see the famed Alhambra, a huge complex of the best-preserved medieval palaces in the world and the most popular tourist attraction in Spain. We had no problems driving ourselves there but once in the city it was a little shaky. Stopped at a red light, we were hailed down by a uniformed man on a motorcycle, thinking it was the police we immediately tensed but all was well when we realized this guy was actually a Tourist Guide coming to help us. How he knew we were from out of town is a mystery!
After we had settled into the hotel we took off on foot to see for ourselves what the big fuss was about with the Alhambra. It’s too bad we didn’t realize there was a bus and instead took the mile hike up a mountainside, but once we got there it was absolutely incredible. It was like the Real Alcazar x10 and with some phenomenally beautiful and tranquil gardens with unbelievable views of the Sierra Nevada region.
The final day of our site seeing we took a morning walk to the Sacromonte Gypsy Caves that we had read about. We were so disappointed that we didn’t have the energy to go to them the night before, because it was clear that some very authentic nightlife (flamenco, singing, fiestas, etc.) goes on here. Although eerily quiet in the morning, it still presented some awesome views of the Alhambra.
Our drive to our meetings took us down the southern coast of the Spanish Mediterranean and offered even more breathtaking views of the mountains, ocean, Spanish villages, etc. We were very lucky to find a beach club restaurant right on the water to have our lunch, it provided just the right amount of relaxation before going back to work mode just a few hours later!

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