Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Andalucia - Land of 10,000 Churches

Alright! An entire month in Spain; or, to be more precise, Andalucia. Southern Spain. Well, why not? Nothing to keep me in Budapest these days other than friends and social gatherings. Time to go sightseeing again, only this time for a somewhat longer period. Get to know the cities and people, take it easy seeing everything instead of rushing through a short weekend visit. So, okay, southern Spain it is.
On the Internet I found a flat rental agency that found me what turned out to be a really nice bedroom in a shared apartment in Seville. The young couple living there were the owner’s younger brother and his girlfriend. Nice kids. Plus their small black cocker spaniel Jacko. We basically passed each other during the month, as we were each mostly out of the flat when the others were in. Easy living.
Anyway, the First Week. After an afternoon flight and a four-hour layover in Lisbon, I arrived in Seville around 12:15 in the morning of April 25. A helpful taxi driver took me to the flat I had rented for the month on Calle Florencio Quintero, just north and outside of the “ring road” that circles the main part of Seville. I met my landlord, and got settled in to my bedroom, which consisted of a bed, wardrobe, desk and chair. Space was available for me in the refrigerator and bathroom, but I had to bring my own towel.
The next day, Sunday, was Sort Out Day, when I figured out what was what and how things worked and got myself orientated. Armed with an Internet Map, I walked into the center of town. Naturally, it was raining. Happy holidays! Anyway, first thing to do was figure out the buses and pick up a bus pass, a bonobus, which got me ten rides for six euros, half the single-ride price. I bought my pass at a newsstand, or Prensa. Turned out my flat was only two short blocks from a bus stop. Excellent. The rain finally let up late morning, so I had an early snack, then caught the Hop On Hop Off bus tour to see where everything was.
After that, it was lunch in the Barrio Santa Cruz, a small area next to the Alcazar palace, filled with narrow winding streets, tourist shops and restaurants. I also visited the Tourist Information Center on Avenida Constitucion and got some good local maps and lots of information about the places I wanted to visit. Extremely helpful Tourist Info people; they even had maps and information about other cities in southern Spain.
I had some tapas and beer at Bar Giralda near the Cathedral – pulpos asado (octopus Galician style), langostinos al ajo (prawns with garlic sauce), pimientos asados langostinos (roast peppers and shrimp).
The next day, Monday, I did some early food shopping, to stock my minuscule larder for the coming days. I also still had some of my bus tour left, so took it again and got off at the Maria Luisa gardens and the Plaza Espana, both of which were beautiful. Got some stamps at the Correos for my mandatory postcards, and had lunch at Boston Burger – paella with seafood. Mmmm. Got lost in the Barrio Santa Cruz – which is easy, as it contains lots of nooks and crannies, hidden tiny plazas, tapas bars and shops. Supposedly the literary character Don Juan lived here. Also saw the Tabaclero, the tobacco factory which was the setting for Carmen. Had a snack and took my siesta around 3 PM, then went to Flaherty’s Irish pub for more tapas. This restaurant/pub was one of the few places that served food and tapas right through the siesta hours. Most places closed between 3 and 8 PM, so it’s difficult to find food for early diners. At any rate, I had some tasty prawns, garlic mushrooms, bread and cider.
The week continued with morning walks into town via a different route each day. One day I passed some Roman columns and then I visited the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold). I also managed to purchase my bullfight tickets and toured the Bullring’s museum. Lunch was, naturally, more tapas and beer. Yummy. During this first week I was also looking for the guy I was told to find – Al – Al Cazar. Turned out it’s a palace and gardens in the heart of Seville. One day there was no afternoon line at the Alcazar palace, so I walked right in for my free tour – I’m a Pensionista!
It was nice, great gardens and interesting interiors. Of course, all the decorations were made by the Moors and the Muslim religion doesn’t allow the depiction of people or animals or any living things, so the decorations are all repetitive squiggles. Really boring, nothing to catch and hold the eye. After a late afternoon snack of tapas at Flaherty’s, I wandered over to the bull ring around 5:30 or so on Tuesday. Had a beer at a crowded pub just behind the bullring, then bought a seat cushion on the way in (which was sorely needed, as I found out).
The nearby bars were packed with drinking men, many of whom were outfitted in their Caballero and Gaucho costumes. They were accompanied by women decked out in their flamenco dresses for the Feria de Abril (April Fair). The Seville Plaza de Toros, the oldest bullring in the world, holds 13-14,000 people. I found my seat and put my cushion down, being careful to situate it directly over the number on the cement. As the ring filled up, an older man eased in next to me, looked down at my cushion and, as he babbled at me in his machine-gun Spanish, he assertively bent down and adjusted my cushion, moving it one inch toward me. How those people can talk so fast in that heat I’ll never know.
But I did find out why the bullring’s seating space is so tightly regulated by the fans: if you put twice as many sardines in a can as usual, that was what it was like sitting in that bullring. Talk about squashed together! Anyway, I made two new friends very quickly. I barely had room to raise my arms and take photos. Plus many of the men seemed to think it was macho at the bullfights to smoke cigars – yucchh! The fights themselves were okay that night, but there were too many bad bulls, and only one good matador out of the six fights, but it was still a fun experience. Everything finished around 9:30 PM, and I headed home as I was going on my first bus trip in the morning.
On Wednesday, April 29, I caught an early bus to Ronda, one of the White Cities. These cities are mostly built in the hills and are generally painted white. Ronda was no exception, except that, spanning the gap between the old and new parts of the city, it has a “new” bridge (built in the 18th century). The small city was mostly just pretty touristy. I looked in vain for the pub frequented by Miguel de Cervantes, but to no avail. I finally had lunch at a nice restaurant on a side street. I thought I may have sat in Cervantes’ chair, even though mine was decidedly plastic. Ah, well. I bussed back to Seville around 5:30.
The next day I checked out the Triana district, across the river from the main part of Seville. Then I followed some guidebook advice and went to the Casa Antonio for lunch, where I ordered the recommended dish of caracoles, which are teeny tiny little snails, the biggest of which were about the size of my thumbnail. I actually ate 155 of these minuscule snacks; yep, I counted them just to be sure. The restaurant, as does most of them in Seville, brought out a bread basket without my ordering, so naturally I presumed it was free. Silly me, nothing is free in Seville. They charged me for it, as did all of the other restaurants in town. Tacky. That night was karaoke night at Flaherty’s, so naturally I joined in, rocking and rolling with the oldies. Karaoke bars love new singers, so I was welcomed with open beer taps.
After the May 1 holiday, during which everything was closed, I managed to sort out my future Alhambra visit on the Internet and then did the Torre de Oro. It was only one euro, and the museum of old ships and paraphernalia was interesting, but the view from the top of this circular riverside tower made the climb worthwhile. I had another paella lunch near the Catedral, took my siesta, then headed off for my Famenco evening at El Tablao Arenal. Damn, those people work hard at their dancing and singing and guitar strumming. Sweat popped off their faces as they stomped and twirled around the stage, but it was curiously unmoving, at least for me. Just a lot of stomping and banging and noise. Guess I’ll never be Spanish.
May 3, Sunday, was a perfect day for the Arab Baths. After an early lunch of tapas, I headed off for my aromatherapy and massage and general sybarite’s delight at the well-hidden Arab Baths in central Seville. I love these places, and visit them wherever I can, and this one was no disappointment. Moody, soft lighting, warm/hot/cold pools, resting areas and a wonderful massage that left me tingly and relaxed. A great experience, leaving me rested and ready for the rest of my vacation.


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