Andalusia and Madrid

Susan and I were both smitten by Spain.

I found a great deal r/t to Madrid on Air  Canada on $550 each, the cheapest fare I've seen to Europe in decades. Perhaps this was aided by leaving on a Tuesday? Or flying just after the busy summer season? Anyway, I pounced. Air Canada turned out to be a great airline and flying through Toronto a delight. We even got an entire row of three seats in the middle of the plane for extra room. I managed a couple hours of shuteye on the overnight flight, a rarity.

Arriving in Madrid before 8am we had reserved a train to Seville at 11am. We took a bus into Madrid which dropped us conveniently at the train station. Turns out that we *could* have caught the 9 am train, so quickly did we exit the airport and quickly get to town via the bus/shuttle (about 30 minutes to the station). We briefly considered checking on changing our tickets. Instead we checked our bags and went out into morning hubbub for a cup of coffee. We were quite tired and didn't see much though I spied the popular 24-hour Cafe El Brilliante and we stopped in there for a Madrid specialty, a fried calamari sandwich.

Spain has excellent super fast trains, and we hit 200 mph en route to Seville, pulling out of Madrid's Atocha Station at 11 am. Madrid's splendid, regal city gave way to the usual orbital high rises, but soon we were out passing verdant plains, then rugged, dry, mountainous country. After 2 1/2 hours we were in Seville.

We opted for a taxi for the 10-minute drive to our hotel. Our first hotel, El Ray Moro, was a bit of a splurge and charming as all get out, its entry leading to one of those open courtyards, with a fountain in the middle, with three stories of rooms on three sides of the courtyard.
Ours was one flight up, small but cute with a fine foam mattress, which we hit for rest. But travel adrenaline soon kicked in for me so I went out for a walk while Susan rested.

The old center of Seville is a warren of narrow streets-- "kissing lanes"-- that remain cool even in the height of summer. They are, however, challenging to navigate; they didn't know from grids in the 9th century I guess. But I walked off in several directions for a few minutes, returning to the hotel after each brief foray, in an attempt to get the lay of the land. One way brought me to a good spice shop where I engaged the proprietess. I returned there with Susan a bit later and we bought some smoked paprika, saffron, and their version of the Moroccan mix, ras al hanout (which translates as "best in shop," each merchant's propriatory blend, and essential in the soups and tagines we both enjoy).

Spain is not short on bars, cafes and restaurants, and when asked where she enjoyed a drink and a bite the woman in the spice shop sent us around the corner to the wonderful Bodega Santa Cruz, which became our regular spot for a couple of nights. Small, crowded, vibrant, the food was average at best but the conviviality couldn't be beat. (The delightful bartender Angelita asked my name for the tab; I gave her my initials thinking they'd be easier than my name. A week later, when we returned to Seville for one night and beat a path there for some bites and brews I walked in and she shouted "DC!")
It's the only place on the trip that we visited where they did the old-fashioned writing the food and drink tabs directly on the bar with chalk:
Refreshed, we walked, ate, drank in this wonderfully pedestrian, historic neighborhood, awed by the massive Cathedral, built in the 13th century by men who wanted to be remembered as "mad" for their massive ambition. As always, built on the foundation and remains of the mosque it replaced (itself built on the foundations of a Roman temple)-- though incorporating the minaret-- it is indeed gothically gorgeous:
Now daytime:

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