Spain, Seville – It is the festive season (allegedly)

Ok I’ve tried very hard to ignore it but I have reached the point where I can no longer deny that it is that time of year again. And while we often think of the Northern European take on the festive season they do make rather a big splash with it in Seville too – and the main craft market doesn’t even open until next week! So what does Yuletide look like in Seville?

Nativity scenes at every turn and a nativity market where as you can see there are even babies for sale – had me in stitches. (Barbara – I can see you already sending me an email and asking me to pick up a few samples!)

Decorations are a must – they look great during the day

And at night – with sudden influx of crowds but only for one weekend and sanity has resumed again!

And then there are the shop windows and things that appeared in the hallway of my apartment block

So that’s the only acknowledgement – I think – unless I see anything as funny as the babies……. Have a good one however you spend it xxx

Spain, Seville – doing some usual and not so usual touristy things – River Cruise, Convent, Cadiz and St Nicholas Night and a little flamenco in the street.

The nice thing about staying in a place for a month is that you get time to visit the less obvious places in and around the city – so that’s what I’ve been doing a bit of while in Seville.

Still beautiful weather so decided to do the tourist one hour boat on the Guadalquivir River and see the sights from a different angle.

This shows the theatre and bull ring and also the rather odd and singular skyscraper in Seville. Nothing is supposed to be taller than the Giralda Tower but somehow this one got through a few years ago – very controversial. I assume some money changed hands somewhere along the way?

Until relatively recently there was only one bridge across the river – so the boat men made a killing – but now there are 7 of them. Top right was designed in the Eiffel school style – the others were build for the 1992 Expo.

The Golden Tower by the river seems to have many myths attached to it including that it once actually housed gold. I don’t think so. As you can see it is certainly not made of or covered in gold. I think the second pic has the answer as when it is reflected in the river it looks like liquid gold.

Thanks to my friend Sue I found a tucked away monastery – which actually is full of nuns – but anyway it was a delightful place that I nearly missed. It is called the Monasterio Santa Paula and has a church, museum, peaceful garden and the nuns sell their cookies and jam – very common in Spain and much prized. Yet another nice quiet corner in Seville

Also took the bus – yes really I am becoming very good at them – to Cadiz – 1.45 minutes from Seville. At last I got to see the sea -seems strange to be in Spain for this long and not to see it. It has a nice cathedral (simpler than most but no pics allowed) and it was pleasant to stroll along the beachside waterfront. It also has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. I ate some great tapas but other than that – not the most exciting spot.

On my return from Cadiz, Seville was in mayhem as a million people appeared to have descended on the place – turns out it was St Nicholas Day Night – so lots going on plus this is a holiday weekend for constitution Day so no doubt more to follow but here is a taste.

And finally it is hard to go anywhere without seeing a bit of flamenco. I was especially taken with this lady – her dancing and her dress

Spain, a weekend in Seville

If you’ve ever contemplated a long weekend in Seville – and you absolutely should – here is what my friend Sue and I managed over the last three days. It was great.

First up – a walking tour of Hidden Seville – which involved heading into the old moorish quarter of the city. Once a no go zone and while still gritty become more gentrified as more tourists start to visit. A real community spirit here too with a lot of communal living and focus on music and the traditional arts.

Next stop was to go inside the architectural sculpture that is the Metropole Parasol. Controversial when it opened less than 10 years ago it is not a must see in Seville and it is different again once you are inside and walking around it. Definitely the architect was influenced by Gaudi.

An evening walk into Triana – over the bridge was next on the agenda. The walk involved tapas tasting in some tiny and authentic bars as well as a flamenco show (no pics allowed). Excellent evening.

Day 2 and the first stop was a tour of the Alcazar Palace and adjoining Gardens and for Sue the Cathedral too. The two most viewed buildings in Seville and for good reason. Try to book a timed ticket for early access to avoid crowds. Like many buildings in Andalucia all the artwork and design is mudeja- Muslim design and architecture including mosques which were subsequently taken over by the Catholics who rather than pulling them down (thank goodness) added a cross and bell tower above the minarets and a few coats of arms around the place – and then declared them Christian! Excellent decision in my view and great example of recycling and using skilled local artisans.

After an excellent Middle eastern meal, day 3 started with a tour of the bullring which has been around since 1760. This is a well used arena right by the Guadalquivir River which is used about 30 times a year for bull fights. The tour also includes access to a museum.

Then as the weather was so lovely – a walk though Maria Luisa Park to the Plaza Espana originally designed for the 1928 Ibero-American Expo and still in amazing condition. Each tiled alcove represents a different province in Spain and the key is to find one that matches what you are wearing and then take a photo!!

So for anyone wondering – yes it is worth coming over for a long weekend. Definitely.

Thanks Sue for making it extra fun

Spain, Granada and the Alhambra Palace – two days of gaspworthy sites. (Best viewed on ipad or larger device)

Last time I visited the Alhambra I was in my 20s and it was a very crowded and a very hot day trip with no time to see the town of Granada. This time I travelled by bus from Seville – 3 hours – and spent two nights there (at the excellent Eurostars Washington Iriving Hotel) which gave me plenty of time to explore both to my heart’s content. November is a great time to visit – comfortable walking temperatures, clear skies, far less tourists and snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance (a place where snow belongs as far as I’m concerned).

From my hotel I could walk through the forest by the Alhambra into town. Autumn comes much later here so the colours were a bonus. Like Seville, although festive decorations are up nothing has been switched on yet – it is after all still November! Very civilised. The town of Granada is a decent size and there are nice walks in the modern parts and the old Jewish and Moorish quarters.

Next on to the iconic Alhambra Palace – right outside my hotel. It is hard to realise that only about 20% of the original palace exists (it is still huge) as the rest was destroyed – a fair bit by Napoleon I think?! Washington Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra,which I now have to read, helped bring in initial money which was used to restore the place. There is still more that can be restored but Andalucian bureaucracy is slow.

There are so many things to love about this place.

Is it the architecture?

Or the ceilings?

Or the interiors?

Or the views from the inside out?

Or the gardens?

Or staggering up the steep roads of the Albaycin- the old moorish quarter on the other side – to get to the St Nicholas lookout and watch the sun set over the Palace and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains?

You can decide………

Spain, A day trip to Ronda, Andalucia

Ronda is about 90 minutes from Seville and is famous for its beautiful setting and bridge. The town has been inhabited by everyone who has invaded Spain – the Visigoths, the Moors, the French etc etc and like many places in Andalucia the main church was formerly a mosque, although virtually nothing remains to show that was the case.

First stop was the bullring – a tour only. Nowadays they only have one actual bull fight show a year – the battle between those who worry about cruelty to animals and those who think it is important to maintain old cultures rages on. Seating for a bull fight is great wherever you are – given they are round so the main difference in price is whether you sit in the shade or the sun.Summer temperatures can get to the low 40s so many choose to pay the extra 100 Euros to be in the shade. Love those outfits too and yes there are female picadors and matadors these days – they don’t wear dresses for the fight!

Then on to the famous terrace walk with the amazing view. Ronda is definitely a place you have to see in the sunshine as so much of its pleasure depends on the gasp-worthy views of the valleys below and the famous old bridge that takes you into the well preserved old town. I chose to have lunch outside the Parador for the view – it used to the the old Town Hall.

The photos above were taken from the wall you can see in the pictures below. It is a decent sized area that you are able to walk along. Best of all – amazing weather and much fewer tourists.

In the old town we visited the Bosco house where the retired priests used to get free room and board to live out their days. Typical Andalucia house with interior courtyard for air and shade. Bottom right is the town square and probably the prettiest part of it – the rest is sadly a bit tacky – Ronda is certainly all about looking out from the town not into it!

UK – I’m in the country part 2 and a shout out to all my friends and family who made my visit back so memorable. Last post from the UK.

Another long weekend in the country. First stop with Lorna and Sylvie was Cambridge. We visited Kettle’s Yard – a lovely house in the centre of town with an eclectic art and natural wonders collection. Really nicely put together and timed tickets so limited numbers allowed in at the same time – free though:). Yes that is a Lowry – the guy who owned this place – Mr Ede – was well connected but he chose to not include any labels so people could enjoy the home rather than focussing on the names.

After lunch we walked through Cambridge with Sylvie (who lives nearby and went to university there) as our guide. Such gorgeous buildings and so many famous alumni. Cambridge is well known for its science faculty in particular and it is where Crick and Watson discovered the genetic code (or the meaning of life as they liked to put it). In true British fashion on making this discovery they repaired to the local pub for a pint to celebrate – a blue plaque marks the spot!

Then to finish off the day it was a quick look around the Fitzwilliam Museum which has an impressive collection of middle European art and is housed once again in a fab building. We finished off with drinks and then dinner (with another friend Miriam) at Parker’s Tavern.

Then a long overdue visit to Mayfield in East Sussex to visit my lovely friends Barbara, Reuben and Claire (surprise for me as thought she wasn’t coming out) and not forgetting Billy Whizz (the schnauzer). Being Barbara our first stop was the local Xmas craft fayre – very nice things and I didn’t grumble about Xmas too much (for me). Then delish home cooked dinner at Barbara and Reuben’s beautiful home and nice long country walk on a very sunny Sunday morning before stuffing our faces at the local pub with a traditional Sunday roast. It was a lovely way to spend my last weekend and it is hard to beat the English countryside when the weather and the colours are this spectacular.

And finally the shout out and picture gallery of my friends who made my month in the UK so memorable. Firstly to Lorna who so kindly had me and my two suitcases in her house for the whole time – she is a saint! Then to those who put me up overnight at their abodes – Barbara and Reuben, Susan and Gary, Natasha, Sue, Miriam and Christine. And to all the others who fed and watered me but most importantly reminded me how lucky I am to have them in my life – Cheryl, Rebecca, Becky, Gilly, Chris, Jo, Sylvie, Merrilee, Jill, Mark, Joanna, Len, Jonathan, David, Viv, Peter and Hedy, Alistair and Susanna, Michelle, Nigel and Ellie (and for the eagle eyed, yes that is Yotam Ottolenghi in one photo – best buddies (for five minutes anyway).

And that’s it from the UK for a few months. Next stop – a month in Seville.

UK, Durham and Berwick on Tweed – I’m in the country (part one)

On my visits to London I don’t often venture beyond the M25 so it was time to change that – obviously!

First stop was Durham to visit my friend Christine who is boldly doing an English lit degree there and seems to be loving it. First stop was a quick walk around the cathedral as the sun started to set. This is a highlight of a trip to Durham as it is pretty darn large. The pic bottom left is actually a Lego representation of the Cathedral and miniature poppies.

On the next day Christine took me on a mystery trip which turned out to be lunch at Raby Hunt near Darlington – a 2 Michelin star restaurant. I posted pics of every course on FB and Insta so below is just a sample:)

The Autumnal colors in the road by the restaurant were lovely. And I also loved the transparent representations of lost soldiers from the locations they originally came from which are dotted all over the UK at the moment – with a card giving the name of the person and when they died.

On the Sunday we headed to the local Farm shop and en-route we saw animals! Including cute piglets and the scary boar – Big Dave

Onwards and upwards after that to Berwick on Tweed where my cousin Cheryl lives. Her sister Gilly also came up from London and Cheryls husband Bob and daughter Rebecca were also there. Our family gets together about once every 20 years so this was an achievement – especially nearly in Scotland.

Scenes from Berwick on Tweed. This is where Lowry painted a lot of his most famous pictures.