Tag Archives: Spain

Barbarians at the Gate

In the fifth century, the whole of Europe was swallowed up by the various tribes who lived outside of the Roman Empire – Visigoths, Huns, Vandals, Saxons, and Franks. Barbarians. They had not been “Christianized” but they were militarized and they took a crumbling Roman Empire and turned it inside out.

1,619 years later, they would return in the form of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur fans! They were to invade the Holy city of Madrid for the weekend. They would come by plane, car, vans, busses and trains. They drunk alcohol like nobody had ever seen. They sang songs and they dressed in their respective war colors of red and white, they were fearless and frightening!

Madrid was unable to defend itself against the hordes. Their goal – the Champion’s League trophy. Their destination – the Metropolitano Stadium near the airport in Madrid. The day was hot, the enemy barely knew what hit them. Liverpool won the battle; the Spurs were sent reeling and the Madrieleos regained their city after total occupation and devastation. It was victory for all except the Spurs fans.

Liverpool fans are called scousers. The word “scouse” is a shortened form of “lobscouse”. It refers to a stew commonly eaten by sailors. In the 19th century, poorer people in Liverpool and its surrounding area ate scouse as it was a cheap dish, and familiar to the families of seafarers. Outsiders tended to call these people “scousers”. Now they are the modern-day barbarians who support Liverpool Football club. Known for their famous anthem, they barely know that their national anthem is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the show Carousel by Rogers and Hammerstein.

The other barbarian fans rooted for the Tottenham Hotspurs. Hotspur is a reference to the First Earl of Northumberland who attempted to overthrow King Henry IV at the end of the fourteenth century! His name was Henry Percy but he was referred to as Haatspore by the Scots for the speed of his attack. He was fast and sped into battle sometimes recklessly, to the amazement of all around him. He would get his horse to move faster by using his spurs. However, he met his match and was slain by the army of King Henry IV. Today, Tottenham Hotspur carries with it this piece of very cool history referenced by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1. As Hotspur was slain, so were the modern-day Spurs.

The Reconquistador of Granada

The last time I was in Granada, I recall that we drove from Marbella and I caught the sunset across the rooftops. I remember that we saw a flamenco show in one of the caves in the Sacramonte area and, of course, I got to visit the Alhambra. But I did that all in one day and I promised myself at the time that I would come back.

So, 15 years later, I took a flight from Barcelona to rediscover a great city. The reconquistador!

First of all, we were hosting a weekend at the Parador de Granada. It is situated inside the Alhambra Palace and its gardens spill out onto the Generalife Gardens themselves. The hotel, a four-star parador, is a fantastic place to base yourself in Granada. It’s easy and inexpensive to cab into the center of town and other parts of the city. For the adventurous, it’s an energetic walk down to town and a tougher walk back. And what a great place to stay. The Alhambra is a big deal – timed entrances, lots of tourists, difficulty finding spare slots. So, it’s sort of nice when you are already inside of the Alhambra grounds because you have access to the outer parts of the palace. It feels a little like you actually live there, which you sort of do if you’re staying at the hotel. At the end of the day, when all of the tourists have wandered away, it’s just you and the people who are staying at the hotel. It’s a very cool feeling. A travel moment.

What I loved about Granada this time was meeting up with a friend of mine who lives in the Sacramonte area in a cave. A cavewoman in fact! We had gone to the Albayzin, the Moorish Quarter, for some fabulous tapas to meet up. Here’s the thing about Granada tapas, it’s free! As long as you order a drink, the tapas flies across the table. You can add to it, as we did, but it really compliments the informality of the tapas bar itself. And the free food is really good – not just because it’s free.

From the Albayzin, we took a long walk with our friend to her cave dwelling, while also catching  breathtaking views of the Alhambra at night.  Eventually we ended up at the very bottom of the valley, with the Alhambra in the distance beautifully lit up, and there we came across a series of caves, that in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined anybody living in. And in we went. There was a beautiful fireplace with olive wood still glowing, a tiny kitchen, two bedrooms, a delightful terrace that I struggled to walk up to because the stairways were narrow, plants cascading Mediterranean-style all over the place, and I realized then that I had found paradise.

Winter in Granada is probably one of the great times to visit and I was lucky enough to be there. Plan a few days in Granada. You are surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the white-washed villages and towns of the Alpujarras. It’s a short distance from the seaside town of Nerja and the caves of Nerja which are famous throughout Spain. Next year, Granada will be linked with the AVE and so will be connected to Seville and onto to Madrid. Making the Alhambra an even more impossible place to visit. So, visit now! It’s fabulous.

Museo Sorolla

Tucked in the center of Madrid’s busy and bustling metropolis is the Sorolla Museum. When you think of Madrid, you tend to think of the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, or Reina Sofia. These are the three iconic museums all clustered along a museum avenue that stretches from the post office square down to Atocha Train Station. But if you have a moment of space in Madrid, I cannot recommend enough the tranquility of the beautiful Sorolla Museum.

Joaquín Sorolla is Spain’s great impressionist painter. His colors of terracotta, white, and light blue are seductive. His paintings leave you with a sense of optimism and goodness. His house, which is now the museum, was donated to the state when his widow died. The house remains as it was when Sorolla was alive from his studio, to the dining room, and even the kitchen. Recently, the gardens and water fountain outside were restored as well. They offer a delightful respite from the busy city beyond the wall.

Madrid is the kind of place that needs a museum like this. It is one of those delightful museums that are a little off the beaten path where you can spend a few hours and collect your thoughts away from the cacophony of the Plaza Mayor and Plaza Sant Ana, and the craziness of the Grand Via and the Puerta del Sol. This place offers a breather for tourists and locals alike; a chance to reflect and look back at an age long since gone. I have been several times and each time it feels like I am about to start a yoga session because it is so peaceful and relaxing.

It is easy to get to the museum as well. You can take the Metro to Iglesia (line 1), or if you are adventurous, take the bus. If you are super fit, you can combine it with a walk from the Paseo de la Castellana. For me, I have to admit, I grabbed a cab.

A morning to remember in Barcelona

A Morning to Remember in Barcelona

We got into Barcelona on the Friday along with the commuter traffic but it really was a pretty smooth journey in.  There is only one thing to look for when you come in from the airport and that is the Sagrada Familia – now in its 134th year of restoration and due to finish in 2026.  On a side note, I have to say, and I am surprised, that they have not put up a Sagrada Familia in Las Vegas.  Let’s face it, if they were to do that it would be done in three months!

But seriously I love Barcelona.  I think what I love most about it is that there are no real iconic sites.  No major distractions to clog up your day.  Yes, there is Gaudi, Parc Güell, the Olympic Village, the Frank Gehry fish in Barceloneta, and Las Ramblas, but it is a city that is just so relaxing because you kind of wander through the neighborhoods without the need to see the Eiffel Tower, Roman Forum, St. Peter’s, the Tower of London, etc.  I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, took a bike tour of the city which was an absolute joy (Un Cotxe Menys Bicicletes), hung out a little bit at the beach area (the cleanest city beach in Europe), and walked back through the El Born district and Gothic Quarter.  In between, I got lunch at the La Boqueria market and had razor clams and more razor clams (navajas).  03

The Feast of the Jamon

The Feast of the Jamón

My daughter recently got married and among the many things that we had to eat, we elected to have a serrano ham on the bone as part of the entertainment. Why the Feast of the Jamón? Jamón serrano is a true cornerstone of Spanish gastronomy. It is a type of cured ham that is generally cut into very thin slices and can be seen at any good tapas bar in Spain.

So the wedding was fabulous and the food was delectable. As I had predicted, the jamón was getting a lot of activity. I have two dear Spanish friends who live in Madrid and were at the wedding. At one point, one of my friends noted that the catering assistant, which the caterer had respectfully provided, was not properly cutting the jamón. He stated, “I cannot take it anymore. I have to give this guy a red card and get him off the job. He’s killing the ham!” (Which was already dead of course). Within 5 minutes, he came back with a bright red t-shirt, and his brother sharpened up the knife but remained in his suit, sending the assistant on his way. The cutting of the ham began in earnest. In quite an extraordinary display of expertise, no matter how many times people came to the ham, because of the thinness of the cut and the way that he moved around the bone, we had ham all night long.

There was only one glitch, someone came up to him and said, “I love prosciutto.” He looked at them appalled and said, quite defiantly, “This is the feast of the jamón and prosciutto is for sandwiches. Jamón is to be consumed with the finest red wine. Prosciutto can be complimented with Coca-Cola!”

I got my ham from LaTienda.com. It was fabulous. If you really want to splash out and pay serious money you can get the jamón iberico but for me, the serrano was fine. Best of all, we all got to see an artist perform for the best part of 3 to 4 hours. Thank god the party went on until the early morning!

The Feast of the Jamon

The Feast of the Jamon The Feast of the Jamon


Not to flog a dead horse, but the sheer delight of travelling by train in Europe never grows old. I jumped into a taxi and headed to the Atocha train station to catch the AVE to Seville. Atocha is quite a delight. Nestled between the museums in a busy intersection, it has a lush tropical garden with hundreds of tiny turtles paddling about their day. The AVE takes around two hours and fifteen minutes and stops at the beautiful city of Cordoba en route. Cordoba is famous for its Mezquita; the mosque within a church.

Madrid Atocha station 042814

AVE Train 042814

On the way down to Andalucía, there are orchards upon orchards of oak trees. These are not the oak trees of northern Europe, but rather Spanish oak trees which are smaller and provide the fruit of the acorn that is fed to the pigs that gives us the veritable jamon pata negra. There are also no shortage of almond and olive trees that populate the landscape as the train speeds towards its destination.

My final destination was Seville. Here in the Santa Cruz area you feel the power of Andalucía which to my mind is one of the most important regions in Spain. Spanish traditions are bred here. Flamenco was born here. The colors of Andalucía, the ornate tiles, the whitewashed villages, the evidence of a once great and powerful Islamic influence, all hang in the air as does the scent of jasmine and orange blossoms that float around the Alcazar.

Seville Group 042814

Seville building 042814

Seville Jill and GL 042814

We had arrived during the Semana Santa, the Holy Week. The city had this electric atmosphere as various neighborhoods participated in their own homage to Christ through the processions that took place every day, almost every hour, and throughout the night. This truly provided a colorful and yet bizarre backdrop to this already colorful city. The procession of pasos, floats of lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the Passion, or images of the Virgin Mary showing grief for her son, are masterpieces of art and sculpture. The penitential robes and hoods and the brass bands all add to this spectacle. It is like something that you have never seen before. On this beautiful spring day the crowds surrounding the procession were particularly vibrant. Even the taxi driver had the processions on the radio as if he was listening to a soccer game.

Seville Semana processions 1 042814

Seville Semana processions 3 042814

We drifted over to the river (avoided more churros) and headed to a restaurant that was tucked behind the Macarena Hotel. Tomorrow morning I would return to Madrid wishing that I could have stayed longer.

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Spanish daily routine

A very good friend of mine, a Madrileno, always insisted that the siesta was a way for Spaniards to live their life twice over. I Would often find myself out with him over lunch,which invariably would start around 3 pm, and at the end of this heavy dining affair, he would excuse himself and we would arrange to meet later around 9 pm. Where he went? Home of course, to capture back the day. He told me he changed into his pajamas and took a 2 hour siesta every day of the year. And sure enough, he was back at my hotel at 9 pm for a wander through Tapas bars, a few Clara beers washing down some jamon and boquerones before the evening dining arrangements were figured out.

Then it was dinner around 11 or midnight and a club after that. And the restaurants were always full!! In Spain I have often felt awkward about arriving too late and imagined the kitchen has already closed. Truth is. They haven’t even started! So how did the spanish get this habit? It surely isn’t that good for you , siesta or no siesta. Now there are plans underfoot to make some changes that could disrupt the old way of life. First,bring Spain back into time zone with Portugal and the UK. It’s where it belongs. It’s only where it is because of Franco’s allegiance to Hitler. So turn the clocks back. Remove Siesta. Eat earlier. Spaniards go to bed and watch TV later than anyone! Primetime in Spain is much later than its euro counterparts.

Of course.. They are all eating out! So. Question is will this happen? Are spaniards ready to change. Italians go to bed early and they have arguably a no more efficient workday than the spanish! And what would that do to Tapas bars? No room to squeeze in the bits between the big bites. It’s a question of Jamon over Prosciutto. Siestas and fiestas over a more efficient economical model. Not to be too selfish, but I always have a ton more fun in Spain! The sun never really does set on Spanish nights!

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New Thoughts on Mallorca

I had many misgivings about visiting Mallorca mostly because it brought up images of holiday charters from the UK and Germany, full of pasty skinned tribes of beer drinkers and football shirts! It is the largest of the Balearic Islands, sitting just off the coast of Spain, equidistant between Valencia and Barcelona, and has been a holiday retreat for the Brits and the Germans for many years. However, my dear friend had bought a house in the northern part of Mallorca some years ago and had sent back wonderful reports. Maybe this island was not quite the Costa Blanca nightmare that I had imagined. It was time to investigate.

Its sister island, Ibiza, is party central. That old expression about Las Vegas surely applies to this place as well. If Ibiza is sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then Mallorca, from what I had heard, was fish and chips and lager with not much Spanish required.

First and foremost, Mallorca is easy to get to. Flights from London are plentiful and flights from most other European countries are relatively easy although they require a stopover in Barcelona or Madrid. There is also a ferry service from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. But the cost of the ferry versus the speed and cheapness of the flight makes that a less desirable option unless you do not like to fly.

When we arrived in Palma, we had some concerns. Ten charter flights were in the process of being cleared and every single one of them was a German charter plane. Maybe the Brits had moved out but the Germans had moved in. They like their lager just as much as the Brits do.

Mallorca cathedral 060514

The drive from the airport to the center of Palma was easy and we were able to pass along the harbor which was jammed with very expensive boats that reminded me of the setup in Marbella in southern Spain. The first iconic sight that we caught was the Palma Cathedral up on the hill. It is a beautiful yellow ochre stone structure which dates back to 1300 A.D. It’s a fantastic sight with its flying buttresses and a Renaissance portal, and it towers above the city and the port below. Inside, there are designs by Antoni Gaudí and the renowned Contemporary artist, Miquel Barceló. It just is not what you would expect

We checked into the hotel and headed straight back towards the cathedral and to the beautiful lanes that make up this old city. For me, the wonders of Spain are the influences of the Moors. In southern Spain, the jewels of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada and the white villages that served as fortresses all the way to Jerez de la Frontera, leave us with a spectacular snapshot of a civilization that brought literacy and learning to this country. Palma has been occupied since the Roman times. By the 12th century however, Medina Mallorca was one of the most flourishing Muslim capitals in Europe. After the re-conquest in the 13th century, it prospered as one of the great cities in Spain. The language here is first and fundamentally Mallorquin; a dialect of Catalan. Although English and German are widely accepted as well as Spanish!

We visited the Banys Arabs that were nestled in the old lanes. Although small in size, these Arabian baths are the most important survivors of the Muslim settlement. They are quite charming and were probably attached to a private house. It is a paid entrance but the gardens that surround the baths are a delightful place to sit, read, and imagine the great history of that era. Out and about and into the lanes a little more, we grabbed some almejas and manchego before walking back along the port to the hotel.

Mallorca Arab baths collage 060514

Palma is indeed a livable city. This is a gorgeous climate and beautiful Mediterranean colors pop up everywhere across the island. Bougainvillea and oleander provide reds, pinks, and whites alongside the old buildings, and the scent of orange blossom was still hanging in the air. There is good transportation inside of the city including running trails and bike trails that reminded me of the promenade along Copacabana. There are beautiful beaches just a few kilometers to either side of the harbor.

I have new thoughts on Mallorca, all in all, it really did take me by surprise. I never once found a fish and chip shop and never saw an English football fan in a Liverpool shirt (thankfully) but it had a buzz to it. We booked our restaurants every night at 10:00 pm and bars stayed open until the early hours without giving the impression of disco mania. Mallorca clearly had conceded that title to Ibiza. Tomorrow we would investigate some other parts of the island but today I sort of fell in love with the place and could not wait for my next date.