Thursday, June 9, 2016

Spain Day Seven: Sorry Africa, We’re Heading Straight to Seville

We had originally planned to spend today seeing the rock of Gibraltar and then ferrying across to Tangiers, Morocco, so we could say we had put our feet on African soil. However, neither of us were feeling it. Adam had been told that Americans have been kidnapped there recently because American passports are worth about $60,000 a piece. I just didn’t feel like driving 4 hours round trip to see a giant rock covered with monkeys that steal your sunglasses. We agreed that adding a hill town and more time in Seville sounded more appealing.

We hit the road, and because Adam is the best BF ever, he suggested we turn off Spanish radio and put on Taylor Swift. This was both because he felt bad he had canceled Africa, and because I had watched the Cavs lose from 2am-5am and I was tired and depressed. But like T Swift, I was able to Shake It Off once I saw the beautiful countryside that spilled out between Ronda and Seville. There were sunflowers EVERYWHERE. Way more than I have ever seen in Provence or Tuscany. We were on small back roads, so we could easily stop to take photos. Which we did three times!

We went to Arcos de la Frontera, which is a cute little white town with an old center on the tip top of a very high hill. We parked in the central garage and then took the minibus to the top with the locals. It was CRAZY! The streets were insanely narrow and twisty, yet somehow the driver navigated them with just a quarter of an inch to spare. The local women on the bus laughed at us as we gasped, winced and made wide eyes at each other with every turn.

We did Rick Steves’ walk of the town, making our way to the viewpoint. But instead of the amazing view, I was drawn to the birds of prey at the the end of overlook. They were available for people to hold (we didn’t) for photos. Adam couldn't resist petting them, despite my protests about bird flu.

Adam petting birds of prey

Then we found the convent with the cloistered nuns, which has been there since 1642. Nobody is allowed to see these nuns, but they make money by selling cookies through a little lazy Susan device in the wall. It was weird, but awesome to think about the fact that nobody has seen these women’s faces since they entered the convent in their late teens.

That's the cookie menu on the left and the rotating window on the right. 

Next, it was off for another long drive through sunflower fields to Seville. When you picture Spain in your head, Seville is what you are seeing. Flamenco dancers, lacy fans, Spanish tiles everywhere… that is Seville. It is similar to Granada, in that it was settled by the Moors nearly 1000 years ago. But it is much larger than Granada, and thankfully, also much flatter.

Lobby of Hotel Amadeus, which is deceivingly cute. Avoid at all costs.

Our hotel, the Hotel Amadeus, was in the winding back alleys of the barrio, where all the main action was in town. Action, but no parking. We had to park in a lot about half a mile away and drag our luggage over cobblestones. This was getting old fast. We went into our room, expecting to see the suite with a bathtub I had booked. My reservation confirmation specifically said “room with a view and a bathtub” – it had neither. Instead, we had a shoebox of a room that barely fit the bed and a window that looked at a white wall. The pink monster couldn’t even lay down anywhere in the room. We decided we would just roll with it. We were sweaty and wanting showers, with no energy to switch rooms. I went first, and discovered there were no towels. Not one. (It only got worse from there. Later that night, we would wake up to a stifling, awful smell. Like so bad that it woke us both up. Adam tried to blame my sandals, but we finally sniffed out that it was the pillows. When they warmed up, the feathers smelled like death. And to top it off – the wifi was TERRIBLE. I couldn’t even upload blog photos. Thank goodness there wouldn't be an NBA Finals game while we were there. The moral of this story is…if you are ever in Seville, do NOT stay at the Hotel Amadeus.)

Seville Cathedral

Adam petting horses

We left the hotel around 5pm and followed Rick’s suggested walk again. We saw a million adorable squares and cobbled lanes. We had a dinner of paella, gazpacho, grilled chicken and on a cute square filled with orange trees. I was happy it wasn’t tapas again, as I wanted to tapa out from Spanish food a long time ago. Adam ordered fruit for dessert and the waiter brought him one whole red apple and a knife. HA! Oh, Spain.

Our dinner spot

Next would be gelato at Bolas, an artisanal ice cream maker (YUMMY!), and then it was off to our room. My bangs were driving me crazy, so Adam trimmed them with his beard clippers. I was nervous, but bad bangs are better than bangs hanging into my eyes. So I dubbed him the new Barber of Seville, and went to bed with my fresh bangs that were actually just perfect.

Tomorrow: A long, hot day in Seville reveals unexpected beauty


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Spain Day Six: Help Me Ronda


We wanted to get out of Granada, so we hit the road early and stopped at a gas station for fuel and a hot, fresh baguette. Today we would visit a few of the white hill towns of Analucia, starting with Nerja, on the beach. As we drove, we could spot them shining on the hillsides. Adam dubbed this part of Spain “Spain-torini” because it looked like what we had seen in Greece (though nowhere near as spectacular).

Nerja has beaches, but also a cliff-top promenade called “the Balcony of Europe” that overlooks the beach below. We walked to the end to take in the view while enjoying some cherry cheesecake gelato. (Yes, before lunch, don’t judge!) Nerja was tiny, the only other things we did were peek into the church and walk the one main shopping street.

Shopping streets are covered in Southern Spain, to shade shoppers

Just 4 km up the hill was Frigiliana, another white hill town. We found it wasn’t worth the drive because it was mostly newer construction, nothing historic. So we were off to our next home for the night, in Ronda. As we drove we noticed we hadn’t seen any cows at all in Spain. Adam wondered if that is because they are all used for bullfights. It was a beautiful drive. Andalucia looks a lot like Tuscany.

That's our hotel atop the cliff. 
Stole this pic from a postcard because it shows more than my camera did!

We pulled into Ronda and, while we knew our hotel would be on the side of a cliff, were in awe at just how on the edge of that giant cliff it was! A camera couldn’t even capture how deep the gorge was and how high up our hotel was! We walked into our room and both of our jaws dropped. Not only was it our largest hotel room so far, but it had a terrace that overlooked rolling farms as far as the eye could see.

Our balcony

View from our balcony 

We grabbed sandwiches and baked goods at a shop across the street. Adam had ham (shocker), which we watched the man carve right off the leg – with the hoof still attached. Gag.

This place had salami though – so I had salami and cheese. I like to live on the edge sometimes. We asked for mustard, aka mostaza, but he didn’t have any. We ate our sad dry sandwiches as we drove to Setenil de las Bodegas, a nearby town under a rock.

Setenil de las Bodegas from above

Now it was Adam’s turn to melt down. Even though I kept explaining that this town was UNDER! A! ROCK! – he had no desire to go. He wanted a nap. But he was worried about me going alone, so he went anyway. This town is tiny, and nearly impossible to drive in. The streets are barely one car width wide (we had to fold in the mirrors!) and often dead end after you squeeze down them. As Adam would back up, I would gasp because we were ½ inch away from scratching the rental car. He handled the driving like a pro – but my nerves – not so much. He told me to get out, walk the town, and he would go park above and wait for me.


This tiny town, which dates to pre-historic times, was built underneath the rock overhangs of a cliff along a river gorge. While I wandered, I found a tiny store built into a cave that was full of tiny jars of vegetables and jam. I walked in, and asked the woman if she had mostaza. She spoke no English and I speak zero Spanish.

But she understood the word and said “ahh, salsa mostaza?” and led me to a shelf, where there was one jar of it. I paid her 2 euros for it and headed back to find Adam to give him the best peace offering ever – more impressed with my mustard find than the fact that this town was under a freaking rock! As I was walking up, he was walking down. He liked his present and we reached a mustard peace accord. We walked the town together and took photos.

Back in Ronda, Adam took a nap while I walked around to see the bullring (the oldest one in Spain) and take more photos of that incredible cliff.

And then, as if the heavens sending me mustard wasn’t enough – they sent me kittens! I was walking through the park when I saw a small orange fluff ball playing in a planter. I walked over and found not one, but THREE kittens and a mama – the first cats I had seen in all of Spain. I sat and watched them for about half an hour because the cuteness was totally mood lifting!

I went back and got Adam up for dinner. It was just staring to get dark (at 9:40!) as we walked the old town section of Ronda. We learned that in small towns, restaurants close earlier, and our options were limited. We settled into the only option in town, on a charming square in the shadow of the cathedral, and perused the menu.

Our meat choices were baby lamb kidneys, blood sausage balls, sweetbreads – it was a HOUSE OF SPANISH NIGHTMARES. There was a photo of a baby pig leg with the hoof and everything on a plate. I ordered the “tropical salad” which turned out to be iceberg lettuce topped with canned corn and pineapple. The bread tasted like a campfire. The chef brought us a “gift” of breaded, fried mushrooms. Adam looked at me and said, “Babe, it’s like they have a cheat sheet of everything you hate!” He had garlic soup, which had egg in it and all I could taste was yolk. I started singing “Help Me Rhonda” to try to make light of the situation, which only helped a little. We ended up getting the special – Iberian pork steak. The waiter told us it was a baby, so it was red meat – like beef. Um, ok. It actually tasted good and was definitely more like steak than pork. I tried not to think about it and ate it. We had to get back because it was midnight and we had to wake up at 2am for the Cavs game.

I will leave you with more photos of the best view in all of Spain:

 (Borrowed from a postcard)

Tomorrow: Adam looks for the barber of Seville