Seville: El Cortes Ingles

Of all the museums we wanted to visit in Seville was the Archivos de Indias. This museum is the most complete document archive of the history of the discovery of North America. It is not surprising that the Spanish government chooses to locate the archives in Seville because this city has the monopoly of trade with the New World.

Unfortunately, the archive is 99% in Spanish. We walked through the corridors but could only gather bits and pieces of some of the documents and maps. How I wished that it is in English otherwise we would have spent a couple of hours there. The best thing about the Archivos de Indias is that it is very well air conditioned!

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The heat in Seville was getting unbearably too hot for us. The temperature almost reached 40C. Worse thing is that there are not much shades and the building fronts does not have awnings. It was so bad that when we get to a shady area, we just stood there for minutes not wanting to cross the street when it meant walking in the sun.

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There is a cute little tram service running through the historic city center. We wanted to take it back to near where our hotel is. So we went to a stop and tried to figure out how to take it. We couldn’t make sense of the signboards. We asked and no one could speak English to help us. It is in Seville we felt kind of isolated because it has so little English.

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We went to this restaurant which has really powerful air conditioning and nice pastries. It seems to be a great place to have a drink and something to eat … except that it was impossible to communicate with our waiter. The place was very busy and the waiter does not have any patience to help us with our order. So we just said “thank you” and left.

By 4PM we decided to just call it a day.

So, we decided to go to a place where we thought would be better language-wise.

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We went to El Cortes Ingles. Yeah, it is a departmental store but it has a great cafeteria. More importantly, people don’t smoke here!

Wrong choice. English is also at a premium here. At least the waiters (in bow ties and tuxedos!) were very professional, polite and patient. The Summer menu above is in Spanish but we already know quite a number of Spanish words. We could piece together some words to know what some of these means. It is a 3-course menu for €9.95.

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I remember calculating that we were spending a lot of money on drinks (was almost $40 Canadian already!). We told ourselves that we are bringing two, maybe three, bottles of 2L bottles the next day even if it means breaking my back carrying it in the backpack.

You know, I like the formal-ness in Spain even in serving water in nice glasses. Mind you, this is a cafeteria.

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For a cafeteria, the bread was pretty good. They came individually pre-wrapped in a paper bag and served with butter.

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Our “primeros” (first) course is Gazpachos. Our first time having this “liquid salad” and we fell in love with this on the first sip!

Gazpacho is a summer favourite in southern Spain and a native dish to the Andalusian region where Seville is located.  It is very … (more…)

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Seville: Real Alcazar

People told that that visiting Spain in summer is not a good idea because it will be going to be very hot. It was on this first day in Seville that we really felt the heat. After just half a day at the Cathedral of Seville, it became unbearably hot. It was almost 40 C. We had finished off our two bottles of water by late morning.

We decided to stop for a drink. It was a toss up between Starbucks and Haagen Dazs. You know how we decided which one? We walked into both and stayed at Haagen Dazs because their air conditioning is stronger. We each got a real big drink. Suanne got a cake — she can’t resist cakes when she sees that. I felt it was downright expensive which is about $26 Canadian.

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Next stop that afternoon was to visit the Real Alcazar. Alcazar is the Spanish word meaning Castle. It phonetically sounds the same right? Actually the word Alcazar is based on the Arabic word al qasr, also meaning castle. The word Real means Royal. So, Real Alcazar means the Royal Castle.

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Real Alcazar is still in use by the Spanish royal family as the official residence in Seville. The section is off limits to tourists. We were told that they live … (more…)

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Seville: The Cathedral of Seville

It was a lot of travelling from Barcelona to Seville. When we got to the hotel the night before, we immediately hit the sack. We were dead tired. By then we had gotten over the jet lag. We slept at the same time as Spaniards do. That is progress.

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We woke up to a beautiful morning in Seville. It was so tranquil and peaceful here unlike Barcelona. There is a small town feeling to it. People walk much slower.

We went to this delightful square the Alameda de Hercules. This square is adorned with columns of Hercules and Julius Caesar and is the site of an ancient Roman temple.

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The hotel gave us a map showing where we could go get breakfast. The map was hopeless. It was easier just walking in the general direction.

Unlike Barcelona which is a major metropolitan city, Seville is more Spanish. It is here that we began to have problems with language. In Barcelona, almost everyone speaks or at least understands English but not here. When we landed at the Seville airport, we asked for directions at the Informacion booth which has the words “Informacion/Information” blazonedon it. They don’t understand English!

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So ordering breakfast here is a bit problematic. We ordered Cafe Con Leche which is not a problem. The Cafe Con Leche here are served in a glass and all smooth and stirred. This is slightly different from those we had the previous few days in Barcelona. For the first time too, they automatically gave us glasses of cold water even though we did not ask for it. That was nice.

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We then tried to order the tomato toast but we had problems. Tostada was about the only Spanish word and cheese was the only English word that got through in the conversation. So we had Cheese Tostada. The toast was nice but the cheese was too dry for us. All these was €7.

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After breakfast we went to look for the Seville Card. It was one of those passes that allowed you to visit as many tourist attractions as you like within a time period. We opted for the 72 hour card which costs €36 each. Actually, this is actually costs more than if we had paid entrances to the places we visited.

The card is kind of complicated too. The card we got was the “cultura” card with limited benefits. It does not include discounts to restaurants and shops.

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The strange thing is that you cannot buy the Seville Card anywhere else other than this souvenir shop called Iconos. You cannot get it even at the official Information office.

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First order of the day was to visit the No 1 tourist attraction in Seville — The Cathedral of Seville.

We had been to many many cathedrals throughout Europe and I often said that if you had seen one you had seen them all. Not true for the Cathedral of Seville. It is so full of history and yet so relatively unknown.

We were surprised to learn that the Cathedral of Seville is the third largest church in the world. This cathedral was built immediately after the re-conquest of the city from the Moslem Moors. It was built on top of the great Moorish mosque. The bell tower used to be a minaret. When it was built they wanted to make this the biggest and grandest of all churches to show off the reconquest of the city.

For many years before the reconquest, Iberia peninsular was under the control of the muslim. I think Spain is about the only country that had successfully re-conquered the country from the Moors and turned back the tide of Islam. In the process, it had made Spain more Christian.

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The Cathedral of Seville is huge with soaring roof with pointed arches of the Gothic style. This style allows building of this size without having thick walls to support the structure …

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… and thinner walls also meant being able to have bigger windows. The stained windows were well maintained despite its 400 years of age.

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There are almost EIGHTY chapels of various sizes here — all of them grand and adorned with art and sculptures.

There were lots of church treasures of precious metals and stones. I can only imagine how much they are all worth.

All these are build because of the wealth Seville once had from the monopoly of trade with the newly discovered New World.

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Talking about the New World, the Cathedral of Seville is also where the tomb of … (more…)

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Seville: Hotels in Spain

We don’t normally post about hotels but we will make it an exception this time. This is because we were so pleased with the hotels in Spain throughout.

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We were particularly impressed with the hotel in Seville. Even though it was a last minute booking, we managed to snag a hotel called the Best Western Cervantes Hotel right in the middle of old Seville. It was just €50. We did not expect much especially with a “Best Western” name to it. We selected this primarily because of the low price, location and the reviews we found on Trip Advisor.

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The Cervantes Hotel is located right in the old city. Despite the name, the streets were meticulously maintained and kept spotless clean. It was a quiet section with hardly any cars. One thing that struck us is how narrow the streets are here. It is just enough for 1 car.

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It is hopeless having a map of Seville. Look at it. We got more lost using the map than not using it. After a while we just threw away the map and just ask for the general direction. It is a good thing that the old city in Seville is small. You can easily walk to all the major tourist sites.

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We had come to learn to rely on the blue H signs outside of all hotels. That denotes the star ratings of the hotels in Spain. I learned from our guide book that hotels are highly regulated. When you see a three star, you really get a three star hotel. (US hotels are the worse I find when it comes to ratings).

They have the room rates posted clearly on the check in counter. It is a requirement by law to protect guests.

Regardless, when you book for a room, compare the rates between what is available on the web (expedia, orbitz, hotels and such) and direct with the hotel.

Here is our experience. We started off with 3 nights in Barcelona. When we wanted to extend our stay to 6 nights, we were quoted by our travel agent €150 per night — we said thanks but no thanks. When we got to Barcelona we asked the hotel and was told it is €110 per night. I then checked the web and the lowest quote I found was just €75. So, I booked the additional nights on my notebook (connected to the hotel’s wifi) right there and then at the hotel checkin counter. They were cool about it.

If you care to see, here are some of the shots we took of our hotel in Seville: (more…)

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Seville: From Barcelona via Girona on Ryanair

I am picking up from where I left off on our vacation in Spain this summer. This is a continuation from our first stop in Barcelona (link to to the entire series here).

After spending six days in Barcelona, I was flip-flopping about where to head to next. On one hand I think Suanne would love London but I also wanted to go to Morocco. Alternatively, we could go to Seville with the primary objective of dining at the alternative El Bulli.

So I went and try to book a flight to London. But it was so expensive when I booked it just 2 days before. The cheapest was something €300 per person return. So it immediately kiboshed the idea.

As for Morocco, the flights were cheaper. So we asked the people at our hotel and they advised that we should not travel especially when we are not with a group. We did not want to follow a tour group because we don’t like being brought to shops and stuff. Our guide book also said pretty much the same thing — third world country and needing to be careful about being fleeced, etc. Moreover, Suanne is not too keen for that kind of adventure.

So our decision was hinged on getting a table at the El Bulli Hotel in Seville. After three days, we got a confirmed table for a Friday evening. That clinched it. Seville it is.

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It was really last minute. We decided to fly from Barcelona to Seville instead of taking the train. So we booked a flight on Ryanair, a no-frills budget carrier at €85 per person. It was not a very good idea!

Firstly, Ryanair flies out of the Girona-Costa Brava Airport which is a good 90km outside of Barcelona. It did not occur to us to check before we booked the flight. Good thing that there is a regularly scheduled bus from Barcelona city center to the airport. The one hour bus ride costs €12 per person.

The airport was like a market! There was thousands of people. The check in process is really confusing that caused to line up twice — once to check in and another time to pay for the extra luggage we had (€20). Budget airlines are not really cheap if you are not careful of the extras that could add up.

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We were so afraid of missing the flight because the line was moving so slowly. We managed to get it all done with 30 minutes to spare. So we decided to grab something quick to eat since it will be quite late by the time we get to the hotel and settle down.

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The above is €14. If you do the conversion, it is $22 Canadian. On hindsight, we should have bought something before we left for the airport.

This is a series of complains. Sorry for being negative here but the flight was really bad. Here goes … (more…)

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