Archive | April, 2017

Pamplona Impressions

25 Apr

Although best known for its bull running event, Pamplona is so much more. Following on the heels of our visit to Zaragoza the contrast is striking and left us wishing we’d chosen to spend longer here than this flying visit. With just a couple of hours to explore, not even long enough to have a meal, we raced around the beautiful narrow streets, a photogenic view at every turn.

They say that we subconsciously remember smells and that they trigger memories. For Seville that will certainly be from the orange blossom. For me, Pamplona will for ever be associated in my mind with the green fragrance of the new growth of spring. And, perhaps, the tangy sweetness​ of lemon ice cream.

Shady, green park

Beautiful buildings

Open, sunny Plaza 

There’s even deer grazing, protected by the city moat

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Zaragoza

18 Apr

It’s perhaps unfortunate that we visited Zaragoza so soon after spending time in Seville. It seriously doesn’t compare. But perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh, particularly if, like us, you want to break up the long drive from the Mediterranean coast to the the ferries in the north.

There are two cathedrals for a start, not to mention the fortified palace of the Aragon Court. We visited the latter on our first evening after failing to be able to walk to it along the riverbank. It’s pleasant enough although so restored it resembles a stereotypical toy castle. It must have been splendid in its day but little of that splendour remains and we left after half an hour feeling we hadn’t been allowed to access most of the building.

Then there’s the food. The tapas bars get rave reviews but I feel like the boy who said the Emperor was “in the altogether”. I’d have been grateful for a Macdonald’s, to be honest. And everybody is so incredibly unfriendly to the point of rudeness. Yes, they’re busy and they are serving idiots who are stupid enough to eat in a place where the waiter insists you don’t ask him for a particular item on the menu, just tell him the number. I sympathise but it doesn’t help. Oh, and you’ll pay far more than anywhere else in Spain that we have visited.

Ok, maybe my judgement has been clouded by accidentally stepping with both feet into a water feature shortly followed by walking into a glass door that turned out not to be a door – the only time I saw a local laugh. I decided that the dire food was the third of the “these things come in threes” event. Nevertheless, I’ve been very careful to hold handrails while going up and down stairs!

Our second day restored my faith in Zaragoza. For a start we found somewhere serving fresh bread at reasonable prices for breakfast and the busy waitress managed to both smile and be friendly. It’s amazing how something like that can change your day. After losing it slightly when I was served warm white wine (they quickly realised it was a good idea to get me a fresh one!) we decided to change our eating intentions completely and hunted out a lunchtime Menu del Dia in the shopping district, completely abandoning the idea of tapas. Thankfully that worked, too.

We managed to visit both cathedrals, some Roman ruins and a quirky exhibition of huge illuminated lanterns at the Museum of the Crystal Rosary (Museo de los Faroles y Rosario de Cristal). Apparently these huge illuminated lanterns are carried around Zaragoza in October which one review we read described as a sort of collision between Blackpool Illuminations and Semana Santa. Now that would definitely be something to see.

So would we return? As an overnight stopover – probably.

Sevilla

7 Apr

We never made it to Seville on our sail from Plymouth to Greece (http://www.sailblogs.com/member/serenmor/) but I’ve wanted to go ever since. This winter we were determined to finally make the trip and, being weather-obsessed sailors, looked for a suitable weather window even though we were driving. We wanted dry and sunny but cool enough to walk around and last week looked perfect.

Of course, it didn’t go entirely as forecast. Leaving a Jávea bathed in sunshine in a car still dusty with wind-blown pollen and sand, we arrived wet and shiny after a long-threatened torrential downpour just as we arrived in the Seville rush hour traffic. However, the trusty satnav took us straight to our hotel and we were soon pounding the streets under the faintest hint of “trying to rain”.

Having got our bearings and timed the walk to the sights in preparation for the the following day, a few drinks were called for sitting outside, naturally, encased in our wet weather gear and under a parasol just in case – well we are tourists, you know. We visited enough establishments to establish that you don’t get given any crisps, let alone tapas, with drinks in Seville (you can dine off freebies in Granada) so we headed indoors for something more substantial. And thus began a three night stay of fabulous food indulgence.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the sites we visited over the next couple of days (I’ll let the pictures do that!). This blog has never been a travelogue. All I will say is that Seville lived up to expectations and then some. It enchanted me. The weather gradually improved so that by our last evening we were happily dining outside well into the night. One for the bucket lists.

The Cathedral with its bell tower on the right, glowing in the sunlight

Inside it’s gold that makes the cathedral glow. Polishing the already dazzling alter ready for Easter 

A fitting place for the tomb of Christopher Columbus 

Posing in the square outside the cathedral 

A courtyard in the extraordinary Alcazar 

A small part of the gardens of the Alcazar, filled, like much of Seville at this time of year, with the scent of orange blossom

Intriguing courtyards can be glimpsed from the narrow streets of the old town, hinting at far more space inside than the exteriors would suggest

Of course, you can’t escape the tourist tatt but some are drawn to it