The Giralda: Seeing Seville from the tallest building in the city

Check out these pictures from the beautiful Giralda Cathedral in Seville! Looking out over the entire city from the bell tower was my favorite part of this excursion. Enjoy!

Click to see more pictures from the Giralda Cathedral!

Reflections on a warm Granada night

I sat on the patio ledge near the side of La Alhambra and watched my feet dangle off the edge. I was mentally planning a retrieval route in case one of my shoes fell off into the garden below when my mother came up next to me.

“We kinda dropped the ball on this one didn’t we?”

I looked past her, squinting in the 11 p.m. darkness, to the jumbled mess of people waiting in a long line outside the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra.

“Yeah, we really did. What’s wrong with us?”

My mother and I are usually very studious travelers. We don’t over-plan our adventures, but we certainly find out all the details and activities of the area before we get there. But Granada was different. We just sort of showed up, not realizing how much of a destination point it was at the beginning of September. Needless to say, when we moseyed down to the Alhambra from our hotel that morning we found ourselves face-to-face with a long line to purchase tickets just to get in. By the time we got up to the ticket booth, the Nasrid Palaces, which require a designated entry and exit time, were sold out for the afternoon. So instead we bought tickets for the special nighttime viewing of the Palaces and thought (again) that it shouldn’t be too crowded.

Fast-forward another 10 hours and we came upon another long line waiting to get into the Nasrid Palaces at 11 p.m. Neither of us being the wait-in-a-crowded-noisy-line kind of people, we shrugged our shoulders in defeat and wandered over to an upper patio that looked toward the Sierra Nevada moutains of Granada (something that didn’t require a ticket.)

As we sat there with a mild “I am a failed tourist” feeling sinking in, I began to really look out into the dark hills of Granada…It looked like I was in front of a green screen. The view was unreal, like something out of a movie or a desktop picture, not something I accidentally happened upon on a late summer night.

A warm breeze danced through the patio and over my body. I was completely entranced. The shadowy hills were filled with golden balls of light that were shining from the distinctive square European windows…it was something I’d never seen before. The hills were alive with a magical, silent presence, that made me want to cry, laugh and sigh. I sat there, not caring anymore if one of my shoes fell off, thinking about…thinking? It was a rare moment in my life when I really wasn´t thinking about anything. At least nothing on the laundry list of to-do’s that I carried around with me. I became philosophical; impressive, grand thoughts filtering through my mind, but I let them go… This was a time to enjoy a feeling, not a thought.

My mother and I sat there for almost an hour, not really saying much to each other, a rarity in itself, simply looking out at the scene before us. Life slowed to a snails pace, nothing seemed to matter because I was fully in that moment.

We eventually got up and passed by the still-long line into the Nasrid Palaces, joking at how we had been so clueless. As we walked away and I turned back one last time to seal the image in my mind, I realized we had a more spectacular 60 minutes than if we had toured though the ancient palace. As magnificent as the Alhambra is, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with me forever. And it was more than just looking- it was feeling the moment.

I didn’t learn about Moorish architecture that night, but I did learn this: leave time for the unexpected. Don’t plan every second of a trip. We had a list of activities we wanted to see and accomplish in Granada and that certainly wasn’t one of them. But it stands out as the brightest, sharpest picture in my mind. You never know what you’ll discover or feel when you simply let yourself live.

Quick facts: Spanish Dining

A typical Spanish eating schedule tends to be much different than the traditional three meals a day in the United States and is usually an hour or two later than other countries in Europe. It took me a little while to adjust to the late-night dinners, but now I don’t think twice about ordering tapas at 10 p.m.!

The Spanish breakfast is usually very light, with toast or a ham sandwich (often made with cured Iberian ham, tomatoes and drizzled in olive oil- it’s delicious!) and coffee. This is typically eaten between 7-9 a.m., and sometimes a “second breakfast” or snack, with coffee and toast, is eaten around 11 a.m.

Lunch is the main meal of the day. Eaten between 2-3:30 p.m., it consists of a couple larger dishes and a dessert. A short siesta, or nap, after the midday meal is common, particularly during hot summertime months.

Dinner tends to be a lighter meal of soup, fish or fruit around 9-10 p.m. Since dinner is served so late, Spaniards often go “tapas bar hopping” between the time they leave work and eat dinner. This is where small meals with drinks come in handy!

References: Giralda Center, Photo credit: Christopher Chan

Tiny plate, big flavor: The delicious world of tapas

According to legend, while King Alfonso X traveled through the southern region of Spain, he stopped to rest in a small town in the Andalucian province of Cadíz and ordered a glass of sherry. Cadíz is known to have strong gusty winds throughout the year, so the inn keeper placed a slice of ham over the sherry to prevent it from getting dirty. Upon finishing his drink, King Alfonso X ordered another and this time he specifically requested another tapa or “cover,” to come with it. And there, in a small, dark tavern in the middle of the 1200’s is where Spanish tapas were born. (Or so they say!)

Other stories claim that King Alfonso X ordered taverns to serve food with their glasses of wine, so the alcohol didn’t go straight to the drinker’s heads on an empty stomach. Some come from a simpler reason: to keep the pesky Spanish fruit-fly out of beverages.

Regardless of which story you believe, Spanish tapas have become famous throughout the world and can be enjoyed in almost every bar and restaurant in Spain.

Tapas can can consist of almost anything: meat, vegetables, fish, cheese, bread, olives, hot, cold…the list goes on. In my mind, I consider tapas to be about a “quarter” of a regular meal size. In Spain, most restaurants offer a racíon, a full-sized plate of food, media racíon, a half plate and then a tapa, what I consider to be half of the media racíon. 

These small meals range between 1€ and 3€, so you can order a couple of them at one restaurant or go “tapas bar hopping” and not do too much damage to your wallet. Add in a couple drinks, either wine, beer, sangria, or tinto de verano, and you’ll be enjoying the typical late-night Spanish dining culture!

References: Giralda CenterWhat are tapas? Photo Credit: Christopher Chan,Freddy

Hollywood, History and the Majestic Plaza de España

Built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, what the Plaza de España may lack in history, compared to the Giralda Cathedral or Alcazár, it certainly makes up for in sheer grandness and beauty. Walking up to it, you almost expect to hear some passionate classical music to be playing in the background, welcoming you to this impressive sight (or maybe that’s just me).

A vast, semicircular complex next to the Parque de María Luisa, the Plaza de España combines detailed, ornate beauty with absolute immensity. This scene had been my desktop background for months before I came to Seville, but nothing prepared me for its size and spellbinding effect. The castle-like edifice and tile work, the moat running along the building, the bridges, the fountains…it’s no wonder thousands of people visit this plaza each year.

Click to see more pictures from the Plaza de España!

One interesting fact about the Plaza de España, is that it has been the set for several Hollywood movies. In Lawrence of Arabia, it was used to portray the entry of the General Allenby in alleged Damascus, where the plaza itself portrayed the headquarters of the British Officers. And remember planet Naboo in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones? Yep, it was the Plaza de España. This past August, it was also used to film a scene in the newest Sasha Baron Cohen film, Finchley Dreams.

In 1929, Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition, a world’s fair for the purpose of improving relations between Spain and the countries in attendance, many of them being former colonies. In preparation for the World Fair, Spain constructed many new buildings to hold exhibits from their country as well as others. The most famous building to hold these exhibits was built by Spanish architect Don Aníbal González and is what currently surrounds the Plaza de España today.

As I strolled along, underneath the overhang of the buildings, I looked out through the archways into the center of the plaza, trying to comprehend the immense size. From time to time I would stop to listen to the soothing hum of a Spanish ballad being played on guitar or the the amusing sight of a vendor trying to teach two tourists a flamenco beat with castanets. Although I have a few more months of being able to visit the Plaza de España, I wanted each moment of my first visit to be permanently impressed in my memory. But with the sights and sounds surrounding me at Plaza de España, it is certainly an experience that will stay with me for years after I leave.

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside.

References: Andalucia.comSpain-holiday.com Photo credit: Flickr

My Newest Discovery in Spain? Olive Oil.

I knew Spain, especially the southern region of Andalucia, was serious about their olive oil. But it wasn’t until I saw huge two-liter bottles being sold at grocery stores and had many of my dinners deliciously drenched in the stuff that I finally said, “Ok ok, I get it.”

Everywhere I turn, there is olive oil. At the store, in restaurants, in kitchen cabinets, on the table next to the bread. Coming from a place where I just grabbed plain ole vegetable oil to sauté or coat the frying pan, this basic ingredient and flavor in Andalucian cuisine seemed to me like a new-found “secret of life.”

Like Spanish wine, olives and olive trees have a long and ancient history of cultivation in the Mediterranean area. The trees are said to have originated in Greece about 6,000 years ago, where stone tablets dating back to 2,500 BC have been found making reference to the plant. The Phoenicians and Greeks brought the olive tree to Spain and cultivation was further expanded under the Romans. The Arabs also continued to improve the technique of olive oil production during their rule. In fact, the Spanish word for oil, aceite, is derived from the Arabic word, al-zeit and “stuffed olive,” aceituna, also comes from the Arabic word al-zeituna.

Andalucia is the largest olive oil producer in the world, which may be why I see it drizzled over everything, from toasted bread in the mornings to tapas at night. Catalonia, Castile-La Mancha and Aragón are also popular oil producing regions in Spain, each with it’s own unique and distinct flavor. Some oils from Andalucia are considered fruity, slightly bitter and peppery or with a touch of sweetness and piquancy from Aragón.

Spanish cuisine follows the Mediterranean Diet, which is known to be incredibly beneficial to your health.Mediterranean meals are comprised of a “generous use of olive oil, for cooking as well as garnishing, lots of healthy legumes and nuts, pasta, bread and rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products such as cheese, and plenty of fish.”

Olive oil is a fundamental part of that Spanish diet and it also happens to be one of the healthiest oils in the world (why was I using vegetable oil…). Not only is it full of antioxidants and very easy to digest, it is also known to reduce and keep cholesterol levels in check. Although it is recommended to use virgin or extra virgin olive oil varieties to ensure you are reaping the benefits and getting this oil in its purest form.

Until you can experience fresh, flavorful Spanish cuisine first-hand and savor their famous olive oil in it’s most traditional and purest form, you can always cook a Mediterranean meal at home. Here is a recipe for Salmorejo, a cold soup, very similar to gazpacho, but richer and smoother. Add some fresh rolls drizzled with olive oil along with a glass of Spanish wine and enjoy!

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside. 

References: Olive Oil from SpainAsolivaAndalucia.com

Where the new meets the old: Seville’s Plaza de la Encarnación

It’s hard to imagine what Plaza de la Encarnación would’ve looked like years ago when there weren’t six giant mushroom shaped parasols rising above the busy plaza, before it became home to the largest wooden structure in the world.

Plaza de la Encarnación was the setting of a food market (the same one there today in fact) but in 1973 when their facilities needed improvement and there was talk of incorporating an underground parking space into the same area, the stalls were knocked down. An above ground parking lot temporarily inhabited the plaza until a clear building plan was made to integrate a new market, underground parking and Roman ruins, which had been discovered in the 1990s. This ancient Roman colony was said to consist of “structures including two Late Antique houses with courtyards, a possible church, and other houses or structures in the vicinity of a later Islamic house.” The structure was designed in 2007 by German architect Jürgen Mayer H and construction began soon after.

It’s easy to tilt your head and imagine you’re seeing a large honeycombed spaceship descending upon Sevilla, but the structure actually includes four useable levels. The first level (below ground) was designed so you can walk around the excavated Roman ruins and the second street-level view includes a large farmer’s market along with a couple cafes. The third level, a raised platform below the structure, is a beautiful open space where you can really take in the massive size of the structure. The fourth level is my favorite. On the very top of the Metropol Parasol they have created a large panoramic deck to see the unforgettable views over the ancient city center.

Although this plaza has been open since March 27, 2011, opinions still remain divided about the structure. As someone who has no roots in Seville, I tend to have a little different perspective.

The Metropol Parasol is a (large) hint of the new in a city that steadfastly and so beautifully preserves the traditional. To some it looks out of place, a towering behemoth of light wood next to the muted Medieval tones of the cathedrals, cobblestone streets and apartment buildings. But to me, this modern structure represents that young, vibrant, you-can’t-quite-place-it feel of Seville.

For a city that has seen the Phoenicians, the Roman Empire, the Arabs and all the diverse history since, it easily preserves all that traditional quality and feel, without being, well, boring. There is a deep history here that I can’t fathom having grown up in the U.S. Visions of a 7-year-old me running through Colonial Williamsburg in a mop cap and pinafore thinking I was in really old, ancient times comes to mind…But now I’m walking over Roman ruins every day.

Plaza de la Encarnación is hugged by the old and traditional, but confidently represents that fresh, dynamic feel of Sevilla that you’ll never forget.

This article was originally published on Andalucia Inside.

References:Arup.comsouthampton.ac.ukdesignbuild-network.com, Photo Credit: Overhours.com