Friday, February 28, 2014

Love Sevilla so much we are staying another month! Wait for it, other happenings first

NO8DO is a sign you see absolutely everywhere here and following is an explanation.

Visitors to Seville will notice a symbol on many signs around the city, from taxis and buses to sewer covers, consisting of the letters ´NO8DO´. This is the city´s logo, and legend says that it originates from the 13th-century coat of arms awarded to Sevilla by King Alfonso X the Wise. He bestowed it in gratitude for Seville´s support in his battles against his son, Sancho IV of Castile, who wanted to usurp his father´s throne during the Reconquest. Between the ´NO and ´DO´ is an 8-shaped bundle of wool (madeja in Spanish). Add the three together, speaking in Seville´s fast, elliptical accent and you have ´no-madeja-do´, more correctly, ´no me ha dejado´ which means ´it (the city) has not abandoned me´. The motto was his reward to the people of Seville for their loyalty. From the website

Parade of a different sort. We walked to the Alameda da Hercules. Before getting there I could hear clapping, there was an ambulance at the end of the street and more people than other times we’ve been there. People were clapping to urge runners on, it was a marathon!  The racers kept coming and coming for an hour! We didn’t think there were that many runners in Sevilla, but also know there were people in it from Portugal and who knows where else. Googling it says there were 9000 runners registered. No wonder it took so long for them to come through!  It’s longest is 30 kilometers, but one can do smaller distances also.

A few were dressed in costumes, some rode bikes or roller bladed. The route has been designed to avoid cobblestones and is flat, through the city. There were many support crews, ambulance and police along the route. It has been running, pun intended, since 1995. February here is a warm month but not hot like August so runners seemed relatively comfortable. Anyway it was fun to see and certainly no high heels or hats were visible.

Ivan said it is a fairly recent phenomenon, jogging in Sevilla he thinks brought on by American students who come to study here.

There is a 24 hour relay marathon in Central Park every year which I lived next to in Burnaby for many years. People pitch tents to sleep in, being a relay they run in teams with many corporate sponsors. There are volleyball games, food stands, vendor stands all matter of things to keep people interested while waiting their turn to run. It’s a 24 hour party basically but because people are running many, not all, are careful of alcohol consumption. I would freeze a bunch of wet face cloths and throw them at friends to cool them off. It was much appreciated!

Many bodegas bring out a free appetizer, usually olives and garbanzo beans. We had one today, totally different. Shredded white cabbage covered with olive oil and some sort of red spice, (we think it's dried red pepper) it was delicious! Another, same place, pickled beets with onion, yum! We just marvel over the food here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, mentioned many times.

Big Decision

We’ve decided to stay in Sevilla another month! Both Ivan and Pepe said you’ll get to experience the orange blossoms!

Now we are spending a couple of days re-booking flights, hotels and accommodation for end of March.  Decision made Monday evening, wake Tuesday morning – yes, still serious about it. We are supposed to be leaving Saturday so you get the picture. Sort of feels like a Shirley Valentine moment.

The day included emailing our partners of the change and Pepe coming to visit to ensure we still had a home for the next month. He also gave us a new dining table and put light bulbs in a couple of places, much better. Sunlight comes in now around noon so really brightens up the place. He also re-booked our flights for us, beyond our Spanish speaking abilities. Thank you Pepe!

We both feel so happy about this decision! Miss on seeing our partners in the Freiburg flat and that is sad, but they are happy to stay for March as well! Bonus for us all! And isn’t it funny, a good reason we are staying is to experience the orange flower blossoms with incredible smells; they are staying to see the Rhododendrons. Flowers are a powerful motivation as my florist friend would attest.
Ivan's picture of a soon to come orange blossom

So that's our current news. What I appreciate most is Bruce and I just "feeling" it's not right to stay or go, we're in tune that way. Makes for an easy, fruitful and wonderful time together.

Cheers, Bev, Bruce and Lexi cat who, smart cat, she is was already figuring out something was up by our bringing boxes home to ship stuff to Freiburg but has settled back in again, as we have.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Alonso at Amarillo Albero

We have found out why this is a custom here, please read the post again.

This is "where the waiter almost knows our name", at our "local", the Amarillo Albero ("the golden-haired little girl"). Well, we finally introduced ourselves to him. His name is Alonso; he's from Venezuela. His mother is Spanish and lives in Huelva where Pepe lives. He came here only three years ago, thought it too dangerous to continue living in Venezuela because there is much violence. He has three boys and brought them here to Spain. Our conversation (or I should say Bruce’s) was mostly in Spanish and tested Bruce’s vocabulary, but Alonso spoke slowly and made sure we understood what was said before continuing. Funny, I could get about half and Bruce got the other half by understanding what he  actually said. So he comped us again on another drink and we think charged about half price for the meal. We left a good tip; he needs to feed his children and we appreciate the service.

Later, another day, Alonso remembers our names, have a tapa each, then Alonso brings us another, a la casa (on the house). Ready to go, pay the bill, which is too small for what we consumed, so tip well again - and he brings us another tapa, again al la casa. We were warned not to over-tip so I guess he’s trying to pay us back. We’ll go back to regular tips and hope this one-up thing stops. Like and appreciate the gesture(s), but not comfortable with it.

Great discussion over this between Bruce and I for reasons why. We talk at length about this. Alonso must have been a waiter in Venezuela, if he wasn't, he is a good one now. He cares about the people he serves and works really hard, especially when it is busy on weekends when he almost runs back and forth from bar to tables.

And here he is!

Okay, this is getting ridiculous! Next visit, we deliberately decide not to order something to eat but do order a drink, nice sunny Sunday again. Alonso comes out with a tapa, then another, a la casa, both, then when it comes time to pay he won’t let us pay for anything! We now think maybe the proprieter/owner of the place is behind some of this, but since he’s always behind the bar, Alonso must tell him. Beyond silly and the language barrier is problematic to both thank properly and stop it from happening, it’s getting embarrassing!  Only a few days left here sadly, but we will miss him and his eagerness to make sure everyone has a good time there. It seems that Quid Pro Quo really applies here. 

If you are curious and Google the bodega you won't see fabulous reviews, a mixture of good and not so good. The bar across the street does a roaring business but is very crowded much of the time, mixed reviews there too, we prefer Amarillo Albero. Just preferences, as with all reviews and circumstances of the visit(s). For us it's more about the food quality, service and not always the most popular place to go, more of a locals place. We have had consistently a great experience here. So my next thing to do would be give it a good rating on Tripadvisor. Done.

Pepe explained to us by talking to Alonso that the bar is taking good care of people like us who frequent often. We take care of them by being there and patronizing the bar. So it is all a win-win, and still appreciated from our point of view. Thank you Pepe for getting that clear for us. So far we thought we were doing quite well about understanding Spanish customs but this one puzzled us. It is good business from the bodega's point of view and ours also because we like going there. So thank you Alonso and Amarillo Albero for making our stay here more pleasing.

Cheers, Bev, Bruce, Lexi Cat and Alonso too I'm sure!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Neighbourhoods and Walking tour of Santa Cruz Barrio

Walking more neighbourhoods, and this city has many, we found the street showcasing women’s dress designers, along with wedding gowns, but gowns were different from before, these were originals. Jewelled, some with Flamenco influence, some short, sexy dresses. They were in a variety of stunning colours and if beads were added, just shimmered. Works of art really!

Walked to Alameda da Hercules as mentioned before but today it is a sunny Sunday and everyone is out, all ages enjoying the sun. Cafes are crowded and we were lucky to be a bit early and scored a seat for a while. Wonderful tapas and a beer each. Don’t know who are cuter the kids or the dogs. All types of dogs but can’t describe properly how individual and wonderful they were.

The architecture is so varied here, we were walking the street we do daily, and I found another cupola I hadn’t noticed before. Now walking this path is fraught with difficulty,  (for us, not locals) lanes are narrow, sidewalks as well, some wider than others. If a truck comes by you just find the nearest doorway with an instep, because they sometimes have to drive on the sidewalks to get through. Everyone is careful and people are polite, so it works, just feels awkward to us  because we are walking along a rather major one way street. All part of living and learning in a different place and surprisingly we’ve adapted quite well.  Ivan said you can tell the age of the street by how narrow or wide it is and we've seen that. The street we live on is wider and better sidewalks than the street we walk down to go shopping, with many broken cobblestones.

The Net is  down again. Lately we have been having daily trouble with it.

We’ve had a couple of sunny warm days and I have to pinch myself it’s mid-February.  I’m thinking we might  be about a week late to experience the orange blossoms, but I’ll keep hoping until we leave.

I was asked if I spoke French today, hah! But that is the dilemma when in Europe. A person can tell you don’t speak the local language, then they have to ask what language you speak. With visitors from all over Europe, who’s to know? One waitress in Cadiz made it easy by saying hello in about five languages. 

Something I don't think I've mentioned, many restaurants have menus in different languages, in the tourist areas. In Cadiz it was Spanish, English and German. Depending where you are and proximity to neighbouring countries will depend on languages offered. We try to read from the original language menu and sometimes that produces surprises in what is received! Alternatively, we'll look at an English menu and compare the words in Spanish or German. Then there is the mangled spelling, we've encountered this many times. Well, at least they made an effort, but why, oh why, can't they have it checked before spending the money to have them printed? I often want to go to management and offer my services to correct but it would probably offend them.

On a Saturday and suddenly I see many very dressed up people, I mean seriously dressed complete with high heels, hats, very colourful, pretty dresses, men in fancy suits. It’s a parade! No, a wedding ceremony had just finished and people were walking back to their cars.  I’ve seen these hats at the shopping places, and wondered about them and when they would be worn. They are large flowers or bows with netting on a hair band, or full hats, or, anyway, nothing like I’ve seen available in Canada. Anyway it was a parade of women dressed “to the nines” and men as well, just not as colourful. Lovely to get the chance to see! Bruce’s comment was there were many women in high heels walking down cobblestones that weren’t all that good at it and there would be some twisted ankles tonight. Okay… I’m not quite as cynical, maybe one or two…

In Canada we dress up for weddings of course but not to this degree. I think the hats are what makes it different. I haven’t seen a fancy hat on a woman in Canada for a very long time, if ever, mostly we wear toques if we wear hats at all, practical and necessary! Okay, enough about hats… not quite, they were impressive.

Walking tour of the Santa Cruz Neighbourhood/Barrio

What to say about this wonderful barrio! To preface, I will not do justice to the information  Ivan imparted to us, so much more than  I can remember or tell.

Elaborate cross on top of a cage, next picture ...

Locking cage where people were put to atone for their sins - ugh!
The barrio is filled with natural light that infuses you with good feelings. Ivan took us on a tour pointing out the churches, temples and palaces. Explaining the street  (Calle) names: water where fresh water was brought in and waste water out; life which you need water to survive; and pepper, it  is said that Calle Picante was named after a fellow who when  he was sad and cried, his tears fell to the floor and pepper plants sprang up. Many stories like that gave us a true history of the place. But sometimes there are many legends for the same story so it is diffucult to know what is actually true. Makes for wonderful telling anyway.

It’s the former Jewish neighbourhood so Moorish architecture dominates. Although Ivan said they are different and one specific area should be called the Jewish part, another the Moors due to inhabitants time frames. Streets are narrow, and we thought they were in the neighbourhood we are currently in! Hah, not so much. Saw a smallish car go through with about an inch on either side of it’s mirrors to fit.

Wide selection of tea, smelled divine!

When the Catholic King came into power he gave the Jews three choices: Convert to Catholicsism; leave without your belongings; or be shot without benefit of a trial. Tough ruling.

The light, the light, the light, just shines off the buildings, it was midday and warm but not hot. It’s an area which has been home to many painters inspired to do their work in and photography in later years. 

Another courtyard, look at the gate and the tile behind. 

Ivan said, stop here and get your camera out. A fantastic view of the cathedral and it was worth taking the picture. The statue on top has a story also. No one has determined whether it is a depiction of a man or a woman. It apparently has breasts but doesn’t seem female. Hmm don’t know what else to say on that. 


We stopped to have an orange infused wine at a local’s place, they make it right there and it was nirvana, sweet and orange flavour came right through. Peanuts in their shell were served with and a perfect addition. It’s a family owned restaurant, passed down through generations called Taberna La Fresquita. This is why we hired Ivan, he knows the special places to go to get the neighbourhood good things, true tidbits that you do not get as a regular tourist.

Stopped in at a beautiful Spa called Aire. It’s a renewed luxury Arab spa, not much changed from the original. He now has many including i.e New York, Barcelona, and Almeria. Ivan said he buys his Mom a gift certificate to go there and she enjoys it. To read more go to a it's in Spanish, but you'll get a picture of the space.

Walked some more past many tapas restaurants, palaces mostly closed to the public and just gazed at everything. Poked our heads in doorways to view the courtyards (Ivan and Pepe too, told us it's okay to look; if the owner comes out, just say "Muey buena and all is forgiven). 

Santa Cruz is a tourist area being close to the cathedral but in moments a street will empty and become silent and peaceful. Aside from that momentary peace, kids from neighbouring schools came through, all in uniform, and were jubilantly noisy.

There are many legends and stories about famous people for example Don Juan (now on a pedestal in bronze) was to have serenaded and captured the love of a nun in one square. This is the area of Sevilla that he “partied” in, wooing many women.

Had some wonderful tapas at Vineria An Telmo and moved on to have a drink next to the river Guadalquivir, the name means big river (in Arabic) which runs beside the city and ends in a large port of export.

Another wonderful day with our guide Ivan! Thank you once again for giving another “intimate” view of the city of Sevilla.