Monday, May 28, 2018

Madrid vs Seville

So, what ever happened to the blog posts about Madrid? And Seville, and Porto, Portugal? Well, we’re still mulling over Porto. Nice town, but we are not drawn to it. Still, lots of possibilities in Portugal, I think. Maybe we’ll spend more time there, later.

As for Madrid… as expected, our return to Seville at the end of April clarified our lack of enthusiasm for Spain’s largest city. Sitting in a small plaza in Seville on a busy Saturday this is how it appeared to me.

Madrid vs Seville

It has been very satisfying to be back in Seville! I feel the same elegance, the same beauty, the same heart and soul as the last time we were here. It’s satisfying to walk down the same streets, see the same landmarks, and find our way through the narrow, tortuous lanes that once seemed so impossible, but now so familiar, even after being gone for 18 months. And I’ve come to understand our dissatisfaction with Madrid.

Monumental buildings. Broad boulevards. A massive park. World- class museums. Huge, open squares jammed with people speaking every imaginable language.

          Such is Madrid

Narrow cobbled streets. Odd street angles. Low buildings with beautiful tiled courtyards. Streets suddenly coming together in a small plaza filled with kids and baby carriages. Small hidden parks with large spreading trees and exquisitely tiled benches.

          That's Seville

La Giralda with the full moon
I know now that it wasn't just jet lag or unfamiliar surroundings that put us off from Spain’s capital. Seville really is more lovable! (Well, I meant “livable” but lovable works too!)

The street life here (and we're talking Seville now) has a certain low-level intensity ­­– noticeable, but far short of frantic. Around the cathedral the crowds are thick, the foreign tongues many, the cafes and shops tourist oriented. There's a Starbucks, and down the street, across from another Starbucks, is a Burger King next to a Dunkin' Coffee (they don't have donuts here). Not too far away, in the small plaza where I'm sitting, with cafe tables spilling into the street, younger kids are climbing on the play equipment tucked into a corner of the plaza, while locals stream through, going about their Saturday afternoon business.  Meanwhile, a few tourist types wander by, studying their maps and rubbernecking at the buildings.

There’s vitality, a lived-in-ness, here that is endlessly satisfying. Madrid felt too big, too distant, too cold to appeal to us in the same way.

I spoke to our landlady, Victoria, about the two cities. She owns the apartments we stayed in, both in Madrid and in Seville.  I explained our dilemma over our lack of enthusiasm for Madrid. About how we found more love in Seville than the larger city. She nodded; she understood, but she grew up in Madrid, has family there, and visits often (using the apartment we rented). She finds plenty of heart and soul in Madrid! But she understood; we just don’t have the connections that she does.

Plaza d'Espagna, Sevilla

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While travel is endlessly engrossing, and can be very satisfying and exciting, seeing new sights and experiencing different customs, we never forget our friends at home. Rarely, though, do we actually get to see them until we get back. So we’re always grateful when we have a chance to visit with someone we know. This time we were able to visit with our friends Judy and Robert, from Los Osos,  CA. They were in the midst of their own travels, and we were able to meet up for a few days in Seville.

We had a good time showing them some of our favorite places in Seville, like the Plaza de Espana and the incomparable Alcazar (the 12th Century Moorish palace). Plus, we got to share travel stories. Thanks, Judy & Robert, for making sure we got together!

Night time tour of the Alcazar
Daytime in the Alcazar gardens, with Judy and Robert

Now, back in Alicante, we are spending more and more time thinking of what happens after August. It’s an interesting balance, this long-term travel. We want to be in the moment, experience what’s happening now. At the same time, we’ve got to keep an eye on where we will be, where we will stay, four to six months from now. Plans are locked in through the end of August (a month in London!). We’re currently looking at Central Europe and Turkey in the fall, another visit to Croatia, and then back here in Alicante in November. We were quite taken by the Christmas season in Seville, so we expect we’ll be back there for December and January. After that? Too early to tell!

La Vila Joiosa, a cutesy beach town up the coast from Alicante

Next up: we ride the tram up the coast, and visit some other beach towns...

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Three Weeks in Alicante

My, my! Five weeks into our European adventure! And what's up with us?

We’ve been in Alicante, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, for almost three weeks. We’re finding our way around, and finding many reasons to like this sea-side town.

Initially we were put off by the town’s appearance, after the elegance and beauty of Seville. Here we find high-rise buildings on the beach, and newer high-rises built in front of older ones, blocking their view. (Indeed, where we are staying has a large, wide living room that may have had wonderful views of the ocean at one time; now it looks out on the brick wall of the building in front of us!) The downtown area is a jumble of styles and ages, neither classily ancient, nor fully modern.
What it's all about here -- the beach! We live at the far end, kinda to the left of that high rise.

View from our roof. See the highrise to the right? Those buildings to the left used to have a view!
(Thanks to my daughter Nina for the photo; that's her shadow on the right!)

Inside. Nice big room; lovely brick wall!

But then, this is a beach town! People come here from all over Europe – and the world – for the sun and sand, not lessons in history. Not that there is no history here. It was a Greek settlement, then a Roman one, and the Moors first fortified the hill overlooking the city. After they were driven out in the 15th Century various European factions moved through, enhancing the hill-top fortifications to protect the town from pirates, and the Turks. Throughout it all, the city was bombarded and destroyed several times, the last being during the Spanish Civil War when it was attacked by Italian war planes and over 1000 Republican supporters were killed.

Today, though, it’s all about good times. Our first night here, when we were joined by my daughter, Nina, we wandered through a very lively restaurant and cafĂ© area. The tables spilling out into the streets were filled with diners and drinkers. We passed streets full of outdoor sports bars, where patrons followed the game on huge screens hung outside the bars, and every good play was marked by loud cheering all over the neighborhood.

Lively outdoor sports bar, one of many cafes in downton Alicante.

We later came upon a quiet park with massive fig trees, their air roots reaching the ground and forming enormous trunks, much like Banyans.  A dozen or so tables surrounded a kiosk bar. We sat in the golden glow of the sodium-vapor lights and had cocktails. A very romantic setting!

Yeah, it's a bar.

Nina and her dad, me!

Paula and Nina. Nice cocktail!
Since then we’ve covered the city pretty well. We heard about a fantastic art venue, the old train station now called Casa Mediterraneo. While in the process of being restored it’s had a translucent blue roof installed that lends a beautiful relaxing glow to the large interior space. Alicante was just ending a festival celebrating Turkish culture, and the space, while empty, had large portraits hung around the walls, paintings inspired by the artist's visits to Turkey. We returned at the end of the week for a Sunday concert presenting Turkish-inspired music played by a local orchestra.

Casa Mediterraneo. Great performance & exhibition space!

A local orchestra, play8ing Turkish-themed music
The portrait artist, on the far left, next to Teresa.

Afterwards we ran into Teresa, the rental agent for the apartment we’re renting; a Madrid native, she’s been here in Alicante for almost two decades. We walked with her back through town, among local families out strolling on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We passed along the beach, already crowded, and it’s only mid-May!

Copacabana in Rio? No, just folks out for a Sunday stroll on the Passeig Esplanada d'Espanya in Alicante

And a little further down the beach another trippy walkway!

Detail of the beach walk. Interestingly, this pattern is identical to one I saw in Fez, Morocco.
The Moorish influence is still prevalent!

We arrived at Teresa’s favorite xiringuito, or beach bar, just a few blocks from our apartment. Although the tables were jammed with the Sunday lunch crowd, we found places at the bar and tried Teresa’s suggestion, Vermout, which she referred to as a “home-made martini.” Dark, clear, and well-iced it was very refreshing, and went down well. But I stopped at one! Two hours and several plates of shared tapas later (not as sophisticated as the gourmet dishes in Seville, but good and not expensive), we were satisfied, full, and very amused. I ended with a different view of Alicante – this is a fun town!

At the xiringuito with Teresa and Elenor, a visitor from Florida

So, whatever happened to Madrid? And Porto? And Seville? Ah, those are tales for another time! Perhaps we'll hear more about them soon, but for now, we're in Alicante, living five minutes from the beach!

One of the more elegant buildings in Alicante, reminiscent of the South of France -- Nice, or Montpellier.
And, note the "Peace" sculpture to the right.

Another former train station
Alicante's Central Market, built in 1912; damaged but survived the bombing during the Civil War (1939)

Inside the Central Market
The whimsical mushroom street (Calle San Francisco)

        Up next: 
Seville vs. Madrid. And maybe something about Porto