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Tuesday, February 25

Southern Spain- Seville & Malaga

Seville is the largest city in the state and receives the most visitors due to its size, Flamenco and Alcazar. In the walking tour, we learned of the Giralda (attached to the Cathedral) that was built as a Minaret but eventually converted to bell tower. We learned thoroughly of the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III in 13th century. After touring through the city on foot, one of my favorite spots was Plaza de Espana, a large square with renaissance architecture now houses government offices and decorative tiles.

After the tour we headed to Bar Alfalfa in the city. With a full bar and standing room only we ordered few tapas at the bar. When we entered, few tables had a cheesy dip so we ordered that, Pollo al Horno, Sliced bread with melted cheese and Jamon, Paella, Salmorejo and Blood Sangria to wash it all down with. The “blood” was play on words due to Halloween. Our favorite was the baked cheese made with Provolone and dipped with bread. Paella was cooked with seafood and although very good on flavors it was under salted. Both the Salmorejo and the bread with jamon were acceptable while the jamon provided great flavors, deeming it memorable. Our least favorite was the Pollo al Horno which was boiled chicken, seasoned with salt so overall bland. The sangria was excellent with a hint of cinnamon.

That afternoon we visited the Alcazar, located minutes from the Cathedral. It was built during Moorish era as a fort and is now restored as a palace. Due to the high number of visitors to the Alhambra, the Alcazar is the opposite and relaxed. The palace was first built as a main fort and then had additions added later by kings and queens. There are more gardens than you’d expect and some are worth the stroll. There is a lot of history to the Alcazar including the transformation from Muslim era to Christian. When we were there they didn’t offer guided tours so we opted for the audio guide and we recommend it. And unlike the Alhambra, stroll at your own pace without feeling rushed. I mentioned the husband was underwhelmed by the architecture (because of seeing it in Turkey & India) but if he had to pick one over another, he recommends the Alhambra over the Alcazar. In my opinion, if you have the time, visit both.

Bar Modesto serves food and also has a restaurant across the street (I am not sure if they are related). We ordered Gambas in Ajio (shrimp in garlic sauce), mushrooms with shrimp and Jamon, Potato salad with seafood, and Albondigas (meatballs). The shrimp were served hot in a Cazuela, very garlicky and a hint of red chili flakes. The meatballs were made of deer meat, served with tomato sauce and unusually memorable. And the other dishes were very good also. An important note about the service, it is extremely wonderful. Our server was a short, petite man and very understanding. He suggested couple of our dishes for the night and we were happy he chose them.

We dedicated the next day to wondering Seville on our own and hoping to find some gems, starting with a visit to Triana Market (the largest farmers market in the city) at 10am. Upon entering, most of the stalls were still shut and boarded up. We found ourselves across the street at an unnamed café for breakfast. We ordered pan con tomate y jamon (bread with tomato and ham) with cortado, shot of espresso with warm milk. (Apparently cortados are all the rage in US- mainly NYC because things have to be cool and mainstream to get attention.) At this café it was strong but delightful. After breakfast, we saw many homes and streets dotted with citrus trees and beautiful tiles. It is obvious the Moors impacted this area tremendously with their colorful creativity.

Bodeguita Romero was a quick snack before an actual lunch. The reason to visit this place was to try Pringa, sandwich made normally with beef or pork. We ordered braised pork cheek Pringa and the server suggested Pavia de Baccalao. Pavia is salted cod that’s breaded and deep fried. Both were very good, the pringa was rich from the fatty cheeks but tasty with a glass of beer. Romero is best for a quick lunch or post dinner snacks.

Then it was off to Enrique Becerra around the corner. 1 because it was so close and 2 because why not? That day was dedicated to good food. This place was packed with locals and was standing room only. The back used for dinner is curtained off during lunch. If you can snatch a bar stool seat or two, you’re lucky, which we were. Seeing others’ tables, we pointed and got some of the same things as the locals, chocos en la Rioja, Salmon in White Sauce and Albondigas. The chocos (squid) was braised for hours in Rioja red wine sauce and one of the husband’s favorite things in that meal, to our surprise. The Albondigas were my favorite from the entire trip because they are made with lamb and flavors of mint. The fish in white sauce was served in bite sized pieces per person. It was also good but we couldn’t understand why others around us kept ordering it. Later we learned the fish was their daily special and was half off hence the multiple orders from the same people.

That afternoon we spent relaxing in our room. Before dinner we walked over to Triana market at 5pm for a stroll and found all the stalls were boarding up. Do these people actually open for more than 2 hours?

It was off to Bar Modesto again before a Flamenco show. We ordered new dishes, fish and seafood soup, sea bass with cauliflower and pearl wheat, grilled squid with cauliflower, fresh shrimp and stuffed zucchini with seafood. The sea bass was a winner with balancing flavors and textures from the veg and bulgur. The shrimp were cold and with head on but very fresh. And the soup was nice, the stock made with fish bones. While the stuffed zucchini was good, the concept was too modern, especially for a restaurant like Modesto.

If you are interested in seeing Flamenco, make sure to book seats before the show and arrive early. At Casa De La Memoria, you stand in line, first come first serve basis and therefore score good seats. We had never seen Flamenco, even on TV, so it was a new for us. We learned, later, Flamenco was started by the Romani people in Andalucía and is a combination of singing, dancing and playing the guitar. We both recommend Casa de La Memoria because it devotes the evening to the singing, dancing and its dancers and the expression of tragedy and happiness; there isn’t food and there isn’t conversation. The show here was unexpectedly good and the dancing was brilliant.

Breakfast in southern Spain is impossible to find. We conclude it is because people party late into the night and don’t wake up in time for breakfast. If the hotel provides breakfast, opt for that.

We’ve done walking tours in other cities we’ve visited. The premise is a local person offers a tour in English with highlights of the city in 2-3 hours. Our experience in Seville with knowledgeable Santiago from Columbia was descriptive and he recommended a tour in Malaga so we drove to Malaga the next morning for the tour and lunch.  In the tour, we enjoyed Malaga on a beautiful day and saw sights.  Unfortunately the tour guide wasn’t very good and mostly complained about the Spanish economy driving out the locals to other parts of Europe or America. At one point, the husband and I rolled our eyes and said “we get it dude, you’re angry about the country’s economy.” Who wants a sulky tour guide? Though seeing Roman ruins in Malaga was a neat experience.

After the tour, we walked into La Campana. This place is busy with locals so expect to stand outside or tightly squeeze into the restaurant and stand by the bar. Busy might be an understatement, sardines in a can is a better description. You have to push your way through and order at the bar. Getting the servers’ attention is impossible with others trying to do the same.

We ordered Boquerones (deep fried Anchovies), Calamari, Puplo (fried Octopus), Torta de Camarones (Shrimp pancakes) and Mussels. Everything we ordered was fried. I believe, almost everything on the menu is fried. So as they say, if it’s fried or swimming in butter, it is bound to be delicious; we agree. Everything we got was perfect, the calamari and octopus were a little overdone but nothing to complain about. Others were ordering Gambas a la Mancha, cooked shrimp, served cold. We wished we had ordered that but we were stuffed. The local bier of choice is Victoria (especially at this restaurant) so we followed suit and ordered it and a St. Miguel. The environment at La Campana is blue collar so expectation of high class and status need to be left at the door.

Once our trip and driving around Andalucía was over, we drove to Malaga on our last night for dinner and sleep before our early morning (6am!) flight back home. We stayed at the Amador, highly rated restaurant and hotel. The room on the top floor has stunning view of the sea. We enjoyed the view for 2- 3 hours during dinner at the restaurant. We ordered ajo blanco, garlic and almond soup with shrimp and grape sorbet. Grape sorbet with garlic soup? It’s that type of restaurant. It was a fantastic combination. We ordered paella with shrimps, cuttlefish and monkfish for two. (Southern Spain isn’t known for paella but we wanted something other than tapas and all the meat dishes seemed too heavy.) The seafood was fresh and perfectly cooked, the rice was fine but we had paella in another trip (report coming soon) and that one was more memorable and worth every bite.

From the multiple trips we have taken thus far Spain has captured my heart. Now about that dream....

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