Zambra Flamenco

Today has been a busy day but it is not over yet. Earlier today I visited the large Alhambra complex. I have since returned to my room to shower. Tonight I have reservations to see zambra flamenco in an authentic Sacromonte cave. This is not my first time seeing flamenco, I’ve seen various shows in the USA and even saw a fabulous show in Sevilla in 2012. However the flamenco here is different- it has been said that here in Sacromonte is one of the birth places of the famous dance. This type of dancing, zambra flamenco, has more influences from other areas: Roma (Romani and Indian), Moriscos, and Arabic. It is distinct in its use of hand symbols, ruffled dresses, and soulful singing accompanied by guitar playing. In Sacromonte it is performed in cave houses.

My reservation is at 10:30 PM . As an early-to-sleep person it is amazing that I book the late show but I figure it is Spain, everything is better later, isn’t it?

I have plenty of time before the show so I wander up the hills of Albaicín. My hotel is on a street that is technically at the edge of Albaicín but to really get a feel for the area you must climb the hill streets to get a view of the greater city of Granada.

More views of the alhambra

My first stop is at Mirador Placeta de Carvajales a small park that overlooks the Alhambra. There is a music group filming a music video here. I sit back and enjoy the free entertainment.

I get my first flamenco show of the day.

The plan is to visit the popular Mirador de San Nicolás to possibly watch the sunset and eat a light dinner nearby. It is very crowded at Mirador de San Nicolás since everyone wants to watch the sunset today. It is too crowded for my taste and I’ve seen my fair share of remarkable sunsets so I decide to eat. I don’t see a particular restaurant that really catches my eye so I choose a place with outside seating. I order wine and a huge ass plate of cheese once again. There is a great guitar player performing while I eat though.

Alhambra view
Lots of cheese

After my cheese I walk in the direction of Sacromonte. I end up in a quiet alley where someone is singing from a minaret. It is almost like a call to prayer, perhaps it is.

At this point I am far uphill so I need to start walking downhill to get to the cave that is hosting tonight’s performance. For once I am walking downhill and I guess my feet are not used to it because I stub my toe. Darn minimalist shoes on cobble streets!

I get to the narrow street I need to walk down. There really isn’t a sidewalk and it appears cars can come both ways. Perhaps many people get dropped off in this area by taxi? The venue isn’t too far down the street.

I am attending my show at Cuevas Los Tarantos. Most likely these performances were more “authentic” and catered to locals but now they are more catered to tourists like me. Some venues have more a of tourist-trap feel to them but the venue I am attending tonight has many good reviews. As long as I am entertained who really cares that I am in a “touristy” place.

Cuevas Los Tarantos during the day.

I arrive very early as usual but it allows me to enjoy two sangrias prior to the show instead of one. I spend a couple minutes in a cave next door with my fun drink and then head over to the other cave when the previous show finally ends.

The band enters into the cave like room where the performance will be held and soon after the dancers arrive. The guitar player plays and the dancers clap along while seated. One by one the dancers perform solo acts. I have seen male dancers as part of a duo before but this is the first time I’ve seen them perform solo. In the show there were two very good male performers. Also a woman is very skillful with a dance using finger symbols. She is popular with the group.

Below are some still photos of the evening, one of these does not belong-see if you can point out the one that is out of place.

Overall it is a good show. There is a great night view of the Alhambra on the walk back. The streets are quiet but are well lit so I feel safe walking back alone. I do find entertainment in watching taxis navigate the narrow streets.

Tomorrow I climb the hills of Sacromonte once more to visit the cave museum.

Alhambra

View of Alhambra from Sacromonte
In Nasrid Palaces
Generalife Gardens

The main event of today is a visit to the Alhambra, a royal residence in Granada during the Nasrid kingdom (mid 13th century). The fortress like structure sits on a hill and can be viewed from most of Granada.

I have time to take advantage of the included breakfast at the hotel this morning since my reservation for Nasrid’s palaces is not until 11:00 am. To visit Nasrid’s palaces you must book in advance since it is very popular. With the booking you can enter the rest of the complex as early as 8:30 am if you like. Breakfast first then I will head up to begin my visit.

I enjoy the continental-style buffet that includes a torta and meat & cheese slices as well as fruit. I take advantage of the patio and the mild weather in the morning.

The Alhambra compound entrance is about a 30 minute walk by taking the back pedestrian entrance. There are ways to get there by bus but I didn’t bother researching that.

It is a constant walk uphill to get to the entrance. I walk between the area that holds the Generalife and the other side that has the palaces; but down below. In fact we walk under a walkway.

When I finally get to the entrance tour guides approach me. I forgo the tours since I have downloaded tour information on my phone and would rather take things at my leisure. When I approach the entrance gates it is like crossing the border to another country. At Alhambra you need to keep your ticket and passport readily available at all times because they will constantly ask to see it. Alhambra has more passport control than most countries I’ve been to. It gets kind of annoying because each time I take out my passport it is another opportunity for it to get lost or stolen.

Once I am inside I head over near the nasrid palaces because I have not left myself time to do anything else. I pass by a church and walk down a pretty shrub pathway and head down a hill. I line up outside the nasrid palaces waiting for my entrance to be called.

They let us in at batches I believe every 15 minutes. Once you are in you are free to view at your own pace. My strategy is to fall behind the pack in the hope that I can get a few pictures without crowds. I can’t fall too far behind though because the next group will be entering soon after us. Another couple or two has the same idea. I can’t get completely people-free photos because the couples need to do their photoshoots. Everyone is an instagram model these days. I won’t complain about it here because I complained about it enough during my sabbatical posts. One needs to just accept it is part of travel now.

I enjoy Mudéjar and Islamic style architecture so touring the palaces is a treat.

Loving all the textured patterns.

I catch a window area with a colorful stained glass ceiling that shoots rays of color down below. It is beautiful.

The Hall of the Two Sisters – I love how the light reflects a colorful prism

As the tour comes to a close there is a walkway with tremendous views of the city and a nice courtyard.

City views

After my tour of the palaces I head over the Alcazaba or military fortress. The fortress has some good views of Granada and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.

I almost never have a sweet tooth but I am hot from being outdoors and this ice cream sounds like the ideal lunch/snack right now. It hits the spot.

Next I visit the Palace of Carlos V next door. The circle architecture is kind of cool and there is a small artifact museum inside as well as an art museum upstairs but otherwise the building is not very exciting and doesn’t need a long visit.

I am finished with this portion of Alhambra so I head over to Generalife. Generalife was the sultan’s summer palace and gardens. The palace is not as impressive as the nasrid palaces but the gardens are very beautiful. I almost wish I brought a picnic lunch with me to enjoy with the flowers and the views.

There is a staircase that has relaxing streams of water pouring down the handrails. At the top of the staircase I find some refreshing cold water to refill my water bottle.

At the top there is a nice breeze. One almost forgets how impossibly hot it is down below. Again more beautiful views of the Nasrid palaces, the city of Granada, and Sacromonte.

I head toward the exit. On my way downhill I stop for a beer at the nearby café.

I follow the stone path back down the hill. I admire the towers and cross walks from down below.

I walk down Carrera del Darro to head back to my hotel. Later this evening I am going to a Zambra flamenco show in Sacromonte. More about that later.

Córdoba 

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Today’s day trip is a visit to Córdoba, a city a little over an hour from where I staying. Córdoba is famous for La Mezquita – a mosque/cathedral, as well as its beautiful garden patios. The city is rich in Muslim and roman history.

Ten years ago I tried to visit Córdoba as a day trip from Sevilla. I had planned that trip with lots of unreasonable expectations; it is hard enough to keep yourself to a timeline and even harder if you have another person traveling with you. We couldn’t make the day trip to Córdoba happen. It has always been in the back of my mind that I needed to return. Therefore I am here today doing that day trip, finally.

The train ride to Córdoba is about an hour long from Granada. I book the 7:30 am train and knowing that sometimes trips sell out I book my return trip as well. The afternoon train times are pricey so I decide to take the 8:10 PM in the evening and decide I’ll just enjoy the extra time in the city. This is a poor decision on my part for reasons I will explain shortly.

Today’s itinerary contains a number of planning failures. Today is a Monday and I failed doing the appropriate research for visiting on a Monday. I correctly booked in advance my visit to La Mezquita (Catedral de Córdoba) since those tickets are limited. However I failed to realize that a great number of places of interest are actually closed on Mondays. This is amateur error on my part – I am typically good at picking up these nuances. Things being generally closed combined with face-melting heat make this day trip an interesting visit (my analogy for today’s weather is that it feels similar to what you see in the Raiders of the Lost Arc when the nazi’s, rightly so, have their faces melted).

Upon my arrival I start from the train station and wander the quiet streets of Córdoba with the destination of La Mezquita de Córdoba .

I enter the courtyard and patiently wait for the opening of La Mezquita which also happens to be my scheduled reservation time. While waiting I hear the bells chime from the Bell Tower.

Finally its time to line up and enter.

The structure I am entering was started as a Visigoth basilica in the 6th century and then turned into a mosque and then a cathedral. In its history it has expanded many times by different rulers. The diagrams and audio tour talks about each expansion. La Mezquita another good example of mixing lots of different styles into one building.

I notice another painting of my now favorite giant from the bible, Saint Christopher.

The mezquita is quite large but I have finally reached the end of my visit. I’ve worked up an appetite so I stop for a quick snack.

Manolas Empanadas

After my snack I hit my first road block: the Museo Taurino de Córdoba is closed on Mondays. However behind the museum and down the alley is a nice little artist alcove. It is here I finally get to see one of the patios that the city is famous for.

Museo Taurino de Córdoba

I almost find myself buying some earings by an artesian here but unable to decide on a pair I walk away empty handed.

Nearby I view Estatua de Maimónides, a bronze sculpture of the philosopher, theologian & doctor, Cordovan Ben Maimónides.

I walk on to discover the La Sinagaga is another place closed today. I am not averaging well for my sightseeing checklist so far.

Bodega Guzmán is nearby. I stop here and order boquerones and a glass of a local wine Montilla-Moriles. The wine is more of a sherry. The place seems authentic. I am glad I stop here to escape the heat.

I can’t stay here all day and drink so I venture back out. I walk inside the city walls as well as along the outside. I notice the residences along the walls.

Eventually it seems like a good time for lunch. I end up at Taberna Rafaé based on a recommendation I viewed online. I order an traditional oxtail dish to get a feel of the regional cuisine. The stew has very good flavor and reminds of a type of boeuf bourguignonne.

There is more wandering after lunch, for whatever is actually open, which is not much. Instead I eye buildings, statues and gardens.

Another popular place to visit in town is the palace Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos but of course it is closed today as well, though I read I didn’t miss much here except maybe the gardens.

I walk by the Puente Romano de Córdoba the historic picturesque bridge in town. It is a 1st century Roman bridge.

Its been hot all day but its about now when it becomes face melting hot (100+ degrees farenheit). I find a shaded bench in a park and try to nap and cool down but the best I do is do some reading on my phone. I don’t last long here though because I get bored. I want to head back to Granada but the earlier train times are sold out or too expensive.

My visit to Cordoba would have been enhanced with viewing some of the patios the city is famous for. Unfortunately I miss the festival of patios by a month or two. There are still some patios that can be viewed for an admission price but there are limited hours for the touring and I have missed the window for this today. Today is really poorly planned. I do sneak a look at patios through gates inside a quiet residential area. The streets are empty. Only crazy tourists like me are outside in this heat.

When I return to the main tourist area all the day trippers are gone. At least I have a mostly solo visit to the beautiful Calleja de las Flores.

I’ve given up sightseeing and start looking for a place with air conditioning or something similar. I find a courtyard bar with shade and misting fans. It is not busy and I end up getting a free glass of wine. I am loving it here because I rarely get anything offered to me for free.

Eventually the courtyard bar completely clears out and so do I (I don’t want to be the only customer). My next destination is a market I remember this morning when I was walking from the train station. The major tourist areas are too quiet and hot for my taste and the market is at least closer to the train station. The market, Mercado Victoria, is beautiful indoors. Not many vendors are open because it is early but I get a very delicious Negroni cocktail while I relax in the air conditioning. It seems like others here have the same plan as I.

It is finally time for me to walk over to the train station to take my train back to Granada.

When I arrive back in Granada it is late so restaurants are closing along my walk back to the train station. Luckily the street that contains my hotel has some late night eateries. I stop at Restaurante Tetería Palmira which is a Syrian/Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant. I order the shish kabob platter and it hits the spot after a long hot day of sightseeing.

It is late but the streets are still alive nearby. I’ve had a long day so I call it a night.

Tomorrow I have a scheduled reservation for the Alhambra. I’m anticipating that will take up much of the day. Good night.

Moving on to Granada

Cathedral de Granada

It is very early. As I walk from my hotel to the train station this morning there are young people still coming back from the clubs, I didn’t even know there were clubs in Ronda.

It’s funny to see people coming back from the clubs when I am out catching a morning train. Seems like a lifetime ago but I used to be a person coming back from a club as the sun rises.

A thing I notice is that there are no cafe’s open for me to get a cup of coffee. My room in Ronda is the only room I stay in this trip that doesn’t have a coffee pot for me to at least make instant coffee. I can go without food but not coffee. I feel like I am going to die (being a little dramatic here). I didn’t plan this morning well at all. Fortunately the restaurant at the train station opens just in time for me to get a café con leche to go a few minutes before my train arrives.

For my journey I have to switch trains in Antequera once more; this time there is no drama. I arrive in Granada around 10:30 am but I am still many hours from check in to my hotel. I have saved instructions for taking the bus to my hotel but since I have so much time I decide to walk to get a feel for the area, it is only a 20 minute walk and the weather is not too unbearably hot, yet.

I head to my hotel and as I suspect I am way too early for my room. Instead of just dropping my bag I decide this is a great time to clean my clothes, this later proves to be a great idea because I quickly sweat through everything the next couple days. I have a laundromat mapped out down the street but I need detergent. It is challenging finding a store that carries detergent and when I do it is a very large bottle. I don’t like carrying extra weight when I travel so the plan is to just leave it for the next consumer at the laundromat. When I arrive to the laundromat I notice that none of the washers need detergent added since they all automatically provide their own. I find this to be common in Spain during the rest of my travels. I leave the detergent bottle there anyway. There is some drama with another customer and a dryer not working well. I try to chat with him in Spanish the best I can. Luckily I have my eye on one of the smaller dryers anyway.

By the time my laundry is cleaned and repacked into my backpack my room is ready at Hotel Posada del Toro. The hotel is located in a 19th century building and has lots of interesting architectural details. My room is a good size and has working air conditioning! I also have a view of the courtyard but I keep my window mostly closed due to privacy. I can see leaving this window open during cooler months though.

I drop my things and head out. The hotel is located in the old town of Granada. I eye many middle eastern restaurants nearby and I start planning which ones I want to visit later. There are also many shops selling different clothing and other things tourists may want. I am not much for shopping but I eye the displays.

I end up near the cathedral. There is a street performer break dancing so I stop to watch the performance.

I enter into the nearby Iglesia Parroquial del Sagrario. It is free and a retreat from the sun.

Around the corner is the Capilla Real de Granada or Royal Chapel of Granada. This is where some past royals are entombed, including Ferdinand & Isabella. I tour inside but they don’t allow photos.

I finally find the entrance to the Catedral de Granada and spend some time touring inside.

It is getting late and I don’t want to miss eating lunch due to siesta so I settle at an outdoor cafe that seems to be a local chain, Los Manueles Restaurante (Catedral). I order the very rich and filling noodles with prawns and squid ink sauce. It is good and I ask myself why I rarely order pasta dishes anymore. The meal gives me the energy to wander some more.

I discover the Plaza De Bib Rambla. There are a number of appetizing looking cafes here. I make a mental note to return at a later time.

I do some window shopping and wandering down the different alleys.

I’ve had a large late lunch so I’m not particularly hungry for the evening. I find a wine and cheese store where I purchase a bottle of local wine and an assortment of Spanish cheeses. I have a refrigerator to keep it all so I can snack on this the next few days. It is hot so return to my room and go to bed early. Tomorrow I have an appointment to visit the alcazar in Córdoba.

Out to fancytown, my Michelin experience

Today I spent the day exploring Ronda but tonight I have fancy dinner plans. I am dining at Bardal, a two-star Michelin restaurant.

I return to my hotel to prepare for the evening. Not important but it is a chance to display the cool hallway.

hallway in my hotel
Puento Nuevo again

Bardal is close to my hotel. I arrive early so I walk the surrounding area and look at the bullfighting ring. I take a picture from the outside but that is the extent of my visit. I am not a big fan of using animals for sport anymore in fact I’m not sure why I am not a vegetarian….perhaps because I like the taste of meat too much to give it up totally. Maybe someday I’ll evolve.

Plaza de Toros (bullring) near restaurant
bardal restaurant

I still arrive a little early for my reservation that was made well in advance. I am a solo diner but they don’t make me feel like I am a freak as some places often do. The staff defaults to speaking English, I assume because it is a high end restaurant and most of the guests around me are English speaking. I usually take opportunities like dining out to practice my Spanish vocabulary but this meal will be too complicated for me to understand every item and I really want to know what I am eating.

I have been to only a couple Michelin starred restaurants and those were in NYC. What I am experiencing tonight is a bit different from those experiences. Dining here is expensive and I expect that but this is a once (or rare) in a lifetime experience; I am willing to pay the money for it.

Chef Benito Gomez specializes in small dishes concentrating on ingredients found regionally. There are two menu choices and I order the smaller menu with the accompanied wine pairings. The smaller menu is a good choice; even though the dishes are small in size, the sheer number of them still leave me quite satisfied at the end of the evening.

The dishes and style of serving are very unique. It is like I am looking at individual works of art as each one arrives at my table.

We begin with a long line of starters and their wine pairings.

The first course came out with 3 items…..The mushroom course

I am instructed how to eat each each item. I don’t pay attention enough to the instructions so when I try to bite down on the mushroom bun the insides explode all over the place. I’ve made a mess and it is only the first course. I like this course very much and enjoy the different ways the mushrooms are prepared.

Starting top going clockwise: Pine nuts pudding and sour juice of mushrooms, creamy mushroom and cadiz blue cheese bun, mushrooms and pine nuts infusion

There are three more courses of appetizers. Many are served on top of interesting platters that are not meant to be consumed along with the item. Fortunately I am told what I can eat and what is decoration only. This meal needs an instruction manual! For the Rossini picanha I eat in what I later learn is caveman style: I grab the bone with both hands and eat the meat out of the middle. Also in this course a tuna is served on a bed of rocks surrounded by non-edible seaweed and a sea urchin is served in stone bowl to be scooped by a wooden spoon.

From the bottom left going clockwise: tuna and seaweed, rossini picanha, sea urchin and raifort

The next starter is another type of meat I have never tried, a cock crest. I had to do some research on this afterwards; the cock crest, or comb, is the fleshy part on top of a chicken (or turkey’s) head. I read it is hard to prepare because is both a hard to clean and rare to find. In this case it served over a bowl of dried corn (not edible). No complaints with this unique course.

cock’s crest with bernaise sauce

The last starter is the “salad”. It is a tasty inner piece of lettuce with a creamy beef sauce.

Grilled lettuce hearth and beef emulsion

Soon the main courses begin. We start with a lobster with split peas and caviar. A piece of bread accompanies the dish with a spicy Spanish salad spread.

Next is the sea anemone with green sauce. It is my first time trying a sea anemone and I am quite pleased. Look at how gorgeous this plating is?!?

sea anemone with green sauce

Next is the calçot with payoyo cheese (a local cheese). A calçot is a type of green onion (also similar to a leek) that is grilled. It is a simple and small but very enjoyable course.

The next course is the bread course. I normally don’t get excited about restaurant bread but the two different types of breads with the accompanied olive oil and butter are amazing. I forget the story behind the butter but I love butter with a story. The calories and fat don’t count as much when the butter has a good origin story, right?

For the next four courses, the two standouts are the aubergine fricando and the baby goat. I am not a fan of the consistency and accompanying sauce for the hake cheek with corn, coriander and vanilla. I find it strange this course doesn’t work for me because I normally like fish cheeks and the flavor of coriander; perhaps the corn and vanilla combination is a turn off for me. The monkfish a la espalda is good but not one of my favorites from all the courses. The final savory course is a baby goat with spinach and a kidney with perigordine sauce. They were both very good. I’ve had goat before but never this way and this is my first time trying kidney. I’ve read it is healthy to eat organ meat. This is a good alternative since I do not care for liver.

Finally we reach the dessert courses and the first item is a celeriac cake with fennel. I am not a fan of fennel but I don’t mind this dish. Celeriac is a turnip like root vegetable sort of related to celery. I am not sure I’ve ever noticed it in supermarkets in the USA. The cake has a nutty flavor and the fennel compliments it. Also it isn’t too sweet. I don’t care for desserts that are overpowered with sweetness.

The next course of chocolate and almond is not overly sweet as well.

The final course it is a collection of petit-fours or smaller items. Being very full from all the food and wine I take a bite out of each one but I don’t completely finish this course.

At this point in the evening the generous wine pours kick in and the conversation volume levels get louder in the room. One of the servers brings out another piece of art, but no it is the bill only. I am also given a list of all the dishes served this evening. This is a nice touch because there is no way I can remember all that is served. I do really wish I had the wine list though because I loved most of the pairings and would have liked to share them with others. Probably the only improvement on my experience would be including the wine list at the end.

I am very glad I booked dinner at Bardal. It was worth every EURO.