Madrid to Sevilla
"4 for Texas"- Madrid to Sevilla
We're up early, and it's still very dark and quiet outside when we leave at 7:30 am. There is no problem on checkout at the hotel and we and walk with luggage the 3 blocks to the Puerta del Sol to take the metro to the Atocha RENFE station, 4 stops away. I'd offered my Mom the option of taking a cab to the station, but I think she was still stinging from the experience from the airport.
Once at the station (which has an incredible tropical atrium-see photo), we have to go through security in the departures area, much like getting on a plane. Then, they take your ticket before you walk down the ramps to trains, not on the train itself. This is new to me, as even last March in France, we just boarded the train and had our tickets checked in our seats. My guess is this extra security stems from the bombings they had. It didn't bother me a bit, and I wondered why France hadn't adopted similar security.
On our train, we find our seats which are facing backward (causing a small amount of panic in my mom, who fears motion sickness). We boarded a 1/2 hour early and by departure time, the car is full. An American backpacker sitting behind us, speaks to me in Spanish, asking if he can move my bag in the bin above, so I reply en espanol, thrilled that he possibly mistook me for a local.
As the train starts to move out of the station, attendants come down the aisles passing out what looks like a deck of cards, but what turns out to be a tiny set of ear bud headphones. Soon the movie starts. It's "4 for Texas", a 1963 Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin movie with "special guests" the Three Stooges, dubbed of course in Spanish. It was such an odd choice of movie that I can't help laughing and it makes the trip slightly surreal.
We arrive on time in dumping rain. I insist we take a cab, first checking with the driver to make sure there would be no "supplement". He turns out to be really nice, telling us he speaks a little Italian and German, but no English. He's not familiar with the hotel, but finds it easily enough and the trip only costs us 5 euro.
I'd selected the Hotel Puerta de Sevilla based on the reviews I'd read on tripadvisor.com and the hotel's website. It turned out to be charming, and in great location, right on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz and above a frituria. The price certainly could not be beat at 78 euro per night.
Our room is nice, if small, with charming décor and a tiny balcony on the front of the hotel overlooking the street below. The TV has CNN (which I love), and the beds are fine.
The only drawback is the tiny bathroom, with the world's smallest shower. There is no tub, which is ok with me, but the shower is so small I could not bend down to pick up my shampoo or soap and there is no shelf on which to put them. It's one of those corner showers which has two sliding doors which pull together. I spend the rest of the trip looking at people larger than myself, thinking, "that person wouldn't even fit inside the shower in Sevilla".
The front desk staff are pleasant and very helpful throughout our stay. There's a computer in a small room off the lobby with internet available for 1 euro per 1/2 hour.
They say you can walk anywhere in the Barrio Santa Cruz in 5 min if you know where you're going, but it's 5 hours if you get lost. So, of course, we take a walk, thinking we'd follow the map, and proceed to get lost. First though, we have a quick, unmemorable snack of fried shrimp and teeny, tiny clams in garlic at a nearby restaurant.
Next, we walk to the bus station to buy our tickets to Granada for Wednesday. It was a short walk though the gardens on the edge of the Barrio. The bus station is a bit seedy, but where aren't bus stations seedy? From the station we walk into the barrio, with the goal of finding the Palace and wind up going into the Westin Alfonso XIII hotel. It's a gorgeous hotel and we make use of their very nice restroom. The buildings are beautiful inside and out with lovely gardens and courtyards. After that, we walk in circles though the barrio Santa Cruz for a couple of hours, enjoying the narrow whitewashed streets, little shops and bars.
Casa Pilatos, above.
Since it's now getting late in the day, we decide to leave the Palace and the Cathedral for the next day, and instead pay a visit to the Casa de Pilatos. This is a restored 16th century villa, covered in amazing tiles. We opt for the tour of the upstairs which was worth it, for 8 euro. The downstairs is a series of empty rooms, covered floor to ceiling in tiles of multiple patterns. There are lush courtyards, gardens and fountains, typical of a wealthy Andalucian house of the era. The upstairs is only available by guided tour, and is fully furnished with antiques, historical tapestries and artwork. The tour itself is a bit dull, but I enjoy seeing the furnished rooms. Apparently, the family who owns the villa still uses those rooms for special occasions.
As we leave, I buy two small packets of almonds (one salted, one candied) from a pushcart vendor. If you've never tried Marcona almonds, they are worth a splurge. You'll never want to eat super-salty canned almonds again.
Gardens and interiors of Casa Pilatos, above. No photos allowed in the upstairs quarters.
After a rest, we head out on a walk to dinner. We stop and have our first sherry of the trip, manzanilla for me and oloroso for mom, at Bodega Santa Cruz, Las Columnas, a well known, old, tapas bar in the Barrio (corner of Mateos Gago and calle Rodrigo Caro, near the cathedral) where the bartenders tally up your bill right on the wood topped bar in front of you.
We walk a bit more though the narrow winding streets, and finally decide on dinner at Hosteria del Laurel (Plaza de Los Venerables, 5, www.hosteriadellaurel.com). We have 2 glasses of the house rioja, an avocado and shrimp salad with a dressing similar to 1000 island. Mom has Oxtail stew (cola de toro) which is yummy as was the cochinillo asado (roast pig) that I had. Both of our main courses are served with fried potatoes, which seems to be the national vegetable of Spain, or at least the most common side dish. The total came to about 50 euro incl. tax. which was our most expensive meal so far, but also our first full, sit down, dinner. Along with the check, they give us each a little pin with the Hosteria del Laurel logo on it.
Day 3 miles total 6.45
View from the hotel balcony.