Spain, October 31st-November 5th.
One snag with being a bit averse to overly hot weather - by UK standards - and thus prone to taking holidays in places that are climatically temperate, is that quite a lot of stuff that one really doesn't want to miss in a lifetime is draped around the Mediterranean.So, this year, we decided to try a workaround; taking a short break to points south in a cool month. Pictures are going up a few at a time over at my Flickr pages; consider this to be the supporting notes.
La Casa del Maestro turned out to be a lovely little nigh-boutique place tucked away down a side street on the slightly scruffy north side of central Seville - but then, as we realised the next morning, everything in central Seville is tucked away down a side street. The major streets are tucked away down side streets. Honestly, I thought that I'd seen medieval street plans before, but then I saw Seville...
This being Spain, we had no difficulty finding a dinner quite late in the evening, albeit a snack-ish - sorry, tapas - sort of dinner, in a little nearby bar-restaurant that the guidebook suggested. And we slept okay despite a local church bell that seems to keep going on the hour and half-hour all night.
Real Alcazar was the number one priority. So we made our way down the maze of twisty little passages, all alike, that counts as a street plan in those parts (people drive in this place? aargh), passed the fancy city hall and the gigantic Gothic cathedral (complete with repurposed minaret as its bell-tower), and joined the short queue...
Oh, and after steering round a late-night religious procession, complete with band (just to confirm that we were in Spain, I guess), we had dinner in El Rinconcillo, which is supposed to be the oldest restaurant in the city, dating back to 1670. Decent southern Spanish stuff, I'd say. The restaurant apparently sometimes claims to be where tapas was invented, but I'd imagine a lot of Ancient Roman popina-keepers raising an eyebrow about that.
Hotel Guadalupe proved not to be quite as cool as the Casa del Maestro, being rather more of a stock tourist place - but then, it was significantly cheaper, we got a positively cavernous room, and the place was more or less right outside the entrance to the Alhambra. Not that we were going in there that day; rather, we strolled down and round the hill to look around the Albaicin, Granada's old town. "Picturesque" is the keyword there.
However, at some point during our three-quarter-hour wait for my dessert (a rather nice dark chocolate cake, not too sweet, accompanied by a matching custard that I'm happy to believe was actually Cava zabaglione like the menu said), long after the dessert wine had arrived and been consumed, I began to notice too much about the place. The atonal avant-garde music on the hi-fi, for a start. Then I went to the loos, which were labelled "boys" and "girls" on the door in multiple languages... Yeah, two unisex cubicles, except that the lights in one were gone and nobody was doing anything about it. On the way back to the table, I managed to suppress my invisibility-to-waiters field for long enough to prompt ours, much to his surprise, which is probably why the cake arrived before midnight. When we subsequently got the bill out of a different (but equally black-clad) waiter, it didn't include the dessert, which I chose to take as an apology- but it did include a couple of Euros for the two bread rolls which had arrived at the table automatically, as if free...
I'm prepared to believe that what we had here was a highly competent kitchen being let down by a front-of-house organisation so far up itself that those waiters only see daylight when they yawn. But then, I dunno who cocked up the dessert order (though I know who neglected to say anything to us about it). We only left a token tip, which was probably a mistake; none at all would have felt justified.
And then there was that Palace. Yup, it lives up to the hype. Well, the standard tourist route takes you through some merely impressive rooms first - then it hits you with the Court of the Myrtles, which is one of those justifies-the-trip things. The only snag with our timing was that the Court of the Lions is being massively refurbished, so we found the lions themselves in a side-room, showing off the radical clean-up that they've received, while the Court itself had a lot of scaffolding. (Made me feel like I was back in Cambridge...) Maybe we go back in a few years when they've got that little architectural gem back in full working order; even in its current state, the small forest of slender arches and carved screens still hints at the genius of the thing.
Anyway, after a stroll round the apartments where Washington Irving stayed, and the chance to admire the views and all, we wandered out into the merely superb remains of the Partal Palace, before making an indirect way to the other unique architectural masterpiece - the Generalife. (This is in the guidebooks as a separate site, but actually it's all part of the Alhambra deal.) Angela notes that you can't open a book on garden history without finding pictures of this, and it's really not hard to see why. It's kind of an exercise in gratuitously elegant Islamic garden design. With fountains. Twice. With extra beautiful stuff around it.
Dinner that night was a simpler choice in a little bar-restaurant, including crepes and sherry.
And for dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to the restaurant at the Parador de Granada, the very swish hotel within the grounds of the Alhambra. This, I'd recommend; a high-end meal with some local touches. Okay, the amuse-bouche consisting of a tiny segment of Spanish omelette was probably trying too hard, but the chilled almond and garlic soup and the roast kid were great. Angela spoke well of her tuna, too.