Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lost in Seville

The heat of Seville, Spain hit us like a brick wall as we disembarked the flight London. We took a public bus towards the center of the city, along with about 2/3 of our flight. It seemed like the right thing to do, but soon, we found ourselves lost on the streets of Seville, without a map.

We knew our hostel was at “19 Santiago”, and my Spanish is very basic. We ended up asking about five people where to go in Spanish, each time we understood little of their response, but got a block or two closer. The last people we asked said, “Sorry, I don’t know any Spanish” in a thick English accent. Turned out they were at our hostel.
The Garden Hostel quickly became our favorite we’ve stayed at so far. In fact, it’s been rated 8 or 9 in the world for the past 5 years by Three stories with a glass ceiling, a garden out back which offered wine, beer and a rotating menu. Hammocks, free breakfast, free sangria from 8-9, quiz nights, free walking tours, free ‘net access, knowledgable staff, a living room and a roof-top terrace.
It took about a day for Leslie to declare that this was her favorite city we’ve ever visited. It was easy to see why. The windy little roads made for great pictures and fun ways to get around the city. Everything was bright and colorful, with flamenco dancers and bullfighters adorning the paintings around the walls and the entire city seeming to move at a pace three times slower than Seattle. It took a bit to get used to the afternoon siestas, where most shops closed but once we made sure to schedule our day to include siesta it just added to the character of the city.
We spent five days in Seville relaxing from the hectic journey to get there, wandering the tight alleys and exploring the neat little tapas bars. Most of the time, I would order in Spanish, so it was rather hit and miss as to what we got.
Our first experience with tapas was a miss. We sat down on a sidewalk cafe, hoping to order six tapas. However, the menu was not in English, so I took a guess as to what to order. We decided that “mondaditos” looked about right because of the price so figured they were little tapas. I was quite proud of myself for ordering in Spanish, but then realized I didn’t really know what I ordered. Nervousness began to set in and turned into full-blown embarrassment as a plate with six hamburger-sized sandwiches showed up on the table. Leslie got pretty good pics of my reaction in the slideshow above.
Later in the week, we received recommendations from Valentina at The Garden and actually found some excellent tapas. Every time we’ve ordered tapas in the US we end up with little plates of food for $8 and end up leaving hungry and frustrated at the cost. This was very different. Most items on the menu could be ordered as tapas, 1/2 racion or racion. A racion would be a full-sized plate, while a tapa would be about 1/8 of a plate for $2-4. Rinconcillo was the most “traditional” place we went, where you belly up to the bar, just like at a pub, but the bartender serves tapas along with beer and wine. There’s usually whole dried, spiced pig legs hanging behind the bar knowna as Jamon Iberica as well as a plethora of spiced, dried meats and sausages. These are called chorizo, but do not taste like the Mexican staple of the same name.
Often, the table is made of a hard-wood and chalk is used to keep track of the tab. Cruzcampo is the local beer and usually served in glasses about 1/2 the size of a pint. Its much more like Budwiser than any sort of craft ale. The wine was actually cheaper than coffee (and sometimes cheaper than water) and the locals would often mix it with lemonade or tonic water.
Both of the places that were recommended had English menus and some of our favorites were a spinach and garbanzo bean mix, quail eggs and chorizo on bread and pig cheeks in sauce. Each was available for about $3, but you’d have to order 5 or so to make a meal for two.
Tabernas Coloniales was a popular night tapas bar we went a couple times with about an hour and a half wait for an outside terrace. It was mostly tourists out there, so we went inside to the bar where you could get served as soon as you made your way to the front.
One of our more interesting tapas experience was on our last day as we headed to Trijana, an old gypsy market. Trijana is a less touristy side of town where we found a tapas bar serving caracoles… the local snails. We’d seen live snails crawling around a big tub in the market earlier in the week and just had to try them. An order for $3 garnered about 40 of the little guys, boiled inside the shell, so you’d grab it with your teeth and pull them out. Think shrimp, except more rubbery and really salty. Leslie had a couple, and while they weren’t her favorite, then did not end up in the napkin. I managed to finish the plate, but it was an experience that I’m only having once. To top it off, the menu wasn’t in English, so we were ordering a bit blind. Once we got past fried chicken and tomatoes and oregano my Spanish was done, so I just ordered a couple random dishes. We ended up with a steak and fries, which was great. Then there were some 6 inch fish that had been dipped in batter than fried whole. They were okay, but we aren’t used to food being served with the head still on it. Some sort of really salty fried fish rounded out the mystery meal.
On our third day, we were drinking the free sangria at The Garden and were trying to figure out how to get to Morocco. In the end, we settled on a RyanAir flight to Marrakesh. We needed to move to a different hostel for a few days because the Garden was all booked up, but it worked out in the end.
Next stop, Africa.

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