Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

El Tobaso in Seville, Spain

Two of our guides had mentioned Al Tobaso, and now that we are warm and dry, the sun is out and we have taken a serious nap, we are ready for a late Spanish lunch. We head for Al Tobaso, which is not far from our hotel, and are shown to a table.

The waiter if friendly, without being over-friendly, and brings us menus which we can’t really understand, but isn’t that part of why you go to a foreign country? You have to take a risk now and then, right? AdventureMan orders one selection from the daily menu, and I order another. He orders red wine, and I order water. We plan on taking a long walk, and if I drink wine with my lunch, I probably won’t, LOL.

AlTobaso

The waiter brings us a plate of delicious green olives, spicy and garlicky. YUMMM. And then, oh no, here comes a “flamenco” guitar player, and I put that in quotes because he sings the same thing pretty much over and over, and we recognize some words, “Bye, Baby, Bye”. He is at another table, one with lots of people, but there is no avoiding him, eventually he heads our way. In the meantime a man has come, and we think he is asking for money, but he gives the same speech at every table, no variation, and no one gives him anything. When the guitar player comes, AdventureMan gives him some change because at least he provided something, even if it was really, really bad.

green olives

When our main courses come, they look almost identical, but not. I have spinach and garbonzos, but what a difference from last night, these are spiced! We love our main courses, but we have no idea, still, what we are eating.

DailyMenu

dailyMenu2

We just can’t eat this much, and it is OK, we are happy. We wonder if my husband’s wine is included or extra, and then a platter of meat and cheese arrives, the meat looks and tastes like prosciutto, but we didn’t order this so we start getting concerned because we are afraid we will be charged for food we didn’t order. Then another plate, with two different kinds of salami arrives, and we don’t touch it.

SALAMIS

And then the bill arrives, and nothing is extra, it is all included. We just need to have a little more faith 🙂 The entire time we were in Spain, we were amazed at the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. We would go back to Al Tobaso in a heartbeat, but we need to learn a little more Spanish. The waiter has been so kind to us, and we are those ignoramuses who haven’t a clue. Lack of language skills kept us from asking about the meat and cheese and salamis, which either were included, or he was giving us because lunch hour was ending and he had some leftovers. Our lack of Spanish caused us to fear that which we didn’t understand. So unnecessary.

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November 18, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Restaurant, Travel | , , | 2 Comments

Pouring Rain and a Herd of Sheep

Our first day in Seville, and we are so excited. We are READY. This trip is rated as having a lot of walking, so in addition to my prettier shoes, I packed my Alaska shoes, a pair of black leather New Balance shoes, and a bunch of brand new socks. I am wearing a dress and tennis shoes, and feeling a little ridiculous, but I don’t care. We are given these “whisper” things, receivers you wear around your neck and earbuds you keep in your ears. Your guide can talk to you without causing a commotion, and you are supposed to always stay within hearing of your guide.

As we head outdoors, the heavens open and the rain pours down. No problem, in my purse I have a brand new sort of mini umbrella I found, so I open it up, and something is not quite right. It doesn’t stay open, as I am walking along it will pop close all by itself now and then, and besides, everyone else is popping out umbrellas and it is congested, and umbrellas are dripping on me. I am miserable.

For a few minutes, I actually contemplate skipping this tour altogether, but when else will I get a chance to tour the Alcazar? The Seville Cathedral? With someone who knows and can tell us what we are seeing? I decide to have a good time, and, for the most part, I do.

Who could not love the Alcazar, the Royal Palace, even in the gloom and the rain? The Alcazar is full of groups, but far fewer than if it were not pouring down rain, sheets of rain.

AlcazarRain

The amount thought and precision that went into the process of creating the Alcazar boggles my mind. What does a little rain matter when contemplating such beauty? So many media; tiles, wood, plaster, stone, and all used with precision and an eye for the overall effect. It is stunning.

OutdoorWaterAlcazar

Alcazar; Ceiling Embassy hall

MozaicTiledFloorAlcazar

And in the middle of all this artistry, one woman works to capture – herself.

AlcazarSelfie

I’ve given up totally on the worthless umbrella and decided to just avoid rain if I can, and if I can’t, oh well. Visiting the gardens, it’s worth getting wet. These gardens, even in the rain, are gorgeous, lush, and I can imagine summer concerts and strolling.

AlcazarGardens2

AlcazarGardens

We spend a good long time in the Alcazar, and it is time to head to the Cathedral, but not quite our group’s scheduled time, so we head to a cafe for churros and chocolate, a local specialty. The cafe is so cozy we almost rebel when it comes time to leave. The guide tells us that leading seniors is as bad as leading teen-agers; we argue and think we know what we want to do. We are a small group, twenty people, but similar in goals and values.

AlianzaCafe2

AlianzaCafe

It is warm and dry in the cathedral, but my dress is soaked. My shoes, however, are great, my feet aren’t tired, my socks are dry and I have already walked 10,000 steps! The hard floors of the cathedral tire me, though, so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I meant to. It was beautiful. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella . . .. something. Beautiful altarpiece by . . . someone. A big gold thing called a montrance which is close enough to French for me to think it was for showing something, probably sacred relics, bones or pieces of the cross? I am ready to be warm and dry and my attention is definately wandering.

SevilleCathedral

FerdinandAndIsabellaMemorial

SevilleCathedralCeiling

SvilleCathedralAlterpiece

As we leave the Cathedral to head back to our hotel, just a short walk, the sun breaks through. The rain is gone. It’s a whole different day. We walk back in good cheer, change our clothes, and head out for lunch.

Today is the first day we have heard two dates: 711, when the Moslem Tariq invaded near Gibraltar (Jebal Tariq) and burned his ships, telling his men they had to fight because there was no way back. The second date is 1492, which every American associates with “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two” but we learned is the date when the Moslems were forced out of Al-Andalus. We saw paintings of people weeping as they left, and who wouldn’t weep, leaving such beauty and luxury? The same year, the Jews were also forced out, forced into North Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, forced to seek safety elsewhere. Some converted and were allowed to stay, and are there to this day.

“But where is the herd of sheep?” you ask. This is an experiment for us, to see how well we can handle group travel. We are finding we like our fellow Smithsonian travelers very well, but because we are like cats (more than sheep) we do not herd well. We like to take our time where we wish to stay longer, and to hurry past that which doesn’t much interest us. We were trained, long ago, not to be in large groups of Americans, and here we are, a herd of sheep. It becomes a continuing theme; there are so many things we like, but walking in a group we don’t like.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Faith, Local Lore, Public Art, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arrival in Sevilla, Spain

Except for that moment on our way to the airport, everything was smooth as glass. That moment? As we are in the taxi on the way to the airport, I am thinking how wonderfully lightly I am traveling and suddenly, by the grace of God, remember my carry-on bag, carefully packed, sitting in my room. We quickly turn the taxi around, go back and pick up my bag, and from there on, all goes smoothly.

Connecting in Charles de Gualle airport used to be a lot of fun. So many shops, so much time. Not now. There may be shops, but customs and security are a nightmare, and the new airport configuration boggles the mind. There was one bored, tired, annoyed looking Frenchman for lines of travelers as we arrived, and while we were close to the front of the line, it took forever.

Our trip back was worse; we had a tight connection. Entry was worse, lines and lines of desperate travelers, too few processors. Then we had to try to find E: M 32. It was a maze. I am normally pretty good with navigation, but CDG isn’t any fun, there is no logic, there is no assistance, no explanatory signage. We got to E, then had to find M, then had to get on a shuttle bus to somewhere else; it is purely horrible.

And I suppose it is the price you pay to fly Air France, which we love. Flying Air France is like a step back in time, where flight attendants were plentiful and gracious. We had slide-down-flat seats, great for sleeping, and good meals. We had hot washcloths and good coffee. It was worth every penny.

Our arrival in Malaga was our real introduction to group travel. Meeting us were Maria and Antonio, two consummate professionals who were greeting all the people coming in for this cruise/trip. First, we learned that there were several groups on board, in fact, just about everyone arriving was a member of some group or another. We were with Smithsonian, but others were with alumni groups, or affiliated in other ways. Once everyone on their list was checked off, we strolled to the bus, which required that the heavily laden would need the elevators. They led the group to one elevator, but AdventureMan and I spotted another elevator on the other side, and took that one.

The drive to Seville was 2 and a half hours. Many slept. It was a sunny day with some clouds, so mostly I watched the olive tree groves and the bull signs drift by, happy to be traveling in Spain.

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 8.52.11 AM

We were so impressed with the process at the hotel when we arrived; there were envelopes with the names of arriving passengers and their keys. It was all done for us, no registering, just straight to our rooms. We were happy to see we had a room in the rear of the hotel. Good firm beds and very quiet. Our our bathroom window, we had a view of a nearby church steeple, and the full moon 🙂

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The bar at the Fernando III was a lively place, and a gathering place for locals and hotel patrons:

FernandoBar

The breakfast hall had a large buffet but only two one-cup-at-a-time coffeemakers, which was a real bottleneck. If I were not traveling with a group and were staying in this hotel, I would not be happy, as most of the tables had signs on them designating different groups. There were not many for independent travelers, but then again, most of us in the group had early start dates as our tour groups gathered, and the independent travelers could eat at a more leisurely time:

FernandoBreakfastHall

The very best part of this hotel, as you can see in the screen shot above, is that it had a great location. We could walk anywhere, and we did. We walked and walked.

Our first night we were not very hungry, but we knew we would be (in the middle of the night) and that we needed to eat something to get our tummies on local schedule. We found a nearby restaurant, El Cordobes, and while the service was surly and a couple of the dishes mediocre, our main courses were delicious. I had wanted to try the spinach and garbonzos; they were all right. But when the shrimp, sizzling in garlic sauce arrived, oh WOW. AdventureMan had the paella, which was also very very good. We were sitting at a table on a sidewalk in Seville, watching a rugby game for which other tables were cheering and hollaring, drinking good beer, listening to the church bells and life is sweet.

ElCordobaRestView

GarbanzosSpinach

Paella

On the way back to the hotel we take a walk in the Santa Cruz barrio and get totally lost, wandering on the narrow little streets, full of flowers, shops, tiny grocery stores, restaurants, bars and tapas bars, stores with flamenco dresses, stores with spices, stores for the locals and stores for the tourists. By the time we were back at the hotel, we were ready for bed, and I had my first no-effort day with more than 10,000 steps. I didn’t even have to try, woooo hoo!

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November 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Experiment, Hotels, Paris, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Trip Process

We are usually two trips out. By that, I mean that while we are getting close to one trip, we are usually planning the next trip. It just works out that way, and it gives us something to look forward to even when one trip is over . . . there is always the next trip.

While we were still planning our three week trip to the American Southwest and California Coast last March – April, AdventureMan shouted from his office to mine “Why do I keep getting these brochures from Viking Cruises?” I was shaking with laughter. “Because I signed you up!” I replied.

We are getting older. We tire more easily. It’s just the way life goes, and we need to focus on how we can continue doing what we love. We need to explore other strategies, other ways of doing things. So we decided to look at cruises to Istanbul and beyond, and after two hours of looking around, ended up choosing a Smithsonian trip to Spain and Morocco. For us, it is totally normal. We toss ideas back and forth, and all of a sudden, something will click.

AdventureMan was on the phone, booking the sea and land cruise within two hours of the start of the conversation. We knew we wanted a balcony and we also knew that flying business class would help us adjust to the jet lag involved, so we could hit the ground running.

And yes, we already have our next trip booked 🙂

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Start your Day with a Smile

My good friend in Kuwait sent me this wonderful film in a market in Spain. Watch all the way to the end, and see the sign. I love creative advertising!

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, ExPat Life, Marketing, Shopping, Spiritual | , | 5 Comments

Olive Oil Scandal Comment

This is a response to my recent post on The Olive Oil Scandal. I am so delighted when I get a thoughtful and enlightening response like this that I want to give it a separate entry so that it won’t be overlooked by all you bloggers with little time and short attention spans. 😉

It certainly is disgusting. One might note that, though, that none of the above named diluters of olive oil come from Spain, by far the largest producer and exporter of the product.

Currently, in fact, the Andalucian regional government (Andalucía, in which I am an olive grower, produces over 30% of the world’s olive oil) is currently funding a project intended to identify through mass spectometry analysis the molecular ‘signature’ of all the different regional denominations of extra virgin olive oil, enabling bottlers to include this information on barcode-like labels on every bottle marketed and against which the contents could be tested. The systematic adoption of this system, when it is completed, would go along way to protect consumers from the present situation, brought on partly through the fraudulent business practices of various Italian and American producers and sellers.

Also, considering that IOOC olive oil standards have no legal force in the United States, effectively permitting virgin or lampante oil to be sold as EVOO (but not diluted with other oils), the seemingly imminent adoption of international nomenclature by the USDA would be a very positive move. It can’t come soon enough.

Charles Butler’s website, The Olive Oil Gazette, is an absolutely fascinating resource, with all kinds of listings for Olive Oil sites and all kinds of olive oil information, including an article on October 21 about the proposal for the DNA “fingerprinting” of olive oil. Here is what it says about author Charles Butler McKay:

The Olive Oil Gazette is published in Cazorla, Jaén, Spain by Charles Butler Mackay, whose Spanish birth certificate states, correctly, that he was born in Toronto, Canada. Aside from editing this news source, he owns and oversees an olive plantation that has been in his family for a century and a half.

Thank you for your input!

Meanwhile, I don’t want to be sceptical. For a very good price, I found the below olive oil at the Sultan Center, and the lable says all the right things:

Cholesterol Free
Less than 1% acidity
Cold Pressed
It even has an expiration date

And it says it is a product of Syria. Because I am sceptical, I bought it because I thought it had a pretty label:

00olliveoillable.jpg

October 28, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cooking, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Lies, Living Conditions | , , , | 12 Comments