Wednesday, November 19, 2014
(Still in New York, but catching up on overdue posts.)
After our time by the beach and jaunts into the hilltop specks of white, we were ready to head back into a city. Sevilla, built along the curve of the Guadalquivir River and fused into a welcoming, harmonic whole from its Roman, Moorish, and Castilian origins is a gorgeously mystic place where we spent 4 days this past September. On our way there after leaving Conil de la Frontera we stopped for a walk about Jerez (and a sherry, naturally), bringing us to Sevilla around 2PM.
We had booked a hotel in the oldest part of town, right around from the spectacular Giralda, the tower of the cathedral that serves as a beacon to prayer, a landmark for woefully lost tourists (which we of course became), and a reason to stop ten times a day to stare up in wonder at her brilliance.
While we could easily pick her out, and we knew we were in the general vicinity of our hotel, the only problem was that we couldn't actually find it. Try as R did to maneuver our teeny rental car through the seemingly even teenier streets, the higgledy-piggledyness of Sevilla's Old Town streets streets rendered our GPS useless and our map reading skills were apparently not up to par. Surprisingly, we didn’t turn on each other (I’m sure the snack and sherry helped), but finally we decided to pull over while R waited with the car in a clearly marked no-parking zone and I went on foot to find our hotel.
Of course it was on the one little streetside niche we had circled around at least 6 times previously, but hadn’t actually ventured into. Once I found it on foot, it was easy enough to direct R back by car.
As soon as we settled in we headed right back out to have a proper wander. The mysteriousness of the unfollow-able streets, the breeze blowing through all the plazas and the ornateness of the architecture made it the perfect town for meandering about in.
For our initial poking about we focused on the historic area, not following a map, just following the interesting looking streets until we happened upon the Cathedral, the Giralda (whose presence stunned me into silence when we first found ourselves directly in front of it on foot), the National Archives, Bishop's Palace, etc.
When we were ready for something to nibble on we parked ourselves at a table straddling a restaurant and its sidewalk for a plate of mixed cured meats, olives, the Andalucían specialty of spinach and chickpeas, and some local wine. Of course R became pals with the bartender / waiter whose two brothers both live in Sicily. Leave it to him to find his countrymen…or at least a tenuous representation of them.
Satiated by our late afternoon snack and tired from our drive and walk, that evening we just had a drink on our hotel's rooftop terrace to enjoy the stunning view of the Giralda.
One morning we took the Isabel II / Puente de Triana bridge across the river to see Triana, the neighborhood that used to be the workers' district. It wasn’t as enticing as I thought it would be, so we weren’t there long before crossing back over into Sevilla proper.
On another afternoon we took a 30-minute drive slightly north-east of Sevilla to Carmona. But of course my favorite day in Sevilla was my birthday, where R planned everything perfectly for me.
Every day in Sevilla started with a walk around the corner to break our fast at Gusto, our replacement for the lovely breakfast we found in Marbella, which we happened upon on our second day and proceeded to go to every morning after, including on my birthday.
After coffee and a walk we went to AIRE. That’s right—after trying out and becoming semi-regulars at the newest (and first American) outpost of the Spanish underground baths in Tribeca, we headed to one of the first locations in its home country. We did our usual routine: 30-minute massages and the bath rituals. While it was something special to be in one of the birthplaces of the Moorish water wonderment, I have to say that the Tribeca one a little more magical for me. More inviting and atmospheric. Of course we still enjoyed our afternoon because what's not to love about some pampering?
Once our time there had ended we went back to the hotel to freshen up and then set out for the evening's entertainment, but first: an ice cream snack at Bolas, a heladeria we had come across the day before. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had (even in Sicily). The couple / family that owns it was so kind to us, going out of their way to explain the different ingredients in their pure, unadulterated flavors (like Queso de Cabra con Dulce de Membrillo, or Goat Cheese with Membrillo / Quince, and Sevilla Moro, a sweetened cream run through with walnuts, candied orange peel, raisins, cinnamon and cabell d'àngel a threaded jam made from pumpkin).
They went so far as to show us the sweet bread used in one flavor by bringing out a package of it from the kitchen (no artificial flavorings there!) and then they handed it to us to enjoy. Such a warm gesture—and a useful one at that, as when we were hungry on the flight home we remembered the snack in my bag!
Armed with a delicious cone for R and a cup for me, we began walking towards Casa de la Memoria, a cultural center for flamenco with a theater for intimate shows where R had booked tickets for us. We were seated in a small auditorium, perhaps with 40 other people, while a singer, a drummer, and a male and female dancer performed. It was every bit as thrilling to me as you'd think an up-close flamenco performance would be. The music seeped in and the rhythm and frenzy of the foot stomping and skirt swirling and heel taping made my blood pound in such a way that when we emerged from the building I felt as if I had just finished doing something much more arduous than sitting before a stage.
Towards the end of our trip we were a bit tired of Spanish cuisine and in dire need of something more exotic so R found Al Medina, a Moroccan restaurant, to take me to for my birthday dinner which was one of the most loveliest dining experiences we had in Spain. I don’t remember what R ordered for himself, but I do remember the perfectly-made pastilla that I had. I’d first had the savory sweet dish when we were in Tunisia 7 years ago and anytime I have the chance to have it again, I do. Pastilla is basically a savory pie filled with chicken, almonds and cinnamon—and while it's a Moroccan dish, it's originally from Andalus, so it was a more than fitting meal.
On our last morning in Spain we finished our coffees at Gusto and headed back to the hotel lobby to pick up our waiting luggage and load it into the car. As we walked out of the piazza and away from La Giralda she began to toll the 9th hour of the day. I turned to face her for one more look, to see her serving her primary purpose of housing the tolling bells, as until then I had just been enjoying her for her Moorish beauty.
While my daily life has never been marked by the regular pealing of bells, that early morning moment, when the cobblestones were still damp and children skipped to school with their hands tucked into those of their parents, made me reminisce about Sundays in downtown Charlottesville, summers in Sicily, and one Christmas in Rome—the times I could remember when the call of a church bell was not just a pretty melody in the background, but instead directed the unfolding of my day.
There's a chance of course that the repetitive bells would eventually begin to grate on one's consciousness, but on the last morning of our Andalucìan road trip as we prepared to drive away from Sevilla, I chose to romanticize otherwise.
And yes, it was everything I had hoped it would be—helped ever so much by sharing it with the most genial of pilots and companionable of travel partners.
Other Andalucía posts:
After 9 years, 9 days in southern Spain
Postcard from Andalucía
Postcard from Andalucía: Málaga
Postcard from Andalucía: Granada and La Alhambra
Postcard from Andalucía: Nerja + Marbella
Postcard from Andalucía: Gibraltar + Tarifa
Postcard from Andalucía: Conil de la Frontera
Postcard from Andalucía: Cadíz + Medina-Sidonia
Postcard from Andalucía: Vejer de la Frontera
Postcard from Andalucía: Jerez + Carmona
Monday, November 17, 2014
My family (both by birth and by love) has a thing for showing up unexpectedly.
Like my parents and brother showing up at my university to help me celebrate my 21st birthday (at a surprise dinner party they organized with my roommates). Or those same roommates and I plotting with our other roommates’ parents to stage the most ridiculous reunion party with her friends and family from around the state (and neighboring ones!) for her birthday.
Or like me flying to LA from NYC (where I had a summer internship) to wait in a hotel lobby for my mom’s arrival from Virginia for a work trip, then sneak up behind her while she checked in to surprise (scare) her.
Or R traveling for 24 hours in a linen suit from Sicily to New York and walking into the restaurant where I was celebrating my birthday in the Meatpacking District with my parents, my brother, and my cousins with the hugest of smiles and not one single wrinkle (I’ll never know how Italians do it).
Then of course I reciprocated by flying to Sicily one cold week in February a few days after getting a ridiculous flight deal from Alitalia in my inbox and walking into his business while he was on the phone with his mom (who was in on it).
We like nothing more than pulling off crazy cross-country, cross-oceanic surprises and then bursting into blubbering heaves when we see each others’ faces.
But I just may have pulled off the best one yet—I flew, unbeknownst to anyone, from Stockholm to NYC this weekend so I could be there to celebrate my darling nephew / godson’s first birthday (and lucky me, Thanksgiving isn’t too far away, either).
My plan was not to tell anyone at all and just show up at the birthday party where essentially all of my American family (since most live in the Tri-state area around New York) would be gathered. My first homecoming, perfectly timed to celebrate the little boy who I was there to greet in the hospital on the day he came into this world and into our lives and who has not stopped making me smile and laugh with his adorable expressions, his mischievous personality, and his inquisitive, thoughtful stare, all of which I’ve been able to see develop and change week by week even after we left the US, thanks to his video and photo-adept taking grandparents and video-chatting parents.
Apparently my family knows me quite well, though, as my brother's non-teary response to seeing me walk unexpectedly into his apartment was, "I knew you'd come."
And he was right—there’s nothing that would have kept me from being here and holding my nephew in my arms and tickling his chubby little thighs to coax out one of his sweet gurgling laughs. Even if he won’t remember the day, and probably didn’t even really recognize me when I walked in, I’ll remember it and always know that not even an ocean could keep me away from being with him on his very first birthday.
One year ago: Craving a cozy cappuccino
Two years ago: Today's trio & Good things right now & Happy makers
Friday, November 7, 2014
A few Sundays ago, ready for some fresh air and a view of rolling greenery unmarred by architecture of any sort (even though I'm enamored with it), we borrowed my in-laws' car, picked up some friends and headed out to the countryside, which we arrived in less than 10 minutes after leaving the city. I still can't believe how close near-uninhabited land is!
Our destination was Äppelfabriken in Svartsjö on Faringsö (an island) 45 minutes away from Stockholm. I'd read about it on another expat's blog and thought a visit there would make a perfect fall day trip.
But, there were hardly any apples left on the trees and those that were still dotting the branches weren't supposed to be picked, as the orchard was preparing to make a film. We had to snag one anyway, though, as a little girl had been promised an afternoon of apple picking and we couldn't disappoint her.
Besides the lack of apples to be had, it also wasn't exactly as I'd expected, given how used I am to the apple and pumpkin farms of the Hudson Valley which are a little more dense and abundant, with well-populated rows and rows of trees and creeping vines to choose from. But in any case, the gorgeous drive there (where we saw elks racing across the meadow!), the utterly delicious and cozy fika we took inside one of the cottages, and the company made it worthwhile.
* A version of this post appeared on View Stockholm.
One year ago: The rosy glow of an autumn dusk
Two years ago: Foiled