Archive for November, 2011
Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla, Sevilla, Spain.
One of our favorite spots was the Alcazar in Sevilla, which is a fairly typical Spanish castle complex. This one, though, is surrounded by sprawling acres of gardens you could get lost in for hours. Indeed, we nearly did get lost in one of the garden mazes. On our way out, we almost walked right past the entrance to the highlight of the trip — Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla, which wikipedia had this to say about:
The “Baths of Lady María de Padilla” are rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero. The tanks are named after María de Padilla, the mistress of Peter the Cruel. Supposedly, Peter fell for María and had her husband killed. María resisted his advances and poured boiling oil over her face to disfigure herself to stop Peter’s pursuit. She became a nun and moved to a convent afterwards. She is regarded as a symbol of purity in the culture of Seville.
I guess they didn’t have restraining orders back then.
In Madrid, our hotel was nestled in some side-streets near the Plaza Mayor. Built (well, rebuilt/expanded) in the early 17th century, this plaza was (and is) widely used since as a public space for markets, bullfights, etc. It was also host to more gruesome aspects of Spain’s history: public executions — including, during the Spanish Inquisition, “auto de fe” — a ceremony of public penance followed by execution by burning at the stake. As you sit peacefully enjoying the cool night air and watch people stroll and relax in the plaza, it’s hard to imagine it as the site of these acts of religious insanity and carnage.
During the day, the plaza is home to a constantly buzzing throng of tourists flocking to a statue of Philip III, and being entertained by a host of bizarre street performers. At night, the restaurants explode into life, taking advantage of their prime locale and setting up for business in the plaza itself. We ate dinner in the plaza on our second night in Madrid. The meal itself was substandard — a fairly mediocre paella and surly (if not actively hostile) service. Such is the price you pay for the atmosphere, which couldn’t be beat. We finished up with a stroll around the perimeter of the plaza, which is lined with shops of all sorts, and dotted with grand arches leading into the twisty maze of old Madrid’s streets.
One of the things we really enjoyed in Spain was their amazingly convenient high-speed train system. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to take day-trips to Spain’s various historical points of interest, it was nice just to get a feel for the country and its terrain. While watching the scenery fly by, I found myself thinking back to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (my only real point of reference for modern Spanish history). It was hard not to imagine every burnt-out farmhouse or decrepit villa as the scene of some chapter of Orwell’s flight from the fascists.
Catedral de Segovia, Spain. September 29, 2011.
I got museumed out pretty quickly in Spain. I’m a fan of several veins of religious art, but there are only so many statues of the virgin mary with the baby jesus you can see before they all start looking the same. But I never got tired of the cathedrals.
Carrer del Portal, Tossa De Mar, Spain.
Just north of the fisherman’s beach, we stumbled across this magical little strip of restaurants outside the old castle walls. No one other than us and the ghosts of Tossa de Mar were around, but these restaurants had all fired their ovens and lit their lamps nonetheless. The result was an eerie juxtaposition of this empty 3,000 year old street, and the warm inviting glow (and smells) of these restaurants. It was like something right out of a Miyazaki movie. I kept expecting that after we gorged ourselves we’d be turned into pigs for eating the food of the spirits.
We braved it anyway, and had probably the best meal of our entire trip in Spain. I had a simple dish I can’t recall the name of, but it translated roughly to “fisherman’s stew” — a mix of basically every form of sea life in the Mediterranean in a savory tomato sauce. It. was. incredible. I .. I still have impure thoughts about it. Our only company the entire evening was our waiter and a very pregnant cat begging politely for scraps (I gave her a prawn).
UPDATE: The name of the dish is zarzuela de mariscos. Yum.
Cait, Girona, Spain, October 6, 2011.
… waiting patiently while I take 8 million sunset photos. One of the advantages of travelling with your gorgeous girlfriend is having a great model on hand at all times.