The Cordoba Mezquita
Monday was another good tourist day in Sevilla. We started the day at the famous Sevillian bullfighting ring. It was a beautiful place and really demonstrated the different between traditional southern Spain and non-traditional separatist Catalunya. I learned some interesting facts, like how if a bull kills a matador, they kill him… and his mother. Not fair! I also learned that the name of the caseta we went to at La Feria referred to Pepito el Gallo, a famous matador who got started at age 14 (!!), and eventually was killed by his passion at 24. After the bull ring, we made our way to the Torre de Oro, which was in the past a tower that stored gold, but today is a maritime museum. We climbed to the top and got a beautiful view of Sevilla. For lunch, we went to a little bar off of the main drag where I got Patatas Bravas and, judge me, another San Jacobo… YUM. Again, we siesta’d before the night. We went to the Flamenco Museum, which was cool because it had 6 rooms of high-tech exhibits and saw the flamenco dress worn during the ’92 Barcelona Olympics. After exploring a little bit, we got some wine and sat down for a flamenco show. It consisted of two dancers: girl and boy, a guitarist, and a singer. It was the perfect way to end off the day… besides dinner of course, which consisted of Patatas Aiolis (a garlicy sauce), and Gazpacho (cold tomato puree). After dinner, my dad and I met with Cat Gaa, blogger for Sunshine and Siestas, and friend and fellow ESL teacher of my cousin, TJ! We sat down for drinks and talked about her life in Southern Spain and she gave us some excellent tips for what to do, eat, and see. She gave us a heads up to listen for the different way that the Andalucians’ talk – by dropping letters of the ends of words, which came in handy during the rest of the trip.
The Catholic Kings palace gardens
On Tuesday I woke up late, because I trusted my dad more than my alarm – not making that mistake again. We took a bus from Plaza de Armas (Sevilla’s main, if not only, bus station) to Cordoba, which wasn’t particularly comfortable with a bunch of noisy kids and other passengers. We quickly made our way off the bus and to the tourist information center where we got a map and planned out our must-sees of the day. After a short walk to the city center, we started in the Mezquita – a mosque converted into a Cathedral by the Catholic Church. It was so beautiful and the Moorish influence was obvious. They had all sorts of ruins dating back as early as the first century. In fact, the Mezquita used to be a Visigoth place of worship – everyone just kept converting it from its previous inhabitants. We stopped for lunch and tried flamenquin, basically a wrap made of ham and deep-fried, after a suggestion from Cat and they were so good! My dad also got frog’s legs… gross. Apparently the Cordoban specialty is caracoles (snails), but my dad had to take it to another level. We also got potato wedges with peppers and chorizo. After lunch, we checked out the Alcazar, which was once home to the Catholic kings, Isabella and Fernando. It was not quite as impressive as Sevilla’s, but has a lot of history. Our last big stop was a trip to the Medieval Torture Museum (Spain seems to like these, there was one we went to in Toledo many years ago). It was interesting and somewhat painful to imagine what people in the past had to deal with when they did something “wrong.” We bought my mom a pretty Andalusian wrap, and called it a day. We stopped for drinks, then took the bus back to Sevilla. We were quite hungry when we got back, but for some reason, kept striking out at restaurants – they either didn’t have a full menu, didn’t have anything recognizable on their menus, or didn’t look very good. Finally we hit the jackpot at a place not far down the street from where we were staying. I got something I will fantasize about for years to come, a platter with a San Jacobo, Tortilla Sevillana (jamon, cheese, and tomatos), and patatas bravas.
Inside the torture museum
Wednesday was our last partial day in Sevilla. We checked out of our room and headed for an area known as La Macarena. We saw the Macarena Gate and looked into the basilica behind it. Next door was a museum about the brotherhood of Semana Santa, but we didn’t have enough time to do it justice. So we checked out the outside of the Andalucian Parliament, then got some coffee and pastries. Heading back to get our luggage, a protest blocked our way. Our bus got rerouted, but luckily we figured it out on time. We took the bus back to the airport from Plaza de Armas. My dad’s luggage has been overweight the entire trip while mine was always under… how is that possible? We switched things over to my bag and carry on and balanced it out. We took another RyanAir flight, this time to Rome, Italy, without issue (except the god awful landing). Unfortunately, we missed the first airport transfer bus and had to wait an extra 30 minutes for the next time. After getting to Termini, we got a little lost on the way to our B & B, which resulted in two very frustrated travellers. Finally, after calling our gracious host, we made it. He brought us to a delicious traditional Italian restaurant that helped reset the tone for the night. It was interesting – he didn’t speak much English, but he did speak Spanish, which is how we ended up communicating. Anyways, back to the dinner – four cheese gnocchi, local moscato, and artichoke bruschetta… with a free glass of cava. I was in heaven.
The Colloseum with my dad
On Thursday we tackled some of Rome’s most famous monuments. Before going all the way out, we stopped at a coffee shop down the street for breakfast. I ordered orange juice, but got red juice that tasted like orange juice… weird. After breakfast, we started with the Colosseum – a ticket inside also gets you inside the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. We spent at least an hour just taking everything in and imagining what it would be like to have to fight for your life as a gladiator. Afterwards, we took a brisk walk through Palatine Hill – described by one of my guide books as being the Hollywood Hills of Ancient Rome. There were a lot of interesting ruins, but the Roman Forum was even more impressive with better-preserved buildings and monuments. We met a cute Texas couple who was also taking in Rome for the first time and bonded over our shared experience before eventually parting ways. After lunch, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain. I only threw in one coin, because I’d prefer to end up with a Spanish boy than an Italian… but I’d love to come back to Italy (as the tradition goes). We also stopped by the Pantheon, but didn’t make it in because it was closed for a national holiday. We got drinks before dinner at a place near the Colosseum, where I met my future husband – a cute old man who latched on to my arm and tried to convince me to stay for “Just one more drink!” We ended up at a place that translates to “The Secret Garden” for dinner – a restaurant that came out of nowhere, with stairs that led down to a cute courtyard. I got focaccia with prosciutto… and a half liter of white wine to myself (my dad and I have opposing wine tastes). Some other important things that happened today – we finally did some laundry (our little suitcases could only hold so much), and we took the metro for the first time… much faster than Barcelona, but not as extensive.
Making a wish in the Trevi Fountain
Friday was dedicated to the Vatican City. You honestly need a day or two to make it through everything… the lines are ridiculously long, and it wasn’t even tourist season. To spare my father’s feet, I took advantage of a gap in the line and cut. Dishonest, sure, but with the right intentions? Definitely. I saved us at least an hour of waiting. Sometimes you’ve got to get dirty. Our first stop was St. Peter’s Basilica, which was incredible. So many beautiful things to look at, I found it hard to decide what to take pictures of. We also got into the crypt where many dead popes are buried. At the end of our visit, we stopped by a souvenir shop where a nun put together a silver cross necklace as requested by my mom. We stopped for lunch at a place that had a great deal – a pizza AND a pasta with a drink for 9.50 euro. I got pasta e fagioli and ham and cheese pizza, which was ok. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it into the Vatican Museums, because the line was ridiculously long and we wouldn’t have time to do them justice before they closed. Instead, we went to the Castle of Saint Angelo, which has served as a mausoleum for emperor Hadrian. It had all sorts of interesting things to look at – art, artillery, furnished rooms with items from the past, and papal apartments. Before heading back to our B & B, I got my two Italy souvenirs – a Vatican City shot glass and some orecchiette pasta. We then printed off our boarding passes back to Barcelona and picked up our laundry. We relaxed, then headed out to eat at Il Vera Alfredo for dinner, the birthplace of Fettuccine Alfredo. It was expensive, but worth it, because the pasta was delicious and now we can say we tried the dish exactly as it was meant to be – among famous people such as Sylvester Stallone, George H. W. Bush, and Walt Disney.
Bocca della Verità - the Mouth of Truth
On Saturday, I got the Italian version of my favorite donut in Barcelona. In Barcelona, they’re called “Berlinas” and are squishy and covered in sugar crystals. In Italy, they are thicker, but composed of the same tastes and ingredients. Today, my father and I rented bikes and explored Rome in a fast and efficient way that let him keep the stress off his feet. We started our adventure at the Mouth of Truth (as it translates), which legend says will bite off your arm if you put it in the mouth and you are a liar. I still have mine, in case you were wondering The line was crazy line for something as simple as a photo op, but we decided to wait because it was probably the only one we’d have to deal with that day. We also went inside the church, which had a crypt dedicated to Saint Valentine. Then we went to the this crazy Pyramid structure, which was under construction. We ate a sandwich lunch at a café nearby while it started raining. Luckily, by the time we were done, the rain had mostly cleared up, but continued off and on all day. Before going much further, my dad decided to stop for coffee and I had some truly delicious tea. We then biked to the Area Sacra, which is a series of four temples that were recently uncovered during road construction. I wonder how many other ruins are still left to be found in Rome? The Area Sacra is also home to some ruin-roaming cats, which were adorable and friendly. Someone comes and feeds them, but I’m sure there are plenty of little critters in their territory to snack on. We biked past the Synagoge (closed, but cool to look at), then went to Piazza Navona to eat gelato and see a famous Bernini fountain. Soon enough, it was time to return our bikes and take a break at home. We went out to a place not far away by the big church, where I got another Four Cheese Gnocchi dish (yum), and fried mozzarella. I also got the biggest cup of white wine in my life, and talked to a lovely British lady who just made it into Rome that night.
Ruin roaming kitties!
Sunday was unfortunately our last day in beautiful Roma, but I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t completely excited to return to Barcelona for a few days. We engaged in random but close sightseeing, starting at Piazza de Vitorrio Emmanuel, which had more ruin-roaming cats. Then we made our way to the Piazza de Reppublica, where an animal rights protest was going on. We stopped in the Basilica created in the ruins of the Diocletian baths – designed by Michelangelo. We took a short break and I got pesto pasta for lunch… it was rich. Then we went to the Museum of Roman History and spent at least two hours taking in as much as we could about people and traditions from the past. We also went into the museum at the Diocletian Baths, since we got admission included from the other museum. We retrieved our luggage and made our way to the airport bus transfer, and thus commenced a very stressful three hours. There was a lot of confusion as to how things worked, and even though we figured it out right away, there were too many people and not enough busses. To make a long story short, we made our flight, but didn’t make very many friends. Except a lovely Catalan woman I talked to and offered to share cabs with if it came down to it. And a German woman who sat next to me on the plane that I chatted with in Spanish. We luckily made it back to our accommodations in Barcelona in good time where I reunited with Jessica from my program and we cooked up some kind of Chicken Alfredo and vegetables dish.
Interestingly dressed guards in Vatican City