Friday, April 08, 2016

And on to Sevilla

(Blogger Statistics just pointed out that this is my 600th blog. I began this little effort away back in 2006 as I was preparing for my Grand China Adventure. Who knew then that here I would be writing #600 sitting in an apartment in Sevilla, Spain. So much has changed in those intervening 10 years, change in careers, married children, grandchild, a now well-developed love of travel in someone who really never wanted to leave North America. "Cheers" I say to a love of life and a love of the world.)

We spent our last night having dinner at La Lonja de Tapas, the restaurant where we’d eaten earlier in the week. On the first trip there was an all-American family sitting at a table off to the side of the restaurant. Very regular looking parents and very Nordic looking children. La Lonja is mentioned in the Frommer’s guide as being “kid friendly” and I suppose it is, many not super-challenging options on the menu, bright, clean and not the dive-bar place one might choose to have a genuine Barca experience. I fully understand the sentiment, when you find a place that’s family friendly you stick with it. So it was no shock to me when in the middle of our second meal the same family came in and sat at the same table. We at least had varied our choices tonight – Catalan flat bread with tomatoes, ham croquettes, grilled vegetables and ventrasca de atún (tuna belly with tomatoes and olive oil.) On the way out the door we asked the woman working the front about the family – “every night” she said.
Dragging ourselves out of bed at our “regular” time this morning, as in the time we get up at home, we looked out the window to a rainy day. I’ll admit we’ve been taking our time getting up these last two weeks because there are no equine mouths to feed and no contractors showing up on “Cameron Time.” It’s an interesting challenge to try and overcome 30+ years of responsibility when it comes to getting out of bed. My natural inclination is to lie there and feel guilty, until the other side of me wins by asking “guilty for what?” Well, the answer to that question is “nothing.”
We packed the last of our clothes and toiletries and went looking for the New York Times at the newsstand around the corner. We found this guy a few days ago and thus put an end to the long walks up La Rambla, through the urine-redolent plaza and past the Roman graves. This guy is a real Spanish grandpa, slow and methodical and just the right amount of friendly. He doesn’t feel compelled to say “thank you” because he sees me buying an English language newspaper instead he just nods and says “Está bien” when I had him the money.
From there back to La Croisanteria for one last Pain au Chocolat and coffee. The young women there now know us and the coffee is ready before we sit down. On leaving I thanked them for their service and told them we were off.
We said goodbye to the apartment we never really liked about an hour before train-time. We’ve rented apartments now all over Europe and we’ve had some good experiences and some great ones. This one just came up so short between lack of supplies, no help from the agency (including being told “sorry for your inconvenience” when I pointed out that their guests were smoking in the stairwell and filling up our place with second hand smoke,) and just a general lack of “livability.” We got by but when you pay a lot of money to stay somewhere, you hope for more than mere survival.
Catching a cab on La Rambla was no problem in spite of the rain. Nothing like Shanghai where every cab in the city disappears when water starts falling out of the sky. We made it to Sants station in plenty of time. The rain made a lot of pedestrians lose their respect for cabs, and I joked with the driver that the pedestrians seemed to have a death wish today.
As always, the train boarded right on time. Our seats were on the left side of the car facing west as we pulled out of town. The train hugged the coast for a long time and I could see the Mediterranean glimmering steel-blue under a breaking canopy of clouds. Heading inland after Tarragona, the snow-capped Pyrenees once again popped up on the horizon. The landscape and the farm houses switched from coastal to central Spain with its red dirt and white-washed walls. We cruised on through olive trees and grassy fields until the Sierra de Guadarrama came into view with its snowy crests, informing me that we were nearing Madrid. The plains of La Mancha stretched off far to the east and a lone jetliner came into view, crossing our path and descending into Barajas airport reminding me that we are only a week away from leaving this wonderful country.
I’ve never done a train transfer in Puerta de Atocha so I was more than a bit nervous when we pulled into the station. We had 15 minutes to make our connection which seemed both adequate and downright scary. We’ve always terminated our travel here, so this was new experience and I had no inking what to do. I knew that you take the escalator up to get to the taxis but had no idea what to do to get to the trains that were departing.
To give ourselves the best possible chance we got up and made our way to the exit platform as the train glided in. We were ready to go, suitcases in hand, we got off and headed towards the station avoiding the up escalator and instead heading into the area where the high speed trains normally depart. So far, so good. The board said “Gate 10” so I was a bit shocked when we got there and it was closed. MLW had the brilliant idea to try and board the wrong train and thus get pointed in the right direction so we did just that and our tickets were refused and the agent said, in the kindliest way “Planta Uno, ascensor a la Puerta 15.” We were on the wrong floor! So we hied down to Gate 15 and caught the elevator up one floor with a couple of security guards and came out onto the first floor (second floor in our parlance) and made it to the train and our car with 5 minutes to spare. Being late I had to completely rearrange the luggage storage to make room for our bags but it was a small price to pay for success.
The train pulled out and we were on our way to Sevilla. Passing through the industrial side of Madrid and then farms and finally the endless sea of olive tree orchards, once again I knew we were on our way. 

This car was far more quiet than the last one, less children, less cell phones, probably fewer tourists. We rolled on and the scenery changed with palms appearing here and there and some citrus orchards and a general feel coastal desert. Our trip ended, we grabbed a cab and met the best rental agent ever, Macarena Galvez at Mateo Gagos, 7 our home for the next 6 days. It’s upstairs from one of our favorite restaurants and just down the block from the cathedral, nicely included in the view from our front balcony. In other words, perfect. We’d not rented this one before and now having been here for an hour, it’s clearly going to make up for our last experience. Well-provisioned, nicely laid out and perfect for the two of us.

Tired from another long day of travel we went off to the supermarket in the basement of Corte Ingles and fully stocked up with jam, cheese, bread, yogurt, fruit, a bottle of wine and some desert, we’re settling in for a nice dinner in advance of a few days in one of our very favorite places.


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