2014 France, Spain & Portugal Letter 5

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 6:58 pm

Now in Cordoba, but this is from Sevilla


Hola! From the city of (bitter) orange trees; Seville.

Well the Lad and I are well and truly now Sevillians, we are old hands at getting around this city of trees.

But better stick to the story and move back to Lisbon. Our last day was cultural, spent at the Gulbenkian Museum. “Mr 5% of the world’s oil” (well the middle eastern bit anyway) left his amazing art collection and half a billion dollars to the good citizens of Lisbon back in the 1950’s.

Calouste Gulbenkian (one wonders what the parents were thinking when they gave him that name, but then he called his own son “Nubar”, so no wonder he went on to sue his father’s estate later!). Anyway ‘Cal’ more or less had control of the oil in the Middle East and Turkey. He helped BP, Shell and a few others get into the act as well, receiving a 5% retainer each time, so he was rolling in it. He spent it on art, coins, china, silver and some really over the top furniture that looks bloody uncomfortable. He then moved to Portugal, fell out with the Brits, and his son – so Portugal got the lot.

The galleries are a series of buildings and have gardens and space and a very impressive line of credit to run it all. I think they also have their very own symphony orchestra, which just goes to show oil does pay! They have a modern art building as well. I loved the gardens but struggled with the art, and did wonder what Mr G would have thought.


Some of Mr Calouste Gulbenkian collection of floor rungs and bits of ‘china’!

Culture finished with, we moved onto the all import topic: food, and stocked up on our latest fetish, “pasteis de bata”, a little custard tart, that owes it life to ironing! Seems some monks took in laundry to help pay God’s bills, and they needed huge quantities of egg whites for the starching process, which meant they had copious quantities of yolks left over. They then invented pasteis de bata, a disc of puff pastry with REAL butter, filled with a vanilla pastry cream, cooked until light caramelization (bugger, I am sure I have done this already in the last email; well, read again!), sprinkle with cinnamon, and life is perfect!

When the government closed down the monasteries and kicked the monks out onto the streets, the boys keep going with the laundry and with pasteis, and now a few hundred years later you can still buy them!

We stocked up, then packed up and took off to dinner. One of our house guests had suggested a little place that just happened to be up the hill from us, so up we went and dined at “A Primavera do Jerominio”; eight tables, or just 20 guests max. We dined cheaply and simply, enjoying their house wine. People were already lining up outside the doors waiting for us indoors to finish!

Himself had a fried cod number with a rice dish and I did ‘frog’ fish and prawns. Never quite got an answer on the frog fish. It did look a bit eel like or some other long skinny fish, but tasted great. We went ‘home’ and started the packing and sorting for the morning move. (Something odd is happening with the layout and I can’t correct it, so this could be a pain of an email). In the morning, as is my want, I walked, He slept. For once I think I might have over stretched myself – being too smart by half I thought I could walk a lot further and catch a tram back, but I lost the tram track. Anyway an hour and a half later I made my way home. He was a tad worried, and I had sore feet!

The mobile dressing room, wine cellar, pantry and sometimes car, was fully loaded and off we took. Getting out was not much easier than getting in, as the decent from level four of the car park confused the Sat Nav a tad (to say the least). But we eventually got out of the old city and onto the road out of town. I’m not good on heights or long bridges. I have visions of earthquakes or cables breaking, so traveling over the mighty Targus river bridge (2.23kms long) was as bad as it gets; add a sudden downpour of rain, and I was pretty white knuckled at the end.

Our next bed for the night was in the coastal town of Tavira in the Algarve region of Portugal. I booked, so we did not have another 600kms day, but it was such a gem of a town we both wished we could have stayed longer.


The Pousada de Tavira, (formerly the Convento da Graça) our ‘shack’ for the night

We ‘did’ the Portuguese version of the Paradores, called Pousadas. The one at Tavira was no longer needed as a convent, nuns being short on the ground. It was pretty spiffy and we dined in, and that was pretty spiffy too! Carpaccio of octopus for me, a duck breast number with salad for Him. This was followed by chook with stewed peppers, waxy spuds and tomato for Him, and rare rack of lamb with a beetroot and sweet spud stack thing for me. We had a regional wine from the Algarve, a blend of four grape varieties that only Touriga rang a bell.  It was very nice, a bit like a Tempranillo, but different. We are struggling with descriptions of Portuguese wines, but we like them. Restraint won out for once, and we did forgo desert.


Dinner at the Pousada de Tavira, tuna salad amuse bouche, Carpaccio of octopus & ‘chook’ with stewed peppers

I walked and he slept. Tavira is one very pretty town set on a river. It has echoes of Venice, and dozens of picture perfect houses, several in need of love and attention (“Thorn Park in the Algarve” anyone?).



early morning views of Tavira (I walked alone…..)

We breakfasted at the convent, then walked some more, taking off via a few other little villages in the area.  Santa Luzia was first, where you can catch a miniature train to the beach just over the sand hills, then on to Vila Real Santa Antonio, where we wandered the old city, which had been an important outpost for trade and protection on the border with Spain. Devastated by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami, the present town was built within several years, and is the centre of Lisbon, it’s also a fine example of 1750’s prefabrication building. Everything was assembled off site, moved in, and erected with military precision (we are talking stone and brick, none of this tacky ‘prefab’ of the 21st century!)

We lunched on ultra-fresh cuttle fish (His fried, mine grilled) at a restaurant on the water’s edge. This was washed down with a bottle of our lunch wine of choice, “vinho verde”. Portugal makes this light fresh wine by the gallon, and we had been doing our best to consume as much as possible!

Coming from the north, this wine variety is high in acid, has lower alcohol, and is crisp, with sometimes with a bit of spritz, and at others with some residual sugar. Very addictive!


Part of Vila Real Santa Antonio and lunch to follow, then it was ‘farewell Portugal’.

Motoring along for a few hours on yet more four and six-laned roads at suitable speeds, we hit the outer ‘burbs of Seville; not all that promising as it seems every city in the world has taken on the Oz dream of the suburban sprawl!

Fifteen minutes later we ‘hit’ the real Sevilla; ancient houses and building with lots of cobbled streets. Our hosts of our home for the next five nights had kindly sent me maps and details of ‘free’ car parking. Again we are in the very old part of the city, so very little parking, and no traffic. When I realized that they had suggested a parking place nearly a kilometre and a half away, I got onto Google and found the closest underground park that is only about 350 metres away from our flat! Our Sat Nav even knew of said park, so with full confidence I entered the maze of lanes and roads. Ms Sat Nav did not seem to be aware of road works that wanted to halt our progress, so for the next 10 minutes we maneuvered up and down lanes with little respect of driving in the correct direction i.e. down one way streets the wrong way, sometimes even ignoring red lights and pedestrian crossings, but I killed no one, nor damaged anything, so it was with joy that we reached our destination, the car park Plaza Nueva which is pretty much dead centre of the city.

We moved in. Our first reaction was not as good as the other flats we have stayed in, even though this one is quite large, and well appointed – we have twin hand basins in the bathroom, and for a few seconds I thought we had twin loos, which is taking coupledom a tad too far in my book, but it is the first ever bidet I had seen with a lid].

The apartment is white, and has large French doors onto tiny balconies. The building even has a lift! Then we both realized the problem: we have been on top floors (without lifts) so consequently had loads of natural light. Here we are, on the first floor, with almost no natural light, but with a lift!  We have adjusted, and we are enjoying it. I play lift boy at every opportunity, so He can descend or ascend the one floor, whilst I do the stairs, and have the door open for His arrival or departure!

Seville: this will now become a dot point report!

Orange trees line almost every street. They are grown on tall trunks looking and smelling wonderful. They are Seville oranges (naturally) and thankfully not ripe, otherwise I would be smuggling a case full home for bitter orange marmalade!


Orange tree and more orange trees!

We have walked and walked (and I of course have walked more, as He has totally returned to his normal habit of not waking up when I do!)

Our large apartment, with lift attached, is in the old part of the city. Only 250 metres down the lane we can pop into the cathedral for morning vespers, or whatever they do.  100 metres away we can pop over and see the mayor, or whoever runs the show from their nice building at the top of Plaza Nuevo.

We can also choose from over 1000 bars for a drink and snack! [Other than Sundays, I do not think anyone cooks or stays in at home]. Spain is on daylight saving, but it feels like they do a two hour ‘save’. On my early morning walks (late by my normal routine) it’s pitch black still at 7a.m. The sun still has a sting at 8 p.m. in the evening and it’s not really dark until 9.30 p.m., which is why we don’t dine till 10 p.m. Have not seen anyone drunk or disorderly, even though they seem to start with drinks at 10a.m.!

I will not preach, or pontificate, but many mosques are now the basis of grand Catholic churches with minarets turned into bell towers. Ditto their palaces, now having become ‘homes’ to local royalty. There is so much Islamic-styled architecture with accompanying decoration still being built centuries after the Moors where kicked out. One can’t help but think that some of the grumpiness in the Islamic world might not be without reason, and that the Christian church has had a sometimes very ugly and violent past.

Moving right along; the “El Real [ pronounced reh-ahl ] Alcazar de Sevilla” is about 350 metres down our lane. This is a 14th century heap of huge beauty. It is probably my favourite spot in Sevilla – a palace for kings. The current royals still have a suite in it to use when in town. It’s decorated with truckloads of azulejos (those pretty tiles), carved and gilded wooden ceilings, carved plasterwork, and what seems like dozens of courtyards.

Then there are the gardens – seen in many of those courtyards, where they’ve been set out as ‘garden rooms’. The gardens also surround fountains, are seen between paths and among trees.

Then, often decorating some of these garden sites are more and more of those beautiful tiles!


“El Real Alcazar de Sevilla”, amazing tiles, carvings and gardens

The Cathedral of Seville is a sort of re-used mosque, now with the world’s third biggest church attached to its side! So much gilt and silver!

Napoleon borrowed one altar made of silver for safe keeping during one of his wars. He gave it back later, but he did melt down some of its silver to help pay for his wars, so it’s difficult to even conceive what the remainder of this altar is worth!

The cathedral has a bell tower, now with an electrically operated bell: how tacky is that? I mean, sell some of the silver and employ some campanologists to give people employment, plus saving on power; all in one action!

Anyway, the bell tower is the recycled minaret with a new top “La Giralda” that we both walked up. In its courtyard is still what was previously the foot washing area for the devout Muslims to clean up before popping in to pray. This courtyard is also planted with dozens of Seville orange trees. The fountains are still in use, so when we are over run it will probably not take much to turn it back into a mosque!


The Cathedral of Seville, the bell tower, the courtyard and the view from the bell tower (our apartment is down there somewhere).

Parque Maria Luisa, makes the gardens at the Real Alcazar look like a veggie patch. Once part of the San Telmo Palace, the area was converted into a show and tell site in the nineteen twenties, so that they had a place to hold the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. Chris Columbus, who founded and named America, was a local lad, so they do take the America bit seriously) but what got us are the buildings! The Plaza de Espana is of monolithic proportions, and all for a six-month show and tell; and that’s only one of the buildings! Extraordinary brick and tile work, fountains, ponds, plaques and statues, plus, you can hire a boat and row yourself around parts of the building!


The main building of the Parque Maria Luisa, sort of a ‘temporary’ exhibitions building…

Seville does big, and just so we could all have an opera called “Carmen”, they built the (then) second largest building in Spain. It was built as the Royal Tobacco Factory and don’t even think the sort of factory we pop up in Australia! Built of luscious stone. I counted fourteen internal courtyards! It employed over 3000 ‘girls’ to roll the tobacco on their thighs to make cigars! The mind boggles, rolling a Winston Churchill sized cigar on the virginal thigh does bring all sorts of visions! No wonder I don’t do cigars! It seems it was passionate work, hence the opera, but other stories infer there were no female employees at all. It had its own moat and guard houses, plus an internal jail for those who took ‘samples’. It’s now part of the local University.

We did a two and a half hour walking tour with a local guide who found us via social media, go figure that one! For those who are not following the Facebook version of the trip, I use Instagram to up load a few photos each day, well its funny who finds you that way and starts following you! Hence we met Eduardo and he walks as fast as me, so off we went, with a fair bit of Miguel, keep up! Well we saw many more churches, even more Virgin Mary’s (something big was about to happen with her as she was centre stage on many altars in seriously posh frocks and loads of white flowers). But he also showed us many houses and courtyards and several palaces and homes that we could tour. So on the next day we did La Casa de Pilatos, once the biggest private house in Seville, and probably still is. Started by Pedro Enríquez de Quiñones in the 15th century, who was the mayor of Andalucía. It was completed by his son Fadrique Enríquez de Rivera (first Marquis of Tarifa). It’s covered with tiles (those azulejos). At one stage Pedro was having 2000 delivered a day! This “house” is also home to dozens of Roman marbles. It’s still in the same family, but they keep only ‘a flat’ for short stays, whilst letting us mere mortals in to stare and poke around! It had the worst audio guide of all time; a poncey Oxford type was reading a really bad translation, and if he said “in other words” one more time when describing something, I was ready to do a dramatic jumping act on the bloody thing! We heard it at least 100 times. We then had the little Hitler take us on a guided tour of the upstairs, and you sure as hell knew you had to stay on the grey carpet and not put a foot out of place! Nice house, great gardens, one or two too many tiles perhaps.


La Casa de Pilatos, courtyard, reception room, just a few tiles where needed to decorate the walls and yet an other courtyard

Second house was The Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija. She was a more recent lass. Spent 10 years redecorating an old palace in the city with roman mosaics. The Condesa also was one of the first ‘gels’ to get an arts degree, and she sure did like mosaics! She also was a bit keen on azulejos, particularly the blue and yellow ones!

We did a thousand one other things, but I need a walk, and he who is sleeping off the drive to Cordoba needs one too.

But, must talk food first!

We ate well, but with some restraint. Most meals we did “tapas’ but our most favored place we did twice: Restaurante Albarama on Plaza San Francisco that does ‘fusion tapas’. Based on good traditional food, they had been ‘tarted up’ – so we had things such as risotto of mushroom and truffle with duck breast and crunchy parmesan; sea urchin with fried quails egg; duck breast on grilled apple with red berries; croquettes of bolognese and basil; ensaladilla of prawns with potato and mayonnaise; and the best goat cheese salad with nuts and molasses vinaigrette!

Then the deserts! For me, nougat semifreddo with lemon and honey syrup layered between honey wafers. He had to do the warm chocolate coulant and ice-cream.

I should add that all of the above was consumed over two nights! The serves were very generous, and amazingly inexpensive.


Restaurante Albarama, sea urchin with fried quails egg, croquettes of bolognese and basil, goat cheese salad with nuts and molasses vinaigrette and I can’t quite remember what the last dish was!

The two other restaurants had more typical dining rooms. Corral Del Agua was in a typical courtyard next to the Real Alcazar walls, in the very quiet part of the city. The food is authentic and fresh, and we mainly chose from the daily specials. He had his first gazpacho in Spain, while I had gratin mussels (I found these stunning, and He liked his taste). Then He did a rabbit ‘stew’. It was pronounced as, “perfect”. I had grilled cod which was even more perfect! We drank ‘cava’ and then red wine. If you need to know more, I’ll show you the photos.

The third place on was more Italian. It was in an old building that had once been baths, so there are remnants of the bathing stuff still around. It was called Ristorante San Marco, so you just knew it was Italian! He had pork with gorgonzola. I did duck with orange, mainly so I could taste some Seville orange!

We drank red! Marcelino Serrano Cosecha 2011, bottle number 568 of 4000!

So much more to tell, but you’re bored. I’m in need of a shower and then we go to find Roger & Dorothy who are here also in Cordoba, where we arrived several hours ago, with another very interesting driving story!

Stay tuned!!

Adios amigos

Him and himette xo



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