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Nina visits Spain

This is repeat of the post I've been sending to the travel communities that provided me with good tips. My co-workers and I tried to squeeze in time to explore Barcelona in between work shifts during TechEd, and then Mike and I took the next week off to explore Andalucia on our own, opting for a Thanksgiving meal of oxtail and chorizo instead of the standard turkey fare. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to off-season travel, which is what I end up doing most of the time because of the main advantage: price. It's also less crowded, but that also means touristy things have shorter hours and some services stop running altogether. Weather is also tricky in Europe during the winter. We were fortunate enough to get quite a few sunny days, but it was hard to find motivation to wander around during the two days of pouring rain we experienced.

La Sagrada Familia Casa Mila - Roof
Mercat Boqueria Barri Gotic
Many people have told me that Barcelona was their favorite city in Europe, and while I'm not ready to make that call for myself, I can definitely understand where they're coming from. Tons to do, great food, beautiful architecture... what more could you ask for? Even if Gaudi isn't your cup of tea, there are plenty of Modernist and art nouveau buildings that aren't as, well, odd.

Malaga is definitely a harder city to love. It's pretty industrial-looking as you head from the airport into the tourist center, and the touristy part of town is nice, but then there's that nagging feeling that you aren't seeing the real face of the city. The Picasso Museum was nice (but overpriced), and the Alcazaba was fun to walk through. Things were pretty lively at night, complete with a pro-anarchy protest, which is always fun. The bus ride leaving Malaga passed through a section of the Costa del Sol, which led to a quick conclusion that I never want to visit there.

Parador and the Puente Nuevo View of the countryside
White buildings Plaza de Toros
Ronda must be one of the most beautifully situated towns in the world. We spent so much time staring at the spectacular views in town that we didn't bother with any of the tourist sites except the bull ring, which was definitely worth it. Unlike the one in Seville, they allow you to walk almost everywhere and visit at your own pace. The Parador there is great, and there's a deal that if you're between 20 and 30, you get a rate of 48 euros per person in your room (doesn't matter how old they are), including breakfast.

Torro del Oro Alcazar - Horseshoe arches
Plaza de Toros Giralda Tower and the Cathedral
Traveling in November doesn't come without the risk of bad weather, and here is where we hit the first day of rain. Fortunately, it was just one, so we had some time to walk around without getting wet. People say there's a lot to do in Seville, but for some reason (maybe it was just me being tired of tourist crowds), I wasn't as interested in the tourist attractions here, so we were able to see a select few sites at a leisurely pace. The Cathedral was pretty cool -- supposedly the largest in the world -- and I enjoyed the Alcazar as well, but I'm glad I saw it before visiting Granada instead of the other way around. Both of these sites are supposed to be better visited in the late afternoon when there aren't as many tour groups around, but we ended up having to see them both in the morning, which still wasn't too bad due to it being off season. We saw a flamenco show, which was really touristy, but who cares... it was good dancing.

Mezquita Guadalquivir River
Another day of rain here, so I didn't get to explore the less touristy part of the city as much as I wanted. The Mezquita is by far the most popular attraction here, and it's pretty cool. It's such a crazy contrast between the original Islamic architecture and the Christian modifications to turn it into a "Cathedral." I think Cordoba would also be much prettier in the spring or summer when the flowerpots had more blooms. I managed to squeeze in visits to the Julio Romero de Torres museum and Alcazar on Friday, when both were free.

Alhambra - Nasrid Palaces View of Granada from the Alhambra
Granada was a fun place to visit. I really liked the "free tapas with purchase of a drink" thing, and the fact that it was a university town made it a younger and more hip place. By this point in our trip, we were way too tired for much nightlife, but the music scene definitely looked interesting. The Alhambra was just amazing, definitely one of the best attractions we saw during the entire trip. Great views of the city from the Alcazaba, and I couldn't believe the intricate detail in the Nasrid Palaces that survived all these years. Pretty cold, though, especially in comparison to Cordoba.

IMG_6850 Sausage and beans at Cal Pep
Paella Pescado Frito
Oh my goodness... food is so good in Spain, and I was eating ALL the time. I think the best dining experience definitely goes to Cal Pep in Barcelona. You sit at the bar and they make most of the food in front of you. No menu, barely any English spoken... who cares, the food is amazing, and they'll tell you what to get if you don't know. Ate a lot of tapas, and we hit almost every one of Rough Guide's suggested "top 10 tapas bars in Andalucia" that were in cities we visited. Quite a few experiences where no one really spoke English and we had to order by randomly picking things we couldn't translate, but everything turned out ok. Vegetables could be hard to find, though.

General Comments
Siesta hours often apply. Things are often closed on Sundays. And Mondays. Seriously, the Spanish people know how to live life. Great place to visit, and I definitely want to go again. A few more pictures on my Flickr site. I may eventually get around to putting up more pics on a site later, but there are a LOT to go through.


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