Thursday, 4 June 2015

My May in -ings: Watching flamenco in Seville, devouring Barcelona & shopping in Girona

As usual, my recent online low profile isn't due to a lack of subject matter: quite the opposite. As I've been too busy to blog regularly, I thought I'd update you on what I've been up to and give a preview of upcoming posts, plus a few tips that probably wouldn't have made it onto the blog otherwise.

So, in May, I've been...

Visiting


Seeing La Giralda from a different angle


  • Seville. For this year's Puente de Mayo, I hopped on the AVE to my favourite southern city for a weekend of sun, tapas and good times with fellow blogger Becoming Sevillana. We had some top-notch bites to eat (and good service) at modern tapas bars La Pepona and La Chunga, with breakfast at characterful old-school Casa Moreno thrown into the mix. We also toured the rooftops of Seville's Cathedral, a badly-advertised visit that proved to be a brilliant way to see this incredible building from some very different angles. We learnt much more about the construction and history of the cathedral than you would on an unguided visit, plus we got to wander the interior at our leisure after the tour. Visits now seem to have ended for the season (due to the summer heat), but you can book them (in Spanish only unless you can fill a tour) through Conocer Sevilla. Another 'typical sevillano' moment which made me question why I no longer live here was an evening of flamenco en estado puro at Bodeguita Fabiola. By en estado puro, I mean the real deal: although clearly aimed to draw in the tourists, there were no unbuttoned white shirts or slicked back hair here; just 4 blokes with earrings, tattoos and rhythm. One wiry young lad turned out to be a mesmerizing dancer, while the singer had a captivating voice. There's no entry charge, just (cheap) drinks, so it's well worth dropping in.

  • Barcelona. A quick work trip ended with a rare day to myself in the city: I decided to skip San Isidro in Madrid and spend the weekend in Catalunya. Before moving on to my next destination, I spent the morning eating my way around the Gràcia neighbourhood with Devour Barcelona (see below).

  • Girona. After being won over by this colourful city in March, I returned for a long weekend in May. This time, my visit coincided with the Temps de Flors festival, but even outside this event Girona has lots to offer: a relaxed environment, great food and a casco antiguo so beautiful you'll be reaching for your camera at every turn. Saturday afternoon at Temps de Flors proved a bit overcrowded and saw my friend and I retreat to the shops, where we discovered beautiful boutique Maison Marina. Their own designs are made in the shop itself; the soundtrack to your browsing is the whir and clack of a sewing machine. The advantage of this proved to be easy alterations: I fell in love with a daisy-trimmed top that was too big, so I was measured up and returned in 20 minutes to pick up a perfectly fitting version.

Gorgeous Girona

Eating



  • The best of Barcelona. After trying out Madrid Food Tour last year, I couldn't wait to take Devour Spain's tour of the Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona. Much as I love the Catalan capital, I can't help but feel overwhelmed by the tourist hordes in the centre. I'd often heard Gràcia likened to a village (which it originally was), but was sceptical until I witnessed it for myself on a four-hour tour led by the lovely Renee. In addition to trying out Catalan cuisine at nine different stops, I also learnt a lot about the history of Barcelona, and of this lovely neighbourhood in particular. But the best revelation of all was that it's not only OK to drink cava with breakfast, it's positively encouraged. There'll be a full post on my Devour Barcelona experience soon, but in the meantime I'd recommend that anyone visiting Barcelona, Madrid or Seville soon checks out Devour Spain's tours (and their handy blog posts).

Visiting Gracia with Devour Barcelona


  • Cheese, wine and ice cream in Girona. Not together, of course. Our best find during Temps de Flors was cheese and wine bar La Simfonia, a relaxed spot on shady Plaça de l'Oli in the barri vell. With a menu of carefully-selected wines (mostly regional), cheeses both Spanish and international plus other cold cuts, a trip to La Simfonia makes for the perfect relaxed evening. Of course, Girona's cuisine has been hitting the headlines due to El Celler de Can Roca reclaiming its crown as the world's best restaurant, but it's almost impossible to get a reservation (booking opens at the beginning of each year). I found out that the Roca brothers' mum runs a menu del dia-style restaurant next door, but rather than checking out Mrs Roca's homely cooking we opted for ice cream at Rocambolesc. Excited by promises of intriguing flavours, we were a little disappointed to find only 6 on offer that day, and although my baked apple and yoghurt ice cream was pretty tasty, the addition of all kinds of toppings (my choices) really made it. The third branch of Rocambolesc has recently opened in Madrid, at El Corte Inglés on Serrano – I'll be popping along to give those more creative flavours a go.

It's all about the ice cream toppings at Rocmbolesc in Girona

Learning

  • Catalan. Since October 2014, I've been studying Catalan at Centre Cultural Blanquerna in Madrid – and I've been loving every minute of it. As a self-confessed language geek, picking up a new lingo from scratch has been both a fun and an enriching experience, and I've unexpectedly acquired a bunch of friends in my fellow classmates. My choice to study Catalan raises a few eyebrows and attracts the odd unkind comment, but I'll be keeping up my studies next year. I took the official A2 (elementary level) exam in May, but I don't find out the results until September. A veure!


  • Horse riding. From starting new hobbies to picking up old ones, I've recently taken up horse riding again. I'm enjoying going back to basics with the excellent tuition at Aula Ecuestre, and escaping to Colmenar Viejo in the sierra is a weekly treat. If any Spanish-speakers fancy taking riding lessons in the Madrid area, I'd highly recommend this riding school – the horses are well-cared for and Nacho has years of experience in the equestrian field.

HDR view of Colmenar Viejo

So, that was my month in -ings! I look forward to writing more about Barcelona and Seville soon. What have you been doing lately?

2 comments :

  1. I’m about to leave Santiago for a flight to Sevilla in a few hours and am really sad that I wasn’t able to finagle my way into a guided tour of the cathedral rooftop—it was extremely difficult to join a group as a solo traveler too far in advance, and then all the groups were sold out when I tried to book a little later…go figure. Ah well. Will be noting Bodeguita Fabiola! Thanks for the recommendation.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, Trevor! It is ridiculously hard to book - Kim had to phone up and try several websites. We also asked if the tour was available in other languages, but only if the whole group books. They need to change the system as the tour is well worth it! Hope you enjoy your trip and make it to Bodeguita Fabiola!

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