4.24.2014

Venice - A Misty Morning

A view of St. Mark's Campanile from San Salute Church in Venice, Italy.

On sunny days Venice sparkles. But when the sun gets high and hot, the island heats up and quickly grows muggy. I preferred days when with a bit more cloud cover. It doesn't take much to make a romantic moment in Venice, but I found misty mornings to feel particularly mysterious. And photogenic.

Looking out onto the Grand Canal from San Salute Church in Venice, Italy.
A window seat on the Vaporetto, or water bus, in Venice.
Dogs are welcome to ride the Vaporetto in Venice.

If you want to travel like a local, or if you just need some time off of your feet, find a seat inside the Vaporetto instead of hanging out on the deck. It can get a little stuffy if the water bus is full. But if you score a window seat you get a nice view and a breeze. Plus you might meet a cute puppy.

A vaporetto driver steers the water bus through Venice's Grand Canal.
A misty view across the Venetian lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore.
The iconic Santa Maria della Salute church at the head of Venice's Grand Canal.

After checking in at La Salute, the picturesque Roman Catholic church situated right at the entrance to the Grand Canal, walk right to the end of island to Punta della Dogana. That's the little bit of land where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal (and the name of the museum that's situated there). On my visit there was a great statue of a boy holding a frog, but it seems that the statue has since been removed to make room for a lamp-post.

A whimsical statue of a boy with a frog at the Punta della Dogana in Venice.
A gondola ornament at rest along a small canal in Venice.
Pizzette through a bakery shop window in Venice, Italy.
A Venetian butcher prepares some sausage for a customer.
A mixed plate of cichetti at a restaurant in Venice.
Ready to get messy with a plate of squid ink pasta, a Venetian delicacy.
I stopped for lunch at a cafe I'd read about in an online travel guide and had a pretty mediocre meal. I ate outside and my table offered plenty of atmosphere and some nice people watching. A pleasant meal, even if the food was barely average. A disappointment quickly assuaged by a cup of gelato and another ride on the Vaporetto.

Making a mess of my squid ink spaghetti in Venice.
Moorings along the Grand Canal in Venice.

4.10.2014

Snapshots from Spain - Tapas at Las Teresas

A  sunset walk along the checkered sidewalk near Sevilla's Guadalquivir River.
After a long day traipsing around Sevilla it was so nice to have a place like Las Teresas just steps from my guesthouse. Full of history, ambiance, and some of the best Jamón in the city, Las Teresas is a tapas bar that could only exist in Spain. The restaurant is a bit hidden among the maze of alleys to the north of Seville Cathedral, in Barrio Santa Cruz. It's the kind of authentic spot you always hope to discover when exploring a new city.

Jamón is serious business at Las Teresas tapas bar in Sevilla, Spain.

During prime dining hours Las Teresas fills up quickly with locals and tourists. There are some nice tables outside and a few lovely tile-lined booths inside. But, for my money, the best seat is at the bar. From there you can watch the experienced staff pour glasses of sherry, record orders in chalk right on the marble bar, and carve their way through leg after leg of Jamón. It's also the best spot to strike up a conversation with your neighbors.

On this visit I ended up chatting with super sweet young lady from Denmark for several hours. Neia was in Sevilla to take on El Camino de Santiago, by way of the Via de la Plata. The Camino is basically an epic hike (1000 kilometers!) across Spain to the shrine of St. James the Great at the Cathedral of Santiago in Galicia. Before leaving pilgrims apply for a credencial, like a 'pilgrim passport' which allows them to stay in pilgrim hostels, or albergues, along the route. It was incredibly fascinating to hear about her past experiences walking the Camino and her hopes for the upcoming adventure. Neia, if you read this I hope you had an amazing journey!

A tapa of Jamón at Las Teresas in Sevilla, Spain.
A tapa of Jamón at Las Teresas in Sevilla, Spain

Don't try ordering any hot food before at least nine pm. As is the tradition in Spain, dinner is served late. Of course, in the mean time, you can nibble at cold dishes, salads, and cured meats. And drink! Straight away I ordered a tinto al limón and a tapa of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. Just the right size and price, the tapa portion is a perfect introduction to high quality Jamón. The owner told us the restaurant goes through 6 legs of pig a day! No wonder there are so many hanging from the ceiling.

Tapas of chorizo and manchego ready to go at Las Teresas in Sevilla, Spain.
Tuna collar with pickled veggies at Las Teresas tapas bar in Sevilla, Spain
A tapa of grilled shrimp with pickled carrots at Las Teresas in Sevilla, Spain.

Once the kitchen opened I placed my order for a tapa of morillo, aka tuna collar, while Neia ordered a skewer of grilled shrimp. Topped with bright green parsley oil and served with a side of pickled carrots and peas, the seafood was lovely in its simplicity. After several more drinks and another round of tapas (chorizo for me, pickled peppers in olive oil for her) we said our goodbyes. Neia was leaving on her journey early in the morning, while I had plans to tackle El Real Alcázar de Sevilla, followed by the Catedral de Sevilla.

Legs of Jamon hang from the ceiling of Las Teresas, waiting for their turn to be carved.
Chorizo and bread, a typical Spanish tapa at Las Teresas in Sevilla.
PIckled peppers in olive oil at Sevilla's Las Teresas.
Waiting to cross the street to the Guadalquivir River in Sevilla, Spain.

But before the tapas, I spent the afternoon at the Plaza de España, then made my way to the banks of the Guadalquivir River. I walked along the water until I reached the Torre del Oro, or Golden Tower. Moorish in design and military in function, the watchtower was built way back in the 13th century. The wide walking paths and courtyards near the tower are fantastic for people watching. With plenty of benches and great views of the water, it's a perfect spot to take in the sunset.

Nearby is the Plaza de Toros, one of the oldest bullrings in the world. It's also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sevilla, visitors can tour the ring as well as a museum celebrating the history of the sport. Though bull fighting is an important part of Andalucían culture, it also creeps me out, so I did a walk by outside before making my way back into the city center for dinner.

A lovely sunset view of colorful buildings and the Guadalquivir River in Sevilla.
Sevilla's river side Torre del Oro, or Golden Tower, at sunset.
Sevilla's river side Torre del Oro, or Golden Tower, at sunset.
A riverboat waits for its evening service on Sevilla's Guadalquivir River.
Sevilla's famous Plaza de Toros, home of the bullfights.
A statue of a famous toreador at Sevilla's historic Plaza de Toros, home of the bullfights.

3.16.2014

Granada - The Alhambra's Generalife Gardens

Views of the Alhambra and the city of Granada from the Generalife Gardens.
A trip to Granada, Spain isn't complete without a visit to the city's most famous attraction, the Alhambra.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Alhambra complex is made up of three main sections; The Nasrid Palaces, The Generalife Gardens, and the Alcazaba Fortress. Each portion has its own unique draw. From the stunningly detailed architecture of The Nasrid Palaces, the lovely gardens and water features of Generalife, to the breathtaking views from Alcazaba. Tickets can be purchased for the sections individually, but if you're in Granada why miss out on the total package?

The Court of the Main Canal, a focal feature of the Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra.
Moorish carvings and architecture in the palace of the Generalife at the Alhambra.

Procuring tickets to visit the Alhambra isn't difficult, but it does require some planning. I bought my tickets about a month before my visit, via the official Alhambra website and Ticketmaster, and I highly recommend you do the same. A limited number of tickets are sold to the Nasrid Palaces per day, so if you wait until the last minute you will likely be disappointed. As I was standing in line to pick up my ticket, around 9 am, the ticket office announced that spots to visit the Nasrid Palaces were full for the day. A couple I met in Sevilla told a similar story, they had not pre-booked tickets and were out of luck by the time they reached the ticket center. My ticket was €14,30 which worked out to around $20, more than worth it for a day full of beauty and history.

The palace of the Generalife meets the court of the main canal at the Alhambra's stunning Generalife Gardens.
Flowers line the lower gardens of the Alhambra's Generalife in Granada, Spain.

Plan your tour for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hot midday sun, as well as the heavy foot traffic. I toured the gardens in the morning, ahead of my 12:30 ticket to the Nasrid Palaces. Even then there were quite a few people about, still I found plenty of private nooks and pockets of calm. The Alhambra's hillside location makes for gorgeous views of Granada. Every detail of the architecture seems designed to take advantage of the setting. It's easy to see why the site was chosen as a royal retreat.

A view of Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding the city Granada.
A water feature in the lower Generalife Gardens at Granada's Alhambra Palace.

Originally completed in 1309, Generalife was most recently updated in the early 20th century. Despite their age and the volume of tourists, the gardens are beautifully maintained, full of blooming flowers and stunning water features. Even if you're unable to procure a ticket to The Nasrid Palace portion of the Alhambra, the Generalife Gardens are absolutely worth a visit.

A peaceful spot in the lower Generalife gardens of the Alhambra complex in Granada, Spain.
The arched walkway over the Generalife Palace offers breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the city of Granada.
A view of the Nasrid Palace and Alcazaba Fortress from the Alhambra's Generalife Gardens.
Flowers along the edge of the lower Generalife Gardens, with the Nasrid Palace in the background.

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