A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

It's all Spanish to me

A photographers paradise (300+ shots taken)

semi-overcast 14 °C

Once again we chanced it with Ryanair for our trip to Seville. When the prices are cheap and it flies from Bologna the choice is semplice. However the lack of allocated seating slows down boarding, especially when the reluctant staff have to shuffle around even more reluctant passengers so children can (unfortunately!) sit with their parents.

We arrived in Seville at about 5pm and it was lovely to shrug off our coats, hats and gloves and enjoy the comparitively warm temperature of 14 degrees. It was (just) warm enough for us to sit outside for dinner on a roof top terrace overlooking the Guadalquivir river. We took our chances with the menu and somehow managed to order the right dishes despite our very limited Spanish.

dinner al fresco



The next morning was a late start and a café con leche in the local Plaza Duque de la Victoria (not as good as Italian coffee - probably due to the lack of fresh milk) had our tour guide taking us to our first sight.

tour guide and conversation in the plaza


A walk along the streets and we soon found our way to Seville Cathedral & La Giralda - the largest church in the world with an Islamic Minaret. After 500 years of Islamic culture Seville was reconquered by Christian forces, therefore much of Moorish culture can still be seen in the buildings. The Cathedral and La Giralda are stunning both from the inside and outside with a magnificent courtyard that adds to its beauty. It is easy to walk to the top of La Giralda because of the sloping floor, which was built this way so the muezzin could ride his horse to the top for the call to prayer.

La Giralda and Cathedral



After our climb to the top it was time for lunch and we found one of the restaurants that Pedro (our apartment owner) had recommended. At 2pm we still had to put our name on the wait list. However we were shortly seated at a table and enjoying a range of excellent tapas, the restaurant buzzing with locals and the lovely staff managing keeping people happy with quick service. At 3.30pm when we departed the queue was even longer then when we arrived! Late meals are definitely the trend in Seville.

tapas lunch


Feeling sluggish from all the food we slowly walked towards one of the University buildings (Fabrica Real de Tabacos - as the name suggests an old cigar factory immortalised in the opera Carmen) then on to Plaza de Espana. This plaza was built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition. It is magnificent because it is almost completely covered in gorgeous glazed tiles depicting historic moments from the 40 regions of Spain. For Star Wars buffs it was used as a set in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. The children loved playing here and in the Parque de Maria Luisa gardens nearby ... Gabi declaring that she loved Seville! I think the kids have been a bit deprived of greenery and parks in Bologna, plus the warmer weather certainly was a bonus. A walk back along the river and an ice-cream (not quite Italian standard) then a rest before dinner at 8pm. This time the taberna was just up the road from our Airbnb apartment. This Michelin star restaurant (Dos de Mayo) provided us with another wonderful dining experience, and when a family of four is fed for 35 euro we continue to thank our lucky travel stars.

Plaza de Espana


Dos de Mayo


The dry weather was not to last however and on Tuesday the rain was heavy. This resulted in a purchase of gumboots for the kids (I think I found the most expensive ones in Spain), however they proved to be invaluable over the next few days. Dan enjoyed some time off in the morning while the kids and I did some shopping. We then met up at Las Columnas, another brilliant tapas bar. The place had plenty of atmosphere and we managed to squeeze onto a tiny table. Our lack of Spanish was again a drawback, so Dan did the obvious thing and left it up to the waiter! After lunch we visited Real Alcazar; this amazing palace complex is a series of beautiful rooms, magnificent gardens and courtyards. The complex has many architectural influences but mostly it is the result of Pedro 1 (1350-69) who rebuilt it as a place of retreat for himself and his mistress.

Real Alcazar


Our final tour of the day was to La Maestranza; one of Spain’s most famous bull-fighting rings. The ring and the museum were interesting and gave an excellent insight into this controversial but important Spanish tradition. We all did feel very sorry for the poor old bulls however.

La Maestranza





Our plans for Wednesday were changed as a three-hour train ride to Granada (and back) with a 5am start was not so appealing. The shorter 45 minute trip on the fast train to Cordoba was the preferred option. Cordoba is a magnificent city set on a beautiful wide river with plenty of gardens. Our first visit was to La Mezquita (The Great Mosque). This amazing building has rows and rows of variegated columns and arches that are supposed to be like date palms. Unfortunately there is a massive cathedral placed in its centre constructed in the 16th century. According to the guide books Emperor Carlos deeply regretted his decision and it certainly is ugly compared to the beautiful flow of the columns.

Cordoba highlights


Other highlights of Cordoba included a walk through the narrow white-washed streets of the old Jewish neighbourhood (La Juderia). Lunch followed in a little courtyard where the children were serenaded by a Spanish guitarist, and then a stroll across the Rio Guadalquivir on a magnificent arched bridge with Roman foundations. However for the children the highlight was playing in an amazing children’s park set on the hilltop with over 30 pieces of play equipment ... a far cry from our sad and sorry park in Bologna.

During our final day and a half in Seville we managed to visit Museo de Bellas Artes, Casa de Pilotos, and take in a free show of flamenco dancing that started at 11pm - a bit late for some! Also an enjoyable walk through Barrio de Triana, a quarter once home to Seville’s gypsies that is well known for it beautiful ceramics. We topped off the day with lunch at Dos de Mayo ... this time I'm sure our lack of Spanish resulted in a plate of crumbed brains rather than crumbed fish ... best not to think too hard about it!

final Seville photos



We arrived home in Bologna to a foot of snow - what a contrast.



Posted by happellfamily12 01:40 Archived in Spain Tagged seville and cordoba Comments (0)

Castell'Arquato via Fiorenzuola d'Arda

Day Tripper's Heaven

semi-overcast 8 °C

We are loving our time in Bologna, but as we battle through this third month of a pretty long and cold winter, 'cabin fever' is setting in from time-to-time. We are therefore blessed to have so many options - almost right on our doorstep - to choose from to stretch our legs and minds, and renew our love affair with 'less-visited' Italy.

The region of Emilia-Romagna has a surfeit of beautifully preserved castles - especially in the northern provinces of Parma and Piacenza - so there is no shortage of choices for the curious. If you cross reference this long list with the shorter list from "I Borghi piu Belli d'Italia" (a guide that roughly translates as "the most beautiful villages of Italy"), you normally get a perfect match! The girls and I had already visited the awesome Castello di Torrechiara, and as a family we have also toured the enchanting towns of Dozza and Brisighella, so Castell'Arquato - helped by a recommendation from some Italian friends - got the nod last Saturday.

heading up the hill to Rocca Viscontea

heading up the hill to Rocca Viscontea

A pleasant enough regional train ride dropped us off at Fiorenzuola d'Arda - an unobtrusive town 25 minutes north of Parma - and after we tracked down the only taxi driver at the local bar (drinking espresso, not mojitos!), we were efficiently dispatched to Castell'Arquato ten minutes down the road. Like so many towns in Italy, the newer outskirts are entirely forgettable, but the ancient heart, higher up the hill, was beautifully preserved and memorable (and was apparently used in the filming of 'Ladyhawke' for those film buffs).

healthy again at last ... lovely to see the boss with a smile!

healthy again at last ... lovely to see the boss with a smile!

and again ... behind is the Chiesa della Collegiata - rebuilt 1122

and again ... behind is the Chiesa della Collegiata - rebuilt 1122

The town underwent many different rulers over the centuries until its annexion to Italy in 1860, and the highlight is the Rocca Viscontea - built between 1342 and 1349 by Luchino Visconti, a member of the ruling family at the time. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the well-reviewed Ristorante Stradivarius, including a typical plate of the local cured meats, and a glass of the very quaffable regional wine called Gutturnio, a slightly sparkling red wine made predominantly from Barbera grapes.

Ristorante Stradivarius - these amazing lunches will live long in the memory

Ristorante Stradivarius - these amazing lunches will live long in the memory

Rocca Viscontea from the other side

Rocca Viscontea from the other side

Piazza del Municipio showcasing Palazzo del Podesta (built 1293) and Chiesa della Collegiata

Piazza del Municipio showcasing Palazzo del Podesta (built 1293) and Chiesa della Collegiata

if there is any snow around, these rugrats are sure to find it ...

if there is any snow around, these rugrats are sure to find it ...

We had a jolly old time climbing the castle tower, then the kids amused themselves by pulling sheets of ice out of the nearby fountain. A leisurely stroll down the hill, a gander at the locals at play (some festa tied in with Carnevale we thought), followed by the obligatory gelati rounded out our visit. A snooze on the train home for some (Lisa came to the aid of some hapless German tourists who hadn't validated their tickets - go the parlo Italiano!), and we returned to chilly Bologna with renewed enthusiasm for the week ahead.

OH and S Italian style!

OH and S Italian style!

but Dad, did you see the size of Gabi's sheet?

but Dad, did you see the size of Gabi's sheet?

not quite Venice, but locals were having fun nevertheless

not quite Venice, but locals were having fun nevertheless


Posted by happellfamily12 14:12 Archived in Italy Tagged parma romagna castello castell'arquato ristorante emilia fiorenzuola stradivarius Comments (0)

Perhaps we should have stayed in Hotel des Invalides?

Paris in the Winter

rain 2 °C

Dan was nearly a non-starter for our four day soujourn in Paris. A nasty cough and no sleep the night before had him suggesting I take the girls by myself. However I wasn't sure how well I would manage with two kids and only merci and au revoir in my vocabulary. Fortunately the 'usband managed to rally and we caught our Bologna flight to Paris as planned. Our journey from Charles De Galle airport to our apartment was slow with the usually efficient RER train service to Paris central out of action. A bus and stopping-all-stations train to Paris finally saw us exit at St-Michel Notre Dame ... and what a magnificent sight to have the River Seine below and Notre Dame towering above. A quick walk and we soon arrived at our AirBnB accommodation. AirBnB is an internet-only accommodation booking service where anyone can have a listing - from their sofa bed right through to a Palace. We were staying in a lovely little apartment that belonged to Parisian Ben and his family. The place on the 5th floor was bright, smartly decorated and had lovely views out the windows - perfect for our needs. Lunch at a traditional French restaurant next door (veal, quiche) helped to restore our energy. Returning to our apartment, Dan and the kids decided to stay and rest and I went for a walk around Notre Dame and the local streets. A quick dinner at the local Japanese followed and then an early night for us all.

Notre Dame, River Seine, and Apartment View


The next day saw Dan pick up the pace, but I dropped behind as I succumbed to the dreaded lurgi. He and the kids went to see the Eiffel Tower; something Gabi was very keen to do after reading about it in one of her books. The sight was thrilling as they stepped out of Trocadero Metro and witnessed the Eiffel Tower in all its' majestic glory. A quick walk and they were soon standing under the famous structure with a handful of other brave tourists waiting to ascend to the top. Unfortunately strong winds and howling rain restricted them to the second platform (128m up). However despite the cold, the children and Dan had a very enjoyable morning. In their absence I managed to get out to the local shops and purchase baguettes from the famous local bakery and a range of hams and cheeses. Fortunately my lack of French was not too much of a drawback!

Eiffel Tower and the Metro


A quiet afternoon was had by all, and then a surprise was in store for the children. Dan had booked tickets to Cirque d'hiver (Winter Circus) on the recommendation of a (French) parent at our school. This circus is held in a purpose-built building completed in 1852. The structure is an oval polygon of 20 sides, giving the impression of an oval building enclosing the oval ring, surrounded by steeply banked seating for spectators - very much like a miniature indoor Colosseum. A low angled roof is self-supporting like a low dome, so that there is no central pole to obstruct views or interfere with the action. Once inside it did have a very intimate feel, and although we were in the cheap seats near the back our view was still excellent. We were entertained for 2 hours with performing lions, dogs, horses, amazing trapeze artists, acrobats, knife thrower, juggler, pole dancer and clowns. The kids loved all the action, and Dan particularly enjoyed the singing & dancing girls that kept the show flowing.

Cirque d'hiver


Monday saw an improvement in the weather and also our health. A quick walk along Boulevard Saint-Germain and coffee at the famous Cafe de Flore - meeting point for many French intellectuals in the post-war years. Today however it is a trap for the gullible tourist with 7 euros being charged for a coffee ... six times what we pay in Bologna! After our budget-breaking cafe, Musee du Louvre was thankfully only a short stroll away. I had forgotten how massive the building was as it stretches along the river. Once inside the outer walls the impressive glass pyramid leads you to the entrance of the museum, and we were straight in (one of the bonuses of travelling in winter is that there are no queues). The Louvre was originally a medieval castle, a royal palace, and since 1793 a museum. It was one of Europe’s very first museums, and is now one of the world’s richest. The collections are divided into eight major departments: (Oriental Antiquities; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Painting; Sculpture; Objets d’art; Graphic Arts; Islamic Arts). We managed to see sculptures and many of the paintings including of course the famous Mona Lisa. After a while the kids were starting to get restless, so lunch and a trip to the bookshop ensued, giving Dan time to visit Napoleon's apartment. We finished the day with a trip to Montmartre - home of many artists and the famous Moulin Rouge. These painters congregate in the Place du Tertre with the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur looming in the background ... Gabi was inspired by much of the work she saw and completed her own painting of the Eiffel Tower - a future Cezanne perhaps?

Cafe de Flore (ouch!) and Musee du Louvre



Many stairs to climb to exit Abbesses Metro station.

Basilique du Sacre-Couer

Basilique du Sacre-Couer


Our final morning in Paris and although we were unable to take in all the items on Dan's packed itinerary we did manage to fit in Musee d'Orsay (for me), and Jardin du Luxembourg for Dan and the kids. Musee d'Orsay was once a train station and it was nearly demolished in the 1970's, but was fortunately saved and opened as a museum/gallery in 1986. It is a wonderful space - much smaller than The Louvre - and a fantastic place to see a range of paintings, sculptures and photography. It is an especially good place to view some of the great Impressionist works (although no photos are allowed). My timing was perfect as the crowds were minimal, but once I left the building at 11am the queues were starting to build. A quick walk back along the Seine and I met the cold and wet trio returning from the park. Fortunately this time the train to the airport was working and we arrived quickly, changed the kids into dry clothes, and had some surprisingly tasty baguettes for lunch before boarding our favourite airline Easyjet!

Musee d'Orsay and bye gay Paris


Our time in Paris was wonderful even if it was marred by ill-health ... a city that effortlessly lives up to its very high billing.

Posted by happellfamily12 12:51 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

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