Friday, March 2, 2007

Spanish Inquisitive

So next Wednesday we're off to Andalusia for a week, and I have to admit that I'm a bit at a loss as to what sites we absolutely MUST see, which museums we MUST visit, where we MUST savor the best Spanish cuisine... And I don't want to miss out on some of the best things the south of Spain has to offer! You know how it is when you head off somewhere, a little unprepared, and after spending a fairly lovely week there, you come back home and find out from some of your closest friends that you didn't visit such-and-such, and how could you have missed out on this-and-that? And you grate your teeth, wondering why these things weren't so obvious at the time... And why no one mentioned them to you before leaving!

I am, unfortunately, one of those lesser-prepared-type traveling individuals: I do usually bring a guide or two, and I try to make an effort to learn a few phrases in the language, but this is coming from someone who is used to living in France and speaking French, so for some reason all the other countries seem intimidating somehow. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's just the way I am. And since this trip is particularly unexpected (given the fact that we booked our plane tickets on Wednesday and reserved our hotel room in Seville this morning), I have a feeling that we may overlook some essential aspects of the Spanish experience.

The funny thing is that when I was a student, back in the good ol' 1990s, I was so wrapped up in the French way of life -- culture, language, civilization, literature, etc. -- that all the other European countries seemed to fade into the background, or let's just say I wasn't in a big hurry to see them. I figured I should focus on visiting as much of France as I could while I was there, rather than run around Europe and try to see as many other countries as possible, as quickly as possible. That's just not my way of doing things. I tend to arrive in a country and make my way around bit by bit, improvising most of my decisions and visiting what feels right at the time (I'm a vibes kind of gal). This approach has led me to make the most of many a trip, although in some cases I did miss out on some sites that I probably should have seen at the time. But I've found that some of those "must-see" spots are sometimes so overhyped, and so overly swamped by tourists, that the visit itself ends up being spoiled by the stifling crush of people and the exaggerated gestures of locals desperately selling their wares to said tourists -- right up next to the unbelievable monuments.

Case in point: when my boyfriend and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a long weekend in Rome two years ago, after running around the city for two days trying to squeeze in all the most crucial monuments, and experiencing a particularly hellish afternoon in the massive crunch of tourists at the Sistine Chapel, we ended up renting bicycles on our last day and trekking around the Villa Borghese... We spent the afternoon off the beaten path, and visited the National Gallery of Modern Art -- which is essentially the last place people would (expect to) want to see in the ancient city of Rome. But this is exactly where we had the best time! A lovely lunch in the museum restaurant, a leisurely walk around the gallery, and afterwards the perfect opportunity to see some of the churches in the nearby neighborhood in the warmth of the late afternoon sun (and I unfortunately have not retained the names of these churches, although their images remain engraved in my memory; Italian is not my strong point, although I love the language!). I even discovered what has become one of my all-time favorite portraits in the National Gallery of Modern Art, a painting by a lesser-known Italian artist, Vittorio Matteo Corcos, which stays with me even today and which I later re-discovered on the cover of an excellent coffeetable book (quickly purchased and put on display in my living room): Les femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses. [A book which deserves an entire blog post devoted to it, but this will have to wait until I can do it justice... You can see examples of more images from its pages right here.]

Of course I'm not saying that one should avoid every tourist attraction -- that would be ridiculous, because after all we are all tourists at one point or another, and that's sort of the whole point of traveling to another country. But like Jenn has pointed out over at NPLI, tourists can be so unbearable sometimes, and I think I'm a bit sensitive to this -- so I try to avoid displaying the same kind of behavior when I'm abroad.

I think our plan will most likely be to improvise a good portion of the week... I will page through the guide on the flight down and probably mark up some inspiring spots. And I know that Spanish is quite close to French language-wise, but I have never studied it myself; thank goodness my boyfriend speaks a bit.

And all of this of course leads me to my first official Internet Blogger Request: given that I have a few days left before our departure, I thought I would ask YOU out there if you have any great recommendations of hidden corners or off-the-beaten-path wonders that made your visit to Andalusia unforgettable... Any suggestions for me? Inquiring minds and all... And I will be forever in your debt!

12 comments:

amy said...

Nothing specific to recommend, but I do remember that Seville was absolutely lovely. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time.

Linda said...

The last time I was in Spain was probably before you were born but i still remember Granada, Seville, Cadiz, Malaga and Cordoba. I think I liked Cordoba the best-there is a wonderful castle there in the Moorish style. Spain is a wonderful country.

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks, Amy -- I'm hoping this trip will help get us out of our late-winter blues, we really need a break! So I'm crossing my fingers for some sun...

And Linda, yes, we'll be staying in Seville for three days/nights and then moving on to Granada and hopefully Cordoba as well. I don't think we'll get to do as much as we'd like, as we're only staying for six days, and I'd much rather really soak up the culture and make the most of a few places than run around and try to see as many places as possible... So Cadiz and Malaga may have to wait for another time. Unless someone thinks I absolutely MUST not miss them this time around?! We'll see...

LeeAnn said...

Great choice, my dear! I LOVE Spain and particularly Andalucia. One thing I thought was amazing was watching a real flamenco performance -- really awesome. I loved Sevilla just for walking around. And then you absolutely must sit on an outdoor terrace with some sangria. Drink some for me!

jchevais said...

Ahem... NPLI. I like the sound of that... Sorry if I've added fuel to your Tourist Paranoia...

Now darling... if you crack open that "Arts Magazine" on Artists's Childhoods, I do believe that there is a lovely article on Granada in there near the back... with all the Have To See Sights...

I am so jealous. Haven't been to the South of Spain yet. Apparently there is a very ornate building in the center of Seville that has a frog carved into the facade that is very hard to find... Hmm... Do you ever watch the program Les Racines et Les Ailes?... They did a lovely documentary on Seville... I wonder if they have a website with reference materials on past programs?...

scribbit said...

Women who read are dangerous? That would be interesting to read--

I'm so jealous of your trip. Much of my family has been to Spain and I'm just waiting for my turn.

The Late Bloomer said...

It's so funny, Jenn, I have to admit that as I was paging through Arts Mag. about a week ago, nothing really jumped out at me, and I thought I would save the article about artists' childhoods 'til a bit later on, to savor it... And now I just checked it and realized that the whole second half of the magazine looks fab -- for some reason nothing in the first half really struck me. But I'm so psyched that you pointed out that article! Talk about oblivious... I was wondering if any recent mags had some good pieces on Andalucia, and here I've got one right under my nose! I may even try to book us a room in the bed-and-breakfast they recommend, although it's perhaps a bit late (we've only booked the hotel for Seville so far). You never know!

And Michelle, I'd been hoping to have the chance to go to the south of Spain for a while myself, but it never seemed like the right time. With it being the "low" season right now, at least we were able to book pretty cheap plane tickets and a decent hotel in Seville. For the rest, we're going to try to be reasonable, but we might treat ourselves to a few nice meals. It will just be nice to get away for a bit! A much-needed "depaysement" as they say in French...

ColourMeCrazy said...

This is actually ON-the-beaten-path but I loved the Alhambra in Granada. Also, lots of charming alleyways to wander down in Cordoba. Have a great time!

Emily said...

I have to say that Spain is my most fav country...so far. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I did Sevilla and Granada (and Madrid). We did a lot of walking around Sevilla and did stop into a few of the touristy places. In Sevilla, there's a small bar located on a busy ped. street with a couple orange trees in front plus tons of locals chatting away in front of the place. I don't remember the name of the bar, but if you can find it, try their orange liqueur. It was yummy and the owners were very friendly to me even though I spoke terrible Spanish. Just walking around and exploring was a lot of fun. Have some churros and chocolate, if you can find it. Good stuff. In Granada, I recommend the Alhambra. It was gorgeous. Very large. Lots of walking around. I think we gave ourselves a day there. We also roamed around the streets of Granada. There's a hill across from the Alhambra that you can walk up and at the top were groups of young folks playing music and such. Plus you have a great view of the Alhambra. Granada also has great teahouses. Have a great time!

little fugitive said...

Oh no, now I'll have to start thinking about visiting Spain...and there's still too many places I want to go in France. But that's part of the beauty of being here, it's all so within reach. I hope you have a wonderful trip!

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks for the wishes!

I just did something absolutely crazy this afternoon, RIGHT BEFORE leaving on vacation, and talk about extravagance: I bought a digital camera... And as fragile as these things are, I'm praying I'll be able to take care of it and take nice photos while we're away... I don't know a thing about cameras, so I had to go with the technician's advice; I just hope he was being honest and not using too much salesman b.s.

I just hated the idea of going to such a beautiful place and not being able to take some nice photos. My boy had a digital camera a few years back, and it broke after less than a year -- complete fluke. And it would have cost more to repair it than to get a new one. So we've been waiting it out, and I finally thought this was the moment. Here's hoping it was worth it!

The only way I was able to do it was by putting it on a 3-month payment plan -- the statements over the next 3 months will remind me of my craziness!

maitresse said...

I've been meaning to read that book! don't wait with that blog post!