Seville, Santa Olalla del Cala, and Merida- See as much of Spain as you can

So the next day we started off by getting up early to go find some coffee and pastries. We then decided to go see some more of Seville before taking off. We started off by seeing a part of the university that used to be an old tobacco factory. It was very beautiful.


Then there was the Plaza de España. You might recognize it from Star Wars. It’s a beautiful square regardless of any film attachments you may or may not have, so be sure to visit if you’re in town.

Afterwards it was off to the Cathedral. We had to figure out the confusing entry system, which took a while. Apparently if you have reserved tickets or are with a group you go in one entrance, and the rest go in another. The signs are very unclear, so just be warned it might take a little bit to figure out.

We went inside the cathedral, enjoying its huge size and beautiful decorations. My brother had already been there, so he told us some things he’d learned on his tour years before. My favorite was the story of the picture of Saint Anthony that was stolen years earlier and then eventually found. Apparently Saint Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. We also saw Christopher Columbus’s grave and we climbed up the huge bell tower to enjoy a view of the city. Over all, it was a very fun visit. I highly encourage seeing it if you’re in Seville.

After that we grabbed our things from the hotel and headed on our way.

We stopped in Santa Olalla del Cala which had a beautiful castle on the hill. As we’ve often found traveling in Europe, the roads to it were not well marked. So we ended up driving down a steep rocky road before realizing it was a dead end and having to drive back up. Finally we found the right road and parked to go see the castle.


It was closed. As far as I can tell it’s not open to the public, but who knows. Maybe it is during the summer. Regardless it was fun to see. I will never tire of seeing castles. They are truly amazing.

After that we continued on our way until we reached Merida.

My father had booked a Casa Rural. We’d done this before, and really enjoyed it. Basically it’s sort of B and B like, where you stay in someone’s home in the country. It’s nice to get away from the big commercial hotels for a while and enjoy some real hospitality from the people of the country you’re in. Sure enough, our hosts welcomed us in and showed us up to our lovely rooms.

After we had dropped our stuff off we set off by car to the center of Merida where there were a variety of Roman ruins.

Merida is especially famous for the Roman theater which is surprisingly intact. I’ve seen lots of Roman ruins over the years traveling through Europe, but I have to admit the theater was quite impressive considering how old it is. We wandered through that and the amphitheater there before setting out to see other things. The ticket we bought allows you to see several of the Roman things in town, which is a good deal. So if you’re sticking around Merida be sure to check it out.

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We headed down to see the temple next, which is open to the public. And then we walked down to the river and enjoyed the Roman bridge there.


It was cold, however, so we went to Burger King to grab some drinks before our restaurant was open. I have to say, I’ve never seen a dirtier Burger King in my life. Apparently people in the town didn’t understand that you needed to bus your own dishes. So the tables were littered with trash. Just a cultural difference I suppose. Although hey, I’ve seen people being inconsiderate all over the world, so it’s one thing that I’d say is sadly universal.

After that we walked around the main square a little and the little Christmas market and then headed to our restaurant. It was called La Taberna de Sole and featured a lot of meat dishes. I had lamb chops essentially. They weren’t necessarily my favorite, but I made do. Something about eating meat off the bone often makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. Times I think I could become a vegetarian. However, dessert more than made up for it for me. I had hazelnut ice cream. It was absolutely delicious. My father had a sort of dessert soup as well and that was equally amazing. So yes, overall quite good and would definitely recommend.

We headed back to our hotel for the night after that. Over all, a very good day exploring!

See you in Seville

After our Morocco adventures our family made our way to Seville. Along the way, my father decided it would be fun to stop in the town of Jerez and tour a sherry bodega, something the region was famed for, and therefore a good stopping spot along the road.

However, we arrived to find that the bodega we’d wanted to visit was apparently closed for Christmas hours… even though there were no signs and the website didn’t say anything. This seems to be so much of life traveling. Go someplace and find out it’s closed.

We considered visiting the Spanish riding school, but weren’t sure how much we’d actually be able to see since it wasn’t a day they were putting on a show. So my father instead proposed visiting a fancy manor house.

On our drive towards it, however, we noticed that the Tio Pepe bodega appeared to be open. There were people going in through the gate. So while it wasn’t the one my father had proposed visiting, it still would be a means of seeing the sherry making process and tasting some of the famed product.


We decided it would be worth a try.

There was an English tour not too long after we’d arrived. They started us on a cute little train, taking us around different parts of the complex to show off what they’d built. Then we took a walk through the actual bodegas before they stopped to show us a really cheesy documentary. In my opinion they could have cut that in half at least, if not left it out entirely. Seeing the actual bodega was far more interesting.

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Our last stop was for tasting. We’d opted to just have two glasses and skip any food or such which cost extra. I ended up being glad we only did two as they filled the glasses quite full. The sherry wasn’t really to my taste. However, I tend to like pretty sweet things and the strength of the alcohol really wasn’t up my alley. For some, I’m sure it would have been wonderful.


Needless to say two glasses of sherry on an empty stomach had me kind of tipsy. I’m not a big alcohol drinking, so I admit my limits are pretty low. I basically downed the water my mom offered me and started eating cookies I had left over in my purse. I then had to go walk through the gift-shop in that state. And the gift shop at Tio Pepe is a lot of glass bottles… thankfully no disasters ensued.

Thankfully we left not too long after, and I was able to eat some lunch. We had a picnic in the park in town, munching on bread and cheese and olives in the gorgeous afternoon sun.


After a short break we were back in the car and on the road to Seville.

We arrived in the late afternoon, finding a place in the parking garage and then walking into the center of town where our hotel was. We checked into our hotel and then went to walk around some and find something to eat.

The city was beautiful. All lit up for the holidays with purple lights everywhere. The streets were filled with people and there were flamenco dancers and other fun street entertainment.

We walked across the river and enjoyed the views of the city. However, with some low-blood sugars in the family and people just becoming more hangry by the second, it became apparent it was time to find food, which was why we settled for heading to La Azotea for food.

It ended up being one of our favorite restaurants of the entire trip. We arrived right when it opened, had a seat and within minutes the whole place was full. And it became apparent why.

We picked several different dishes, and they all ended up being amazing. We started with a salad…I honestly forget what was on it.  We devoured it before I could get a picture, so sadly no photo evidence exists. The next was our favorite though. Rice paper wantons with shrimp and cheese. They were incredible. Then came the artichoke hearts, which were yummy, but not quite to the same level. And then a plate with cod in a sauce that was also quite delicious.

However, it was decided that the wontons were amazing. So we ordered another plate of those. Everything on the menu looked good, but it was hard to resist this particularly delicious dish.

After that we walked a little more. My brother wanted churros but the place we’d seen earlier was closing. The joy of Spanish meal times means that you can’t do anything after you’ve had dinner usually.

After that it was back to the hotel for sleeping. We were excited for the next full day ahead!

Christmas in Ronda

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Charles Dickens

On Christmas day we started by finishing off our exploration of Granada. Since so much was closed we ended up mostly walking around, going up to the Mirador San Nicolas to look at the city and then walking around the neighborhood and exploring. It was a lovely way to start the holiday.

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The day was sunny, and the neighborhood was beautiful. We wandered into a not as good area full of cave dwellings, but otherwise it was quite the sight.

After we were finished, we headed back to checkout of the hotel, and we made our way towards Ronda.

We stopped for lunch in a town called Antequera. There were some old dolmens there, but unfortunately all of them were closed for the holidays. Danny did have some fun climbing around in these fun pots outside of the sites however. He always manages to find something fun to do. That’s my brother, always making people smile.

So my family settled for finding food. Luckily, McDonalds are still open on Christmas, even in Europe. Or at least this one was. So we filled up on a fast food picnic in a park and then went and walked around some of the city walls, admiring the views and the sights.

After a while we went on our way, and before long we had arrived in Ronda where we stayed at Hotel Polo, a fun little place right near the old town.

So we had the same problem of course. Things that were normally open were closed. And my brother had also already been to Ronda, so he wasn’t eager to repeat the same things anyways.

So we went ahead and settled for exploring around the famous bridge in the town. It’s an absolute marvel to behold, a ginormous structure stretching between a large canyon. I’d heard my brother tell me about it before, but even with descriptions I couldn’t imagine how amazing it would be to see it in person.

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I’m slightly scared of heights, so I admit walking around the little curving paths below the bridge was a little scary. However, I was very glad I’d done it in the end. For the more adventurous I’ve heard there’s a very narrow walkway in the canyons nearby, but even if it had been open I’m not sure I would have dared to attempt it.

After finishing our explorations it was time to try to find dinner. Being a holiday, we weren’t sure what we’d find. And sure enough walking through town proved to be fruitless after a while. All of the recommended places we’d heard of were closed. So we headed back towards our hotel hoping to spot something.

There was another hotel with an attached restaurant nearby that happened to be open. Feeling hungry and a bit desperate, our family just settled for it. However, we found that the food was altogether quite decent and not overpriced. I had the duck and then had truffles for a dessert. It felt nice to celebrate the holidays together, even if it wasn’t quite what we were used to for Christmas. We had a toast of wine and headed back to our hotel for the evening.

Christmas Eve in Granada

“You’re skipping Christmas! Isn’t that against the law?” –Christmas with the Kranks

The above quote is from a family Christmas favorite that is pulled out to watch almost every year. Little did we realize how relevant it would be until this one.

So for any who haven’t seen it, Christmas with the Kranks is about a couple of empty nesters who decide to save themselves stress (and money) and go on a cruise instead of celebrating Christmas. Of course, their Christmas obsessed friends and neighbors are anything but understanding.

It’s a silly movie, and a humorous book, and it became even funnier when my family skipped Christmas to come see me. Little did we realize what that would entail.

My father had scheduled Granada as our stop for Christmas Eve, perhaps hoping that more things would be open in a larger city.

We actually first started with a stop near some windmills in a town called Consuegra.

It was sunny and beautiful and the family had a good time taking photos and being models and just enjoying the gorgeous scenery. One of the windmills was actually open, so we went inside and looked around it.

After that we were back on the road and heading for Granada. In the car on the way, we tried to look into what things would be open that we could do. Unfortunately, plenty of websites didn’t say, while others clearly stipulated that they were closed. The only exception was the Alhambra.

We arrived in Granada and after some struggles getting into a very tiny spot in the parking garage near our hotel, we headed to the hotel Posada del Toro where we were staying the night. It was a cute little local place on a quiet pedestrian street, and close enough to walk to a lot of the main parts of the city.


The bull in our hotel

We started by heading to a nearby church where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried, but of course, due to Christmas Eve it was closed so we couldn’t go in. So we were left to head towards the Alhambra where we’d reserved tickets already.

After some confusion in finding the right bus to take, we hopped onto a tiny little city bus and headed up the hill towards the magnificent palace.


Our father ran to grab our tickets for the gardens, since we hadn’t been able to get reservations to see the inside of the palace. However, when he came back he was delighted to tell us that he’d asked and they actually had cancellations so we would be able to see the palace after all! So hey, never hurts to check somewhere if you can possibly get in. You never know, things might just work out.

We had about half an hour until our scheduled time to go in, so we figured we were safe to spend some time wandering around the grounds first.

After snapping some photos and enjoying the scenery, we decided it might be good to head towards where we were supposed to be for our visit.


Unfortunately, what we hadn’t realized was that the gardens weren’t really close by the line to get into the Alhambra.

So we might have had a slight panic, and had to run to get to our line. Afterwards we all sort of realized it was a waste of time, as the main thing the time indicator did on your ticket was made sure you couldn’t go into the building too early.

My poor brother had already been to the Alhambra before, having visited with his school orchestra when they did a tour in Spain. So he was a bit bored. However, the rest of the family was awed by the gorgeous architecture and we had a very enjoyable afternoon seeing the place.

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After some debate about what to do for dinner, the family agreed to head back to our hotel and ask for a recommendation. We weren’t sure how much would be open for Christmas Eve.

It turned out plenty of places were open, but many were crowded and didn’t have enough sitting room for four. Everyone was tired and hungry, so we ended up settling for a kebab place out of desperation to have some food and sit down inside for a bit.

My brother and I were both exhausted. He was sick. So both of us decided that we were feeling too worn out to go to the midnight mass at the cathedral. So after walking around the city a little more by night, we headed back to our hotel to rest up.

So that was our night before Christmas. I suppose the thing to remember for the holidays abroad, is it doesn’t matter so much what things you get to see (because most of them will be closed), but who you spend time with, and how you make the most of the situations you’re in at the time.

A Visit with an Old Friend

So as a young person, my father had a Spanish exchange student come live with his family. Somehow even after all this time, my father has kept in touch with her. When we came to Europe the first time when I was nine, we went to visit her and her family. I remember a whole trip filled with people I didn’t know chattering away in Spanish and eating new foods and having a fun time exploring around Bilbao where she lived.

Now, I hadn’t seen these people in fifteen years. However, my family decided it might be nice to stop by and say hello while we were in the area. So that was how I ended up at a table with about twenty people all speaking Spanish and enjoying a fantastic meal together.


I will say, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to not speak a language. Sure, I’m terrible at French and still struggle. However, I can sit at a table and at least know what’s going on, and order my food. So it was a bit difficult to readjust to not understanding much of anything at all.

Still, it’s always nice to be around friendly people even if you don’t speak their language.

Our friend of the family started by taking us for a beautiful walk in the countryside. It was a lovely day, so nice we didn’t need coats (this was December 23rd just to keep that in mind). And we walked with her, her parents, and her adorable dog! My brother and I had a great time watching the silly dog and giving her attention. That was until she rolled in cow poop. Well, that’s the one problem with dogs I suppose.

After a very pleasant walk, going over a Roman bridge, and seeing sheep being herded, we headed by car to a nearby town to have lunch.

We started with an aperitif in another restaurant while people continued to arrive. We eventually finished drinks and moved to another restaurant that didn’t even have enough room for us at first, because there were so many of us!

At long last we settled at a table and began a feast!

We started with some kind of a traditional bean and sausage stew. Since I didn’t speak the language, I never did see the names of the dishes, but it was very good.

Next I had a chicken dish. And I finished off with a delicious pastry dessert. It was all amazing, but it was also fun to spend time with people we hadn’t seen since childhood. Still, some things never change. I remembered my brother pulling out his Gameboy back in the day to interact with the other boys. Sure enough he and one of the boys pulled out their phones to play games together. Well, guess technology at least can pass the language barrier.


After some coffee and more chatting, we said our goodbyes and headed on the road. Everyone was pretty full from all the food, so there was some napping on the road and otherwise we went straight towards our destination.

We stopped in Madrid for the night, though we didn’t head into the city as it is hard to find parking and all, and we were all pretty exhausted anyways. So we stayed at another B&B near the airport. Everyone was tired, so we took advantage of the restaurant in the hotel and ate there. I had pizza and for the most part everyone enjoyed themselves even if it wasn’t fantastic food.

With full stomachs we headed off to bed to get some rest for the next day.