Thursday, January 8, 2015

Feliz Navidad from Spain

We spent the two weeks leading up to Christmas in southern Spain in the cities of Seville and Granada. The Spanish take the meaning of Christmas seriously. It was refreshing to be in cities where the streets were lit with ornate banners of colored lights, but Santa and Frosty the Snowman were a rare sight. Many shops still closed for two or three hours in the afternoon and on Sundays. 

Linus sums it up best in A Charlie Brown Christmas:

In this deeply catholic country, holiday outings include visiting multiple elaborate Nativity scenes in churches and store windows. There were "living Nativities" with livestock (camels, cows and sheep!) and actors to be found as well. The star of the show, baby Jesus, does not appear until Christmas morning - and then it’s time to make the rounds again. 

Families also created elaborate nativity scenes at home. The outdoor Christmas markets were filled with stall after stall selling every miniature you could imagine. There were humans, angels, animals, food, tools, mangers, and buildings and even blazing electric stars. In some cases, price was no object - we saw a $900 elephant! 

Here's one style of Nativity you could create at home...
And here's another. I take my hat off to Playmobil for this one
In Seville I ate my fill of tapas including tiny fried fish and steamed clams at a little hole in the wall restaurant. Michael caught a football match (read his fun blog post) - to each his own! 

This might have been my ugliest lunch - but it was delicious!
Michael making new friends at a football match in Seville
We marveled at the cathedral and took in the Alcazar Royal Palace. And almost by accident we discovered what the locals call "The Mushroom". It was a certainly a visual jolt after exiting long stretch of twisting narrow streets.

"The mushroom!" There is an observation deck along the top.
It would appear that no surface in Spain should go untiled
Our apartment was near the old town and allowed for exploring the flea markets, narrow alleys and dozens of food stalls. But most of our time in the lovely city of Seville was spent walking and basking in the mild weather on the plaza. Here's the link to our airbnb

Then it was on to Granada - the perfect ending place for our Spanish explorations. What a proud city with a deep and colorful history. The ousted Moors and the conquering Crusaders formed much of what remains surprisingly well preserved in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other occupiers and immigrants across the centuries added to the exuberant art, music, and Flamenco dance scene. The massive Alhambra Palace was a kaleidoscope of color and texture – a massive labyrinth of rooms each more ornate than the next!
A bleak winter garden at the palace gets a pop of Persimmon
Our home in Granada was perched on a hill in the old town and offered a panoramic view of the Alhambra. Here’s the link:

The dramatic view from our balcony in Granada
Once again - we tackled what seemed like hundreds of ancient, irregular stone steps going either up or down the hill to reach the building. But the labored breathing is worth it when we finally find our front door (not always easy) and discover the charm and often-great views that come from going up!

Our trusty all-terrain REI bags have done heavy-duty on stairs and stones
We finished our stay in Granada with an impressive holiday performance of Handel’s Messiah in a concert hall overlooking the sparkling city below. A fitting finale.

Our experiences continue to motivate us to live like locals in each city we visit. Once we have settled into each new home, we take our host's recommendation list, grab a map and explore our neighborhood. 
It is a pleasure to shop everyday
We always take a walking tour – and many times those are free with a tip for the guide at the end. We shop at the nearest grocery store, cook most meals in (especially trying regional recipes), read book after book, stay current with the news, play Scrabble and backgammon pinch each other often to make sure this dream is real. 
Wishing you a Happy New Year!
 Next up is Paris for a week and then a stay at our friends home in Compiegne to celebrate the holidays with our daughter Mary, her husband Gregoire and our youngest grandchildren, Colette, Marcel and Jacques.

Blessings of the Season to all!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

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