Chanoy Honeymoon: Sevilla and Granada, Spain, October 2015

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

We had such little time in Sevilla and Granada (only three nights total!) that I feel almost embarrassed in writing this entry. There’s so much more to see and explore in the Andalusia region of Spain that we certainly barely even touched even half of what these cities have to offer. That I think, would have to wait until a future trip – perhaps a month-long driving excursion across southern Spain?

I loved our stay in these cities, more so than our stay in Madrid. Part of this was increased confidence in our ability to make ourselves understood in our limited Spanish! We’d gotten comfortable with the idea of ordering tapas for meals, and had a great meal at Duo Tapas in Seville, a modern tapas restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host. We also had a more traditional tapas meal in the centre of town (photos in the below gallery) which I can’t give a glowing review of – I think I prefer modern interpretations of tapas more so than the traditional!

In Granada, we lucked out by finding some genuine nun cookies, and finished with a simple dinner at a local restaurant – salad and baked potato. Interestingly, many of the restaurants in Granada seem to be Middle Eastern or North African in nature – a reflection perhaps on the city’s long history of Muslim (I hesitate to use the word Moorish, which I’m uncomfortable with!) influence.

This influence can be seen throughout both cities, not just in the restaurants available but also in the architecture and design. The Alhambra in Granada is of course the famous example of royal palaces in the Arabic style in Spain, but as I was unable to buy tickets to enter (note to others – if you want to go, buy your tickets online weeks in advance, not three days before!), we settled for going to the Alcazar in Seville which is still impressive but not on the same scale.

The tiling on the streets and buildings, the design of buildings around a central courtyard – all these are remnants of the Muslim influence and rule of this area dating back almost a millennium. Visiting Sevilla and Granada is almost what I would imagine visiting Morocco to be like – but I’ll let you know for sure after February when we’ve been to Morocco!

One particular highlight for me was visiting the Cathedral and Royal Tombs in Granada. I’d read a lot about Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon in the past, initially prompted by my interest in the English Tudors and Katharine of Aragon, their daughter. To see the actual effigies, tombs, and lead coffins of these two great, though religiously fanatical and absolutely xenophobic and prejudiced, rulers was quite a thrill.

So in summary, Sevilla and Granada have a bit to offer everyone. For the history nuts like me – fantastic insights into the past of both Arabic and Catholic rulers. For those who like to eat – some innovative modern tapas restaurants. For those who love to party – a late night bar and restaurant drinking culture, with some bars featuring signature flamenco shows that don’t start until midnight! I can’t wait to return to Andalusia in the future for a longer stay.

Finding Nun Cookies in Granada, Spain

My quest for ‘nun cookies’ first started in Madrid, where K and I spent a few hours trying to find the hidden convent where cloistered nuns sell home-made sweets to the public through a turntable. We were out of luck – once we managed to find the convent, there was a sign posted on the door announcing that they were sold out and wouldn’t have more sweets for a few days.

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Imagine my delight when we stumbled across a nondescript sign next to the Convento de San Bernardo on Granada’s famous Carrera del Darro, pointing up the small alleyway of Calle Gloria, stating “sweet sales”. Heading to number 2 Calle Gloria, we then saw this sign posted next to the doorway – vente de patisseries, sweets sale.

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Finally, I was going to get my nun cookies! But first, I wanted to make sure that I was ordering the right thing, and luckily they had information pinned up on the door of the sales turntable. For the record, you can buy (in any quantity you want):

  • Rosquitos de anis (10 Euro/kilo)
  • Pastas de almendra (12 Euro/kilo)
  • Pasta de the (12 Euro/kilo)
  • Hojaldrines (10 Euro/kilo)
  • Nevaditas (16 Euro/kilo)
  • Plum cake (4.60 Euro per unit)

Or, if you’re not sure about any of the above, you can do what we did and just buy the ‘Cajas surtidas’, or a mixed assortment. A half kilo will set you back 6.50 Euro, or a full kilo will set you back 13 Euro. They also sell home-made wines, but I decided to give that a miss!

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To order your cookies, you need to:

  1. Ring the nearby bell, and wait for an answer
  2. When someone answers, say “Quiero comprar dulces” (I want to buy candy)
  3. Wait until a Sister comes to the turntable and tell her what you want

This is the interesting part – while the Sisters are supposed to cloistered and you’re not supposed to see them, the Sister who came to the turntable for me was very interested in opening up a little window to see who I was, and what I wanted. I’ve been told that they won’t do that if it’s a man who’s buying the candy, but as I was the one buying (K made sure to wait outside so there wouldn’t be any awkward situations), I think the Sister wanted to see who was speaking Spanish so terribly!

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After I put in my order (half a kilo of assorted candy/cookies), the Sister went away briefly to pack up my order before putting it through the turntable for me. The box was marked with the title the Monastero de San Bernardo, rather than Convento de San Bernardo, as I believe that the monks and the nuns live in the same set of buildings, but separated.

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And here we have the assorted cookies! K particularly liked the anise-flavoured cookies, but I liked the powdered-sugar hojaldrines which was particularly delicious with its layers of pastry.

There’s may be some ethical issues at play here – K asked me whether I was comfortable spending money towards the Catholic Church when we’re both staunch atheists. It did make me stop and think, and I decided that I could be comfortable with it as the money went towards the expenses of cloistered nuns, as opposed to directly to the coffers of the Catholic Church with the aim of spreading religious beliefs.

So there you have it – unique Spanish treats, made for you by (not quite) cloistered nuns! If you miss out on the nun cookies in a big city like Madrid, you can always go to Granada for them instead.

The Convento de San Bernardo is located at 2 Calle Gloria, Granada.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Madrid, Spain, October 2015

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Madrid is a beautiful city with a real focus on art, culture, and food. Sound like any other European cities you know? While it’s obviously a stunning city with some amazing architecture, there were times when 1) it felt like the other places we’d visited along the way and 2) I felt as though I wasn’t really even in Spain. Tour groups outnumbered locals two to one and while I understand that we ourselves obviously added to the number, it’s a bit grating to hear people on the street complaining about how they couldn’t get their Starbucks or their favourite McDonald’s menu items.

Still, it’s not impossible to escape the tourist route. There’s a beautiful city park right on the edge of the inner city called Buen Retiro, which offers some picturesque shaded walkways. It was particularly beautiful in the time that we went as the leaves were just starting to turn for autumn. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find the little courtyard in the park where there’s a large family of stray cats – we counted about fifteen gorgeous little felines, though unfortunately they’re not keen on being petted by humans!

We also spent some time in the district around our Airbnb apartment as for the first time on our European journey, K and I found ourselves staying in a relatively multi-cultural area of a city. Less impressive monuments, more doner kebabs and stir fries. This got me particularly excited as I was able to buy noodles, frozen dumplings, and bokchoy from the local Asian supermarket to make some classic Chinese dumpling noodle soups for dinners in our apartment. It definitely helped to calm some of the Chinese food cravings that I had been having!

We didn’t just stay in for our meals though. We did have a few meals out (Martina Cocina, Taperia de Malasana), and most importantly, we went to the famous Chocolateria San Gines which has been open since 1894. They’re famous for what is arguably one of the most famous Spanish desserts – chocolat con churros. I’m happy to advise that they’re just as amazing as you would hope them to be – thick, creamy drinking chocolate that isn’t too sweet, and crispy, crunchy churros that are delicious both by themselves and dunked in the chocolate. There were other snacks along the way as well – countless numbers of iberico jamon baguettes for example.

I fear however that the general Spanish lifestyle isn’t particularly conducive to the lifestyle that K and I enjoy. Neither of us are night-time revellers – we prefer to go out during the day, have lunch out, and then retire to our accommodation at night to cook dinner and watch a movie in bed. I don’t think I could ever get used to just drinking and eating tapas at bars until late. One night, I think a party in our neighbourhood didn’t actually kick off until midnight and ended around dawn. Definitely not my kind of scene!

So rather than having a goal of drinking multiple varieties of wine in multiple tapas bars around town, my main goal for our stay was to visit the two museums – the Prado, their national art gallery, and the Reina Sofia, their modern art museum. Entrance to both museums can be quite pricey, so if you’re on a budget like us, I suggest visiting them during their free opening hours. Reina Sofia is free after 7pm during the week and all Sunday afternoon, and the Prado is free after 6pm on all days. Just make sure you start lining up about half an hour before the gates open for free entrance, as the queue to get in does get quite long!

The pride and joy of the Reina Sofia collection is Picasso’s Guernica, one of the most powerful and recognisable pieces of art in the world. I remember studying the piece for an Art class at school and while I only just barely understood the anti-war implications of the piece then, seeing it in person as an adult with a better understanding of the human impact of war creates a much more emotional experience. Thinking about it in the current European context of the refugee crisis is particularly sobering – why haven’t we learned from the lessons of the past? Why are we not more compassionate? While I’m not the biggest fan of modern art, there’s no denying that it really does make you think about wider world issues.

The Prado is a beautiful museum as well, housed in a stunning neo-classical building. The Goya collection is particularly impressive, and I always enjoy going through the galleries housing portraits of the royal families – when you’re a royal history nut as myself, seeing the faces of kings and queens who you’ve read fictionalised stories of is a bit of a thrill. Particularly interesting was going through and looking at the portraits of all the Spanish Habsburgs, paying attention to the Habsburg jaw!

Madrid is beautiful, however I fear that it’s not really my cup of tea. I feel like a square compared to the locals (what, you don’t drink?) and some of the other Spanish cities we visited later on were more my scene – Sevilla for example, is just wonderful! Keep your eye out for that entry!