We're really in the home stretch now. With Sevilla behind us we are down to our final 4 nights in Europe: 2 in Granada and 2 in Madrid. Sevilla was a bit of a mixed stay for us. We rented a nice 2 bedroom apartment very close to the Cathedral. It was very spacious, probably 2000 square feet, and nicely decorated. But there's always a catch. This time it was the plumbing: in the bathrooms hot and cold was reversed and it was very hard to tune the temperature to a specific range. I had to adjust the hot water heater itself so that you could just set it to full blast hot water and get the right shower temperature. Needless to say, we're looking forward to our own bed and shower.
We had 2.5 days in Sevilla, which was ample time to take in the city and hit the primary sights. We spent our first afternoon just wandering the neighborhoods and taking in all the stores. In this way Sevilla felt very different than Lisbon: in Sevilla the city center is positively bursting with life. We stopped off at Zara and bought Walter a suit for the formal evenings on the Antarctica cruise (go strong dollar go!).
In general the dining in Sevilla was excellent. We enjoyed great dishes at several tapas restaurants and also found a great little paella joint where we had lunch twice. At the tapas joints the meat was tender and juicy, the sandwiches crunchy and delicious, and the wine inexpensive and good. The sole exception was our dinner the first night, when we decided not to wait for a table at a recommended restaurant and instead ate at the restaurant right by our apartment. I believe it was both the most expensive and worst meal we ate. But it was the exception, thank goodness.
We enjoyed touring both the Alcazar palace and the Cathedral and found both impressive. Personally, I enjoyed the Cathedral more, as it's not every day you get to see the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the largest gothic cathedral in the world. One final highlight was taking in a Flamenco dancing show. We booked at La Casa de La Memoria, which is apparently a very authentic place to see Flamenco. It was a very small venue with a very informal stage, but the performers were top notch. You could see it in their facial expressions and body language and it made the hour long performance fly by.
One final note on Spain. Prior to coming to Europe we weren't sure how easy we would find it to navigate all the different cities and countries without being able to speak the local language. However, we found that English was completely sufficient virtually everywhere, and especially with anyone under the age of 30. In many small countries English is viewed as the practical language, after all, how many people in the world speak Norwegian or Estonian or Croatian? In those countries speaking English is the way to communicate with neighboring countries, and it was pretty common to hear a fellow tourist communicating in broken English with a waiter or receptionist, even though it wasn't the native tongue for either person. That is, until we hit Spain. Here in Spain it is relatively hard to find people who know more than just a few words of English. Even when you take the step of addressing them in broken Spanish you are almost assuredly going to get a rapid-fire response in Spanish. This is completely different than our experience in France, where if you address someone in French they will instantly switch to English so that you stop attacking their ears with butchered French. Having said that, we're getting along just fine with what little Spanish Jie and I remember from high school, so even in Spain language is never a reason not to travel.