We were up early and everyone was downstairs by 7:00 to pick up our bagged breakfast (ham sandwich on white bread, apple, banana, orange juice, bottle of water, and a package of Oreo cookies) at reception (although a few went downstairs to the restaurant for a quick bite or package up some small items to take away). The bus arrived before the appointed time of 7:15, so we loaded up early and were on our way through the city for the 15 minute drive to Barcelona-Sants train station. Once inside we first went through security and then had to stand in line before we could head down the escalator to Platform 3 about 8:00 to board coaches 21 and 22. We found our assigned seats on the AVE train in preferred seating, with 4 of us in one car and 7 in the other.
The train departed right on time, taking us out of the city underground at first, then zooming across the city outskirts and into the country at 245 mph. We went through short tunnels periodically through this landscape filled with vineyards and fields of vegetables, patches of low trees, and white buildings with red tile roofs on the gently rolling hillsides. The sun kept shining in our eyes from one side of the train, then the other as we followed a sinuous path through the countryside filled with agriculture. Eventually the gentle slopes were covered with low pine trees as we rolled into Camp de Tarragona for a brief stop at the modern station there about 9:00. On we went through more agriculture, with small orchards and blocks of hazelnut bushes. The next stop was in Lleida, and shortly thereafter we were served breakfast: a bacon and potato frittata with couscous with chicken, dates and nuts, yogurt, croissant and choice of breads with various condiments, plus a beverage of choice, including small bottles of cava or other wines. The further south we went the drier the conditions got, with small plots of irrigated alfalfa, dry corn standing in fields, plowed dry sandy fields, and low scrub. Soon the land was very dry with grey vegetation on whitish sandy ground between the orchards and dry plowed fields. Then it was back to more irrigated crops and groups of buildings, and flat, dry fields with low, dry eroded hills beyond.
A little after 10:00 we stopped in Zaragoza, went by the large industrial areas, then back to agriculture and dry fields, with very small, densely planted olive trees. This area was covered with olive groves interspersed with dry plowed fields and peach or almond orchards, with low, dry hills in the distance. The dry landscape reminiscent of Colorado or California kept changing and soon we were going through an area of very red-orange soil, and more pines and poplars amid the dry plowed fields and orchards. Suddenly we were traveling through fog, obscuring much of the countryside, then back out into more agriculture and dry countryside. We slowed about 11:30 as we rolled past a large town (we had no idea which one) and then sped up again to continue on through more dry landscape, with a few black and white magpies flitting about here and there. Soon it was olive orchards as far as the eye could see, with widely spaced grey-green trees on the dry, rolling slopes of vegetation-free tan soil. More and more olive groves, with a few houses and other buildings, and a few other crops mixed in now.
At noon we rolled into Ciudad Real for a short stop to pick up more passengers and then back into more dryland agriculture on the low rolling hills. The hills began to get a little steeper, but still covered with olives. We stopped again in the large Córdoba train station about 1:10, moving on about 5 minutes later into more of the same, dry sunny landscape filled with olives which soon transitioned into mostly oranges, and then with some cotton, pears and a few other crop in addition, with a mixture of trees along the winding waterways.
We pulled into the Sevilla Santa Justa station right on time at 2:02.
We finally got settled in the Hotel Casas de la Judería, our accommodations for the next four nights, located in the heart of the old Jewish quarter about 4:30. This unique hotel is composed of 20 houses, with 40 outdoor courtyards and patios, and a swimming pool and bar on the rooftop of one of the buildings.
Around 5:15 people started to congregate in the cooler courtyard patio for beer or wine, with most of the group there to chat and relax in the warm afternoon air. At 7:30 we assembled at reception to walk a few winding blocks to La Azotea restaurant where we were quickly seated at a long table in the small place. We were served cava and green olives, baskets of homemade bread, and some people ordered red wine or sangria. Then we were slowly served a series of dishes to share: Spanish potato salad with smoked trout, rice paper rolls stuffed with ricotta-type cheese, leeks and prawns in a creamy tomato sauce, spiced roasted sliced chicken on a bed of butter lettuce with walnuts and a honey mustard vinaigrette, and braised Iberian pork cheeks in red wine sauce topped with goat cheese gratin. We were stuffed from all this delicious food when the desserts started coming out: a chocolate lava cake, fresh mint ice cream in a custard sauce (the ice cream flavored with ground fresh mint leaves, not mint oil, so very different than normal), and a slices of carrot cake in a puddle of an orange sauce (possibly carrot puree, but without much taste; this dessert looked wonderful but was everyone’s least favorite as it was relatively bland). Tiny glasses of a house-made coffee liqueur were served to finish off the meal.
Finally we exited the air conditioned restaurant about 10:15, going out to join the hordes of people either walking or dining on the crowded cobblestone streets in the warm night air. The cathedral was all lit up in yellow-orange light, and other buildings were aglow as well, for a magical appearance as we slowly made our way back to the hotel.