Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tuesday - Huelva

Day 1: Flight to Spain and first evening in Seville
Day 2: Sunday in Seville
Day 3: Monday at the Alcazar
Day 4: Huelva

Our friends Ken and Martha, and their kids Alex, Abi, Andre, and Athena, are living in Huelva for the year.  Huelva is an hour west of Seville on the Atlantic coast, about 30 minutes drive from the border with Portugal.

First, I had to pick up my car.  I took a 3 euro cab ride to the Hertz office at the Santa Justa train station, where I had a compact rental reserved.  It took a while, since they apparently had my car at the airport, which is 10 minutes away, but I had to wait at least twice that long.  I rented a Seat Leon, which I think is manufactured by VW, and drives quite nicely, thank you.

Once I got the car, it took me about a half hour to get back to the apartment, which was about a mile away.  There was no traffic, but I couldn't figure out how to turn onto the street behind the building where the parking lot entrance was.  It was a one-block-long one-way street that I didn't know the name of, so I couldn't plug it into google maps on my phone, which was barely working anyway since my battery seemed to be failing. I sent Nancy a text message to get the kids down to the street pronto, but I kept driving around the same triangle at least 3 or 4 times and barely missed it.  Finally I parked in a metered space behind the building but I had no change, and a meter maid was lurking nearby.  Fortunately they were downstairs ready to go, and my lovely wife had the foresight to bring our car charger with her.

I hadn't eaten breakfast so we stopped at what seemed to be the world's newest and cleanest McDonalds in a suburb west of Seville, replete with a "McPark" play area.  For the first time in my life, I ordered my breakfast of 2 cafes con leche and a muffin off a computer touch pad.  Then I walked over to the counter to pick it up from staff that seemed much more professional than I had ever experienced at McDonalds before.

Huelva was an easy hour drive.  The kids needed some warmer clothes so we stopped at Carrefour, a
big-box store very similar to Walmart.  Prices seemed to be even lower than what we would have paid for the same thing at Walmart.

In planning the trip, I had thought we would stay a few days in Huelva to hang out with our friends.  Ken advised me not to, and as soon as we arrived in Huelva it was easy to see why.  Even though it apparently is one of the oldest inhabited places in Europe, nowadays Huelva is a city of rows and rows of charmless 1950s era apartment buildings, and not a whole lot else.

We looked for parking within a few blocks of their building, and there was a guy standing on the street helping us find a space.  It seemed like some kind of a small racket, but whatever.  This was the only person we encountered in Spain that seemed to work for tips.  I messaged Ken to see if we should tip him and he said yes, but not more than an Euro, but by then we had already tipped him two.

Ken and Abi found us on the street, and we met up with the others and went to lunch.  We went to another fancy restaurant, Macha, which specializes in the local seafood, and had a lavish Andalucian 3-course lunch.  We had salmorejo for the first time, which is a cold soup made with tomatoes, cream, and stale bread, topped with jamon Iberico and crumbled hard-boiled eggs.  I liked it, Nancy loved it (and ordered it again a few other times during our vacation).  We also had fried sardines (???) , and fish. I was stuffed by the end.  This was a high end restaurant and the total bill came to 150 euros for the 4 adults and 4 kids.  Afterwards, I was very much siesta-ready.

We went back to their apartment, where a half-eaten leg of jamon iberico rested proudly on the kitchen counter.  Later, we met up with some of their Onubense (Huelvan) friends.

Muelle de las Carabelas

Many of the sailors that sailed with Columbus came from the area around Huelva.  We went to this
museum about Columbus' expeditions, in the town of la Rabida and the beginnings of the Spanish empire.  There were 1:1 scale models of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, which the kids had fun playing on.  It was also very interesting to see their actual size, which is not very big.  When we were there, only the Santa Maria and the Nina were open for exploration.  The Santa Maria was a cargo ship, which could hold the contents of perhaps 1 or at most 2 40-foot shipping containers.  The Nina was a warship.  There was also an exhibit depicting natives in the New World.

I think this one was the Pinta but I'm not sure
There was a quotation by Columbus, describing his encounter with native Americans to the king of Spain, or some such sponsor.  Roughly translated and paraphrasing, it said that the native Americans were peaceful, friendly and strong people, that have never known war, and as such would serve as excellent slaves to the kingdom, and Columbus could capture as many slaves as the king should require.

Ken alerted me to this quote.  One need not be fluent in Spanish to observe that this quotation, and several other dioramas at the museum that included depictions of Native Americans that I would expect that just about anyone would consider offensive, was presented without the slightest iota of remorse or shame with regard to the brutal enslavement, rape, and infection of this population.   I also was discussing with Ken that I noticed that the Jewish Quarter of Sevilla contains virtually no evidence at all that Jews ever lived there, aside from the names of a few streets and some merchants peddling Jewelry presumably to Jewish tourists like ourselves interested in the history of Jews in Andalucia.  Also, the cuisine in Seville and Huelva seemed to have essentially no African/Moroccan/Sephardic influence whatsoever.  I was also discussing this with my wife Nancy later in the evening.  While I was kind of taken aback by the complete whitewash of culture, they weren't the least bit surprised. To their point, the Spanish Inquisition, which was initiated in 1478, didn't officially end until 1834.

While I don't want to fault someone for being proud of their heritage, there is nothing wrong with learning from one's mistakes.  

Later, we all stopped for coffee or other beverages at a nice cafe.  At that point, Martha took the kids back to their apartment, and Ken joined us for dinner, which ended up being back at the same mall as the Carrefour.  

By this point I was really starting to tire of Spanish food, and pork in particular.  As a not very observant Jewish person, I don't abstain from the fruits of the chazzer, but I realized while in Spain that I'm not exactly fanatical about it either, particularly when it is not smoked (the jamon iberico is dried and cured).  In reality I only eat pork maybe 4 to 6 times per year, mostly in Chinese food (or occasionally pepperoni pizza or Italian sausage), and I have never cooked it at home.  Eating it at least once per day, I found myself starting to get pretty sick of it.  

We ended up eating hamburgers at a Spanish chain, and they weren't bad at all.  I also ate a salad for a change, as I was in dire need of fiber after abstaining for at least 3 or 4 days.  You're welcome, America.  The drawback was that the restaurant was outside, and it was cold, maybe 45 degrees Farenheit.

We had an uneventful drive back to our apartment in Seville.  It wasn't until this return trip that I realized the car had a 6th gear.  I've only driven 4 and 5 speed manual shift cars, so I must not have been driving very economically up to that point.  Actually I also noticed on the return trip that the car was telling me when to shift to maximize fuel economy, which is a feature I've never seen before.  It can also reignite itself after a stall due to overzealous clutching.

For this return trip I had taken the foresight to figure out the GPS coordinates of the rear parking lot entrance, so I had Nancy guide me following the GPS on her phone.  However, the actual act of parking was another story.  There was a single space available but it required basically that I turn 90 degrees around the corner of the building while parking, and lock another car in with just a few inches clearance on each side to wedge out of his or her space.  I felt bad but there was nowhere else to leave the car.  Not that it was easy for me either - I think it took me about 15 minutes of inching back and forth around the corner wall, and then I had to crawl out of the car on the passenger side since my door was right up against the wall.

Went up to bed for our last night in Seville.

The Finagle

"Finagle" may again be a stretch, as I legitimately rented a car and paid for it with money.  That said, I think I saved about 100 Euros or more by renting the car at the Santa Justa train station instead of the airport, and didn't have to worry about having a car when we didn't need it for the first 3 days in Seville.  For international travel, I have had good luck renting through, but not using the opaque "name your own price" service - just the basic booking service where you can see the options and choose your rental company.  
I got a 5 day compact rental from Hertz, picking up in Seville and returning to Malaga airport (from where we would exit Spain on Sunday) for 148 Euros.  I could have saved about $30 by going with the "economy" model but I'm glad I didn't, since our 4 small and medium suitcases just barely fit in the hatchback.  The Seat Leon was exactly the same model as indicated on the rental, and I enjoyed driving it.

I got the rental just a few days before actually using it; I had a few other rental car reservations that we didn't end up using.  I don't think it is necessary to cancel car reservations that you don't use but I did anyway just to be sure.  I also called Hertz in advance to link my reservation with my Hertz Gold account (free, but saves time at the rental counter).  But I don't think it mattered in this case, since the rental took a good half-hour anyway.  Since I booked with a credit card that covers the liability damage waiver (I checked rigorously), I was able to decline the CDW at the counter.  European rentals seem to include basic liability  insurance.  However, I realized I was exposed to the possibility of theft.  I could have just borne out the very low risk of not buying the theft insurance, but in this case I bent over and took it like a true gentleman, forking over the extra 36 euros for what insurance companies' marketing executives call "peace of mind".
The total rental all-in showed up as just about $200 and change on my credit card statement after the return.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please post as if your mother would read it.