Italica for all you Game of Thrones fans…

I’ve met some amazing people at escuela. Femmie and Jimmy are my new friends from Amsterdam. They just got married and are celebrating their honeymoon first here in Andalusia before they head to the Philippines for a month. They were on a mission to make Thanksgiving special for me and planned an entire day of events. Entonces, I was fortunate enough to have spent Thanksgiving with some really fun gente’s! 

Our first stop of the day would be ‘Italica’. Since I arrived in September,  Italica has been on my ever-growing list in my iPhone notes of ‘things to do in Spain’. The main reason that I haven’t been here sooner is due to the fact that it is the major filming location for Season 7 of Game of Thrones. 

Italica is the ruins of an ancient Roman city only 9 KM from Sevilla in the city of Santiponce. It was founded in 206 BC when the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio left his wounded Roman soldiers here after a battle with the Carthaginians. This took place during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Shortly after this, it quickly became a municipium. A municipium is essentially a Latin term for a city or town with an important status porque it is recognized by Rome. It was one of the primary  cities in the province of Baetica in southern Roman Spain. Italica is the birthplace of Trajan, the first Roman emperor to be born outside of the Italian peninsula in 98 A.D. The city experienced major development during the rule of Trajans’ successor, Hadrian. The population of the city during this time was said to be between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

Beaumont, Ruby, Nyame, Tom, Femmie, Jimmy, Matthew and me at the entrance of Italica.
The Roman Amphitheater that seats 25,000 speculators. It is said to be half of the size of the Colosseum in Rome.
Justa, me, Ruby, Femmie, and Nyame in the pit next to the dens for animals.
Femmie and Jimmy in the entrance to Italica.

This imposing city was steadily abandoned beteeen the 4th and 5th century. The population seemed to have tapered off during this time. However the fact is that we know very little about Italica during this final Roman-Visigoth period.

The Roman villa foundations.

The first official excavations were carried out in 1780 by Francisco de Burna. Then in 1860, a highly trained architect named  Demario de la Rios took charge. With the help of his brother, Jose Amador, a skilled draughtman, the ground-plans of the Amphitheater, houses, drawings of mosaics and the first plan of the city were  at last uncovered. Now, because there was no legal protection for earthly possessions acquired in place at this time, private excavators flocked to the scene. Their end goal was to collect mosaics for their private collections. This list of people included American Archer Milton Huntington who is the founder of the Hispanic Society of New York. In 1911 the law regulating archaeological excavations put an end to this situation.

The Roman villa foundations (and Matt).

Tom and Justa exploring the halls of the Amphitheater.
Beaumont and I exploring the gardens and aqueducts.
This is one of the many perfectly preserved floor mosaics.

Nyame and Femmie statue pose next to Roman Empire Trajan.
We walked around Italica for a couple of hours before heading back to Sevilla for Thanksgiving dinner, stopping for coffee in between. Femmie picked a fantastic restaurant in el barrio la Alameda de Hercules called ‘Al Aljibe’ for dinner. ‘Al Aljibe’ is a ‘market kitchen’ restaurant with amazing seasonal food. We ordered 10 platos and shared everything. It was the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Jimmy insisted that I said grace before we ate and it was an honor to do so. I don’t think either Matt or I missed pumpkin pie. 

We ended our evening with a Flamenco show at ‘La Sra Pop Cafe’ en la Alameda. I can honestly say that this was the best Thanksgiving that I have had in a very long time! 


Chechaouen is a small town set into the Rif Mountains in Northwest Morocco. Founded in 1471, many Moriscos and Jews settled here after the Spanish Recoquista.  In 1920, the Spanish conquered Chechaouen in their effort to form part of the ‘Spanish Morocco’. Subsequently, Spain returned the city after the independence of Morocco in 1956. There are still two Spanish cities in Africa-Ceuta and Melilla. Chefchaouen is easily accessible due to its proximity to the Spanish exclave of Ceuta. This and the fact that everything is blue, make Chechaouen a very popular tourist destination. This region and countryside surrounding it, is known as a bountiful source of Kier and is one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco.

Morocco, in my opinion, requires a thick skin. My senses definitely took a beating over the course of the weekend. To be honest, it was a bit mentally exhausting. I  was pounced and badgered by a endless amount of beggars reaching out from all directions. It required extra diligence to stay on guard. These beggars take the shape of children, tattooed woman, glossy-eyed men and stray cats. It was intense and required a lot of energy! These people are extremely poor-the average income is equivalent to $100.00 a week. Entonces, I think they were viewing me as a walking cash dispenser.

The outskirts of the Medina in Chechaouen.
The beautiful graffiti of Chechaouen.
MaryCarmen and I at the outskirts of Medina in Chechaouen.
A beautiful fountain on the streets of the old town in Chechaouen.
More beautiful graffiti in Chechaouen.
MaryCarmen and I on a blue street of Chechaouen.
Me on a blue street of Chechaouen.
Chechaouen has many beautiful doors! I have dozens of beautiful pictures of blue doors of Chechaouen.
The narrow blue streets of Chechaouen.
‘Berber’ craftsmanship.
‘Berber’ craftsmanship.
The streets inside Medina of Chechaouen.
Tienda en Chechaouen.
Tienda en Chechaouen.
I cultivate an enormous amount of knowledge throughout my travels. I see and experience things that I previously could not of imagined. It is weekends like this that push me to the boundary of my ability to function within a different culture. I must say that I have satisfied my built-in, deep-rooted curiosity about how life is over there. 

 I am one experience richer after my weekend in Morocco. And, for this alone, I am beyond grateful. It was for sure an escapade that I will never forget.

Day 1 in Morocco…

I haven’t the vaguest notion of where to begin narrating my adventures in Morocco. We arrived at our 3 star hotel in an unknown town of Morocco at 10:30 Friday night. Shortly after this was when I found myself on the side of the road eating snails with a really handsome Moroccan guy. And, this as it would turn out, would definitely be the highlight of my weekend.

The guys would not let me take pictures of the snails on the street, entonces I pulled this one from online.

Snails are a street stall staple in Morocco where men sell them by the broth filled bowl. When my Moroccan boyfriend saw me eyeing them, he threw the vendor some dirham. The next thing I knew I had 2 bowls in hand-one filled with steaming snails and the other with broth. The Moroccan snails are white and smaller than the French version of escargot. Not for one second did I contemplate putting it into my mouth! I reached for a safety pin as my extraction tool of choice and minutes later the bowl was gone and I was handed a new one. The only thing slowing me down was that these little suckers are a bit springy. I chased down my snails with two large cupfulls of this briny broth. I could taste the aniseed, licorice root and mint. I was so thankful for this pit stop because I, of course, refused to eat my dinner at the hotel. 

Our first stop on Saturday morning was the Medina in Tètouan. Tètouan is a town in northern Morocco. Arabic is the official language and the majority religion is Islam. The Medina of Tètouan is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. It is a city within walls with extremely narrow maze-like streets. And, it had a very distinctive smell that I believe will forever be ingrained in me. I have never experienced anything like the marketplace in this Medina. It took us hours just to weave our way through the hustle and bustle.

Inside the Medina of Tètouan.
A seafood vendor inside the Medina of Tètouan.
A vendor booth inside the Medina of Tètouan.
A vendor stand inside the Medina of Tètouan.

After our trip to the market, we were off to the Tannery. Okay, this is definitely not for the meak. The smell is just positively formidable. I held mint in front of my noise for about an hour as I kept a tab on this place. I walked around eyeballing everything. Prior to this experience, I had honestly believed that my prior work conditions were indefensible. But now this was simply grotesque. The sights and smells of this place have left a lasting impression with me.

This is bread. I don’t know how it got here in the Medina or why it is here in the Medina. I haven’t got to the bottom of this situation yet.
Inside the tannery in Tètouan.
This is a extremely old school method. My teacher in Sevilla told me that artists go to Morocco from Spain to learn the craft. This man is working waist deep in dye.
The entire tannery is a sight to behold. The main ingredients in these vats is pigeon droppings and cow urine.
It can take up to seven years to complete one piece.
I stopped and watched this skilled tanner at work. Amazing.

We then walked through old town stopping for a mint tea on our way to the other side of town to find lunch.

Hand of Fatima in Tètouan.
Our stop for mint tea.
The market in the Jewish Quarter of Tètouan.
Our sights as we walk through the market in the Jewish Quarter.
This market sold higher quality products than inside the Medina.

During lunch a local woman gave us henna tattoo’s.

Henna tattoo with Argan seeds.

Our next stop was ‘Hercules Cave’ in  Tangier. Apparently this is where Hercules rested after his 12 labours.

The cave bears a mirror image resemblance to the continent of Africa.
MaryCarmen and I at ‘Hercules Cave’.

And we were off to visit the camels.

We ended our day with a walk through the Medina of Tangier.

The outskirts of the Medina of Tangier.

Palacio de las Dueñas y Jorge Cadaval! Sevilla, España

The past week has just been exceptionally noteworthy, pero cada segundo de mi vida es worthy of mention! Pedro came and got me at school today on his new Ducati motorbike and we spent the whole day together catching up. And, it was so fun! We ate, laughed, went to Vodafone, got helado, laughed, shopped, talked about life, laughed, got coffee, walked, talked, and laughed all day! He spent half the day literally cracking up every time I started speaking Espanol. In truth, Pedro was the very first friend that I made here in Sevilla on the very first day that I was in Sevilla. And, I hit the jackpot because he’s incredibly kind and really great company. He says I am definitely making progress, which I find very comforting and reassuring. Joking aside, this whole ‘immersion’ is definitely taking effect! And, I am definitely ‘immersed’! Yo soy enthralled y engrossed!!! I am the definition of enthralled y engrossed. First I start my day blasting Marc Anthony ‘Vivir la Vida’ into my iPhone EarPods as I  practically dance my way through Trianna and Sevilla on my way to school. From there I study for 4 hours. All of my interacting is done entirely in Espanol. Entonces, something had to give! It was on this past Saturday that I realized that I could communicate at least 50% of my thoughts. Now let’s face it-my thoughts are not all that complex at this time, pero it is progress! My thoughts are the clearest they have ever been in my life! My main concern is food. Actually, that’s a poor example porque my thoughts have always mainly been about food! But, you get the point…

Entonces, Pedro and I were walking through Sevilla Center today and he intercepts while I was telling him a story and says “Jamie, sorry, that’s ‘Jorge Cadaval’ and I have never seen him before in life!”.  I start cracking up because I know Pablo really likes Jorge. (Jorge is an incredible comedian here in España. He’s all over the TV and Radio with his brother Cesar).  Than there’s Pedro, “Jamie come on-you need a picture for your blog!”. And before I knew it, there we were chatting with Jorge Cadavel! My life is so great! 

Jorge Cadaval!!
Jorge Cadaval, Pedro, and me.

I stayed in Sevilla again this past weekend. We had MaryCarmen’s farewell party on Friday night and Gloria’s father Carlos’s 90th birthday party on Sunday. MaryCarmen chose a fantastic restaurant for her party and the food and company were both wonderful. Gloria’s hermana, Nancy, has been here all weekend from London and she is just lovely. Carlos’s birthday party was at Charlie’s restaurant called ‘Bar Aaron’ in Dos Remedios (a barrio near Trianna) and it was a truly great day. Charlie’s wife Maria is another phenomenal cook and the food was amazing!! My mouth is watering as I write this just thinking about it! 

Pablo and I showing off Maria’s Paella.

MaryCarmen is a great travel companion! A really great travel companion actually! She is always doing her research. She searches the best means of transportation to and from our destinations, consults with the trip advisor reviews, etc. She is as diligent about it as I am, only whenever she does the work we spend less money. So last Monday when she told me we were going to a Palace here in Sevilla, I was waiting with bells on! She said we must be at the Palace at 4:00 because at that time it is free to enter. We were on our way and we were making good time until we stopped to chat with Manuel about my beloved Castaña’s.

Manuel has the best Castañas in Sevilla!

I refuse to go to any other vendor for my Castaña addiction. He literally inspects each and every castaña before splitting them open prior to roasting them. If it is damaged in any way, it gets tossed. He cuts and roasts them perfectly so they are super easy to enjoy. In the past, when I  made the mistake of going to another vendor, I regreted it quickly. If the Castañas are not roasted properly, the skins stick to the fruit making it bitter. And Manuel is really super nice and polite to everyone walking by and always in a very good mood! 

At any rate, we arrived at the Museo at 5:00 and we missed the cut-off point. The Museo gives away 200 free tickets to the first 200 people in line. Disappointed, we returned back home. And made a plan that we would shoot for the next Monday. Well we successfully entered this gorgeous palace this Monday after waiting in line for an hour and a half.  I must admit, it was definitely worth the wait. 

This palace was built in the 15th century in the Renaissance fashion with Gothic and Moorish influences. It is currently owned by ‘The House of Alba’, a popular Spanish aristocratic family. 

MaryCarmen and I at the gate to the main garden.
Mudejar Arches.
The Main Patio.
Cayetanas Flamenco dress in the colors of her football team, Betis. Betis is Pablo’s team as well, which also makes it my team.
Cayetana had bullfighters as friends and loved the sport.
The ‘Palacio de Las Duenas’ opened to the public just earlier this year. The infamous ‘Doña Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva’, 18th Duchess of Alba de Torres, Grandee of España, passed away in 2014. Her son Carlos, the 19th Duke, happily opened to the public to give back to the people of Sevilla. The Dutchess loved the city of Seville, its people, the Sevillian Holy Week and the April Fair. It is at this palace where she spent her final days. You can actually feel the peaceful presence when you enter the gates. 

Duchess Cayetanas led an extremely colorful life. She sounds amazing. Although she was tagged as the ‘Dutchess of Alba’, she held over 40 other hereditary titles! According to the Guinness World Records, she was the most titled aristocrat in the world. She was inducted into Vanity Fairs International Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 2011. Her wedding (which took place in España just after World War II), is considered to be the greatest wedding of European nobility possibly of all time. The New York Times called it “The most expensive wedding of the world”.  Duchess Cayetanas had 6 children with her 1st of 3 husbands. The children are all  endowed with noble titles thanks to their mother-in accordance with Spanish Royal protocol of course. At the time that she was ready to commit to husband numero 3, her wealth was estimated to be between 600 million and 3.5 billion. Her third marriage was to a civil servant 24 years her junior. Her children were in an uproar  and protested this marriage. To please all parties involved, she paid all of the children their inheritance in advance and moved on with her life. And she danced Flamenco in the street on the day of her wedding for the Sevilliano’s and all to see! 

She died in the Palacio de las Dueñas at the age of 88. Her funeral was held at the Sevilla Cathedral.

Sentenil de Las Bodegas, Cádiz

So MaryCarmen and I were village hopping through Malaga and Cadiz on Tuesday and this is how we accidentally found ‘Sentenil de las Bodegas’. 

The Village ‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’.

‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’ is a small village set along a narrow river gorge. It is a town that has been carved out of rock by river erosion with houses built under the eroded cliffs. Amazing. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! This is an entire village that actually lives under a rock.

This village gets it name from the Roman Latin idiomatic expression ‘Septem Nihil’, which translates to ‘7 times nothing’. This name came about during the final years of the Christian Reconquest. At this time the Catholic rulers tried to take back this territory from the Moors seven times prior to succeeding. In 1484, the Christian forces besieged the moorish occupants using gunpowder artillery and captured their castle. There is an old wives tale that says that Isabella of Castile had an abortion during the siege and than erected the shrine of San Sebastián as a tribute to the dead child, who was named Sebastian.

The full name of ‘Sentinil de las Bodegas’ presumedly dates back to the 15th century because of the flourishing wineries and Bodegas. However, there is refuting speculation that states the village name came about from people storing products in the caves using it as a warehouse or ‘bodegas’. I am giving up on trying to get to the bottom of this particular chronicle of history.

It was lunch time when we arrived in Sentenil and every single restaurant was packed! There are quite a few restaurants built under and into the rock and we finally managed to grab a couple of seats at the bar of one of them. The owner of the restaurant had a grill set up in the street outside of his place and was diligently preparing beautiful chorizo and other cuts of cerdo (pork). It should go without saying that this, of course, is what we ordered. It was simple, natural, high quality, unaltered food. And, this is just the way I like it. But, here again, this is indicative of España. I eat very well here. In addition to the beautiful ‘cerdo filetes’ and chorizo, we ordered an ‘ensalada mixta’. My life is just so good. 

MaryCarmen and I in ‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’.

We didn’t eat Castañas but we did visit the Smurfs!

Well it has been another amazing week here in Andalucia. Tuesday was ‘Dia de todos los Santos’, ‘All Saints Day’, so I did not have school. And, MaryCarmen turned in her thesis last Friday so we decided to take advantage of this self determining time. We went around Sevilla on Monday and found a monestery that sells cookies-just like the one we found in Granada. The nuns at this monestery are from Mexico. That being so, they were especially kind to us upon hearing MaryCarmens accent through the lazy Susan in the wall.

MaryCarmen chatting with the Mexican nuns at Monastery in Sevilla.

There is a magazine that comes out at the beginning of every month announcing all the special festivals, concerts, activities, classes, etc going on all over Andalucia. We read through this magazine a few weeks ago and discovered that a ‘Castaña Feria’ was going on in ‘Pujerra’. ‘Pujerra’ is a very small village located in the mountains in Malaga. It is about a 30 minute drive from  ‘Ronda’. I am OBSESSED with Castañas and I have really been looking forward to going to a festival! The only detail that I knew was that all the food at the Féria would be made using Castañas. That’s all I needed to know. AND, this village, according to the magazine, would be moving their Virgin at 7:00 at night. We were thrilled about this as well. MaryCarmen secured us a blah blah car and we meet our driver bright and early on Tuesday morning. Two hours later we arrived in Ronda. And, I was so car sick! Our blah blah car driver had a very small car and driving through and around mountains for 2 hours had put my stomach on a collision course! We had planned to take a bus from Ronda to Pujerra but soon discovered that this was not possible. There were no buses running because of the holiday! Now how were we going to get to the Castañas? 

Me at the bus station in ‘Ronda’. This is my 3rd time to this tiny bus station and I have some good stories that occurred here.
We walked about Ronda for over an hour trying to decide what to do. At one point we were talking about renting a car and at another point I suggested we rent bikes. Thank God my bicycle idea did not fly because we would have collapsed in the mountains somewhere. After carefully weighing all of our options, we decided to take a cab to Pujerra. We were very lucky and found a really nice cab driver and were soon on our way. He spoke slow and clear Espanol in the taxi so that I could understand. This was refreshing because everyone speaks muy rapido. He made a few stops along the way showing us the lay of the land. We even got to get out of the car and pick Castañas off the tree’s. And, we stopped for a visit with some black pigs and had a short photo shoot with them.
The beautiful Black Ibérico Pig.

The best part of this story is the part when we arrive in Pujerra only to discover from one of the village elders that the castaña feria is over! It was a misprint in the magazine! You can’t imagine our disappointment. Now what are we going to do? We were in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Daniel, our taxi driver, was very kind and offered to drive us to a few of the surrounding villages to do some exploring. And, this is how we arrived in ‘Júzcar’. 

‘Júzcar’ is a very small village in the mountains in the province of Malaga. It is considered to be ‘one of the white towns of Adalusia’. The ‘Pueblos Blancos’ are a series of about 25 villages in the northern part of Malaga and Cádiz, here in the South of Spain. I have been to quite a few of these beautiful villages and I thought they were painted white on purpose to reflect the heat. Apparently, the reason they are white is due to a chemical reaction as a result of the limestone that was used.  

In 2011, Sony arrived on the scene here in Júzcar and painted everything in the village ‘smurf blue’ in preparation of the ‘Smurfs’ movie. Sony offered to paint the town white again, but the village citizens elected to keep it painted blue. I am guessing that they arrived on this decision because in the first six months of this paint job 80,000 tourist visited Júzcar. Normally the village would see 300 tourist a year! The village now adverages 250 tourist per day! 

MaryCarmen and I in the village of ‘Júzcar’.