Are the Gypsy Kings outside my window?
22.07.2013 - 26.07.2013 97 °F
I'm slowly waking up and becoming aware of my surroundings. For a moment, I am not sure where I am. I haven't opened my eyes yet, but I hear something that reassures me and makes me smile... Castanets. And someone is singing in that husky soulful voice so common to flamenco and the music of the Rom (gypsies)...a bit of rhythmic clapping joins in. I remain still, my eyes closed, and bask in my sleepy state with the dreamy sounds of Sevilla, Spain. I just arrived a few hours ago and after finding a place to stay, instantly fell asleep. That's why I didn't remember where I was. It was satisfying to hear the music outside my window as my clue. What a nice introduction to Spain.
Seville or Sevilla in Spanish is the ultimate Spanish city. Famenco, bullfighting, tapas, fluttering fans, flounced and polka-dotted dresses...it's all here and they claim it with a passion. Sure it helps tourism, but it seems sincere. Of course, at this time of year it is off season for bullfighting so only the tourists are lined up to see the younger less experienced torreros. But in this heat, the locals are snapping fans open as often as the tourists. And it isn't tourists that are shopping at the tiny places that sell flamenco dresses and suits of light-- too expensive for a souvenir though there are cheap polka-dot dresses, skirts, key-rings, shoes and other silly things for the tourists to buy.
The sidewalks and alleys are filled with cafes enshrouded in fine clouds of mist to keep the customers cool. They all have meal menus, but the tourists want tapas-- so there is always a board with a list of offerings to pull them in. Sevilla wants to please. Sevillans are proud of their city and history. It is a pretty city. It's clean. It's historical, yet modern. It's a fair-sized city, but has a coziness (neighborhoods with plazas add to this). Almost everything is within walking distance and it's very walk-able-- I didn't take a single bus or taxi the whole time. I had taken a bus from Tavira, Portugal and the bus station in Sevilla was just a short distance from the center. I walked along the wide sweeping river waterfront through the trees to avoid at least some of the penetrating heat (hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and was soon just a few blocks from the cathedral that marks the center.
I didn't know how long I would stay in Spain. I had originally thought about two weeks in Portugal and two weeks in Spain-- partly for time and partly because I knew it would be more expensive here. I didn't want to overspend (time or money) or drain my budget for Spain. However, I didn't know what to give up! The Alhambra in Granada was a must...and surely I needed to see Madrid. I had a fascination with the Basques (northern Spain) and Gaudi and Dali were in Barcelona (could one miss the Sagrada Familia?)...and what about Toledo and Cordova? Sevilla would be a test of the waters. Just how expensive would a hotel or hostel be? Would I finally be giving up my private rooms for dormitories filled with partying youth in order to stretch my budget?
As it turned out, the heat had driven most tourists to cooler places. The first hostel I inquired at was indeed overpriced for me at 40 euros. On request, I was shown a cheaper room, but it was 35 euros. An offered reduction to 30 wasn't even close since 20 euros was still my goal. In the end, I got a four-bed dormitory room to myself. There was no one else in the whole place and she assured me that if someone came, she would put them in the other dormitory room. So for 16 euros I had a tiny room filled with two sets of bunk beds and four lockers. Not very aesthetic, but there was a set of French doors crammed behind one bunk that I could open for a glimpse of the street below... and the sheets were a pleasing blue and white cotton. No other guests also meant I had the designer bathroom (complete with candles and a lounge area) all to myself as well as the fully equipped Ikea kitchen. I was satisfied with the deal, but 16 euros was over 21 US dollars for a 4-bed dormitory...ouch. If there had been 3 other people, it would have been very crowded and uncomfortable (definitely, very little sleep!).
So I spent the next several days seeing a few tourist sites each day followed by long rambling walks. The first night, I had slept away most my afternoon and evening and by the time I had showered and put on my one dress to go out, it was 10 pm (peak dining time in Spain). I had to have tapas (I was in Spain!) and I did it the easy way by choosing a place nearby that offered 3 tapas, bread, a drink and coffee for a set price of 8.95 euros. I was surprised to see that the menu seemed to be in a foreign language. I had been confidently speaking Spanish for months and suddenly I did not. With a little translation help from the sympathetic waiter, I chose my three tapas. Two were good, one was fantastic -- tender pork cheeks in an incredible tomato-based sauce with fried, crispy, sticky potatoes.
The first day, I went to the Alcazar or castle. Primarily dating from the 1300's or dark ages, it is gorgeous. For 11 centuries, it has grown from a fort to an extensive palace and gardens full of beauty and light. The original palace was built by the Moors and they don't "do" dark. They go for light, water, and beauty. Later the Christians added their bit in a Gothic style (and not so beautiful). I laugh to think that in South America, I would take so many pictures of Moorish balaconies, azulejos (tile) covered walls, and other miscellaneous bits of Moorish and Spanish architecture when I would eventually be in Spain (and later Morocco) where it was older and more abundant. Unfrotunately, my little camera can't catch such large scale beauty, but here's a taste.
Part of the palace is still occupied by the royals, but a section of that area is available with an additional ticket, audio-guides, and security guards (no photos). It was worth the extra euros, but one of my favorite areas was free. There was a temporary exhibit on ceramics and tiles. The best part of the exhibit was an amazing slide show with music displayed on the floor of one room. It showed the development and styles of the Moors and then segued into the styles of the Christians. There was no commentary, but the visuals were excellent and the change of styles was marked by a change from Arabic music to that of the incoming Christians. I was entranced and filmed a great deal of it.
The Cathedral and Giralda (the mosque tower which was preserved when the mosque was replaced with the monstrous cathedral) was less exciting though I always like to climb anything with a view. And in this case, the climb was hot and steep, but made easier as it was ramped instead of stepped. this let them ride their horses to the top (I would have appreciated a horse, too). I did a stroll through the Cathedral which (though church fans may disagree with me) is primarily known for two things: its size and the tomb of Columbus. The legend is that they decided to construct a church "so large, future generations will think we were mad". It is 126m long and 83m wide. For American readers (the only country in the world that doesn't use the easier metric system), that is approximately 138 x 91 yards-- a football field (goal to gaol) is about 100 yards. The tomb is a bit more controversial. The explorer's bones were supposed brought to Sevilla from Cuba in 1898. He died in northern Spain in 1506, but it seems his bones did some traveling; they were in a monastery in Sevelle before being taken to Hispaniola (Cuba) in 1536. There was dispute even then if they really were Christopher Columbus or his son. DNA tests verify the bones are Columbus but the bones still in Santo Doming might be his also. He just can't stop going to other lands? Here's a dark photo or two of the tomb...
Here's the wierd Metropol Parasol built by Jurgen Mayer H in 2011. It has been referred to as a flying waffle or Las Setas de la Encarnacion (a reference to the 5 mushroom-like pillars that support the undulating waffle), it is supposed to be the largest wooden building in the world. It replaced an ugly carpark, but the jury is out on whether it is much more attractive. It was pretty abandoned when I was there. I bought a ticket that let me take the walkway on the roof with an odd view of the city (though I'd already gotten great rooftop views from the Giralda). There was also an museum underground showing the historical remains (Roman? Phonecian?) found when the construction was started. Underneath the undulating waffle were shops and a market place (and a restaurant on the roof), but everything was locked up tight. The transformation didn't seem to be very successful.
I did enjoy some more tapas, but I mostly ate at my hostel. After all, I would be heading to some 'foody' destinations later on. Trips to a grocery store kept me in refreshing cold gazpacho, fresh fruit, yogurt, cheeses, thinly sliced cured ham (so beloved by all of Spain), white wine, good bread and olives. After walking miles each day in the hot sun, it was nice to come home to a light cold lunch or dinner in comfort (with a bonus of being economical and healthy).
I'm sorry to say that my photos just don't do Sevilla justice. It was full of great places for rambles; the many bridges crossing the Rio Guadalquivir, the Paseo de Cristobal Colon, tons of small and large plazas for resting and people watching, the extensive Alcazar gardens with hidden nooks and crannies, the narrow winding streets of the medieval juderia or Jewish quarter, rows of shops full of fans, shawls and flamenco dresses and many more old palatial buildings to explore (like the Casa de Pilatos which is still partially occupied by the ducal Medinaceli family). I'll attempt a scan of the hundreds of photos I took and post some of the better ones in the Photo Gallery for those interested.