Sevillian Casualties

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March 22nd 2018
Published: March 29th 2018
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The prospects for our trip didn't look good. The "Beast From The East" was back in mini form. Sub zero temperatures and snow. We awoke to a covering of about 2 inches. It seems that is sufficient to bring the country down these days. London Heathrow Airport had already cancelled scores of flights in anticipation of the white stuff the day before. I checked the East Midlands Airport twitter feed. Runway closed until 7:30 am for snow clearance. The next update. Runway closed until 8:30 for snow clearance. They need a bigger snow polugh! There were periodic updates until 10:38, when aircraft started to leave. Meanwhile, disappointed passengers would learn of the cancellation of their budget airline flight. Malaga - Spain. Rszezow - Poland. Furteventura - Canary Islands. Dublin - Ireland. Limoges - France. We were not due off until 5:20 pm and it appeared our plane had not gone off on it's first flight of the day. The misfortune of others was our good luck. We headed into town and had Sunday lunch at Spoons. The good folk from Trent Barton ferried us to the airport. The plane was full to the rafters, although surprisngly devoid of people with carry on luggage. I listened to the tales of woe. We had a number from the cancelled Malaga flight in the morning. They were planning to get a budget hotel in Seville and continue their journey to Malaga on the super fast AVE trains in the morning. The economy of Seville is about 30- 40% based on tourists, so it was a bit of a surprise to see a mere one passport control guy on duty for a late evening flight. There were initially two, but one disappeared never to return. There was also a police guy on duty, but his main purpose seemed to be to talk to and distract the passport control man and slow the whole process down furher. The possibility of catching the 9:13 pm bus into the city evaporated. We made it through and just exited the terminal doors as the bus pull away from the stop. The bonus was that we were 2nd in the queue for the next bus, which was listed as being in 20 minutes on the timetable but a mere 9 minutes on the real time display above our head. The latter proved to be correct. The EA bus was 4 Euros single into the city. The route took us down Kansas City Ave, passing both the Santa Justa and San Bernardo railway hubs and on to the Plaza De Armas Bus Station. The Other Half seemed pleased that the hotel was a mere 4 minute walk away. It was even shorter had I turned the correct way off the bus. We opted to be very unlike the locals and have an early night.

The "Mini Beast From The East" had been causing chaos with the weather patterns recently, even down here in traditionally warm and 300 plus days of sun Seville. There had been 3 weeks of rain and gale force winds. Palm trees had even been brought down. We woke to find blue skies. The hotel was brand new, so there were a few teething troubles and the most difficult room door opening mechanism in memory. Breakfast was plentiful, but made me long for a repeat offering like we had experienced in Jersey a few weeks back. We had been to Seville once before. It was 20 years ago. The Other Half had always wanted a repeat visit, because I was distracted by other events in town and she felt as though she hadn't fully experienced all the sights. The SW6 outfit were in town, as we overcame the more preferable locals of Real Betis on the way towards European Cup Winners Cup glory. It was 5th March 1998. We were among the 31,000 who witnssed Tore Andre Flo score the goals in a 2-1 win that seemed more straightforward than the scoreline suggests and we spent 4 days basking in beautiful sunshine and over indulging in Cruz Campo. Cruz Campo is the local brew and we stopped by the brewery, so Old Old Andy could pick up our tickets from his Spanish work colleague in the beer trade. The beauty of football travel is that you can always check the date of the visit.

Seville is a beautiful city. It is less well known than others in Spain and seemingly largely overlooked by our fellow Brits. They can't get enough of Malaga, but prefer the coast to this inland treasure. Of course, Seville was not built on sunshine and in the day, made the most of inland port status. Southern Spain had experienced centuries of war - Christians and Muslims fought over the strategic cities leaving an amazing mix of architectural styles and grand palaces, the greatest of which is of course the Alhambra in nearby Granada. The years of conflict were very costly, but the fortunes changed with a certain guy called Columbus, who stumbled across the riches of the Americas whilst thinking he was searching for the East Indies. Spain established a huge supply base for the following conquistadors to exploit these far away lands and gave the rights of exclusive trade with the New World. The supply base was the city of Seville. It is a fact lost in time, that for 200 years every ship that sailed for the Americas and everyone hat returned, all used Seville as the "port". A city grew rich on the trade and also the associated services of ship repairs, provisions and the like. Why Seville? The conflict with neighbours from North Africa were still fresh in the mind, so the coastal ports were still deemed a bit risky - especially when it transpired that the new lands were full of valuable goods such as gold and silver. There was no point risking a few pirates from across the water, when you could be unloading your haul in peace up a nice navigable river away from the threats of the coast. Seville became not just a great city of Spain, but of Europe too! It couldn't last. The mouth of the river gradually silted up and made life difficult for the bigger ships. The development of guns - or at least those that had a degree of accuracy - meant any unwelcome visitors could be swiftly dispatched rather than lobbing a few canon balls in their general direction and hoping for a hit. The monopoly was over. Cadiz and other ports took prominence and the support structure for the ships left too. What was left behind was a city that was the local centre of commerce, that was and is pleasing to the eye, but that had lost a dominant world position in trade.

We headed out on the first morning along the Guadalqivir River towards the Tower. It was from here that the ships departed for and returned to the Americas. The Romans called the river Baetis, the Arabs called it Betik - hence the name of the football club we had visited all those years ago. The Tower sits at one of the main bridging points of the river. The district on the far side is Triana - known as a more locals area. As with everywhere where properties are cheaper, gentrification seemed in the way. The young and upwardly mobile, together with tourists looking for the more authentic experience, mingled. We avoided the touts promoting the hop on hop off buses that have sprung up in most cities and the river cruises and waited for a lady with a red umbrella with white spots. Roxy duly appeared to conduct our "free" walking tour. These are a great way to get orientation of a city - full of facts and handy hints - and with technically no cost. You pay what you think at the end. No pressure. The group was 15 strong, so Roxy's vocal pitch was put to the test - a test she passed with flying colours. The tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours, taking in all the major sights and attractions and allowing us to digest the best and revisit, as necessary.

The hordes were busy in the queues around both the Cathedral and the Royal Alcazar. These are the stand out visitor attractions, but ironically I remember neither from the 1998 trip. The horse and carriage drivers waited patiently for their next fare within sight of both lines. The building behind us went largely unnoticed, but also holds huge significance in the history of Seville. ..... and also the history of Spain. The building is the Archives of the Indies - the keeper of documents, diaries, charts etc of the conquest of the new lands claimed by Columbus. Whilst none of the great works were actually on show - great works that include the diaries of the said Christopher Columbus - a series of reproductions of old charts and artefacts were laid out in the first floor hall. We negotiated the airport style security and went inside. Entry is free and whilst it isn't be the highlight of any visit to Seville, it was interesting for 30 minutes.

The walking tour gave us the history of both the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar and we moved on to a coffee stop nearby. The area around here is tourist central, so it was handy to know the places favoured by the locals. We were introduced to the local speciality of "Pringa" - a sort of meat paste served inside a toasted sandwich and an extremely strong cafe con leche for a mere 1:20 €uros. The walking tour moved on into what was the former Jewish quarter of Seville. In the day, the area was quite populous and known for good sewerage and quality housing. However in the late 1400s, local Christians took exception to their neighbours with over 3,000 killed by blood thirsty mobs. The remaining members of the Jewish community probably chose wisely and did not stick around to rebuild.

The whole of Andalucia has had some pretty shocking weather of late - well by their standards. It is normally wall to wall sunshine, but there was talk of 3 weeks of rain and gale force winds. As a result, various parks and monuments were closed or taped off for safety reasons. A combination of the recent weather hadn't agreed with some of the local palm trees and shock, horror, a few had fallen. We took the long way round to the Plaza Espana. The Plaza was constructed in 1928 for the Iberian - American Exposition of 1929. The Maria Luisa Park and this end of the city were redeveloped as a showcase for the World Fair. A mix of architectural styles was combined to form a semi circle with coloured tiles depicting various regions and cities. Due to the closure of the park, numbers of tourists probably thought the whole place was closed. It had also prevented the horse carriages from their usual route into the centre. Today, the Plaza is a combination of tourist central and government office space. If anybody needed office space on the cheap in 1929, they probably found their way here. Flamenco dancers put on alfresco shows, hawkers sell not so cheap souvenirs and as ever in picturesque backdrops across Europe, Japanese wedding couples pose for their wedding photographers. A few spits of rain fell from the sky to upset us all. I would revisit for the blue sky another day.

After a tapas lunch, we made our way back to the river. It was Monday - the day of freebies in Seville. The Tower was offering free entry, as was the nearby bull ring - offering a combined saving of 12 €uros. I am not one for bulls, but a stadium is a stadium. This is apparently the 2nd oldest in Spain and clearly well respected by the Spanish tourists among the queue to snap up the free tours. I guess in bull fighting terms, it was a bit like a smaller tour of the old Wembley. The heavens had opened by the time we had seen the small museum and historical artefacts, so there wasn't really time to fully appreciate the interior of the stadium. The earth moving equipment relaying the surface did help either. The season starts in a few weeks and the majority of the big fight programmes take place in April. Posters were displayed all over the city, advertising the forthcoming series. The majority of seats are just a section to sit on a brick step, but you would still be relieved of upwards of 50 €uros for the privilege. Season tickets had long since sold out. We never did make the Tower. The rain beat down incessantly for about 3 hours and the city retreated indoors. We did likewise. We had our evening out in Casa Morales - one of the older and more traditional tapas bars in the city centre. We have had better tapas. The decor hadn't been updated anytime recently and the ordering process is a bit of a challenge for non Latin types. It was an interesting atmosphere.

The following morning, we were away from the crowds at one of the newer and more controversial attractions of Seville. We walked up past the Museum of Arts - currently featuring an exhibition of celebrated Spanish artist, Murillo - and up to old square. The official title of the attraction is the Metropol Parasol, bur more commonly referred to by locals as the Mushrooms. The work of a German architect, Jurgen Mayer, it took 6 years to complete. The finished work unveiled in 2011 receives a mixed review and in many ways is difficult to quantify. It snakes across the square and houses a covered market. At basement level, it protects some old Roman ruins. It is also possible to get a panoramic view of the city from the walkway, but only if you can find the entrance. The logical ascent point is at one of the pillars supporting the structure, but in fact you descend below ground to find the entrance lift. If you don't want to do the climb of the Cathedral tower, the lift here gives you the easy option for 3 €uros. There is walkway running round the top, giving views towards the Cathedral and Alcazar. Views aside, it is supposed to be the largest wooden structure in the world. The wood is imported Finnish birch, but from ground level or at the platforms, I frankly couldn't see much wood. As usual with these projects, coast overran. The final bill? 100 million €uros? Whatever, I quite liked it and it is certainly worth the detour from the old town.

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1st April 2018

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