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Published: August 4th 2019
Lonely Planet rated Seville the best place to visit in 2018. The city is known for its beautiful Moorish architecture, flamenco dancing, monuments and artistic heritage. Lonely Planet also rated Detroit as number two, so I guess their ratings may not be to everybody’s taste.
We were staying at a “boutique" hotel. The entrance was on a narrow street, one car wide. The taxi driver dropped us off and stood, blocking road and insisted on explaining at length where the best bars and tapas were and which direction for the cathedral and old town. It must have been the one Euro tip I gave him.
We checked in and receptionist offered us a glass of Cava and insisted on pulling out a map and pointing out all the tourist sites and best areas. By the time she had finished circling all the attractions the map was covered in pen. There was going to be a lot to see.
While Madam unpacked, dismantled the bed to check on the condition of the mattress, counted the pillows, tested the lights, opened and closed every drawer and complained that the air conditioner wouldn't go below 16C, I looked in the bathroom.
They had supplied the usual soaps and shampoos but there was also a shaving kit, two toothbrushes, a shower cap and a comb. 'So that is what makes a boutique hotel' I thought. I am always pleased beyond the modest cost of these items when I find them in a hotel bathroom. Like everybody else, we empty all of them into a suitcase before we leave. I have a big bag of them somewhere in the bathroom at home. Does anybody have a use for thirty-nine shower caps?
The following morning, we walked to the cathedral through narrow winding streets and around the old Jewish quarter. Madam stopped every few yards to photograph the buildings and streets.
'I feel like I'm wearing out the word wow,’ she said, 'everything is so... wow.'
The architecture was indeed stunning, the cathedral is the largest Gothic building in the world, the narrow lanes and passages all around are lined with moorish influenced architecture, bars and appealing restaurants. Most streets were lined with orange trees, heavy with ripening fruit. Bubbling fountains in squares surrounded tiled seats under shading trees.
We walked on down to the river. They had a
group of flamenco dancers in an open area next to the river. I never quite got flamenco. I have a memory of sitting through what seemed to be several hours of a dancing during a visit to Spain with my parents when I was twelve years old. I don't think I've ever been so bored in my life. It's like it is the same dance that goes on forever. All twirling skirts and waving fans.
I read in one on the tourist guides that you get a shiver down your spine when you are watching and start to understand flamenco. As we stood in the square I did feel a shiver but I think it was the cold. We had expected warmer weather in southern Spain although it was December. It wasn't exactly cold but it was rare if we were outside without a coat.
Madam was getting hungry so we headed to the Alameda Hercules Plaza around the corner from the hotel. It was an attractive square with a Christmas market in the centre and restaurants and bars on either side. We walked the length of both sides but every place was packed. Not a table to
be had. We ended up heading down a side street and found a table at the back of a seedy looking locals bar.
The waiter handed us a menu entirely in Spanish. Normally we can scan it with the translate app on a phone and get a rough translation but this was in a weird italic italic script that our phone couldn't decipher.
'You listened to a Spanish language tape a few years ago. Order something!' said Madam.
'I've no idea what anything is' I said, I only listened to the first Spanish language tape. I can ask for directions to a hotel and get our laundry done. I think food was on the second tape'.
Madam was getting hungry grumpy by this time. 'I don't care, just choose something!' she snapped.
‘No, really, you choose,’ I said, handing her the menu.
‘Just try and remember something from your tape,’ she said as she handed back the menu.
The waiter stood expectantly, his pencil poised.
I peered at the menu trying to work out how to avoid a meal of pigs testicles or sheep's eyeballs.
The waiter started tapping his pencil impatiently.
I cleared my throat and said in my best Spanish 'Por favor déjame tener el nombre de una buena tintorería.'
'Que?' said the waiter.
'What did you order? said Madam.
'Umm, I asked him for the name of a good dry cleaner. I was the only phrase I could remember' I replied.
Madam sighed and looked at the waiter who looked back and repeated 'que?'
She snatched the menu away and pointed to some random items on the menu. The waiter shrugged and pointed at something else. Madam shrugged and said ‘No carne.’
'What did you order?' I asked.
'No idea,' she said, 'it may well have been one of everything. But no meat… I think.’
We wandered, somewhat aimlessly through the old town and down towards the river. When a feast for the eyes is around every corner, what does it matter which direction you head?
We found, by accident, the delightful Jardine de Murillo (Gardens of Murillo). Giant magnolia trees towered over fountains, ceramic tiled benches and, of course, the ubiquitous orange trees. In the gardens is a 23 metre (75 feet) high monument to Christopher Columbus, known as Christobel Colon in Spanish. Two tall columns topped off with a lion with a claw on a globe, symbolising the Spanish empire. In the middle of the two columns is a caravel inscribed with the names of Isabella and Ferdinand, the sponsors of the journey to America. On the pedestal are a portrait of Columbus and the coat of arms of the king.
Every guide about Seville told us to get a combined ticket for both the cathedral and Iglesia el Salvador church at the latter to avoid queues at the cathedral. We bought our ticket and walked into the church and both stopped dead.
‘Wow’ I said.
‘You too,’ said Madam.
‘Wow,’ I repeated.
I’ve been to a lot of churches and cathedrals around Europe but this one was stunning. Words to describe it escape me so you will just have to look at the pictures in the Seville pictures post. In fact, the photographs don’t really do it justice, so you should just go there yourself.
We walked a couple of blocks to the entrance of Seville Cathedral. A beggar on crutches stood by the door, hand outstretched.
The cathedral was much larger - it is the largest gothic cathedral in the world- but somehow not as impressive as Iglesias el Salvador. Everything worth looking at was behind iron bars and seemed shabby and neglected. It was like it needed somebody with a scrubbing brush and a bucket of soapy water. Areas were roped off. Priceless paintings lined the walls but had to be viewed from twenty or thirty yards away. The gold and silver was tarnished. A film of dust lay over the displays.
I couldn't help but wonder if they should take a Euro or two from the entrance price and spend it on a few cleaners.
Attached to the cathedral is the Giralda, a tower originally built as a minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville in the twelfth century. A long winding ramp leads up to the top with views over the city. These ramps were created with enough width and height to accommodate "beasts of burden, people, and the custodians," according to one twelfth century chronicler. Somebody involved in the design didn’t like the idea of climbing 35 levels on foot. Unfortunately on foot was the only option available to us, so we trudged, along with dozens of other visitors, up the steep and winding slope stopping several times to admire the view. And what a view it was. The tower reaches 98 metres (320 feet) and Seville is almost flat so we could see the whole city laid out before us.
Madam can never resist a royal palace so a visit to the Real Alcázar was on our agenda. The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace built for King Peter of Castile on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville. I should have found it more interesting or attractive judging by the glowing online reviews. Perhaps it was my mood but it just seemed a mass of tiled rooms and courtyards. They were nice enough but all seemed so similar.
The 60,000 square metres (almost 15 acres) of gardens, on the other hand, were spectacular and worth the price of admission (discounted for over 65s). They are arranged in different sections and reflect various historical periods. Each area is packed with plants and trees. The ubiquitous orange trees of course, but also lemon pomegranate and palm trees. I left Madam to explore the palace and spent most of my time happily wandering the gardens.
Just when you think Seville couldn’t possibly get any more beautiful, you come across the Plaza de Espana. This massive building is Seville's most impressive after the cathedral, for its sheer scale and grandeur. Plaza de Espana was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 along with the pavilions around the building. In front of the building is a 500-metre canal crossed by four bridges, reminiscent of Venice.
Flamenco dancing were performing by one of the bridges, musicians were singing on one side of the plaza, children were running, trying to catch giant bubbles blown near the fountain. It was wonderful and I could have happily sat there all day.
All too soon, it was time to head home. Our return flight uneventful. Had it been a few hours later we would have been affected by the Gatwick chaos caused by some numpty flying drones over the airport.
I read the news about cancelled and diverted flights the following morning and said to Madam ‘That was lucky, we could have been diverted to Cardiff.’
She thought for a while and said ‘or Amsterdam.. or maybe still in Seville.’
She had a point. Sometimes your glass really is half full.
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