Seville – I learned quickly that a sturdy pair of shoes is a must. The streets and sidewalks are all uneven cobblestones. Tapas and ice cream of any kind are available pretty much everywhere. The grocery stores and coffee shops are less than a minute from our AirBnB apartment, with everything more expensive than I expected. The apartment has a dishwasher and clothes washer but no dryer (I’d rather have a dryer and skip the dishwasher if space is the issue). However, our place is in the center of the old town on a narrow street that can barely take a car. All of the pedestrians have to put their backs to the wall when one comes along. To relax among the crowds each day, I visited the store across the street. It is a variety store for household goods with about fifty birds in cages for sale (odd combination from a sanitation POV). The ones I latched onto are the four hand-fed cockatiel babies with color combinations of green, orange, white, and yellow. It took several days for them to turn from wet, barely feathered pink blobs, to beautiful creatures. Because they are in captivity, I believe their tail feathers are not quite as long as the ones flying free around the city and in the park. Speaking of parks, we loved the Parque de María Luisa (website in Spanish – https://www.sevilla.org/servicios/medio-ambiente-parques-jardines/parques/parques-y-jardines-historicos/parque-de-maria-luisa) It is full of organized paths, water features with white pigeons, statues, and expansive landscaping with tiled or wrought iron benches placed at appropriate resting places. Through the widest areas, horses passed by us pulling tourists in carriages as well as bicycle carts with several people pedaling and electric scooters. The Parque (park), has a map on a placard to explain the routes on the 42 hectors (103+ acre) property, which opened in 1914, but it was conceived by the Duke of Montpensier and his wife María in 1848 (details can be found in Wikipedia – https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parque_de_María_Luisa). It is located across from the Plaza de España, which is totally different and crowded with tourists. Both the plaza and the park are worth a visit.
Plaza de España– It feels like a horseshoe shape with the street going across its open end. There is a waterway within with people padding rowboats (rentable for under 10 euros) and ornate tiled bridges. Tiled cubbies with storyboards flank the plaza along with a second level of pillared passages. People mill about taking photographs. Not to be missed, the flamenco performers, bubble blowers, and sales booths along the street. As soon as I touched a sales item, the sellers were on me like flies on flypaper. I didn’t try to buy anything, but I’m guessing they would barter a reasonable price rather than have me walk away if I didn’t like their proposed cost. I did some research on umbrellas/parasols, and it seems it took a hundred years to figure out that putting wax on them deflected rain water. Anyway, the item I was looking at in the market was a lace parasol and is similar to the one that I’ve wanted for Jane Austen festivals in England (39 sterling in their shop). The one from the vendors in Seville is 20 euros, and in shops, it is from 15-22 euros. Then the dilemma pops up—where can I carry anything beyond my bare essentials. My carry-on roller bag cannot take any more items and is stuffed to the brim for our three-month holiday. I don’t want to buy another airline bag. Yet, it isn’t always possible to get the items in other cities or for reasonable prices. The lace used on these parasols and clothing is specific to southern Spain. I also want some Spanish lace, which is heavier than any I’ve found thus far in the States. The closest one, but not exact, is at G Street Fabrics in Maryland for at least triple the cost (https://gstreetfabrics.com). I could lug the things around in a sturdy plastic shopping bag and then pay the extra fees on the airplanes, but committing is difficult. It comes down to how badly do I want the items.
Sevilla Cathedral – Christopher Colon/Columbus burial site. Breathtaking architecture in ‘the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.’ It’s on the UNESCO site list. An entrance ticket is required; the roof has a second ticket with a timed entrance. Audio guides are available. https://www.catedraldesevilla.es
Royal Alcazar – Palace of Pedro I (a Game of Thrones series location shoot). There are several ticket options depending on the crowds. January is the least congested, according to our https://www.Viator.com guide. We stumbled into this choice of entry, which was more expensive than waiting in line and going with the audio guide. We tried to buy general tickets in advance online, but we couldn’t find any the day before we wanted to go. Nevertheless, we spent hours within the ornately tiled and plastered palace. The tour covered the main building. Afterward, we walked around at our leisure within the gardens and found several peacocks who were willing to pose for photographs. It would take too many words to express the loveliness of the compound.
Plaza de la Encarnacion – contains a wooden structure known as las setas (the mushroom) by the locals and officially titled Metropol Parasol. It was designed by a German architect named Jurgen Mayer. It’s made of wood and steel and reminds me of a giant, 3-D wooden puzzle. Underneath the structure are Roman archaeological ruins that can be seen through glass walls or accessed with a small entrance fee. At the same booth, there are tickets to an elevator that goes up to the top (5 euros). We paid the fee, had a coffee on the roof, and walked around the pathways. It was quite sturdy thankfully as I’m afraid of heights.
Flamenco Dancers – there is a museum to explain their history, but shows can be found all over town for a reasonable fee with or without a meal. We caught a show years ago, but this time we watched street performers in the Plaza de Espańa. Their dancing was just as good.
Spa offered by Aire Ancient Baths (https://beaire.com/en/aire-ancient-baths-sevilla)– A relaxing spa with multiple treatment options beyond the pools. I’ve been to three international sites over the years. Each one is different from the next. This particular one has locations in several countries that appear to be similar on the website. There were some complications with language but overall, a nice experience. It was pricey, so I only took one family member with me. A staff ushered us into the dressing room where we received a locker, rubber bottomed slip-on shoes to be worn at all times, and a towel. The layout was explained with several alcoves and floors to choose from. We had some difficulty understanding when we would be getting a massage, but another client explained that we had to wait until the staff member called our name. By the time we had soaked an hour in the water, I was so relaxed that I’m not sure the massage produced additional benefits.
Located close to the Plaza de America within the Parque de Maria Luisa are the Aquarium and the Museum of Popular Arts & Traditions (www.museosdeandalucia.es) – 3 euros per person. The art museum had a number of mockup rooms behind glass walls, showing how craftsmen’s shops were historically laid out; blacksmiths, potters, and so on. It was similar to Colonial Williamsburg with the workshops all in one zone, but in Seville there weren’t any demonstrations from artisans. Aquarium (www.acuariosevilla.es) – 18 euros per person. From the outside, the building looked small, but it wasn’t. From what I could tell, the tanks were underground. There were all the usual things one finds in such tanks in addition to discussing environmental issues. The surprise inhabitant was an octopus whose skin changing colors in unison with the passing shadows.
Carriage Rides – can be taken all over town. I had trouble figuring out the cost, but Viator looks like it’s $90 for a group of four people with a 45-minute tour.
World’s Fair 1992 site – We had fun riding rental Lime Scooters to get to the abandoned site. One hundred countries were represented. Geoffrey Morrison has a helpful link through Forbes magazine; https;/www.forbes.com/sites/geoffreymorrison/2015/10/19/seville-spains-expo-92/#2ad37ea3102f
Police presence – There are quite a few officers monitoring the city. My research indicated it is because, during the holiday season, there are a lot of random music shows, parades, and parties in general popping up all over. The police presence keeps the peace, even though they don’t intercede other than rerouting traffic/pedestrians when areas get too congested. Cigarettes – Smoking is only permitted outside, but there are more smokers than I’ve seen in any city in a long time. Sadly, my sinus’ get irritated easily.
SIDE-TRIP to Cordoba; Traveling to Cordoba by train from Seville took about 90 minutes. We walked out to the taxi stand and waited in line. People took turns getting in the taxi at the head of the vehicle line (you can’t go down to a taxi out of order, they’ll send you away). Our driver (limited English) took us to Cabildo Catedral de Cordoba (UNESCO site as of 1984), where we paid the entrance fee (10 Euros) for a self-guided tour. The building began its history as a Moorish mosque and later was converted to a Christian cathedral. Rick Steve’s guide to Spain has a stop-by-stop summary written up in his 2020 book on Spain. In my opinion, the center of the building was spectacular with two different and contrasting stone arched pillars throughout, along with a variety of exquisite tiles and ‘lace like’ plaster. The space left plenty of room for kneeling prayer rugs to be brought on-site by worshipers. The perimeter had alcoves with traditional Catholic alters. I was in awe of the beauty of the center hall’s simplicity and repelled by the ornate display of Christian relics (odd perception since my lineage is Christian). I was also put off by the sudden Christmas music that came on when I walked by a loud-speaker. I turned the corner to find a section in the middle of the expansive hall, behind red draping, were dioramas depicting the story of Jesus’s life. Once I got over its sudden appearance, I appreciated the intricacies of the miniature display.
Cordoba’s Roman Bridge 8th century– A site used in Game of Thrones, Season 5. Even if you aren’t a fan, the bridge is worth a walk across. It is sturdy and looks like a sidewalk from the top. There are singers, human statues, and some salespeople on the path.
In the evening, we took a faster train back to Seville that took half the time. Doing it this way cost a little more, but it’s still economical. We arrived at the station, both times, about a half-hour early to figure out how the system worked. Coming back on the 9:30 pm train required us to go through metal detectors that we didn’t have to do in Seville that morning. The town and the train station had very few places to eat, but one could get an alcoholic drink and a snack about 8 pm. This was contrary to every other place we’ve been that started super at 7:30 pm.
SIDE TRIP – El Pedrosa; The train to the small town of El Pedrosa was quick and uneventful. We chose to go to the town because we wanted to take a circular day-hikes, although longer ones are also possible. We chose to stay in a small hotel that night. The town was almost completely shut down due to the holidays. There were twinkle lights hung across the roads and a loudspeaker that played Christmas music for about five minutes at a time. We took a short hike to get our wiggles out after the time in Seville and on the train. On our walk, a large dog with a collar came out from a property and wanted a serious rubdown. She was quite humble about it, so we complied. We then had a companion for the next mile or so going up the hill and then back down again. Her owner drove up as we were passing by her home. She veered off to greet him.
The hike on the next day was 8-miles. It was within the national park but also wove through a farm with pigs, sheep, and cows, depending on which field we were traversing. Some sheep and cows had bells on their necks ranging from tiny to almost too large for the animal. The larger ones spanned from the collar halfway down their shoulder. The pigs were the largest and cleanest I’d ever seen. Some lay by the hiking path and were startled when we walked by. The heard got up quickly and jogged away, grunting their annoyance at being disturbed.
When we weren’t hiking, we were eating the local foods at restaurants with a set menu of two courses and a dessert. The price ranged from 8 to 10 euros for a set 3-course meal. The servers didn’t speak English, and the menu was in Spanish, so it helped that we knew a few words like egg, ham, and soup.
SIDE TRIP, hike – Santi Ponce to Guillena; We hopped on a bus at the central station in Seville to get to the ‘suburb’ of Santi Ponce. The bus had undercarriage storage, which is a great option for people who don’t want to lug their belongings into their seats or place them in the small racks overhead. The seats are comfortable, and no one is allowed to smoke. The bus wove through small streets so we could get a better glimpse of the countryside.
Our initial goal was to find access to the Pilgrimage route to Santiago, but we hadn’t done enough research to figure out an effective way to do this and get back to Seville in a reasonable amount of time. The route out of Seville is called The Silver Route (Via de la Plata- https://www.pilgrim.es/en/the-silver-route/), and it isn’t well-traveled. There are more miles/kilometers between towns for provisions than other routes and very little shady spots on hot summer days (it’s winter, so the heat isn’t an issue). Our hike took us several hours and traversed through farmlands on a wide unpaved road. We started late in the day and arrived in Guillena at nightfall. The bus stop is on the outskirts of town. We waited an hour in the dark. Conclusion; we should start hiking in the morning to avoid evening complications.
More to come on Spain in a future blog…