Sevilla – day 1
Early the next morning we moved off for Seville. It was less than a ninety minute drive on the A22 motorway, over the bridge into Spain and beyond. Forgetting that Portugal is an hour behind, we lost an hour simply crossing the border so arrived in Seville later than we’d hoped. We had a futile search for LPG at a few service stations on the way, but the local Repsol agents seem to have stopped stocking propane, which was a little worrying.
As usual, there was very little traffic on the road, right up until within a few miles of Seville, where the road suddenly got much busier, to about the level of the M1 at around 4.30am on a Sunday. We negotiated the approach into Seville with only one minor navigational hiccup, and duly arrived at our target aire. For €10 per night we were able to park all day and night at a spacious plot on the quiet bank of Río Guadalquivir, adjacent to the Puente de Los Remedios, less than a mile’s walk from the city centre and around a five minute walk to the Plaza de España – perfect.
We stopped off in a tourist office, set in a decorative building that was once the Queen’s sewing house, and picked up a few helpful maps to assist our navigation. The sky was a clear, deep blue, and entirely cloudless. The air still not fully up to temperature, and we felt a little chilly in the shade. It was still pleasant enough that we were dressed in shorts and short-sleeved tops, in contrast to the locals in their jeans, heavy coats and occasional scarves.
After circling the square, studiously avoiding the horses and decorative carriages, we entered the cathedral and climbed the tower. The Cathedral, Puerta de San Cristobal, was constructed in the 15th century, on the site of the Almohade mosque. It sits adjacent to the 12th century alminar of the mosque; La Giralda tower. The cathedral is reportedly the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, and the third largest of any architectural style. (after St Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London). The views over the city were spectacular in all directions.
On our return to ground level, the small central streets were overflowing with people drinking wine and eating tapas, sat at tiny tables in narrow streets that left barely any room for others to pass. We squeezed through the crowds, looking jealously at some of the treats lining the tables, and our thoughts turned to our own lunch. We sat on the steps leading up to a decorative fountain not far from La Giralda and devoured our prepared filled rolls and fruit whilst enjoying people-watching and planning our afternoon.
Trees laden with oranges and limes lined the winding city streets. A cloudless deep blue sky framed the light stonework of the buildings beautifully, drawing out the colour of the contrasting stone. We passed the Iglesia del Salvador church, with its impressive Baroque façade and decorative gold interior lining three sides. Inside, we sat quietly and watched the incoming light through the high level stained glass windows play on the gold, lighting the carved figures in a dancing multi-coloured spectrum.
We walked back homewards, but with the aim of again passing through Parque de Maria Luisa on the way. Here, the Plaza de España building was simply incredible. It appeared all the more dramatic during our visit for the blank blue canvas screen provided by the clear sky and the still water in the fountains and canal surrounding it. Built as the venue for the 1929 Latin American Exhibition, the semi-elliptical plan apparently denotes a symbolic embrace between Spain and its former American Colonies.
It’s a Regionalist style square, with the curved canal flowing parallel to the façade being crossed by four decorative bridges, all converging on the focal point fountain to the centre. The buildings behind now house various government departments, but mostly it has been left as a tourist-attracting monument. As it was so close, we returned again and again at various times of day to enjoy the Plaza de España and the different light upon it.
Each bay within the Palladian-style colonnade represents a region of Spain, arranged alphabetically left to right. The bays have murals and imagery unique to each region, tiled and coloured brightly. Each is flanked by tiled benching that allows visitors to sit and admire the motifs. The detailing of the blue and white tiling to the bridge balustrading added a huge visual lift, contrasting with the stone and reflecting the movements of the water. Yellow wheeled horse-drawn carriages ferried tourists in loops around the plaza, as they do all across the city; quite a magical space.
Sevilla – day 2
This morning we passed through the Plaza de España again, to enjoy the morning light on the tiled facade, before making our way back to the central square to visit the Alcázar. There was a short queue to get in, so we waited in the sun enjoying views back across the side of the cathedral and La Giralda. We passed through x-ray machines like at an airport.
The Alcázar of Seville has a history spanning more than a thousand years, and is one of the most complex and architecturally compelling buildings in the world. Its many faces each reflect a specific time in Spanish history, from the arrival of the Taifa kings, the Almohad Caliphate through the Castilian reformation and transformations. Each additional building or spacial amendment tells a tale of the dominant ideology of the time, and mirrors much of what also happened both locally in Seville and in Spain generally.
Most of the original Islamic buildings remain, with only their use or plan layout having been changed to suit the needs of the Christian kings that followed. Major changes occurred under King Peter I in 1356, but the palaces still retain their original splendour.
The gardens surrounding the Alcázar were a large part of the design, and give both a soft diversity and harmony to the design. We wandered freely through the spaces, each area with a different feel and smell, depending on how it was enclosed, the planting chosen or the colour of the stone or tiling on the adjacent walls. This late in November we probably didn’t experience the gardens in full bloom, but they were still beautiful and expansive.
From the Alcázar we walked back to the river side and along, to pass by the large Bull Ring and see the statues of local Bullfighting legends. We could have had a tour inside the ring, but decided our interest in hearing heroic stories of the bloody and systematic massacre of bulls for sport was not as strong as seeing other parts of the city.
When we walked further around the small labyrinthine streets, we found a small theatre and booked tickets for a show later that evening. It was a night of Flamenco music and dancing, something that Seville is famous for. It would have been wrong to leave without experiencing at least some small performance of this art. We returned to Benny for a simple siesta and to rest our feet, before heading out again a few hours later to see the show.
The sun was down now, and the tree-lined streets beginning to liven up, with students filling all the cafes near the university. Bougainvillea lined many of the routes along busy pavements close to cycle paths denoted by neat circular discs in the ground, each with a cyclist motif stamped on it. The demarcations were not best followed or respected, like they are in Copenhagen or Amsterdam; it was more of a free-for-all mix with pedestrians, scooters, cyclists and the occasional group of Segway riders competing.
We walked back through the crowds to find our chosen theatre, and chose our seats on the back row, so we could stand during the performance, if preferred. We drank tall glasses of tinto de verano as we enjoyed the spectacle, with the star performer being the flamenco guitarista who played beautifully throughout.
Afterwards, we found a small, busy bar on a quieter street and ordered some tapas and wine. We sat outside at a small table on the uneven cobbled streets and watched the world pass by; a great end to a fantastic evening of entertainment.
We passed the Torre del Oro on our walk home, one of the oldest existing buildings in Seville. It was a watchtower, built by the Almohad Caliphate in the 13th century, sited on the original city walls that once protected the Alcázar. It also previously served as a prison.
Sevilla – day 3
We had a rather slow start today, with us indecisive and distracted as we considered moving on. The travel bug is infectious and can lead you to craving the open road and the next big thing, but sanity eventually prevailed and we decided to stay another day in beautiful Seville. A central aspect of choosing this sort of mobile life is that, when we find a place we really enjoy being, we can simply stop and stay as long as we wish. Seville was a place we certainly enjoyed being, and there was still so many things to see; why go?
This time we walked further north, passing all the now familiar sights, to see the Metropol Parasol project, reportedly the largest timber structure in the world, and known locally as ‘the giant mushrooms’. The project was plagued with structural design issues and finished in 2011 with a final cost of over €100 million, more than double the original budget. The covered plaza is an impressive space, and the complex structure intriging, but it seemed they were still unsure as to what it should contain, as it only has a few small play areas for kids underneath the canopy, looking like temporary infills until a more permanent use could be ascertained.
We walked to the northern city walls, near the new hospital, before turning left and following the road back to the river, to admire a few modern bridges.
There are certainly many fantastic and ornate buildings in Seville, and beautiful, lively streets leading to them. But Seville is more than the sum of its buildings and squares. It’s more than its river and parks and wonderful climate. Everything in unison adds up to something much greater that is difficult to define, but impossible to miss. The people are friendly and passionate, busy and productive. The neat, paved streets are lined with orange trees, branches hung heavy with fruit even late in the year. At night, the same areas smell strongly of jasmine, unless a chestnut seller is nearby. Hints of tapas abound; aromas of paella and fried fish tweak curious nostrils from dark, interest-grabbing restaurants. Red wine flows more freely than water, and from this follows lively conversation and, sometimes, exuberant singing. Joggers enjoy the cooler night air, running along the riverside dodging pedestrians and photographing tourists. The city’s connection to Flamenco runs deep and street performers dance, play and sing the music on many corners, and it can be heard emanating from many windows high above the street.
In our short time in the city we saw a rowing and canoeing regatta, uniformed marching cornet bands playing in competition and hot air balloons flying over the Plaza de España. Every square we passed was filled with people embracing life through food, drink, activity and lively socialising. We passed several weddings with flamboyantly dressed guests and venues, flamenco guitaristas with their passionate dancers. This is a city that loves and celebrates life, and we loved it all right beside them.
Other than initial notions in San Sebastián, this is the first place on our travels to date that we could really, seriously, see ourselves living at some future time. We always harboured dreams of spending six months to a year in many locales in various countries around the world, to grow small roots and gain a deeper understanding of each place’s culture, language and cuisine. For us, Seville is a definite contender for being one of those chosen places, once we’re ready for a more sedentary life; such a special place.