Living La Vita Locale
Sunday 20th May 2012
When on vacation I always find it difficult to balance relaxation with the desire to get out there and explore. In my natural habitat I'm usually the king of doing nothing. I slip into sloth mode very easily. In fact I've perfected it into quite an art form. But when I'm away on our travels I get so excited about the day ahead I bound out of bed full of the joy of adventure.
So despite being a Sunday, a day when even God rested, I was wide awake at 7am fidgitting, eager to get up and get out there. I spent two hours like this, not wanting to wake Julie up. It's only right to compromise. I eventually broke and whispered 'wakey wakey' down her ear.
After doing my yoga stretches out on the balcony whilst Julie came around I set about preparing breakfast. (I make it sound like I was cooking up a feast but it was only toast.) It was so idyllic sitting outside eating our slice of perfectly toasted bread to the sound of church bells ringing across the city and the organ from the convent below playing Ave Maria or something similarly ecleastic.
Directly opposite us were exceptionally tall pine trees protecting the convent from prying eyes. They also provided a nesting place for doves who cooed their approval of the heavenly music.
"Have a listen to that pidgeon" said Julie "doesn't it sound like it's saying "Potato"!
She was right! It wasn't a stretch of the imagination to agree with her. We then spent the next five minutes cooing "Potato" right back at them.
Everytime we heard a call we would answer back with a "poh-tay-toh". Ah, ... little things please little minds!
The setting was really beautiful but the breakfast itself didn't live up to our expectations.
I have to admit I was hoping for an almost life changing experience drinking orange juice in Seville but unfortunately we had naively bought the supermarket "best-value" concentrated stuff so it was same old shit that we wouldn't dream of drinking at home!
The coffee was also pretty average, the set yogurt was far too wobbly for my liking and oh, let's not forget that the jar of honey wasn't even honey but more of a dark treacly substance. Yet despite the set backs it was still a lovely start to the day!
Finally, at 10:30am, we left the apartment to start our Sevillian adventure. Our first destination this morning was going to be the Museum of fine arts. It was over a mile away from the apartment.
We re-traced our steps last night past the churches of Santa Isabel and San Marco, past El Rinconcillo tapas bar to a square with another church called Santa Catalina.
It was in dire need of some repair and it was receiving attention. Whilst much of it was covered we did catch a glimpse of some attractive arches that hinted to its Moorish influences. Andalucia was for almost 500 years a stronghold of the Moors who invaded from North Africa. At one time Seville even became the capital of their kingdom Al Andalus.
They were ousted in the 13th century by the Christians from the North but their influence still remained in the culture, architecture, food and song of the South. Everything we think of being stereotypically Spanish is probably more specifically Andalucian.
After passing a few more churches and a few more tapas bars we came to Plaza de la Encarnación which was dominated by the strangest of structures. The Espcacio Metropol Parasol was such a surreal sight. We felt like ants walking under the gills of massive wooden mushrooms. It was so out of character but equally very impressive.
At the Southern end of the square, with the enormous funghi inpired gazebo in front of us and the huge Church of the Annunciation to the left we sat down at a cafe called "Spala 2" There was one thing I wanted to try above all and that was Churros with hot chocolate. It's such a traditional breakfast it would have been rude not too!
Churros is a doughnut like batter piped into a thin tubes which are then eaten dipped into thick hot chocolate. It all sounded delicious but I had tried some in Madrid and wasn't impressed.
I thought I would give them another try but these ones were again really disappointing. They were cold, greasy and more savoury than sweet. They tasted a little better covered in chocolate but that was a waste of good hot chocolate!
Halfway through struggling with the churros a procession arrived into the plaza. It was a much larger affair than the one we saw last night.
A large wooden cross draped in a white fabric with two ladders leaning against it was being carried on a paso as it's known. Back home the word carnival "float" is nothing more than the "back of a lorry" in a procession but here we could see the origins of the word.
The whole structure appeared to "float" along, carried on the shoulders of eight men, known as costaleros, hidden by a blue drape, with only their shuffling feet visible.
I'm not too sure about the significance of the ladders rested on the cross? The patron saint of window cleaners perhaps? It did have the feel of a funeral procession to it, especially as the float was heavy with flowers.
They were accompanied by a large brass band blasting out some lively yet sombre music. It was a very rousing and emotional sound making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
The whole procession turned into the plaza where they stood for some time five/ten minutes before moving on leaving the square as they returned to their home church.
It was all very exciting and made me want to return to Seville during the Semana Santa festival (Holy Easter week) where the entire city is filled with processions lead by men dressed in pointed conical hoods.
We continued Eastwards across the city until we came to a small pretty square filled with jacaranda blosom and artists selling their paintings. It wasn't surprising that this artisitc market was outside the Museo de Bellas Artes. It's all about location, location, location.
Some of the paitings on display would not have been out of place hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts, especially one artist's work of some stunning landscapes. After browsing the pretenders we then turned out attention to the real deal.
The first to impress was the museum itself. It had such a striking facade. It was incredibly ornate with a delicately carved arch and columns topped with a faded red and yellow frontage and three saintly statues looking down.
It was originally the convent of Merced Calzada but it became a museum in 1839 after a wave of closures across all of Spain's convents and monasteries. Much of the confiscated artwork in the region found a home here at the musuem.
Inside we tried to buy tickets but we couldn't ... because it was free to enter!
I think it was a combination of it being Sunday and we were residents of the European Union but whatever the reason we didn't have to pay. That made for a refreshing change.
In we walked through a number of peaceful courtyards (or cloisters I suppose). It certainly still had the look and feel of a convent. They were all wonderfully decorated with painted ceramic tiles known as Azulejos.
Most were a brightly coloured geometrical patterns in the muhdejar style but some featured images of holy men and saints. They were works of art in their own right.
We used our DK Eyewitness guidebook to lead us through Claustro Mayor (the main cloister) and on the galleries which were spread over two floors. It was really useful as the museum had run out of English language leaflets.
The highlight of the galleries on the ground floor were the statues of St. Jerome and St. Bruno. One was made from fired clay, the other carved from wood, both looked so incredibly real, as if the man himself was stood in front of us.
After completing rooms 1-5 we then entered the convent's church.
Large dramatic paintings hung on the whitewashed walls of the former church. The main featured artist in this collection was Murillo from the 17th century Sevillian Baroque School.
To begin with we gave the religious artwork their dues, studying each one respectfully before moving on to the next but the closer we came towards the end our interest waned rapidly and we hurried through the last few so that we could stand directly beneath the impressive dome.
It was by far the most impressive piece of work here.
Painted by Domingo Martinez in the 18th century it was absolutely mesmerising. I couldn't peel my eyes away from the heavens above us, it was an absolutely stunning vision.
Several minutes passed gazing at this exceptional frescoe. I could not bore of looking at it.I was almost tempted to lie down on the floor to prolong the experience when the physcal symptoms of a stiff neck and dizzyness was making it difficult to continue.
We eventually moved on, contuining our DK self-guided tour through the remainder of the lower floor before going upstairs up a striking marble staircase and hallway. Here we found rooms and corridors filled with very dark ominous paintings from the Sevillian Baroque school. All artists I'd not heard of before.
Unfamiliar names such as Murillo, Zubaran and Herrera. The most memorable painting was undoubtedly the dramatic La Inmaculada by Valdes Leal in room 8.
We ended up in the final rooms, sala 12-14 which was home to quite possibly the most Spanish of paintings, the Death of the Maestro by Jose Villegas Cordero.
The scene is based on an incident in which the bullfighter Bocanegra was gored in the bullring in Seville in 1880. Tens of sequined matadors crowd around his deathbed as he receives his last rites by a faceless priest.
I don' know if he was meant to be missing features or had it been literally defaced.
Anyway, it was such a strong emotionally charged scene that really held my attention.
There were other excellent works that brought 18th century Seville to life on canvas. Such as the cigar makers by Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez which evoked Carmen rolling cigars at the Fábrica de Tabacos and Gustavo Bacarisas' Sevilla in fieria a painting of three ladies in their fiesta best. It was absolutely charming.
We left through the pretty Claustro Los Bojes which according to Google translate was the Cloisters of the Bogies! Really? (I'm sure that's not true!)
The next one, Patio del Aljibe, made much more sense translated as the yard of the cistern. What looked like a well in the centre must have been accessing water from one.
We picked up our bags from the cloakroom and headed back out into the streets Seville. The museum had entertained us for almost two hours. Not bad for a freebie.
Tucked away in the corner of Plaza de Museo there was a small stage with a bar set up along the side of the Belles Artes building. It was difficult to tell if the party was over or if they just hadn't started yet but with a large floral crucifix as its centrepiece it probably wasn't going to be rock and roll enough for us. Although there are Christian rock bands out there so you never know!
We didn't hang around to find out continuing instead down the narrow streets towards the Guadalquivir river.
It took us a little over five miutes to reach what we originally thought was the main river but apparently it also known as Canal de Alfonso XIII, a chaneled branch of the Guadalquivir river.
In fact it is also known as the "false Guadalquivir"! But it was very wide and looked like the main river to me so I'll refer to it as the river.
We met it at the point where the Puente de Chapina bridge crossed. If it wasn't for the distinctive canopies providing shade to pedestrians it would have been a totally underwhelming concrete bridge.
We didn't cross. We wanted to stay on the East bank to follow the riverside promenade down towards to Torre del Oro and the city centre.
A "promenade" may sound idyllic but the area beneath and around the bridge was really very scruffy. With a nearby train station, skate park, an abundance of weeds, litter, gratuitous graffiti and the smell of urine it all accumulated into a hope that you didn't find yourself here late at night.
It wasn't difficult to imagine it as a hotspot for gathering delinquents. Even with no one there the intimidation lingered in the air.
Within a minute's walk we had left behind the concreteness and thankfully entered a leafy park. It was also a little scruffy and unkempt but with families playing and friends sat about drinking wine it was far more welcoming. A very civilised or should I say "Sevillised" way to spend a Sunday morning. (I wonder if the root of the word civil comes from Seville?!)
We sat down briefly on a park bench and watched as dogs fetched back saliva soaked tennis balls thrown by their owners.
On the river rowers propelled themselves up and down at olympic speed and on the other side kids jumped in off a small jetty braving the cold water and botulism.
Back on our feet we soon reached a far more photogenic bridge in Puenta de Isabell II. Not only was the cast iron structure of its arches spanning the canal far more interesting it also had the bonus of the colourful district of Triana as its back drop.
The area is famed for its lively nightlife and arguably the best place in the world to see authentic flamenco. We planned a visit here on Tuesday night. So for today we were content with admiring Triana from afar.
It was a real hotch potch of buidlings, each individual building had an unique style and colour. It reminded me a little of Venice, a decaing beauty.
We continued along the canalside Paseo which was now busy with joggers and cyclists. It wasn't long before the Torre del Oro came into view. Along this final furlong was a number of al fresco bars where we stopped for a cold beer and had a complimentary bowl of nuts.
They were plain peanuts still encased in their shell. We used to call them "monkey" nuts when we were young, I guess we still do only we haven't seen them sold for donkey's years. (i.e. very long!)
That's not unsurprising as they were such a chore to eat. Releasing the peanut from its crispy wrapper was so time consuming and as nice as they were we soon tired of it.
It was also quite blustery and all the flaky pieces of shell blew everywhere much to our embarassment. We were making a right mess.
We made for a quick exit leaving our mess behind.
As we got up to leave a troop of sailors from the Indian Navy all dressed in their crisp white uniform walked past. They looked so out of place but they reminded us that whilst Seville is 50 miles inland it still has a thriving port.
In no time we had reached the Torre del Oro, a watchtower that would have originally been part of the walled fortifications protecting the city of Seville. Built in the 13th century by the moorish rulers, the Almohads, it's believed a chain spanned the river at this point to prevent ships from sailing upriver.
The origin of it's name, meaning The Gold Tower, is open to debate. Some believe it was once clad in guilded tiles, others think it may refer to the gold that arrived here from the New World. It's been many things over the years, a prison, a hospital and now a maritime museum.
As I wanted to climb the tower for the views over the city we paid the E3 each to enter. Julie and I looked at each other and then at the "lady" behind the counter. He or she was quite clearly a man in a dress. We did ever so well not to behave as if it was an issue. Not that it was, however when you are confronted with something unexpected it does take you by surprise.
As bizarre as it was, being served by a man in a dress was oddly normal.
Anyway, the Torre del Oro maritime museum was full of paintings, flags and knots made from thick rope. We didn't pay much attention to the artefacts as we spiralled oursleves up and around the two circular rooms before emerging outside.
At first the view was slightly restricted. We had to stand in between the tall pointy embattlements to catch a glimpse of the city's rooftops. Thankfully steps leading up to the tall narrow lookout offered a much better unobstructed vantage point.
From there I could see the Cathedral with its famous La Giralda bell tower literally towering dramatically above all else. It overwhelmingly dominated the skyline. With the exception of some high rise buildings far in the distance Seville was a surprisingly low level city.
I suppose the fact that nobody has been allowed by law to build a structure taller than the cathedral will have contributed to this fact.
From here we could see all over the city, from the rooftops of Triana to the green gardens and parks to the South of the city. To the left of the cathedral we could see the eliptical shape of the famous Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla, the oldest bullring in Spain, which surely must make it the oldest in the world!
We left Torre del Oro and walked the short distance over to the Plaza de Toros. The corrida (bullfight) season usually begins Easter Sunday and continues throughout the summer with most "fights" held on Sunday evenings.
Posters on the walls were advertising tonight's corrida. Tonight female matador Conchi Rios topped the bill with Emilio Huertas and Alvaro Sanlucar. With a 12,500 capacity that's a lot of seats to fill.
The popularity of bullfighting is generally in decline, Catalan has even banned it but here in Andalucia it still attracts big crowds. There were even ticket touts loitering outside trying to sell tickets which would suggest a sell out but the box office was still open suggesting otherwise.
Having been to watch a bullfight in Madrid a few years ago neither Julie nor I had the desire to put ourselves through the barbaric ritual killing of a bull again. Each to their own I guess but it's not for us.
The 18th century bull ring was quite striking with its white-washed walls, blood red doors and sunshine yellow trim. It was as Spanish a stadium as you'll ever likely to see and a worthy attraction in its own right.
We also read that there was an excellent museum inside but not open on a fight night and there was a bronze statue of Seville's most popular bullfighter Curro Romero who retired from the ring in 1999 aged 66!
We walked from the ticket office past the several entrances to the stalls. Then at the very end, by an exceptionally large door we could smell fear in the air; it was quite literally the bull shit!
The smell was a sudden reminder of what actually took place inside. Being a vegetarian the thought that this was just an attractive looking abbatoir was disturbing enough but the inhumane death the animal suffers for the sake of entertainment is worse. To justify this "sport" because of it's a centuries old "tradition" is not good enough and to argue it should be protected like some endangered cultural heritage also stinks a bit of ..ahem ... bull shit.
Having said all of that we planned to return here to visit the museum.
The plan now was to find somewhere to eat. We had gone four hours without eating, (excluding the monkey nuts) now that's unheard of on our holidays!
We were close to Calle Arfe, a street filled with tapas bars and restaurants but I had somewhere else in mind. Before coming I had done some research on the internet for recommended tapas bars and had a short list. I wanted to try Bodeguita Romero. I don't know if it had any connections to matador whose statue we saw earlier but it had a good write-up online. All we had to do now was to find it!
We seemed to be wandering aimlessly but on this occasion we were rewarded. From Calle Arfe we headed towards the centre, as it happened completely in the wrong direction. At least our wrong turns lead us to El Postigo, a large brightly painted arch that was once the city gates.
La Postigo del Aceite (or the Gate of Oils) to give its full title was originally built in the 12th century and was then the main entrance to the city from the shipyards.
On the wall just "outside" the arch was this incredible image of the Virgin Mary and tucked away almost forming part of the arch was Seville's smallest church Capilla de la Pura y Limpia, the Chapel of the Pure and Clean.
We peered in through the cast iron gated entrance to see a chapel that appeared no bigger than a cupboard filled with guilded ornaments and religious iconography. It really was quite peculiar.
A very short distance from here we were soon at the Cathedral's Western facade.
The Door of Assumption with its impressive carvings and statues seemed far too elaborate for a back door which it appeared to be because it was inaccessible and locked. It was in fact historically the Catherdral's main door which explains its grandeur.
Today the main entrances for visitors are found on the Southern and Eastern sides.
We continued up Avenue de la Constitucion amazed by the army of holiness carved into the Western facade. Saints, priests, monks and angels all looked down on us. I was overcome with a feeling of guilt. That same feeling I get when I see a policeman, even though I've not done anything wrong. It's an overwhelming desire to confess to something!
Having walked the entire length of the cathedral's West side we turned back towards the river almost completing a full circle to Calle Arfe before finding Calle Harinas the narrow street we were looking for.
At the point where two alleys met we found Bodeguita Romero.
It was only a small place but it was so busy inside. All the seats were taken including those at the bar but as luck would have it a table was just leaving as we arrived and we slotted right in. If its popularity was a yard stick for quality then we were in for some good tapas.
We scanned the extensive menu which thankfully had useful English translations beneath .
I went for the Revueltos, a srambled egg dish. There were several variations avaialble but the option with "garlic shoots" sounded delicious as well as being vegetarian friendly!
After much deliberation and indecision between either "tender stewed pork cheeks" or "shrimps to the chopped garlic" Julie opted for the gambas al ajillo.
So I stepped up to the bar to order adding a last minute portion of Pimientos de Padrone, fried green peppers, to share and two glasses of vino blanco to wash it all down. I was salvating as I ordered.
Service was very courteous and friendly. No surly waiters and bad attitudes here. We felt very welcomed.
It was also very quick. Tapas is usually served in dribs and drabs. They bring each item to the table as soon as it's ready rather than wait to serve them all at once.
It was the green peppers that arrived first and were fantastic, so simple yet so tasty. They say that one in ten peppers would be a hot one but we managed to miss that ordeal.
Next to arrive was my revueltos. It looked great with what seemed to be leeks rather than garlic shoots. I was just about to tuck in when I noticed a fleck of ham.
I looked a bit closer and dug in with my fork to unearth a pile of shrimps hiding beneath the eggy mound. I was so disappointed!
Julie made a galant attmpet to salvage something from the dish but she's not a big fan of egg. After a few soiled shrimps and a couple of heaves later she put down her fork in defeat. We covered the pile of revolting revueltos with the empty pimientos plate
Then came Julie's dish, only it wasn't what she was expecting.
I had mistakenly ordered the pork dish having forgotten that she had ultimately decided on the garlic prawns. Thankfully she found the Carillada Iberica exceptionally tasty.
As the waiter came to clear our table he questioned why we had left the revueltos. Our "sweeping it under the carpet" had not worked. There was no pulling the wool over his eyes. Compounding my embarassment I answered in my worst Spanglish and said "Gambas y Jamon - no likey". I hung my head in shame!
However I think he got the message because when we came to pay the bill they had very kindly taken the scrambled eggs off.
The bar had now emptied and we were the last customers. It was time to leave especially as the kitchen had also closed so I couldn't order the Leche dessert that I was craving. Everyone else had left for their siesta time which was a great idea.
It was time for a mid-afternoon snooze of our own so we made our way back to our apartment. We walked vaguely North Easterly crossing the busy Plaza Nuevo towards the Ayluntamiento, Seville's ornate City Hall.
One half of its facade was richly embellished with intricate carvings but all the fancy stuff was missing from the other half, as if they had run out of funds mid-way and decided on a few cut backs. It was here we noticed for the first time the NO8DO symbol of the city carved above the windows.
We later saw the cryptic motto on manhole covers all over the city.
Still heading in the vague NE direction we were drawn into the Plaza del Salvador by the bright ochre hued Iglesias of the same name. We sat briefly in the square looking at the striking coloured church front.
If the benches would have been a little more comfortable we would have spent the afternoon siesta just relaxing here where we were sat.
A little weary we got up and moved on, zig zagging our way across the city, through a small square, down Calle Huelva, up Calle Perez Galdos.
Down a narrow alley named Golfo we saw a sign for Habanita, a "Cuban" themed cafe bar. We had previously read about it and had it on our shortlist.
"Are you hungry?" asked Julie.
She was worried that I would be starving having missed out on eating the revueltos earlier and having no dessert.
I wasn't hungry but I was curious to at least have a look at the menu and perhaps, if it was still open, have a mojito or a Cuba Libre!
It was closing in 15 minutes but we were eagerly welcomed inside. After a quick browse of the menu we ended up ordering some food, baked goats cheese with blackcurrant jam for me and chicken nuggets for Julie.
They weren't described as such but they were nothing more than chicken nuggets. There were no cocktails available either, which was also a little disappointing for a "Little Havana" theme. Inside ten miutes we had eaten, paid and left.
A right and a left turn and we came out in Plaza Cristos de Burgos which I renamed Chris de Burgh Square and started crooning "Lady in Red" .
It was a lovely leafy square with a bronze statue of maestro flamenco guitarist Niño Ricardo stood at one end.
We had now completed a circle returning to where we had walked through this morning. To our left was the large wooden mushroom, our right Plaza Santa Catalina. I challenged Julie to find our way back to the appartment from here. She got the first left or right decision correct but after that she guessed the wrong way every time!
We soon reached Plaza San Marcos where we popped into a convenience store or a Bazaar as they're called here. It was like Alaadin's cave bursting with almost every conceivable goods which was quite inconvenient when all you wanted to find was a bottle of cava.
We eventually found the fridge hidden behind a wall of kitchen roll and picked up a bottle of rather (by local standards) expensive fizz.
Along the narrow street towards the convent of Santa Paula we negotiated the puddles but we couldn't avoid getting our feet wet.
Julie had bought a new pair of flip flops for this trip.
They were called fit-flops becuase they were designed to keep you fit. I have no idea how?!? Anyway, Julie said "I don't know about these fit flops, I'm actually fit to flop!" It doesn't seem that funny now but when it happened we couldn't stop laughing. We laughed so much I struggled to get the key into the lock for the apartment!
We calmed down enough to open the door and made our way to the balcony with two cold beers to enjoy what was left of the daylight. It was already almost 6pm.
After a few hours of relaxing we decided not to go out for our supper so I popped into the kitchen and made a gazpacho with the ingredients we bought yesterday and the Garbanzos con Espinacas dish like the one I had last night at El Rinconcillo.
I really enjoyed the flavours of them both. However Julie wasn't a big fan of the spinach and chickpeas saying it "tasted too green" and the gazpacho was a little thick, which I guess I couldn't argue against.
Also at the table was a microwaved packet of potato bravas which we both agreed was a crime against tapas. For Julie to dislike a potato dish then it must have been bad!
The skies soon darkened and a storm raged in the distance. We stayed out on the balcony listening to thunder rumbling somewhere over the Sierra Mountains before retiring to the sofa when it began to rain.
On the digital TV we found an English language movie channel and we stayed up late watching films. The first was "Se7en" a great film with Brad Pitt. The next was "Crash" the David Cronenburgh auto-erotic mash up.
Midnight arrived which made it technically Julie's birthday so we celebrated as only we know how.
An hour later, at least, and we flopped into bed. It had been a long day but a good day.
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