La Vita Locale

Monday

 

Monday 21st May 2012

Today was Julie's birthday so as a treat I let her stay in bed this morning for as long as she wanted. When she stirred I brought her a cup of tea brewed in this funky zebra tea pot. Obviously it looked like a zebra with its black and white stripes rather than made from an actual zebra.

I also offered a birthday breakfast in bed but Julie was more than happy to get up and enjoy the first meal of the day in the fresh air of our balcony.

We had a very relaxing morning cooing along with the pigeons, eating toast and drinking more tea.

It was gone 11am when we eventually left the apartment. It was turning into a lovely sunny day without a cloud in the sky.

We didn't get far before we stopped for a coffee at La Huerta (one of the bars we ate on our first night) in Plaza los Treceros.

Our conversation turned to Steve as we remembered the good times. We have some great memories. It's just so strange to think that he's not here anymore.

Our plan today was to visit the cathedral. So we headed South through the narrow streets. It was quite a challenge to find our way down what were literally the backstreets. There were no landmarks along the way to gauge our progress, no bars, nor churches. Nada.

Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of a dome or a tower through the gap but not much more than that.

After half an hour of shadowy alleyways we came to a gap where we saw for the first time the famous La Giralda, the Catherdral's bell tower

The first glance was quite exciting as we weren't expecting it on account of us not really knowing where we were!

It was probably more relief that we had found it!

The closer we got the more enchanted by it we got. We could clearly see the Moorish architecture of a minaret with its delicate geometric designs.

It was no surprise to learn that Seville's cathedral was built on the site of an almighty mosque built by the Almohads during the 12th century.

The minaret was converted to Christianity by the addition of a very renaissance style bellfry. Fortunately they left the remainder of its beautiful architecture intact. It was breathtaking.

As for the cathedral the majority of what we see today is a Christian extension built onto and over the original mosque. Only the tower (La Giralda) and parts of the cloisters, known as the Patio de los Naranjos, date back to the Almohads.

At the time, during the 15th centry local tradition say the cathedral's elders challenged themselves by saying "Let us build a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad".

Well, they ended up building the largest cathedral in the world. Beaten only by the Basilica of St.Peter in the Vatican and a modern Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil.

We were a little confused as to where the main entrance was. We could see that groups could enter from just below the tower but the two of us were technically not enough in number to be considered a group. There was seperate entrance from the South side for individual visitors.

So from the base of La Giralda we walked across the busy Plaza Virgen de los Reyes filled with tour groups waiting to be directed and many horse drawn carriages waiting to be hired.

Beyond the crowd the square itself was very pretty, formed by the Archbishop's Palace on the left, the Convent of the Incarnation to the right and the colourful townhouses stretching down Calle Mateos Gago.

In it's centre was a fountain which also served as a rather ornate lampost. It was also perfect for sitting on and admiring the cathedral. How very multi-functional!

It was strange how tranquil it felt sitting there listening to the water splashing and absorbing the grandeur of the cathedral. The noise and distraction of the crowds simply faded away.

After taking the weight off our feet for a few minutes we continued towards the South entrance where our newly acquired tranquility was disturbed by a very long queue!

Julie and I both dislike queuing and we almost decided to walk away but whilst we were deliberating we noticed the queue was reducing at a reasonable pace. So we stayed.

Standing guard at the entrance was a replica of the bronze statue that stood on top of the cathedral's bell tower. Or was it the original down here and the copy that was up top?

Anyway, known as El Giraldillo it was the image of a woman with a large palm leaf in one hand and holding up a huge shield with the other. She apparently represented faith. The 4m tall statue would catch the wind and rotate serving a role as an extravagant weathervane.

We entered first through the gift shop which was a little odd as you usually exit through one.

The €8 entry fee wasn't too steep but we didn't buy any cathedral memorabilia from the shop. It just didn't feel right until we had actually seen some of it for real.

The "this way" signs ushered us down a hallway with a very low ceiling. It felt oddly restrictive for a main entrance. We emerged into the cathedral with our heads bowed. Quite apt I suppose that we entered in subjugation.

This only heightened the impact of lifting up our heads to the heavens and be blown away by the enormity and beauty of it all.

The stunning architecture literally stopped us in our tracks as we could do nothing but admire the intricate stonework of the high vaulted ceiling.

After causing a little bit of bottleneck we moved out of the way and properly entered the cathedral.

Greeting us was a bronze statue of Pope John Paul II smiling warmly and holding out his hand waving to us in that papal fashion that became so familiar when he was scooting around the world in his popemobile. This was such a nice welcoming statue that it made me wonder why we don't see more smiling statues ? There usually so dour.

Moving on we soon came to the tomb of Cristóbal Colón aka Christopher Columbus.

It was quite a dramatic scene with four pallbearers, Kings of the Spanish realm, carrying a sarcophagus, inside which were the bones of the Italian explorer.

Born in Genoa, Italy but hired by Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella he is honoured in Spain for the riches he brought to the country after discovering the West Indies and the American continent (although he still thought he had found an alternative route to Asia!) His remains were originally buried in Hispanolia, or the Dominican Republic as its now known. It was then moved to the Cathedral San Cristóbal Havana, Cuba before finally moving here to Seville after the Spainsh-American war in 1898.

At the heart of the cathedral was a wall of gold but sadly the spectacular altarpiece was hidden behind a hanging print of what we should have seen if only it wasn't being renovated.

The Retablo Mayor should have been one of the highlights of a visit to the cathedral and it was so disappointing to have missed it.

At least we saw its centrepiece, the statue of the cathedral's patron saint Santa Maria de la Sede.

It had been moved from the Retablo Mayor and placed under a spotlight in the choir.

Although it wasn't easy to see being quite a distance away behind a closed grill.

Turning our attention to the North entrance we came to yet another amazing altarpiece. The Altar de Plata or Silver Altarpiece was almost like a dedication to a sun god with its solar rays eminating from its source. The lower part looked like a fountain flanked by two bishops and then crowning the whole piece was, well, a crown, signifying the Royal seal of approval.

Above the silver altar was a huge painting and then, completing the triple layer was a stained glass window surrounded by the most incredibly intricate carved frame.

We found ourselves at the entrance to La Giralda. A small sign said "Tower Tour" which confused us a little as we thought perhaps we should have paid extra to climb the tower but that wasn't the case.

The ascent began gently enough as a gradual ramp rather than steps took us up spiralling towards the top.

Already several floors up we came to the first window overlooking the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. We took the opportunity rest for a while.

We repeated this pattern all the way to the top, climbing four or five floors then stopping at the next window to admire the increasingly dramatic view.

Walking up the tower in instalments was a really good idea. We weren't at all out of breath.

The higher we got each window offered us a closer look at the ornate rooftop with its flying butresses and Gothic spikes. I was expecting to see some gargoyles but it wasn't that sort of cathedral.

We were also begining to rise above the city's rooftops. The sneak preview increased the excitement. I couldn't wait to get to the top.

At each corner there was a marker counting the levels.

We kept on going to level 34 where we came to a small staircase to the top.

Julie felt very anxious. She's not at her best when dealing with heights.

In fact she's had some quite traumatic experiences in the past, the minaret of Koski Mehmet Pasha Mosque in Mostar being the worse by far.

We emerged into the belfry, Julie right there by my side. Much to her relief the external walls were too tall to see straight out over the city. She felt relatively safe and calm. To get a good view we had to take a step up at the wall and look over it.

It was a busier up here than I expected. So much so that we always had to wait our turn for a step to become available. It was worth the wait though.

We spent quite sometime up here makng sure we saw the view in all directions. To the North the entire patchwork of Seville's rooftops sprawled out before us. The spike of the Alamillo bridge the only landmark rising above them. Beyond the city in the far distance were the hills of the Sierra Norte National Park.

In the opposite direction we could see the Guadalquivir river flow Southwards towards Sanlúcar and the Gulf of Cadiz from where Christopher Columbus sailed on his third voyage to the Carribean. Then directly below us we overlooked the General Archive of the Indies whose records and artefacts from the Spanish Empire in the New World would have travelled up that very same river some five hundred years ago.

The East was possibly the least interesting aspect looking out towards a mostly modern suburban district. In contrast the West boasted the Plaza de Toros bullring engulfed by the city plus a bird's eye view of the orange grove inside the cathedral.

Having completed the whole four corners of the world, which incidentally Julie still uses the mnemonic "Never Eat Shredded Wheat" to remember the points of the compass, we wondered if we could go up another level.

We had a good look but there was no access to the parts beyond the belfry. So we left.

On the way down we past a tour group queuing for at least ten floors. We counted our blessings. We couldn't have timed our visit any better!

We came down as we did coming up, stopping every so often to catch another view and our breath.

Julie was always weary of slipping on the ramp and if anything the descent was harder work on the legs.

Back on level ground we headed for the exit which was through the Patio de los Naranjos. The courtyard was filled with fifty orange trees none of which were bearing fruit at this time.

It was very peaceful here.

In its centre was a small fountain which during its period as a mosque would have been used by worshippers to bathe their feet before entering.

At first its Moorish heritage wasn't that apparent but as we left the heavy doors of the Puerta del Perdon and the stunning architecture of the arch were clearly Islamic.

Back on the streets we wondered what to do next. Our thoughts turned first to food so we decided to head back towards the appartment stopping at the first bar we came across.

Inside five minutes we had reached Plaza Alfalfa where we found Bar Manolo, another on our recommended list.

We sat outside in the lovely sunshine where I ordered my new favourite tapas dish, Garbanzos con Espinacas. After I ate it I almost ordered another portion. I just couldn't get enough of it!

Julie had a few thin slices of pork loin and we shared a delicious bowl of Patatas Alioli, a cold potato salad with garlic mayonaise. All the dishes were simple yet absolutely delicious and the ice cold beer was the perfect accompliament.

Despite being in the centre of the city, the prices were still very reasonable.

It was certainly a more touristy area. Buskers regularly bothered the customers. They would set up feet away from the bar, knock out one tune then come around the tables cap in hand.

The harpsichord musicians were quite good and worth the 47 cents I found in my pockets for them. The flamenco guitarist and his singing partner were really poor though. Despite there woeful performance I still gave them some of my shrapnel.

We were ready to leave, mostly because I was worried that the cost of the entertainment was going to be more than the expense of the food, so I grabbed the attention of the waiter to ask for the bill.

It turned out he was just another customer, just dressed like a waiter! Julie found it so hilarious she almost choked.

After eventually finding the right person to pay we left Bar(ry) Manolo moving on up through the narrow streets to Plaza Chris De Burgh.

Halfway between the church of San Pedro and Santa Catalina, down the side street of San Felipe, we saw a chalkboard outside a small bar. Its special offer for the day was "Caracoles con Cerveza" for €2.50. That was snails with a beer!

Wherever we are in the world I always encourage (never force) Julie to try the local food, especially if it something I would refuse to eat because of my vegetarianism.

To my total surprise she was up for it!

We walked down to the bar El Paron perched ourselves on stools outside.

I ordered one snails and two beers. The ice cold Cruzcampo arrived first.

When the caracoles arrived I could tell immediately that Julie was going to struggle. The small earthenware bowl was full of these tiny snails with the most attractive shells.

She picked one up, reached in with a cocktail stick and pulled out the naked critter like it was a sticky bogey. She couldn't bare to look at it. With her eyes firmly closed she popped it into her mouth and began to chew.

She shuddered then swallowed.

One down, another fifty to go!

On her fifth snail she struggled to pull it from its shell. Paying it a bit more attention she noticed that it had tiny little features.

"Look at its face!" she shrieked "I can't eat that!"

She was right. A quick look around the bowl and they all had the same small pin prick eyes and tragic downturned mouth. They looked so sad.

Julie was clearly rattled and even thought she saw one still moving. "Oh, I can't eat anymore"

We discreetly covered the bowl with a napkin, payed our bill and left.

It wasn't long before we were stopping again at another bar. I think Julie wanted to wash the taste of snail from her mouth.

Just off Plaza Santa Catalina was the tapas bar El Rinconcillo. Of course it was much quieter than our last visit on Saturday night. We almost had the place to ourselves. It was nice to have a different experience and we had a good look around.

It was such a great place.

Again it was the ageing hams hung above the bar and the dusty bottles of vintage sherry filling cabinets and shelves that I remember the most.

We stood at the bar and ordered two beers and the same two dishes we had here on Saturday, which was potato croquettes with flecks of ham and the spinach and chickpeas dish I've become so fond of.

The barman wrote down our tab literally on the bar in chalk.

The food arrived and groaned with pleasure. The flavours were just incredible.

My dish had a layer of oil and perhaps some saffron judging by its colour which definitely enhanced its flavour. I should have asked for the recipe so I could attempt to recreate this Garbanzos con Espinacas dish at home.

Judging by the way they started mopping the floor it was closing time for the afternoon siesta so it was time for us to do the same and head back to the appartment.

Our route down Calle Sol took us past a mustard coloured church with the most impressive front. The facade was quite the work of art with stone statues and bas reliefs in terracota, plus an imposing brass studded wooden door. To find such an attractive church down the narrowest of alleys came as no surprise to us. We're learning that it's the norm in Seville.

However, it was most odd that I tried to find it's name but there's no mention of it on any map, not even the fountain of all knowledge Google!

By the time we reached our apartment on Pasaje Mallol we had made the decision to spend another evening in, enjoying the comforts of our home for the week.

But first, we needed some supplies, so (after popping up to our room to collect a shopping trolley) we continued our walk across the city towards the nearest supermarket.

It's strange how we wouldn't be seen dead wheeling a shopping trolley back home but here it felt acceptable, almost fashionable. It was true that everybody had one, not just the tottering dithering old ladies!

The Mercadona supermarket even had a secure area set aside for the purpose of parking up your trendy trolley whilst you shopped.

We picked up several bottles of Cava, ingredients for a Paella, some Iberico Ham, and plenty plenty more stuff.

The trolley came in very useful!

It would have been hard work carrying all that back in small carrier bags. We were so impressed we thought about buying the company! Failing that perhaps a nice shiny black one for ourselves, it was that good!

By the time we got back to the apartment we couldn't believe the time, it was 5:30pm.

We sat out on the balcony, cracked open a very nice bottle of Freixinet Reserva Cava and I gave Julie a pedicure for her birthday.

It was most definitely my first attempt and quite possibly my last. My nail varnish painting skills left a lot to be desired.

However, it was plenty entertaining and very relaxing.

A few bottles of cheap cava later we were so relaxed we didn't bother cooking supper. A round of toast and some grilled peppers were all we could be bothered to prepare.

The evening continued with us staying up late putting the world to rights and as always it was a much better place when we had finished!

 

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