La Vita Locale

Tuesday

 

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

Unsurprisingly we were a little sluggish this morning. Our day didn't start until 11:30am.

Still slightly in a delicate state we headed towards the city centre pausing briefly down Calle Sol at the unidentified church to admire again its striking facade and imposing front door. It was strange that such a grand appearing church was not on any map.

Onwards we continued across the city down by now very familiar streets.

We were on the hunt for some churros to satisfy our hangovers. It's strange how we had yet to find a tasty churros but we still had a craving for them. It's just the idea of warm donught sticks dipped in a thick hot chocolate that makes them sound so desirable.

When we reached Plaza de Jesus de la Pasion we gave up on our search and decided to sit down in the square outside Bar Europa for a coffee instead.

We also had a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice which was finally the hallelujah Seville moment I'd been waiting for. It was the fullest flavoured orange juice I had ever tasted. It had incredible sweetness and a tangy zest in equal measure.

Refreshed and rejuvenated we moved on.

We couldn't believe it when the very first thing we next saw was a sign for "Churros con Chocolate"!!

We didn't stop. Intent on walking down every single street in the city we followed an alternative route towards the cathedral and found ourselves walking down Calle Hernanda Colon.

It was a really picturesque cobbled street, which I'm suprised wasn't pedestrianised. It would have been a slightly more pleasant experience without the traffic.

It had the greatest concentration of tourist souvenir shops we had come across so far. They were full of the expected traditional Spanish knick-knacks such as Flamenco dresses, colourful fans, bull and matador figurines, sangria bottles.

However we weren't expecting to see Seville snow domes! I mean, when did it last snow in Seville!? (Well, 10th January 2010 apparently, although before that it was 2nd February 1954!)

At the end of Calle Hernanda Colon was the cathedral's Islamic gateway Puerta del Perdon looking even more impressive from this perspective.

Having turned down the opportunity for some churros earlier our appetitets returned with a vengance and struck us with a hunger that almost brought us to our knees. We were conveniently walking past a small cafe at the time.

It was gloriously tacky with photographs of the food so that those who didn't know Spanish could order with confidence.

We usually avoid these sort of places like dog dirt on the pavement because they usually serve terrible quality food at inflated prices leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

But we couldn't pass, our hunger got the better of us.

It was a simple hole-in-the-wall cafe by the name of Placentines with only a couple of tables outside in the shade of an orange tree.

They had quite an extensive choice for a little establishment. We both went for something off their chalkboard menu called a Monadito (a small sandwich) mine was a tortilla filled baguette and Julie had the Serrano Ham version.

At a very reasonable price of €2.50 each, the baguettes were fresh and the fillings were delicious, we really were most impressed.

It was in a great spot with the splendour of La Giralda displayed in front of us. Directly opposite us horse and carts were all parked in a line as if it was a holding bay. For all the time we were sat here not one was pressed into active service.

Once we finished watching the world go by we left the cafe and walked across Plaza Virgen de los Reyes towards the entrance of the Real Alcázar, the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use.

We walked up towards an archway with the wall painted red with an image of a red lion above it. It was known as Puerta del Leon and despite looking like a side door it was the main entrance to the Alcázar

We joined the back of the queue and waited our turn to enter the place I wanted to visit more than any other in Seville.

The anticipation of the architectural wonders that waited for us inside was so exciting.

The entrance fee of €8.50 each was in my opinion good value.

We began in a narrow high walled garden courtyard that had the look and feel of an ancient Moorish palace. It was plain and simple but it was the terracota colour that transported us to a Morroccan medina.

This was certainly the oldest part of the Alcazar. It was originally built as a palace called Al-Muwarak by the Almoravid Moors on the site of an existing 9th century fort.

Then over the centuries as the rulers changed from the Almoravid to the Almohads and then the Christian conquest the palace evolved to incorporate many styles from Moorish, mudejar, gothic and the baroque.

This was at its most apparent when we walked through the next arch and entered the open space of Patio de la Monteria. At first it was a beautiful baroque courtyard. It was as if we had travelled from Marrakech to Venice in a step.

And then in a turn of the head we were transported to the Topkapi palace in Istanbul as we looked at the stunning Islamic architecture of Palacio de Don Pedro, the Christian King who built a Moorish palace.

The square was completed by a gothic wing. It really was a treasure box of styles!

It was begining to get quite hot out in the direct sunlight so Julie decided to sit in the shade provided by the colonade whilst I took my time to take pictures of the square.

Once I had finished photographing Patio de la Monteria from every possible angle we walked indoors for the first time.

After a few simple reception rooms we stumbled across an exquisite inner courtyard called Patio de las Muñecas or the courtyard of dolls.

The delicate plasterwork (or stucco as its known in the artisan circles) was simply breathtaking. Horseshoe arches enclosed the room where every square inch had been intricately carved.

Apparently it's known as the courtyard of dolls because of small faces carved into the columns but I didn't spot any.

I never was any good with Where's Wally!

The patio was overlooked from a mezzanine level and knowing that the first floor is still in use by King Juan Carlos I as his as the royal residence when he is in town added another interesting twist to the Alcazar..

Apparently he has six palaces to coose from, the main one in Madrid, then Segovia, Toledo and Guadalajara (all towns close to Madrid) and then Cordoba and Seville.

We moved on to the next room of note, Salón de Embajadores, the Hall of Ambassadors. This served as the throne room of Pedro I.

We entered through an intensely carved heavy wooden door which were apparently the original 14th century fittings. For a wooden door that's impressively preserved.

The walls were covered with decorative tiles in a typically colourful Moorish design but it's guilded dome carved from cedar wood stole the show.

It was quite dark in here and the dome wasn't well lit either, I suppose to protect it from over exposure but once our eyes became accustomed to the dim light its true glory was revealed.

With it's golden colour, interlaced star patterns, pockets of silver at its centre and six Royal emblems it symbolised the Spanish Universe.

It was spectacular.

I looked at it until it hurt. After a few minutes the neck was getting really stiff.

I then took a few photos and it looked even more stunning through the camera lens as adjusting the exposure allowed more light through the aperture. I possibly spent more time scrutinising the image on the camera than looking at the real thing!

If I thought it couldn't get any better after that I was wrong as we stepped out into the beautiful Patio de las Doncellas. The courtyard of the maidens is possibly the Alcazar's most well-known feature.

A long shallow pool stretched across its rectangle length with a sunken garden on either side with shrubs and small orange trees bringing the courtyard to life.

There were a large number of people here making it nigh on impossible to take photographs without someone getting in the way. With hindsight it would have been better to visit early in the morning to escape the crowd.

Despite the hordes the water feature brought a certain feng shui peacefulness to the patio.

We found ourselves walking around in the shade of the arade admiring the elaborate designs of the cusped arches which even to my untrained eye loooked the perfect synthesis of Islamic art and Christian Gothic styles which is what the term mudejar actually represents.

Then through my child-like eyes they also looked a lot like teeth marks in cheese!

It took the best craftsmen from Granada who probably worked on the Alahambra to perfet that.

Another feature I noticed was that each arch was propped up by twin pillars which had the effect of looking far more delicate than one thick column. It was incredibly beautiful. Apparently there was an inscription here that refered to King Pedro I as the "sultan" in another example of Christian/Muslim fusion.

We left the Patio de las Doncellas through the side entrance and some how ended up popping out the back door into a small secret garden.

Of course this little walled back yard was just a fraction of Alcazar's garden. It covered a vast area and varied from a woodland park to formal gardens laid out in a grid, all enclosed within the high walls of the palace grounds.

We ambled around this colourful paradise past pools and fountains, through arches and pavillions, breathing in the sweet floral air.

We were drawn by the sound of a pipe organ coming from a very theatrical entrance in the centre of a peculiar looking cave-like wall, aptly called the Grutesco Gallery.

We got as near as we could to source but our view was obscured by a large tour group huddled in front of it. It was quite frustrating not being able to see what all the fuss was about.

Several minutes past and they were still in the way so we gave up in the end and walked up nearby steps onto the gallery.

The elevated path split the garden in half with great views in both direction..

It made us realise how large the Alcazar gardens were. They stretched out for as far as the eye could see.

Returning back along the gallery towards the palace we noticed a really peculiar water feature. It was a jet of water from the top of a two storey building squirting out like a toilet overflow splashing into a pool below. It did look very odd, as if it was completely unintentional.

We came down off the grotesque gallery into another garden on the other side of the wall and came across a little a cafe.

It had only been an hour and a half since we last ate but that didn't stop us from having a pit stop. We seemed quite determined to eat. We even queued for an age.

Our intenton was to share a doughnut but when I cut it in half cold custard came oozing out. Julie had to swallow hard to stop herself from wretching! It was funny to watch but it didn't distract me from capitalising and scoffing the entire cake to myself.

We soon returned to where the toilet overflow was falling from a great height into the Estanque de Mercurio pool so called because of a small statue of the Roman god Mercury in its centre.

In one corner several ornamental fish gathered all looking as if they were gasping for air?!? Either that or they were hungry and were expected me to feed them. With the strong smell of fish and a belly full of cold custard curdling nicely with the strong coffee I almost did feed them .... from the generosity of my own mouth!

Standing there beneath the gush of water trying to hold it together it dawned on me that the pointless water feature was probably not pointless at all but was in fact very beneficial to the fish bringing oxygen to the pool similar to a water filter in a fish tank at home.

Back inside the palace we entered the Salones de Carlos V, a dramatic high vaulted narrow hall with brightly coloured 16th century azulejos tiles on the walls and dark threadbare tapestries hanging above them.

It seemed a strange room, feeling more like a hallway, more of a room you pass through on your way to somewhere else and never the final destination.

At the far end was the small private chapel of Carlos V.

Leaving the Salones behind we saw the Saludos sign and decided that we were ready for the exit.

It took us out through Patio del Crucero a large Gothic courtyard in mustard yellow and red trim a common theme throughout the Alcazar. Colours of course of the Royal Spanish banner. Following the "Way Out" signs we finally exited through what were once the stables but with the exception of a wonderful pebbled floor there was no evidence of its former use.

Back out into the real world our plan was to push on and set off on foot to our next attraction, the Plaza de Espana. It was some distance away but we had all day.

On our way we came across the first Starbucks/ McDonalds/ Burger King we had seen, all clustered together like some tourist enclave. It made us realise that part of Seville's old town charm is the absence of these multi-nationals on every street corner.

It's good to see the food and cafe culture is strong enough to withstand the competition.

We soon reached Puerta de Jerez, which by it's name must have meant there was once a gate into the city here but today it was just a busy junction with a pretty fountain in its centre.

Crossing the intersection we came across Hotel Alfonso, one of Seville's premier hotels. It was such a beautiful and palatial building.

"Oh, wouldn't it be lovely to stay there for one night" Julie sighed.

With an €80 daily budget our entire kitty for this trip would have paid for just one night in this luxury hotel.

"One day" I said "when we're doing our camervan trip around Europe we'll stay here, and if we've won the lottery!"

We walked down the shaded Avenida de Roma before turning down Calle Palos de la Frontera along the side of Palacio de San Telmo a red and yellow which had some dramatic sword wielding statues standing truimphantly on top.

A little further we passed the Universidad building which was once the Real Fabricas de Tabacos.

At its height three quarters of Europe's cigars were rolled on the thighs of the female cigarreras the most famous of which was Carmen the gypsy heroine from Merimee's classic story.

We entered the large Parque de Maria Luisa where the statue of the lady herself stood calmly next to a lion.

I don't think she ever possessed a lion nor was there any record of her being a lion tamer so I suppose it was meant to symbolise her power.

Princess Maria Luisa Fernanda de Orleans was the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand VII and she donated the gardens of Palacio de San Telmo (which we passed earlier) to the city to be used as a public park.

Right behind her tucked away beneath a big old tree was a cafe called La Raza. Of course we couldn't resist another pit stop for some refuelling. Also the shade was most welcome with the temperatures soaring to 35C. Helping us to further cool down we ordered a timbale of fresh fruits and lemon sorbet which really hit the spot.

Refreshed we left our little oasis behind and walked the short distance left to reach the Plaza de España.

It was quite a sight standing at the Northern corner looking across an expanse of water towards this monumental red brick semi-circle of arches, colanades, bridges and tiled benches.

Built specifically for an Ibero-American Expo in 1929 it now houses some govenment departments which seemed to be such a waste.

I could hear it screaming out to be used as a museum of some significance.

Its most interesting feature were the painted tiled azulejos on the walls with images representing all the 48 Spanish city provinces.

Each one had the principle city's coat of arms, a map of the province on the floor, richly decorated benches and on the wall an image of some importance from Spain's fascinating history relevant to the area.

I wasn't convinced about the relevance of Barcelona's image of Columbus presenting the Spanish court with natives from the West Indies bearing gifts. (But apparently the court of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille was up North in Barcelona.)

As luck would have it we had started at the correct corner and we slowly made our way across Spain alphabetically from Alicante to Zaragoza.

Despite their bright colours the tiled benches and ceramic alcoves created (in my mind at least) a strangely funerary atmosphere as if they were ornate coffins and urns.

We saw all the familiar Andalucian provinces of Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and plenty more unfamiliar places such as Albacete, Caceres, Cuenca and we weren't even halfway yet.

In the centre of the arc was a large portico leading up to a balustraded balcony overlooking the alcoves. It was such a grand entrance which made me think once again it was such a shame it was nothing but a facade with nothing of interest on the inside.

We continued our march across Spain through Madrid, Murcia, Segovia and then Soria. But where was Sevilla?

There were in fact eight seperate alcoves representing Seville. We hadn't noticed any of them! It didn't help that none had the name Sevilla displayed, only scenes from the city.

We only realised this at the very end where we found the final alcove with a painting of a bullfight and a map of the city.

Having reached the end we looked back across the sweeping arcade. The view was impressive.

We went up onto the first balcony level and walked back towards the centre.

There was nothing to see inside the gallery itself but the views across the Plaza framed by the arches were wonderful and at least it gave us some respite from the sun.

When we reached the main portico (at 3 o'clock if it were one half of a clock face) we returned back down to the ground floor.

There was a canal curving parallel to the Plaza's arc. The water gave it quite a Venetian feel, I half expected a gondola to glide along.

Actually, it was possible to hire a rowing boat and we could have recreated our own "cornetto" moment but it was far too hot for such an exertion.

An ice cream would have been nice though.

The moat was spanned by four bridges, each one decorated to represent one of the ancient kingdoms of Spain.

With all the exposed brickwork the bridges really stood out. They were exceptionally ornate, where even the balustrade was finished in ceramic and painted white and blue.

We crossed over the bridge of Castille towards the heart of the Plaza de España and the Vicente Traver fountain.

It was another great vantage point to take in the sheer scale of the structure from the North tower to its twinned South equivalent and all the glory in between.

We were surprised how little people were here. I'm sure we came across less than a dozen.

I suppose it was getting late in the day and all the coach tours would have left.

We walked away from the Plaza de España back into the Parque de Maria Luisa which was also extensively redeveloped for the 1929 Expo and filled with several small fountains and pavillions to showcase Seville.

Ahead of us was a long march back to our apartment. It was 4:30pm but it seemed to be getting hotter and hotter as the day progressed.

On our return leg we tried our best to avoid the sunny side of the street but we worked up quite a sweat even in the shade. It was as if the ground had absorbed all that midday sun and was now releasing it back like under floor heating.

Not far from our apartment, just after Plaza Santa Catalina, we stopped at Los Claveles tapas bar for a cold beer.

The cervezas didn't touch the sides of our mouths as we gulped them down in one slurp. We ordered another.

We had also worked up quite an appetite but unfortunately their kitchens were closed.

Despite being not far from home we squeezed in another refreshments stop at Taberna Leon de San Marcos where we were also very happy to find they sold jolly nice patatas fritas. Once again they kept it local with the crisps made in Seville shunning the multi-nationals like Lays / Golden Wonder etc..

There wasn't another bar between here and our apartment so we ended up grabbing some seriously late lunch on our balcony.

It didn't take long for today's activities to catch up with us as we slipped seemlessly into siesta mode on the sofa.

It was several hours later when we emerged from our late afternoon hibernation and decided to go out for a walk.

It was really odd heading out at 10pm at night but I really wanted to have a look at the old city walls. A 400 metres stretch of the original 12th century walls known as the Murallas still stood to the North of the city, in the Macarena distrcit.

We set off through the narrow streets not really knowing where we were going but confident that we would eventually reach somwhere along the ring road. This we did within minutes.

We were a bit surprised how busy it was. The pavements were full of people, all walking in the same direction, as if we were in the middle of an evacuation.

Of course we wanted to go against the flow which was a challenge. It was all worth the effort.

The Murallas looked like a milenia old wall should look like, a bit bashed around the edges with the aura of history seeping out from every rock. For a thousand years they've stood protecting the citadel.

It had two lines of defence with a low wall guarding a taller one.

A little further along the wall it acquired castelated battlements and a small tower known as Torre Blanca one of a hundred that once strengthened the defences.

Our attention was soon distracted by flashing blue lights of police vehicles and the sound of a crowd chanting slogans. At first I thought perhaps there had been a football match but the people walking home had no scarves or flags. It soon came clear that this was a demonstration.

A large group of students were sitting down in protest outside (or as close as they could get to) the Andalucian Parliament.

They were objecting to Spain's austerity measures and specifically the cuts to the Education Budget as the country attempts to avoid bankruptcy.

The police had no intention of moving them on, they seemed content in protecting the government buildings.

It was quite peaceful but there was an excitement in the air. Hopefully it stayed good humoured all night until it dispersed.

We didn't hang about to find out however.

The ancient murallas walls finished at the Puerta de la Macarena, a bright yellow archway next to the equally yellow Basillica de la Macarena.

It looked like a classic 16th century Barqoue church but it was only built in 1949 to replace a much older church burnt down in 1936.

We headed through the arch down Calle San Luis, a dimly lit narrow street cutting straight through La Macarena.

It was busy with tired student protesters on their way home or to celebrate.

Just through the gate we came across this tiny little take-away restaurant that looked just like a traditional British fish and chip shop.

It was called unimaginatively "Macarena" and was described as a freiduria as well as a pescaderia.

It looked so peculiar here in the middle of Seville but it was very popular and at least it wasn't a McDonalds.

We were hungry and it was tempting us but I doubt they served our favourite curry sauce and mushy peas so we continued on our way in search for some traditional tapas.

There wasn't much of interest down this street until we stumbled across a real gem. It was so unexpected.

The Iglesia de San Luis de los Franceses was simply beautiful beyond words. I'm sure it was made more breathtaking by being illuminated.

Located in such a narrow alley and not on any guide book radar it was such an exciting discovery. It was difficult to get a full perspective of the facade, even being pinned to the wall opposite.

Moving on we reached the familiar Plaza de San Marcos.

From here we decided to return to the restaurant we first ate in when we arrived on Saturday, the blue tables of La Huerta.

It was now 11pm at night and it felt perfectly natural to be sitting outside ordering food.

What we ordered wasn't at all traditional tapas but it was all tasty. We shared the same potato platter we had on our last visit plus I went for a deep fried aubergine plate with dark honey which worked really well, plus another deep fried plate of cauliflower with a soy sauce.

Julie went for the dish mysteriously called Secreto.

We had read reviews telling you should expect a large portion for the 5 price. We were speechless when a single very thin slice of pork loin arrived. Julie's face of disappointment was a classic. On the positive side it was very tasty and with all the fritters I had ordered she didn't go hungry.

It felt so lovely sitting there in the warm evening air eating our supper and enjoying each other's company. We felt like staying all night but left around midnight more to keep within our budget than feeling tired.

We made our way back to our apartments down Calle Sol. The streets were desserted now. All the buidling continued to be illuminted as night.

They looked much more attractive bathed in a warm glow, in particular the Convent of Santa Paula.

However, in these times of austerity we both wondered how they justified keeping all the lights on though the night.

Back in our apartment we had our dessert as we finished off a Cadbury's Chocolate Easter Egg we had brought with us and a bottle of chilled red wine which we had mistakenly left in the fridge.

They didn't complement each other at all but it didn't stop us finishing both of them.

We stayed up watching the TV, flicking through late night channels. There were a lot of Gypsy Rose Lee types where you call a premium phoneline to have a tarot card reading or your tea leaves read.

It was very strange to watch. I wonder if it's something peculiar to Andalucia or is it common throughout Spain?

Bed was late arriving but we were glad of it when it did.

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