La Vita Locale

Wednesday

 

Wednesday 23rd May 2012

We were getting into a really nice routine with our relaxing breakfasts out on the balcony. It was pancakes this morning because we had bought special crepes flour the other day and we didn't want to waste it.

Although it turned out that the "special" pancake flour already contained powdered mik, powdered egg and sugar so all we needed was to add water.

For some reason I just couldn't bring myself to just add water so I added milk instead. I whisked up the batter and then impressed Julie with my tossing skills as six pancakes came flying hot off the production line.

Despite being a pre-mix packet they tasted fine coated in plenty of sugar and lemon.

It was such a great start to the day.

Our plan today was to visit the bullring and a palace called Casa de Pilatos, so off we set down the familiar streets towards the centre.

When we reached Plaza Jesus de la Pasion we remembered the sign for Churros con Chocolate and decided to follow it this time.

It lead us to Bar El Comercio where on a small table outside they had this large coil of cold congealed churros. It was so unappealing.

It almost put us off. If it wasn't for our determination to find a tasty churros we would have walked away.

Inside was much more inviting as we pulled up a stool at the cosy bar.

The interior decor was interesting to say the least. Behind the bar, next to a portrait of Christ hung a parafin lamp and a monkey wrench.

It still had the traditional hanging hams and beautiful blue and white azujelos tiles but it was these curiosities that gave its unique character.

We ordered our churros and chocolate and waited apprehensively for them. Were they going to be another disappointment?

They soon arrived fresh and warm with a cup of luxuriously thick hot chocolate.

I dipped in a stick of dough as far as I could and carefully scooped up into my mouth a delicious comforting sweetness.

At last we had found tasty churros!

"Who would have beleived it," I said "after that dog turd on a plate outside?!"

Purring with contentment we left Bar El Comercio and continued on our way across the city.

We strode through the city like locals reaching the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza in no time.

At the taqulla or box office we paid our 6 each for the tour and waited for the next English (& Spanish) tour to start at 12:50pm.

A crowd gradually gathered inside the stalls, about fifty or so before the guide arrived.

She spoke first in Spanish and repeated in English as she explained a little of the history. La Maestranza began as a riding school for the Royal Cavalry to practice equestrian warfare.

The bullfight soon developed into a spectator sport and a bullring was built. In the early days the fight was all done from horseback.

With the history (part 1) completed we were released from our holding pen. Our guide opened a large wooden door and we all shuffled out into the open. We were stood by one of the four gates into the bullring.

"This is the Puerta del Principe (the prince's gate)" she explaned "It is the exit for the victorious matador."

She continued "He would be showered with flowers and applause."

"There are a total of four gates. The others are for the matador to enter, the bull to enter (and exit), and an exit to the hospital for the injured" More information was imparted but I missed most of it as I was too busy trying to spot a good angle for a photo.

Next we followed her onto to the terraces where she explained that she would say her piece all in Spanish first to allow the non-Spaniards time to take pictures and then do her part in English.

That was a very good idea rather than keep everyone waiting by alternating languages every other sentence.

So whilst she eulogised about the impresionante arquitectura I set off up to the top row to try and capture the whole view of this stunning arena.

From up here I could see that the ring was more oval which I'm sure differs slightly from the standard circle.

The sandy stage, the blood red walls and the all-seater terrace were then no different to any other bullring.

But what set La Maestranza apart from the rest was the beautiful architecture of the stadium with its uninterupted colonnade on the upper arcade level.

It was white and ochre arches all the way around incorporating the Baroque grandeur of the Royal box beneath which we were stood.

It was such an impressive sight, one that I wished I had a wide angle lens to capture all its glory.

I returned back down just in time to listen to our guide run through her English script.

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Cabelleria de Sevilla to give it its full title was originally built in wood on a hill where a marketplace once stood and was rectangular in shape.

Construction of what we see today began in 1761 and developed over a century. It was put on hold briefly when 1768 King Carlos III banned bullfighting.

It didn't last last before it was over-turned.

With the history lesson over we all followed her back down inside the bowels of the stadium.

Beautiful wrought iron gates seperated the various seating sections as we walked through the vaulted corridors with simple white washed walls and exposed brick arches.

It always strikes me how little the design of a stadium had changed since the days of the Romans.

I suppose all such arenas are just a version of a coliseum.

When we came to the vicinity of the museum there was a couple of bulls heads up on the wall framed by crossed poles of the horseback torriadors. It was the first real reminder of the grusome sport that takes place in here.

Every now and again a single hand-painted tile was inlaid into the wall.

Each one had a typical Sevillian scene. In this example a lady dressed in her finest was admiring her reflection in a looking glass.

Very much the beauty and the beast side by side.

We first entered a small gallery where we were given ample time to browse the many oil paintings of matadors.

All of them were mildly interesting but we had whizzed around them all within a few minutes.

We then spent a tedious five minutes waiting for the whole group to finish browsing before we could move on to the museum.

The museum was split into four small sections within one large room. Our guide once in great school teacher fashion went through the items in Spanish first then English before moving on. In the first room she was waxing quite lyrically about the how the cavalry would hone their jousting skills with the heads of beheaded traitors.

In more englightened times they were replaced by replica heads.

"There they are" she pointed excitedly.

And indeed there they were, dangling below a painting of King Ferdinand VII were four gruesome clay heads.

She also talked about the cavalry band (a drummer and some trumpeteers) which would accompany a bullfight, a replica of which stood behind glass ready to announce the arrival of the next master matador.

In the next room she explained the rules of engagement for a corrida. All about the piciador, torriador and matador.

I was getting a little bored by now and wasn't paying enough attention to what she was saying. I'm sure she gave me a filthy see-me-after-class look.

I'm just glad she didn't ask me a question to test me.

One piece of information that I do remember was the tradition that if a bull kills a matador in a fight not only is it slaughtered anyway but also it's mother as not to breed anymore killer bulls!

We moved out of the musuem and continued down the corridor to where the church of the Plaza de Toros was hudden discreetly to the side right next to the Puerta Principal, the gate from which the matador enters the ring.

The church was located here because the the matador would pray for glory and a clean kill before he stepped out in front of the baying crowd.

It was a very small church locked away behind an iron gate.

At the far end was the altarpiece, a wall of gold with it's saintly icon at its centre.

Julie and I hung around a while to be on our own here. There was something in the air. A real sense of history and tradition. Despite finding bullfighting utterly abhorent I could see how people can justify to themselves that it's something that needs to be protected.

We caught up with the group and reached the stables where the horses waited before they entered the ring.

It was a bit unclear through which gate they entered, the same one as the bull or the matador or had she in fact miscount and there was a 5th gate for them.

Anyway, that was the end of the Plaza de Toros museum tour and we were unceremoniously shown the back door and dumped back out onto the streets.

It had lasted exactly an hour and on the whole we were glad we went. It was also refreshing that we didn't walk out through the souvenir shop!

We hadn't eaten for a while so our first thought was food.

To be fair it was 2pm and well past lunchtime!

On Sunday we ate at Bodeguita Romero which wasn't far from here and having had the benefit of hindsight Julie had read that their speciality was a Montadito de Pringa, a sandwhich of slow roasted pork.

Nowhere else had a recommendation that stood a chance against the Montadito so we walked across to the Bodeguita Romero and ordered the Pringa.

I went for a "tapas" portion of a tortilla de patatas or a "Spanish Omlette" to the visitor.

It was strangely empty today. Perhaps it was the time of day or maybe because it simply wasn't a Sunday but there were only us and one other table occupied.

Our food arrived promptly and it really hit the spot with great taste and quality.

Julie was left speechless with the flavour of her sandwich and whilst I was expecting my torilla to be just a quarter slice I actually got the whole frying pan of an omelette albeit small and it tasted delicious.

We were both very happy with our choices. It's such a shame that today was our last day. We could have so easily returned here every day and worked our way through their menu.

It was time now for a siesta but we decided to forego today's afternoon nap so that we could see the very fine Casa de Pilatos. So off we went across the old town along streets we hadn't marched down before.

We walked down the pedestrianised Calle Sierpes with it's bandaged sky protecting the high end designer store customers.

The awnings shaded the street nicely to allow for a more lesuirely window shopping experience but we didn't stay long on Seville's premier shopping street.

We headed Eastwards and eventually found ourselves back on a familiar street near Plaza Cristo Burgos. Before visiting Casa de Pilatos I wanted to visit a bar that specialised in a cold garlic soup known as Ajo Blancos, they even named themselves after it. Bar Ajoblancos was our way (sort of) on calle Alhondiga so it wasn't much of a detour.

It was a quirky little bar. There wasn't much to it, just three or four tables and a small bar but it had a great vibe to it with an assortment of music posters on the wall of artists that were right up my street like Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Santana.

At the end of the room they has a small selection of vinyl records for sale so after we ordered I was quite excited to have a thumb through what they had in stock.

Unfortunately their LPs didn't live up to the expecations raised by posters on the wall. It was more 60s easy listening like Jim Reeves and Mario Lanza.

It didn't take long for my Ajos Blancos to arrive but I guess there wasn't much too it but pour it into a bowl straigh from the fridge. We had also ordered a patas bravas which probably slowed them down a bit.

The bowl of "white gazpacho" was interesting. I couldn't taste much garlic and the texture of ground almond was a little odd but I did enjoy trying something new.

The patatas bravas was something they didn't specialise in and it showed. It was too simple with fried potato drizzled with tomato ketchup and garlic mayonaisse.

We left Bar Ajoblancos and went in search of Casa de Pilatos. We stuggled to find it at first deep in the narrow streets but we finally came across the entrance more through luck than judgement.

It was just a few minutes before 3pm but we had to wait until 3pm to enter if we wanted to go in for free. There was a concession after 3pm on Wednesday afternoons for EU citizens.

Having waited for a good 5 minutes we ended up having to pay 6 each anyway because we had not brought any ID with us. It had to be a passport or drivers licence to prove our nationality.

However the moment we stepped inside the main courtyard Patio Principal we soon forgot about having to pay, it was worth every penny.

It was beautiful.

Casa de Pilatos was the palace of the First Marquess of Tarifa who in the early 16th century, as it was the fashion then, went on a journey to the Holy Land.

When he returned home he set about renovating his palace with all the wonders he had seen on his journey. It soon became known as the House of Pilate because it was rumoured to have resembled the house of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.

He had clearly been influenced by the beautiful renaissance architecture of the Italian cities he visited.

It was still very much mudejar in its style with all the intricate plasterwork of the arches and azujelos tiling but the fountain and statues certainly added that renaissance touch.

The fountain in the centre of the courtyard was even imported from Genoa.

In the corners were three Roman statues and a 5th century B.C. Greek statue of the Goddess Athena which was quite incredible to think of its age.

It was very much like the Real Alcazar only on a smaller scale. It even had Spanish aristrocaty in residence in the Duke & Duchess of Medinaceli.

There was a staircase leading up to the first balcony but it was closed. Apparently there was a seperate "tour" available to visit the first floor. We made our way towards the gardens, passing along the way a few small rooms.

One conatined the most peculiar painting I've ever seen of a bearded man breast-feeding a child.

The painting was described as La Mujer Barbuda or The Bearded Woman of the Abruzzi by Jose de Ribera.

Painted in 1631 it was apparently a portrait of Felici de Amici and his wife Magdalena Ventura who at the age of 37 suddenly developed a long and thick beard. She was 52 when this portrait was taken.

I don't know what truth there was in this story but it was all written in great detail on the painting itself. The Latin inscription on the tablet declared Magdalena to be a "great wonder of nature".

Apparently there is a hormonal condition called hirsutism that does cause excessive hair growth in women and "bearded ladies" were common place in the freak shows of 19th century travelling fairs.

True or not it was a most disturbing image!

Next after we had done gawping at the freak we entered the garden which was all contained within a large courtyard.

Laid out symmetrically it had in its centre a huge dome of a pergola with a small bubbling fountain and some benches in the shade.

This was where Julie decided to sit and give her weary feet a rest whilst I walked around taking photographs.

At the back of the garden there appeared to be a grotto with a facade fashioned to look like a cave. When I got closer I could see inside a marble statue of a body reclinning which then made it seem more of a mausoleum.

On the other side there was such a pretty scene of marble column pieces neatly stacked and scattered with cherry blosom in front of a cherry red wall.

It was really beautiful, almost like a still life painting.

Also in this part of the garden was an imposing loggia or portico, a patio straight out of the Italian book of renaissance architecture. It definitely brought a certain grandeur to the garden.

Having taken all the photos I wanted I joined Julie and sat beneath the leafy cupola listening to the small fountain. It was so peaceful here that we spent the next ten minutes simply relaxing in the shade.

If the marble benches had been a little more comfortable we probably would have stayed here all afternoon but when our bottoms began to lose feeling we got up and made our way towards the exit.

We walked out through a very basic yard in which there was an orange tree in full fruit. The rural country style seemed at odds with the lavish features of the main courtyard and the manicured gardens.

It felt like and probably was the servants entrance and was full of rustic charm.

We left just before 4pm having spent a lovely hour.

The immediate area around Casa de Pilatos was dominated by the mostly windowless high walls of Convento de San Leonardo. It almost resembled a prison. (Oh dear, that's an awful thing to say!)

The convent is known for its yemas, sweets made from egg yolks but we didn't buy any; we didn't even find the entrance.

We were distracted by the gaudy Iglesia de San Ildefonso. I do mean gaudy in that it was brightly painted and not built by Gaudi the Spanish architect.

The church was garish in the extreme in a vivid red and yellow and it really grabbed our attention. It didn't look real, like it was straight out of a scence from The Wizard of Oz.

Continuing our walk back to the apartment we had thought about visiting the Museo del Baile Flamenco a museum about the famous Andalucian dance.

Not only was it a museum but it also had flamenco classes and performances. That would have been a lot of fun.

However we decided that what we needed now was a siesta and that we should go out tonight to a bar and watch some proper flamenco in action.

Back at our apartment we started planning our supper.

We had most of the ingredients for a paella but needed a few more essentials like the rice and some Cava to wash it all down!

So off I traipsed to the supermarket dragging my granny trolley behind me. Julie stayed in the appartment as she was too tired.

A man on a mission I was in and out of the Mercadona in minutes but I left missing onions. I popped into the small fruit & veg shop nearby and asked the shop assistant for some onions.

We struggled to communicate.

I had a good guess in Italian with "cipolle' which wasn't too far away from the Spanish "cebollas" but no, nothing, nada. She didn't even meet me half way. With a bit of quick thinking I got my smartphone out and used google translate. I showed her the screen with "cebollas" clearly on it but she still looked at me as if I was an idiot.

Luckily I found a sack of onions and rummaged around in it. This really upset her, as if the customer wasn't supposed to pick their own veg. There were a couple of rotten ones in there so I demanded that I bought the good one I had picked.

She was thoroughly unpleasant which came as a surprise, I hadn't come across any surly behaviour in Seville. Anyway, I escaped without any further incident and returned back to the apartment.

We chilled on our balcony whilst the sun set. It was so peaceful here. Quite idyllic.

It was 9pm when we sat down for supper. We well and truly into the local groove now!

I cooked a lovely vegetable paella adding some chicken and prawns for Julie and some artichokes for myself which wasn't at all traditional but worked well.

We had planned to go out tonight to a flamenco bar but slumped on our sofa having just eaten the last thing we felt like doing was going out for the evening.

But it was our last night in Seville and we would only regret not seeing some authentic flamenco in its birthplace.

"We'll enjoy it when we get there" we both agreed. So out we headed.

We walked across the city unadided by a map as we knew the streets so well we were practically locals. Going out so late was also such a Spanish way of life. It was gone 10pm yet chilldren were still playing in the parks and the streets were buzzing with people.

A city often looks better at night.

Its best features are lit up and its less attractive areas disappear into the shadows.

We reached the side street Calle Huelva in no time and found the bar Huelva Ocho. We paid twice the average price for a small beer and then 4 each to step behind the screens into the back room where we waited for the performance to begin.

It was quite exciting to be in such an informal setting. The only other flamenco experience we've had was in Madrid at a large scale tablao with the performers up on stage. Here we were in a small room gathered around them.

The musicians first entered the room, sat down and played a song, with guitar, hand claps and singing. Then entered the female dancer strutting and stamping in a full blooded passionate display of flamenco emotion or the duende as its known. We could feel the pain, the struggle, the heart and soul of the dance and we were captivated by it.

We both were also wondering if she was in reality a he. She was very tall and had incredibly large hands as well possesing a very manly tortured expression.

There was a short interval which gave us enough time to go to the bar.

We all returned to our seats where after a costume change the dancer entered the room. She was joined by a male dancer. There was even more duende going on as the passion between them ignited.

It was all highly entertaining.

The performers took a bow and left the room and we left Bar Huelva Ocho. Standing outside in the street there appeared to be another group ready to take their turn.

We thought about returning inside but decided to head for our apartment. It was getting late and we had a flight to catch in the morning.

We soon forgot about that however when we came across a lively bar called Alfalfa on the corner of the square of the same name.

The shutters were down as if it were closed but people were still going inside. So in we followed for just one more drink. One more raise of the glass to Seville.

It was only small but had a high ceiling crammed to the rafters with dusty wine bottles, the obligatory hanging hams and a small back kitchen serving tapas.

There was a cracking atmosphere in here.

We were enjoying it so much we threw caution to the wind and went to order another drink but unfortunately (or fortunately) it really was closing now.

This time it was straight back to the apartment without any distraction.

Just beyond Plaza Cristo de Burgos we came across a mirage, a vision of an ice-cream parlour shining brightly in the night.

It wasn't an illusion but Helados Rayas.

We stepped inside to browse their extraordinary selection of ice cream flavours. There was so much choice we simply couldn't make our minds up. So much so we eventually gave up and left without buying anything!

Just around the corner and perhaps another corner and we were almost home.

It was well into Thursday by now.

Julie went to bed whilst I did some of the housekeeping chores tidying the place up and takingout the rubbish.

It was 1:40am when I did. Five minutes later the refuse collection team came to empty our bins. What incredibke service!

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