Anil kept angling for a haircut, you may not know that in all our thirty-five years together, he has only once had a haircut by someone other than me. It was so bad; I never let anyone near his hair again. I should have agreed to stop the sightseeing for a short time and given him a trim. I could have been famous, ‘The Barber Of Seville’. People would sing my praises all over the world.
We opted for a taxi to take us from the train station to a hotel we had selected from our guidebook. This is not our usual style, but Donna was with us and it seemed to make sense. Well, it made sense until the poor driver had to struggle to put our luggage in the trunk. My damaged suitcase with its protruding handle made for some serious maneuvering. We arrived at our destination to find the hotel fully booked, as were the two nearby hotels suggested by the first.
As we walked along a narrow street, we spotted a sign for another hotel and ducked in to see if they had room. We asked for a triple room and things looked dicey, but then the receptionist offered us a good rate on two rooms on the main floor that had windows into the interior courtyard. These are less attractive to most travellers so they happened to be available. The price was right too, so we took them. The receptionist assured us she could find a better room for us for the remaining two nights at a sister hotel in another neighbourhood, Barrio Santa Cruz.
After settling in, we decided to explore the rooftop terrace and were over the moon at our good fortune. We had a large terrace, freshly painted and decorated with lovely potted plants on the walls, in typical Andalusian style. We asked for suggestions for lunch and when we were directed to a great tapas café, we were introduced to some of the greatest food we have eaten in Spain so far. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was hopping. We caught the spirit of the place and ordered several different tapas along with some great ice-cold beer.
During the previous several days, I had discovered that I could drink both Spanish wine and beer without suffering debilitating migraines. What a joy not to have to watch Anil and Donna quaff delicious beverages while I confine myself to water or the occasional gin and tonic. Just as we finished eating, the staff began to close the café for the afternoon siesta, good timing on our part for sure.
We decided to walk along a self-guided tour that was outlined in our guidebook even though we weren’t at the start point. We wandered along the streets of Seville enjoying the quiet Sunday afternoon, especially as the streets seemed to have less traffic and there were plenty of families out with children and the elderly. We picked up some bread, cheese, ham and olives along with a bottle of wine so that we could eat on our terrace instead of going out to a restaurant in the evening.
The sunset was lovely and lit up many of the old buildings that surrounded our hotel. We were not far off from the cathedral and could even see its spires outlined by the setting sun. Another successful day had been navigated. We had moved to another city with ease and found a great place to stay and an even better place to eat. All was right with the world.
The next morning we had to pack up and move to the other Del Patio hotel and we were delighted to learn that they had found a large room for us, outfitted with an extra single bed so that we could all be together again. The new hotel also had a terrace and it happened to be situated on the walking tour route. After settling in, we set off to see more of Seville and pay a visit to the Cathedral, reputed to be one of the largest in the world.
The Cathedral absorbed us for a long time that day, there was so very much to see inside and then we climbed the 90-m high tower known as ‘La Giralda’. This tower is considered to be one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Spain. It is all that remains of the great mosque that once stood on this site. When the Christian kings conquered the region, the mosque was used as a church for over 150 years. When it fell into terrible decay, it was demolished and the Cathedral was built on the foundations. The top of the minaret was extended to install a belfry and then a huge bronze sculpture was added which has become the symbol of the city.
The climb to the top was fairly easy as the tower was built with ramps instead of stairs so that the guards could ride up on horseback. Still there were 35 ramps to climb and there were many visitors huffing and puffing along the way. The views from the top were wonderful, we could see the Rio Guadalquivir in all its glory below us. Seville had been a major Roman city centuries ago, due to the fact that the river was navigable 100 km from the Atlantic Ocean.
By the 14th century, Seville was the most important Castilian city and all trade with the Americas was controlled from here. It was to become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The next 300 years were not kind to Seville. The river began to silt up, limiting trade and plagues decimated the population time and time again. Seville fell to Franco’s armies at the start of the Civil War and it wasn’t until the 1980s that things began to turn around. It is now a city with amazing old architecture and striking modern buildings piercing the skyline in all directions.
As we descended the tower we found ourselves back in the Cathedral and we continued to explore some of the many chapels, some holding the most amazing treasures. Masterpieces in paint, marble, silver and gold were housed in out-of-the way rooms one could easily overlook. We were tired and hungry when we were finished and made straight for an ice cream shop conveniently located just opposite the beautiful Islamic Puerta del Perdon gate. There’s nothing like a dish of gelato to refresh and get a traveller ready for more touring.
We continued along the walking tour and passed by the massive old tobacco factory that has been converted into the University of Seville. This was the workplace of Bizet’s heroine, Carmen, in the opera by the same name. Carmen was my introduction to the world of opera and it is still one of my favorites. It was amazing to be walking by buildings that inspired such a great love story and even greater classical music. We continued walking towards the river as the tour took us along its bank and gave us a chance to see the 13th century Islamic ‘Torre del Oro’ (Golden Tower). It was reputed to have once had a dome covered with gold. Anil declared this to be his favorite building in Seville. The sun was warm, the skies blue and we enjoyed watching the cruise boats on the river. We came upon a statue of Carmen, and it wasn’t until then that I made the connection between Seville and the opera. I should have figured it out sooner, the statue stands in front of the most attractive bullring in all of Spain.
I’m not at all a supporter of the bloody sport of bull fighting, the bulls don’t have a chance really, not with all the blood-letting that goes on to weaken them for the final kill. I wouldn’t want to watch a fight, but I have to respect the history of the sport and the beauty of the arenas that were built to host the spectacles. It was here in Seville, in 1758, that bull fighting on foot first began. Until that time, the matadors were always on horseback.
By this time, we were getting pretty saturated with huge buildings so instead of touring the Alcazar of Seville, the former residence of many generations of Muslim rulers and Christian kings, we chose to wander the narrow lanes of the Barrio Santa Cruz near our hotel and poke our heads into the small gift shops. Donna found some lovely gifts for friends and family at home and I chose a small dish for olives that has attached pots for toothpicks and olive pits. It’s used everywhere here in southern Spain and we thought it would be a nice container for her to use when she wants to serve tapas back home in Canada.
The next morning we were off to Granada, the home of the famous Alhambra. We had read that it is so popular that it is imperative to book a tour time well in advance of arriving, to ensure an opportunity to visit this amazing fortress. We didn’t take the advice because we hate to be locked into tight schedules, especially when a migraine can strike me at any time and I end up incapacitated and unable to leave my bed. Like every other move we make, we set off for Granada with no hotel reservation, no plans in advance, ready to take the city as it comes.