After our long weekend in Marseille, Julie’s father was kind enough to drive us the 45 minutes to the airport so we could catch our plane to Sevilla in Spain. The flight was comfortable, as was the trip into the center of town. But wandering around for almost an hour in the Andalusian midday sun left little doubt that we’re heading south.
A well-intentioned Dutch guy who spoke English pointed us in the direction he thought would take us to our hotel from the bus station. But five minutes and two turns down narrow cobblestone streets found us staring up at a church (one of about a dozen we’d passed since getting off the bus) but clueless as to which of the many on the map it might be. Southern Spain seems to have a church-to-people ratio in the neighborhood of 1-to-1.
Confusion is pretty universally recognizable apparently, as a well-bronzed older gentleman with his shirt unbuttoned to his sternum stopped to see if he could help us. We fumbled around trying to give him a street name that might be recognizable. As with most of the Old World cities I’ve visited in Europe, street signs in Sevilla seem to be more optional than obligatory. Yes, bigger streets do have signs if you know where to look for them, but it’s as if city planners figured if you were on one of these tiny capillaries, you ought to know where you’re going. If you don’t, serves you right if you get lost.
Finally, we uttered a street name the man recognized (and that we could pronounce at least somewhat intelligibly), which fittingly turned out to be ‘Love of God Avenue’ (loosely translated). He gave us a litany of directions in Spanish, which might have led us straight to our hotel, had we understood them. However, the only word we recognized had something to do with time, so we started looking for a clock.
That was easy enough to find, but once again, we were faced with a wagon wheel of spoke-like, nameless streets to choose from, and each with a seemingly prominent but unnamed church at its head. Anne-Claire found a hotel (not ours), got a better map, and figured out where we were on the map, and eventually we stumbled on the dead-end alley where our hotel was located.
The beginning of our visit notwithstanding, Sevilla, once the seat for administration of Spain’s conquered lands in the New World, turned out to be a lovely way point on our journey to North Africa. We settled into our hotel, then set out to ply the empty afternoon streets for some food. Our first choice came highly recommended on Trip Advisor, but was more expensive than we thought. We’d probably have had to cook our own food too, as it seems the entire was taking their siesta, though they’d left the air conditioning on and the music playing inside.
On a no-name (surprise, surprise) back alley, we found a little bar with no menus per se, only a chalkboard laying out the day’s offerings. We only recognized the word for calamari, so we tried ordering that. Somehow, the request didn’t land. The gruff-looking barkeep with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth communicated to us that that wasn’t what we were going to have, but rather, he’d choose a few dishes and bring them to us.
Ten minutes later, we had a plate of fried fish, a plate of tomatoes with tuna and olive oil, two ham and egg sandwiches, and a richly flavored roll of meat that had been breaded and fried. The food found a happy home in our stomachs, as by this point we were pretty hungry, but we fretted over what the bill would come to. It’s part of traveling, we figured, to be fleeced every now and then – and something we probably deserved coming to Spain and not speaking Spanish.
All that food, plus a bottle of water (we hadn’t yet figured out how to say tap water – pardon my spelling – ‘agua del grifa’), and 4 small beers came to…€19.80. Little does that bartender know how much he did for a cranky, tired American couple that afternoon.
We had another pleasant meal late that evening, though the area we went was touristy and the prices weren’t as good. What was good – superb, in fact – were the toasts with slices of rank goat cheese and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. That, washed down with sangria and the most refreshing lager I’ve had in my life, made the evening’s (~10:30 pm) 90+ degree heat bearable.
After a cheap breakfast of toast, tomatoes, olive oil and coffee at a bustling café the next morning, we checked out the Cathedral y Garibaldi in the center of town. It’s a massive church, somehow incorporating Moorish and Gothic architecture beautifully. It was built over several centuries by architects adhering to the different styles, and the absence of a singular unifying design makes it fascinating to look at from every angle. The abundant use of tiered flying buttresses creates ever-changing snowflake patterns of sky visible through the arches, and it makes the builders’ use of the same technology on the Notre Dame Cathedral look downright timid.
Close to the cathedral sits the Real Alcazar, a royal palace that apparently is still a residence for the Spanish monarchy. Again, the entire complex reflects the site’s past as a Moorish fort. Stunning tile work and intricate designs were the handiwork of Moorish craftsmen hired by the Catholic royals to lend a piece of their culture to the construction when it was rebuilt more recently than Moorish occupation of southern Spain. Like a smaller, Mediterranean version of Versailles, the palace wends through al fresco hallways and past courtyard fountains. Behind it lie immaculate gardens, and a perfectly tranquil underground bath tricked us into thinking the reflection in the pool was an empty trough.
As the streets became quieter and quieter, we figured we too should avoid being lumped in with the ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ who are said to come out in the oppressive late-afternoon heat. Still, we saw our retreat into air conditioned comfort a bit of a defeat, as we figured things would only get hotter as we traveled further south.