I arrived back in Aix just a few hours ago, and I can’t believe I just spent almost 6 days in Spain. I did and saw so many interesting and new things, the days flew by. Last time I wrote I had just arrived in Sevilla at my hostel, and I hadn’t even talked to my friend Alicia, who is studying there this semester.
Once I got in touch with Alicia, we met up for a late dinner for me. I had sopa de mariscos, a seafood soup with a whole shrimp, scallops, and tiny clams still in the shells, followed by a paella con carne. I have to be honest, this was as authentic as my eating ever got this trip in Spain. I am not one for eating in restaurants alone, so the other nights I did not feel motivated at all to go scope out inexpensive, authentic Spanish cuisine and then struggle with the menu and the waitstaff in pigeon Spanish. Excuses, excuses…. Anyway, Alicia and I got to catch up. It was surreal since the last time we saw each other was in Pittsburgh, and now we’re both doing our own thing in Europe. She’s really liking Sevilla and has taken a bunch of cool trips around Spain. Also coming up, she’s going with her program to Portugal and then a couple weeks later to Morocco. I am jealous!
Per Alicia’s suggestion, my first tourist attraction the next morning, Tuesday, was the Moorish royal palace called Alcázar, parts of which were first constructed in the 10th century AD. I think it started out as a fort, mostly, and then evolved into a more lavish complex. Today the buildings are filled with gorgeous tilework and woodcarvings (larger pic is one of the ornate outer walls of one of the main buildings, the smaller pic is a dome carved out of cedar), and there are several gardens of different styles that are enclosed within the ramparts. I spent two and a half hours here, I think, and ended up taking 150 pictures or so. It was a refreshing visit. I’d never seen Moorish architecture before, and the scale and quality was incredible. That, and walking through some of the gardens, I felt like I should be in India or somewhere exotic, not Spain. Okay, Spain is definitely exciting and exotic, I just didn’t expect it to be so jungle-like.
After my very leisurely stroll through the Alcázar grounds, I walked right across the square to Sevilla’s Catédral, the ‘most extensive Gothic cathedral in the world’. As with the Alcázar, it isn’t just that it’s grand, it’s that you’re looking at the work of hundreds, if not thousands. Every embellishment is perfectly crafted. On the map I counted 26 chapels, including the Royal Chapel situated in the middle, a wall of religious scenes framed by ornate gold decoration reaching at least a third of the way to the ceiling.
The cathedral also holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus. And I thought Pitt’s own Cathedral of Learning was cool….
But even besides all the grandeur inside, many people come to the Catédral to climb up into the Giralda Tower. Two thirds of the tower is part of a minaret of a mosque built in the 12th century that was later incorporated into the cathedral. You have to climb a series of over 30 ramps to get to the top, but once you do, you can see all of Sevilla. It’s a great view. Sevilla seems to have greenery everywhere. Trees line even the busiest streets, and there are parks and gardens everywhere, it seems. And it’s a very charming city, interesting old buildings, tiny, winding streets that are very easy to get lost in, and these funny-looking TV antennas sticking up from every roof.
After the Catédral, I made my last tourist stop of the day at the Iglesia San Salvador, which is smaller and less impressive than the cathedral, but nevertheless worth the visit. The altar and the two chapels are decorated in this ornate, over the top style, I don’t know the term for it exactly. I actually like the church better from the outside, because it has an interesting blue, white, and yellow tiled dome sitting on top of a pinkish foundation.Back at the hostel I fixed up a quick dinner of oven-made pizza (my parents are going to kill me), before heading back out to catch a flamenco demonstration a nearby bar. It was a Tuesday night, but luckily this bar, Carboneria, has a flamenco performance every night at 11pm. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like going back out after all the walking and the mediocre weather, but I’m glad I did.
When I got there, I entered through the main door, only to see a very small, quiet, almost empty bar. I almost left, but then I saw some people walk through a door in the back and so I followed. Lo and behold, there was a huge room with long picnic tables and skinny benches, absolutely packed with people. I ordered a drink (it’s only fair, since the performance was free) and managed to find a spot not too far from the tiny stage up front. At first there was no dancing, just two men, one singing and the other playing guitar, and a woman, clapping along.
It was interesting, but I had really come to see the dancing. Then the woman stood up and began her routine. It was incredible. Every muscle in her body was perfectly coordinated, her hands constantly moving and her feet tapping out rhythms I didn’t think were possible. And the two men fed off of her energy, taking cues from her and changing the music to go with her leaps and strides. The expression on the woman’s face was unbelievable, you could see all the emotion and the focus. Needless to say, it was worth the 5€ for the drink.
Wednesday, my last day in Sevilla, I went to the Plaza de España, a Renaissance era building with, again, great tilework. It’s shaped like a semicircle, with two towers on either end and a fountain in the middle. Around the inner edge of the semicircle there are representations (not the right word, but it’s hard to describe) for each major city in Spain: Barcelona, Cordoba, Madrid, etc. After some time at the Plaza I walked across the street into a beautiful park, full of palm trees and other green things. Then I wandered farther away from the Plaza to find the Guadalqevir River. It kind of reminded me of the Erdre River in Nantes, the one that ran by my house, because of the paths running along it and some of the older steel bridges. Later, I got to meet up with Alicia between her classes, and she led me on a wander through parts of the city I hadn’t been to yet, including her neighborhood across the river, Triana. She showed me where she lived, an apartment on a very cute, very European street. It was great to see her, and we got to catch up and compare notes on our European experiences so far while enjoying a Spanish treat, churros with melted chocolate. Sooo delicious.
We’re almost to the end of my journey. I took the overnight bus from Sevilla to Madrid, where I spent several hours in a coffeehouse waiting for it to get warm(ish). Then I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens, where it was very well maintained but not a lot was in bloom. The flight back from Madrid was uneventful. I walked out of the Marseille airport to be greeted by the infamous provençal wind. Technically it wasn’t the mistral, since that only comes on sunny days, but you could’ve fooled me.
Sorry for the uber long entry, à bientôt!