May 17-20: Sevilla, Spain
OK, we loved Granada, but Seville was pretty darn wonderful as well. There is SO much to see and do there, we found our three days were quite busy. We had a big studio apartment in the Macarena district of the old city with about a 1 km walk to the Cathedral and Alcazar, and about the same distance to the river. We walked a LOT in the city and didn’t end up using any other modes of transportation, although there are a lot of possibilities for tourists – Hop On Hop Off busses (too pricey and skirted around the edges of the old town too much), all day transit passes which would be useful if you aren’t comfortable walking 2-10km in a day, lots of great bikes lanes with municipal bike rentals (useful for longer term visits), as well as regular tourist bike rentals, and horse-drawn carriage rides for people with cash to spare. There is no excuse to not see all there is to see.
We arrived in the afternoon and our first order of business was to find our reserved parking spot which was location a couple of blocks from our apartment. We drove the ring road around most of the city, but eventually had to turn into the old town and start winding our way down the narrow, one-way cobblestone streets and alleys. Our hosts had sent us a video that showed how to get into the parking lot and it appeared to involve a couple of three point turns to get the car facing the right direction in and out of a narrow alley. We watched it several times, checked out the route on google street view, and STILL managed to miss the underground parking access on our first attempt. Suddenly we found ourselves continuing down the one-way alley with no clue as to how to find our way back to our starting point. Luckily, Erik is calm and confident in these situations now, and I am a pretty darn good navigator, so I quickly managed to figure out a route that got us back to the garage without too much trouble. Our biggest pressure was that our host was waiting for us at the apartment and he had to leave to pick up his kids from school in 15 minutes.
Once we rolled down the ramp, the woman attendant directed us into a very tight spot, manually pushing a couple of cars out of the way in order to make room for us! I guess some owners had left their cars in neutral so she could move them around when she needed to, since the parking garage was packed with cars two to three deep in places. Finally, we were parked and *almost* able to edge the doors open wide enough to squeeze out of the car. We quickly paid her €30 for three days parking, and literally ran down the road to find our apartment and Antonio before he left to pick up his kids. Luckily, Antonio was still waiting, (I’d been messaging him on WhatsApp throughout our parking ordeal so he knew we were on our way) and he quickly showed us into the unit and gave us the information we would need.
The apartment was on the main floor and was a large studio, although the bed was in a partially screened-off room. It had a big living room area with two couches, and a kitchen with a two burner range and other appliances. We also had a washing machine and a drying rack so we immediately did a load of clothes and hung them to dry. Antonio had also left us with two bikes, but one of them had non-existent back brakes so we didn’t use them. That was too bad because they would have come in handy. We found the apartment through booking.com and it was €93 / $136CAD per night. Seville is probably the most expensive place we will stay in on this trip.
As a side note, the Canadian dollar has dropped a lot since we booked most of these accommodations in February, and most places ended up costing us $10-20 per night more than we had originally planned. On the other hand, we were really glad we HAD booked in advance because most of the places we stayed at were either full up or considerably more expensive when booking last minute.
On our first afternoon in Seville, Erik went for a walk around the neighbourhood while I hung out at home and then made spaghetti for dinner. Later in the evening, after 10pm, we walked all the way down to the cathedral plaza where there are a number of tourist sights. The cathedral itself is massive, the 3rd largest cathedral in the world I think, and it looked beautiful lit up against the deep blue-black sky of the evening. We found the entrance to the Alcazar so we’d know where to go for our 11:30am entrance time the next day.
I strongly recommend buying your Alcazar tickets online even if you are already in the city. When you approach the entrance, there is a line on the left for groups, a long line on the right for buying tickets, and a practically non-existent line in the middle for people who already have tickets. What a deal – we walked right past everyone in line, showed our digital ticket and walked in. I paid €9 and Erik only had to pay €2 as a senior – a bonus of being married to an old guy. 😉 There was an additional €1 charge each for the online ticket, but that is well worth it in my opinion if it means you don’t wait in line.
On our first full day, we spent several hours in the Real Alcazar (Royal Alcazar) with its beautiful gardens and amazing architecture. Although I’ve seen a lot of castles and cathedrals in Europe, I’ve found the buildings in southern Spain quite interesting with the Islamic architecture and design, mixed with Christian and even Pagan elements. Muslims do not believe in using images and instead use intricate, repetitive, geometric patterns, frequently in blues and browns.
Rather than try to describe the Alcazar, I will quote a passage from their website.
The Alcázar of Seville is one of the most representative monumental compounds in the city, the country and the Mediterranean culture as a whole. The historical evolution of the city in the last millennium is held within its walls and gardens, amalgamating influences starting from the Arabic period, late Middle Ages Mudéjar right through to the Renaissance, Baroque and the XIX century. The declaration of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 acknowledged the survival of cultures and civilizations as a harmonic whole where all of the elements are balanced. The visitor will get to know these unique surroundings either through the legendary al-Mutamid, the XI century monarch and poet from Seville, or through some of the characters that illuminated modern-day Spain around 1812.
We went out for dinner that night and had a so-so meal at a restaurant close to home. We each had Andalusian Gazpacho which was excellent, followed by an omelette, which our host had recommended. I had wanted the asparagus omelette, but when the waiter brought out Erik’s mushroom omelette, he told me they were out of asparagus so I had a mushroom one as well. It turned out to be mostly mushrooms, and only a little scrambled egg mixed in for good luck I think. The flavour was ok, but neither of us could eat the whole thing. To be honest, I think they dumped an entire can of mushrooms in a pan, and scrambled and egg or two into the mix. Seriously. And then it took close to an hour to get an espresso and our bill. Subsequently, the next night, we ate leftover spaghetti. 🙂
On our second full day, we went for a long walk to the Plaza de Espana and Maria Luisa Park which were about 2.5 km away. The Plaza is a semi-circle of government buildings that were constructed for Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. It was quite impressive and beautiful with a huge open plaza in front. All along the walls of the buildings were alcoves with maps and photos of every region of Spain. We enjoyed finding all the places we have been both on the Camino last year, and in southern Spain this trip.
Next to the Plaza was a large park with many sections, from carefully manicured flower beds, to deep forests with massive trees. There were gazebos, and fountains, and even a bird island. We wandered in the cool shadows on that hot day until our feet hurt, and then we walked along the river before finally turning back into the city and up to our apartment. In the evening, we walked back to the cathedral one last time to sit by the fountain in the middle of the plaza, and watched the people. There was a big wedding just finishing and also some kind of strange religious ceremony going down another street. I really enjoy sitting in a plaza late at night – it reminds me of our month in Orvieto.
We didn’t pay to go into the Cathedral – we’ve seen many beautiful churches and didn’t feel like spending another €10-15 – but I did take lots of pictures of the beautiful exterior though as I just love Gothic architecture. We did visit the much smaller, and less ostentatious Basilica de Macarena and saw the very famous and much revered “Virgen de la Esperanza de Macarena de Sevilla” (Virgin of Hope of Macarena). This 17th century, full size wooden statue is carried through the city to the big cathedral during Seville’s holy week – La Semana Santa. It was free to visit the church but there was a small fee for the museum. It would be interesting to visit Seville during holy week.
Although I normally don’t love large cities, I really did enjoy visiting Seville. We were able to stay in a quieter neighbourhood but still had easy access to the touristy spots. It’s so much nicer to have more than just a bed in a hotel room, although I do prefer it when we also have a terrace or balcony so we can sit outside as well. I also really enjoyed being able to cook a few meals because I quickly get tired of restaurant food on long trips, and we are able to save a lot of money when we eat at home. It’s also a bonus to be able to retreat to a quiet apartment when you’ve been out walking all day.
Next up: A night in Evora, then Lisbon.