The boys had a couple of days off for teacher training in November so this seemed like a natural time to travel. In fact, we went to Bern at this time last year and joined in on the Onion Festival. So, why not somewhere that would actually promise warmth and sunshine this year?
I’d never been to Spain before, and I frankly Spain had never topped my “Places I Must See List.” The only thing I really knew about Spain was that Ernest Hemingway lived there for short periods of time throughout his life. The fact that Hemingway seemed enchanted wasn’t necessarily something that impressed me, but when one’s favorite airline offers a fare for 80CHF per person round trip to Seville the city suddenly becomes Must See.
I found us rooms at the Hotel Abanico, a lovely boutique hotel right out of the old town. It wasn’t much from the outside – a nondescript fronted building jammed into a narrow street just down the way from the Casa de Pilatos – but on the inside it was a real gem. Plus it was a great price for a room that sleeps a family of 4!
Getting around in Seville it’s best if you walk. The streets are narrow and the sidewalks are practically nonexistent. Solid and stylish walking shoes are a must because most of the streets are lovely cobblestones from the 16th century.
It’s only a 2 hour flight from Basel to Seville. It feels quick. It was in the 50Fs when we left and we arrived to a balmy 75F weather and blue skies. Our taxi whisked us from the outskirts of town where the airport was into the heart of Seville.
After we checked into the hotel we plunged ourselves into the streets to explore Seville.
The streets of Seville are not a web – that implies order or a sort. And it’s not a maze – that implies intent and planning. The streets of Seville is a bowl of spaghetti thrown onto the floor – random and confusing. I don’t know how people found their way before GPS.
The next thing I noticed were the orange trees. They were everywhere. Lining every major, wide street and around every building.
They were beautiful and it was perfect. The smell of ripening oranges floated down to us as we passed underneath them. When we took a walking tour the next day (and I highly suggest you do take advantage of the free walking tours; our guide was full of great information about the city and he gave us the name of several great tapas restaurants) our guide told us these oranges were sour and the trees were planted by the Moors who used natural beauty as decoration in their cities. The city owns these trees and they sell the oranges to companies in Britain so they can be made into marmalade, which they are perfect for.
We wandered around and found ourselves under what the locals call The Mushroom. In the Plaza de la Encarnación there is the sculpture Metropol Parasol. It is wooden! It was built in 2011 and designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer. It goes 85 feet high and there is a walkway around the top where you can see the entire city.
In a wonderful juxtaposition, underneath The Mushroom are Roman ruins from the 1st Century. They were found in the 1990s when the city began to build an underground parking ramp with a market over the top of it. Finding the ruins halted all of those plans and archaeological dig began. The Mushrooms live in harmony with the dig, which you can explore after you come down from the top.
They found a few houses, a fish salting and preserving building, and exquisite mosaic floors. After we visited the modern and the ancient we wanted to see the park called Alamdea de Hércules. The park is the oldest public park in Spain and the Roman columns below are from an old Roman temple they thought was dedicated to Hercules. The statues on top are of Julius Caesar and Hercules – the mythical founder of Seville. This is a fountain in the Alameda. In the summer the jets go high into the air and the children run around in the spray. The tiles are textured rubber so people don’t slip.
We found some play areas and the boys ran around. A much needed activity after being cooped up in an airplane. Around 2pm we discovered that many shops around the neighborhood were closing for siesta. I found that I was actually ready for a rest, too, so we went back to the hotel for some quiet time. Mark and I sipped coffee while the boys read books in the cushy chairs in the lounge. We weren’t the only guests there, either. Many of them had come back to lounge and rest and get ready for dinner in Seville.
Dinner in Seville is a big deal. You don’t dress up for it or make reservations or anything like that, but dinner begins around 7, can last until 10, and is usually tapas with a pitcher (or 3) of sangria.
For our first night in Seville we went to a place called El Rinconcillo, recommended to us by Mark’s friend and colleague, Paco. The next time I see Paco I am going to give him a huge hug. It was one of the most wonderful meals I have ever had.
Tapas are small, appetizer sized plates of dishes. I think it kind of started out as bar food and it has become elevated into bites of complex, flavorful dishes. The point of tapas facilitate a slow, leisurely night out full of conversation and laughter. You buy sangria by the pitcher or have a bottle of wine and sip while talking and eating.
El Rinconcillo (which claims a founding date of 1670, making it the oldest restaurant in Spain) offers both tapas and full dinners. It also has a field of Iberico ham hanging from the rafters.
We made our order and plates of fresh shaved Iberico ham, fried cod, wild asparagus omelet, and the sweet green olives the size of golf balls came to our table. The sangria was a wonderful blend of red wine, cinnamon, clove, orange, apple, and plum. The gazpacho, a chilled tomato soup, also appeared and quickly disappeared.
Concerned that the kids weren’t getting enough to eat we also ordered a steak and fries as a “back up.” The fries were thick yet crisp on the outside and the sirloin was kissed by the grill and a nice medium rare on the inside. My mouth is watering thinking about it now.
We were still content the next day as we went to meet our walking tour at the Plaza Nueva.
Plaza Nueva honors King Fernando III of Castilla, who ruled over Seville in the 13th century. There are lots of statues and other references to Fernando III throughout Seville, but this is his main monument.
All around the edge of the Plaza are book sellers – little permanent booths were you can buy used books of any variety. A book lover could spend a fair bit of time there.
The city hall runs along one side of the Plaza. The front actually faces away from the Plaza so that the morning sun hits the facade.
The City Hall was built in 1527 because Charles V’s cousin Isabella of Portugal wanted an impressive building to house the city’s government.
Seville was incredibly important to Spain and the whole of Europe. Seville’s position, on the wide Rio Guadalquivir a short distance up from the Atlantic Ocean, meant that it was a well protected and ideal place to bring the highly valuable goods the Spanish were bringing over from the New World.
This meant that Seville was the ONLY place in Europe to get chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla, and tobacco. This made Seville not only politically important, it also made them rich. And Isabella wanted their city hall to reflect how rich and important they were.
But of course it couldn’t last.
Look at the building again. Notice anything … unusual? The building began on the left-hand side. The architecture is ornate and detailed. Like the Alameda de Hércules it also features statues of Julius Cesar and Hercules.
As the building process was going along the money started to run out. By the time they got about 2/3rds done the money was depleted. The ornaments became less and less until they just ran out and we are left with a plain stone facade on the right.
It’s too bad. It is a beautiful building on a lovely, wide plaza that fills with people on Friday and Saturday nights having a beer or cocktail from the tapas bars and cafes that ring the plazas.
The most beautiful building we saw, and there were a lot of them that I will feature in the next post, was the Plaza de Espana.
It was built for the 1929 World’s Fair to show off the regional architectural blend of Mujédar and Renaissance Revival. The results are stunning.
The Plaza is huge! Tall towers flank the semi-circular walk that is broken up by three building complexes. Four bridges, with railings made entirely of Spanish tile, arc over a wide moat where you can lounge in a boat for a small fee.
These banquets are part of the Province Alcoves. Each province is represented in gorgeous Spanish tile murals. People sit there, eat their sandwiches, sip their coffee, and read their new papers all while enjoying the beautiful sunshine. The boys were impressed to learn that this place was featured in Star Wars I and Star Wars II. They ran around looking for signs of Anakin and Padma, but didn’t find any. Don’t worry. We showed them clips.
If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, you can also find the Plaza in Lawrence of Arabia and The Dictator.
We lingered for quite awhile. The Plaza is made for lingering. I recommend you bring a snack and a book and sit to enjoy a quiet moment.
Next time I will take you through the Cathedral, talk about Iberico ham, take you on a carriage ride, and show you one of the most beautiful houses in Spain.
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