Sunday, February 15, 2009

Seville - home to tapas and the most amazing oranges

Knowing how difficult it is to see a lot in a day, we have booked in to Seville for another two nights - one so we could go down to Cadiz yesterday and so we have some time to have a look around here before we set off for Portugal and Lisbon early on Sunday.

Man, these Sevillians love their oranges - and why wouldn't they - they are just soooo delicious and squeezed they make the best orange juice we have ever tasted. Someone get me a Seville Orange tree and plant it at home for me please! Do not want to have them ever again.

The streets of Seville are all lined with orange trees in full fruit. I am amazed that no-one harvests them. You see the odd one broken or just empty skins on the ground - but really, the locals just leave them on the trees. Maybe they are just blasé to the wonderfulness of the fruit, being surrounded by them all their lives. The upside is that these trees in full fruit make such a beautiful backdrop to the City.

We are staying in a small hotel - Hotel Zaida - that was once the private home of a Contessa. It is almost decadently rich in its arabian influences with intricately carved door frames and the most beautiful tilework. The floors are white marble and graceful columns reach to hold the upper floors aloft. Despite being a budget hotel, the public areas include a number of lounges furnished with tasteful lounge suites and tables. The rooms are sparse but functional - although I lament the lack of internet cover in our room! Breakfast is not offered, but that gives us an excuse to head to a local cafe for pastries and more of that fantastic fresh orange juice and great coffee!

Although we are situated in the old part of Seville, it is still a little bit of a walk into the main tourist area. We head out, planning to walk along the river. Saturday is busier than the weekdays as everyone heads out to do their shopping and their chores. When we reach the river, we realise that this is where most locals spend their Saturday. There are people rowing on the river - not a couple like we would see on the Mary River, there are literally hundreds - and that is no exageration! There were scullers, singles, pairs, fours and eights. There were coaches and guides from six clubs that we could identify. And on the shore there were cyclists – including child and adult learners, bladers and skaters, joggers and just amblers. The day is beautiful and Seville is taking full advantage of it.

We walk down to the Torre Del Oro – the gold tower, the remains of a military watchtower built during the Almohad dynasty (early 13th Century) in order to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir River. The tower served as a prison during the Middle Ages and as a secure enclosure for the protection of gold brought by the fleet of the Indies, a possible origin for the tower's name. Today it is a naval museum.

From here we take a cruise along the river on a boat that caters for 250 with all of 20 on board! Yes – winter can be the time to travel! We see the city in a different perspective than that which we see from the red bus a little later. We learn of the history and the ceramics industry and see examples of the architecture linked to the first expo held in Seville in1929 (the ideal American Expo to help to re-bolster trade with America at the start of the Depression) and again in 1992. It is sad to see the state of the abandoned 1992 site compared with that of the earlier expo, where pavilions now house museums and cultural activities. By contrast, the 1992 site is derelict and given over to vandalism. Thank god Brisbane has made good use of the South Bank site.

Seville is also the original home to tapas and they are served all over the place in bars and restaurants. They range from a plate of olives, or cheese and ham to meatballs in tomato sauce, ham croquettes, thin escalopes of pork in whisky sauce and to the more exotic - tripe done various ways, kidneys, black sausage, anchovies. Most swim in olive oil too good not to mop up - (but for which I pay later). We lunch on a selection of tapas at a small restaurant opposite the river.

We return to the hotel vide a leisurely walk and past Seville's omage to bull fighting - a national pastime. Maria decides to rest her sore feet and I head off for the
Catedral de Santa María de la Sede and Alameda de Hércules. So, once again I don hat, jacket and map in hand.

Upon leaving the hotel, it is immediately apparent the city is arming itself for Saturday night. The air is buzzing with activity, café and restaurant staff is dragging out tables and chairs preparing for the evenings’ trade. The narrow streets begin to bulge with humanity, mopeds dash between pedestrians and the honking of horns is reaching a crescendo. Department stores remain open, with just as many customers entering empty handed as those exiting with hands laden. Street vendors are stoking their charcoal braziers in preparation for an evening of chestnut roasting. (Morris Dancers are not invited.) The “footpaths” are peppered with buskers and beggars applying their precarious trades.

Onwards through the winding and irregular streets, which lead me into the Plaza de San Francisco and finally onto the Avenida de la Constituçion….and my destination. Wait a minute….what’s this….have I entered another city? The plaza opens onto a broad congregation of humanity; horses; carriages and….trams?

Like Columbus discovering “The New World”, I have discovered another Seville! Street vendors, musicians and buskers add to the city’s vibrancy. This kaleidoscope is enhanced by the colourful carriages which seem not to lack any trade. The Andelusion horses are a majestic animal, whether patiently tethered to their carriages or prancing with their burdens in tow. I hastily take pictures of my surroundings, before moving into the direction of the cathedral; its steeple towering above its surroundings.

The cathedral is the largest Medieval and Gothic structure, (in terms of area and volume,) in the world. Built between 1400 and 1519, after the
Reconquista, the cathedral was erected over the site of the city’s original mosque. Elements of the mosque were incorporated into the cathedral’s construction; mainly some of the columns and the Giralda, which was originally a minaret and converted into the bell tower. Regrettably, the cathedral was not open for inspection, so only external photos are available. However, the “Chapel” were accepting visitors, so I was able to see at least part of the interior. Now, to put this cathedral into perspective as to its size; the nave of the chapel is as long as the nave in St Mary’s at Scaryborough! So, one can only wonder at the enormity of the cathedrals’ interior.

On leaving the cathedral, I made my way to the Alameda de Hércules which I found to be quite disappointing. My disappointment was over the dilapidation of the pathway; in its hay-day the promenade must have been spectacular. The only evidence is a few trees and two roman columns, only displaying a statue of Hercules and the other of Julius Caesar.

So, it was back to the hotel and Maria.

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