Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spain 2012: Seville! Part 2

It's the last of our Spain 2012 adventures--the second part of our time in Seville. 

Our next stop was the cathedral. We had been walking around it since we got in town and using it as a reference point when wandering (you can see it's bell tower, La Giralda, from almost anywhere in the city). Now it was time to go inside!

This is an exact replica of the statue/wind vane that is on top of the bell tower. Unfortunately they were doing some repair work on the tower while we were there, so thankfully my parents got to see at least a replica of what was up there covered in scaffolding (like anything worth seeing in Europe...). 


The inside of the cathedral is beautiful. Seville's cathedral is the largest cathedral in Spain--and considering the amount of massive cathedrals on the Iberian Peninsula, that is saying something. 


Christopher Columbus is buried inside the cathedral. In conjunction with a large anniversary celebration Seville had the remains inside DNA tested. The results? It really is Columbus! (Or...so they say.)


Needing a little exercise after all those nun cookies, my dad and I hoofed it all the way up the bell tower. The bell tower was perviously a minaret for the mosque that stood where the cathedral now stands. Instead of stairs, the tower is full of ramps that lead all the way up to the top--this way the prayer leader could ride a horse all the way up to the top to sing the muslim call to prayer. 

It was a long way up, but the views were beautiful. 



Looking at the Giralda with one of the typical orange trees nearby (They are all over town--the moors planted orange trees everywhere because they never lose their leaves, so make great shade trees. All the trees are full of oranges, which endlessly confused my dad, but they are bitter oranges. For a long time they were used to make orange marmalade, but nowadays, they just fall to the street.)

Another look at the tower. It's structure tells the story of Seville: Roman foundation, Moorish minaret, & a Christian bell tower on top. 


After we burned off all those nun cookies climbing the bell tower, we needed to reload. Time for tapas! 
 
Mmm. This, to me, was the best meal of the trip. Starting at the top and working counter-clockwise: Baked goat cheese with honey (so good!), bacon wrapped sirloin in a fancy sauce & homemade fries, battered and fried eggplant in another fancy sauce, and meatballs in yet another tasty sauce. Good food + great wine, all at a lovely cafe, was an equation for success. 

Oh yes, there was a flan ending as well. (And it was the best of the entire trip!)

Late that afternoon we got the chance to meet up with the retired couple I met on the Camino de Santiago last year. They are some of my favorite people, so it was exciting to get to see them again. Making the deal even sweeter--they are native, and proud, Sevillans. They took us for coffee on a river barge, walked us through the historical neighborhoods, took us on the main paseo route (Spaniards typically come out for an early evening stroll through the streets. These particular streets were jam packed!), and took us to a local hole in the wall for a variety of local fried fish. The inside of the bar was tiny but we were lucky enough to grab a table outside from which to feast on our fish and watch...

A Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession! In January! 

I was so confused, and it seemed that just about everybody else was too. Maica asked people in the streets if they knew what it was for (Was there some special saint day?) but nobody knew (including some of the people IN the procession!). We finally settled on an answer though. 

See, Seville does Holy Week and Easter like no one else. The town is full of churches and each of the churches have processions during the week. Because all of the things used are silver and gold and silk and hundreds of years old, if there is bad weather they go into the nearest church and stop. Maica said that eventually they have to get these alter pieces, etc. back home--and you can't just put them in the back of a van and drive them over. No! You have to have a parade!

Anyway, it was a pretty small procession, but I couldn't believe that we were able to stumble upon a Holy Week procession during January! Que suerte!

Finally they took us to the city's new controversial structure called "Las Setas"(the mushrooms) by locals. I had seen the thing from the ground when Juanma and Maica's son showed me around town the last time I was there. I'll admit that from street level it looks pretty out of place. But before I knew it Juanma had bought us tickets and we were going UP inside the structure. I didn't even know you could do that!

Once you are on top of it (by elevator! much easier than the bell tower's ramps) you get to walk around and have a bird's eye view of the city all lit up. From that vantage point I could really tell that Maica was right--Seville is full of churches. 

It was a memorable evening, in a beautiful city with wonderful friends--the perfect ending to our Spain 2012 adventures. 


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spain 2012: Seville! Part 1

All right. Here we are. Back to tracking our Spain 2012 adventure:

It was a rather lengthy bus ride up to Seville from the coast since we ended up on a non-direct bus. Except for the industrial area along the coast it was a beautiful ride though--got to see some more of the "White Towns" to boot. After settling into our hotel we went for a stroll--and to find some cafe con leche! After that though, I had one thing on my mind. 

Nuns. 

Nuns and their cookies. It's fairly typical across Spain that nuns make and sell baked goods. When I was living in Salamanca my friend Amy and I had some of the best cookies I've ever had made by cloistered nuns. These nuns though, they are always eluding me. Several times throughout the week I had spotted convents with cookies for sale, but they were closed. 

Back in Seville, I searched out this place: 


Which is beautiful and all, but what I was looking for was this shop inside it:


And it was open! El Torno is a bakery and shop for things like communion/baptismal clothes which the cloistered nuns make. It's called "El Torno" because before there was a kind of lazy susan wall where you could put your money and order, spin it, then spin it again--and there would be your order and your change. That way the nuns would never have to make contact with the outside. Now they just have regular folks working the register inside--Regular folks who sold me delicious almond nun cookies!

Ater walking around the old quarter for a bit we trekked out past the old tobacco factory and to Plaza de Espana. 


I love the Plaza de Espana. The last time I was there it was all under construction so I hadn't even realized that there were canals through the plaza. Now that all the restoration work has finished you can even rent boats to paddle through the plaza. 


But, just the same as when I was there last, the Plaza was almost completely deserted. Granted it was a little cold out, but the lack of crowds lends it a forgotten treasure kind of feel. 


Back in the city center I spotted some Camino De Santiago signage for the Via de la Plata (the route that comes up from the south) and geeked out!

The next morning we conquered the Alcazar--the city's old fortress. I had been once before, but I had not remembered it correctly. I was afraid that after visiting the Alhambra this would be lackluster, but I was really impressed by the thing--especially since we had the palace almost all to ourselves. 









Afterwards we wondered the sprawling gardens for a while and soaked up all the sun we could. 





After all that walking around in the Alcazar we settled into a little cafe in the Barrio Santa Cruz and had some well deserved coffee. My father was in need of some aspirin, so I left them for a second to find one of these:

I won't even try to hid it--after walking the Camino de Santiago (where finding an open pharmacy in a town was like stumbling onto a pot of gold--and where the bandaids, athletic tape and ibuprofen sold inside were more valuable cash), I am fascinated by Spanish pharmacies. I especially love these retro ones. I had a nostalgic moment, bought the aspirin and was back before my coffee got cold.  

{And that's the end of Seville Part 1! More to come.}

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Seville--A Preview!

All right, I've received some subtle and not so subtle reminders to update the blog and to finish the posts on my latest trip to Spain. I'll work on it. But until then, here is a video my good friends, and native Sevillans, sent me to whet your appetite. It really shows some of the magic that is Seville.