Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sevilla enchants us

(click on photos to enlarge)
We were recommended to take a bus rather than train to Sevilla as they were more frequent. That was fine but there were queues at the bus station for tickets, so if you do that, allow plenty of time.

The agriculture along the bus route was very different to previous trips, through mile after mile of olive groves, thousands of hectares of olive groves. Now, to harvest olives you spread nets under the trees and shake it madly, either with sticks or, these days, with a machine that grabs the trunk and shakes it like a demented thing. I cannot comprehend the labour required to harvest the olive orchards I saw. Each tree would take a minimum of, say, three minutes, but there were millions of them, as far as the eye can see. (I am reliably informed 300 million in Andalucia) I know Spain is the biggest producer of olives, but how do they do it?


I wondered at the older trees that had become three or four trunks instead of one. How did that happen? Splitting and recovery perhaps. We also saw just one tract of olives grown cordon style (one trunk, branches flat at 180 degrees along wires, ideal for machine harvest). All so interesting and so different. Perhaps another crop may have been asparagus, strips of ferny, frondy leaves on the top of long hills of earth. There were certainly mountains and plains, quite large tracts of agricultural land freshly ploughed and looking like the Crete Senese in Italy. There was no way this trip was boring.

Ploughed earth looking like the Crete Senese

Solar arrays

Our hotel in Sevilla was absolutely charming, the Casa Sacristia Santa Anna, right on a large paved "village green" called the Alemeda de Hercules where locals strolled and rode bikes and an "indoor climbing" competition was taking place outdoors (wow! how do they DO that? They climb like spiders, upside down at times).

Courtyard of the hotel

The Alemeda was surrounded by many cafes and bars, though again we quickly established our favourite, Bibo, which had a menu we could understand and a waitress who was prepared to be patient with us and guided us in choosing the right amount of food and a good Spanish wine to go with it.

Nick looking contented at Bibo

This area was right on the edge of the old town and it was quite an easy walk to the marvellous shopping streets and the beautiful architecture of the town. They delight in enclosed verandahs with french windows where they can look out at the passing parade, and the tiling and decoration of Andalucia is evident everywhere.

Enclosed verandahs

Tiled and decorated buildings

Virgin and child picture in tiles

The Alcazar is a collection of palaces from different times, so the architectural influences are Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance. This was a beautiful experience. The palace of King Peter, who was a Christian king, was built in a Moorish style and his love of that architecture and relationship with the people is evident in the building. The Andalucian love of tiled surfaces was very evident, as were formal gardens and fountains, though it would have been nice if all the fountains were turned on, nothing sadder than a dry fountain unless it be a parched garden.

The photos of the Alcazar can perhaps convey the beauty better than words.

Inscription at entry to King Peter's Castle

Arms of Leon and Castille
(The lion and the castle)

Decorative work

Fretwork archway

Door and tiling

Window and tiling


Amazing cupola made of wood

Fountain and pool

Fountain in the Dance Garden

In the Gothic palace the tiling was absolutely beautiful, usually yellow and blue and very intricate.

Beautiful Andalucian tiles

It led to a courtyard that roofed over an area underneath that became the Maria Padilla baths.We were very taken with this story of the underground pool, built for King Peter's mistress apparently, and reached down a dim passage from a pretty garden. You could imagine the assignations.

The pool of the Mistress

Afterwards we wandered in the Santa Cruz area, which is the main tourist area with winding streets and prettty houses and prices in restaurants much more expensive than where we are staying. We settled on a place called San Marco, one of three restaurants of that name, housed in an old Muslim bath house with alcoves and star shaped holes in the curved brick roof. It was presented most attractively, with starched tablecloths and covers on the chairs. The prices were actually less than the street bars outside. It was the "people" behaviour that entertained us though. Tourists would walk in, maybe after reading the menu, take one look at the tablecloths and chairs and leave. It happened again and again. The formality apparently said "Not for us". The Spanish seemed to come in with no such qualms.

San Marco restaurant

We enjoyed a nice meal of a shared plate of pate (hooray for the Spanish custom of sharing dishes, this one was BIG) and we each had a different duck dish. With wine and water the bill came to E50.00, so not too bad. We had a snack for dinner that night.

The visit to the cathedral entailed quite a wait until it reopened at 2.30pm (got to have that siesta) and then a long queue, which moved quickly however, so that we did not have too long in the sun. The bell tower of the Giralda loomed over us, remnant of a mosque to which they added bits in true Catholic "takeover" style. The two local Catholic girl martyrs are always shown holding it, though I haven't quite figured out the connection.

La Giralda

I loved the "one-upmanship" that the cathedral has a volume bigger than St Peter's in Rome, though it would surprise me if it really did. It does have a myriad of side chapels and rooms that are interesting and a main altar that is totally gilded, needs a good dust and is very hard to analyse because it is so intricate.

Golden altar

There were very beautiful carved choir stalls in a central screened choir, something not often seen now, and a very pretty rose window.

Rose window

Plus of course the "tomb" of Christoforo Colombo which does not seem to be hampered by the fact that it does not actually contain his body, or so I am told. (But a friend in Spain tells me the DNA matches that of his son, so after all, it probably is Colombus)

Tomb of Christopher Colombus

The ticket for the cathedral also entitles you to visit San Salvador which again has many gilded altars and an interesting history in terms of what was once Muslim and is now Catholic. This delightful clothed statue was inside, looking very Spanish, just as our statues of the virgin look so Anglo-Saxon.

"Spanish" virgin statue

The next day we visited the Museo Palacio de Lebrija, which was amazing. (What is it with all these people who take a liking for something and just buy it for their collection?) In this case the lady of the house in the early 1900s had found beautiful Roman mosaics and other treasures at nearby Italica and collected them into her house. She probably saved them from obliteration, for what we now have is a museum that was her house, floored with complete, beautiful, ancient, Roman mosaic floors and filled with archeological finds. Each room is a new museum piece. I kept saying "I'm actually walking on ancient Roman mosaics, I can't believe it." Such treasures!

Hallway at edge of the courtyard

Mosaic floor, one of many

The Pan floor

The octagonal room

It is a gem, really quite exquisite, the rest of the house also having beautiful tiles around the typical Andalucian courtyard.

Tiled walls adjoining the fountain courtyard

Later, we found one of the sister restaurants of San Marco and decided to have a meal there. I think it was actually a clone of Fawlty Towers though. First, attractive striped walls and clothed chairs made it more difficult to discern that the pillars of ruched fabric actually disguised long poles of scaffolding that had been there some time, painted to match at ceiling level. Just a little worrying re the safety of the ceiling.

Our young waiter may have been on his first day on the job, or perhaps he was a cousin of Manuel, but he had NO idea, like NO idea about being a waiter, and the supervuisor was failing to supervise and teach. So it went like this.

The young waiter took our order, writing it down. We also ordered white wine and he duly bought it, opened it and poured more than half a glass for tasting. He then left the bottle on the table, sans cooling mechanism. We had also ordered San Pelligrino mineral water as the sister restaurant had it yesterday. After a long wait he came back and asked me again. I wrote it down for him. He came back with two bottles of something different, one with gas, one without. We indicated the one with gas and he had to be stopped from pouring it into the wine. We pantomimed additional glasses which he finally provided. Later the maitre d' saw we had no ice bucket and brought one, tut-tutting, but that was an opportunity for the young man to learn that was sadly missed.

The waiter returned and again asked what we had ordered. Then he brought someone else's food. Eventually he served what I had ordered, but Nick's had obviously been kept warm while mine was recooked. We finished the meal with a profiterole that was all sog; even the custard was curdled. There weren't many choices on the "menu del dia" and I did point as well as say it, knowing how non-existent my own Spanish is. So E15 for the menu del dia but, apart from the entertainment value, not recommended. And maybe that roof...

On the other hand, a lunch at Robles Laredo on the square of San Francesco was a lovely experience. On a hot day they employ the method of fans blowing a mist. The heat that is needed to evaporate the water comes from the surrounding air, cooling it. But it looks quite amazing. We saw it in a few places in Spain, and not working very efficiently, in the Boston underground. This restaurant has a really nice toilet too, with the walls tiled in coloured glass fingers and clean and well equipped.

Anyway, seduced partly by the array of tempting cakes and desserts, we stepped inside and ordered a few small things from the printed menu. The waiter, who may have been the manager, was so solicitous of us and so enthusiastic about his food that we lingered, ordering a few tapas of the day by looking and pointing at the bar and then going the whole hog and ordering a yummy, gooey cake each. We asked about a sweet wine to go with, and again he was so enthusiastic, a Pedro Ximenes and an orange flavoured wine, one glass of each, and which did we like best and weren't they wonderful. We left, energised and refreshed and feeling somehow very welcomed. (I was a bit bemused by the Japanese tourists at the next table whose idea of sweet cake heaven was an iced donut, which was duly photographed before being consumed. Still, to each their own)

We had a shopping day too, and the two parallel main shopping streets, Calle Sierpes and Calle de Velazquez are a delight, especially if you are after shoes. I got some very neat patchwork leather ones. There are also a series of shops with painted fans, shawls and mantillas in the Spanish style, often very fine work but some also at affordable prices. I had fun choosing a fan. The streets often have shops or houses with fine tiling work including this wonderful advertisement for Studebaker.

Advertisement in tiles

The Museo des Bellas Artes was well worth visiting with a number of pieces to treasure. Housed in an old convent, the chapel room in particular was quite lovely with a number of paintings of "The Immaculate Conception" or Mary painted in a certain way, standing on a crescent moon, and often represented as quite young. There was quite a fashion for this at one stage and Murillo was the most outstanding artist in the genre, though the works look a little kitsch these days.

Immaculate Conception by Murillo

The museum was beautifully organised into rooms that housed different eras and artists from different countries and again there was a lovely central courtyard and the pretty Spanish tiling which makes places feel so cool.

Cloister courtyard

Chapel dome in the museo

In the evening we walked through the San Lorenzo residential quarter with children playing in the streets and many people moving in and out of the churches. Men seemed well represented in the devout. Even the poorer churches have a gilded altar and at least one statue of the virgin clothed in elaborate robes and crowned.

Elaborate clothed virgin statue
Church of S Lorenzo

It was good to see these areas off the tourist track, but rather sad to see areas by the river with promenades falling apart and plazas in front of once lovely market places with marble slabs lifting and breaking. These look like they were designed to encourage people to congregate and enjoy the areas, but now they feel deserted and even a bit sinister.

After an indifferent meal in town we stopped at our favourite cafe, Bobo, and ended up talking to a charming young woman who asked about our experiences and especially our food experiences. We expressed much liking for Bobo and she exclaimed with delight; she was the owner.

In all, we loved Sevilla and feel that it would still have a lot to offer for a stay of longer than a few days and we especially liked our accommodation and the village feel around it.

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