After the hectic pace of Madrid and Barcelona, the charming seductive pace of life in the city of Seville was a welcome change. The fast train ride to Seville from Madrid was in itself a great experience. Traveling at 140 miles an hour, it only takes 2.5 hours to make the journey across some of the most scenic countryside imaginable.
Seville is a very manageable city, with all the major monuments and attractions within walking distance. In fact, walking is the joy of life in Seville, which does not have a metro system.
We stayed in a small hostel in the north of the centre of town. Hostal Lis (Escarpin 10) was only EUR 144 for three nights and was on a narrow laneway. All its rooms had tiled walls in the classic Sevillian style and the entrance was complete with tiled portico. The charm of Seville is that there are numerous narrow walkways which allow the visitor to meander and be charmed day and night. Especially at night: you walk down narrow cobbled lane ways, past ochre and white coloured walls, and under exquisite wrought-iron lights above the lanes and lit at night with a soft orange glow.
We made the point of eating out each night, enjoying the seductive ambience of the many small restaurants in and around the area of the Giralda, the bell tower attached to the cathedral of Seville dating back to the 15th century. Our first night was spent at Las Escobas Tavern, founded in 1386 with a set menu for EUR 20 a couple, including special cold tomato soup, paella and a rice dessert with a glass of sangria thrown in for the price. The next night it was seafood pizza at the restaurant right next door. Our final night was at Donna Lisa in the Plaza Donna Elvira in the Santa Cruz area, where we enjoyed a fantastic meal for EUR 45. My wife had salmon steak with potatoes and green beans; I had garlic chicken with potatoes and broad beans. I followed with a crème caramel to die for. This was all washed down with a fine greenish-white wine and coffee.
It is easy to get carried away with wining and dining in this city with the relaxed, safe outdoors and the pleasant mild weather that is with you even in late May. When we did do some sightseeing we made a memorable journey through the Real Alcazar, the royal regional palace. Still used today, the palace dates back to the 12th century, but its major attraction is the Mudejar (Moorish) section, decorated with intricate stepped arches and the interlaced geometric tiles typical of Moorish artisans who could not portray human or animal forms, so they invented complex patterns to charm the eye. Within the palace grounds were gardens to also charm, and an elevated walkover allows the visitor to look at the gardens laid out below. I was particularly interested as an Australian to see eucalyptus trees so large to be at least 100 years old, and beautiful jacaranda trees and other specimens from the South American colonies alongside more formalized European sections.
The Gothic-style Cathedral and Giralda nearby is also worth a visit and is reputed to be the largest cathedral in the world for floor space. It reputably contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus, but on this occasion it was entrapped in scaffolding for cleaning so I had to be content with a postcard for a proper view.
We also took in the impressive Plaza de España, a large semi-circular design in Baroque style with ornate Spanish tiles 1929, built for an exhibition of the Spanish colonies. The exhibition was a failure due to the world Depression, and the plaza is now in physical decline, though some efforts are underway to restore it to its former glory. A short wander across into the public gardens allows one to meander further and find the Rio Guadalquivir, the navigable river that flows through the city and heads to the sea at Cadiz, 40 miles away.
On the river is the Torre de Oro (“Tower of Gold”), a customs house where the gold of the Indies was unloaded in the 16th century and reputed to have been clad in gilt tiles( now removed). It makes one remember that the ships that left here in the heyday of Spanish power came back with untold riches in gold and gems and carried to the Old World the fruits and exotica of the New World. The very first potato, tomato, tobacco and castor oil plants to Europe were unloaded here and grown in church gardens nearby. Now these plants have colonized the globe.
It was hard to leave Seville after 5 days of dining, sightseeing and flamenco music, such was its seductive appeal to all the senses, so we let out big sighs as we boarded our bus to head west for the 70-mile trip to the border to catch the ferry to Portugal for another adventure to start. More on that another time!