Saturday, November 21, 2015

Andalucia, Parte Tres: Sevilla

Stork City just outside of Cordoba
We rounded out our tour of Andalusia's major cities with two nights in Sevilla. After leaving Cordoba on Friday morning we drove on by-roads that took us west through the river plain of the Guadalquivir, fertile yet rather arid land with occasional moist sections that attract storks. In a few places we counted a dozen nests on top of electricity poles, with almost each one having one or two birds standing on top of the large nests.
The poles have platforms at the top to support the nests
Almodovar del Rio overlooks the Guadalquivir as it winds toward the Atlantic
Before reaching Sevilla later in the afternoon we stopped by the old castle at Almodovar del Rio where we spent an easy hour-and-a-half looking at one of the best-preserved (or better, renovated) bastions in Andalusia. I think something like seven towers are still standing, and we climbed each single one of them. It sure is fun to visit historical places without hordes of tourists milling around. Slowing down and taking in the view from a castle is totally different when one is not jostled around by the customary fat American and the pushy German sightseer.
Our last castle of the trip, but not the last steep staircases
Almodovar shares the Roman/Moorish/Castilian history with all those other fortification that the region harbors. Somehow this castle made it into the hands of a private family a century or so ago, and the then-owner—a well-traveled and well-healed gentleman—decided to spend his fortune and the rest of his days renovating the dilapidated structure. A childhood dream? An eccentric whim? Regardless, any tourist who loves a castle must thank him.
Our neighborhood in Sevilla
Onward to Sevilla. The countryside became ever more flat, and my misconception of Sevilla as a scenic medieval city in the sierras evaporated ever more quickly. I don't know why I had this idea, but it certainly is as incorrect as they come. Actually, once we hit the outskirts I started to wonder whether we had a mistake to travel so far to a place in countryside as flat as the South Plains.

Well, I shouldn't have doubted our itinerary.
Old and new in Sevilla
As it turned out, Sevilla was the most vibrant and probably most Spanish city that we visited in this week. There was an authenticity in this city, as expressed though mainly it's nightlife (nah, make this social life as it extended into the daytime hours) that we didn't witness in Granada and Cordoba. There are tourists, of course, but it seems to be mainly the local folks who are populating the streets. We definitely found the best tapas bars here in Sevilla, with ridiculously low prices as compared to the other towns we had visited. I could see myself spending much more time in Sevilla than the other cities.
The bottom part is Moorish, the top is Castilian
Panoramic view from the cathedral's bell tower
We saw intricate mason and stucco work everywhere in Spain
Maybe our point of view was a little skewed because of a chance encounter with old friends of mine: Curse Facebook as much as you want, but had it not be for a post earlier in the week Kathy Oler would not have picked up on my being here. She and her husband, Walt, a TTU engineering prof, are living part-time in Sevilla after they left Lubbock (and our cycling community) several years back. (Walt teaches courses for the TTU program here in Sevilla, and Kathy keeps herself busy not only learning the language but also spending time teaching fourth-graders.) So, after installing ourselves in our hotel (once again, in the Old Town and just a few blocks from the cathedral) we met up with our American friends who had offered to show us around and take us to some interesting tapas joints. With Sabine having sailed through the South Pacific years ago and the Oler's owning a boat as well, it didn't take long for the conversation to blossom.
Seville positively hops at night—the streets were crowded
We spent a wonderful evening together. Walt and Kathy were a treasure trove of information and we kept asking all these questions that we had started to develop during the past five days. It sure would have been nice to have a little more time with those two! I am sure that we will meet up again in the not-so-distant future.
The gardens of the Royal Palace
We spent our Saturday morning and afternoon doing the tourist thing—the amazing cathedral, the spectacular Alcazar (Royal Palace) and its gardens, and the vast Plaza de Espana, which reminded us of the Palio in Siena in some ways. Somebody really went a bit off on the grandiose side here. I could bore you with historical facts that I'd have to pull out of the guidebook—only to forget them 5 minutes later. Much more interesting is probably that one can walk up the clock tower of the cathedral without climbing any stairs: Just like in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul a paved walkway (in the HS it was a path that was wide enough for a horse to negotiate) leads all the way to the top. The fact that people use it to push up damn baby carriages that cause real traffic jams is a minor point. Another tidbit of information: If you want to stay in style in Sevilla, there are whole bunch of hotels with rooftop swimming pools and Jacuzzis, and the people who stay there overnight probably don't realize that you can see them from the clock tower. Now, that's interesting voyeur info that you won't find in the guidebooks.
Maybe next time we book a room with a private rooftop Jacuzzi
The Alcazar was spectacular, as I already said. The crazy thing is that the Castilians (re)?captured the palace from the Moors and then, believe this or not, purposely appointed the place in Moorish design! The result is stunning, with all the tile, arches, and stucco work. And the gardens, of course, are beyond compare.
Spanish owners, North African design
The Alcazar
Camouflage in the Alcazar
Properly worn out from our sightseeing, Sabine and I went down to the Guadalquivir, where on a Saturday night couples and families and tourists and single students and joggers and old men, too, were hanging out at the various riverfront bars. what a civilized place. The sun set, and the number of people increased. The crowd positively swelled, and before we knew it, it was almost dark and we were looking onto the old town from the other side of the Guadalquivir. Time for the first set of tapas after the earlier beers.
Immense woven tapestries in the Alcazar
This map used an interesting perspective that took some adjusting
From here it was simply a question of flowing with the crowd, across the bridge, into the ever-more-vibrant heart of town, stopping here and there for another set of tapas and another drink. Miss S. is a real lightweight, so by 11:30 p.m. we called it quits and went back to the hotel. Oh, how wrong that is, with all those Spanish animals around us who never go to sleep before 4 a.m. at the earliest, but at our age beauty sleep is a major component in trying not to scare kids too badly with our physiognomy. And we really both were tired.
Legs cut off, tower cut off, but at least my fat belly is captured
Sunday morning came very early, at 9 a.m. or so. Life in Spain is like living with a constant red-shift, if you want to use astronomical terminology. Or maybe it's a blue-shift. Regardless, we got up, had a nice breakfast in our hotel, La Via Mezquita, and then walked the few steps to our illegal parking spot (according to the hotel's proprietress) where our car was still unmolested by the local parking control squad, just as I had expected and predicted. Sometimes you have to live a little. Of course, it sucks when you have to eat crow, but not this time.
The vast Plaza de Espana
Sabine at her best
And then we were off to Portugal!
BTW, we never got to see the barber

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