A Day In Seville

Narrow pedestrian street in Seville

The next stop on our whirlwind Spain trip was Seville. We had limited time there, so I had it planned with little room for error. We hopped on a 6:30 a.m. train from Granada and arrived around 9 a.m. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we hit the Starbucks that was on the way to our tour of the cathedral and the Alcázar.

Although I normally eschew American food chains in other countries, one great thing about them is you usually find foods and beverages you can’t get in the US. And we did. In addition to my compulsory oat milk latte, we ordered bocadillos so we didn’t start our day hungry. Bocadillos had quickly become Joe’s favorite new thing. I mean, how do you go wrong with crusty bread, Jamón Iberico, and manchego cheese? You don’t.

We headed to the meeting spot for our tour and prayed we would find our guide among the throng of tourists. We must have looked lost because someone with a tour group list approached us and got us sorted. The Seville Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Our guide said it is also the third largest cathedral in the world. I thought the Granada Cathedral was impressive, but this was something else. So large and grand, it was impossible to capture it all (or even most of it) in one photo or in one visit. To demonstrate the scale, I had Joe stand next to a pillar.

Feeling small in the big, wide world

Our guide first showed us an impressively large painting called The Vision of St. Anthony, painted in 1656 by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. In 1874, some knuckle-headed thieves cut St. Anthony out of the painting and made off with him. They then attempted to sell the canvas to an art gallery in New York. Fortunately, the owner of the gallery recognized it as the missing piece, bought it for $250, and returned it to the Spanish Consulate. If you look at the section of the painting above St. Anthony’s head you can see a line that shows where the cut was made. Funny to think St. Anthony, patron saint of missing items and lost causes, managed to get himself returned. He does good work. Another item of note in the cathedral are the remains of Christopher Columbus. Yes. THE Christopher Columbus. Or, as our guide explained, about 300 grams of him. No one is entirely certain where the rest of the remains are. But at this time, in the Seville Cathedral there are verified remains of Christopher Columbus, a man who traveled more after his death than during his life. There is also an impressive altar, Altar Mayor. The altar features wood-carved depictions of the lives of Jesus and Mary and took 80 years to complete. Hard to tell from the photograph because of the gates protecting the private chapel, but the altar is 66 feet high and 60 feet wide.

After the cathedral tour, we had the opportunity to climb the Giralda Tower. Thirty-five ramps and 16 stairs transport you the top where Seville spills out in front of you. It was definitely worth the trek up. The tower itself was initially built by the Moors as a minaret, but after the Catholics took over they added a Renaissance-style belfry to complete the tower we see today.

Next stop was the Alcázar of Seville, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. Its name means “fortification” and, indeed, you pass through a fortified stone wall to enter the courtyard where the palace sits. The Alcázar appears Moorish, however it was designed and built by Muslim workers but commissioned by a Christian king more than 100 years post Reconquista. In addition to the ornate palace, there are nearly 25,000 acres of gardens to visit. I wish I could say we had time for all that but, alas, we did not. Still, here are some photos.

Trying to fit in as much of Spanish culture and time with actual citizens as possible on this trip, I had booked a guide for a food tour and a flamenco show. Elena is a Seville native with a foodie instinct. A teacher by day, she does these tours in the evening to fund her love of travel. First, she took us to try an aperitif of Spanish vermouth, white wine fortified with spices, herbs, and botanicals and then aged in barrels. So delicious. Joe and I were surprised how much we liked it. After all, it is called vermouth.

After our aperitif, we went straight into the pork. The Spanish love pork. The black-hoofed hogs that graze on acorns in the Spanish countryside are the reason. The acorns are filled with lovely fats that make their meat like nothing else, melt in your mouth gold, similar to Italian prosciutto but with a more intense flavor. Elena made a point of telling us that these pigs are free range and live great lives, until they become dinner, of course. After eating Jamón Iberico, I began to understand how one would arrive at that justification to ease your ham-eating guilt.

So many different ways to have it prepared, using as much of the animal as possible. All of them are amazing. After our snacks, we headed to a restaurant that prepares serves up Spanish dishes with little modern touches. The food was wonderful and the prices were quite reasonable, so we returned the next night for ensaladilla de Rusa (potato salad with tuna), patatas bravas (potatoes with a red sauce the Spanish call “spicy”), and squid ink spaghetti with scalllops, prawns, and seafood. While we were eating, Elena talked to us about the history of flamenco, the costumes, and the how the performances work. Her father was a student of the different flamenco styles, and he passed his love of the art onto a younger Elena who learned to dance “for the dresses.”

After we were stuffed, we walked to the show. What made it so much more impressive than I expected is that Elena explained that the shows are not choreographed. The music, the vocals, and the dance are all improvised. Clapping by the performers creates a percussive beat. We observed each performer watching the other performers for cues and changes so they could work together to create a cohesive performance. The singers, dancers, and guitarists combine their unique styles of flamenco and somehow manage to finish the performance in sync, despite not being choreographed. At the venue we were at, the performers are changed daily. So it is likely that the five persons on stage have not all performed with each other in that exact combination before, which demonstrates just how improvisational flamenco is. Photos and videos were forbidden during the show, but they did one last short song so we could get the obligatory photo.

The show finished around 9:30 p.m. and, although we had already garnered over 20k steps, we decided to go to the Plaza de España in case we ran out of time for it the following day. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 in Maria Luisa Park, the buildings in the plaza form a huge semi-circle and the buildings are accessed by crossing bridges over a moat. It is now is used as a government office building, but you have to see the architecture because it is iconic. We were walking around the plaza and being silly, pretending to fall into the moat and fountains, when we were spied by security personnel. Apparently, we were there past hours. In our defense, the gates were open and nothing suggested we shouldn’t be there until a guard showed up in an electric vehicle and started yelling “Cerrado” at us. Oops. So, I guess the area closes at 10 p.m.

We beat a hasty retreat and returned to explore the hotel. The hotel is music themed with rooms named after famous composers, and it has small salons where musicians can practice. We stopped in at the rooftop patio, which featured a hot tub, a small pool, and a bar. From the roof, we took a pause and our final photos of the day.

The Seville Cathedral lit for the night

Next up, Ronda and the white towns of AndalucÍa.