Up to this day, I cannot recall a trip more calming and relaxing than our three-day Andalucian holiday in Seville, Spain. Ahh–the orange-scented air, the lazy laid-back afternoon naps, the bright yet cool sunshine.
The Fiancé and I flew in via Vueling flights back in February 2011. It probably helped that it was the off-peak season at that time, as we managed to get one of the just seven lovely rooms at Hotel Taberna del Alabardero on Calle Zaragoza. The rooms were large with high ceilings and antique-ish bath fixtures. To top it off, the breakfast that came with the booking was the best hotel breakfast of all the European cities we’ve stayed at. No wonder: the Taberna restaurant boasts a Michelin star.
Over our three days in Seville we took long, leisurely walks all over the city. It was small and compact, and the number of “must-sees” was just right for a short weekend break. Unlike other European cities we’ve been to we didn’t feel as pressured to be out and about all the time, and we even had time for a siesta in the afternoons. When in Spain… well, you know the rest.
First stop was the Real Alcazar, a luxurious Moorish palace smack in the middle of the city. According to our trusty Top Ten book, the palace was the “brainchild of Pedro I, who had it built as a lavish love-nest for himself and his mistress, Maria de Padilla.” I couldn’t help thinking of the Disney-version Aladdin movie palace, for some reason.
How difficult must it have been carving the intricate designs on the walls and ceilings? I was in awe of the craftsmen’s work and attention to detail. Case in point: a courtyard named Patio de las Muñecas (Court of the Dolls) because of two small baby faces carved into the base of one of the arches. Bit creepy, but well thought out.
We then walked over to the Seville Cathedral, the largest Christian church in the world. It’s so large, the temperature inside was markedly different from the outside–cool and perfect for self-reflection (a.k.a. muni-muni).
We climbed up the La Giralda, which had fantastic rooftop views of the city. The climb up was made easier by the fact that it was a ramp rather than steps, the original design being intended for men on horseback. It was still quite steep though.
There are oranges most anywhere in Seville, or at least, in the places tourists most frequent. There are orange trees, fallen oranges on the ground, squished oranges, moldy oranges, oranges not yet quite ripe.
However temptingly orange and Sunkist-like these oranges look, the general advice is not to pick one up and eat it. Notice the locals don’t do that either? Seville oranges are bitter. The British actually use it to make their marmalade. So we just contented ourselves with sniffing the yummy citrus-y scent.
We also made our way to Plaza de España, a lovely square that was apparently used in a Star Wars film for “its other-worldly feel.” We took a turn around the plaza, which had nooks decorated with colorful tile maps of Andalucian cities.
Another stop was Casa de Pilatos, an urban mansion exhibiting a blend of Mudéjar, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to differentiate between any of those styles even if it bit me on the nose. But I couldn’t deny that the interior of the house was exquisite, with arches, lots of open courtyards, and detail (oh! I loved the detail) on the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was amazingly well-preserved too. I thought of the old Spanish houses in the Philippines and how the best-looking ones seemed to be located in faraway provinces.
Since Seville was the first Spanish city we’d been to, we were really keen on seeing authentic flamenco dancing. Walking around the back-streets we chanced upon the Auditorio Alvarez Quintero, a small cozy theatre on Calle Alvarez Quintero. The flamenco show started at 9PM and costed a mere €17 (€15 if you’re 26 years old and below). We were treated to passionate (in the guy’s case, the hip-swaying, furrowed-brow crooning, really intense kind of passionate) flamenco dancing and singing. Eyes closed one could easily imagine walking in a fruit-laden courtyard, bathed in red-orange sunlight in the style of Vicky Cristina Barcelona or similar–or eating tapas on a rustic table in a small whitewashed kitchen.
Speaking of tapas, out of the three Spanish cities we’d been to, Seville has by far the cheapest and best-value tapas in Spain. And one of the biggest tapas plates you’ll see in the city is in Taberna Coloniales. The tapas are a mere €3 each and mega-sized, relative to the other restaurants you’ll see near the tourist-y areas with plastic English-translated menus. Best to avoid those.
For dinner we went to Las Columnas beside the Alameda de Hercules. The square isn’t named after the Greek hero, but (surprise, surprise) Julius Caesar. It’s a casual restaurant–you order and pay at the counter and bring your tapas to your seat.
A trip to Spain wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the bullring. In Barcelona, bull-fighting has been banned since last year. I’m not too sure about Seville, but when we were there the season hadn’t started yet so we just went to the La Maestranza for the tour and a visit to the museum. I’ve never seen a bullfight before–and I’m not too sure I want to.
Towards dusk we strolled along the Paseo de Cristóbal Colón which had pretty views of the river and Torre del Oro — a watchtower that used to be covered in gold.
Two extra side-trips of note that we made:
(1) Archivo de Indias – This is a library of documents related to the Spanish colonization of the New World. The building itself was built in 1598. I wanted to go see if there was anything about the Philippines in there. We watched a short video presentation about the history of the building itself and the neglect it experienced–at some point it was some sort of halfway house for bums. It’s been renovated extensively since.
The day we went, the exhibit was mainly about Latin American colonies. The only mention of the Philippines was a tiny dot on an old brown map exhibited behind glass.
I’m always quietly surprised that we can talk glibly about the not-so-good times in world history in this day and age. In my team at work, there’s a British national and an Argentinian. I recall talking about colonies, empires, and the remnants thereof in today’s modern age with them one lunch time. (Ah, the randomness of office lunch topics. One day we even talked about circumcision, haha.)
(2) The local grocery store – I always make it a point to drop by the grocery in the countries we visit. It’s a common denominator across all cities–I mean, everyone needs to buy their toilet paper and canned tuna somewhere, right?–and for me it’s a good way to see what’s different and what’s the same everywhere I go. (Another good proxy is a McDonald’s branch.) At the risk of sounding like an amateur marketer, I think you know much more about a nation and its people by looking at what they buy. I also find we all have more in common than we think.
Anyway, we found these biscuits in the store:
I remember these Filipinos biscuits caused a bit of controversy when they first came out; I think I read an article on it in the Inquirer. People seemed to be offended that someone had named biscuits after us. I’m not exactly sure why this should be offensive. To be fair, they were tasty cookies.