Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A Book to Read in Seville: Summer Holiday Idea #2

Posted by Daisy
I've been to Seville three times and absolutely love it. I've been jostled in the streets during the Semana Santa, watching the white-masked, pointy-hat celebrants struggle under the weight of huge gilt statues, swaying to the endless piping music. I've got lost more than once on the maze-like streets, and am in awe of anyone who can find their way home without knowing any Spanish. My friend lived there for years, and used to try fruitlessly to make me get up early to have a Sevillian breakfast - one weekend, I capitulated and made it to the cafe in time for churros and freshly squeezed orange juice - amazing!
(I wrote this travel feature for a newspaper a few years ago.)

A FRIEND who lives in Seville once told me that that every time she steps out onto her street in the Macarena district, it feels like she’s walking onto the set of a movie. People move purposefully through the cobbled streets, the pastry-shop puffs out sweet scents, an old lady with piled-up hair puts a perfectly round orange on the top of a display outside the greengrocers, and locals chat garrulously, inclining their coffee cups towards their mouths or dipping deep-fried pastry ‘churros’ into hot chocolate outside the corner café.


Even being lost in the old Santa Cruz area of Seville in torrential rain feels slightly glamorous. Around every corner is a huge stone church door under which to shelter and read a soggy map by the dim light of a street-lamp. Little clusters of oranges sit in puddles at the base of the trees which line the cobbled streets.


For Seville is simply gorgeous. In the 8th Century, the Moors came across the sea and conquered the city. They built tiled palaces, and mosques with intricate lace patterns carved into marble, and narrow, stony streets with dead ends. Seville owes a lot to the Moors. Their influence is everywhere. In the architecture of the cathedral and its tall Giralda tower. In the churches dotted all over the city. And in the shops where Moorish tea-sets with ornate little gold rimmed glasses and highly-decorated tin tea-pots are on sale.

The cathedral dominates the city, spanning an entire block. Inside are vast gilt altars and ostentatiously adorned statues of the mother of God. The remains of Christopher Columbus are purportedly kept there in a mausoleum and locals recommend the cathedral tower, the ‘Giralda’, as providing the best view of the town.


I visit the magnificent Real Alcazar palace, a stone’s throw from the cathedral. Marble-floored and cool, it is full of enormous tapestries, intricate carvings, lush gardens, long multi-coloured tiled benches and gently rippling pools. Built for King Pedro the Cruel in the 1360’s, it is one of the best surviving examples of Mudejar architecture in the city. King Juan Carlos 1 and his Queen, Sofia, still stay here whenever they are in town, reportedly sending down to the local bakery to get their breakfast ‘churros’ on the Calle Arfe.

Seville also owes much to the two international Expositions it held in 1929 and 1992. The pressure to impress was high, and this cash-strapped city rose to the challenge, building bridges and futuristic edifices, constructing the magnificent Plaza Espana and the grand pavilions of the participating countries, and even diverting the city’s river Guadalquivir to flow under a specially constructed bridge.  It is well worth taking the city bus tour simply to grasp the importance of these Expositions to Sevillian architecture.


Seville teems with people. On a sunny spring day, the locals are everywhere, drinking half glasses of beer at high tables outside bars, sitting at coffee-tables, talking loudly, eating fast,  whilst cutting tapas in half with forks to share. And the tapas are everywhere. I find the freshest cheese and ham croquettes in the award-winning modern Cava Del Europa, Santa Cruz, and perch at the corner of the bar in El Rinconcillo, the oldest tapas bar in Seville, in Santa Catalina. Here, locals and tourists alike stand at tables, sharing plates of cheese, huge green olives, and lightly battered cod, ripping pieces of bread apart and rolling chewy pieces of Serrano ham between their fingers.

For €32, the multi-level Arabic baths (rumoured to be the best in Spain) are mine to explore. I languish in the Jacuzzi-like bath, swim from room to room, float in the salt-water bath and paddle dazedly through the aromatherapy bath. Immersed inside the womb-like terracotta-coloured walls, I hear nothing but the sounds of gushing water, and catch a glimpse of daylight under huge wooden doors. A fifteen- minute massage and a snooze on the heated marble benches in the relaxation room complete the experience. Afterwards, I revive myself with a glass of mint tea and some sweet baklava in the upstairs cafe, strewn with coloured cushions and couches.

Seville is a city fit for a king. Or at least a pop star. Heads of State and Madonna stay in the huge Hotel Alfonso X111, yet another stunning example of Mudejar architecture. I attend a wedding here, where we are treated to cool glasses of Manzanilla sherry in the tiled atrium, tapas served on Chinese rice spoons and dinner on silver platters.

It’s no wonder that Seville is the setting for so many opera’s, including ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘The Barber of Seville. As I wander home in the early hours of the morning, jumping neatly out of the way of a street cleaner’s hose, I’m sure I hear him whistling the theme tune from ‘Carmen’ as his truck moves slowly through the empty streets.

For her wedding guests, my friend recommended the following hotels:


She advised against staying in the Hotel Alfonso 13, emailing 'for anyone who wants to stay in the hotel where the wedding's taking place, its €300 a night.....I wouldn't bother.'

'The Moment' by Douglas Kennedy

Elevator Pitch: An American author divorces his wife, narrowly avoids suicide and buys a cottage in the country on a whim. When he receives a box postmarked Berlin, memories of his time there as a young man come flooding back, and he allows himself to think about the beautiful woman he left behind.

I've loved Douglas Kennedy since reading 'The Pursuit of Happiness'. I really enjoyed 'The Moment',  and if nothing else, it was an excellent recap on the history of the Berlin Wall and what life was like before it fell.

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