Sometimes a city just 'gets under your skin' and there really is no other euphemism that can match how I feel about Sevilla. It really is burning under my skin, I want to see more, know there is more to see - and know I will be back again.
I have really loved our 3 weeks in Spain, however throughout our time here I have been bothered by a sense that all is not how it should be, and perhaps that's because my first ever experience in Spain was Sevilla, and I expected the rest of Spain to be as gracious a host as she has been. Each city has its own charm yet I feel a real kinship to Sevilla, so it was always going to be a hard act to follow...
As I said, I first visited Sevilla 12 years ago on my own, and it was amazing how some of my memories were not so much forgotten as misplaced, and they came back as soon as we arrived in the juderia (old medieval jewish quarter) and I saw the enormous catedral which is the central point of the city.
If you have any romantic imagination about what Spain is all about, I am pretty sure you will live them all in the space of about 24 hours in Sevilla. It is a city that needs to be tackled with great gusto, and should I have been blessed with an Opera worthy voice I would have happily stood next to the fountain in Plaza Espana and belted out a few numbers from Carmen.
Spiralling cobblestone laneways, Tapas bars overflowing with wooden benches and tiny stools, and dimly lit restaurants pledging the best paella in town. Plazas, fountains, horse drawn carriages, white terraces dripping with ivy and colourful flora, wafting through them the scent of orange blossom. Jamon hanging in almost every restaurant window, jugs overflowing with sangria, underground bars promising the night of your life watching Flamenco, and street theatre performances of Spanish guitar.
There are almost 1million residence in Sevilla but the tourists congregate around juderia which is a step back in time through to the Spain of old, and there was no question as to where we were going to stay.
The hotel we called home for three nights is El Ray Moro and is traditionally Spanish in design with a quaint atrium in the centre decorated with mosaic tiles and caste iron furniture. Brilliantly located we are all but 5 minutes walk from the catedral and at least 20 fantastic tapas bars which we have found to be both the cheapest and most welcoming in our three weeks in Spain.
Once again Sevilla offers a peak through the looking glass to a time where the Moorish ruled Spain. The catholic catedral is built on the site of Muslim Sevilla's main mosque before the Catholics regained control and proceeded in building the 3rd largest Christian place of worship in the world (next to the Vatican and St Pauls Cathedral). I know I have used the word enormous a bit in Spain but seriously, this cathedral is so large you can see its spire from almost any street in Sevilla and provides a fantastic navigation point when combing the old 12th century streets by foot. There is a fine line between something being considered extravagant and simply ostentatious, and with its gigantic gold leafed alter, gold crucifixes, royal jewellery and rooms of tombs the jury is still out for me on which category the cathedral in Sevilla falls into. But there is no doubt it is indeed spectacular.
The Catholics seem to like a trophy, and we learnt that La Giralda was the old minaret of the mosque dating back to the 12th century as we climbed its 34 floors (phew!) for a spectacular 360 degree view of the city. While there is some debate about its authenticity from some, Christopher Columbus's tomb is also housed here, including four sepulchre-bearers who represent the four kingdoms of Spain from the time of his discovery of America. In an interesting observation, Christopher Columbus travelled as far across the world dead as to when he was alive, this includes moving his coffin to Havanna, Cuba to avoid those pesky French in 1808.
Next to the catedral is Alcazar which was a residence of the royal family for many centuries - originally built as a Muslim fortress in 913. Fernando and Isabella of Portugal set up court here in the 1480's as they were plotting to conquer Granada, and were said to be actually married here. Another beautiful example of Moorish architecture and manicured gardens it reminded me of Alhumbra Palace.
And if all that grand architecture wasn't enough, we almost accidently stumbled on one of the greatest examples on an early morning stroll to the magnificent gardens of Parque de Maria Luisa. The military museum is housed in a large semi-circular building just outside the old quarter and is a colourful display of mosaic tiles telling tales of times centuries gone from the Conquistadores (or the conquering) of various provinces around Spain and Latin America.
There is substantial restoration being completed at the front of the building around the water feature which once completed will provide an entrance to simply one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in Europe. Inside the museum was a detailed history of the Spanish military including enough miniature toy soldier and battle scenes to make one father and son package gasp in awe. I am very glad the soldiers were safe behind glass cabinets for I would not have liked to discover the reimbursement costs should Oscar have taken a few to stick in his mouth...
Apart from the obvious night time party activities we are restricted from attending, the main entertainment we have chosen to avoid is the Spanish tradition of a Toro, or bullfight. I accidently caught a glimpse of this cultural eyesore one Friday evening on TV (its telecast like football) and it's horrific to say the least, most particularly the poor bull ending the 'spectacular' by having its spine severed by a gleeful looking fighter as four of his buddies surrounded him for protection in case the bull came to life.
Not only do these matadors look like a really bad Prince (as in The Symbol, Purple Rain) impersonators in their sequined ensembles, but for the same reasons that I wouldn't choose to go to a cockfight or a dog fight - animal cruelty isn't really my bag.
As it was 12 years ago, the Irish Pub opposite the catedral is the primary meeting spot for most tourists in Sevilla and I don't think the furniture nor the menu have changed in 12 years either. As the World Cup is in full swing, it was forever changing colour courtesy of its patrons kitted out in various nationalities football shirts all descending on the pub for its big screen and reasonably priced beer. Lucky in hindsight for us Australia played in the evening and we were safely in the hotel room rather than confront any pompous Germans.
Food, service and also price of beverages have been the best we have experienced in Spain. Our decision making process as to where to eat has become a fine art based on service, and for us if the staff are welcoming when you arrive there is a fairly good chance the food will be good. If they roll their eyes as you walk through the door (which has happened many times!) then it's wise to turn around and walk out.
Whilst we didn't find another restaurant that can rival our discovery in Valencia, we came pretty close in a Tapas bar names Enrique Beccera, which provided our final delicious meal in Spain. Marco says this restaurant 'had him' at honey glazed lamb with cous cous, while for me the avocado and tomato salad was refreshing and zesty. Lamb with dates, croquettes jamon, and albondigas in a rich sauce flavoured with mintprovided us a finale even Queen Isabella would have approved of. Our encore was one final tapas serving of paella with lemon which was superb. This was all for 17Euro which was also by far the cheapest meal we had in Spain.
It's off to Portugal now, so adios Spain we thank you for your hospitality and memories. Apologies to all the restaurants, airports, train carriages, museums, parks, shopping centres and hotel rooms that one Cyclone Oscar has destroyed in his path - you know he is well meaning, he just is Mui Entusiasmo. Some might say he reminds them of someone...