Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sunny, super, Seville - yah, Spain!!

Well, our Spanish experience didn't get off to the greatest start, when we got entirely confused, and planned on catching a train from Lagos to Seville... which, it turns out, you can't...
So, we got a train from Lagos to Faro [the 'capital' of the Algarve region], then waited two and half hours for another train to Vila Real de Sao Antonio, where we found two Australians who shared a taxi with us to a ferry terminal, where we caught a ferry across the Portuguese border into Spain [who knew there was water there?], then a taxi across town to the bus station, where we made the last bus by about 20 seconds, caught a bus to Huelva, and then a bus from Huelva to Seville....all of which taking about 10.5 hours... then a walk to the hostel... by which stage we were somewhat tired, though slightly bemused by just how many forms of transport we had managed to use in one day..
Anyway, the point is, whatever it took, it was more than worth it, because Seville is a simply stunning city, and everything anyone could want for a first introduction to life in Spain.

The city is [as so many are, we have discovered] built on the banks of a river dissecting the city centre, and we began by visiting the huge daily fresh food market with a lovely New Zealand couple [from Ekatuhuna, of all places!], who we had met in our hostel. As an aside, I find it interesting, that considering well over a quarter of the New Zealand population live in Auckland, we have been travelling for just over five months, and have met a grand total of five other kiwis [general rabble at the Walkabout for rugby matches not included], being one from Hamilton, one from the Hawkes Bay, one from Rotorua, and now two from Ekatahuna...
Anyway, the market was huge and impressive, as we have found most European food markets to be. Probably the most entertaining thing, however, was the fact that one of the meat stalls [of which there were many] had bunches, yes, bunches, of fresh, unskinned, fluffy looking rabbits hanging from the front of the stall. Which, as Antony pointed out, wasn't so bad. But then there were the bunches of feathery pigeons beside them... and the pheasants... all hanging by their feet from the front of the stall - quite possibly one of the strangest food-selling situations we have encountered. But then, around the corner was the little Spanish lady with a vat full of live snails, who she seemed to spend her time chasing back into their hole when they inevitably tried to escape.... Needless to say, we didn't make any purchases that day...

After the market we crossed the river and headed over to the historic city centre, first swinging by the Torre del Oro, which was originally a military watchtower, and got it's name after the Spanish stored gold brought back from conquests to America within it. Continuing on along the riverbank, we made our way in to the Cathedral, which stands as one of the more impressive structures we have seen so far. The cathedral sits on the site of an original mosque, and was begun in the early fifteenth century. I think the only remaining part of the mosque is a minaret that is now a bell tower, protruding well above the rest of the cathedral builings. Currently, it is the largest medieval gothic religious building, the largest Catholic Cathedral in the world, and has the largest altar in the Christian world.... so yeah, fairly fantastic!! We loved that there were some great big open squares around the cathedral so you could actually get a good view and appreciate what you were seeing, rather than coming around a tight city corner and having to squint into the sky to get a glimpse... We still felt the Dom in Cologne was more impressive/imposing in it's exterior appearance, but this definitely shoots to the 'top churches' list!

We also had a look at the Alcázar, which was originally a Moorish fort, and has some vast impressive gardens, but only from the outside. The university also got a visit, though I feel some of the students thought we were crazy people [and were probably right!], as some of the buildings that are now part of the campus originally formed the oldest tobacco factory in Europe, which is also the setting for the novel and opera 'Carmen'. While on a literary trend, we passed by the Hospital de la Caridad, which was founded in the seventeenth century, by Miguel de Mañara, who was supposedly the inspiration for the fictional Don Juan, who repented from his hedonistic youthful life and founed the hospital for the sick and homeless.

We eventually found ourselves in the Plaza de España, which was created for the 1929 World Expo held in Seville. This is an amazingly impressive semi-circle of buildings set in a massive courtyard, with a very cool fountain front and centre. The whole thing has a large moat and a number of very impressive bridges, but we were disappointed to arrive when the moat was dry... :( Still, a very cool find, even if it is actually currently only used as a local government office. More interestingly, it was used posing as the 'Cairo Great Britain Army Headquarters' in Lawrence of Arabia... random fact of the day!

After a busy time sightseeing, we ventured back out one evening, as the city just seemed to have a magical feel to it... and we were well rewarded! Seville just does an absolutely super job of presenting itself as a beautiful historic European city, with fantastic soft lighting used after dark at all the main attractions, which was added to by the amazing buskers spread around the city centre, from classical violin to Spanish guitar... it all made up for a supremely enjoyable evening walk, and some super photo opportunities... [appearing on a Facebook screen near you soon..]

1 comment:

Faber Optimé said...

Thoroughly enjoying the ongoing tales of your travels. Hope you keep up the great work!! The depth of details you describe is valued and appreciated - through this you're painting rich pictures. :)
I'm so pleased you managed to see Seville! Not only the largest Spanish port throughout its colonial years, also home to the finest filigree silver (not to mention oranges!) in Europe. :)
I have very fond memories of my visit there - the cathederal being of particular note.
The bell tower you mentioned is called "Heralda" and I remember it particularly as it was designed so that a horse could be ridden up it to the top (in days prior to the bell being there, horsemen used to go up and blow horns to call for prayers!).
Indeed the cathederal was one of the few structures not destroyed by the repeated Catholic/Muslim invasions of the city.
Instead, each time "the other side" (re-)occupied, they'd add a bit more to it and change it (back) to being a mosque/church for a period!
I also remember an absolutely huge internal room with (red/cream) vaulted roof, which was clearly not of Christian origin... Did you see that? If I recall correctly, I think it was near an internal courtyard filled with orange trees?
Though I don't think it's the largest cathedral - I was told it was second only to the Vatican! ;)
I stayed in Ejica whilst I was in Spain, but Seville (or "seb-i-ja" as I recall the pronunciation in the local lingo!) remains outstanding of my memories there.
Looking forward to further of your travels! :)