Seville Diary, February 2020 – An Englishman abroad
Day 2 – Tuesday
I’d been cold in the night, but too tired to do anything about it. However, I’ve found a blanket in the bottom of the wardrobe, so should be alright tonight. A quick shower and freshen up, consult the map and off we go.
I pad down the cobbled street, turn a corner and there in front of me – yes – it’s the Giralda! Probably the most iconic symbol of Seville, the Giralda is the bell-tower of the cathedral. I continue in that general direction and soon arrive in the square outside the cathedral. Whilst looking for a good angle for a photo down a side-street, I notice a café with a free table outside, so stop for a coffee. It’s shirt and jacket weather and perfectly fine for dining alfresco in the spring sunshine. On the menu is something called a caracola, so I order one and when it arrives, sure enough, it’s a kind of spiral like a snail shell. It’s packed with dried fruit and goes really well with the café con leche.
I was planning on visiting the cathedral as a somewhat predictable first port of call, but it doesn’t open until eleven. Then I notice a queue to my left – doesn’t look too long – which turns out to be for the Real Alcázar, so I tag on the end. Overshadowed a little by its famous neighbour, this place is outstanding, with its Moorish architecture and landscaped gardens second only in my opinion to the Alhambra. Commenced in 1364 by Pedro I as a royal palace, subsequent monarchs made their own additions. I spend a very pleasant couple of hours, which brings me nicely to lunch time.
One of the restaurants in the guide is a short distance away, but I miss the turn, get lost in the maze of streets and end up approaching it from the other end. No matter, here it is – Casa Plácido. I take a seat outside and have a caña – a small beer – whilst I peruse the menu. I begin with tortillitas de camarones, shrimp fritters, followed by cola de toro, bull’s tail in a rich sauce. They are delicious and accompanied nicely by an excellent twelve-year-old fino tradición, a lovely dry sherry.
I have to try the local orange wine, vino de naranja, and very nice it is too. I look on the menu for something unusual and go for lomo con champiñones, pork with mushrooms. I try an amontillado botaina and then a thirty-year-old oloroso tradición, which is superb. The waiter is very friendly and kindly gives me a complimentary glass of thirty-year-old palo cortado. These sherries are VORS, which I discover stands for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, so there you go. All in all, most enjoyable and it’s a shame really that this little gem was very quiet whereas when I turn the corner, the strip of restaurants leading down to the cathedral are all packed.
Now it’s off to Parque Maria Luisa and Plaza de España. It’s a pleasant walk and I soon arrive at the park. It’s a large landscaped area which was originally the grounds of the Palacio de San Telmo and donated to the city by Princess Maria Luisa de Orléans in 1893, but what I’ve really come to see is the Plaza de España, a semi-circular edifice which looks as if it dates from the seventeenth century, but was actually built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition. I walk between some bushes and am stunned by the sight – it’s enormous and includes a canal with ornamental bridges.
Before taking a closer look, I see some market stalls and can’t resist buying a flamenco dress with a pretty shawl for Elizabeth. The bottom of the building consists of alcoves representing every region of Spain. For the hell of it, I take a photo of the Balearics, but it is marred somewhat by a gentleman reposing on the bench.
I take my leave and wander back towards the centre. It seems like a long way and I’m pleased to stop for a refreshing pint of Alhambra Especial. It’s amusing to watch the waiter attempting to cajole passers-by into the restaurant, but despite his best efforts, without success. It turns out that the other waiter is from Brazil, so his first language is Portuguese and he is learning Spanish. As I leave, I say Gracia’ and Obrigado!
Seville is just like one expects it to be – guitar music in the streets, the smell of horses (I love the smell of horses – don’t you?) and even in February, oranges and spider plants in profusion.
When in Seville, it seems silly not to take in some flamenco, so eventually I find my way, with the help of a lovely young Sevillana who is expecting any day, to the Museo del Baile Flamenco, which is recommended as one of the best venues. There is a show about to start or one at eight forty-five, so I book for the later one and go in search of a bite to eat. There isn’t a great deal of choice in the vicinity, but I’m happy to sit outside Bar Estrella and have a beer and pez espada a la plancha, grilled swordfish steak. For a city with so many tourist attractions, the prices in Seville are very reasonable.
I leave in good time and it’s as well because, of course I get lost. Whilst I’m going around in a circle, or is it a square or a figure of eight, I don’t know, but down a side street I see the hotel, which I’d no idea was so near. Anyway, I get there sufficiently early to have a glass of red wine before the show. The compere tells us that photographs are not allowed and it’s actually a good thing otherwise I shouldn’t be able to see the show for mobile ‘phones raised in the air.
The show begins and as it progresses, it becomes increasingly painful. No, it’s really good, but I have to dig my nails into my palms to stop me clapping along to the music. There are three dances with different costumes and each enacting a different story. I don’t know if it has quite reached the stage of duende (an untranslatable word meaning something like the height of passion and usually used in connection with flamenco), but it’s definitely emotionally stirring.
I wander aimlessly in the opposite direction and come across an unassuming little bar (I can’t even see its name anywhere) where I have a couple of bottles of Estrella Damm and some chicharrones – home-made pork scratchings. On the way back I find the turn off for the hotel straight away. This is going to be one of those classic cases where I find my way around just as it’s time to leave.