Tapas and tiles – Seville

With my behind firmly planted on the quay I leaned back to take in the scenery.

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In view the beautiful 1850ies steel bridge the map calls Puente de Isabel II but commonly called Triana bridge. A row of fishing poles lean against the fence by the Canal de Alfonso XIII, their lines stretching out into the slow flowing water, the owners converse softly in the shadows, waiting for something to happen at the end of the lines. Cooing on steel beams above pigeons sheltering from the Andalusian sun. Remnants of a swell from a passing double decked river cruiser make a gentle clucking sound as it reaches the concrete shore. A duck with ducklings in tow bob by in the green waters. The sun on a slow descent. Not much happens in mid-afternoon. After three days of ferociously soaking up the sights, indulging in tapas and Sangria I was starting to get the hang of the concept of Siesta. Calma, Calma is the key in one of the hottest cities of southern Spain.

Three days ago Juan the manager had put the key in the lock to a charming nicely renovated studio on Alameda where the ancient Pillars of Hercules stood guard at each end. It was evening and time to taste. An unintended detour helped to work up the appetite and in the process the oldest Tapas bar in Seville got a bit older. El Riconcillo at Calle Gerona 40 (www.elrinconcillo.es) dates from 1670 and is also said to be the oldest restaurant in Spain. However at 345 years old is still virile, fast paced and lively at Spanish dinner time around 9 PM. Jamon Iberico cured hams hang off hooks in the beamed ceiling over the bar, old vats of sherry stacked behind the counter.

Tapas time
Luckily some elbow room opened up around a barrel table offering the full flavor experience.
Soon a white shirted waiter showed up pulling up a pencil to scribble down the order in a paper pad. He noted Tortilla Queso Manchego (a heavy potato omelet with Manchego cheese), Bacalao a la Rotena (cod with tomato sauce), Jamon Iberico (Spanish ham) and Espinacas con Garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas), which all arrived fresh and fast as did the beer and red wine ordered. Needless to say after lunch at the airport it all disappeared without much conversation except for the Mmmms and the Ahhhhhs between bites.

Self service
Opting for self-catering rather than hotel life means that local markets have to be explored. Luckily there was one just a few blocks away on Calle Feria showing the pulse of the city and offering a wide selection of farm fresh fruit, nuts and veggies at fair prices. With the sustenance for the next day squared away in the early morning it was time to sample the city.

Tour de Seville
A perfect way to see the city at your own pace is from the saddle of one of the Sevici public bikes. A week pass is 14.40 Euros with insurance (12.40 without) and include unlimited rides in 30 minute increments with 5 minutes between them. However it took two tries at different machines to get the pass as these systems are not trouble free. To keep bicycle maintenance to a minimum the tyres are solid rubber which makes the ride a bit bumpier and the peddling a bit heavier. However it is by far outweighed by three gears and freedom to go everywhere. The bike stations are not far in between this bike friendly city. After adjusting the saddle it was time to explore seven sights of Sevilla.

With its origins in the 10th century as a fort it has been rebuilt and added to over the centuries to form an eclectic mix of Spanish and Moorish heritage. Arriving early at the Lions gate (Puerta de Leon) is the best bet for views unobstructed by selfie sticks. Once through the gate the Patio de la Monteria with the Arabic and Gothic scripts on the facade of Palacio de Don Pedro (Peter the First’s palace) is a first stop. The palace was built in 1364-66 in Mudéjar style an amalgamation of the Muslim and Christian cultures which coexisted well over a century after the Moorish rulers had withdrawn from the Iberian Peninsula. The halls of the palace are filled with the mastery of Moorish craftsmen. No more so than in the throne hall with its high dome ceiling filled with Arabic influences in both tiles and reliefs.

The courtyard of the Maidens with an elongated mirror pool and sunken orange trees is a popular photo stop for newlyweds. Walking away from the crowds there are also a gothic palace, admirals quarters and merchant hall amongst the palace’s parts of some occasionally used during royal visits. Step outside to see the perfectly trimmed trees and bushes of the ladies garden. It can all be overlocked from a covered corridor offering views of the rest of the garden as well. Taking it in with a coffee under the cypress trees in the park accompanied by the trickle of fountains leaves the modern world at a distance.
Before leaving a walk down under to the “Baths of Lady María de Padilla” is worthwhile to get out of the sun and admire the mirroring waters. Originally built outdoors but now covered with gothic valves.
A short return visit on a Monday evening when the entrance is free helped digest the massive complex.

The Cathedral of Seville took over hundred years to build and was completed in 1506 on top of the ruins of an older mosque. The gothic church has been rebuilt several times as the dome collapsed in 1511 and again in 1888 after an earthquake. It’s grandeur is helped by the massive Giralda bell tower converted from a minaret and reaching 105 meters (343 feet). After a transatlantic roundtrip journey spanning almost four decades the remains of Christopher Columbus was laid to rest in the Cathedral in 1898. Once back into the sun clapping of heels and fiery guitars draws the attention. A few students are putting on an impromptu flamenco show offering Seville culture for a few coins.

Santa Cruz
Adjacent to the Alcazar and the Cathedral the former Jewish neighborhood of Santa Cruz with its maze like alleys offer much desired shade and is also a draw on tourists. Santa Cruz is named after an old church once built on top of the ruins of a synagogue, both long gone. Beside the souvenir shops selling T-shirts, postcards and flamenco dresses the streets and especially the squares are filled with restaurants where a refreshing salad or gazpacho makes for a perfect lunch. On a cool eve the tapas at Casa Roman on Plaza Venerables were sampled but fell on a personal opinion a step behind El Riconcillo. The touristy restaurant street of Calle Gago with meny pushers on the side walk may offer a hit or miss.

Plaza de Espana
For tile enthusiasts the massive half circle shaped building with a long gallery and accompanying waterways is a must. It was completed to host the Ibero-American exhibition in 1929 in an attempt to improve relations between the motherland and former Latin-American colonies. Today the massive building stand as a testament to the art of tile making with each of Spain’s provinces represented in a ceramic alcove. For a different perspective rowboats can be rented or horse drawn carriages hired to go around the central fountain and the Maria Luisa Park

It may have been controversial, delayed and with severe cost over runs but the result is quite spectacular. The organically shaped (mostly) wooden structure claims to be the world’s largest and reach above the roof tops of this old town offering a view far beyond the city limits. It is officially called Metropol Parasol as it is intended to emulate six parasols. However it was soon nicknamed the mushroom and seeing the towering structure from below it is easy to understand where that comes from. Well worth a visit around sunset for a beautiful view as well as the cooling effects of an evening breeze.

After seeing the large tourist attractions a skip across Canal de Alfonso XIII to Triana is worthwhile. The bridge riveted together in the 1850ies is a feast for the eye. A Café con Lecce at the small café on the Triana side tastes better with the views of the bridge and the small Moorish revival chapel added in 1927. The roof top terrace offers a different perspective. One of the proudest sons of the area the matador Juan Belmonte stands immortalized in a small park by the foot of the bridge. The modernist bronze appropriately faces the bullring across the river. Not just the home of bullfighters Triana might be the cradle of Flamenco where the fiery dance flourished amongst the Roma population.

But what really made Triana grow in importance was what the slow flowing river left behind over centuries. Clay, when turned into pottery and tiles became a main industry. Roofs, cupolas, entrances, signs, benches, tables and of course floors from palaces to kiosks around town are covered by ceramic tiles. The traces of this past are still visible in the area by Calle St George where colorful glazed tiles are abundant and affordable. A walk through the Triana market across the street fills eyes and nostrils with colors and aromas. For a real feast Paella at Taller Andaluz de Cocina cooking workshops helps foodies turning rice, seafood and vegetables into Paella. A good meal might be needed to stomach the dark past resting in the basement. The museum of Castillo of St George tells the gruesome story of the 15th and 16th century Spanish Inquisition when many non-Catholics were burnt at the stake. For life’s lighter side an art market is held on the river front on Sundays.

Expo 92
Further along the canal past the Monasterio de la Cartuja history is distinctly more modern. In April 1992 the gates to the Universal exposition of Seville opened. Themed “the age of discovery” it was timed to coincide with the 500th jubilee of Columbus journey to America. Over hundred countries contributed, some with elaborate pavilions in a time of optimism. Today however the massive Pavilion of Discovery stand empty, abandoned with a canal overgrown with reeds and a mockup of an Arienne 5 rocket rusts behind a fence. Down the street a middle aged man stops with a van to fill plastic jerry cans with water from a fountain under a translucent globe. The European Union pavilion grounds are dead silent and the whole area a bit eerie. However there is life and on weekends screams and laughter can be heard from the Isla Magica amusement park whilst the science park and the engineering university brings life during the work week.

Seville is known to be one of the hottest cities in Europe so unless you enjoy body temperature heat and beyond summer might not be the best time to visit. However spring and autumn are comfortable and well suitable for bike rides around town and perfect for a long weekend or a city break. Dip churros in a Caffe con Lecce on an early Saturday morning by the Triana bridge. Listen to the birds chirp and feel the warmth of the sun as it cast a golden glow over the city. Stroll the arts market by the Museum of Arts on a Sunday morning where under a giant tree, watercolors, sculptures, ceramics, oils, prints and photography are spread out and affordable. Try tapas, sangria and soak it all up under the Sevillian sun at your own pace.


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