Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Brides of Sevilla

Sevilla is romantic. It's in the air, all around you. The light is soft, the breezes gentle and warm, everyone seems relaxed, and for the first time on this trip into Spain, actually smiling. For a city of 700 thousand it feels small and manageable. This is the town of Carmen, Don Juan, orange trees, bullfights, flamenco, and great love stories. We are going to explore and eat, and soak it in.

Saturday - September 13th 2008 - Sevilla, Spain

The drive from La Linea to Sevilla is an easy hour and 50 minute journey over pleasant roads through pleasant countryside (This sounds like the beginning of one of those "Pleasant Family" bedtime stories Kathy spins for the grandchildren). It is such a stark contrast to the jagged edged rock we just left that it brings peaceful thoughts. We had no plans or accommodations, just drove along following the signs and suddenly we were over a bridge and in the city.

Normally we look for cheap accommodations on the outskirts of the city, but it seems there are no outskirts of this city. We were on a large very clean palm tree lined boulevard passing a beautiful, four star AC Hotel (I had never heard of them, but they are big in Europe), and decided to check the price, just for the fun of it. 100 Euros (about $140) for the night is twice as much as we usually spend but we felt extravagant and asked for the room key. I'm telling you, there is something in the air around here.

The city center was a short bus ride (reported to be 3 kms, but it seemed much less)down the avenue, and within minutes we were crossing large orange tree lined boulevards heading toward the Santa Maria de la Sede cathedral (sometimes called Cathedrale y Giralda for the weather vane on top). It is big (3rd largest in Europe), and took almost 120 years to build. There were three reasons we wanted to see this cathedral:

The levitated tomb of Christopher Columbus - Now this is a cool tomb. It's got just about everything you would want in a tomb. Colorful, up off the ground, nice spot in a busy church where it will be noticed, no doubt about that. Pretty impressive, all in all.

The Golden Altarpiece - I know it's a little gaudy, but where else will you be able so see 4,000 pounds of gold in one place. This is a little over the top. It is covered with 1,500 figures in various scenes of religious significance, and I couldn't make out any of them. Too busy. In the treasury around the corner is a great crown with the largest pearl in the world (it's part of the angel on the left). It's reported to have over 11,000 precious stones. We took a quick look at some relics but I'm not convinced some of those splinters came from either the cross or the table at the last supper. Maybe they did.

The Giralda Tower - No steps in this baby, just ramps once used by horses to take riders to the top. Nice wide ramps that are pretty easy to walk, but after 30 or so become monotonous. The views from the top are spectacular and worth the climb. You can see into the Alcazar (not much to see), the Jewish quarter, and down to the river and bull ring (outside of which is the statue of Carmen). A great way to spend an afternoon. While on the top we had the pleasure of hearing the huge bells clap out the time, up close and personal.

Dusk settled gently over the city, and the setting sun warmed the colors of the buildings. The architecture is Moorish/Spanish and the mix very agreeable. There is an above ground electric rail down the main avenue, and car free. We were hungry and sought out a small cafe in the Santa Cruz neighborhood. It seems that each little hidden square has 3 or 4 restaurants around it, each serving its own speciality under the stars. At 7:00 pm it was early for dinner in Spain, but we were not going to last long, and had no desire to start dinner at 10:00 pm. The Cafe Alianza was perfect, the hostesses were very pleasant (one was American we later found out), and the food was delicious. After dinner we took our time walking through the park, past huge old trees and tile covered benches, just wandering aimlessly. It was in the park that we spotted our first bride (and groom) marching merrily down the garden path.

As we headed toward the river we passed at least 3 more brides out and about, one getting off the electric train (with a fair amount of help from her attendants). How can you not be enamoured with a city where newlyweds wander the streets receiving the well wishes of strangers as they pass. Magical.

It takes a long time for the sun to set on Sevilla. We walked along the river Quadalquivir to the statue of Carmen. It is pretty well hidden by the foliage of the ubiquitous orange trees but it's right across from the entrance to the bull ring, and worth the walk. I like that they cast a statue to a fictitious cigar factory worker. As the city came alive, with lights sparkling in the parks and on the major monuments, we bucked the waves (no exaggeration) of people heading into the center while we made our way back to our hotel.

Seems so long ago that we were speeding toward Rota, and mixing it up with the apes on top of Gibraltar. That is the effect Sevilla has on you. Tomorrow we head back to Praia da Luz and whatever intrigue awaits.

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