22 Sept - the glorious city of Seville

Escapade of Rame
Richard & Julie Farrington
Mon 2 Oct 2017 10:24

36:08.93N  005:21.2W


On Wednesday we climbed out of bed at the Parador in Arcos de la Frontera to visit a Convent for breakfast.  The Sisters of the Mercedarias Descalzas (tr. ‘barefooted’) specialise in sticky pastries with a difference: they are a cloistered order who have no contact with the outside world.  Purchasing said stickies therefore involves dealing with a revolving wooden door with no windows: you ask for what you want, put the money on the turntable and a smartly wrapped package appears by return.  Actually, they were a bit sweet, even for me.  Apparently they used to take in all kinds of cloths for mending, but were forbidden from dealing with men’s pants.

Breakfast through the hatch.  Note the menu on the left!

We moved swiftly on towards the great city of Seville, where Julie spent a year ostensibly studying Spanish.  The road was straight and very fair: a motorway with well-kept shrubs growing in the central reservation, trees lining the road providing shade and more of that flat, carefully cultivated farmland we saw the previous day.  The first proper bit of Seville was the riverbank, a reminder that we might have come up the Guadalquivir in Escapade and a reflection of how the city linked Spain to the New World.  After all, Christopher Columbus lived here and is buried in the Cathedral.  Our hotel was near the main sights in the old Jewish Quarter.  Las Casas de Juderia is not the cheapest hotel in the world, but it may well be the most unique.  It consists of a number of very old townhouses joined together, so you get a maze of passageways, courtyards, corridors, rooftop paths, fountains, crazy paving… something unexpected around every corner.  It made navigation to our room entertaining, but was a delight that did not diminish with time.  The rooftop swimming pool is a jewel: classic Spanish architecture and colours, that fantastic blue sky and the majestic skyline of the Giralda tower, the Alcazar palace and the Plaza de Europa combined to make this an unforgettable point in our Grand Adventure.

The rooftop paradise of Las Casas de Juderia.  The Giralda is just above Julie in the distance


Nooks and crannies in the hotel

The cathedral is the third largest in the world and is truly impressive.  The scale of it helped me to cope with my dislike of ‘religious bling’ as the whole thing is in perspective, somehow.  We got there early on the day we went, so the crowds (to start with at least) were not too intrusive and there was an opportunity for contemplation and reflection.  Built on the site of the original Moorish mosque, they wanted to create something that showed the world just how successful they were and how powerful, having kicked the Moors back into North Africa.  The Giralda tower is a key symbol of the city and started life as the minaret of the Mosque.  Construction took years – centuries in fact, not least because some key bits of the main roof fell down at various stages.  But in the end they created a masterpiece.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus

An attempt to capture the scale of the Cathedral

La Giralda.  Note the fine weathervane.

Equally stunning is the nearby Royal Palace, the Alcazar.  It’s still in use, apparently, but vast areas are open to the public and we spent ages wandering through the magnificent Moorish section, where each room is more beautiful than the one you were just in, and the ornamental gardens which set the whole thing off.  Last year, the Farringtons were hugely privileged to attend a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and the gardens in W1 are an absolute joy to wander through.  They are definitely British, but with an amazing collection of trees, shrubs and plants from around the world.  The Alcazar gardens are on a smaller scale, definitely Spanish but with strong African and European influences and designed to show off the Palace itself.  It seemed like a place to ENJOY, as much as a place to IMPRESS the visitor.  It did both in spades (sic).  Unlike the gardens at the Palacio de Mateus in the Douro valley, there was a small army of gardeners, clearly enjoying their work despite the heat.

The Alcazar Palace

An underground section of the Alcazar Gardens, beautifully cool!

Elsewhere in the Gardens

Eating out in Seville was also a treat.  We found Julie’s favourite tapas haunt, El Rinconcillo.  It’s as traditional as they come: waiters in black waistcoats, tiling stolen from a Victorian bathhouse, bottles lining the walls, huge hams waiting for a razor shave, sherry on tap, tiny shelves on which to perch your tiny plate of joy.  As you consume, the waiters record the price with chalk on the table in front of you.  No fancy tills to break and an easy check of your own ‘tummy versus pocket’ battle.  It was cheap as chips and twice as good.  Excellent service, fine food.  Must get on TripAdvisor and say something pithy…

After all that culture, you need some replenishment at El Rinconcillo

We were in Seville to celebrate Julie’s birthday (a couple of weeks late).  There’s not much room onboard for ornaments and our clothing lockers are filled with practical things so this year’s ‘treat’ was a trip to Seville and dinner at the majestic Hotel Alfonso XIII.  It was built in the 1920s as part of the backdrop for Seville Expo – one of those periodic global events where a state, city or region gets the chance to show off and have a genuine legacy for generations to come.  The theme was the relationship between the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas.  Seville got this right: alongside the fine hotel is the Plaza de Europa, a semi-circular square with arcades, towers, fountains, water… and a chance for each region of Spain to show off.  The Plaza and the hotel complement each other in terms of scale and imagination.  The Plaza today houses government departments of one form or other; the hotel caters for the well-heeled.  We were well looked after and nobody guessed we were just a couple of professional beach bums!  Fine food and wine, great service which achieved the right balance of attention and distance.  Worth every cent – and a lovely way to celebrate my lovely wife’s special day. 

La Plaza de Europa

We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to stay an extra day.  We managed to stay in the same hotel, wore down plenty of shoe leather and ended up in the evening on one of those ‘walking suppers’ where we wandered across town, exploring the alleyways and dipping into the odd tapas bar for sustenance as we went.  The last one was very busy and we were squeezed next to two Americans, Terry and Nancy.  As they do, they engaged us in conversation.  I can now report that we have met two people who voted for Donald Trump.  Apart from living in Minnesota, which I understand is a very long way from the sea, they seemed quite normal.  Probably in their late sixties, articulate and intelligent, they were horrified by what they perceived as treacherous coverage of their country on CNN in Europe.  A different view of ‘fake news’ to the one we are used to on this side of the Pond.  Fortunately, they did not want war with North Korea, but interestingly they admitted that they voted for Trump because they firmly believed that Hillary Clinton was in league with the Devil (my words, not theirs).  I wondered whether they thought The Donald would last the course; they thought he would not run for a second term and felt that Mike Pence would be a fine substitute if he was removed early. I sense that they are right, but it’s funny how ordinary, decent, free-thinking people can have such disparate perspectives. Somebody once said ‘you are what you eat’; nowadays, I wonder if you are what you read?