Day 5 – Seville 

Day 5 was reserved for exploring Seville more thoroughly, since we were only here for about 36 hours last year. The only problem turned out to be the weather – the high was 103! Luckily, there were only a few things we truly had our hearts set on, so we took advantage of the cooler temperatures in the morning to explore the Maria Luisa Park, which surrounds the Plaza de Espana, truly one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen.  It was nice to walk around the Plaza again, but it was also nice to explore the park – the landscaping is really beautiful, with lots of different flowers and trees and fountains… We also saw the archaeological museum, though it was unfortunately closed (we’ll check it out tomorrow).  

Once it got too hot to wander around, we went to the General Archive of the Indies, which houses almost all the information collected from Spain’s Age of Exploration.  We were hoping to see some maps from that time period, maybe some navigational instruments or letters…but there wasn’t really anything on display (luckily entrance is free).  It was, however, an air conditioned building, and there was also a nice informational video about the building and how it came to house all those important documents.  It is used now primarily as a research facility, though apparently the staff do sometimes organize special exhibits.  It made me wonder if there was any effort to research and/or preserve native South American cultures, but the emphasis was definitely on how influential Spain was during the Age of Exploration.  

After the Archive, we walked over to see a wealthy private home from the 1500s.  Apparently there are several that you can tour, by we chose La Casa de Pilatos mostly because it was close to our hotel.  The house is stunning – elaborate tile work, a large atrium/patio with a fountain, and tons of Roman sculpture.  Apparently this family was ahead of the trend with the collection of antiquities – there is even a legend that one member took Trajan’s ashes from the base of his column in Rome and brought them “back” to Seville (Trajan was from Italica, an ancient city nearby which we will be visiting tomorrow!), but his maid thought the urn was full of trash so she dumped it out into the garden.  Oops.  

I will say that the extreme heat and the overly complicated language of the audio guide made it difficult if us to truly get the most out of the visit; it took so much energy to try to interpret the weirdly worded audio guide that I mostly just found myself staring blankly into space.  We both did enjoy walking through the rooms and gardens, though, so the house is absolutely worth a visit.  

Our very late lunch was had at El Pinton, another restaurant we tried last year.  We had a spinach salad with anchovies and pomegranate, Peruvian cerviche, and mushroom risotto (as I said to Chris at lunch today: “If I don’t have Italian food every few days or so, I’ll shrivel up and die.”).  Everything was excellent, if a bit pricey, though honestly it was almost worth it to sit in the air conditioning for an hour or so.  

After lunch, we had a nice siesta at the hotel – Chris needed to do some work and I was happy to lie down.  Suddenly it was 8:00 and we realized we needed food, so we ran out for a quick bite of pizza from a nearby chain.  Nothing fancy, and sometimes it’s nice to get something quick and cheap (mostly importantly, cheap).  

While our day wasn’t perfect – the heat really drained our energy more than we anticipated – I definitely enjoyed getting to know Seville better.  As wth Malaga, I found the city to be beautiful and full of interesting history.  The delicious food doesn’t hurt either!  And it’s funny because I distinctly remember last year saying that I was unimpressed by Spanish cuisine, though I’m thinking now that that was specifically about food we had in Granada, which I definitely remember being less than stellar.  Almost all the meals we’ve had  over the last five days have been excellent, so I’m excited to see what Barcelona has to offer.  

That’s our next stop!  Day 6 will see us driving to Italica in the morning then flying to Barcelona in the evening. It will be a pretty packed day – stay tuned! 

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Day 4 – Malaga to Seville

Day 4 was fairly uneventful.  We had picked up our rental car on Day 3 (part of the debacle of that day was driving to a super trashy beach town looking for vats that turned out to be overgrown and fenced off) and after a quick breakfast, we hit the road.  

Though our final destination for the day was Seville, we had a few stops for fish salting vats (of course!) along the way.  Our first stop was Manilva, about half an hour from Malaga.  It was a fairly tiny beach area, but absolutely gorgeous, which made up for the fact that the vats were, again, fenced in and totally overgrown.  So we walked around the beach a bit, wandered over to some ruins of a Roman bath, then hopped back in the car.  Next on the list was ancient Carteia, near Guadarranque.  Both I fully expected this to be another tiny site where I could walk around for ten minutes or so then plop down under a tree and read while Chris did his thing.  I wasn’t entirely wrong – it definitely was a tiny site; only 7% of the ancient city has been excavated, though that 7% does cover a wide area so that the site is more like a park than anything else.  I was wrong, however, about being able to read in the shade after ten minutes of exploration.  Though the site was free, there was a little guardhouse and a little trailer of offices.  The guard told us that we had to have a guide, and a sign of rules explicitly stated that no one was allowed to walk through the site without a guide.  Chris and I eyed each other apprehensively – we didn’t need a guide!  The plan was to get to the site, get the necessary info, then get back on the road!  We tried to explain the situation to the guide, a lovely young woman who looked like this might just be her summer job, but she was insistent (understandably so; it was her job, after all).  So we followed along with a Spanish family while our guide explained the site to them in Spanish then came back and spoke a bit to us in English.  It was a nice site – beautiful trees and flowers, and the beach right nearby.  To be fair, after the tour, chris asked to go back to the vats so I did have a chance to read for a bit, which was really nice with the sea breeze and everything.  🙂

So ancient Carteia took a lot longer than expected.  Even the best laid plans go awry sometimes!  We weren’t in a rush, so once Chris was finished, we headed towards Palmones, a tiny town nearby, for lunch.  We found a street lined with cafes, and since it was Sunday, all of them seemed to be packed with families enjoying time together (there certainly weren’t any tourists here!).  While this wasn’t the best meal we’d had so far, it was really pleasant to be sitting amongst the locals, enjoying the weather and the atmosphere.  

The rest of the journey to Seville was uneventful and we easily found parking for the car and our hotel.  For dinner, we headed back to La Bartola, the same place we had eaten at a year ago on our first and only night in Seville.  I had actually looked back at the blog post from that day and was reminded how much we loved Spanish food after that one meal – and once again, it did not disappoint.  The food was excellent, though the most outstanding dish was a “stack” of cod and fried eggplant with a salmorejo sauce (salmorejo is like gazpacho, a chilled tomato soup, but is a bit thicker and creamier).  It was absolutely one of the most delicious things I have eaten on the trip, if not ever!   We also had some lovely wine and it was just all together a fabulous evening, eating and drinking and talking in this little restaurant.  

Chris and I obviously focus on very specific things when we travel.  It’s very helpful that our interests align so much – not only does it make picking out which Roman sites to visit or which restaurant to try much easier, it also allows us to have our travels mostly funded by UC in the name of Chris’ dissertation research.   It is truly the epitome of loving your work – while there are some days that aren’t stellar, overall I love this wacky itinerary we have and absolutely above all, I love getting this time with my husband.  Things get so crazy during the school year (this last year was especially awful for me) that it’s pretty easy for both of us to sort of go through the marriage motions. But when we travel together, we actually get time to reconnect and focus on each other.  It’s precious time and I savor every second.  

Day 12 – Seville (6/12/16)

Ok. I love Spain. I know that we were only here for 36 hours, but already I am head over heels. It began two nights ago on the way to dinner.

(Brief explanation of our itinerary – we were in Seville for a day as a stopover on the way to Morocco. There aren’t any ferries from Portugal, so we had to come to Spain first, and so decided to spend a day in Seville before heading on to Morocco.)

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and showered before heading back out into the city for dinner. We decided to walk over to the Plaza de España first because the next day would be pretty packed with stuff and the Plaza was a ways away from everything else. The walk from out hotel to the Plaza was so pleasant – it reminded me a lot of Italy. Tiny, twisting streets with elaborately decorated buildings on either side gave way to large, spacious avenues with parks and monuments. And the Plaza itself! One of the most gorgeous spaces I have ever seen. We arrived at just the right moment, too – the sun was just starting to set (at 9:00pm!!) and bathed the whole square in this beautiful golden light and it was just perfect. We spent some time walking around, examining all the details of the tiles and stonework before finally heading to dinner.

And what a dinner! I knew that Spanish food was good, but this first meal was amazing. We went to a little tapas place and ordered: a cold almond dip with figs and grapes, calamari, an Asian-inspired dish made with Iberian pork and veggies, zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and sprinkled with black salt, manchego cheese, and jamon de bellota (the Spanish version of prosciutto made from acorn-fed pigs – bellota means “acorn”). Everything was delicious and we devoured it all as if we hadn’t eaten for days (which is what it felt like at that point, since lunch had been sad affair of leftover sandwiches at the car rental drop-off seven hours prior). Our first taste of Spanish food left us very hungry for more (hehe, see what I did there??).

The next day was our one and only day in Seville so we planned on packing it full to the brim. Our plan fell through slightly when we realized it was Sunday – certain things only opened at certain times for a limited number of hours, and given the fact that we had to go to an archaeological museum so Chris could look at some vats, that and the fact that it was Sunday slightly limited our ability to see everything. But, we did pack a lot in!

First was the Alcazar. My tip to you – buy your ticket in advance. It just makes life a bit easier. And definitely go, because it is beautiful and a great example of Islamic architecture. The Alcazar was originally constructed in the 1100s as a fortress but has been expanded and added on to and renovated since. It is still used by the royal family as a residence, which is pretty cool.

After the Alcazar, we walked over to the Museo Antiquarium. The ruins that the museum houses were discovered when construction for the weird mushroom monument began in 2011 (I don’t remember the actual name of the monument, just that the locals call it “The Mushrooms” and that’s what they look like) and so a museum was made around them, which is pretty neat. There were fish salting vats there so we had to go take a look, and the rest of the ruins are pretty cool, too – some nice mosaics and remains of private houses.

Once Chris had gotten everything he needed from the museum, we had lunch at a little place near the cathedral. It was nice to get out of the sun, and the restaurant was beautiful – covered in beautifully painted tiles, open and bright – even if the food was a bit on the pricey side. I had a calamari sandwich with garlic mayonnaise and that same black salt that we had had the night before. Chris had mushroom risotto. Both were delicious and some day, when I have more money, I will go back to that place and try other things on their menu.

We finished lunch around 2:00, which is unfortunately when most Spanish actually start lunch and we realized that the cathedral, which was next on our list, didn’t open until 2:30 (because of Sunday. Thanks, God.). So we decided to go to the Archivos de Indias, another place on our list, which housed all the documents from the Spanish Age of Exploration. Apparently there are tons of original maps on display, which sounded pretty cool, but when we got there, the little sign said, “Sunday: 10:00 – 2:00.” We had just missed it and I was really disappointed. Thanks, God. So, we sat outside the cathedral in the shade for 20 minutes or so. It was starting to get really, really hot and being in the sun was almost unbearable, which was unfortunate, because the line to get into the cathedral was really, really long (another tip – buy your ticket for the cathedral in advance! buy as many tickets as you can in advance!). We realized after a bit that it wasn’t really moving, just getting longer, so if we wanted to get in, we’d have to get in line. We traded places every ten minutes so that neither of us had to stand out in the sun for too long, but still, it was hot.

It took an hour to get inside (there were only two ladies working the ticket counter), and by the time we finally did, I was starting to wonder if it would even be worth it. Of course, it absolutely was. Seville’s cathedral is one of the largest in the world (there is a bit about this at the beginning of the Wikipedia article I linked, but it’s a bit confusing…), and it is also Gothic, which is really interesting because I have never seen a Gothic cathedral so big. I loved the massive pillars soaring upwards before becoming a part of the vaulted ceiling and how the pointed arches gave the impression of delicacy amid the bulk of those pillars. There was also a ton of art throughout the chapels – mostly 17th century Spanish masters, including a Goya. We also got to see the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which was neat. It was incredibly over-the-top, but I guess he thought he deserved that.

Included in our ticket was the climb up the bell tower, which used to be a minaret for the mosque that stood on the site of the cathedral before the Christians re-conquered the city. Instead of stairs, a series of ramps take you to the top, supposedly so that in olden times, people could ride their horses up it. Why you would want to ride your horse inside a bell tower is beyond me (Chris says it’s so they didn’t have to walk down). The view was lovely, and climbing up and down wasn’t as bad as other climbs I’ve done due to the ramps.

After a brief rest at a café, we headed over to the Casa de la Memoria, where flamenco shows are held nightly. The hour long performance showcased all the different aspects of flamenco – a man and woman dancing together, each dancing solo, the guitar playing solo, and the singer with the guitar. It was awesome – the amount of skill each performer had was astonishing! I didn’t know anything about flamenco before the show and now I am eager to learn more.

After the show, we walked back to the Plaza de España because the night before we hadn’t had our good cameras with us, only iPhones, and so wanted to get some better photos before leaving. I’m glad we did, because we got to see the square in that magical light again and it was just such a beautiful calm space. Finally, we headed to dinner.

Is there anything worse than a thwarted meal?? Chris had found a place near our hotel that looked really good, but when we got there (at 10:30pm, after walking 10 miles around the city), we found that it was closed (because Sunday. Thanks, God). Frustrated and tired and very hungry, we made due with the first place we found, a place with the sort of pre-fabricated feel you find at Starbucks or McDonalds. The food wasn’t terrible (stewed Iberian pork cheek, an ox-tail “burger,” a stewed lamb “burger,” and artichokes), but it wasn’t what we wanted and it definitely wasn’t worth the cost. Oh well, c’est la vie! We’ll be back in Spain in a few days, so we have plenty of time to eat plenty of tapas to make up for it.

Now, on to Morocco!