The next morning, we got up fairly early. We needed to go back to El Corte Ingles to see about canceling the tickets for our elaborate Portuguese itinerary. Luckily, we able to do this without much trouble, and got a refund for all but 15% of the fares. Our next stop before heading to the train station was breakfast, at the waffle place we had spied across from the Hotel Europa.
We both raised an eyebrow when we saw the proprietor of the shop put the waffles we ordered into the microwave to reheat. Bread often does not fare well in the microwave, but our waffles turned out to be yummy. We were also pretty skeptical that the tiny plastic spades we were handed with with the waffle would be any help at all, but they ended up working just fine. The waffles had a texture different from the ones we are used to. They were crumbly and bready, almost like biscuit dough cooked in a waffle iron, and the outsides were covered with sweet, caramelized sugar. Dan got his with whipped cream, and I got mine with chocolate, which was the opposite of our usual inclinations.
We checked out of the Hotel Europa, and headed to the train station to catch the high-speed AVE (Alto Velocidad EspaÃ±ola) train to Sevilla. This is a very pleasant way to travel. The seating is comfortable, and the ride is smooth; it’s hard to believe these trains travel as fast as 220 km/hour.
We spent most of the ride, as far as Cordoba anyway, talking with an American seated across the aisle from us. His name was Jason, and he was halfway through his term of service in the Peace Corp in Moldova. He gave us a rather discouraging report on the way foreign aid vaporizes once it gets into the hands of the local government bureaucracy. He was on vacation with his parents in Spain, and though the country was not at the top of his list, he was happy to go anywhere with them “as long as there would be toilets that flush.” He was looking forward to the trip he had planned at the end of his term, a long train voyage through Russia, Siberia, and Vietnam that sounded pretty cool.
We arrived in Sevilla around 2:00pm and began our customary round of calls to the hotels listed in our books. We didn’t have much luck, so we went back into the station to pick up a map at the TI, and then to visit the hotel information booth. The woman who helped us spoke fluent English, and was very helpful. She was able to get us a reservation for two nights at the Hotel Marian, a decent-but-not-fancy hotel, and then two nights at the Casa del Maestro, which promised to be slightly more upscale. This experience was a good lesson for us. We’d been avoiding these booths, assuming they’d be hard-sell type places hawking overpriced and touristy hotels. Though I’m sure this woman was making some commission on our reservations, she had more of the demeanor of a concierge and seemed very knowledgeable about the local hotels.
We caught a cab outside the station to get us to the Hotel Marian. It was located in a slightly run down working-class neighborhood, not too far from the station. Dan felt a little bit uncomfortable, but it seemed fine to me. It seemed no dingier to me than downtown Madrid, but had the advantage of being at least partly residential. The street the hotel was on initially seemed tiny, but we soon discovered that it passed as nearly a main thoroughfare in the old city section of Sevilla. At any rate, the hotel seemed to be perfectly reasonable, and most importantly, it had air conditioning! Our room was on the ground level, which had marble floors that were very squeaky under Dan’s shoes. After we got our bags settled and freshened ourselves up a bit, we decided to take a look around and get oriented.
We were in the old part of the city, and it was full of small, smaller and tiny streets. It reminded me of Venice, with many odd angles and twisty passages, but populated with stubby cars and scooters instead of boats and canals. There is a small plaza every few hundred feet, and the narrow streets are thick with quaint vistas: crumbling old churches, ironwork or balconies on most of the windows, and tiles with geometric patterns everywhere you look. Many of the balconies are made of wrought iron, and are floored with tiles, at least as far as we can tell from street level. We got disoriented almost immediately—a pleasant phenomenon that was repeated many times both here and in Cordoba.
One of the first plazas we stumbled into was the Plaza Alfalfa, and we stopped into the Horno San Buenaventura for coffee and a snack. The shop was very cute, offering a small deli, fresh bread, and a case full of candies along with the coffee-and-pastries bar. I had gotten into a good sleeping pattern by now, so I decided to be daring and have an afternoon café con leche with my chocolate croissant. The chocolate filling had the consistency of Nutella. One word: yum!
Thus fortified with sugar and caffeine, we continued to wander, heading generally toward the cathedral and main downtown area. The late-afternoon light was really lovely. We were already beginning to feel more relaxed than we had in Madrid, even though we kept getting lost. The streets were lined with orange trees, and they had lots of fruit on them, mostly green. It made us wonder if the City of Sevilla has some system for harvesting and distributing the fruit when it ripens; otherwise there would be a lot of mess!
Our wanderings took us through the El Centro neighborhood and down Calle de la Cuna, a shopping lane lined with shoe and lingerie stores, and boutiques with spangly things in the windows. One shop appeared to offer bras and yarn, a combination tailor-made for me! Since it’s late in the afternoon, most of the shops are closed, but it was still fun to peer into the windows. We noticed that there were a very large number of bridal shops, at least in this downtown area. These were of more interest to me than usual, no doubt because my own wedding dress was still so fresh in my mind.
Eventually, we found the Catedral and Giralda (the bell tower). By now, it was about 7:30 or 8, and the light was getting prettier and prettier as it faded toward sunset. Dan took many photos. I had left my camera in the room to rest my hips and lower back, which were aching after many long days of walking with my hip pack on. So, I relaxed, enjoyed the nice weather, and assisted Dan in adding to his photo series: Long-suffering Girlfriends (oops…Wives!) in Front of Famous International Landmarks.
It was starting to feel like dinnertime, so we located the Cerveseria Giralda, right behind the cathedral. It was recommended in our Lonely Planet book and had been part of our loose plan for wandering down this way. We started with some very yummy sangria, not too sweet, and so very refreshing. We ordered several tapas, and they were all quite tasty: pork with a sauce of melted cabrales blue goat cheese, beef tenderloins in whiskey sauce, patatas bravas, stuffed mushrooms in a savory red sauce, and stuffed green pepper. We may have ordered even more little tasties, but the sangria made it difficult for me to remember!
The plan for tomorrow was a day trip to Cordoba.
Lunch and the Park
We slept late this morning, no surprise, really, after more or less staggering home from our dinner in Cordoba. We ended up being a little late getting out of our room at the Hotel Marian. Our move to Casa del Maestro was very easy; it was literally around the corner.
The new hotel was the former residence of a famous local flamenco guitar player, and it was very pretty throughout. Like the tea salon in Cordoba, it was built around a central square courtyard. This was open to the sky, but had a sturdy canvas awning covering it. On the ground floor, this central area had a pleasant seating and breakfast area, with neat reclining wicker chairs. Our room was large, with a velvet sofa, a coffee table with a kilim rug beneath it, and a a nice, bright, blue and white bathroom. The bed had a lovely matelassé spread on it, and next to it was an inset nook with glass shelves that housed a TV and two old wooden fabric-printing blocks. The lighting in the room was also nice, although the light switches were very complicated! This place was clearly a notch or two up from most of the places we’ve been staying.
We proceeded to have a lazy mid-morning stroll over to another branch of the Horno San Buenaventura that was nearby for a pleasant breakfast. From there, we stopped at an Internet café to check our email, let our moms know we were still alive, and surf the Web just a little. When we stopped back at the hotel to pick up our cameras, there was a pitcher of cold water and two glasses waiting for us. Did I mention liking this place?
We spent the afternoon wandering and photographing through the city, ending up at the Plaza Santa Cruz near the Alcazar and the public gardens. We stopped to have lunch at a place called Modesto, which had been recommended by the helpful woman at the hotel info booth in the train station.
The weather was nice and sunny, so we took a table out on the patio with an umbrella and a view of the park and gardens. Although the sangria was only so-so, the food was really fabulous. We started with a charcuterie plate with cured pork loin, serrano ham, and manchego cheese. Along with this, we had a very tasty side dish of broad beans with ham and lots of olive oil, and also a roasted pepper salad with onions. But the standout dish was the cadoz en adobo, marinated dogfish chunks that were battered and fried. This was incredible – a little bit spicy, but very tender and delicate.
In the spirit of honeymoon indulgence, we each ordered a dessert. Dan selected a cheesecake that turned out to have lots of gelatin, but was very light and tasty. I had something described as a “sorbet” of limon and cava. It was a frothy, icy drink that combined the flavors of slightly bitter lemonade and champagne-like cava: nice and refreshing on a hot day.
After lunch, we took a walk through the park, stopping to take some photos and admire the somewhat odd statue of Christopher Columbus. We were amused to see a woman walking five dogs simultaneously. She certainly had her hands full! After leaving the park, we circled around past the Catedral, hoping to visit the museum, but we got there too late.
The rest of the afternoon and early evening were spent in a similar fashion: leisurely wandering, photographing when the mood struck us, and generally enjoying the Sevilla vibe. Eventually, we strolled down to a tapas at place off the Plaza de la Alfalfa for a fairly late dinner. This place seemed to have a more local crowd; we felt slightly out of place, but the staff was friendly, the tapas were good, and the sherry we ordered as an aperitif was delightful.
All in all, I can hardly imagine a more perfect vacation day. And we had another day of wandering planned for tomorrow.
Once again, we got our day off to a good start: sleeping in and a tasty breakfast. I could make a habit of this! We missed breakfast at the hotel, and were “forced” to go to the Horno San Bonaventura again. This time, we went back to the first one, and it didn’t disappoint.
We passed the last wisps of the morning and the early afternoon with some more aimless wandering and photographing, and then figured we should get down to our one actual piece of business that day figuring out the bus schedule to Tavira. We walked down to the center of the city to find the travel agency listed in our Lonely Planet book. Alas, it was closed for siesta. We continued on a little further to the TI, and received a bus timetable from a friendly fellow. We determined that our best option was to take the 4:30 bus to Tavira, Portugal on the following day.
All this planning was too much like actual work, and it was making us feel peckish. We were very close to the Cerveseria Giralda, and couldn’t resist going back again for more of their sangria and tapas. We got there just in time to take shelter from a very brief rain shower. Their Iberian pork stew had come highly recommended, and we’d missed it on on our first visit. Sadly, they were still out of the stew, so our meal for the most part reprised our first visit: beef tenderloins in whiskey sauce, and pork cabrales.
At last, we had an opportunity to get into the Catedral museum, and then Dan spent a little while taking photos of the ceilings. After that, we climbed the Giralda tower, a long walk up wide, sloping ramps. We passed about 30 landings before reaching the top, and were rewarded with a lovely panoramic view of the city and out across the river.
From here, we returned to Calle de la Cuna to see if we could find the shop that caught my eye on our first night in Sevilla. Dan was hoping to find some yarn for his Grandma Kitty, and I wanted to buy some of the tiny, brightly colored spools of crochet cotton I’ve been seeing in various shop windows.
Amazingly, I found the corset/bra/yarn/thread store again, and even more amazingly we successfully made purchases without being able to speak any substantial Spanish. The tricky part was that all the merchandise was kept behind the counter, and so we had to work out how to ask for the items and quantities we wanted. I came away with eight spools of thread in various slightly muted jewel colors. Someday, I’ll use them with the directions for crocheted flowers that I found in Siena on our last trip. Dan decided on some variegated bouclé yarn in brown, tan and cream for Kitty.
With our shopping completed successfully, we headed off to our next destination: the bus station, to get our tickets to Portugal. We walked and walked and walked across Sevilla and toward the riverfront. The neighborhoods we passed through got progressively grittier, as often happens when you approach a bus station.
The station was pretty grubby, but the the woman in the ticket booth was friendly. She teased us gently for asking first for tickets to Tarifa, which was definitely not on the way to Portugal and the Algarve. My stop in the restroom was “interesting.” You had to deposit about 20 cents to open the door, but there’s no mechanism to let you know if it’s occupied. So I started off by nearly walking in on someone. Once it was my turn, I got in to discover that there was no toilet seat and no toilet paper. Then, adding insult to injury, I dropped my backpack into the sink while washing my hands. Sigh.
As a side note, we were a little bit surprised that bus service to Portugal was more convenient and functional than train service. We were traveling between major tourist cities, not trying to reach the hinterlands. Apparently Portugal’s infrastructure overall, and especially transportation, was not much developed while the country was under a dictatorship.
Our plan for the evening was to continue our walk across the river and eat at a restaurant called Rio Grande.
By the River
This had been recommended to us as a good place for a “romantic” (which can generally be translated as fancy and expensive) meal. Our vacation motto is basically “Sleep cheaply so we can eat well,” so we’re all for including a few fine dining experiences into each trip. This was to be the one for Sevilla.
From the bus station, we crossed the Rio Guadalquivir at the Puente del Cachorro bridge, which was fairly unpretty, to an even grittier neighborhood. We walked parallel to the river, one or two streets in from the banks, through a run-down retail district. We cut through an indoor market that was almost abandoned and emerged from it at the foot of the next bridge. Puente del Triana was older and more picturesque, so we lingered for a few moments, resting and enjoying the waning daylight on the old city.
We continued a little further, now right along the riverfront. We soon reached the restaurant, just past a row of lovely old building facades. They had not yet opened for dinner, so we went to the adjoining bar for a cup of coffee and some water. It was quite pleasant to sit and watch the sunset!
The Rio Grande had a really unusual vibe. They were was clearly striving for grandness; our maître d’, who was also took our order, was in a full suit. The servers wore formal white uniforms, with epaulets made from gold braid. By contrast, the surroundings had an air of faded elegance. Everything was a little bit tattered and worn. The building itself had the feeling of a sun porch that had been closed in, with chinks between the floorboards and around the windows. Nevertheless, the entire staff were trying very hard, and the food was enjoyable.
We were the only couple dining, no doubt because it was so early by Sevilla standards. Our table was by the windows, which gave us a lovely view out over the river to the center of the city. We started with a very nice fino sherry as an aperitif, then had some soup. I tried the regional a specialty called ajo blanco, a white gazpacho based on cream, almonds and garlic. It was served with raisins and chunks of apples in the bottom of the bowl. This was quite different from the gazpachos we’d had in Barcelona, but it was very, very tasty. I decided to give white asparagus one more go, and I’m glad I did. It was served fried, with cream and honey. Although I still wish it had been cooked a little bit less, the combination of flavors was really good.
This place was known for it’s seafood, so we both chose fish. I ordered more cadoz en adobo and Dan selected sea bass baked in salt. Though not as sublime as the fish we’d had at Modesto, it was quite good. The best part of our dessert was the the faulty translation of the name of the cake that Dan chose. The “Black Jungle Cake” turned out to be more or less a Black Forest Cake.
After dinner, we thought we’d try to see some Flamenco dancing, and so caught a cab to El Tamboril, a place in the Plaza de Santa Cruz that was recommended in Lonely Planet. The cab let us off on the wrong side of the plaza, and it took a little exploring to find the club. This plaza adjoined the park we had walked in the day before. Much to our surprise, we saw the same woman walking with her five dogs!
When we got to the club, it appeared to have changed hands. Instead of being able to go in and have a few drinks and watch a show, it looked like you paid a hefty cover for a more organized show. Neither of us were really feeling too well, being both full and slightly drunk. We decided we weren’t up for it and headed for home, feeling a little bit sheepish that we hadn’t managed to see a flamenco show.
We had most of the next day to look around Sevilla before catching our 4:30 bus to Tavira.
Our priorities: laundry and shopping. We started off with breakfast at the hotel. It was the typical, simple continental breakfast with a nice roll, butter and jam, and fresh orange juice. It got us off to a good start.
After eating, we headed down to the Plaza Alfalfa to find a place to get our laundry done. This is one minor luxury we’ve adopted while traveling, paying the small premium to have someone else wash our clothes. It’s typically such a tiny amount of money, and it frees us from a half-day of minding the laundry. We soon found the place we were looking for. It was a single woman working in a small storefront with three tiny washer/driers. She was quite agreeable, and rearranged her schedule in order to get our washing done by two o’clock.
Since we were already near the heart of the shopping district, we went from there to pursue our second goal. I’m not much of a shopper, at home or abroad, but I’d been peering into shop windows for a couple of days.I was eager to get something frivolous and not too expensive as a souvenir of the trip. We poked our noses into a number of small shops before I found just the right thing, a small, black wool purse, embroidered with tan and red flowers. We stopped into another tiny shop about ten feet square with a stressed out and grumpy shopkeeper. Dan found two bracelets for our nieces, covered in bright beads and sequins with velcro closures.
Dan was feeling pretty unwell at this point, and his stomach was really hurting. It was also starting to rain, so we decided to take shelter at a cafe on the Plaza de San Salvador and have some drinks. Dan opted for an horgata, in hopes that it would settle his stomach. It helped a little, but he was still doing poorly. Luckily, I asked to take a closer look at the bracelets while we were sitting. I discovered one of them had faulty velcro: all hooks and no loops. We headed back to the shop to exchange it, and it was interesting to try to explain “velcro doesn’t work” to the grouchy shopkeeper without speaking Spanish!
After this, we checked back on our laundry. It wasn’t quite done yet, so I suggested that we go get some pizza for lunch. We went to a place just off Paza Alfafa that we had spotted two nights previously. Dan seemed to feel a little better after eating.
By now, it was time to pick up our laundry and head back to the hotel, where our luggage was stowed. We packed our newly-clean clothes, then caught a cab to theÂ bus station. This was the first and only cab ride we had that might have been shady. The driver definitely took us the long way around the city to get to the station.