|We drove into Seville well after dark, and following the map, drove right past the whole town! About 25 minutes later we were still driving down some crazy, uninhabited road (we’d already passed through two small towns and a gas stop). We finally ended up at a big iron gate; a young guy came scampering out when we rang the bell and we pulled into the austere setting. I’m sure in daylight it looked like the quintessential Spanish equestrian ranch – low, whitewashed building, singular trees on a sprawling, cobbled courtyard, bougainvillea, blue skies, wrought iron, and stables.|
Ranch Antics at Night
|A friendly woman who owned the place with her husband greeted us. It turned out the place had a more bed-and-breakfast feel than we expected. The restaurant consisted of a dining room with one table that all the guests shared (dinner orders required prior to lunch) and the bar was a self-service cabinet in the living room that everyone shared. We asked if we could get some tapas even though it was 10:00 P.M. She convinced some of the kitchen staff to stick around and we ate homemade chicken croquettes with olives and cheese and washed it all down with the increasingly familiar local beer. We stayed up late playing poker by the fire place and draining the liquor cabinet.
Don’t get me wrong, the place was immaculately decorated and the feel cozy, but we wanted to stay out late in Seville and return to our hotel without inconveniencing the staff at 2:00 A.M. This was more of a hangout for families or recently married couples that wanted quiet evenings and pleasant conversations with other guests.
The next morning we hopped into our limp-handled, barf-filled car and headed into the heart of Seville. As we crossed the Río Guadalquivir we immediately saw the bullfighting ring (Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza) and the Torre del Oro (crenelated Moorish tower that was built by the Almohads to protect the port – nice landmark, although no need to stop). We hit upon the Cathedral pretty quick and decided to find a parking spot and wander around the Jewish quarter (Barrio de Santa Cruz). After a quick, mediocre (crappy paellas, pizzas and salads) lunch next to the church we moved on.
The Cathedral in Seville
|The Cathedral is such a lure that we decided to pop in right away and check out its Gothic massiveness and its Moorish bell tower, La Giralda (reworked four times between 1198 and 1568). We stood in line with every Tom, Dick and Harry and read signs warning against tripping in the narrow water courses that intertwine throughout the Patio de los Naranjos.
Once inside we weren’t sure what to take in first. Most apparent and spectacular are the long, sinuous arches and the double-groined vaults that make up the world’s largest Gothic structure and the third largest cathedral. Originally a mosque built by the Almohads in the late 12th century, the Christians rebuilt much of the site over the course of the 15th century into what it is now.
We were drawn to the Retablo Mayor, massive gilded relief panels of gold featuring Santa María de la Sede, the patron saint of the cathedral. Spanish and Flemish sculptors worked their asses off for a long time to complete the piece. The retablo is guarded by the equally impressive Capilla Mayor (huge iron grilles that enclose the main chapel – 14 years to make a gate – what a drag for those guys).
Tomb of Christopher Columbus
|Suzie was the official videographer for the day (for the trip for that matter) and managed to seek out all the cool stuff in the chapels and the Sacristía Mayor, which has several hidden rooms with all kinds of elaborate craftsmanship and artwork. She also covered off on the supposed tomb of Christopher Columbus. Bearers representing the kingdoms of Castile, León, Aragón and Navarra carry the coffin.
Next, we plodded up the long ramp of La Giralda to catch superb views of the city. Signs of the old mosque were apparent on the way up, but now the top of the tower houses a Christian belfry and a weathervane (bronze portraying Faith) crowns the tippy-top.
After thoroughly scouring the place we wandered through the adjoining neighborhood and the neighborhood of El Arenal, checking out touristy shops and stopping in for refreshments and local flavor. We stuck around long enough for dinner consisting of a variety of tapas (the olives in Seville are huge!) and more drinks and eventually wandered back to our ranch late into the evening.
|The next day we checked out of our hotel and checked into the sparse, yet incredibly clean and cheap Doña Lina (Calle Gloria Nº7) in the heart of Santa Cruz. Oddly, our bathroom window opened to the enclosed interior courtyard where diners were taking their luncheon – oh well. We didn’t care a wink – we were ecstatic since it was New Year’s Eve and none of us wanted to taxi or drive anywhere after reveling all night. We also drove out to the train station and turned in the rental car, which was another terrific relief. (I was a little worried that they were going to ream me for the damage to the car, but to this day I’ve only received a bill for the basic rental.)
After cabbing back, we ate lunch at another restaurant close to the Cathedral and feasted on decent paella and who the hell knows what else. Side note: Firecrackers are popular. We freaked every time someone lit off a firecracker or an M-80. What with the terrorist scare, each blast was nerve wracking and unsettling. It persisted for the next several days and each time we became more skittish.
|Inside the Reales Alcazares||Gardens Behind the Alcazar (RA)|
|Then we trooped over to the Reales Alcázares, the complex that has been home to Spanish kings for nearly seven hundred years and still houses today’s royal family on the palace’s upper floor. The residences and gardens are picturesque and diverse. The Palacio Pedro I is built in the traditional Mudéjar style with patios and halls constructed with horseshoe arches, azulejos, and complex plasterwork. We made sure to tour the Salón de Embajadores (Ambassador’s Hall with an amazing carved and gilded wood dome), the Patio de las Muñecas (domestic section of the palace), the Patio de los Doncellas (cool plasterwork).
Another cool attraction is Charles V‘s rooms with huge tapestries, vaulted ceilings, and monster light fixtures hanging from the ceilings. One of the tapestries features an old map of Europe and the near East – definitely worth checking out. We also took in the old baths, which have an eerie, subdued feeling. Back upstairs we wandered through Isabel I’s Casa de la Contratación where navigators were dispatched to explore the New World.
The bright sunlight caught us off-guard once we were back outside, but we soon acclimated and meandered through the fountains, terraces and pavilions that are peppered throughout the gardens. An odd structure stands in the middle of the gardens – it’s almost like a sentry’s lookout wall with a narrow walkway and arches on the second level. The L-shaped sucker dead ends and we were forced to walk most of the way back before a staircase plopped us back down into the gardens.
Next up: time for a nap before the big evening. We were pleased to see a security guard manning our hotel door, which was to be locked for the rest of the evening to avoid any problems. We settled into the cramped, creaky bed but couldn’t give a rat’s ass because we were right where we wanted to be come party time.
|We planned to ring in the New Year at the Plaza Nueva watching the clock countdown with all the other crazed millennium freaks. Maybe down some grapes in the Spanish tradition (swallow a grape on each stroke of the clock for good luck) and enjoy some so-so champagne.
Reinvigorated at 10:00 P.M., we wandered around seeking out some food and a kick-off round of convivials. Oddly enough, the only people on the streets were tourists like us – all seeking out a meal and a drink and, stranger still, everything was closed. Every door window carried the telltale scrawl: “Cerrado hasta la una para las fiestas.” Closed up tight until after the hoo-haw.
We found nothing. We continued walking. We still found nothing. Occasionally a group would walk by with some cocktails and folding chairs, but there didn’t seem to be one particular direction or destination. We walked so far that we ended up in a newer, more urban part of town. As we passed by an Au Bon Pain a lunatic was talking to himself and, according to Christopher and Suzie, pulled out a gun and was waving it around. I’m glad I didn’t see that. We decided to high tail it into an upscale hotel and have a drink.
The lobby bar was ok, but the clientele seemed more shi-shi than anything we’d seen the whole trip. From men and women in tuxes and ball gowns right down to kids dressed in suits and pleated dresses with shiny shoes. The bartender gave Jake’s shoes (distressed topsiders) the once over and turned up his nose in disdain. We gobbled up some chips (hold-over food) and I sucked down an extra-strong rum and Coke.
As we continued walking, we noticed that the only places that were open were the ultra-touristy ones and they were jam-packed with every rube from every hotel in town, including us. So we enjoyed some average-tasting tapas by the Cathedral (standing room only) and some hard-earned beers and then we returned to the Plaza. Sure enough, it was about 11:40 P.M. and suddenly the place was packed. Vendors were selling champagne and grapes and everyone was looking for a spot that would afford them a view of the huge clock on the side of the Plaza building.
We too settled in and Suzie started videotaping the melee. When 12:00 A.M. struck (no one seemed sure about when it actually turned over) the place went wild, firecrackers went off, people cheered, people danced, and people sang. It was very invigorating and infectious. We talked to all sorts of people and didn’t feel so lost as we did an hour ago. And sure enough, most of the bars and restaurants opened up and people spilled in to continue the celebration. The neighborhood came alive again and we flitted around enjoying all of it.
Eventually we were pooped out and headed back to the hotel for some limited sleep before disembarking for home again. When we woke up the next morning it was pitch black, we were weary from the night before and we needed to pack up and catch a cab to the train station. We checked out and hauled our crap to the Cathedral where we figured we would have better luck with a cab. No cabs. We waited for 15 minutes – still no cabs. Finally Christopher offered to hunt one down closer to the main drag. Twenty minutes later he arrived in a scraggly cab and we loaded everything up and headed to the station for our bullet train to Madrid.