Seville, Granada: “I’m Falling Under Your Spell”
We didn’t see the Barber, but we certainly saw Seville. In fact, we fell in love. Not with the Barber, but with Seville.
Seville is a city oozing with charm and good cheer. It is so fortunate to be so close as to hop on a plane for a two-hour ride, land in another country with another language, another culture, another cuisine, another everything. It’s one of the biggest advantages living in central Europe, where low-cost airlines make traveling from country to country, city to city as easy as hopping on and off a bus. We did that, too — hop a bus to Granada and back. It was easy as pie and as pleasant as spiked punch.
Allow me to start from the beginning. When my daughter visits home, she’s so busy (as I am) with her friends and activities that unless we go away together, we’re like ‘passing ships in the night.’ So, it’s our tradition to take off for a few days to somewhere we haven’t been before where we can really spend ‘quality time’ together and experience the fun of exploring new and different places.
She has a particular affinity for Spain. Why, we don’t know — perhaps she was a Spaniard in a past life, as her command of Spanish is pretty good and that definitely makes a difference in getting around. She lived in Barcelona for a month, has traveled numerous times to Ibiza (to be a temporary beach bum), has visited Madrid and St. Sebastien, but Seville had not yet been tested. It’s for this reason we agreed to check it out and while we were there, to make a side- trip to Granada to see the Alhambra.
We booked a charming hotel in central Seville online — the Vime Corregidor. It was inexpensive, clean, and more than adequate with a lovely courtyard and lobby, and within walking distance to all the major sights. Getting around is easy enough by foot and wandering the tiny cobblestone paved streets is all part of the pleasure.
The architecture of the city is more than seductive. The colors are of bright ochres and rusty reds. There is iron grillwork on the windows and balconies, glassed-in terraces, dripping plants and woven rattan window shades. Graffiti is abundant like everywhere, but it’s not offensive. The lifestyle seems idyllic. I spotted apartments overlooking big beautiful plazas and terraces set up high in which I dreamed of living.
Open-air cafés serving beer and tapas are abundant. Corner coffee shops are just as easy to find. People seem happy and service is friendly. The prices are seriously half or less than half of what they are in Paris. We were so shocked by the values that it almost seemed like a joke. One can easily visit Seville on a pauper’s budget and miss nothing.
Friends who have visited Seville warned of the heavy ‘carb’ and meat tapas diet, but we lucked out the first evening using our culinary noses and found by chance one of Seville’s best spots for gourmet tapas: the Albarama on the Plaza de San Francisco. It was so special that we returned for lunch the next day and even though it was twice the price of the other tapas restaurants nearby, it was still half of what it would have cost in Paris and more than twice as delicious.
We had our share of bad tapas, too. That’s too easy to do given all the touristy-type establishments around the main sights. However, one afternoon while wandering down the tiny back streets well off the beaten path we eyed a plate of cooked snails at a tiny corner tapas bar and stopped for an afternoon snack. Swimming in garlicky oil, the little creatures were a Sevillian delicacy a mollusk-lover like me revels in. (They were so cute, too.)
Not as interested in visiting churches as most other tourists, we circled the city’s “Patio de Los Naranjos Catedral” and the other “iglesias” never venturing in to any of them. Instead, we made a point of visiting the “Museo de Baile Flamenco,” wandering through the weekly El Jueves flea market and taking a tour of the bullfighting ring, the Real Maestranza de Caballeria.
Flamenco is one of my favorite cultural arts, thanks to “Flamenco en France” which provided a taste of the real thing and dancer/choreographer, Sara Baras, whose annual performances in Paris I try not to miss. A trip to the museum was high on our list of things to do, and while it was an interesting presentation of the history of Flamenco, even higher still on our list was a real flamenco show, of which there are many to choose.
We reserved in advance at the Los Gallos and enjoyed two hours of some of Seville’s finest performers. How they can move their feet so fast while maneuvering their elaborate skirts and posturing elegant hands is forever a mystery to me. One tiny woman wearing a very long-trained red ruffled dress was a master at slinging the train from one side of the stage to the other with the flick of her foot. Another used a black sombrero as a sculptural prop adding yet another dimension. While stomping their feet to clapping hands, wailing voices and the melody of the guitar, they all seem to make a face of intense concentration which causes their noses to look long and their brows to furrow. There must be a direct connection between their brains and their toes that causes this particular facial expression without thought…like yawning causes one’s mouth to open wide without thinking.
The evidence of flamenco pervades Seville, from the abundance of shops that sell the costumes, shoes, fans, castanets and guitars to the many women dressed in polka dots and ruffled skirts one might see on the streets. Guitarists serenade diners at the outdoor tables so the sound of the sexy Spanish guitar is like sweet aroma to the ears.
El Jueves flea market is a weekly event (Thursdays), but don’t put this adventure high on your list. It’s more just a cornucopia of unwanted stuff than real antiques. However, there was a fan-seller who had a great little variety for 2€ and 3€ each — a perfect souvenir purchase for ourselves and friends, choosing from the many motifs, from polka dots to painted flowers.
An elegant street coincidentally named “Adriano” in the El Arsenal district is tree-lined and serene, bordering the bullfighting ring that is the oldest in Spain — the construction begun in 1749 and completed in 1881. The oval (not round) ring is impressive and definitely worth a visit. As many as twelve thousand spectators can fill the seats, and do so from April to October to witness about 35 fights. The death of either a bull or a bullfighter isn’t something on my ‘bucket list,’ but seeing where it has all taken place for centuries was.
Bulls heads are mounted on the walls of nearby restaurants and cafés. One must assume these are the bulls that met their matches! The bulls are missing their ears, since these are part of the prizes awarded to a winning bullfighter, along with its tail — a delicacy served as tapas in the local restaurants.
“Granada, I’m falling under your spell, And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell.”
As part of our little sojourn, we took an inter-city bus (Alsa) from the bus station across from the Plaza de Armas to Granada to visit the Alhambra — a luxury three-hour ride in an air-conditioned bus with reclining seats, a restroom, equipped with a screen showing a film (provided earphones) and a package with bottled water and snacks. The ride cost a bit more than 20€. What a bargain! The time flew by as did the lovely route lined by fields of sunflowers painting a bright yellow across the landscape, punctuated by groves of thick olive trees.
The bus stations were efficient and easy — I highly recommend this as a way of traveling between the cities. The inner-city buses connect to the main stations, so hopping on one to the Abadia Hotel near the “Triunfo” was fast and easy. Hidden away on a tiny street in a residential district, the Abadia isn’t fancy, but adequate and the rooms surround a central beautifully-planted and furnished courtyard.
Once we checked in, the desk clerk grimaced when we admitted we hadn’t purchased advance tickets to the Alhambra. “Good luck getting in today,” she exclaimed!
I took full blame for not having done so — not even thinking of ordering the tickets online and just showing up. (Don’t take my lead, but practice what I preach.) She said it wasn’t far to walk to a ticket office on the street, and it wasn’t, but once learning our only chance was to go to the main entrance, the walk was straight up hill. I don’t recommend this either for someone my age and physical shape! Take a taxi — for four euros, it’s worth it!
Fortunately, after standing in line at the main entrance in the sun and heat for almost one hour mid afternoon, then hearing them announce no tickets were left for the day to see the palace except for the night visit that begins at 10 p.m., we opted to take them up on the offer. In fact, it was really pretty perfect. It allowed us to enjoy the afternoon in the gardens and visit the “Palacio de Generalife” part of the complex (the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid Emirs), head back to the hotel to refresh/redress and head out again.
For a special treat, the one thing I had done well was book a dinner table at the Restaurante Mirador de Morayma … a beautiful restaurant in Granada´s ancient Moorish quarter, the Albayzín, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a view of the Alhambra that serves local cuisine in a perfect setting — outdoors on a vine-covered patio. It wasn’t inexpensive, but it was worth it after all we had been through that day.
Back at the entrance to the Alhambra at 10 p.m., a spot we had come to know ‘intimately,’ we strolled into the palatial city in the cool breezes of the evening. The palace is awe-inspiring, even if the colors of the mosaic tile were muted by the soft night lighting. The workmanship of the tile and the plaster, the forms and shapes and designs, the marble floors with their running streams and gentle fountains is certain to humble you. It did us. Don’t miss seeing this in your life time if you can help it.
For our last night in Spain, we returned to Seville via the same great bus and back to the same Hotel Vime Corregidor. Why they gave us a suite with three beds, a sofa, a luxurious bathroom of Alhambra-style tiles and a large private patio overlooking the courtyard, one cannot explain…but neither one of us was complaining.
Seville is shut tight on Sundays — even the museums close at 2:30 p.m., so don’t do what we did — fly home late Sunday evening, arriving home at 2 a.m. thanks to a delayed flight and a changed airport. Instead, take advantage of the weekdays and leave Sundays for the locals. Luckily we left the Park Maria Luisa for Sunday afternoon where we walked our feet off, relaxed on the grass in the sun and just took in the lazy afternoon like the rest of the Sevillians.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(in Seville, Spain – photo by Erica Simone)
P.S. It’s tomorrow! Join us at the next Parler Paris Après Midi gathering Tuesday, June 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Our guest speaker is Catharine Cary, painter and tagueuse élégante on “So, is it a good idea to throw away a big bad business career in NYC – and a husband to boot – to become an artist in Paris?” Visit Parler Paris Après Midi for more information. http://www.adrianleeds.com/events/apres-midi
P.P.S. Join poet Cecilia Woloch on Saturday, June 14 at 8:30 p.m. to celebrate the launch of Tzigane, le Poème Gitan, the French version of her book Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem, translated from the English by Jennifer Bocquetin. There will be bilingual presentation of the text by La Compagnie Erinna, followed by a discussion and book signing. Espace le Scribe-l’Harmattan, Place Maubert at 19, rue Frédéric Sauton, 75005 Paris, Métro: Maubert – Mutualité.