After a very short (one-night) stay in Madrid, our Iberian adventure started in earnest with a trip to Sevilla – my first trip to this beautiful city in Andalucía. In pre-historic times John visited Sevilla, but since I wasn’t with him it doesn’t count. Anyway, we decided not to drive a car from Madrid to Sevilla for a couple of reasons. First, there didn’t seem to be any parking close to our Sevilla apartment; second, John saw some pictures of the narrow streets in our neighborhood and – in a rare moment of common sense – decided that traveling by bullet train would be smarter. If you’ve read Part I of our trip story, you’ll see that common sense did not always win out. Our Iberian Adventure, Part I: Getting Around.
Anyway, we arrived safely in Sevilla after a very civilized 2 1/2 hour train ride and found our apartment without much difficulty thanks to a friendly taxi driver. Although John cannot be trusted with many things, he can rise to the occasion when planning trips, and he has a pretty good track record lately picking good places to stay. Sevilla was no exception. Our Airbnb apartment was in El Arenal, one of the most central neighborhoods in the whole town. Literally within walking distance were the Cathedral, Alcázar (castle), the Guadalquivir River, the Torre del Oro, and the Plaza de Toros.
During our two-day stay in Seville, we were able to see everything on our list on foot. I don’t recall John even asking to take a cab or an Uber, just to give you a sense of how easy it was to walk from place to place.
When we visit a city, we have two broad (and sometimes conflicting) goals: first, to see the landmarks that define their history (castles, cathedrals, monuments, bodies of water, museums, etc.); and second, to have time to “live like locals.” Because of our prime location in El Arenal, we were able to do both. “First thing” in the morning, John would get up and go hang out at a local coffee shop. When I say first thing, I’m doing that thing with my fingers – you know, the “air quotes,” because first thing for John is never before 9:00 a.m., and often closer to 10:00.
One of our kids was studying abroad in France this past semester and she flew in to hang out with us during our time in Seville and for a couple of days in Lisbon as well. While John had his “corto” and croissant, she had this work of art, which may or may not have contained any coffee products. But it sure had lots of chocolate!
Fueled by java, we set off each morning to explore the area around our apartment. On Day 1, we made a little plan of the most important places to see. Like many European cities, Sevilla is steeped in literally 1,500 years of history. The capital of Andalusia, Sevilla spent nearly 500 years under Moorish rule until King Ferdinand of Castilla y Leon conquered the region in the 13th century. As riches were brought back from the New World, Seville became one of the most vital ports of trade in all of Spain, in part because arriving in the city required navigating nearly 80 miles of the heavily defended Guadalquivir River.
Just a short walk from our apartment, this history was on abundant display, with the glorious Cathedral sitting just 100 feet from three different Starbucks coffee shops. I have to admit to being a bit of a Starbucks addict – there may have been some venti ice teas fueling my mornings.
This stunning cathedral was built in the 1500’s in classic Gothic architecture and is the 4th largest church structure in the world. Like many Spanish churches, this cathedral sits on what used to be the site of a mosque – in this case the Great Mosque that stood in Sevilla during the 12th Century. In the U.S. we are used to our historical monuments being tourist attractions only and not serving any real-life capacity. When we entered the cathedral our first evening in town, they were performing evening mass and we saw that over the next several days many baptisms and weddings were scheduled. Even a 500-year-old cathedral is put to work!
Just across the way from the cathedral is the equally impressive Alcazar de Sevilla, a royal palace that was initially constructed in the 13th Century and has had significant modifications over many centuries. Over this time, the palace’s architecture has adopted many styles – gothic, renaissance – and contains both Moorish and Christian influences throughout the palace.
Normally I have to beg John to visit museums and monuments. Or worse yet, he tries to drag me through at a pace that would make you think we were late for a really important appointment. For some reason, on this trip John’s tolerance for cultural enrichment was at an all-time high and were able to enjoy the palace’s grandeur but also its intricate details, such as the ornate tile work.
As impressive as the cathedral and palace were, hands-down the most impressive monument in all of Sevilla for me was the Plaza de España.
Built in the early 1900’s in a combined Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival style, the Plaza is a fantastic place to visit as a tourist, but in the evenings a wonderful spot to hang out, people watch, get some small bites to eat, and enjoy the cooler temperatures.
And speaking of getting something to eat …boy did we eat in Sevilla! Like many cities in Spain, Sevilla is a mecca for foodies, boasting restaurants serving traditional Spanish and Andalusian food as well as more modern places focused more on gastronomy.
In the end, we only spent two nights in Sevilla, but it was a great first visit for me and has just made we want to go back again. We made the most of our visit and saw many impressive things, but there is more to do, and more to see. Hopefully we’ll make it back in 2019 …
Anyway, our Iberian adventure takes us to Lisbon next – a both for John and me (and Katherine, who was still hanging with us for this part of the trip).
July 6, 2018