04 May 2011

Soaking Up The Sun (or: Seville - In Pictures)

As many of you are aware, last week was the Royal Wedding here in London, an event for which thousands of people descended upon London. Since me and crowds do not mix well at all, I decided to preserve my sanity by heading off on vacation (part 2) to Seville, Spain. My cousin lives there and since I haven't seen him since 2008 I thought this would be a nice time to catch up. Unfortunately, I picked a horrible time for him since this week was one of his busiest weeks at work, culminating in his departure for the US on Friday night. Still, I got to see him for a few hours, which was nice. Hopefully it won't be three years before I see him again. (Next cousin to visit will have to be Ken in Burkina Faso!)

Indian Archives in the renaissance Merchants' Exchange
My trip to Seville started bright and early on Monday, April 25th when I left my flat to catch the bus at 2AM. I never got to sleep on Sunday night since I had been working on my last paper for grad school and didn't finish until 11pm, at which point there was no point in even attempting to go to sleep. By the time I arrived in Seville at 9:30AM, I was exhausted. My cousin picked me up from the airport, drove me to his apartment where I would be staying for the week, and then left to go to work. I didn't see him again until Thursday night. Despite being exhausted, I tried my best to go sight-seeing. I made my way to the city center, grabbed some lunch (where it became readily apparent that my Spanish skills, unused for three years, were not going to help me at all), and headed to the Archivo General de Indias (Indian Archives), containing Spain's extensive collection of records pertaining to its exploratory and colonial activities in the Americas. Located in the 16th century Casa Lonja de Mercaderes (Merchants' Exchange), the collection is of incredible historical importance. They had a fascinating exhibition on piracy in the Atlantic.

Orange trees: things we do not have in London
 Immediately across from the Indian Archives was the Seville Cathedral. From the late 15th to mid 17th centuries, Seville was the center of trade with the New World. Merchants from around the world sold their wares along the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir running through the city. Originally, the merchants meeting place was on the steps of the Cathedral but, following the complaints of church officials, they moved their activities to the newly built Merchants' Exchange. The Cathedral itself dates from the 15th century and is extremely impressive architecturally. I've been to many cathedrals in my day (literally dozens) and this was one of the most beautiful, both internally and externally, that I have seen. Dominating the Cathedral is La Giralda, the bell tower. The bottom 2/3rds of the tower was formerly the minaret of the Moorish mosque that formerly occupied the site. Hence La Giralda's Moorish-inspired appearance.

The impressive Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral and La Giralda

Since the line to enter the Cathedral stretched around the plaza, I decided to come back on another day. Instead I returned to the river and walked west until I reached the Plaza de Toros, Seville's bullfighting ring and the oldest in Spain. The bullfighting season had begun the day before and would continue until the end of September, so the area around the stadium was full of activity as staff prepared for that night's fight. As I learned on the tour that I took of the ring, each fight features three toreros who fight two bulls each. The fight ends when the bulls are killed. The body is dragged from the ring by a team of mules and the meat is distributed to area butchers. (Bull meat is widely available around Seville.) There was a fight scheduled for 6:30 that night, but I decided to pass on attending. Even though I understand the cultural significance that bullfighting has in Spain, it was a bit too barbaric for my sensitive vegetarian American sensibilities.
Entrance to the bullfighting ring

Interior of the bullfighting ring

Afterward, I walked across town, passing the Palace of San Telmo, with the intent of visiting the Plaza de Espana, a massive courtyard build in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition. Unfortunately, I was so tired by this point (having been awake since 7am the previous day), that I stopped less than a 1/4th of a mile away and returned to my cousin's for a nap. That night his girlfriend took me on a tour of Triana, an area of Seville known for its ceramic workshops, and treated me to tapas. Delicious.
Palace of San Telmo
Day 2 started bright and early with a 6 mile run along the river. Even at 8:30am it was around 80 degrees and the run was so tough. I've always considered myself a decent hot weather runner since my area of Maryland stays in the 90s with high humidity for much of the summer, but living in London and Edinburgh for the past year has really weakened my tolerance. I am not looking forward to having to acclimatize to the hot weather when I return home this summer! My first destination of the day was Seville Cathedral. I joined the queue, which was already lengthy half an hour before the opening time, and passed the time taking pictures of the magnificent architecture. Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the Cathedral's majesty. Every single chapel and altar was richly adorned and the artistic decorations were simply magnificent.
Interior of Seville Cathedral
Main altar

I climbed to the top of La Giralda to get a better view of the Seville cityscape. Beautiful.
Bells in La Giralda
The view from La Giralda was amazing

Next it was off to the Royal Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville. It is known for its mudejar architectural style. (Mudejar architecture combines the Moorish style with Iberian influences.) I roamed around the palace for a while before heading out into its extensive gardens. These stretched seemingly forever! I also spend an unreasonable amount of time watching a kitten stalk one of the palace's peacocks that was perched on a fence and squawking loudly. (Fun fact: My undergraduate institution, St. Mary's College of Maryland, used to have several resident peacocks. Several disappeared the year before I arrived, but one was relocated to a farm just off campus. Those of us who had to park in Guam (the furthest parking lot on campus) could often hear it squawking late at night. We often told freshman that it was the St. Mary's pterodactyl since it made such an un-godly racket.)
Mudejar architecture in the Alcazar

My favorite picture: if you look closely next to the fence, you can see a kitten stalking the peacock. The hunt was unsuccessful.
Torre del Oro
Monument to Columbus
On my way across town to the Plaza de Espana (which I was determined to visit for real this time), I passed by the Torre del Oro, a Berber watchtower built in the 13th century in order to control access to the river. It now houses the Maritime Museum. I walked through the scenic Santa Cruz district (the former Jewish Quarter) to a small area just outside the Parque de Maria Luisa so that I could see the monument to Christopher Columbus. His attempt to reach the Indies and subsequent re-discovery of the Americas was initiated from Seville. Then, at long last, I reached the Plaza de Espana. It was absolutely stunning. A man-made lake runs around half of the plaza and tourists could rent row boats in which to enjoy the view from another spectrum. Horse-drawn carriages (of which there were many in Seville) frequently made rounds of the interior of the plaza so that the drivers could describe the plaza's history to their passengers.
Plaza de Espana
I finished off the evening by cooking dinner and then heading off for a stroll around the city center, taking in the magnificent sights of the city in the golden evening light. It's amazing what a difference a few hours can make on the appearance of buildings.
View of the Rio Guadalquivir in the evening
Puenta de Isabel II designed by Eiffel
Grand staircase at the Casa de Condesa de Lebrija
Day 3 saw me off to the Casa Palacio de Condesa de Lebrija (Palace house of the Countess of Lebrija). A wealthy collector, she was known for bringing entire Roman mosaic floors to her house in order to decorate it. Countless display cabinets lined the walls boasting priceless statues, paintings, and trinkets. Even the stairway, immaculately tiled with a Roman mosaic floor, was impressive!

View of the Cathedral and Giralda by night
Later that evening, my cousin's girlfriend took me out on another tour of the city. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant located in a former Moorish bath house where I had the best salad of my life: spinach salad with goat cheese and a honey balsamic vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious! She then showed me several of the 'hidden gem' spots located within the city center, including a small plaza just off the Cathedral square that was completely deserted every time I visited. Seville certainly knows how to impress, even by night. Many of the city's most iconic buildings are splendidly lit up, providing a different perspective and, in my opinion, highlighting their best features. The best view of the Cathedral and Giralda came from the Courtyard of the Orange Trees in the Real Alcazar.

Unfortunately, I have run out of time to describe the rest of my visit. :( Exams are not far off and I've spent far too long writing this as it is. So, a briefer rundown:

Day 4:
- Iglesia de San Salvador, the second most important church in Seville after the cathedral
-Fell asleep in the Parque de Maria Luisa and got a wicked suntan
-Tapas (including octopus!) with my cousin and his girlfriend

Iglesia de San Salvador
Main altar at San Salvador

Day 5:
- Visit to the Casa de Pilatos (Pilates' house) - home of the Dukes of Medinaceli - wonderful medieval and renaissance palace displaying mudejar influences
- Saw the brand new (built in March 2011) 'Metrapol Parasol' in Plaza del Encarnacion
- Lunch at my cousin's mother's house where we ate delicious food and watched the tape of the Royal Wedding (Kate's dress was absolutely beautiful - just saying)
Casa Palacio de Pilatos

Interior courtyard of Pilatos' house
The 'Parasol' in Plaza del Encarnacion built in March 2011
Not the KKK! Semana Santa (Holy Week) happened the week before I arrived. These are chocolate novelties mimicking the traditional costumes worn during the celebrations.
Before I knew it, it was Saturday and my trip was over. My cousin's mum drove me to the airport where I found out 20 minutes before my flight was due to take off that it had been delayed. Six hours later and I arrived safely in London. It was a wonderful vacation, but I was glad to be back. In 13 days I will be back at the airport except this time I will be headed home. I'm ready.

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