Monday, November 4, 2013

Two days in Sevilla

Check out previous post or rather "Previously on: Allison went to Spain and took forever to blog about it."

So, when we got up to pack up the apartment the next morning, everything seemed set and on schedule. I don't generally like flying, even short flights but I felt settled and calm, mostly to do with the people I was with and the fact that my vacation brain, after a week in dazzling Barcelona, was fully operational. This state of mind was apparently contagious because it wasn't until after we'd let the apartment door click shut behind us, after we'd descended in the basket sized elevator with our bags, laughing about something or other, arm midway up to hail a taxi, not until after that did Lorraine say "Jason! Your guitar!" Yes, he had forgotten his guitar inside the now locked apartment. Considering that after Sevilla he was going to be travelling to different cities in Europe, playing shows at different venues, this was bad news.

It was about 7 am. We had a 9:00 flight and it would take us about 30 minutes to take the taxi to the airport. The apartment rental offices did not open until about 10:00 and there was no way to get back inside the apartment. We had been given an emergency number for the apartment and back home it would have just been a matter of calling the number. But considering none of us had calls included on our international plans on our cells, it was a whole ordeal to even make the phone calls to begin with and all the while, time was being eaten up. I had to call back home to find out how to make a call in Spain and even after all that, the emergency phone line was not connecting and the "error message" that did answer was unintelligible to me because it was either in Catalan or it was too loud or I was rushed, I don't know. Hell is automated messages.

While we were standing out on the early morning sidewalk with all of our sad bags and anxious faces, one of the residents of the building came out the front door and my sister asked if the landlord lived on the premises. This person didn't know and couldn't help but we learned something from her. Apparently, landlords and/or supers of buildings are referred to as "Presidente". I know as my sister reads this she is cracking up so I just want to take a moment to say "SHUT UP." Ok. So, running out of time and feeling rather helpless, our next step was to just start ringing buzzers and asking for "El Presidente". I'm really hoping that supers and landlords are called that because otherwise, the people who had the misfortune to be woken up me ringing their buzzer probably thought an insane person had arrived, asking for the president. Of Spain, I guess? Needless to say, no president or super or anyone in possession of keys. And no one knew where he or she was either. This became a joke that will not die: me buzzing strangers and asking them if the president lives there. I just got a text from Lorraine the other night about it.

Anyway, it was finally time to give up and just figure it out from Sevilla. On the way to the airport, I was convinced we would miss the flight. We were flying a super budget airline and the tickets were probably $1. Naturally I assumed we would crash. Also, you get what you pay for so checking in to these budget airlines is generally an exercise in annoyance and aggravation. We'd probably end up having to wait in a long line to check everything. When we finally got to the airport we had about 15 minutes until takeoff and there was a long line to check in. I was positive we'd miss it. I remained positive all the way up until the ticket agent said "Ok, we will try to board you since the gate is very close to security." Then we commenced the "running through the airport scene" that you see in a lot of films. I think the ticket agent's perception of "close by" was different than mine. Either that or I was tired and anxious and probably hungover and running to the gate felt like slow motion. Unbeknownst to us, Nancy and Jon were seated at the gate across from ours, awaiting their flight to Azores and Nancy sent a text which I didn't get until we were in Sevilla already but I can only imagine what we must have looked like, dashing madly with oversized backpacks. We quite literally were the last people to board and they took our bags at the front of the airplane which felt miniature. We took our seats, slightly triumphant, slightly dejected and completely exhausted.

After a two hour flight we landed, got extremely confused on how to exit the airport (maybe it really is just me and my inability to read signs in foreign airports/train stations/buses, etc.) and met our airbnb hosts, a lovely couple who were born and raised in Sevilla. They offered to pick us up from the airport for 20 euros and it really was the best decision. The woman, Inma was surprised two of us spoke Spanish and we talked about all the things we had to see in the two days we would be staying in town. I'm very happy we got to talk to them because they ended up telling us about what turned out to be my favorite place in Sevilla, La Carboneria (more about that later). Always ask locals. Also, always stay in apartments. The washer/dryer alone is worth it. I mean, so what if I could not figure out how to use either properly in any of the three apartments I stayed in. So what?

This was our home street in Sevilla:

All of the streets were like this, close together, walkable, small, picturesque. Many of them were too small to allow any cars to drive, making it seem a little bit like a movie set. The style and colors of the buildings, the close proximity to each other reminded me of when Raimunda goes back home to clean her mother's tomb.

Sevilla was hot. Very, very hot. It was not humid but uncomfortably hot nonetheless. I remember feeling a strong pull toward stay inside the air conditioned apartment and chatting but we only had two days in Sevilla and plenty of time in the afternoon to get in at least one attraction. Hunger was also a motivating factor in getting us out into the city. We arbitrarily chose the Alcazar, a royal palace with Moorish designs as our first attraction. Sevilla is very walkable and because our apartment was so centrally located, we not only found a place to eat within a few minutes but we also passed the tavern that our hosts recommended we visit later that night.

I could wax rhapsodic about the meals we ate while in Sevilla but I'm not going to because I'm kind of hungry while typing this. I'll just say: patatas bravas, pimentos de padron, vino tinto. There isn't anything else you'd ever need to eat ever anywhere. Our lunch was leisurely and finally made it to the Alcazar in the late afternoon, a time of day when it is normally slightly cooler than midday in most other parts of the world. What I came to understand about Sevilla, however, is that the heat did not work that way. In fact, it seemed to get significantly hotter the later it got. I actually didn't want the discomfort of the heat to take away from the beauty of the Alcazar because, do not mistake me, it is an unbelievably beautiful place. But it was a place with no shade or cool spot to be had and as I took in the beautiful buildings and grounds, the intricate artwork of the walls and stones and gardens, I couldn't help imagine 16th century Spain and all the layers and layers of clothing and corsets and socks and boots and I wanted to soak my head.

It probably smells like something died in this scene.

Anyway here are a couple of photos I got from around the Alcazar.

It was eerily silent around this pond.

A lot of the walls were Moorish in style with intricate detail from the top to the bottom.


One of the many,many decorated ceilings throughout the castle.

Part of the outside of the castle.

More garden.

Part of a wall sized mural that went on forever.

That peacock was wandering the grounds and I'm pretty sure he was the same one that walked up to us as we had coffee in the Alcazar's cafe. I vaguely remember reading something a long time ago about peacocks and how mean and nasty they are but this one seemed domesticated enough that no one was running away in terror, and that was the only reason that I didn't either.

After we left the Alcazar, we went back to the apartment to cool off and rest a bit. Jason had several other parts of his travels to plan and we all had laundry to do. Well, I had laundry to do and I needed about a day to figure out how to turn on the machine. We ended up drinking a bottle of wine in preparation for the evening, which turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.

Our hosts had recommended we try a nearby bar called La Carboneria, a bar and performance space that they said was where they went for a glass of sangria every now and again. The bar has this unassuming entrance:

It was late evening by the time we got out and to this place, about a two minute walk from the apartment, and it was already crowded, some performances in full swing. The venue was mostly outdoors with a seemingly makeshift roof enclosing the seating/audience area in front of a small stage with a piano and chairs for other musicians. There was a flamenco dance already in progress as we found seats along a row of long wooden benches in the back of the bar. Our hosts had told us that many local performers would end their evenings at this bar and often give impromptu performances for the crowd. What better way to spend an evening in the birthplace of flamenco than seeing some late night locals do it to unwind? In addition to the flamenco dancing there was a group of musicians, likely from a nearby school taking turns on stage playing various classical pieces, one of which was a group of four people on one piano. It was like getting a world class classical music concert in the middle of the night in a divey bar in southern Spain. No, it wasn't like that, it was exactly that.

I think mentioned before that Sevilla is hot? Yes it was hot in the bar but we were all very drunk and enjoying the atmosphere. Things are a little muddled in my memory but I do remember eating a lot of olives and drinking a ton of sangria. And really, in the long history of really great nights, what else does one really need?

The next morning we headed out around noon, having nothing whatsoever to do with all the wine. Just in time for napping restaurants to not be open for lunch and we ate at a randomly selected restaurant. The food was good and the waiter seemed to really hate to have to serve us. I tasted a whiskey omelette. It tastes exactly like you think it does. After lunch we visited the Sevilla Cathedral which is one of the most beautiful churches I've been to. It is in the center of the city and was packed with tourists. Here are some photos I took there. In retrospect, I was apparently obsessed with the organ and organ like structures since these were all I have from my camera. Just picture a really big church with lots of this stuff inside, on top of and surrounding it.

There was a tower that you could climb with signs that were deceptively unclear about how far up the top was, but we did it. There weren't actual stairs but rather just a really long series of ramps which was a novel change to actual stairs. By that I mean it made no difference; that old uphill feeling of burning legs and hungover exercise lack of oxygen was in full effect. Here's a shot of the view from the top.

Sevilla from the top.
While we were at the top of the tower, there were couples making out (I saw two couples, personally) and I think that's weird, don't you? But maybe they were just relieved that they survived the climb up the tower?

After descending and walking back into town, we wandered aimlessly for a bit. We were approached by these con women who I had read about in one of the guidebooks. Their "racket" is to offer you a sprig of thyme or rosemary or some other useless herb and if you take it, they will follow you around and harass you for money. If it sounds like a really stupid way to con people, that is only because it is. We were accosted by a group of them out on the street and when we went in to a small shop to get some bottles of water, they were all in there on their lunch break. No word on whether or not their meal was herbaceous though.

After walking around a bit more, searching for a post office (it closed about five minutes before we found it), buying souvenirs and having an afternoon glass of wine we headed back to the apartment. Lorraine took a long afternoon nap and Jason and I went to find some food. After a few false starts, we went back to the place where we ate the day before and talked a lot about this and that and that other thing. We found ourselves seated next to two young women who were American and had moved to Spain to teach English. I thought then as I do right now that I should do that. I should do a lot of things, people. A lot of things.

Later that night, Lorraine and I went back to La Carboneria for more sangria and entertainment while Jason stayed in to plan the rest of his trip, as we would all be parting ways in the  morning. He decided to fly back to Barcelona to pick up his guitar and travel on to Bilbao to play a show. Lorraine and I were going to meet Rowan in Madrid. We got home, went to sleep and I woke up at the crack of dawn to let Jason out of the apartment so he could take a taxi to the airport. The sun was just coming up and it was silent out on the street apart from the running motor of the taxi. We said goodbye and on my way back to the apartment through the little courtyard I got a very odd feeling that I'd be back to Sevilla one day. It could have been lack of sleep or I could have still been asleep actually but there was something in the air that morning that made me think I'd be back. Some places are just like that, I guess.

In the morning, Lorraine and I checked out of our little homestead and walked to the train station to take a two hour trip to Madrid. Evenutally, hopefully before 2013 ends, I'll regale you with the fun times we had there. If you are still reading this, you have an uncanny stamina for boredom and I respect you, immensely.

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