We spent nine days in Seville — longer than your typical American vacation would allow most to do. But we’re retired. We have the time. And we like settling into a place for a while. Seville was a good option for us.
We did the major sights with guides the first two days we were here. After that we just explored the neighborhoods, took a day trip to Cordoba and another to the Doñana National Park.
First Cordoba. We were wowed by the Mezquita. The contrast between the Moorish elements and the 16th century church was stark. The openness and space of the mosque. The iron gates and small chapels of the church. Not knowing much about either religious tradition, we weren’t sure what to make of the differences, but certainly felt the Moorish design was more comfortable and less intimidating.
A not-to-be-missed sight for us was the patio garden tour. Every May Cordoba holds a contest to determine the best patio. Some patios are private and others are shared by several homes. A group of the perpetual winners in the annual contest have put aside their competitive spirit and come together to create a walking tour — for a small fee. Each garden had similar components — lots of plants in pots hanging on the walls of the patio, a bird or two chirping away in a cage and water. The patios are small oasis’s for escaping the heat (even in early October it was 90°). Bougainvillea. New Guinea impatients. Azaleas. Impressive.
We also visited the small synagogue, built in 1314, and used for over a hundred years until the Jews were expelled from Spain. And this is one of just two or three synagogues remaining in Spain. Before the Inquisition, Spain had a flourishing Jewish community. We visited on Yom Kippur and came away reminded of how fragile tolerance can be.
The trip to Doñana National Park was like a trip to an entirely different world. The town on the edge of the park, El Rocio, is a white washed but largely modern town for the horsey crowd. We were told by our guide that all of the new townhouse style homes come with stables! And that at the height of the season the sleepy town swells to thousands. Hardly a person in sight and just a couple horses the day we were there.
We spent the day in a four wheeled drive Jeep, driving over what looked to be dried river beds, although our guide said not so. However, much of the area is under water after the winter rains. But the only water we saw was in irrigation canals. There are three main attractions to see in the park. We saw two of them — what our guide called the queen of the park, the Imperial Eagle. We dubbed the Griffon Vulture the crown Prince. The king, the Iberian Lynx, remained elusive. We didn’t complain; we added over a dozen birds to our life list.
And we saw plenty of the Red Deer, some of the bucks with huge sets of antlers.
Back in Seville we wrapped up our visit soaking up the ambiance and checking off a couple more sights.
Old pictures of the Seville Bull Arena show the ring hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s hard to imagine today’s audience sitting on the brick benches, but apparently they do. The section for the press seemed too close to the action, but then I thought about the photographers who stand alongside the field in football games and occasionally get hit. Of course, like all the other tourists Peter had to pretend he was a bull fighter.
The Archivo General de Indias (Archives of the Indies) was a gorgeous Renaissance building. We tried to translate the descriptions of the items in class cases with limited success — treaty between Spain and Portugal dividing up the new world, contract between Columbus and Spanish monarchs, reports from the colonies. Interesting even if we were looking at copies of the originals.
Of course, then there was our pursuit of food. We had toured the Triana Market with our guide on our second day in Seville. An excellent place to buy fish of all sorts, some meat stalls and a lot of small establishments offering tapas. A great place for a snack. We tried to tour the Mercado de Arenal, only to discover it was a victim of the pandemic. Only a few places remain open — a bike rental shop, a small vegetable stand and maybe one or two others. Sad.
We had originally intended to do quite a bit of our own cooking while in Seville. However that didn’t happen. The two of us could eat dinner in a casual tapas bar with a couple glasses of wine and three or four tapas for a quarter the cost for dinner back home. Maybe less. So why cook? Plus, the markets with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and local delicacies just weren’t around the tempt us. The mini-markets in the old part of the city where we stayed did provide the basics — so-so bread, cheese, juice and such for breakfast. Shopping there we did cook a light dinner of sausage and vegetables on pasta one night after too big a lunch. That was about the extent of our cooking.
Then on our next to last day when we found a mega-charcuterie store in Triana. A huge number of jamons hanging behind the meat counter. Butcher hacking up whole chickens. A huge selection of different cuts of pork that we don’t see at home. A glass case of aged veal and beef. A case full of Spanish cheeses.
We finally found where locals shop — probably a quarter mile from the nearest tourist attraction. We drooled and quickly went to the Triana Market for lunch.
Seville was our last stop in Andalusia. We have heard that our next destination, Barcelona, is quite different. We shall see. For now, we have been charmed by this corner of Spain.