Tuesday, December 17, 2013

¡Viva España! Sevilla Day 1

The Renfe train ride from Cordoba was quick and pleasant.  From the train station, I took a taxi.  I was a bit wary since I had heard bad stories about Seville's cab drivers, but I needn't have worried.  The driver dropped me off without any drama at the corner closest to the hotel.  From there, I traversed the pedestrian zone and checked into the Hotel Alminar.

I really enjoyed my stay in the hotel.  The room was very basic, but the staff was friendly and very knowledgeable with superb recommendations.  As for the location, the hotel was only 50 meters to the Cathedral and thus served an ideal base to explore this charismatic town.

I was eager to begin touring since the cloudy day threatened to spoil photographs.  First, however, I wanted to eat.  I read great reviews of the Restaurante Albarama, which was just a couple blocks away.  The restaurant's chic decor and inventive menu held much promise, so I went for broke and ordered a bunch of things.  Unfortunately, the food didn't measure up to either its presentation or the restaurant's stylishness.  The meal wasn't bad; it was simply overrated and overpriced.

I found the mushroom risotto much too dry.  I like my risotto al dente, but this was borderline uncooked.  The sea bass with black noodles was better, but the signature Iberian pork was just plain tasteless.  I also ordered a vegetable side dish which was under seasoned.  I am not sure of Spanish custom, but this was also the first time I was charged for bread I didn't order.  At least when they do this in Italy, the food is impeccable.

After lunch, I pulled out my map.  I planned to walk a loop around central Seville.  I started out at the Plaza Nueva, which is the town's main square.  It is always bustling, but today there was a bigger commotion off in the corner from some kind of funeral procession.  I never found out who had died, but many of the people seemed overtaken by emotion.

I walked around the square and the nearby streets.  The weather was a bit chilly, but some areas had been cordoned off for holiday street merchants so the mood was already a bit festive.

I then meandered toward the river, where the views were pretty even in the cloudiness.

The river separates main Seville from the Triana neighborhood.  Some consider Triana more authentic and less touristy, so I crossed over the bridge to continue my explorations.  I liked the area, with its local pubs, small shops, older houses, and interesting people.  I made a mental note to come back later.

The Mercado de Abastos serves as the principal market for Triana's neighborhood.  It was fairly empty when I entered.  I didn't find it particularly interesting compared to the other Spanish markets, but I never need much of an excuse to drink beer and talk to some locals.  They were delightful, and encouraged me to come back again at night, noting that the bar action turned much more lively then.

I continued my way around the Triana neighborhood, mostly just people watching but also walking into the occasional shop.  This side of the river had fewer tourists but lots of ceramic factories and stores.  Eventually, I made my way back across the river and into central Seville once more.

I had wanted to see a bullfight in Spain, and was disappointed that the season had ended.  As a fall back, I visited the the bullfight museum Plaza de Toros.  I found the tour interesting and quite educational.  Sitting in the empty stadium, I could imagine the spectacle.  I could also imagine how uncomfortable it must be to sit in the hot sun, without any shade, in some of the less comfortable chairs.

Afterwards, I consulted my guidebook and continued my loop around central Seville.  I would be in town for three full days, so wanted more to get my bearings than actually walk into the opera house, Golden Tower or other sites just yet.

One place I definitely wanted to check out was the Plaza de Espana.  Built in a corner of Maria Luisa Park, the plaza is a huge half circle of buildings and one of the most picturesque sites in town.  I consulted my map and guidebook, and it seemed to be a short walk.  Alas, I typically got turned around and lost.  I ended up on a long zig zag path.  I didn't really mind, however, as the walk was filled with beautiful scenery and impressive buildings.  On the downside, I was very tired by the time I eventually reached the Plaza de Espana.

I was bummed at the overcast skies, but still found the plaza very pretty.  I wandered around taking photos, and chuckled with the youngsters who posed dramatically to have their photo taken.  I came across a group of teenagers practicing a dance hit that had made it all the way over to Spain.  I started mimicking Gangnam Style with them until all of us burst out laughing.  It was quite clear that I had no chance of keeping up.  Like most of the Sevillanos I would encounter, however, the teens were friendly, fun loving, and easy to make friends.

I headed back to my room to rest before dinner.  By evening time, a slight drizzle chilled the weather even more, but that did not seem to deter the locals from  going out and having fun.  My restaurant wouldn't open until 8 pm, so I took a bar seat at Bodega San Jose, just people watching and attempting occasional conversation with friendly patrons.

I ate dinner at El Pimenton.  I ordered the cold menu of the day (plus an extra tapas), but due to some confusion they served me the hot menu of the day instead.  I guess the food's temperature should have given it away, but I didn't notice the error until the second dish.  I didn't mind the mix up at all, as the meal was both good and cheap, at only 9 euros.  I think the restaurant must have been written up in some Korean guidebook, however, as about two thirds of the patrons were Korean.

I went for an evening cocktail around the corner from my hotel.  The city had a certain vibrancy which made me want to stay out late, but I was tired and decided to save that for the following night.  I headed to bed.  I slept soundly...for the most part.

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