Wednesday, December 18, 2013

¡Viva España! Sevilla Day 2

I like Sevillanos.  As mentioned earlier, I find them friendly and fun loving.  I encountered the flip side of that in the wee morning hours.  A drunk couple outside woke me up with their loud and animated conversation.  My room was on the third floor, but the narrow alley echoed their voices.  I have no idea what they were mumbling about, or why they didn't just go inside, but they eventually stopped and I fell back asleep...for awhile.  As soon as the sun came up, a bird started chirping.  My neighbor's finch across the alley way apparently thought of itself as a rooster.

Unable to sleep, I shook myself out of bed to an overcast day.  I trudged over to the Cathedral in just a few minutes, and debated whether to go inside.  It hadn't rained yet, so I decided to save the interior for more inclement weather and just walked around the outside taking photos.  The Cathedral is massive, the largest in Spain, and is adjacent to several historic sites and monuments.

I encountered a group of young Chinese tourists snapping photos.  I did a double take when I noticed the leggings.  Tweety and Sylvester?  I loved it!

Next to the Cathedral is the Alcazar, yet another UNESCO Heritage Site and Seville's principal tourist attraction.  Originally a Moorish fort, the compound was revitalized as a royal palace during Europe's dark 14th Century by Spain's Christian King Pedro I.  With the help of a Muslim emir, Pedro reshaped the Alcazar into one of the most significant architectural achievements of the era.  I went inside for a couple hours armed with my guidebook, taking in the details.  This site is well worth visiting.

The Alcazar has a large botanical garden area.  I briefly went in and didn't find it that appealing, so I cut my walk short and exited the palace.  Seville offers much more to experience and the weather had cleared up noticeably.  I used my guidebook to examine the monuments surrounding the Cathedral in the better lighting.

The adjacent Barrios Santa Cruz neighborhood beckoned.  The old Jewish quarter is a labyrinth of small streets and squares, filled with history as well as nice little shops and restaurants.  My guidebook had a suggested route for a walking tour.  Needless to say, I got lost from the outset.  Ultimately, I ended up doing the walk backwards.  I really enjoyed the walk, however, with its cute public squares, shops and streets.

One statue I had to see was the tribute to Don Juan.  He is a fictional character from Seville, and I suppose the Sevillanos have embraced him and his lady killing skills.  Why else put up a monument?  I was literally scratching my head over this mystery.  I must have looked a bit odd as the square's only other visitor started giving me weird looks.  But then again, I couldn't tell if the visitor was male or female, so who was the weird one?

The skies had totally cleared up.  I walked back towards the my hotel, taking in interesting sights along the way including...peacocks?  I also took one of my favorite shots of the city, snapping this one of the Cathedral's bell tower, framed by the arch leading back from Barrio Santa Cruz.

For lunch, the hotel staff recommended the "ON" restaurant, which was just around the block.  It didn't open until 1:30 pm, but the wait was quite worthwhile.  The place was absolutely packed with locals, but I sat at the bar.  I ordered the ham sandwich, along with a salmon entree and a sangria.  I enjoyed very much and thanked the hotel staff for suggesting it.

Lunch and the improved weather brightened my mood considerably.  I decided to take advantage of the sunny skies to head back to Plaza de Espana for better photographs.  I enjoyed my walk back, more sure of my route this second time.  The existence of two Starbucks, one on either side of the thorough fare marking central Seville, struck me as a little out of place.  Don't get me wrong, I drink Starbucks coffee regularly when I am back home.  Thus far, however, I had found Seville fairly "authentic", and the omnipresent Starbucks chain took a little away from that.

Once at the Plaza, I roamed around again taking photos.  The Plaza doesn't have that much historical significance, but it sure is pretty.  I then walked a bit of the Maria Luisa Park, but found that less interesting than most people do.  I didn't want to spend too much time there in any case, so decided to head back and rest up for the evening.

I chose a different route back to my hotel, and took a nice leisure walk enjoying the cityscape.

I got back to my room and readied for a nap when something began to bug me.  I realized that I had not seen the famous Baths of Lady Maria inside the Alcazar, which is an iconic photo opportunity.  How did I miss that?  Puzzled, I referred back to my guidebook.  Doh!  I literally slapped my forehead.  The entrance to the Baths was from the garden, which I had skipped!

Fortunately, as I mentioned, the hotel is centrally located and only a few minutes from the Alcazar.  I ran back to the palace entrance, but the ticket taker looked at me dumbfoundedly.  I had no desire to pay the entrance fee again, so I went around the back to speak to exit guard.  Thankfully, he spoke English.  He told me since it was near closing time, he couldn't let me in but to come back tomorrow and he would allow me to enter.  Whew.

As night fell, I decided to go see a flamenco show.  Seville is considered the flamenco capital of the world.  The reviews suggested several performances, including Cafe de la Memeories.  The show wasn't until 7:30 pm so I walked around for a bit until then, enjoying the nice evening.

The performance doesn't assign seats, so the reviews suggested arriving early to secure a favorable one.  I did.  The theater is pretty intimate, so I think most seats are fine.  I enjoyed the performance, even though it reminded me more of tap dancing than I thought it would.  Still, I marveled at the speed of the dancers' footwork.  The venue did not allow photographs during the show, but then posed for some afterwards.  I can't speak to the authenticity of the performance.  On one hand, the pedigree and the reviews vouched for its artistic faithfulness.  On the other hand, every single member of the audience, and I mean every one, looked to be a tourist.

I knew I wanted to spend the evening back in the Triana neighborhood across the bridge.  The hotel staff gave me two recommendations: a restaurant and a local flamenco bar.  He warned me, however, that the flamenco bar didn't open until after midnight.  I walked across the bridge, again snapping photos way too much.

I had dinner at Las Golondrias restaurant.  I later discovered there were two in Triana, one a bit more upscale than the other.  I told the hotel staff that I wanted a "local" experience,  and he had directed me to a little "hole in the wall" filled with Sevillanos, none of whom spoke a word of English.  The tapas were quite good, but not exceptional.  I failed in making conversation with my bar mates, but enjoyed my mushrooms with some green sauce, squid, and a beef skewer.

I had a fair amount of time to kill before midnight, and didn't want to walk all the way back.  To kill time, I stopped off at a dessert place on the main Triana pedestrian walk.  I ordered chocolate and churros, which weren't bad at all if one ignored the calories.

I decided to get some beer while waiting.  I walked a couple storefronts down the street.  By now, the weather was quite chilly, but this bar had powerful warming lights outside, so I sat there with the other patrons sipping beer.  The waiter gave me free olives, but one of them had a chewed pit.  What the heck?  They were recycling olives? Against my better judgment, I also ordered a tuna tapas when I noticed the table next to me enjoying it.  I sat outside watching the people go by, but as midnight approached, the boulevard was surprisingly relatively empty.

I paid my tab and walked over to the flamenco bar a little before midnight.  As I later discovered, Casa Anselma was started by a former Triana flamenco dancer who can still shake it.  When I got to the address,  however, there was no sign of life, let alone any bar called Anselma.  The staff had warned me of this.  There was another guy waiting outside in the dark.  I asked in my best Spanish to determine whether I was at the right place.  He responded yes and told me to wait a bit in broken English.

A young lady finally showed up a little after midnight and opened the place up.  I went in along with the stranger.  For awhile, we were the only guests.  I patiently drank more beer, and slowly the place began to fill up, almost exclusively with locals.  The musicians finally arrived around 12:30 am.

The singers and dancers weren't much to look at.  No fancy costumes or P90x physiques.  They made up for all of that with an emotional, raucous, and heartfelt performance that had the audience singing and dancing along.  It appeared that many in the audience were regulars and knew each other.

As far as I could tell, the only other foreigners were two female Brits who were working in Spain and had come with a colleague.   One of the local Spaniards was apparently smitten, and talked his friend into switching seats so he could sit next to her.  This maneuver kind of backfired when a gypsy entered the bar selling roses.  Everyone in the audience (including me) started to yell at Senor Don Juan until he capitulated and bought a lot of flowers (presumably at inflated prices).  He was a good sport about it, and before the end of the night, all of us had become happy, slightly drunk, good friends.

I had a fantastic time, as did everyone else.  I didn't know any of the songs, but most of the audience sang along emotionally and shouted and hooted when the performers danced.  Was this authentic?  I don't know, but if authenticity is defined by what the locals culturally embrace, Anselma beat the prior venue hands down.  I don't care what the flamenco snobs say; this place was one of my highlights of Seville.

After awhile, I thought it was best to head back to sleep.  I wasn't drunk by any stretch, but my head felt a little light from the drinking and music.  I hugged my new friends goodbye, and winked good luck to Don Juan.  As I got up to leave, the guitarist and I had a brief broken Spanish conversation where he tried to get me to stay a little longer.  I reluctantly left.  It was a long cold walk back to hotel, but I hummed all the way back.

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