A couple of years ago, to celebrate our first decade as a couple, we decided to romantically go to Seville, for a long weekend.
Will booked a hotel, and we went by train, (a cheap, convenient and comfortable trip) and then set off, confidently, from Seville station to find the hotel on foot. The on-line booking had stated, alongside an indecipherable map, that it was very close to El Corte Ingles.
We studied our inadequate little tourist map; we got directions from local people, who gaped in amazement when they realised we were walking; we trudged through a steaming early afternoon to reach El Corte Ingles, arriving damp and grubby and very ready to rest and recover. Problem – the hotel was not there. The on-line booking service had neglected to mention that there are three Corte Inglese’, all well spread out.
We got there in the end and collapsed for an overdue siesta, while the sun attempted to melt the pavements. When we came round, I opened the curtains to check our view, and was startled to see we were immediately opposite the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan – one of the football stadiums. I did mention that my fella had booked the hotel, didn’t I? He insisted being right outside a football stadium was just a …handy co-incidence. Perhaps they run tours?
Exploring Seville as a pedestrian in summer isn’t ideal. At least the centre is crowded with tapas bars, all around the Cathedral and near the river. Stray from the central zone though and you soon discover your mistake - you scurry from one watering-hole to another, and then wonder where all your money went. Knowing already that the theme of the trip would be heat, I picked out the shortest dress I could possibly wear without being arrested, to hit the streets. I didn’t stand out from the crowd though – there was no crowd. With the mercury rocketing into the 40s the sensible Sevillianos were no where to be seen; the parks we walked through (after I had bravely suggested a shortcut) could have been in Australian Outback, with their exotic looking trees and deserted atmospheres. The ironic cackling laugh of a Kookaburra would have been perfectly appropriate
We reckoned the ‘centre of the centre’ to be ‘La Giralda’ – a strange little weathervane that tops the minaret of the old mosque, now incorporated into Seville’s cathedral, which, according to our guidebook, is now the world’s largest church. We didn’t go in, being too hot, lazy and mean to face corkscrewing up for the view. Instead we found our way to the Alcázar – Seville’s Moorish Castle, and nothing like as big or famous as Granada’s Alhambra, but beautifully preserved, stylish and cool. I really recommend this – it’s really beautiful, its halls a pleasure to walk through, and its gardens restfully cool and green.
We went to look at the river and the famous ‘Tower of Gold’ – the counting house still preserved where, in the days of the Conquistadors, most of South America’s Aztecs’ gold was shipped into Europe. Given that this would have been built in the 1700’s I wasn’t expecting St Paul’s Cathedral, but after some hard detective work was surprised to find a very weedy non-descript dull block with a tatty old sign indicating it’s huge historical significance. What a boring end for the exotica of the New World!
I was looking forward to seeing some nightlife. Seville, after all, may only have a population of 710,000, but it has a reputation for flamboyance as the capital of Andalucia. Planning to fit in with local custom we hit the bar-rich barrio Santa Cruz about 11pm – and found it just opening up. Tapas bars? It’s packed with them; every gloomy grilled hole-in-the-wall was being lit and unchained to reveal a shiny fridge-topped deck, overhung with pig’s legs and bestrewed with bunches of oranges. We were overwhelmed with choice – too many venues, too many tapas, too many drinks. The trick was not to try to find a restaurant, but simply to graze from bar to bar eating all night, and watching the world go by. And here at last - as we feeble old Brits were keeling over with fatigue - were the locals; all the bars and restaurants really humming to life by, oh, about one in the morning.
If you have had enough tapas about that time, you can try crossing the river – there are a load of restaurant boats moored along one bank, which serve wonderful fish dishes in a very romantic setting. Don’t bother going early – I don’t think they opened till midnight. But you needn’t worry about getting cold – the street thermometers were recording 30 degrees at 1am – so turning night into day makes good sense. It’s a beautiful city to visit – we must go back – maybe at a slightly more sensible time of year next time. And maybe next time we will find out when the Sevillianos sleep.