The weather for my Christmas/New Year’s trip really wore me down…so I needed a break from the cold and immediately looked south. The Andalusia region of Spain is known as one of the sunniest areas in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint. What freedom to walk around during the day jacket-less!
Sevilla (or Seville) was definitely a welcome escape. After getting mildly ripped off with the 40 euro taxi from the airport, I checked into the aptly named ‘Cool Sevilla Hotel’. It was night when I got in, so I basically only had time for dinner, and had already selected days before a Mexican restaurant nearby my hotel. This was Mexican food served as Tapas (small plates of food typical in Spain), and was the best Mexican food I’ve had in Europe so far. My first morning I was able to step outside and enjoy the real highlight of Sevilla…the sun!
The title of this blog is in reference to the preponderance of orange trees in Sevilla, and all over Andalusia in general. At first glance it appeared the ‘orange tree’ motif may be overdone, as the trees literally line most of the streets in the city. However, it actually worked to give the city a unique look, something that gets burned into your memory….every time I see an orange tree now I will think of Sevilla. The trees also allowed me to play with my new camera a bit. There’s a feature where you can isolate one color, leaving the rest black and white. By isolating yellow, most of the orange was picked up, and the result was quite artsy and cool.
One of my first stops was the Metropol Parasol, which is an oddly creative structure positioned right next to my hotel. Its construction was completed in 2011, and the design looks like six mushrooms covered with waffle-like panels. It claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world, though this claim has been disputed, for reasons including the fact it’s not just wood, but wood augmented with steel and concrete to offer additional support. There are other controversies, the primary ones being 1) building a giant art structure such as this that cost 100 million Euros while the unemployment rate in Sevilla hovers around 30%; and 2) building a modern art structure right in the middle of a historical district of Sevilla, particularly a structure that many people think looks ugly and/or silly. Don’t put me in the “ugly or silly” category…I agree it looks out of place but I liked it. It looks beautiful with the blue sky as a background, and it doubles as a hang-out spot for the youths to skateboard and chat.
Just because a place is so ‘historical’ looking, doesn’t mean you should never add modern looking things. If the locals are so concerned about maintaining their historical ambiance, the Starbucks and McDonalds down the street shouldn’t always be so crowded. Okay, done with the minor rant, back to the Parasol…you can go to the top for great views of Sevilla. I did this briefly, though my fear of heights kicked in, especially when these punk kids starting jumping up and down on the platform causing it to shake noticeably. This reminded me of the jerks who used to rock the cabins of the Ferris wheel back and forth.
I started my main tourist journey at the Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija. This was a beautiful building, and a great collection of artifacts, but the story behind it was a bit mundane…and one I’ve heard before in Europe. Basically, woman or man gets filthy rich, typically through marriage or inheritance, then gets bored and travels everywhere, collecting expensive stuff and decorating their house, or palace in this case. I must say the ‘Countess of Lebrija’ did a wonderful job, though the prettiest area of the palace was the 2nd floor, which cost additional money. I paid, but was never told ‘no pictures allowed’ on the 2nd floor, so unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the best thing….a crucifix made from an elephant tusk, so that Jesus is curved a bit.
Next I went to the Sevilla Cathedral, which was strikingly gorgeous on the outside and inside, and owns the title of ‘largest cathedral in the world’. It’s also known as officially being the burial site of Christopher Columbus’s bones…this was interestingly proven recently via DNA testing. The inside of the cathedral was massive, and the ceilings were among the highest I’ve seen at any church. There’s even a garden area out back full of…you guessed it…orange trees, called the ‘Court of Oranges’. The altar was beautiful, with an abundance of gold and a hand-carved altarpiece showing the life of Jesus. This cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece.
My last stop for the first day of sight-seeing was the Alcazar, a palace originally built as a fort by the Moors. Part of the Alcazar is still used by the Spanish royal family. This is one of those places where you keep walking expecting it to end, but it never does. I’m such a creature of routine, if I lived in a place like this, I would pick my favorite 3 or 4 rooms, and only hang out there all the time. Even now I complain about having too much space at my house in Mons….two of my bedrooms go completely unused! The inside of the Alcazar was beautiful…loved the tapestry room…but the real sight was the garden. I nearly ran out of camera battery with all the pictures I was taking. Of course there were plenty of orange trees, but also palm trees, various flowers, and a pretty amazing fountain where the water spilled down like a waterfall. I tend to rush through attractions sometimes, but I spent hours at the Alcazar.
I finished up in the early evening with some Tapas for dinner, then shot some video of a parade that was going on….still not sure what it was all about.
My other full day/night of sightseeing I started at Starbucks for an artificial energy boost, then I was off to the Plaza de Espana. It took significant time to walk there, but it was well worth it. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and most of the walk was along the river where you could stop and chill at one of the many riverside cafes. The walk to the Plaza took me through Maria Luisa Park, which was refurbished along with the Plaza in 1929 for Sevilla’s hosting of a World’s Fair. The park was a confluence of orange trees, ponds, and fountains, and was inhabited by an impressive number of frogs and ducks. I’d heard quite a bit about this park, and maybe my expectations were too high, as I thought it was just good, not great. Maybe it doesn’t help that Sevilla itself is so walkable, laid-back and full of lush vegetation…which might make parks obsolete.
The Plaza was another ‘wow’ moment for me. It looks so grandiose and perfect that in spots it reminds you of something that was built for an expensive Vegas hotel as a gimmick. I loved the water around the central building, where you could rent a boat, and recognized some of the scenery from the most recent Star Wars trilogy, as some of it was filmed here. I relaxed here for an hour or so, took some awesome pictures from the top of the Plaza, then realized the major drawback here…I couldn’t find any public restrooms!
After the Plaza de Espana I headed back to my hotel in preparation for the other major cultural event…a live Flamenco show! The Andalusia region is where the Flamenco style was born, and it involves guitar, vocals, dancing, and lots of foot-stomping and hand-clapping. The venue for the show also housed the Flamenco museum, though I didn’t show up early enough to see that. The theatre was really classy looking, and there was a wine bar set up off to the side. I thought the show was great, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen Flamenco before, and if so I don’t remember it. It was mostly upbeat, with the exception of a solo acoustic guitar piece that briefly slowed down the mood. I loved how the hands and feet were used as the primary instruments of percussion…it seemed like a very stripped down version of music, but in this case the simplicity worked. I think the simple music allowed for the focus to be on the dancing, which was often done at a frantic, high-energy pace. It’s great when a local style of music can reach me and be so emotive…the last time I experienced this was the Fado music in Portugal. After the show, the performers took a bow to a much deserved applause.
I loved this city….better than Barcelona, and with fewer pickpockets! I hope I come back here someday, as I got the feeling this wasn’t a one-time only trip. Sevilla will cross my mind whenever I peel an orange.