Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A Spanish City Called Sevilla

One of the most wonderful things about traveling is when you arrive at a new place and are blown away by it.  Not that you weren’t expecting to like this new place you are visiting.  After all, there is a reason you planned to go there as a tourist.  There’s something to see.  The travel guide suggested it.  You’ve read about it in a travel magazine, or had a friend tell you they once visited and loved it.  So when we set out from our Grazalema apartment in the mountains heading towards the Spanish city of Sevilla back in February, it wasn’t like I thought I might not like Sevilla.  I knew I would.  It’s just that when we climbed the stairs from the tram station and emerged onto the street in the heart of Sevilla, I immediately did a complete 360 and the only thing I thought was, “WOW!”  What a spectacularly beautiful city.   

We spent a mere five-hours in this stunning city and I was just blown away by it’s beauty and really, just by the feeling I got walking through the streets.   

It’s hard to describe in words what it was that made us not want to leave at the end of the afternoon.  It was more than just the gorgeous buildings.  It was the feel of the city - it felt romantic and alive with energy.  It felt like a place where people come to simply enjoy themselves and the company they are with surrounded by a beautiful setting, and all with that festive Spanish flare.  Words can hardly do it justice, but as always, I’ve got lots of photos to share and as the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

The streets were busy, filled with tourists just like us who had made the trip to this amazing Spanish city.  The architecture, from the buildings to the street lamps, was just incredible.  At first, we were completely disoriented, having no idea which direction to go, but we’ve been doing this traveling thing for awhile now and we knew we wanted to visit the royal palace called Alcazar, which we also knew sits near the great Sevilla Cathedral (the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See).  As we looked around we could see the great tower of the Cathedral a few blocks away rising high above the other rooftops, so that is the direction we went.  

The Alcazar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.  The architecture, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings, is so different from other palaces and castles we’ve visited, except for one, Alhambra in Granada, which is also of Moorish influence.   

They have a similar feel, but yet very different at the same time.  We wandered from room to room gazing at the floors, the walls...

the ceiling...

the picture framed views through the windows...

trying not to miss a thing, but there is so much going on, so much exquisite detail and craftsmanship, that it’s almost hard to take it all in.  

Is it any wonder that Alcazar is considered one of the best examples of mudejar architecture found in this part of the world, and that in 1987 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

We were there with lots of other tourists, but as we stood in the plaza near the entrance, we noticed a cordoned off area, a set of doors that clearly were only to be entered if you had permission.  As we stood taking in the sight of the plaza, these doors opened and out poured a large gathering of men and women dressed in business attire.   

They stood around in small groups for a while mingling.  Maybe it was a conference of some sort, maybe an awards ceremony, we didn’t know, but for a few moments it was fun to stand and observe some of real life taking place inside these palace walls.  I love these moments when traveling.  It reminds me that these great places we visit aren’t just for tourists to enjoy, but that real people live and work here experiencing the same struggles and triumphs that we all go through in everyday life.  But can you blame me for being just a smidge jealous that they get to experience it in such spectacular surroundings.

While the rooms inside of the palace are magnificent, what I personally loved the most about Alcazar were the gardens.  When we first emerged from inside the palace onto a terrace with a stairway leading down into the completely walled gardens, I was astounded that this enormous yet tranquil, tree-filled park could be sitting in the heart of a bustling city, but you would hardly have known it.   

We walked and walked and walked around the grounds, soaking it the calming atmosphere with towering palm trees overhead and completely oblivious to the honking cars and delivery trucks that were whizzing past outside the walls.   

We stumbled upon this beautiful underground pond which was identified as an underground garden.  It was breathtaking.  I’ve never seen anything like it.   

And the orange trees, row upon row of perfectly shaped trees bursting with round orange fruit.  We were actually walking through the orange grove for awhile before we noticed the birds... 

Bright green parakeets whose color matched the leaves in the trees were swooping from branch to branch eating through the peels to get to the sweet, juicy flesh of the fruit inside.  I can’t blame them.  I wanted so badly to pluck one from a tree myself. 

We spent a few hours at the palace.  We could have stayed longer, but we had a good two-hour car ride back to Grazalema that day, and while we didn’t have time to visit anymore tourist destinations, we did want to spend a little time just walking the streets.   

Sevilla is filled with shops, many selling souvenirs, but what it is also full of are the most gorgeous little restaurants and cafes that we have seen yet in Europe.  There are streets just lined with places to eat or grab a drink, many having boards posted outside their doors displaying the long list of tapas they offer.  

Charming isn’t really the right word to describe these places.  While they are all very welcoming, they are just a stunning feast for the eyes, much less the stomach, small but beautifully decorated, each with their own style.  

It almost felt like a museum if you will of café and restaurants as we walked the streets.   

At first we had planned to make the trip back to our little apartment in Grazalema and have dinner there, but after roaming the streets and passing one alluring restaurant after another, we changed our minds and grabbed a table outside of one of these little places.   

The weather was perfect for sitting outside, something we hadn’t had much of during this trip, and the menu was perfect as well.  The list of tapas was so long it was overwhelming, but after ordering drinks, we waded through it finding a variety of dishes that would offer something for everyone in the family to enjoy and we ended up with this feast. 

Beautiful, isn’t it.  And we ate every last bite, while being entertained by the groups of people sitting on either side of us.  To one side sat a large table of older couples, locals who all went their separate ways when they finally departed, but that was only after much singing, some as a group and some solos, and a few rounds of drinks. The singing and chatter was all in Spanish and we had no idea what they were constantly laughing about, but they were clearly have a great time and it was catchy, making us giggle as we watched and listened to them.   

And on the other side of us sat a group of men, obviously visiting for some sporting event as they were all adorned in matching blue jackets, and obviously they had been sitting outside this little restaurant for quite awhile that afternoon enjoying some libations.  They sang too, and almost fell over a few times, and at one point during our meal the two groups started serenading each other.  So much fun – it makes me smile just remembering it now.  Are you starting to see why Sevilla blew me away?

And if this all wasn’t enough to take in during our short five-hour visit, Sevilla had one last surprise for us that day.  The girls asked for some ice cream and you can’t blame them as it was a beautiful day, the warmest we had experienced so far on that trip, and there were gelato shops everywhere.  As we walked back in the direction of the tram station where would catch a train to take us back to our car, we stopped at one of these shops to let them indulge in a little treat, and my what a treat it was.  

Cinnamon gelato, absolutely delicious, artfully crafted into the shape of a delicate flower on the end of a cone, almost too beautiful to eat.  And that is the magic of Sevilla, a city that simply blew me away in such a short period of time.  I would go back in a heartbeat for more.  Maybe someday, but in the meantime, I leave you with a few more photos from this wonderful city.  Enjoy!


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