Seville: The Basics

What we did:
Spent four days and nights (March 4-7, 2008) exploring the southern half of downtown Seville and getting a dose of culture unavailable in small towns. As usual, we focused on history, architecture, and art. But this city being what it is, we also spent more time than usual strolling through public gardens and sitting on park benches next to fountains, soaking up the warm spring air.

Oh, and spending too much money. Seville is an expensive place, by Andalucian standards.

One of our favorite houses in Seville, near our hostal

Where we stayed:
Huespedes Dulces Suenos on Calle Santa Maria la Blanca at the edge of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a district of old houses and narrow, winding streets. Forty euros got us a small, airless, windowless room, but at least it had a double bed, high ceilings, clean bathrooms next door, and an unsecured WiFi network somewhere nearby that we could mooch off. Also a great location: close to the main tourist sites and lots of (overpriced) restaurants, but also close to a nontourist part of town full of things that ordinary Sevillanos use, such as buses, grocery stores, and Internet cafes.

Good places we ate:

  • Restaurante San Marco on Calle Meson del Moro a few blocks from the cathedral. Pizzas and pasta served in an old building that was once an Arab bath house. Real basil pesto and other flavors we hadn’t tasted for months. We went there twice.
  • Mesones del Serranito on Calle Alfonso XII just a block from the fine arts museum. Good authentic tapas for much less than in the touristy Barrio de Santa Cruz.
  • Restaurante Modesto on Plaza Refinadores. A large complex of two outdoor cafes offers pricey but wonderful seafood, especially the shrimp.
The Giralda’s wonderful belfry was added to the top of a former 12th-century minaret in the 16th century

Favorite things in Seville:

  • Orange blossoms
  • Beautiful, peaceful gardens, with the tallest trees we’ve seen in Andalucia (I’d almost forgotten what trees higher than about 25 feet looked like)
  • The gorgeous Giralda belltower, especially when it was lit up at night, and the amazing view from the top
  • Intricate Alhambra-style Moorish carvings in the Alcazar, with the original colors (blue, red, and green) still intact
  • Bright, colorful, ornate ceramic tiles on patios and walls and fountains. Anywhere else they would seem like too much, but here they work.
  • The incredible Roman mosaics and statues in the archaeological museum (whetting our appetite for seeing Rome in April).
  • Discovering Spanish painters and seeing how they interpreted the various European artistic trends of their times.
  • The quiet feeling of sitting in a vast, dimly lit cathedral at night with only a few hundred other people on folding chairs (rather than busloads of milling tourists or school children) listening to classical music.
Much of Sevillian life is lived outside, in grand city gardens and private patios

Least favorite things:

  • Cost—everything from meals to rooms to entrance fees is noticeably higher than elsewhere in Andalucia
  • Americans—we scarcely encountered them in the rest of southern Spain, but in Seville they were everywhere; we were as apt to hear New Jersey-accented English at the next table as Spanish.
  • Toilets without seats—we ran into these in bus stations, restaurants, a produce market, and elsewhere. Instead of sitting on them, you squat over them as best you can (an early chance to practice for those Asian hole-in-the-ground toilets, ugh).
  • Vast and unending crowds of school children—I guess we hit Spanish field-trip time. Our visits to the cathedral, Alcazar, and art museum were nearly spoiled by huge hordes of noisy, shuffling, bored-looking middle schoolers and high schoolers, until we learned to turn up at sights at about 4 in the afternoon, after school hours.
  • A bus map, once we extracted one from a tourist information office, that was impossible to understand.
  • Melissa was hoping for a fun evening of flamenco on our last night in town, but it was all booked. Thus, we’re possibly the only American tourists in Andalucia to never see a flamenco show.

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