At the end of January we took a quick (think 45 minutes) Iberia Express flight from Madrid to Sevilla for a long weekend. Black Friday is catching on in Spain, and while we didn’t go shopping in any stores, we did grab these cheap tickets, as we’d been wanting to go to Sevilla, but weren’t willing to shell out the cash for the train tickets. We left late on a Thursday and took a bus from the airport into the center of town and then walked ten minutes to our Airbnb, arriving around 12:30 at night.
Our Airbnb was located across the river, just into the Triana district, which isn’t the most central part of town, but we selected it because we wanted somewhere within a ten minute walk from where the airport bus drops off. It was also cheap, and price and location are usually the two most important deciding factors for me when choosing accommodations at this point. Our host was kind, but her primary language is Spanish, and ours is English, so we struggled to fully understand one another. In addition, the toilet was in various stages of malfunction the entire time we were there... She also has a kitten who is very naughty – climbing on the kitchen counter and table when we were cooking and eating, for example, and I’m not exactly the biggest cat lover to start with. So, not our best Airbnb experience ever.
However, aside from sleeping and cooking meals in the evenings, we didn’t spend a bunch of time at the apartment. We woke up our first morning and headed towards the Basílica of the Macarena (or as I referred to it in my initial draft of this post when I couldn't remember the name of it, Church of the Massive Dolls), stopping for boxed pastries for breakfast at Carrefour on the way. Not our finest Spanish breakfast moment, but they were 50% off (perhaps a day old?), and we were all about cheap on this trip.
The Basílica of the Macarena (yes, spelled and pronounced just like the song, in fact the song was named after the church) is very ornate and is home to Sevilla's most revered virgin, the Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena. Every Good Friday, the virgin is paraded through the streets of Sevilla, leading the city in mourning for the death of her son. Holy Week processionals are a big deal and are very traditional in Spain, and nowhere more so than in Sevilla. The virgin isn't the only one who has taken us residence in the church, though she's the main attraction.
D - Spending time in a neighborhood called Macarena, it was inevitable that at some point I was going to need to bust some moves, so it's worth noting that Shannon maintained a safe "I don't know him" distance from me throughout our time that morning.
The basilica is kind of out of the way, so we headed into a more central part of town, and checked out the mushrooms, or more officially, the Metropol Parasol.
Completed only five years ago in 2011, the Metropol is a wooden structure approximately 85 feet tall, and is said to be the tallest wooden self-sustaining structure in the world. It's been controversial with Sevillians, but we thought it was pretty unique, and underneath it are Roman ruins that were uncovered within the past decade or so. Visitors can go to the top and walk around, and in hindsight, we wish we had done so, but I suppose now we have a reason to return. We just sat below the Metropol and ate some cookies that we found in a shop nearby, which was pretty nice too.
D - The cookies were my idea. For the past few months I've really been hankering for some good cookies. I'd like to say that when I suggested buying us some cookies out of my personal money I was thinking about Shannon, but really I was just thinking about the cookies. You can see me eating and thinking about cookies in the picture below, which explains why I'm so happy in the picture below that.
From the Metropol we made our way to the Barrio de Santa Cruz, stopping along the way to enjoy the buildings, orange trees (they were EVERYWHERE, I tell you, and I use the capital letters lightly around here!), and general charm of the city.
We did a walking tour (thanks to our Rick Steves eBook downloaded from our library back in Colorado Springs!) of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, which began in the square in front of the Sevilla cathedral. Santa Cruz is the former Jewish quarter of Sevilla, and is full of narrow streets and alleyways. In fact, some people say that because of the closeness of the streets and the resulting shade, the area is about three degrees cooler than the rest of the city!
Along the way we saw a whole lot of orange trees, a couple of plazas, a cat, many beautiful buildings, and no blue sky (but thankfully no rain either). We finished in another plaza not far from the cathedral, and looked for a place to have lunch. We ended up at Milk Away, which I was drawn to by a sign outside that said "Veggie Sandwiches 2.50€" and once we went inside and checked it out, we were sold. They specialize in organic smoothies and milkshakes, but the sandwiches are what we had and were really impressed with. I think it's probably my favorite place we've been to in a long, long time. In terms of quality, value, and all-around feel, all of my expectations were met and/or exceeded.
D - The thing about this restaurant Milk Away, and I'm going to say this knowing full well how cliché and cheesy it sounds, is that it seems like they really put a lot of love and care into the food they make. Additionally, they are very vegetarian friendly as you can choose anything from this huge list of vegetables for your sandwich. It was really an awesome find that we just stumbled upon.
(P.S. I just went on Trip Advisor to see how it fares there and it's rated as the #1 restaurant in Sevilla! I'm not all that surprised, because the service and food we received was top-notch, but still, so pumped for them! So, so highly recommend going if you're in town.)
Milk Away is located right by the cathedral exit gate, so we decide to tour the cathedral next.
Consecrated in 1507, the Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and the third-largest church in the world. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has been since 1987. And finally, to the delight and pride of many Spaniards, Christopher Columbus is buried here (and it has been confirmed that these are really his remains according to recent DNA tests).
D - Even though I'm definitely not a part of the Columbus fan club, he's probably one of the most famous people to have ever lived, so it was interesting to see his final resting place.
All of my pictures from the cathedral are (unintentionally) vertical. It just so happened that the best (and the majority of the) photos were taken that way, but honestly, I'm not too surprised. The nave rises to 42 meters (nearly 138 feet), and everywhere people just feel...small. It's a behemoth.
We walked up the Giralda, or the bell tower, which is also a part of the cathedral. It was originally the minaret of the mosque during Moorish times, with the Renaissance top added later on. The most interesting and surprising part of the Giralda for us was that it isn't steps that you take to reach the top but ramps. The idea was that the person ringing the bell for the call to prayer could ride to the top on a horse or donkey rather than by foot.
Patio de los Naranjos, or the Court of the Oranges, is the final stop for visitors of the cathedral. Like most others finishing up their visit, we tried for a photo and asked a few different passersby (with mild success). The background combo of orange trees, cathedral, and by that time of day, blue sky, was just too good to pass up.
We walked from the cathedral to the Plaza de España. From the few pictures I had seen of the area, I had totally different expectations, and still feel a little betrayed by the photos, but ended up appreciating the area for what it was. It is a beautiful place with intricate tiles, good views, nice water features, and a very grand building surrounding it all. It was a perfect place to be at the end of the day, people watching and relaxing a little bit.
D - Plaza de España is like Casa Bonita pumped up with steroids (and I mean that in the best possible way). For those of you unfamiliar with this Denver area landmark, national treasure, and unofficial 8th wonder of the world, shame on you.
In the evening, we walked along the Guadalquivir River. It was hard to resist it at that time of night - people lounging along the banks, walking their dogs off the leash (soooo Spanish), a few boats floating by.
We made dinner back at the Airbnb, as well as a late night, last-minute decision to take a train to Córdoba in the morning. We spent the next day (Saturday) at the Mezquita, along their (slightly less desirable river) and eating food that made me want to move to Morocco. More on Córdoba next week!
We came back in the late afternoon, and walked through a park in Sevilla where they were still maintaining an outdoor ice rink! What?! It was in the mid-60's and low-70's the whole time we were there, which meant the ice was pretty slushy. I guess the holiday spirit was really going strong there, just like it is with one of my students...they still have up their Christmas tree (today is March 18, I will remind you). We made a stop through the Plaza de España for good measure and we called it a day.
On Sunday we got an early start for the Alcázar as we wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time to see everything and not feel rushed. This was another one of those places where age was really rewarded - or not, depending on how you look at it. Danny was 9€ and I was 2€ - a pretty big difference for him only being about a year and a half older than me. We're certainly enjoying the benefits of my "youth" while it lasts, I suppose!
The Alcázar is a royal palace originally built by Muslim kings in the 1300s. It is still used as a royal palace today, and the Spanish royal family occupies parts of the complex (which we did not tour) when they are in Sevilla. The Alcázar is considered one of the most outstanding examples of Moorish architecture in the Iberian peninsula, and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
I had heard really good things about the Alcázar from our friend Liz who studied abroad in Sevilla, and from others who have spent time in the city, but for some reason, I just figured it was one of those places that was overrated. Well, I'm happy to report that it's not. Take a look...
Inside and out, we were really wowed by the Alcázar. We had a beautiful, sunny day for the gardens, and our jackets were just right for the cool temperatures inside the tiled walls of the palace. We spent the whole morning taking in its splendor and refueled at Milk Away for lunch. (When you find something that good, you might as well go back twice in three days we figured.)
Our next stop was the Iglesia Colegial del Salvador, a former mosque that is now an ornate Catholic church - the front altar is especially stunning. We wouldn't have normally paid for admission, but entrance is free if you pay for the Sevilla Cathedral. We enjoyed our look around, which happened to take place during some infant baptisms.
After a final pit stop for some cookies (Dulce Regina is where its at!), we walked to the Real Plaza de Toros, a bull fighting ring and museum where we took one of the regular guided tours offered in both English and Spanish. Bull fighting, no matter how much we may dislike or disagree with it, is a big part of Spanish history and culture, and learning about it is fascinating.
D - Needless to say, the cookies were again, my idea. I wish there was some sort of face stuffing emoticon I could use in situations like this...
Although I don't think we're going to be watching a bull fight ourselves any time soon, we found the tour interesting. Not necessarily the guide (she seems to give the tours often and be very familiar with the "spiel") or the information she imparted but the ring, the museum, and the chapel the tour took us through. The bull ring seats around 14,00 people, and the ring is slightly sloped towards the sides in order to give matadors an advantage against the bulls. It is still used every year during bull fighting season (from March/April, depending on Easter, to September), and has been in use for over 250 years.
D - As a former tour guide, I was aghast that our tour guide literally had the intonation of an adult from Charlie Brown, but as Shannon said, the locale really made the tour worth it for us.
The bull ring wrapped up Sevilla for us - we stopped back by our Airbnb for our luggage and took the bus to the airport. We took a 7:30pm flight back to Madrid, and were back at our apartment...a long time later. It should have only taken us about 45 minutes by Metro, but this wasn't any night. This was a playoff game between the Patriots and the Broncos, and Danny is a big Patriots fan, so we went to TGI Friday's and waited for a table for over an hour (don't worry, Danny could still see a TV), and then watched the second half of the game once we were seated. It finished just in time for us to get home before the Metro closed down for the night and for us to get a few winks before we got up to face real life in the morning!
D - Although the Pats lost a heart-breaker in the AFC Championship game (or as my beloved affectionately calls it above, "a playoff game"), I still look back on this weekend with fond remembrance. Yes, the cookies were amazing, but more than that, oh who am I kidding, the cookies were amazing! Seriously though, Sevilla was a trip that could be held up as an example of why we love to travel.
Whether by plane or by train (although I'd say if you can get a train deal - do it!), Sevilla is the perfect weekend getaway from Madrid. Compared to bustling Madrid, Sevilla felt peaceful and relaxing to me, although it's no village with a population of nearly 700,000. We found great food, sunshine, perfect weather (in January, no less!), a very walkable city, and a manageable amount of sites for a weekend getaway.