Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sevilla: Day Three

Goodness, what can I say about Sevilla? This town was probably one of the more spectacular places I have ever been, and it was also one of the hottest! Sevilla is located about 2 hrs and 30 min south of Madrid using a high speed AVE train. Prior to the building of the high speed rail lines it could take as long as 6 hours to get to Sevilla, so I was thankful for the speed.

We got up bright and early, around 6:30 am to make sure we were ready for our 8:30 am train. We bought some bocadillos (french bread sandwiches) and orange juice for the ride, yours truly may have bought another chocolate croissant, but just pretend you didn't hear that.
The ride south offered plenty of pretty vistas, like this cutie Andalusian hill town surrounded by sunflower fields!
Sevilla is a town that doesn't pull any punches. Everything is big, ornate and certain to overwhelm you. When we hopped out of the taxi close to the historic city center, we heard what sounded like hundreds of bells ringing from the Giralda Bell tower, and it just seemed totally unreal.
We learned soon after that today was Saint Christopher's Day (I think?) and that there was to be a procession and special masses to celebrate. As we were making our way to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, also known as the Sevilla Cathedral, the air became perfumed with rosemary. All around us hung garlands of rosemary and folks were carrying big armfuls of the stuff. I'm glad rosemary is one of my favorite herbs!
The cathedral is one of the 3rd largest in the world, after Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. And it was no joke, people! In fact it was so big, that I found it impossible to photograph - I could never get the whole building in the frame!
We felt quite lucky to come on such a special day and especially enjoyed looking at the processions going on within the church.

We were also treated to organ some organ music and my goodness, it was so loud your whole body vibrated with the music! 
Now we come to the part where we didn't feel so lucky, since it was a special Saint's Day, much of the church interior was blocked off from the tourists, so we weren't able to see the altar, or Christopher Columbus' tomb, which was something I was really looking forward to seeing! We had to console ourselves, then, with ol' Columbus' son's gravesite, below.
I a happy to report that we were entirely unmolested throughout the duration of our trip to Spain. By that, I mean that there were no pickpocketing incidents (good ol' Rick had me wearing a money belt and sweating bullets when I got on the metro for the first time), our purses were secure and nothing was taken by sticky fingered street urchins. However, that does not include that rare breed of swindler; the Gypsy palm reader! I was approched outside the Cathedral by a nice looking lady holding what I thought was Rosemary sprigs - she gave me some, I  took it, thinking that this was in observance of  the Saint's Day. She then grabbed my hand and proceeded to read my palm. I am thrilled to tell you that I will live a looooong healthy life...marry the love of my life....and be happy forever. Yeah. Right. Anyway, afterward she demanded 5 euro, I took out what pocket change I had, thrust it at her and walked away saying "Nada mas!" Caroline wasn't so lucky. She was also waylaid and after her palm reading and a benediction, the gypsy demanded 20 euro! She haggled at her so much that Caroline just thrust a 20 euro bill at her and ran off. Below is her rueful expression after being swindled. Oh well. You can't win them all.
After the Cathedral, we visited the Alcazar. It was originally a Moorish fortress (ca. 913 A.D.) with tall walls surrounding the entire sturcture, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the story goes, Pedro the Cruel (ca. 1350s) saw the gorgeous grounds of the Alhambra in Granada and was determined to build a palace of equal magnificence. So he hired muslim artisans to design and embellish his palace and what we have is some of the finest remaining examples of what is now called the mudejar style in architecture.
Various Kings and Queens have added on to the palace as the years passed. To this day, King Juan Carlos of Spain stays in the palace when he is in residence in Sevilla.
Much of the script on the walls is in arabic, calling King Pedro "Sultan Pedro".
Looking up on to the ceiling, this was our first indication that we were not going to be visiting your typical, stuffy old palace.

I cannot begin to describe how intricate all of the decorative work was like on the walls, the ceilings, the floors - it was just everywhere.

What makes this palace interesting, culturally, is that the mudejar artisans also included images of living things in to the walls of the palace. Below, you can just make out peacocks and twining vines. While it was against their beliefs to create images of living things, the workmen seemed to bend the rules when creating their deocrations for a Christian king.

The palace gardens where a revelation to me! I was not expecting them to be so lovely. First, we would come upon a grove of orange trees, then a fountain, we'd walk up a coule of steps to another garden, this time with vines and a sitting alcove, and so on and so on. All of these "outdoor rooms" spilling in to one another and leading to views prettier than the next.

I was getting pretty warm by this time, and again, I marveled at how cool and dry the interior rooms where in the palace. It was at least 20 degrees cooler than it was outside. Below is the Patio De Las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens), apparently, rumor had it that the original Sultans who lived in the Alcazar would require 20 maidens as a sacrifice each year from the surrounding provinces. They would be herded in here and then dispersed to various other Sultans. Of course, this is untrue, but this slander was used to whip up anger towards the Moors when they ruled over Spain.

Undernieth the palace, one Queen had a system of rain filled baths built. In the coolness of the basements the water would stay cold even on the hottest day. While we were visiting, the baths had been drained for some restoration work, but they are otherwise always full of water. The holes in the walls you can see in the back are foutains that usually pour water in to the pools.

After visting the Alcazar, we went on a Rick Steves guided walking tour of the old Jewish Quarter. It was just full of old world charm!

After our walking tour, we made our way to one of the few restaraunts open in the late afternoon for some dinner. Our waitress was a dear and wanted to practice her English with us, so we chatted a bit about how much we had enjoyed visting her town. I was considering visiting a few other sites and asked her what she thought about us going to see the river. Her eyes flew open in alarm and she said "But you cannot go out walking in this heat! It's 40 degrees outside!" Now, I do not know how to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit
off the top of my head so I just nodded like I knew what she was talking about. By the time we finished our wonderful tapas dinner (picture below) we were too full and drowsy to make the hike to a plaza I was thinking of visiting. Which is all well and good, on the way home on the train I discovered that Caroline's phone had a converter program and when I typed in 40 degrees Celsius, I found it that it was 104 degree Fahrenheit! No wonder we were so wiped on the train home!


Shay said...

Goodness! The Alcazar looks like the most amazing place ever. It must have been like walking in a dream! Love Caroline's "gypsied" face.

lucylucia said...

Shalyn - it really was. It felt very surreal.

Caroline said...

I want that food again...NOW

jaxmom said...

Beautiful pictures!! That cathedral is GORGEOUS!

gardinsztanga said...

nice pics ;)

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Just amazing! Except the gypsy part. :)

lucylucia said...

Lindsey - I was very beautiful - and so huge!!

Sally - Yup, Leanne and I felt pretty bad that we walked away and left Caroline to fend for herself!

Laura said...

I was cracking up picturing you walking away from your Gypsy.."Nada Mas!" That is so funny. These pictures are gorgeous, and I think Rick Steves better watch his back because your blog is wonderful to read!

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I hope you don't mind, but I've snaffled (and credited you with it) one of your pix for my blog:
Thanks from He Who Talks Bollocks