Walking in Sevilla and Getting Damned Tired of It. (Walking, Not Sevilla.)

We’re in Cordoba now, having spent three nights in Sevilla, during which I was too tired to post anything.

I slept quite late the first full day, which was a Sunday, so there wan’t much open in any case. We walked around, took some pictures, got rained on, had some tapas and tried to get oriented.

One of Sevilla's tiny streets in the old Jewish Quarter

One of Sevilla’s tiny streets in the old Jewish Quarter

We actually didn’t do much in Seville except for walk. Our hotel was reasonably near the Alcazar and the cathedral–but we never made it inside the cathedral. We spent a lot of time walking through the narrow, winding streets of the old Jewish Quarter (pre-expulsion). The houses are four stories high, and in some places I could almost touch the houses to either side of the street with outstretched arms. Cars can access some (but not all) of these cobbled streets, and when a car came along, we stepped into a doorway or onto the narrow sidewalk, if there was one. In addition to negotiating the Medieval and Renaissance walking surfaces, we had to keep a sharp eye (and nose) out for horse and dog poop. There are a lot of horses and lovely carriages in the old city that tourists can hire for merely exorbitant prices.

While walking, we passed by an interesting-looking restaurant, Sagardi. It had a small foyer for tapas, and a restaurant in a large, enclosed atrium. We checked out the menu and decided to come back when we were hungry. We had dinner there, and it was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped. We vowed to return for tapas another time.

Atrium roof, Sagardi restuarant

Atrium roof, Sagardi restuarant

Magnificent old tree in central Sevilla

Magnificent old tree in central Sevilla

The hotel we stayed in, La Casa de Maestro Boutique, was an old house on one of the non-car-accessible streets, but we did get a parking spot nearby. The hotel has oodles of charm, but the room was small and the shower miniscule. Once in the shower, if I dropped my shampoo (inevitable, as there was very little place to put anything), it was nearly impossible to pick it up. However, the room was clean and the bed was comfortable, and that counts for a lot.

Driving in this part of Seville is madness for a tourist, so we walked to the Alcazar the second morning. Flamenco is very big in Sevilla, and there are stores selling very high-quality Flamenco-related goods such as fans, silk shawls, dresses, castenets, etc. (You can also get el cheapo versions of these in gift stores). My sister wanted a Spanish shawl, so I went into one of these upscale stores to find one. While there, I saw the most gorgeous shawl I have ever seen in my entire life, or hope to. I have extremely good (read “expensive”) tastes: it was the equivalent of $1500 US. It was love at first sight, but it will have to be a long-distance relationship.

Lusting in my heart for this shawl. Wouldn't this be a lovely Christmas present for me? I thought so, too.

Lusting in my heart for this shawl. All hand-embroidered in silk. Wouldn’t this be a lovely Christmas present for me? I thought so, too.

The Alcazar of Seville was build by King Pedro the Just or Pedro the Cruel, depending on whether you were one of the people (the Just) or an aristo or member of the clergy (the Cruel). Pedro really liked the Moorish style or architecture and ornamentation, and used it throughout his palace. It is fronted by a 12th-century gate, very rustic and antique-looking, considering the elegance lying just beyond. You walk into a vast plaza, flanked on three sides by different buildings. One is Pedro’s palace, one was the house of someone else important–the mayor of Seville?–done in a more traditional Spanish style, and one is another wing of the palace built by a later monarch who very much disapproved of Pedro’s taste in architecture, because it is a thoroughly Italianate Renaissance building. So it’s a rather odd mishmash. Pedro’s palace is rich in lacy Moorish stonework (even bearing the name of Allah in this most Christian palace), brilliant tile work, Moorish arches, carved, painted and gilded ceilings, and fountains. One room, the Ambassadors Hall, is completely tiled up to the ceiling, three stories up.

The Alcazar, showing Pedro's palace to the left, and the important person's house to the right.

The Alcazar, showing Pedro’s palace to the left, and the important person’s house to the right.










Ceiling of the Ambassadors Hall, the Alcazar Seville

Ceiling of the Ambassadors Hall, the Alcazar Seville











Hall of Ambassadors, Alcazar, Seville

The Alcazar is the residence of Spain’s current king and queen when in Sevilla, but we had an impression that they don’t stay here much. Hard to imagine they would want to stay at a place that is overrun with tourists all the time. We bought tickets for the private royal chambers, which are upstairs, but I’d be willing to bet they have other, much more private chambers there for their actual use. These rooms reminded me of other palaces in other places, with many oil paintings of ladies in voluminous dresses and men in tight white pants, crystal chandeliers, gilded clocks, etc., etc.

Reflecting pool, the Alcazar

Reflecting pool, the Alcazar

There are many lovely courtyards, reflecting pools and fountains throughout the palace, and the whole is surrounded by yet more gardens. It’s a gorgeous place, but I have to admit I was not as thrilled as I should have been because my feet hurt. A lot. I disappointed myself in my unwillingness to do more exploring, but there we have it. We found the cafeteria and had some wine and split a sandwich, then left. We found a horse and carriage next to the cathedral and got a ride back to the hotel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, largely because I wasn’t walking, but I do enjoy the clip-clop of horses and yes, the way they smell.

Gorgeous antique fan on display at the Alcazar

Gorgeous antique fan on display at the Alcazar

Later, we walked to Sagardi for tapas and wine. The tapas were delicious, but we decided to find another tapas place–it’s what people do in Sevilla. While wending our way through the tiny streets trying to find another tapas bar (a specific one; there were plenty of tapas bars. It made me wonder if anyone cooks at home in Sevilla.), I realized I had a blister. A quick trip to the pharmacy solved that problem, and we eventually found our tapas place, situated on a plaza across from City Hall. We had more excellent tapas, but by this time, we were both full. We did stop on the way back to the hotel for small ice creams, but this hardly counts. I feel like we should have gone to the cathedral–it’s the largest in Spain (that means very, very large)–but couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm.

Then it was early (for Spain) to bed, with Cordoba awaiting the next day. I mean, after we pick up our laundry, that is.


The Spanish Fitness Regimen for Old Ladies

I have begun to suspect that Tom planned this trip to Spain as a means of whipping me into shape (I admit this is needed, but still). Yesterday we said farewell to lovely Granada and headed toward Seville. It turned out to be oh, so much more than merely a travel day. I may never recover, in fact.

Actually, the first part was entirely my fault. I asked if we could visit Ronda on the way. Ronda is not a female friend, but one of the “White Towns” of Spain’s Andelucia hill country. (Apparently sometime a long time ago, white was the de rigeur color for houses here, and it hasn’t changed since.) The town is bisected by a deep gorge and is very picturesque.

Then Tom mentioned that near Ronda, there was a cave with prehistoric paintings in it, la Cueva Pileta. Well, that cinched it as far as I was concerned (innocent that I was).

We found Ronda without difficulty and headed toward a part of town our guide assured us was more for locals, parked with difficulty and tried to find a restaurant (as recommended by the book). The first place turned us away for reasons unknown (my Spanish isn’t very good, so I wasn’t sure what his excuse was). The second place was so full of people I thought I might become agoraphobic if we tried to eat there. The third place said they had a large party coming in, but as we were leaving, they called us back and set up a small table for us.

Musicians Ronda

Bagpipe band in Ronda

While we were waiting for food, the party arrived, complete with bagpipers and drummers, sounding very Celtic. This makes sense for Northern Spain, as the Celts in ancient times went through there as a stopover on the way to Ireland, as Tom, the man of 100% Irish extraction, pointed out. It turned out that the large party was indeed a group of people from Northern Spain. We enjoyed the music (most of the musicians were in full traditional outfits) and the lunch, which consisted of fried padrone peppers, local snails in their stripy shells (yum!) and cured chorizo. Oh, and some local red wine.

We tried calling the cave a couple of times, but no one answered. We decided to go there anyway and come back to Ronda if it was closed. The cave belongs to the family of the farmer who originally found it, and it is operated by the family, not the government, so it has somewhat irregular hours.

We traveled up into the craggy hills along windy roads, passing through more White Towns. We finally came to the end of the road, or nearly so. There is a small sign and a parking area, but otherwise nothing but an extremely steep flight of stone steps heading up through the chaperral. I left my purse in the car, as I didn’t want to accidentally bump any formations with it (I’ve been in a few caves before, and they frown on this).

Stairs Pileta

Stairs to the Cueva Pileta. Trust me, this was just the beginning of a very long climb.

The stairs went up. And up. And up. In addition to being steep, the steps were of varying depths, and there is a lot of loose scree making it hazardous. At the top, there is a hole in a rock face, and we went in. The young lady inside would not take a credit card or American cash, and the only Spanish cash we had was down, down, down at the car in the purse I had so thoughtfully left behind. To my immense relief, she agreed to come down to the car with us after the tour to get her money.

The cave is beautiful even without the cave paintings, with impressive stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and sparkling crystal formations. Some of the formations were dark with prehistoric smoke, some tinted with cobalt and other minerals. I have never before seen any cave paintings (though I have seen prehistoric pictographs in California and Hawaii). They have a freshness and energy that looks modern, and it is exciting to think I was looking at the handiwork of someone who lived and died perhaps 30,000 years ago. How they managed to negotiate the cave with only torches is astonishing enough; I had trouble even with the rock steps, steel handrails and clutching Tom the whole way.

Horse in Cueva Pileta

Horse in Cueva Pileta

Because, you see, there were no lights. They give you a feeble little lantern to hold when you come in. This lantern completely blinded me until I figured out how to block the light coming toward me and direct it only at the ground. The guide had a good light that she used to help us, but I am increasingly night blind, and found the whole thing nerve-wracking in the extreme. Add to that a LOT of uneven stairs and very slippery footing. The guide book said to bring something warm because the cave was cold, but I sweated gallons. By the end of the tour, my hair was streaming with sweat and my glasses were steamed up as though I had been in a Turkish bath.

And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The paintings are amazing. There is a very rare depiction of a fish, quite large, and inside it, you can see another fish. There were paintings of horses, bison, goats and deer, beautifully rendered and informing us what these ancient animals looked like with a few perfectly placed lines and shading. There are strange scratchings, straight lines and bars. The guide said it was to count full moons. Other scratches she said were depictions of vulvas, a symbol of fertility. Maybe, but you can see the same thing in any men’s bathroom. I don’t think adolescent males have changed that much over the millenia. It hardly matters whether these paintings and markings bear deep religious significance or were merely the exercise of horniness and creative expression; they are the only messages we have from our early ancestors.

Fish in Cueva Pilete. Note the fish inside the fish.

Fish in Cueva Pilete. Note the fish inside the fish.

Goat pileta

Goat in Cueva Pileta

Once we emerged from the cave, there was of course, the descent down the rocky hillside to the car. Once we paid our patient guide, we took off in search of the road to Seville–but first, some water. Our GPS system (which was finally speaking English instead of Spanish, thanks to Tom, although the English voice cannot pronounce Spanish place names) wanted to direct us down tiny roads through the mountains. We knew there was a nice highway not too far distant and ignored her. On the way to the highway, we stopped at a little hillside bar for agua minerale. The people there seemed very excited to meet Americans, and several friendly people stopped by to say hello, which was very cheering.

On the road to Seville, I started falling asleep. I don’t sleep in cars any better than I do on airplanes, and kept jerking awake. Exhaustion dragged at me like water-soaked clothing on a drowning man, and by the time we reached our hotel, I was a zombie.

The hotel is a charming four-story building that was once the residence of Flamenco guitarist maestro Nino Ricardo. Our room is on the second floor, which means up three narrow flights of steep stairs, dragging suitcases because there is no elevator. Although the concierge took my big bag, I was still feeling more than exhausted to begin with, so this did not refresh me.

The living room at the Casa de Maestro has this depiction (sculpture?) resembling the strings and sound hole of a guitar. The "strings" reach from the four-story ceiling to the floor.

The living room at the Casa de Maestro has a decoration resembling the strings and sound hole of a guitar. The “strings” reach from the four-story ceiling to the floor.

We went out for tapas at a recommended bar and sat outside on the sidewalk, watching the people streaming by us. The food was delicious–scrambled eggs with black rice, calamari and crayfish, salmon in some yummy sauce, jamon Iberico and something else we can’t remember because we were both tired.

Then back to the hotel, where I completely lost it. All I’m going to say about this dark episode is that Tom is a saint. Once I got to bed I lost consciousness for about 10 hours and awoke refreshed with all evil spirits completely exorcised.