I’m continuing my Travel and Experiences section with a trip to Andalucia I did a couple of weeks ago, after deciding with some friends to get away from Barcelona for a few days and disconnect.
After a plane trip ridden with turbulences – apparently, a crying kid is not enough – we checked in and went around Sevilla. The first thing we saw was Mercadillo del Jueves on Calle Feria – a traditional flea market that takes place every Thursday. Flea markets always have this romantic air about themselves, with artifacts from a different era, gramophones, phones with a dial and a cord, old jewelry or second-hand books, all looking for new owner eager to experience their joys once again.
This was not like that! They were selling the most ridiculous pieces of junk I’ve ever seen, with items ranging from the skull of an animal, I think was a horse, to “slightly used” pornographic magazines from 50 years ago, broken dolls, dirty shoes, a used depilator (who buys that?!) or mittens, very useful in a region where the temperature almost never drops below 100C.
The market itself had another particularity, nobody was actually buying anything – not really a big secret why – thus nobody was selling anything, although there were a lot of people wandering around doing nothing. Especially for a working Thursday. Which made me think: I guess it’s true what they say about Andalucia. But as it turned out, it’s not really like that and Sevilla is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen in quite some time.
What I particularly liked were the old maze-like streets, similar to the barcelonese neighborhoods of Raval or Born, but without the ghetto look. Sevilla’s streets are really well kept, clean and most balconies are covered with flowers, which give them an idyllic feeling.
Street signs are decorated with catholic iconography and almost all streets are named after saints. There’s a Santa Macarena which has an entire neighborhood named after her. I’m being serious. So much for Dale a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena…
Sevilla’s Plaza España is very impressive and far better looking than its Catalan counterpart, Plaça d’Espanya. According to Wikipedia, it was built in 1928 to host the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. Which means it was ready in one year. Maybe they should share their techniques with the Sagrada Familia crew.
The assembly is composed of one large curved building with tall towers at both ends and multiple entrances, one giant square in the middle and a canal in between the square and the building. From place to place there are bridges to allow access to the building.
Nowadays it’s used mostly for tourism and shooting movies in it, including some Star Wars scenes.
Reales Alcázares de Sevilla
Reales Alcázares de Sevilla is the local royal palace, so to speak, which is still in use by members of the Spanish Royal family. It’s an interesting architectural mix, with a lot of arabic influence in the decorations of some of the rooms. While the lower levels can be visited at any time, the upper ones, which are in use, are open only when the monarch is away, access is limited to 150 visitors per day and photos are forbidden.
We bought tickets online so got to visit the chambers. Very impressive, although I think the lack of any modern appliances makes it not so comfortable to live it. Very “kingsy”, nonetheless. In some places, there are balconies from which we could see the people below and the architecture is specifically designed to give this feeling of superiority over the people watching from the lower levels. I could feel it inviting me to yell at the commoners below: “behold peasants, it is I, your king…” but fortunately I didn’t do it and we didn’t get kicked out. We just quietly gave them the royal wave and moved on.
Given that Andalucia is the birthplace of flamenco, that makes Sevilla its capital. There’s even a flamenco museum inaugurated by Cristina Hoyos, one of the most prolific flamenco dancers of all time (I just found that out at the museum, had no idea who she was before). So we decided to try it out and see a representation.
Flamenco is different from other genres because they do most of the music by dancing, tapping the floor with the heels of their shoes, clapping or snapping their fingers. Also, flamenco expresses a broader array of human feelings, sadness or loss, not only joy, so the dancers don’t always have a politician smile frozen on their faces.
In the show we attended, the lyrics were about a mother losing her son, or something like that because the andalusian accent is hard to follow at times – think Australian living in Scotland – we didn’t quite get the whole story. At some point, one of the artists was saying guapa (beautiful) and we understood agua (water).
After roaming around Sevilla for a couple of days, we decided to go further and explore Ronda, a city built at the top of two cliffs, with a Lord of the Rings style bridge between them. We rented a car – by the way if you’re a foreigner try to avoid Sixt, they made the renting experience very unpleasant – and we went to Ronda. While the views are truly breathtaking, there’s not much to do in the city other than selfies or eating.
Thus we had lunch in a restaurant at the top of the mountain, which was one 5 or 6 degrees on the Richter scale earthquake away from being at the bottom, took some pictures and moved on.
Setenil de las Bodegas
The last stop on our route was Setenil de las Bodegas, one of Andalucia’s white villages – pueblos blancos de Andalucia – which is carved into a mountain and reminds me of Santorini.
While we were there, a branch of the Spanish military called La Legión, more or less the counterpart of the French Foreign Legion, was organizing a 100 km in 24 hours cycling and running event, which was enough to block the streets throughout the entire region. The whole town was celebrating and greeting the runners, which makes me think that there’s not a lot going on in the rest of the year. However, I’d definitely recommend Setenil de las Bodegas, only if for grabbing a quick clara on a terrace carved in the mountain, with shade provided by the rock above.
Overall, andalusian culture is what we, foreigners, perceive as spanish culture: bullfighting, flamenco, street parties – pretty much in the same way we perceive bavarian culture representative for Germany, so at least from that stanpoint, Andalucia is worth a visit. And Sevilla is a must-see gem.