The flamenco busker near the tram tracks could have been as young as sixteen, although something in her eyes hinted she was older. Whatever: her looks told you she was surely of pure gypsy blood, una gitana verdadera, her only concession to modernity the iPhone that fed the accompaniment through an amp.
Her dance, her costume, the battered piece of wood she carried with her in service of her percussive heels: in truth, all of them could be as ancient as the Phoenician trading post’s beginnings, or as modern as the tourists’ coins and folding notes. Like so much about Seville, it didn’t really matter: the magic was in the moment.
There’s a feeling to Seville you don’t get everywhere. It’s got the confidence of a second city: by which I mean, it’s like it’s saying, yeah, fine Madrid, you might have the parliament and all the embassies, but we’re the port town the conquistadores sailed from and brought back the ill-gotten riches to, the ones with the gypsy romance, the flamenco guitar, the Moorish windows on our big fuck off cathedral (1). No one’s ever set an opera in you, have they, Madrid?
And increasing amounts of cheap flights (including the Edinburgh one started last year) mean that it’s becoming ever more a tourist destination. Like Madrid, people who’ve done Barcelona want to see what the other Spanish cities can do for breaks. But whilst everyone in Madrid is in a hurry, down in the South things go a bit more… slow.
There’s the Moorish influence, of course, both in the architecture and the food; the Romans had their day in the sun here too, although their main legacy has been that beautiful fluid language, spoken a little more slowly too than the madrileños do, with the words carefully filleted for sibilance. Before you know it, you find yourself speaking e’pañol as well!
So what does it have to offer all these eager Northern Europeans (roughly three parts French to one part each US and UK, I’d estimate)?
Well, there’s the cathedral, of course, and the Alcazar, which you can queue round the block in the simmering heat for if you’re keen. Off the bottom end of the Old Town there’s the Plaza de España, which is a good place for an evening stroll – I imagine in the heat of the day all those tiles would reflect the sun right back at you. It’s a kind of mad celebration of all things Spanish, from all over Spain: you can even go rowing round it.
One of the advantages of the Plaza de España is that it’s in easy walking distance of one of the good areas for tapas, heading up the broad avenue that leads past the University. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the presence of impecunious students mean the prices are relatively low, but the quality’s up there. It’s also an excellent place to observe the paseo, the Spanish art of strolling about with nothing more urgent to do than decide where you’re going to stop for the next pincho moruño.
Other touristy things to do include taking a boat trip on the river, where, for the high season price of 18 euros, you can putter up and down river under some bridges, listening to some garbled barking over the tannoy telling you about them and the other riverside sights slipping by, most of which seem to be associated with Seville’s Expo in 1992.
In terms of orientation, Seville’s not like some Spanish cities where all the action radiates out from some central Plaza Mayor: the central districts, like Santa Cruz, where we stayed, are full of corkscrewing streets and sudden vistas, the glimpse of a gypsy skirt disappearing round a corner. It’s great to wander about, even in the heat of the day when the narrowness of the passageways through this mediaeval honeycomb keep the sun from hitting you directly. Do yourself a favour and ask for a street map at the airport – it’s easy to get lost.
Head north from Santa Cruz and the Cathedral square, and you’ll eventually hit Las Setas, or the Mushrooms, also known as the Parasol. This is a huge wooden structure above an archaeological museum, and if you’ve sufficient head for heights, it gives fantastic views over the city. We went up it last time but Daughter and Heiress wasn’t keen to repeat the experience.
These central districts are great for food and drink, by the way, but can be pricey – white table cloths, well-dressed waiters, generally mean more money; ditto proximity to landmarks like the Cathedral. Tucked away in the back streets, though, can be some fantastic little places – we stayed in Calle Lope de Rueda, in a place called Deluxe Apartamento: almost the only thing (apart from the bar, pictured, left) not owned in that street by the Hotel Murillo.
The Hotel was where we’d stayed at the first time we came to Seville, so we knew it was a great location: that time, it had been in the midst of renovations and was, other than us, completely overtaken by French schoolkids who phoned our room in the middle of the night. Why I still don’t know.
Apart from the hotel, you could also stay at Apartamentos Murillo, but I’d really recommend the Deluxe Apartment: not necessarily all that deluxe, but beautiful and clean and well air-conditioned. There was a bit of a pantomime finding it so, if you do go there, it’s no. 11. Even if you’re not staying in the street, by the way, I’d recommend the bar, Rincon de Murillo, which is a good spot from breakfast time on. A special bonus is sitting watching the sometimes bemused expressions of the walking tours as they’re serenaded on their way round by a guy playing guitar and singing ‘La Macarena.’ We could never work out if he was actually a formal part of the tour or just tagged along for tips.
I’m over a thousand words already, so I’ll stop for now. In my next blog, more on that Olympian sport of eating and drinking. What’s that you say? It’s not a sport? All that training for nothing?
(1) Second biggest in the world, and possibly the biggest by volume, according to our sevillano cousin.