Monday, February 23, 2015

Spain Part 5: Sevilla, Where I Fell in Love (with another city), Was Deceived By Oranges, and FINALLY Had Such Good Coffee I Nearly Cried

Ahh Sevilla, no longer the European powerhouse it used to be, but still an amazing city. I loved Sevilla from the moment we got there. Okay...maybe I should rephrase that. The moment we finally found the right street after wandering around for a half hour at midnight and started seeing all the orange trees, that's when I fell in love with Sevilla.

We arrived just before midnight after six hours on a bus and immediately proceeded to turn the wrong way. We walked under a bridge where a bunch of...let's just call them "misunderstood youth with a colorful variety of piercings" were having a party or cult gathering or something. After ten minutes of getting nowhere I finally just gave in and asked some random people to point us toward our street.

Of course we got lost again, because what is travel if not aimless wandering? We ended up asking a couple who were obviously going out on a date. It was very odd. We weren't sure if they wanted us to follow them or cut in front of them to follow their directions. They were strolling at a very romantic, snail-like pace, ignoring us, and Ewelina and I kept looking at each other wondering if they thought we were just a couple of creepers stalking them. But we kept at it, and eventually they led us to the street we were supposed to be on, and we FINALLY found the hostel.

The first thing I noticed about Sevilla after all this: the orange trees. They. Were. Everywhere. I couldn't wait to try some. Spoiler alert: bad idea. But we'll get to that later.

The first night at the hostel wasn't the best. The place itself was great and the people that worked there were amazing. But... there was a Spanish girl in our room, and it was a Friday night. And the Spanish know how to party. Until 5 am. And then stumble into a room half-drunk and wake everyone up as they zip and unzip their bag a million times. "Hola!" She said cheerfully as I sat up in my bed and tried to slice her arm off with my glare. (Thankfully this was a one-time thing, and she turned out to be really nice.)

All was forgiven immediately the next day when I laid my eyes on one of the most beautiful things in the city: the coffee machine at our hostel. It has been so long since I had had good coffee I could have cried. Heavily watered-down espresso, weak and big, just like home.  Mmmm, 'Murica. After months of crappy, too-strong French coffee... I needed this man. I will admit I did go a little overboard with the coffee on this trip.

After my date with the coffee machine we went on a free walking tour with the greatest tour guide I have ever had. The tour ended up being around two hours, with most of it being a history lesson which I found fascinating. Part of the reason I find Spain so amazing is its history; it's more varied than most west European countries' with all the Islamic influence. Quick example: if you look at the cathedrals they have a completely different style of architecture than most because a lot of them actually used to be mosques that were converted after the reconquest. If you take a look at the photos below, pay attention to the doorways of the cathedrals and you'll see what I mean.

Another thing to note if you ever go to Sevilla: the lack of a metro inside the old part of the city. Reason? The underground area of that part is full of old Roman ruins that are protected. The metro doesn't start until you get out of what used to be Roman Sevilla. I thought that was pretty cool.

During the tour we saw a cluster of buildings in Sevilla that were constructed specifically for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, and we ended the tour at the most impressive one of all: the Plaza de Espana  which absolutely blew my mind. Honestly, it one of the most gorgeous buildings I have ever seen. According to the tour guide it was originally supposed to be a full circle but the builders ran out of funding partway through. The fact that they can half-ass something and make it look that amazing is...amazing. I get the impression that Spain is that kid who never shows up for class but somehow ends up doing well on the exams.

When I travel to places I really like I get this fluttery feeling in my belly. I got the same feeling in Budapest and Rome, and it happened again in Sevilla. Sigh... how will I ever be able to go home and settle down knowing there are more places just as amazing? I haven't even scratched the surface.

After taking a billion photos, we left the Plaza and crossed the street towards the park: it was time for the taste test - I had been staring down the orange trees since our arrival. I found the perfect tree, picked one, peeled it, bit it, aaaaand... so, so, so sour. Nope, no, no no! I had been fooled. These, my friends who ever decide to travel to Sevilla, are decorative oranges. Which, I learned the hard way, are not edible. Ewelina sure got a good laugh out of it though. I will never look at orange trees without suspicion again. (The oranges at the store though, those were really good and cheap).

After that we had half the day to wander, so we went into the Alcazar of Seville, a UNESCO world heritage site originally built as a Moorish fort and is said to be one of the best examples of mudéjar architecture. It was beautiful. We spent quite a bit of time staring at the tiny details of the walls and then wandering around the gardens full of those orange trees.

We really only had one full day in Sevilla, which was good enough to see all the touristy sites, but I wish we could have stayed longer. Our hostel was great as well as the people in it (I ended up meeting two people from Grenoble and even one Polish guy), and the city had such a neat vibe, I was really bummed when we had to catch the bus to the airport. Someday, Sevilla, I'll come back for you.

Our hostel common room:

The Sevilla cathedral, built on top of what used to be a mosque
The view of the cathedral from our hostel rooftop

On our tour. They say that those who pass under this bridge will be in love forever. So I guess I'll forever be in love with the whole tour group, except the tour guide, he specifically didn't go under with us because he doesn't like the idea of long-distance relationships. It's tiny in this picture, but on the bottom left you see a carving of Hercules; according to legend it was him who founded Sevilla. 
This whole city was red, pink, orange and yellow buildings. It was basically the warm half of the rainbow.
Remember the thing I said about the doorways? I've never seen a cathedral with doors like this. It's the same cathedral as above but from the other side. Too bad we didn't end up having enough time to go it. 

The cathedral again. I loved the palm trees, I felt like I was back in Montpellier :)

The General Archive of the Indies, which houses the most important documents associated with the Spain's overseas empire, including the journal of Christopher Columbus. When Sevilla was at the height of power as a main  European trading point, it was used as a place for merchants to do business so that they didn't do it across the street in that beautiful cathedral I just showed you.

The most renowned hotel in Sevilla. It's housed presidents, it's housed Johnny Depp. it's kind of a sad story, it was built specifically for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 that I talked about above. They were hoping to bring in rich tourists from the US which, remember, had grown into a world power after WWI. One problem: the Great Depression. Oops. I suggest you Google the inside, it's beautiful (800-euros-a-night kind of beautiful).

Tobacco factory turned university

Wikipedia - the factory from the front

Another building build for the Ibero-American Exposition. Spain built pavilions to represent each of its overseas colonies. I can't remember what country this was meant for, sorry. And I forgot to go find the American one, whoops. 
I mean the cathedral looks nice, but I was really going for the orange trees
And then the star of the show: Plaza de Espana! Feast your eyes. I refuse to apologize for the number of photos I took. 

Each region of Spain had their own little alcove like this with a picture of an important historical moment

I loved all the giant trees
The Alcazar and its gardens:

Look at all that detail. This is a tiny part of a wall in the photo above

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