Old World Charming: Sevilla

On our final stop in our ten day tour of Andalucía, we spent three nights in Sevilla. Another city high on my list for years, but the airport situation always seemed to quell my travel plans. Seville’s main airport is very small and flights always seem super expensive-or you have to take a tiny plane from Madrid (which I am not so keen to do). So after some research, we realized that there are other airports nearby. On this trip we flew into Malaga late at night and spent one night at a Holiday Inn, driving an hour and a half to Grenada the next morning. On the way out, we booked a flight through Jerez, a city under two hours from Seville. Both flights were on RyanAir and flew in and out of Frankfurt-Hahn. (Don’t get me started on why the airport is allowed to have the word Frankfurt in it because it’s literally nowhere near it so don’t get it confused with Frankfurt airport!).

After driving a few hours from Arcos de La Frontera, and getting settled in to our apartment, we decided to explore the curvy winding cobblestones walkways of Seville. Nathan REALLY wanted to stay in our apartment because there was an iMac in his bedroom and after a week of touring he was ready to just play Sesame Street games for hours. We convinced him that food and walking would be more fun and he convinced us that pushing his own stroller would be the best way to tour Seville. (Spoiler Alert: it’s actually a slow and extremely painful way to tour).

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We had three basic goals in mind for Seville: the cathedral, the alcazar and a flamenco show. We happily accomplished all three in three days, among a couple other highlights. That afternoon, we did a Rick Steves self guided walking tour and toured the cathedral.

The cathedral is the world’s largest gothic churches and extremely impressive. The high altar is encased by a wrought-iron fence and top to bottom gold leaf carvings that took 80 years to complete (1481-1564). It tells the story of Jesus and is the most intricate and beautiful altar I have ever seen.

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But my favorite part of the cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The tomb itself looks like it belongs on a movie set. Four enormous kings are carrying the tomb, each king represents a pallbearer from the regions of Castile, Aragon, Leon and Navarre. Columbus’ body traveled a lot posthumously. First, he was buried where he died, in Valladolid, Spain. He was then moved to Sevilla, then the Dominican Republic, then Cuba and then back to Sevilla. That’s a lot of travel for a dead guy! His final resting spot is awe-inspiring and pretty amazing.

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The cathedral also holds a 1,000 pound silver-plated “monstrance” (something used to display the communion wafer), and the treasury that’s filled with the crown jewels. Sadly, all of Dan’s photos from Seville have gone missing from our computer after he deleted them from his phone, so some of our fabulous pictures (including the monstrance) are gone.

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In addition to seeing the Cathedral, we visited the Hospital de los Venerables. This place has an interesting history, as a home for seniors with an historical church attached. It’s another stunning altar surrounded by intense Baroque architecture.

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The owner of the apartment we were staying at offered us their step daughter as a babysitter so we could have a night out. This was a special treat-after a full week of touring with a four year old, we were definitely ready for an adult night out! In Spain, dinner typically starts anywhere from 930-1030, on average. So we walked the shopping district before heading to a typical flamenco show (reserved in advance). We went to the La Casa del Flamenco. The show only has 60 seats and they perform twice a night, in a courtyard that’s hidden in between two hotels.

This particular flamenco show is considered a serious show because it’s only one hour and there are no drinks served or food and only photos are allowed at the end. The place was filled with tourists but you got the feeling the performers were very serious about their craft. It was super intense and the woman was definitely a seasoned performer. I was amazed that she could still work so hard and put on such an amazing show at her age. The male lead was younger and you could see that he held her in high regard with the way his eyes followed her as she moved across the dance floor. It almost felt like we were invading a private moment between teacher and student.

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After the show, our landlord had given us his business card and told us the name of a very local tapas bar, away from the tourists that we should try to get into by using his name. The bar was in Triana, across the river from the city center in a more colorful location. The bar they sent us too is actually in the Rick Steves guidebook, so it’s not that big of a secret but it’s definitely a gem.

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Las Golondrinas Bar was down a small alley and had a main bar and an area across the road with all tables. It was super crowded and we weren’t sure if there was a line to wait for a table-it was actually pretty intimidating! I spotted a manager, the one guy running around trying to help everyone and flagged him down. In my best Spanish I tried to let him know “we know people” It was hilarious. He had no idea who I was talking about, even after I showed him the business card. So he reminded me of Hank from Breaking Bad, kind of short and bald but intense. So I was nervous but he ended being a teddy bear. He was so sweet, found us a table right away and asked us to promise not to tell our landlord that he didn’t have a clue who he was!! It was hilarious.

After we were seated, the table next to us, two older men, decided they were finished and passed along their entire bottle of wine to us! We were having so much luck! The tapas at this place were pretty amazing and the wine was delicious.

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Once we were finished, the local flamenco show was two doors down and our landlord had once again told us to use his business card to get a table.

We were weary that it would work, and there was a huge line to get in at this tiny local bar. The woman in charge looked like an old Madame from the 1950s. It was obvious she was in charge. She opened the door to the big line, and I meekly showed her the business card (I had to kind of walk in front of the line to ask her), and she asked how many and escorted us right in! We got the last table of the night (and they let everyone else in a few minutes later but it was standing room only).

We really didn’t know what to expect, we were told it was local flamenco dancers. All the tables were faced towards the center and four guys with instruments were sitting in a circle. Once the music began, people were clapping and singing, but no one was dancing. It took a few rounds of drinks from the one waitress running the place before our first “local” stood up to dance. It occurred to us that this place was like Karaoke Flamenco, it was drunk locals doing their best flamenco.

At one point, our waitress got up there to dance with another lady-and they were both actually really good! The Madame also started singing and dancing, at one point she called on two women and basically made up a song for them. I am fairly certain it was a bachelorette party, and it was pretty common. Whatever she was singing, she had the crowd in tears of laughter. At this point we had been there awhile and it was almost 2AM, and we were fairly certain we were turning into pumpkins with our 16 year old babysitter waiting for us to return. Our night on the town was my favorite night of the entire week! We really felt like we explored the local culture, away from all the local tourist traps.

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So, I am a fairly huge fan of Game of Thrones. I’ve read all the books and watch the show religiously. Imagine my excitement when I found out we would be going to a city that they filmed the current season?! Season five premiered the week we were in Spain, and we were able to watch scenes that took place in a palace we were about to visit.

The Royal Alcazar, a 10th century palace which still functions as a palace today. Any scenes in Game of Thrones where they are in Dorne, takes place at the Alcazar. This is a stunning palace, its Moorish influence blazing with its elaborately decorated facades and Islamic and Christian elements.

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Devastatingly to us, Dan took the majority of the photos on his phone so we don’t have that many to share, but what we have is still stunning. Since it was the second to last day of our trip and we had been out late the night before, we decided to take turns touring the Alcazar. Dan headed out at 7AM to get there at rope drop, in order for us both to have time to tour the palace and the Royal Apartments. The Royal Apartments are guided tours only with a separate ticket, leaving every half hour. You are given an audio guide and no pictures are allowed. This was the highlight of the palace, and worth waiting in line for. My advice is to walk in and go straight to the apartments to sign up for the next available tour. It’s like touring Buckingham or Versaille, the dining area and bedroom and living quarters of the Royal family, it’s truly stunning.

The rest of the palace you can tour at your own pace. This place was built by Christians but in the Moorish style. (FYI, watch your step as there are some dry fountains laid in the ground and if you text and walk you just might twist your ankle and almost break your foot and not be able to walk that well for two weeks…not that I would know from experience).

The first stop I went to was Admiral’s Hall. This room was created by Isabella in 1503 to administer all of SPain’s adventures to the New World. There are paintings dedicated to Christopher Columbus and an altar piece painting of St. Mary overlooking her ships to ensure safe passage to the New World. Sadly, Dan took a photo of this but I did not.

I did however take pictures of the Courtyard of the Maidens. This is an open-air courtyard with a long reflecting pool down the center with all the rooms attached to it. The courtyard has sunken gardens, pottery and thick walls-and will truly enchant you.

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The Hall of the Ambassadors is the throne room in which Pedro I received his guests. There are Islamic geometrical shapes and arabic writing surrounding a gorgeous ceiling.

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However, the most scenic and outstanding part of the palace was the gardens. The gardens will look most familiar to any Game of Thrones fan, as this is the sight of the water gardens of Dorne. The gardens have the Mercury Pool, a 16th century aqueduct and fountain the waters the entire garden.

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Finally, you can walk under the gardens and see an amazing underground pool, also a very big scene takes place in this exact location in Game of Thrones.

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After both of us toured the Alcazar, we met up to walk to shops of Seville, have snacks and explore. We came across the Museo Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija. It’s located in the middle of the shopping pedestrian zone, an 18th century mansion filled with antiques from a quirky owner who was passionate about history. This is just the type of setting I love-the ground floor paved with old Roman mosaics and the house filled with centuries of history. You can tour yourself or pay extra for the guided tour of the upstairs, but since we had Nathan we decided to just tour the downstairs on our own. If you have an hour, I would highly recommend walking through this beautiful historical home.

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I have a special place in my heart for Spain, I don’t know why really but I have always felt a little more connected to Spain than anywhere else. Maybe it’s because I have more training in spanish than any other language besides english, or maybe because my first trip to Europe alone, I based my whole itinerary on ensuring I would see Spain.

My college roommate had a boyfriend in the junior year abroad program and he lived in Seville for three months. This was back around 1998, and I have wanted to visit ever since hearing about their travels to this amazing place. I’m so thankful I waited for a special anniversary to finally visit and I was able to bring my family to explore, eat tapas, see flamenco and embrace the Spanish culture!

Here are more pictures of Seville:

Tapas

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Shopping

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American Shop

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Another Stunning Church:

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Sights around Seville:

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Happy 10th Anniversary Dan! This was definitely a fabulous place to celebrate ten years of marriage!!

 

Up Next: Clan Braunstein heads to Scotland!

 

 

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