Monday, January 30, 2023

Branching out from Seville

I promised to write a second post about our week in Seville, and as it’s now Sunday again, I realise I’d best get on with it. 

A week in one place is generally more than I can cope with, especially if it’s a city. My wander lust is much more geared to seeking out other more rural places, and since Seville has a pretty good public transport system, we extended our reach beyond the end of the metro line by taking buses to Gines and Sand Lúcar la Mayor and the train to Huelva on the coast.

Buses in the Seville urban area are amazingly cheap the further you go. We were very fortunate in that the main bus station was very close to our shabby digs, so we wandered across the road one day, picked a name from the board, and waited for the bus to arrive. Okay, it wasn’t quite as random as that; I’d seen where Gines was on the map and thought it might be a nice place to aim for as a destination. Only 15kms from the city, I thought it would be easy to return if we didn’t like it. As it happened we were completely charmed. It cost us the grand total of €1,40 each to get there, exactly the same as it would have cost to do a trip across town in Seville. What we realised was that it doesn’t matter how far you go, the price is the same for any trip inside the urban area of Seville.

Gines, however, is very much its own place and very pretty. Our bus took us through other towns we’d have liked to see as well, but we had to decide on a goal and were very happy with our choice. It is a small town where people live, congregate and lead their lives without apparently needing to go to the city. The main street was lively with locals chatting to each other, the architecture of the houses and buildings was as charming as it can get, and we enjoyed a refreshing cup of coffee on an expansive outside terrace where families were eating and a group of men were clearly having a regular gathering of the (older) lads. We bought a few groceries in the local Spar shop, where the grocer himself was more than welcoming and friendly, and Koos even felt relaxed enough to have a kip in the town square.
Here are a few snaps I took of the town.

I loved this staircase with it tiles and garden courtyard in Gines

Our second outing was to Huelva, a town on the coast. I'd read quite a bit about it before we went to Spain and was told it wasn't favoured by tourists, which somehow made it more appealing. We took the train from Seville's Santa Justa station on Monday the 15th and arrived in Huelva at a little after 11:30 following a journey of an hour and a half. The scenery on the way was gentle, rolling hills without much to distinguish them  but we enjoyed both the trip and seeing a little more of what was probably the coastal plain.

The weather was somewhat grey in Huelva, but we liked it all the same. It's a place where people live, like Gines, and it doesn't put on any airs. Two things appealed to us no end: one was the discovery of its industrial history as represented in the restored pier: now a pedestrian walkway, but once the loading quay for ships transporting copper from the nearby open cast mines.  If you watch the brief video, it  gives you a glimpse of the scale of the mining in the area. They only stopped operating about 25 years ago. 

In addition, if you dig into the history of the mines and the pier (apologies for the pun), you will find the latter was designed and built by the British who had interests in Huelva’s developments. 

Huelva was also the place where Christopher Columbus (Christobel Colon in Spanish) was said to have embarked on his travels to the New World. There's a statue of him in the centre of town, and an even bigger sculpture of him outside town which we didn't actually see.

Cranes next to the pier and riverside

The amazingly well restored pier as a monument to Huelva’s mining past


Christoper Columbus…Go west, my sons…

More pretty Spanish tiles

What made our visit even more special, though, was a meeting with dear friend and renowned author, Stephen Powell. We met him at a bus stop in Estoi in the Algarve three years ago and have kept in touch ever since. It was really lovely to see him again and we spent a few very enjoyable hours catching up at a very pleasant restaurant, followed by a walk along the pier. I should mention that Stephen is the author of two excellent travel books: one about Portugal and the other about the Caucasus, both of which focus on the marathon walks he made in these countries. You can find his fascinating accounts here on Amazon. Given that he was a Reuters correspondent for around 27 years, the quality of his writing speaks for itself.

A Happy meeting

There's a lot more I could say about Huelva, but I think it would need its own post. Suffice to say we enjoyed our visit very much and can recommend it, not so much for its eye candy as for its history and its wonderful rivers.

Our last excursion was again by bus to the beautiful, and probably touristy, town of Sanlúcar la Mayor, which is roughly twenty-five kilometres from Seville. Again, the bus ride was incredibly cheap and cost less than €4 return for the two of us. It was quite a walk from the bus stop down to the town centre, and since it was a bit drizzly we first had coffee at a café on the main through road. This proved to be a feast in itself. Just for something extra, we ordered a piece of chocolate cake, which eventually appeared smothered in chocolate sauce and with a large scoop of ice cream. It was quite a creation, and utterly delicious.

Luckily for us, the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day. We first walked to the station, another of the region's classic Moorish designs, and then we strolled to the church square, which was quite captivating. I wouldn't be surprised if it's heaving with tourists in the summer. During our visit, it was quiet and peaceful in the sunshine; the station was deserted; and the cafés in the square were empty. Nevertheless, we loved it. It was only later we discovered how much more we could have seen there had we done a bit of research beforehand, rather than just picking a name on the bus timetable. There's a bit more about it on this website.

There’s heaps more I could mention about Seville and all the the beautiful sights we’ve seen, but that would fill a small book. On our last day, we finally visited the cathedral, which is apparently the third largest church in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. The immensity was something to behold, but like the curate’s eggs, I only liked parts of it. Impressive, yes, opulent, yes, but beautiful? Not inside so much. I felt it lacked coherence and had an overdose of medieval bling. The exterior is, however, stunning and quite magnificent.

Here are a few of my photos of the interior areas:

So that’s about wrapped up Seville. Apologies to Tom Williams – there are absolutely no barges in this post, but I hope the cranes, the pier and the river at Huelva make up for it a little.

Enjoy your week, allemaal and I’ll fill you in with news on the home front next week.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

A sojourn in Seville

As some of you may know from my postings elsewhere, Koos and I went to Spain on January the 10th and have only been back a few days. We had a really lovely time, the weather was beautiful (although not hot at all), and we were met with more kindness and friendliness than I could have imagined.

We flew to Seville and made the city our base for the full week we were there. The first and last days were spent travelling - always a complete day, however we do it - so we had eight days to explore Seville and its environs.

The only downside to the whole trip was the room we'd booked. We wanted to be quite central and not too far from the bus and trains, so to keep costs to a reasonable level, we opted to stay in a cheap hotel/hostel in one of the narrow backstreets of the old town. While it was a fantastic location, our room was at the back of the building with no window onto the street. In fact, the only window it had was onto one of those typically Spanish shafts that provide an opening for houses that back onto each other. Being high and narrow, virtually no light gets in and our room was simply dark the whole time. I couldn't wait to get out into the light every day. 

In addition, the city sewage system in that area has clearly seen better days, so the smell of dirty drains pervaded everything. Other than that, though, we were in a very good position and were able to walk to the heart of Seville within ten minutes or so, which was great!

Most readers here probably know that Seville is deep in Andalucia and flamenco is everywhere. Even the little corner shop in our street had these delightful little dresses for small girls. Interestingly, this shop, like hundreds of others we found in Seville, was run by Chinese people, all of whom speak Spanish, but with the standard confusion between L and R, which made me smile. It reminded me of so many of my students who have the same problem.

The rather grand Moorish building in the photo above used to be the city's railway station but is now a kind of enclosed market with small kiosk-type shops inside. (We won't mention the McDonald's, which seems to be everywhere). This kind of building design seems to have been quite common for train stations as we saw others with similar arches and decorative detail.

Of course, the first place Koos and I always go is to the waterside (eerst naar de waterkant, as they say in Dutch), and we were much impressed by this amazing old tree leaning over the banks of the Guadalquivir. On the subject of the river, the stretch that runs through the city is actually still water. Its main tidal course was re-routed to the west of the city in the 20th century to prevent flooding, and continues on to Cordoba and beyond. Apparently, however, navigation is only possible up to Seville, and only when the tide is coming in. The port of Seville is in the reach of the river that runs through the city, and is behind a large lock. From what I've read, though, flooding can still be an issue as in both 2006 and 2010, the city suffered from severe floods, and it was even worse in 1963.

For those interested, there's an interesting article about Seville and the Guadalquivir here.

We had a lovely walk along the riverside, which is very popular with the locals. I liked the sculpture above; it was created for some very philanthropic purposes that I'm afraid I've forgotten now. I completely failed to make a note of the plaque that told us who the sculptor was and what it was for. Maybe one of the readers here knows what it commemorates? 

My apologies for the slightly skew photos below. I normally straighten my snaps as it drives me nuts if things aren't level or properly vertical, but my usual laptop has crashed and I don't know how to use the photo editor on this machine yet. Anyway, these were some of the sights from the river I captured when we went on a passenger cruise on our second day there.

Traditional Spanish galleon moored on the riverside

The Golden Tower, first built by the Moors

This bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava. 
It reminded me of our own Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam

One thing that surprised me was the extent of the very good public transport system. We tried it all. The tram is just one line, but it's modern, electric and very good. The buses were excellent, and there was even a metro, which we travelled from one end to the other, right out into the furthest suburbs. I'll tell you about some of our trips the next time.

Like many cities focused on tourism, there was the possibility to do a tour of the sights from the comfort of an open carriage. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the horses, however. They seem to spend hours just standing there with no water or food and, in the summer, no shade either. I hope I'm wrong and that they’re relieved or at least given water at regular intervals. They’re very lovely, though, so I had to take some photos of them.

Beautiful, patient horses. 

The photos below are of Seville cathedral. It is apparently the third largest church in the world and the biggest gothic church in Europe. We managed to visit it on our last day and were really impressed by its immense size. I also liked the mix of styles. It was an add-on (if you like) to an Arabic mosque and I loved the simplicity of those early parts of the building. The opulence of the ornate nave and sanctuary were less to my taste, partly because of the extreme demonstration of affluence they represented, but also because it was bordering on overkill. I took dozens of photos but it's hard to decide what's worth including.

One of the many elaborate screens

Unbelievably ornate and opulent

I preferred this

The simplicity of the earlier structures
was more to my taste

It isn't possible to talk about Seville without mentioning the oranges. They’re a real feature of the city streets, and if you are wondering what happens to them, they’re collected and cleared now and then by the city council. Apart from the fact they're far too bitter to eat, it isn't permitted to pick them as they belong to the local authorities. From what I've read, they're used for a number of purposes, including medicinal and culinary. I remember my mother buying Seville oranges to make marmalade when I was a child, but we never ate them raw. It was lovely to see them on virtually every tree in the city streets, though.

And the last thing to mention about Seville itself in this week's post is the music. We saw and heard music everywhere from day one, even being serenaded while we had our meal the first evening. Koos was also given the chance to play by one kindly busker, which made his day. 

The man in the photo below was playing flamenco guitar with great skill in a passage.

These three were busking next to the tram stop and were doing an excellent job of covering great rock songs. The guitarist, in particular, did a very professional and convincing performance of Brian May's guitar solo on Bohemian Rhapsody. I have to say it was a very pleasant way to wait for the tram.

We also saw some wonderful impromptu flamenco dancing at the Plaza de Espana (more on that amazing place next time). I find flamenco very inspiring and soul stirring, and loved seeing this young group performing in public.

Well, I think that's enough for this time. I'll write more about some of the other places we went and the people we met in my next blog, but for now, I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of our experiences in Seville, allemaal. 

Have a good week and all the best from a very cold and frosty Netherlands. That Spanish sunshine is already becoming a distant memory.