May 1-5, 2014
Once you come to Seville, you will fall in love with this city.
Those were the words enthusiastically spoken by three locals I had met while in Seville. Santi, Elena Maria, and a local tour guide.
Seville is a beautiful city and the people who live there cherish their home with a great sense of pride and belonging. Whether they were born there like Santi, a handsome gentleman I met along with his sister, or like Elena Maria who moved there after visiting on holiday from Mexico, their true love for the Andalusian capital is inviting.
When I first dreamt about traveling back to Spain, I found a picture of an exquisite Adalusian patio with fine detailed arches and a long fountain in the center of a garden. I had no idea where it was, what city it was in, or what monument it was a part of – all I knew was my desire to cross the world to see it with my own eyes. Throughout my trip, I had hoped to find it but didn’t know where to look – I didn’t want to look. Then, bringing everything full circle, I found it. It is famously known as Patio de las Doncellas, which is the main courtyard in the Alcazar of Seville.
Another famous monument I had been longing to see was Plaza de Espana. The complex patterns of black and grey stone on the ground and tiled alcoves of Spanish provinces lining the walls of the plaza are fascinating. It’s an amazing feeling to finally see and experience places you’ve only dreamt about – they are definitely moments you will never forget.
Day 1: The train from Cordoba is about 45-mins and runs almost every hour. Upon arriving, I was especially excited to check into my 4-star hotel, Las Casas de Juderia, because of all the reviews I had read on Trip Advisor. The hotel is a collection of old typical Andalusian homes connected by underground tunnels with plenty of courtyards and gardens. However, despite how amazing that sounds, it was quite the let down. The rooftop pool was closed (primary reason why I picked the place) and the maze of tunnels made it very difficult to find my room located deep into the hotel grounds. Nonetheless, the hotel is beautiful and alright if you request a room close to the reception.
If visiting Seville, I’d actually recommend Hotel Rey Alfonso X (I checked in there for my last night) located in the same plaza as Las Casas Juderia. Not only is it close to the main sights and lots of shops and restaurants, the the hotel is modern, clean, has nice amenities, and large rooms that face the plaza – it even has free wifi that works! I initially thought a traditional hotel would be charming, but in hindsight modern is the way to go. While old charming hotels are nice in decor, I often found myself questioning how clean things were because everything seemed dusty and outdated. I spent most of my day outside anyway, so coming back to a clean, modern hotel was actually refreshing. Another hotel I considered was Hotel Dona Maria. I didn’t know this when booking, but it is actually located right across from the Cathedral & Giralda tower so the views must be amazing from the rooftop pool.
After the my hotel, my first stop was Peregil, a highly rated tapas bar along Calle Mateos Gago in Santa Cruz. I had the sweet orange wine that Seville is known for and was quite surprised with its taste. The oranges you see around the city are bitter, but the orange wine had the perfect blend of sweet and dry especially compared to other port wines. Peregil is also where one of the waiters excitingly told me that my great, great, great grandfather may have been an Italian gypsy. It may not be true but was entertaining for the moment.
Once I started to explore the city, I quickly discovered that everything was closed! Apparently, May 1st was Labor Day in Seville so all the stores along Calle Regina and most of the churches and monuments were not open in observance of the holiday. However, I didn’t let that stop me. I still made my way across town to La Encarnacion Square to at least see the Metropol Parasol. The monument was completed in 2011 by a German architect and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world! To fully appreciate its grand architecture, I paid three euros to take the elevator to the top. The long walk and minimal entrance fee was well worth it! There’s a bar up there, so I enjoyed another Tinto de Verano while I soaked in 360 views of Seville.
While on the other side of town in an area known as La Macarena, I visited the the beautiful and mesmerizing Bastilica de la Macarena. “The Virgin of Hope” or La Esperanza is the 17th century Roman Catholic wooden figure of the Virgin Mary. I knew this figure was important while I was there because my mother had one at home growing up. Not only is it an extremely holy figure to the Spanish, but it is also the official patroness of the Sevillan people.
Day 2: Free Walking Tours! Although I travel quite often, I hadn’t discovered free walking tours until Madrid. Free tours are definitely the best way to spend your first afternoon in any city. How does it work? Well, tours are free and offered in English and in the local language, you just have to tip your tour guide at the end based on the quality of the tour they provided. Tips aren’t obligatory, but you should really tip them since most tours can cost around $15-25.
For solo travelers, going on a walking tour is also a great way to meet people. I met a few fellow solo travelers – another Elena Maria but from Greece, Emily from London, and Nina from Holland. After seeing a lot of the main sites in the historical part of the city, we grabbed drinks & tapas near Alameda, known for its bars and the university crowd, then stumbled upon Bodega Fabiola where we were lucky enough to experience an authentic flamenco with a guitar player and singer. The setting was small and intimate versus the staged performance I saw in Granada, and women in the crowd were the ones voluntarily dancing Flamenco. Somehow I got pulled into this by a local who asked me to dance as well, so I did!
Later that evening, we ended up at late night local bar (I think called Tio Pepe and where I met Santi and his fiends) and then later found ourselves dancing at Sanctuario until 4am. Santi and his friends were lovely and their desire to learn English was flattering. I just wish I knew more Spanish so I could have communicated better. Most people, especially the elders, do not speak English in Andalusia – they’re very traditional.
Day 3: Since I had more time in Sevilla, I was able spread out my monument visits in between leisurely lunches and siestas. I visited a true hidden gem from most tourists, Hospital de los Venerables, had lunch in Triana across the river, spent my late afternoon in the jaw-dropping Cathedral, climbed all 35 ramps of the Giralda Tower, and explored the grounds of the Alcazar.
The Seville Cathedral is the third largest church in the world and it actually supplanted the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (which I visited last September) as the largest cathedral in the world after its completion in the early 16th century. It is also the burial site for Christopher Columbus! The Giralda Tower is also fascinating in that there are no steps to climb the tower, just ramps which were initially built for the Moors who would climb the tower on horses to call the faithful to prayer.
Day 4: After a enjoying churros and chocolate for breakfast and checking into my new hotel, Hotel Rey Alfonso X, I visited the grounds of the Spring fair, La Feria. Every year, Seville hosts their annual Spring Fair in the area of Los Remedios. Over a thousand tents are setup as mini restaurants and people come to eat, drink, and dance until the early morning hours. Every day, there are parades of traditionally dressed Sevillanas in decorated carriages that make their way through the city to the fairgrounds and bullfights that attract top-notch matadors from all over Spain.
After watching the parade, I finally had a chance to take a siesta and relax by the pool… my favorite part of the day. My last evening in Spain was spent tapas bar hopping and then treating myself to a nice Italian dinner at L’Oca Giuliva. I had to get my fancy Italian fix in while I was in Europe – and it did not disappoint! The fresh homemade pasta was cooked to perfection and I loved every delectable bite of my meal. The next morning, I said goodbye to Sevilla, goodbye to España, and headed straight to New York for a week of back to back meetings. My big welcome home to the United States – I lost my wallet which had my id, all my credit cards, and my passport!
Restaurants and Bars:
- Milagritos, great food by the Cathedral and has live Flamenco on certain nights
- Bodega Santa Cruz, popular tapas by the Cathedral off Mateos Gago and great for a quick drink and meeting people
- Bodega Fabiola, small intimate tapas bar with great food and live Flamenco
- La Carboneria, great for watching live Flamenco and music
- La Terraza de EME, trendy rooftop bar located next to Milagritos with an amazing view of the Cathedral & Giralda Tower.
- L’Oca Giuliva, one of the best Italian restaurants in Seville located on Mateos Gago
- Taxi from the Sevilla train station is about 15 euros to the city.
- Taxi from the city center to the airport is about 35 euros.
- You can take the bus to the airport from the city but it only picks up at certain locations and is unreliable int he morning (I tried and ended up taking a cab),
Other Cities I visited in Spain: