April 28, 2018
The train trip from Madrid to Sevilla took about two and a half hours, mostly through fields with olive trees, orange trees, and other agriculture, and with a brief stop in Córdoba. Upon arrival we picked up a tourist map and once we figured out which exit from the station to use, it was easy to find our way to Hostal Puerto Carmona. It was a surprisingly short walk as the hostal was just on the edge of the city centre.
Our room at the hostal was quite small but very quiet. Before leaving we researched the possibilities for dinner; there were a lot of restaurants to choose from but finally we decided on Tabernas Coloniales, which was close by.
The city centre area is a maze of narrow streets which join up in random ways. Fortunately the map we’d picked up at the station had many of the streets, so it turned out to be an invaluable resource. We found our way to the restaurant with little difficulty, but they weren’t really serving meals until 7:30 pm so we decided to go and wander around the neighbourhood.
Back at the restaurant we found they weren’t actually serving food until 8 pm, but at least we had a table. Many of the restaurants we’d researched featured waits of 45 to 90 minutes! We sat outside and had a glass of Vina Barredero, a white wine from Huelva, and at 8 pm we ordered our tapas. Potatoes Barra, chicken with almond sauce, beef with whisky sauce, and eggplant with honey. And we also had a second glass of wine. It was a very good meal and surprisingly inexpensive.
April 29, 2018
We had a good rest last night and didn’t get up until 9 am. Breakfast was easy because just across the plaza was a café/bakery, Buenabuelo. Rosemary had a tostada with jam and Paul had one with tomatoes, which turned out to be pulverized. This was a typical Spanish breakfast.
Last night we had spent a while figuring out how to spend our time in Sevilla, and decided that Tuesday would be our day to go to Córdoba. So after breakfast we headed over to the train station to buy tickets for that. We stood in the “Other Days” lineup which was unfortunately monopolized by a large family group with, apparently, very complicated requirements. So we waited for about an hour, and then our transaction took about three minutes.
Next, at the bus station the T. G. Comes clerk told us that we would be better off buying bus tickets on the day of travel. She also confirmed that our rather complicated plan for bus travel through southern Andalucía would work. So then we went off to explore.
First we headed over to the Alcázar, but there was a long lineup so rather than waiting we decided to explore other sights. Down by the river we found several restaurants, so we chose one which had a daily menu at € 12 each. This would be our main meal of the day. Rosemary wasn’t happy about having tuna in her “mixed salad” but the other menu items were fine.
From there we walked over to a large brick building with brightly-coloured tiles. This was the Plaza de España, an amazing semicircular structure which was built for the 1929 international fair of Spanish-speaking nations. It’s beautifully faced with tiles and had a man-made canal in front where you could rent paddleboats. The plaza and the adjacent park were full of people admiring the well-kept tiles.
We also walked along the Guadalquivir River and walked along the banks for a while. The river didn’t support much wildlife other than a few Muscovy ducks and mallards, and there wasn’t much boat traffic either. There wasn’t even a bike path. But on our way back towards the hostal we came across a really good place for gelato. Rosemary asked the server “What’s that flavour?” and the server said “Ummm… why don’t you taste it?” And she liked it, deciding it was probably tiramisu flavour. Paul’s was coffee with large pieces of dark chocolate and it was pretty good too.
Back at the hotel we had an e-mail from Caroline, now back in London, and she reminded us “Don’t forget to go to a flamenco show!” Of course—flamenco in Sevilla. So we found one close by in the Santa Cruz district and walked down there to buy tickets for tomorrow night’s show at 5:30 pm. (Our route-finding was much better and we hardly had to look at the map at all.)
On the way back we stopped at Buenabuelo for dinner—tostadas with serrano ham. Rosemary didn’t really like the flavour of the ham but we found out that “tostado pavo” comes with turkey instead of ham so we might try that the next time.
April 30, 2018
We hadn’t made any plans for visiting the major attractions in Sevilla, and trying to book on short notice didn’t work, so we were up early today to head over to line up for the Alcázar. We got in line at 8:30 am and weren’t too far from the beginning of the line. Very soon after our arrival the line was much longer, extending around the corner of the building. The doors opened at 9:30 am but it wasn’t until about 10:30 am that we were allowed in. But this was still much earlier than if we had booked online, so we were happy.
The Alcázar was the royal palace dating back to the 13th century, when the Spanish took it over from the Muslim kings. So originally it was decorated in an Islamic style, and much of that style was retained through several centuries of renovation and modification. Rather than renting headphones we used Rick Steves’s tour from his book, and that worked out really well. We toured through the various rooms admiring the architecture, tapestries, and paintings. And when we were finished we had tea and empanadas in the cafeteria and wandered around the gardens.
Our next stop was the bull ring, which is the oldest one in Spain. It’s the place where bullfighting was born and now it’s like the Vatican of bullfighting—only the best are invited to perform there. We waited in line for the € 8 tour, and after about 30 minutes we joined a group and started off. The tour was run very efficiently with all participants using an audio guide in their own language. We did have an official guide who welcomed us and shooed us along to the various exhibits.
There were museum-like displays, starting with a room of drawings and paintings, including by bullfighting fan Francisco Goya. Other rooms had equipment, even including torero suits complete with blood-stains. (Probably—hopefully—the bull’s blood.) We got to see all aspects of the bull ring, with the exception of the bulls! The next event would be on May 8.
We headed back to the hostal for a siesta, stopping on the way for tea and a pastry. About 5 pm we headed over to the Casa de Flamenco for the show we’d booked yesterday. We sat around a square stage and since we were quite early we got a front-row seat. The show started promptly with an introduction which told us what we were about to see.
There were four performers: two dancers, a guitarist, and a singer. It started off with a solo guitar performance, followed by a dance duo accompanied by the guitarist and the singer. We marvelled at how the man could snap his fingers three times a second. Then the dancers each had a solo turn and so did the singer. The dances were very interesting to watch, definitely hard on the feet! And the singing reminded us of the Muslim call to prayer, and it was strange to watch the peculiar faces the singer used to produce his effects. It was quite a one-hour show.
For dinner tonight we went to Tabernas Coloniales, where we’d eaten before. While waiting to order we sat outside under large umbrellas, since it was raining, and while we were enjoying our wine a thunderstorm started. We were lucky we hadn’t arrived later, because if we had then we’d be standing under a tree waiting for a table! We had tapas again, including our favourite fried eggplant with honey.
May 1, 2018
We’d decided to go to Córdoba today, so breakfast was on-the-go. We bought pastries and headed over to the station, catching the 9:20 am train. It was a direct train so it arrived only 45 minutes later. The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms, probably in the afternoon, so we had our raincoats handy.
From the Córdoba station we walked down the broad boulevard which led us to the river. Our plan was to do some birding at Sotos de la Albolafia, a wetland area in the river, but our plans were thwarted by a huge clap of thunder followed by a rainstorm. We huddled under some trees, which helped a bit, and after about 15 minutes had gone by the rain stopped. This process repeated itself a few times, but finally it looked as if the rain would hold off for a while.
We found that the wetlands were all a restricted area, so we could only bird around the edges, which was a bit disappointing. But we walked across the Roman Bridge, from which we could see a lot of the area. There were hundreds of swallows over the river and a couple of Pallid Swifts dropped by. And we were both quite surprised to see Black-crowned Night-Herons flying up and down the river with nesting material—neither of us had ever seen one in flight before!
At the far end of the bridge we turned around and headed back, stopping to listen to an older man playing an accordion. He was really good, so good that we actually dropped a one-euro coin into his hat! Generally we don’t pay street musicians.
By now the sun was shining, and we headed over to the Mezquita. It’s a massive former mosque, now with a 16th-century church rising up in the middle. The outer courtyard, the Patio de los Naranjos, had a lot of trees which had almost finished blooming, but the citrus scent was still quite strong and lovely. It only took about ten minutes in the lineup to get our tickets, and then we immediately went into the building. From the moment we entered we were awe-struck.
We followed Rick Steves’s suggested tour from his book and worked our way through. The arches painted in red and white stripes looked like they belonged in a Turkish mosque, but the rest of the interior was normal church architecture. It was by far the most impressive building that we had visited so far.
Just after we left the Mezquita there were black, threatening clouds overhead and then there was a huge thunderclap. The rain started to pour down again. The obvious thing to do was to go into a restaurant for lunch—but everybody else had the same idea! But before long we found a restaurant with a free indoor table. La Esquinita de la Juderia was the usual type of Spanish restaurant. Paul had a chicken platter and Rosemary had an eggplant and honey dish. This time the eggplant was coated with a light batter and drizzled with delicious dark honey.
While we ate the rain continued to pour down in torrents. So rather than rushing our meal we ate slowly—that’s the Spanish way, after all! And then we had an extra cup of tea. Finally the rain stopped so we paid the bill and headed out to wander around the Jewish quarter of Córdoba. The streets in some sections were so narrow that only pedestrians could pass through them. We did come across a young couple, American, who were driving a mid-size rental car and who were obviously lost. A local spoke with them and gave them directions to a tourist car park. We could see why there were so many motor scooters here.
Finally we made our way back to the station, with a quick look at the original city wall of Córdoba on the way. Our return train was scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm, and it was a local train, not an AVE train. So we had to stop at six stations, but we probably paid less for that half of the trip.
We got back to Sevilla after 8 pm, so by the time we got over to Tabernas Coloniales it was full. But we added our name to the wait list, at position number eight, and went to sit in the park across the street. However the waiters were going as fast as they could and we only had to wait about half an hour. And luckily it wasn’t raining today. This time we had carrots with vinaigrette, mushroom croquettes, chicken with mustard sauce (again), and another chicken dish.
Once finished our meal we headed back to the hostal to reorganize our packs a bit, because tomorrow we would be moving on to Arcos de la Frontera, one of the white hill towns.
Next: Arcos de la Frontera