It really is about time I posted about Sevilla. But perhaps now couldn’t be better, given I have been and gone and can look upon it with some objectivity. Now begs the challenge, where to begin?
Being based here for nearly two months gave me plenty of opportunity to get a taste for what life is like here, both as a tourist, and as a student. For lack of choice but to revert to cliché, if I could sum the place up in two words, it would be simply enchanting.
I arrived in the centre on the 19th of September, to a mere 36 degree heat. That’s nothing, the people of Sevilla tell me, only two weeks before temperatures were up around 45. Backpack and oversized cabin bag in hand (weighing about 30kgs all in all), the airport bus dropped me at the end of its line, in a place called El Prado de San Sebastian. Thankfully, as an afterthought, I’d run back into the airport before I’d left it for a city map, or I would’ve been absolutely clueless as to where I was.
I could recall that the hostel website said that they were an easy ten minute walk from the train station and finally locating my street on the map, I set about the journey. After all, how difficult could it be? Well, let me tell you that when you are carrying luggage around two-thirds your body weight in 36 degree temperatures, wearing jeans and negotiating heavy foot traffic, you might as well take a bath in your own sweat. Sorry, perhaps I could’ve spared you the detail. But it’s not easy. And nor was the map of much use in finding the place. I took directions from who I thought were locals, who sent me all the way to the river (the long way) and what should have taken ten minutes, took me about thirty. But I got there. And you know what? Surprisingly none of this really mattered at the time because what I saw along the way literally left me gobsmacked. Sevilla is beautiful.
The walk from El Prado to my hostel in la Calle Dos de Mayo took me along the pedestrianised tourist centre, past lush fountains, tree-lined squares, incredible mudejar (a combination of Arab and Christian) architecture, heladerias (ice-cream stores), horse-drawn carts and not to mention, the awe-inspiring Giralda – once a mosque, it now forms part of the largest cathedral in Europe (topping the Vatican by size in square metres). I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. And the weather? I had never known anything like it. As much as I love Auckland, we all know it can be a pain in the butt for giving us consistently warm, sunny weather. Not here. Amen.
Sevilla is among the best cities to get lost in. And trust me, get lost you will. Despite having a map, you are guaranteed to wind up in unfamiliar territory at some point. Unlike many great European cities, Sevilla city centre doesn’t follow a grid-like pattern. You’ll find this will render any sense of direction you might have completely useless. Yes, if you start heading in one direction, before you know it, your street will have taken a complete about turn.
Another thing to remember is to look out for cars, scooters and the good old-fashioned bicycle! It’s only la Avenida de la Constitucion that has been pedestrianised, so while you might be meandering through Santa Cruz, on a quiet, cobbled street that looks like it could fit not much more than a supermarket trolley along it’s avenue, think again. The cars seemingly have the ability to breathe in, reducing their waistlines by several inches, while still maintaining the same speed you would expect from a Porsche along a highway.
Nonetheless, the city itself is relatively small and during my time there, I managed to get quite accustomed to finding my way. I may have got my visiting parents lost once but for the record, out of five days of relentless walking, that’s not a bad. And there is always a nice church or cute patisserie store to stumble upon so all’s well that ends well.
This is in fact how I came across Las Setas. Walking the streets with my dear Dutch friend Ana, we found ourselves trying to kill time before La Casa de los Pilatos (a great Andalucian style house to visit if you’re ever in the vicinity) was open free to EU citizens (hey, why pay if you don’t have to?). We walked through the narrow alleyways and came out at a bustling road. We stopped at a bar there, ate some lunch and continued walking. We were about to head in the other direction when Ana said, “Hey, what’s that?” I’d only been trying to locate this place since my arrival days earlier. Nice work Ana!
No one seems to know that actual name of this place. It’s acquired the nickname Las Setas (mushrooms) for their fungal-like form. It’s a new addition to the Sevillano skyline, only having been inaugurated in April 2011. The square itself is labelled on the mushrooms themselves as “Plaza Mayor”, but on the map and on the buildings that surround the square, it’s called “Plaza de la Encarnacion”. Whatever. You won’t miss it if you walk straight up the main street in the business district, La Calle de Alfonso XII.
A visit to the mushrooms is definitely worth it. For 1,20 euro you can go right up to the top for some breathtaking views of the city. It’s great during the day but equally as great at night. And there are some fantastic tapas bars in the area that are worth a stopping in at.
There’s so much to say about Sevilla, I can’t possibly include it all in one blog so stay tuned for more. I will post another part in coming days.