Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Plaza de Espana in Sevilla Spain

Plaza de Espana - Sevilla, Spain

Can you guess what decade this photo was taken in?  It might surprise you to learn that I shot this photo in December, 2008.  The Plaza de Espana is located in Sevilla (Seville), Spain.  It was initially built as part of the re-development done in preparation for the 1929 World’s Fair.  The sprawling semi-circle is ringed by a series of long benches, each of which showcases beautiful tile work depicting scenes from Spain’s various provinces.  The exterior building is connected to the interior fountain area by a series of bridges that cross the wide moat (shown without water in my photo due to the weather during my winter visit).  It is still common to see horse drawn carriages which slowly circle the fountain before taking visitors on a charming tour through the nearby parks and tree lined boulevards. A visit to Sevilla isn’t complete without an afternoon pause at the plaza.  I suggest taking a small snack with you as it’s the perfect place to relax while enjoying the afternoon sun!

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Sevilla – Part II

The following day I was up and ready to explore by noon.  After a quick errand on the computer I connected with a buddy I’d met in Madrid and ran into in Sevilla. We elected to set off together and explore the city. With no particular plan in mind we began our trip by heading south toward the river. I’d been told the previous day that there was some spectacular graffiti down along the river. As we made our way in that general direction we snagged a quick snack and coffee before meandering our way through the warren of bustling cobblestone streets.

Along the riverfront and the sides of one of the large bridges across the river that flows through town, I was delighted to find a wide assortment of well done, vibrant graffiti art. One depicted an old car and a giant shot of the Godfather, another an anti-war and pro-peace shot of ghostly figures walking, another was of a strange alien figure. All told there were easily 20-30 excellent pieces all done in vibrant colors in the small area I explored. The area they were in was industrial and heavily abused. The large square with a skate park next to it was littered dog feces, trash, empty beer bottles and even the remains of a small bonfire. On one side it had the river as a beautiful backdrop, on the other an old heavily damaged warehouse. It was the perfect spot for the graffiti making its contrast all that much more extreme, but, fitting.

As we continued down along the river, we gradually neared more modern and touristy areas. The parks were better kept, the trash less common. The graffiti bled away and was replaced by vibrant trees, people lazily relaxing along the riverfront parks and fisherman with their long river-fishing poles. The poles, unlike conventional American fishing rods, don´t have reels.  Instead, they are long collapsible things not unlike old branch/bamboo rods. The line is tied to the end and is usually only as long as the pole itself. Though not regularly used for mid to large-sized fish, they do catch the occasional one on them. We paused, feet dangling over the sides of the ancient stone walls lining the river and watched the fisherman fish for about 20 minutes, enjoying the warmth of a bright, sunny winter day.

After a rest, and feeling thoroughly recharged, we continued along the river until we reached an old Muslim tower. The tower, with old canons resting in front, was beautifully framed by palm trees, the river, and the bridge it overlooked. The building itself was made of large blocks of stone with middle-eastern and European influences visible – particularly in and around the windows and doorways.

At the tower we elected to begin cutting in to try and track down some grub. The city streets were overflowing with people, some tourists, mostly locals off work for Christmas or enjoying reduced hours. Before long we found our way through the busy streets dodging carriages, cars, mopeds and trams alike. With a quick turn down a side street we found ourselves dumped into the large area immediately surrounding Sevilla´s main cathedral. Beautifully lit by the golden rays of a 3:00 sun, the courtyard around the cathedral was decorated with 10 foot tall freestanding flower holders  covered in bright red Christmas flowers. Combined with the heavily-laden orange trees, tourist carriages and cobblestone streets, the sight was elegant, beautiful and the epitome of how the holiday season should be. After taking in the building´s exterior, I paid the 2 Euro to explore  inside. In classic form, the interior was massive. With spectacular stone arches gracefully stretching across to form the roof stories above our heads and the rainbow-hued light bouncing through the stained glass windows reflecting off the stone, gold and wood that decorated the Cathedral´s interior. The view was fantastic. After pausing to take in the stunning wooden and metal organ which stretched far above my head I found the ramp up the old Moor prayer tower, turned Christian bell tower, attached to the side of the cathedral. The tower was square, with each side having a sloping ramp. To reach the top you had to traverse some 30 plus levels and a small flight of stairs. Though a hearty hike to the top, the view was spectacular. Looking out from the tower the city stretched away in every direction, while beautiful old bells sat as silent guardians above our heads. From the top, I was able to look down into the interior courtyard in the cathedral – a large space with cobblestone and flagstone floors broken only by a small grove of orange trees. As I looked up and out, I could see over the entirety of the cathedral and down into the sprawling ramparts and minarets that decorated the building.

After making my voyage back down and out through the courtyard, I met up with Rick again and we continued our hunt for food. The venue we eventually found was a small tapas bar that had 3 different areas, each at a different level. Though all open to the others, two were half floors one above the entrance level where the main bar was located and the other below it. The place was a great dark drive and had delicious food. After scarfing down a plate of calamari, fried fish, and a delicious seafood salad, we set off back towards the hostel.

Once back at the hostel, and after a quick nap, we settled in and began the evening ritual … starting at the hostel bar, making new friends, exchanging new stories as well as the same old ones I tell to every new group I meet. Eventually 3 o’clock rolled around and we migrated out to the local park. There we spent another 2 hours relaxing, bullshitting, exchanging entertaining travel stories and generally enjoying the city, evening, and experience.

The following day I was dedicated to wandering at random and rounding out the rest of my brief, if spectacular exploration of Sevilla. With no specific direction in mind I set out eager to explore new streets, alleyways and tapas bars. Eventually I stumbled upon a small grungy dive. The place was small, smoky, dirty and had a good mix of old local men sitting around drinking beer. Ready for lunch I sat down and took in my surroundings.

The place was small. A room off of the bar was the kitchen, the area on and behind the bar itself was heavily laden with bottles of alcohol, breads, legs of ham and decorations. The chairs were all painted with small motifs  depicting the ocean, Spain, or other similar images. Due to the size and layout of the place, all of the plates and silverware were set up on a folding table in one corner. With another table supporting a cooler full of deserts. By the entrance there was a sign with the day’s specialties  and a large display cooler which had several large bowls of some sort of local food. Near the bar there were two large casks upended, one of which was set up as a table with a round glass top. The other had the glass removed and a large saucepan full of a steaming rice concoction resting on a bed of newspaper. The guys working the place would wander by periodically stirring the steaming plate and keeping the rice from burning.

The guy took my order, made a few strong recommendations and before long, grabbed a plate off the back wall, headed over to the steaming bowl and filled the plate with the rice, vegetables and large chunks of pork and ham. In retrospect, I think there was really only one option for that course of the meal, as everyone who came in seemed to end up with it. The bowl was excellent, though much to my chagrin, I found an eyelash about halfway through my plateful of goods. It´s my hope that it was mine! Eventually I finished off the plate -sans eyelash- and the second part of the meal arrived …  a large plate of fresh french fries with 4 little spicy sausage links. The fries were great, the sausage a bit too spicy-sour and pungent for my taste, though it was still tasty.

Times up, time to get back to exploring. I´ll pick up where I left off next time with the rest of my last day and evening in Sevilla and a taste of Cadiz soon!

Sevilla – Part I

Christmas has made writing the last few days extremely difficult. Everyone has been engaged in one giant festival here in Cadiz with stores running odd hours, people everywhere, and lots of fun adventures to be had. As I wait for my train to depart Cadiz, I finally find myself able to sit down and share a bit about my time in Sevilla.

After arriving at the hostel, I unloaded my bag and began to get situated. Oasis Sevilla is a fantastic 4-story hostel with a bar and common area on the first floor, rooms on the 2nd and 3rd, and a rooftop terrace with a (cold) pool and nicely equipped kitchen. From the start, the hostel had a warm, friendly feel to it which built camraderie.

I immediately met two German guys and a Swede who were in my room. We made the usual introductions, I checked my email briefly and eagerly dove into the city. The hostel is located immediately off a large plaza containing a mid-sized cathedral. The plaza, divided  into two park areas, was the site of one of the oddest pieces of construction I’ve seen in a long time. One half had been turned into a large walled-off construction zone as they assembled what looks to be some sort of flying sauceresque large building. I cannot for the life of me figure out how or what the end result will be, but it makes for a very odd addition to the skyline. As I was checking my e-mail I talked briefly with a guy who recommended walking down to the river and tracking down some of the graffiti which I put on my to do list for the following day. With no particular direction or location in mind, I set off picking up a bit of tapas in a small tapas bar along the way. I wandered around the zone immediately around my hostel, taking in the huge crowds of people in the streets, the chestnut vendors cooking and hawking their toasty ashen wares and the general hum-drum of a vibrant city alive with life.

By about 8:30 pm I got back to the hostel just in time to join up with a free Tapas and Flamenco tour provided by the hostel. The guide was a German fellow doing an extended stay at the hostel. With some 15 odd people in tow we set out and wound our way through the streets before  arriving at a small tapas bar on a small stone square full of cafes and small shops. In a stampede we set upon the bar, scratching our heads, picking out tapas and passionately wolfing them down with the customary beer that goes with it. After glancing at a menu, I decided to take a different route than the others and asked the waiter/barman for a recommendation. Something different, exciting, and uniquely Spanish. An older gentleman – Fernando – who was sitting next to me at the bar jumped in, and after a quick conference with the barman they picked out a pork tapas for me. When it arrived it was delicious pork tenderloin in a mild olive oil and garlic sauce, over sliced potatoes with whole nodules of cooked garlic. All served with a basket of crunchies and bread and a glass of local beer. It didn´t take long to devour the entire plate.

As we drank and munched away contentedly we all exchanged stories and got to know each other. As it turned out it was our guide’s birthday was at midnight which added to the festive cheer of the evening. As we all relaxed at the table, I chatted with two brother and sister duos, both traveling from the states, as well as an Australian girl who knew one of the sisters. My buddy Rick, whom I´d met in Madrid at the hostel and bumped back into in Sevilla,  joined us … as did several others, including the two Germans and the Swede from my room.

Eventually our guide rounded us up and we again meandered through the city to a bar entrance off a side street. The building was an odd thing. It had an old stone entryway with a fireplace and small stage. There was an outer room with a tin roof, bar, and an expansive set up of two-tiered tables. We quickly re-arranged the tables and in the second (higher) tier set up a long bench of seats. The venue was a kick with old fans hanging from the roof, propane tower heaters, a thick layer of cigarette smoke, fake plant vines, large movie-sized flamenco posters and other odd decorations. The place was dirty, grungy and packed with flavor. Before we knew it everyone had picked up a cheap pitcher of local beer and the tabletop was littered with pitchers, glasses and cameras.

The flamenco show was good, more traditional and with better dancing than the casual flamenco evening I´d stumbled into in Madrid … but lacked some of the character. The performers consisted of two men, one on guitar, one singing and clapping, and a woman who did the majority of the flamenco dance. Her movements were beautiful and flowing all done to an amazing rhythm. At one point the second man got up and joined her in a passionate, tangoesque flamenco which combined the power of a romantic tease with the feel of a bullfight and the paso doble. By midnight the flamenco was coming to an end. We wished our guide a happy birthday finished off the pitchers of beer and made our way to the door. Or next stop was northward to the bar and club section of the town.

The club part of town is around the Plaza de Hercules – a long plaza/parkway full of cafes and shops during the day. In the evening the place comes alive with bars, lounges and discotecas. About 10 strong, we found our way to a rather odd alternative club. The crowd was a bit edgy, and all of the bartenders were female, with short hair and a lot of piercings. Some had mohawks or other similar hair styles. It was all around interesting…if short lived. About 20 minutes after we´d arrived in the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder press some sort of smoke went off. At first we thought they’d teargassed the bar, but despite being unpleasant to breathe and having a slightly orange aftertaste, it didn’t overly hurt, beyond generally being unpleasant. Jostled by the press to get out of the bar, hunkering low to avoid the smoke/fumes, we joined the others as the bar emptied out into the streets. Some sort of fire extinguisher? Hard to know.

After purging our lungs and trying to figure out what had happened, we continued up the street a ways before finally finding another nightclub. Once there, we settled in until 4:30 in the morning when one of the guys got kicked out (apparently for deciding to water the bar). Laughing at the absurdity of it, we decided to round up the troops and head back to the hostel. The walk back was hilarious, with several games of orange dodgeball in the empty streets, using fallen oranges from the heavily-laden trees that line the streets.

Covered in orange juice and smelling of smoke we crawled into bed and prepared for the morning.

The next day started at 11 am. Time is up, I´m off to catch my train. More adventures soon!

Spainward Bound!

Hello friends!
It’s 1:05 AM Tuesday the 16th of December and a few brief hours from now another adventure is about to begin. My ticket is booked, my plans double checked, my bags packed, my shoes dusted off. Now all that is left is the open road, adventure and growth.

The sensation right before a trip is an amazing one. For me it is, in many ways, very similar to the sensation right before giving a big speech. Butterflies in your stomach, anticipation, the unknown, a little fear and an eagerness to undertake the experience. You wonder what you forgot, what you should have done differently and then ultimately commit to it 100%. Once your cross the threshold and the door is closed behind you, you’re off and running.

By the time I factor in the 3 hour lead time the airports require, flight time and layovers I’ll be looking at just under 20 hours of travel time….yikes. That said, the first leg of the trip will take me from Phoenix to Philadelphia. There, weather permitting, I’ll switch to a second US Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Madrid. My hostel is booked in the heart of old town and I’m ready to go.

First though, I recorded two quick videos as I packed this evening which outline what I’ve chosen to pack, why and how it all comes together. My goal for this trip is to avoid checking luggage, and with the shorter (16 day) duration, I’ve gone with a smaller pack. Without further adieu:

Part II:

Everything fit with loads of ample room.  Despite the extra room, I’m still nearly positive that I’ve over packed.  I’ll do a post mortem after the trip and share what should have made the list and what shouldn’t have.