After my little adventure in the local dive, I set out once again through the warren of twisting, winding streets. My destination was south, past the Cathedral and into new territory marked on my map by large stretches of green park spaces. As I wound through the streets I found it nearly impossible to keep my bearings. Beyond a vague sense of direction the twisting, dead end nature of the streets left me more than a little confused and disoriented…no small feat. Eventually I found myself dumped out in the Cathedral plaza. Re-oriented I made my way southeast into the heavily touristy downtown area. Full of parks, tourists, trams and trinket shops the area was bustling with life. After a brief break to pick up several mandarin oranges I continued south across a large, beautiful boulevard and into a major park.
Though heavily kissed by winters embrace the park was still sporting several blossoming flowers, an assortment of well-trimmed greens and several ponds. Though fairly boring in and of itself, the park led me to a rather large beautiful building. Curious I followed it around until eventually found a side entrance. Exploring it, I quickly was dumped out into a beautiful plaza and one of Sevilla´s gems. I remembered it from my youth, but my memories were dwarfed by the sheer, real, beauty of the plaza. Built for a worlds fair that never came to pass due to the outbreak of war in 1929, the Plaza de Espana is an expansive, beautiful piece of architecture that stretches around in slightly over a half circle. In addition to the building´s structural beauty, it is ringed by a set of benches featuring tiled artwork scenes representing all of the major powers in Spain. The benches are built into one of the walls of the outer building´s first story providing an excellent spot to pause and rest, enjoy the sight of the plaza, and to take in the afternoon sun. Inside the benches there´s a rather large walkway that wraps around the interior of the semi-circle. The next layer, in what might be called an architectural onion, is a canal about 20 feet across which rings the square. Though drained, it hardly detracted from the ambiance of the location. The canal is crossed by a number of arched bridges which provide an almost Venetian feel while the inner most ring is a large cobblestone area ringing a large, beautiful fountain. With horse drawn carriages making their way around the inner circle, the experience as a whole is delightful.
After pausing in the sun for an hour or so and reading a bit of one of Dad´s books, I made my way back through the city streets before relaxing and refueling at the hostel. As I relaxed, I bumped into two dutch girls I´d met the day before – Natalie and Linda. They were about to set off to explore several tapas bars and after a brief exchange, invited me to join. Out we went once more into the crowded Sevilla streets. Dodging the astounding abundance of baby strollers and smoking Spaniards, we eventually arrived at a great little tapas bar just up the street. We all placed our orders, I ended up going with anchovies on lettuce hearts, and quail eggs on Spanish ham. A beer, some bread, and a few mouthfuls later we cycled through the usual dialog … where are you from, what do you do, where have you traveled, what´s your history, etc. and before long migrated to the second tapas bar. A tiny corner construction with virtually no room and the size of most people´s bedrooms. The place had a high ceiling, with walls heavily decorated with pigs legs, wine bottles, old objects, and the like. The place was so small that when you turned around, somewhat hidden on a shelf next to the door, they had all of their cleaning supplies bottles and tools stashed away. I ordered a delicious spinach and Spanish salsa tapas, while the girls tried what was a local delicacy – some sort of flavorful paste in a bowl with diced ham on top.
After enjoying the atmosphere for a bit (the place was packed) we made our way out into the street, only to be greeted by a large crowd. The crowd filled a small square and overflowed well into the sidestreets. Curious what the draw was, and hearing a bit of a ruckus, we made our way over using our height to look over the crowd. We realized that it was part of the pre-Christmas festivities. This particular one had a giant virgin Mary on a silver dais being transported by 20 or so older Spanish polebearers. In a centipede-like fashion the statue made it´s way down the street, then up through the double doors to the nearby church which had been thrown open. The crowd burst out into song, then crowded into the small church behind the statue, before singing more songs. The statue made its way in, paused, then began its gradual crawl back out. After watching for a while, we split off from the crowd, made our way back to the hostel and picked up several of the others before setting back out to the bar and club district. There the usual night of hostel revelry and friend-making ensued.
Contrary to my best intentions, I failed to book my first night in the Cadiz hostel ahead of time, or for that matter, print out directions. My plan had been to wake up, walk over to the internet cafe down the street, reserve my spot, print directions, and then make one of the hourly regional trains which traveled between Sevilla and Cadiz. Murphys law prevailed, the internet cafe was closed. I decided to wing it and make the walk to the train station anyhow. Somehow the twisting, turning, Sevilla streets turned me around, causing me to drastically over shoot the rail station. Before long I found myself staring at the Cathedral once again. I´m willing to guess that the Cathedral serves as a central point – Sevilla´s Roman Colosseum if you will. Annoyed, but dedicated to persevering I once again setout into the spiders web of streets, this time continuing to overshoot the train station and ending up in a very rural, very rugged, and very industrial part of Sevilla well out of the tourist center. A bit apprehensive about where I was and my safety, I continued to press on, adjusting my course, before eventually finding a street sign at a major intersection that pointed the way to the rail station. Knee killing me, back tired, footsore, but rather relieved I eventually found my way to the station. The whole trek had taken about an hour and a half, backpack on and all.
Once at the station I had a slight adventure booking my ticket, ending up with with a ticket for a train that departed a full two hours later than I´d have liked. Annoyed, but eager to relax my throbbing leg I made my way outside, sat on the steps in the sun and ate sardines and bread rolls while washing it all down with a spot of water. I read, napped, and listened to music, before boarding my train and making my way south. The ride was very pretty. Southern Spain is amazing in that most of the territory I´ve seen consists of well-tilled, organized, barren fields stretching over gently sloping hills as far as the eye can see. Because of the season, most of the fields are just tilled dirt which adds to a beautiful uniform feeling.
When I finally arrived in Cadiz, the weather was much warmer than it had been in Sevilla. The train station was devoid of the tourist info stand I´d hoped for, but I did find a small map in front of the station which was a relief. The station sits outside the city wall, which is raised and leaves one feeling like you´ve reached a beat up dead end, with an imposing castle wall stretching up before you in either direction. After following the wall for a few hundred feet, the wall leveled out and I was offered an opportunity to make my way into the city toward the tourist information office marked on the map I´d seen back at the station. I knew the hostel I wanted was in the heart of the city, but that was about it. Luckily, I found an internet cafe, paid my 1 euro for a chunk of time, checked the hostel location (which read as booked for that night) and with a lump in my stomach made my way to the spot marked on the map. When I eventually found the door in a tiny alleyway that was, perhaps, 2 shoulders across I was more than a little stressed to discover a ¨we´ll be back at 18:00″ on the door. With only one real hostel coming up for the town, I decided to wait it out at a wonderful little, bustling tapas bar located just around the corner.
As I settled in and ordered tapas from the display window (they usually stretch the length of the bar, full of pre-cooked tapas waiting to be warmed up and eaten) – I decided to try what looked like a mid-sized stuffed cuddlefish. As I waited for what ended up being a delicious, tender piece of cuddlefish stuffed with chorizo like meats and sauce, served on french fries and with a side of bread and a beer – I started chatting with two guys who were grabbing a few drinks and watching the Spanish synchronized swimming team on TV. We joked, commented, and generally sat in awe of the swimmers before one of the guys – who I later learned was the hostel´s owner – asked if I was waiting to check in. I told him yes, asked if they had any openings, and to my relief he smiled, shrugged, and said not to worry about it. They headed back to the hostel, I finished off my cuddlefish and then followed suit.
The hostel – Casa Caracol had a great surf-meets-hostel feeling to it. The common area and first floor is an odd zigzag of space in a rough triangular shape with a table surrounded by benches, kitchen, wood burning fireplace and small open space all sandwiched together. The bedrooms were sandwiched on two oddly shaped floors and topped off by a fun rooftop garden. The Hostelworld rating for the place had been a 70% with a wide mixture of comments. Though slightly worried it was going to be a dump when I´d first decided to head to Cadiz, I quickly realized that the place had a fantastic personality to it. The place was a party hostel. It was loud, it was super social, the staff were friendly, animated, and a bit ridiculous. The place was clean but in a beach house sort of way.
Before long I´d met the owner Nick, a guy who was in effect the hostel´s social chairman, Rob, Yu-Mi a Japanese girl traveling on her own, (spelled wrong no doubt), a flavorful Aussie guy – David, an east coaster who was also a professional cook – Aaron and a number of others. In a matter of hours we´d all bonded and after Yu-Mi showed up with the basics for Sushi, she and Aaron decided to expand it to a chip in opportunity. I shelled in my 4 Euro and before long we were enjoying freshly prepared Sushi. In addition to the Sushi I stepped next door for another go at what has thus far been my favorite tapas bar in Spain. This time I ended up with a full sized cuddlefish cooked in a delicious wine sauce and covered in spices and chopped onions. Stuffed, I returned to the hostel where we settled in for a night of wine, stories, bullshitting and cultural shenanigans.
More to come on Cadiz (which is where I spent Christmas) soon!