21 May-14 June, 2000
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ROUTE and COUNTRY INFO for Spain
Home of Bullfighting and Flamenco MusicMay 21-28
Not desiring to stay in the rather ugly port city of Algeciras overnight, we decided to make it a long travel day so we could get right to our first destination in Spain, Sevilla, the capital of the province of Andalucia. Andalucia is an important cultural region, and no tour of Spain would really be complete without a visit to its vibrant cities. The very Spanish arts of bullfighting and flamenco music hail from Andalucia. We visited the capital of Sevilla and the historic cities of Granada and Cordoba.
The bus ride from Algeciras to Sevilla was nice. The buses in Spain are for the most part modern and very comfortable. As our bus hugged the coast, once again we looked back across the Mediterranean and marveled over how close the coast of Africa was...seemingly within our reach, just across the azure waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. At the city of Cadiz, the bus turned inland and we traveled through green pastures filled with olive trees and brilliant yellow sunflowers. At last, we were in Europe. Ah, to be able to drink the tap water and eat green salads safely again!
By far our favorite city in Andalucia was Sevilla, the capital of the province and its largest city. We stayed in the Old Quarter of the city, known as the Barrio Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz area is a warren of narrow, twisting cobbled streets and alleys with brightly- painted buildings the windows of which are filled with blossoming flowerpots. It is an incredibly picturesque place, with lots of history and tons of great places to eat and drink. We found a room at the Hotel Murillo, named after the famous Spanish artist who lived in the neighborhood centuries ago. A little tired and very hungry after a long day of travel from Morocco (it was by then after 9:00pm), we went around the corner for our first real Spanish meal...a bunch of tapas. Tapas are small plates of snacks which are everywhere in Spain. They make good light bites in between meals, and they make a very tasty meal if you order enough of them. Which is exactly what we did. Spanish ham and sausage and manchego cheese. Fried calamari rings and marinated grilled red pepper strips. The variety is endless, and we very much enjoyed the change from our recent meals of round Moroccan bread, tagines and apricot jam!
Typical street scene in Sevilla, Plaza de San Francisco
There are parks all over the place in Sevilla, the largest of which is the Parque de Maria Luisa, a kind of Central Park-type place with many plazas and gardens. Most impressive of these is the Plaza Espaņa, a huge set of buildings built in a crescent around a large artificial canal in which you can hire paddle boats to cruise around. The canal also acts as a reflecting pond for the buildings around it. Itīs a big scene for both locals and tourists alike.
Man out smoking in Plaza Espaņa
Sevillaīs stunning Cathedral
In the center of Sevilla sits the third largest cathedral in the world, beaten out only by those in Rome and London. It is a marvelous structure built and modified many times over the centuries. Its tower, known as La Giralda, is over two hundred feet tall. Originally built by the Muslims that controlled Andalucia around 1000 AD, the tower was impressive enough that the Christians that came along and reconquered southern Spain in the 1400s spared it. Instead of tearing it down, they made La Giralda into the centerpiece for the most astounding cathedral in Spain. The Christians built the massive cathedral with mixed Gothic and Renaissance touches, and the results are spectacular. Inside its walls, you can visit Christopher Columbusī tomb (at least they think itīs his remains that were brought back from the West Indies after his death) and view some of the finest stained glass windows around.
Closeup of stained glass window
"Seville doesnīt have ambience. It is ambience."
- James A. Michener
The sport of bullfighting was born in Sevilla, and you see signs for upcoming fights plastered on walls throughout the city. Agree with the sport or not, itīs a very important part of Spanish heritage and many, many people crowd Spainīs bullfighting rings every weekend to watch the sport. We took a tour of Sevillaīs bullfighting ring, which is supposedly the finest in the country. (No, we didnīt want to stick around for any bullfights, thank you). While both of us think it is a cruel and outdated sport, we found the tour to be interesting. The stadium around the ring can fit several thousand people, and the mechanisms put in place to handle the bulls and the matadors and the crowds are quite intriguing.
Outside the Bull Ring
Another major point of interest in Sevilla is the Alcazar, which was originally built as a fortress in 913 AD. Over the centuries since, it has been altered and enlarged by its various royal inhabitants. Inside its walls is a huge palace built by Pedro I (Pedro the Cruel, as he is known) and acres of beautifully-planted gardens. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the palace and gardens, a nice break from the heat and groups of people outside the walls in the city.
The Alcazarīs Gardens
We stayed in Sevilla for four days, and loved every moment of it. We actually regretted leaving the city, wondering how anything else we could see in the country could ever match up to the magical qualities of the capital of Andalucia.
The next stop on our tour of Andalucia was the city of Granada. Originally occupied by the Romans but made famous by the additions made to the city by the Muslims in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The most famous of these additions is the Alhambra, a huge fortified structure built on a hill above the city. Originally designed as a fortress by the Muslims but later converted to a palace and eventually a church and convent by the Christians, the Alhambra is an unbelievable place. The palace and its surrounding grounds are some of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in all of Spain, and viewing the Alhambra from a distance with the snowclad Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop makes for a special sight.
Interior view of the Alhambra. Wow!
Adjacent to the Alhambra are the gardens of the Generalife, built as the Alhambraīs gardens. It is an oasis of green with neatly-shaped hedges, waterfalls, reflecting ponds and terraced gardens. We worked our way through the masses of Japanese and German tour groups which swarmed the place in order to try and get a few nice photos, but it was difficult. It seems a lot of tour groups come here on day trips from Sevilla, solely to see the Alhambra and the Generalife.
Reflecting Pond at the Alhambra
After two nights in Granada, we moved on to Cordoba, our third and final Andalucian city. We didnīt find Cordoba as interesting as either Sevilla or Granada, but it was still a nice place to stroll around for a day or so. Cordoba is best-known for its patios, which are often showcases of Spanish courtyard architecture, overflowing with green plants and bright flowerpots. We walked around the city and managed to get a few peaks into some of these famed patios, but unfortunately many of them are hidden behind heavy wooden doors which are closed much of the time.
Woman sweeping out a fountain, Cordoba
Luckily, the hostal we were staying at had a wonderful patio of its own (FYI in Spain, a hostal is a small privately-run hotel, not the same as a youth hostel). The Hostal Seneca was in an ideal location in the middle of the Juderia (Old Jewish Quarter), another one of those old city centers with many winding streets and alleyways. We only stayed one night in Cordoba before moving on to Madrid, the thriving capital of Spain.
Patio of our Hostal, Cordoba
Back to Morocco On to Spain Pg 2!
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