Two days in Seville

I could have stayed in Granada another week… or month… but we had train tickets to Seville on Sunday. It’s always a good day to travel on Sunday in Europe, because nothing is open. Some monuments and museums yes, but stores and some restaurants are closed. When we arrived in Seville, we set off to explore the neighborhood of La Macarena, where I had heard there was a market where we had to get the fried fish, and Keith had read about a good brew pub, Maquila Bar.

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We found the Feria market (half closed on Sunday, but lively nonetheless), and I successfully ordered my fried fish add beer for $5.50. The brewpub could have easily found itself in Brooklyn or Philly, and Keith was happy with his beers.

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And then I took my first real Spanish siesta. I could barely keep my eyes open on the way home, I was so sleepy. A full week of travel had finally done it, and I napped until dinner. For dinner we ventured into the La Triana neighborhood across the river, to a little tapas bar my student had recommended called Las Golondrinas.

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After a bite and a drink there, we headed back across the river to a newer marketplaces called Mercado Lonja del Barranco, similar to El Nacional in Barcelona and Chelsea Market or Smorgasburg in NYC. Keith and I each picked a few dishes to try alongside wine and sangria, and ate outside along the river.

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On Monday, I bemoaned the lack of a coffee-maker in our hotel room, and suffered through a cup of instant Nespresso. Blech. We stopped at a little cafe near the hotel for breakfast, and I had the traditional toasted bread with tomato pulp and olive oil. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but damn is it tasty. I am thinking about it again as I write this and wouldn’t mind having it as a snack.

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Then we headed back across the river to the Triana Market, where we had scheduled a cooking class. This ended up being one of the highlights of the trip so far. The class started with a tour of the market and background on typical Spanish food – Iberian ham, olives, spices, etc. We learned wht Iberian ham is so expensive, and how it is different from Serrano ham. Serrano ham is from white pigs, raised on grain food on farms. Iberian ham comes from black pigs, raised on acorns more or less in the wild. Sometimes, if the acrorns run out, the black pigs are fed on partial grain, and their meat becomes less expensive. After living for 2-3 years in the wild, they are butchered and cured for another 2-3 years – so a total of 5-6 years for one leg of Iberian ham. No wonder they are so expensive!

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Spanish olive oil is another specialty. I like it, but it has a slightly bitter taste to it that I am not used to. And finally spices – saffron and paprika. Paprika comes from a pepper (which I somehow did not know), that is smoked to give paprika that intense smoky flavor. Spanish paprika is some of the best in the world, and used in the traditional paella. But, as our guide showed us, many restaurants use cheap powdered orange food coloring to give paella that orange tint, in place of the more expensive saffron. She pointed it out in the market, and now I see it everywhere in the restaurants.

wp-1490128882136.jpgFor our cooking class, we made 3 dishes:
1. a type of gazpacho called salmorejo, that is heartier than regular gazpacho as it has lots of oil and bread in it, and is eaten in the winter (i.e. right now)
2. a spinach and chickpea “stew” (yay for more veggies!)
3. a chicken paella

But, you may be thinking, normally paella is with seafood, right? Not so. In fact paella is typically a country dish with chicken and rabbit, but when restaurants started serving it to tourists on the coast, they added in seafood because it was right there and they could charge more for it. And so the tourists brought the concept of paella back home as a seafood dish. I was thrilled to learn this, as I don’t do shellfish. In total, we spent 4 hours cooking, eating, and getting to know the German and Australian couples in our class, and Keith and I left with a paella pan to bring back home.

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In the afternoon we visited one of Seville’s most well-known spots, the Plaza de Espana, which was constructed for the Ibero-American world’s fair of 1929.

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As were walking back from the Plaza de Espana, I have to admit – we cracked and went to Starbucks. It was hot, and an iced coffee sounded really good. But it wasn’t. Couldn’t even finish it. Should have known better.

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In the evening, I bought us last-minute tickets to a flamenco show, and we took a stroll through Seville as the sun set. The light was just stunning, and we kept happening upon some beautiful Seville architecture.

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The flamenco show was basically only for tourists, but it was tasteful and well done. You have to watch out for crappy flamenco in Spain – so many shows are offered, and most of them are no good. I had asked Javier to recommend a place in Seville, and he knew this one would be good. Of course the ideal is to find a place where flamenco is happening live for the locals, but the odds of happening upon that is slim.

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For dinner, we stopped at this charming restaurant we had passed on the way to flamenco – it was just so warm and inviting, the tapas looked good, and it didn’t seem like it would cost an arm and a leg. It was delicious, and warm, and we drank a bottle of Spanish chardonnay because we were curious.

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Then we strolled back through a lively,darkened Seville, and slipped into Bodega Morales near our hotel for a nightcap of the dessert Sevillian Orange wine.

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Casa Morales is a wholly local place, despite being right around the corner from the cathedral, with no frills and a lively, somewhat gritty atmosphere. We determined to come back the following day for lunch.

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We had saved a LOT of things to do our final half day in Seville on Tuesday. In fact, originally I had intended for us to go to Cordoba that day on our way to Madrid, leaving early in the morning. But then I just felt rushed, and like we would probably want to spend more time in Seville, and I was right. We wandered around the Barrio Santa Cruz, or old Jewish quarter, before joining the looooong line to see Seville’s crowning jewel, the cathedral.

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It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. And, similar to the Alhambra in Granada, incorporates Muslim architecture into the building – the tower you see above (the Giralda) is a Muslim minaret from the former mosque, whose sister minaret is the famous Koutubia in Marrakech. The church is also supposedly the burial site of Christopher Columbus.

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We walked up the 30+ ramps to the top of the Giralda, where we got these incredible views of the city.

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Then it was back to Casa Morales for lunch – 4 drinks and 5 tapas for under 25 euros. That’s what I’m talking about! Then we headed, with a certain amount of trepidation, to Seville’s bull-fighting ring. You can see it in the top photo of the 3 above. I don’t agree with the – in my view – barbaric tradition of bull-fighting, but the ring itself looked beautiful in an architectural sense, and I was curious, so we went.

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It is a beautiful stadium, seating about 12,000 people, but I just can’t get behind the killing of animals for spectacle. When it began in the middle ages, at least there was a logical reason behind it – to help train soldiers for battle. But now, it just seems cruel and unnecessary. I am all for preserving cultural traditions, of course, but this goes too far for me. Of course, on the other side of the coin you have the cheapening of flamenco for tourists. It’c clear which is more questionable morally, but which is worse, culturally?

I don’t know, but either way I left with a bad taste in my mouth, so we went for churros con chocolate. They were surprisingly salty, but delicious when dipped in chocolate, and the perfect way to end our time in Seville. When I think of Seville, I think I will forever taste churros and smell orange blossoms.

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