Travel to Seville, Spain – Episode 451categories: europe travel
Hear about travel to Seville, Spain as the Amateur Traveler talks to Cat Gaa from sunshineandsiestas.com about life in her adopted city. Hear about what to see, do and eat in Seville.
After studying abroad in Spain, in the very same breath that she told her mother that she was happy to be home, Cat also informed her mother that she was moving to Spain. She moved back to Spain as a teacher. “I wanted to become fluent. I loved Spanish culture. It’s something that intrigues me. It’s something that surprises me every day. I’ve lived in Seville for seven years and I’m still surprised by what I am learning about the country, the language, the food, the wine.”
“The reason that I chose Andalucia is because it’s enormous, it’s down south, You’ve got mountains. You’ve got beaches. You’ve got rivers. You’ve got plains. It’s the typical Spain you see when you think about Spain with the bullfighting, the flamenco, the wine, the sangria, the sunshine. Seville itself is the capital of Andalucia which is the most populous autonomous region in all Spain. We are an hour from the coast and an hour from the Portuguese border.”
“What’s really great about Seville is that its flat and the majority of the old city center, which is one of the largest in Europe, is very pedestrian-friendly. So it’s a nice place to just walk around, to take in the architecture, to sit and have a drink in the plaza, take in the chatter, lots of shops and small churches to duck into, and it’s a really beautiful city on its own. Not to mention the historic significance it had in the discovery of the New World and in Roman times. You can walk around the barrio de Santa Cruz and see Roman ruins. There is a big Islamic influence. It’s a city that has been able to retain a lot of its character throughout all these changes while still being a city that’s become much more modern.”
Cat describes the panorama of Holy Week or dressing up for the Seville Fair. She gives us hints on what to see in some of the old neighborhoods as well as great day trips to take from Seville.
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DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
Sunshine & Siestas
Tourism in Seville
Vía de La Plata Route
Doñana National Park
Santa Cruz, Seville
Holy Week in Seville
Alcázar of Seville
Plaza de España
Isla de La Cartuja
Postereo de Sevilla (site not in English)
The Expat Dilemma
Things to do in Cultural Seville
Passenger tossed after flipping out over staff‘s ‘Merry Christmas’
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 451. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about cathedrals and mosques, Roman ruins and Flamenco as we go to Sevilla in Spain.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 20 of them here on my bookshelf. Learn more at DK.com.
Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll be hearing more from our sponsor, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, later on in the show, but first let’s hear more about Seville or Sevilla. I’d like to welcome to the show, Cat Gaa, coming to us from SunshineandSiestas.com and coming to talk to us about Seville, Spain, or Sevilla, Spain, depending on which you prefer. Cat, welcome to the show.
Cat: Thank you. Ola!
Chris: First, let’s answer that question. If I’m a tourist and I’m going there, how should I pronounce it?
Cat: It really depends on who you ask, Chris. The thing with Sevillanos is that they’re just beginning to speak English for touristic purposes for the simple fact that there are no jobs in Seville and it’s really important to speak in English. So you can say Seville, you can say Sevilla quite interchangeably, and there’s absolutely no problem in being understood.
Chris: Okay. You currently live in Seville, in Sevilla. What led you there?
Cat: When I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa, I studied journalism with the specification in Spanish. It was always my dream to go to a Spanish-speaking country and become fluent. But with everything that I was doing at my university, between activities, studying, and working, the only way I was able to go was through a summer program. I studied up in Northern Spain, as a matter of fact, in a city called Valladolid. Once I came back from Spain, in the very same breath that my mom welcomed me and I said I was happy to be home, and I was tired, and I wanted a Chicago-style hot dog was, “I’m moving back to Spain.”
Once my studies picked up again, I began looking for a way to get back to Spain and found a teaching program. I did not study to be a teacher. I come from a family of teachers and said that I would never become a teacher and now I’m a teacher. It’s one of those things that led me back to Spain simply because I wanted to become fluent. I really love the Spanish culture. It’s something that intrigues me. It’s something that surprises me every day. I’ve lived in Seville for seven years, and I’m still surprised with what I’m learning about the country and the language, the food, the wine.
The reason that I’m in Seville is actually not because of my own choosing. When I studied abroad, I went down to Andalusia just for the weekend. I was there for about four or five days and was between Seville, Cadiz, and Granada and really fell in love with Granada and the topless culture and the Alhambra and the history. If you’ve never been to Granada, it’s a gorgeous city. It’s a place that’s really enchanting.
Chris: It is.
Cat: I applied to the teaching program with the hopes of being placed in Granada and I was placed just outside of Seville. When push came to shove, I was more interested in Spain, getting to Spain, and having a legal way to work in Spain. I ended up really enjoying Sevilla. I have a nice group of friends. I love the city itself and just bought a house there. So I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be there, either until my mortgage runs out or until I’m ready to move away, whatever.
Chris: Skip that you also now have a fiancé from there, so…
Cat: I do, a very Sevillano fiancé.
Chris: Excellent. First of all, let’s put it on a map. Where are we in Spain?
Cat: Way down south. As someone who is from the northern part of the United States, I wanted to get away from the cold Chicago winters that I was used to. When it came to decide where I wanted to teach and what region, the reason I chose Andalusia is because it’s enormous, it’s down south. You’ve got mountains, you’ve got beaches, you’ve got rivers, you’ve got plains. For me, it was the typical Spain that you see when you think about Spain with the bullfighting, the Flamenco, the wine, the sangria, the sunshine.
Seville itself is the capital of Andalusia, which is actually the most populous autonomous region in all of Spain. In Seville alone, in the capital, there are 700,000. When you look at it on a map, you’re talking about the southwestern corner. So we’re only about an hour from the coast and an hour from the Portuguese border. A little bit further inland, so we’re not quite on the coast but we have a river. When you come from a place like the Midwest, you don’t really need the coastline. We’ve kind of got it all within an hour’s drive. There are mountains up north, mountains to the west, mountains to the east, mountains to the south. And to the south and the west, we’ve got quite a lovely amount of beaches.
Chris: Excellent. What kind of itinerary would you recommend for somebody who is going to come and spend one week in and around Seville?
Cat: What’s really great about Seville, Chris, is that being the hub of Andalusia, you’ve got a lot of options to be able to travel around. Whether it’s with a personal car, the public transportation system is pretty great, considering you’re kind of not so much in the boondocks, but you’re a little bit further away from central Andalusia.
Chris: Well, you’re also a high-speed train ride from Madrid, so not difficult to get to from other parts of Spain as well.
Cat: Not at all. Seville also has an airport and it’s got two bus stations. You’ve really got a good network to be able to explore the region. When I have friends come to visit, it’s always fun for me to go back to the places that I like to see. Cordoba is only a 45-minute, high-speed train ride away. And there you’ve got the mosque, you’ve got Guadalquivir River which also passes through.
Chris: High-speed train as well.
Cat: Exactly. You’ve got La Mezquita, which is an old Arabic mosque that was kind of transplanted into a Catholic church as well. It’s run by the archdiocese there, so it’s kind of a strange juxtaposition between the two cultures, which is kind of a way to look at Spain as the melting pot that it is. Cordoba is also very famous for its festivals. It’s got a flower festival. It has a really fun fair and it’s famous for its gastronomy as well between the salmorejo, which is a cold-based tomato soup that’s thick. It’s made with bread. It’s a little bit sweet. They’re also famous for a rolled pork loin that’s fried called a flamenquin.
Chris: So that’s a different soup than a gazpacho, which is also Andalusian.
Cat: Exactly. The big difference there is that in gazpacho you’ve got a few more ingredients between the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the green peppers, whereas salmorejo has bread. You take out all the other vegetables and you add the garlic back in and the olive oil, and it’s thicker. It’s not as refreshing as a gazpacho, but I would say it’s tastier.
Apart from Cordoba, Seville is also along what’s called the Via de la Plata. Before all the Visigoths and the Moors and all of those different groups that have occupied southern Spain had moved in, Spain itself was called Lusitania and it was run by the Romans. The emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, were actually born near Seville in a town called Italica. And lots of commerce passed through that area because it’s quite fertile for cattle, for grains, for wine, for olives. So you’ve got quite a few Roman ruins scattered around the area between Italica, which is one of the best preserved Roman towns in southern Spain.
It’s only about a 20-minute bus ride through the public bus system from Seville. You’ve got Carmona, which is about a 40-minute ride on the bus. It’s a beautiful town with lots of churches, lots of festivals, a good music tradition. That was Carmo back in the Roman times. And just two hours away from Seville is Mérida, which was once the seat of Lusitania. That’s a city that’s famous for its Roman ruins, its Roman museum, lots of relics, lots of temples just kind of scattered between the apartment buildings, which is something that still fascinates me about Spain, after all these years that I’ve been there.
Apart from that, there are beaches nearby. You can get to the Doñana National Park, which is the largest national park in Europe, famous for its waterfowl, its marshes, its lynxes. Down that way you’ve got a lot of really nice sandy beaches around the Cadiz area. Of course, Granada is a big draw to southern Spain with the Alhambra, which was a Moorish palace. That was the long stronghold before the Moors were moved out of Spain in 1492 with the expulsion. It’s a really lovely mountain town, and it’s kind of more or less in the geographical center.
From Granada, you can also get to a lot of other nice, white villages, the Pueblos Blancos. You can get to the coast. You can get to Malaga. Seville is really a great jumping off point to go to other places in Andalusia as well as Portugal. We’re only about an hour and 15 minutes from the border of Portugal. We’ve got different bus lines that run that way. So you’re close to the Algarve. You’re close to where the cork is produced.
Chris: And before we get as far as Portugal, let’s rein this in just a little bit because the one place we haven’t talked about yet is actually Seville itself. So what would you recommend somebody do in the city?
Cat: What’s really great about Seville, Chris, is that it’s a city that’s flat and the majority of the old city center, which was one of the largest in Europe, is actually pedestrian friendly. So it’s a really nice place to just walk around, to take in the architecture, to sit and have a drink in a plaza, listen to the chatter, lots of small shops and small churches to duck into. It’s a really beautiful city on its own, not to mention the historical significance that it just had in the discovery of the New World, in the Roman times.
You can just walk around the Barrio de Santa Cruz, which is the old Jewish quarter, and see Roman ruins just kind of sticking out at you. There’s a big Islamic influence, the Renaissance. It’s a city that’s been able to retain a lot of its character throughout all of these changes, while still being a city that’s become more modern, even since my first visit to Spain almost 10 years ago.
Chris: Let’s get a little more specific. So we’re going to walk around. Where are we going to start?
Cat: The biggest attraction in Seville, I’d say, is the cathedral. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the entire world and the third largest Catholic place of worship in the entire world. It was built on top of a mosque.
Chris: St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s, as I recall.
Cat: I believe so. And then you’ve got the Seville Cathedral which is enormous. It’s sprawling. It’s reputed that Christopher Columbus was actually born there, so you have a lot of people kind of wandering in and out of…
Chris: And may or may not be buried in the Seville Cathedral.
Cat: We don’t know. It’s kind of one of the urban legends. They also say that San Fernando, St. Ferdinand, the person who defeated the Moors in Seville, to win back the city in the late 13th century. They actually exhume his body every single year so that people can come and see it on his Saint Day, which I believe is May 30th. It’s a local holiday and everybody just lines up in the cathedral to see those remains, if there are remains. I’m into the macabre stuff, but haven’t really taken the time to go and see him on my day off.
Chris: And we say Columbus may or may not be buried there. There is a body that they brought back from the New World that we were told was Christopher Columbus’s, but if you’re in the New World they’ll tell you no, they got the wrong one.
Cat: It’s believed he could be in Seville, and people say it’s just a body part. In a town as traditional as Seville and as into the Catholic tradition as Seville, you see in all kinds of churches lots of little relics from different Saints, different Deities, and all kinds of people. It’s kind of one of those things I love about Seville. As the city modernizes, it’s got a really strong foothold in the past as well. The cathedral is kind of the center of that Catholic tradition that we see in Seville.
Holy Week, as you’ve probably heard, is a big tourist draw. It’s the largest Holy Week celebration in Spain. You literally cannot walk down the street because there are people parading giant relics around. They’ve got busts. They’ve got depictions of the last days of Christ. They’ve got the Virgin Mary weeping. It’s really an interesting thing to see. I’m not into it. I have 10 days off of school and I get to travel. It’s the kind of thing where you’ll see people go about their business and then all of a sudden all of the focus is on these parades.
Everyone knows the routes, everyone knows the traditions, and the focal point of that is the cathedral itself because all of the brotherhoods pass by there on their official route. They come in, they get blessed, and then they go back to their churches. It’s a celebration that takes over the entire city, but one that really merits a visit. I would, of course, say that you should book your lodging in advance because it can get quite costly.
Chris: I could imagine that. We’ll take a minute here to hear from our sponsor, which is DK Eyewitness Travel Guides.
I mentioned I have 20 different guidebooks from the DK series and one of the ones that I have is Spain. Spain is one of the larger ones that I have, Spain and France probably being the largest two. I was having great fun going back through this guide, because this is the guide we used when we visited Sevilla. So in the street-by-street map, for instance, of El Arenal, the area with the bull ring, and the area on the river, I found my bookmark was entrance tickets to one of the places that we’d been to.
I appreciated that the guidebook not only had cutaway views of both the Alcazar as well as the cathedral, as well as pictures of what the next thing we’re going to talk about, the clock tower of the cathedral. It looked like in four different phases of its construction as well as having a great pictorial guide of regional food of southern Spain, a very pictorial guide. That’s one of the things I really love about the DK Eyewitness Guidebooks and the one I hold in my hand has been well loved and well used. Check out the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides at DK.com.
The other thing that was notable for me with the cathedral was the clock tower, or the…
Cat: The La Giralda.
Chris: …the La Giralda, in terms of being both large, but also with the spiral ramp that runs up, being not the narrow stairs like you get in a lot of the old clock towers. When it was the mosque, as I recall, was it five times a day the person who was going to lead the call to prayer would ride his horse up the tower, to lead the call to prayer.
Cat: The La Giralda is kind of the unofficial city symbol still. It was, at one time, the largest building in Seville, and according to city ordinance nothing could be built higher than the La Giralda. What happened when the cathedral was built and the people who built it said, “People are going to take us for crazy people because we’re building this enormous place of worship over an old mosque. But what they did was they preserved the clock tower that has become an integral part of the city, and it’s something that you can look practically anywhere in Seville and you can see the La Giralda itself.
The legend says that the reason that there are ramps rather than stairs is, as you mentioned, Chris, in most clock towers, is because of the muezzin. The man who called the masses to prayer was actually lame so he wasn’t able to climb stairs and that’s why they made ramps. There are 32 ramps that go up to the top. It’s really worth climbing it. It comes as part of the cathedral entrance fee, and I’d recommend taking in the La Giralda from the foot in the Patio de los Naranjos, and from there, taking the climb so you can see the entire city.
Chris: I’m going to make you translate where we’re taking it in from.
Cat: The Patio de los Naranjos is the central patio that was conserved from the time of the mosque. It’s full of orange trees, so it’s so named The Orange Tree Patio.
Chris: Right. Very beautiful place too. Excellent. So we start at the cathedral, and then where to?
Cat: Part of the historical complex, which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also the Archivo de Indias, which is the archives from the New World. Because Seville is on the Guadalquivir River and that’s actually where seafarers set sail from for the New World, there is a building dedicated solely to the records from the New World, from maps to coins to relics. You can get private tours. They’re usually about mid-day, between 10 and noon, just by walking in, and it’s a really interesting place. I, myself, have not been there, but by all accounts it’s supposed to be really cool and really an interesting way to see how the city of Seville played such an integral role in the discovery of the New World. And just behind that building, Avenida de la Constitución or Constitution Avenue is the Alcazar.
Alcazar is a word for fortress, but the Alcazar itself is actually a palace. It’s still in use when the King of Spain and his family come into Seville. They stay in the top floor of the residence. The Alcazar, at its very humble beginnings, was used as a hunting palace, and over time became a royal residence that was built on to. You can kind of see the progression of Seville as a city between all the different groups who ruled. You’ve got the Moorish influence, a very strong Islamic presence, with words written in Arabic, with the Mudejar Arches. There’s also a neoclassical element in the gardens and the baños, or the Arabic baths that are underneath the main structure. Apart from being a beautiful place to kind of take in, Seville, the smell of the orange trees, the history of the city itself, the Alcazar does run quite a few concert series and movies in the park. It’s really a cultural epicenter for Seville itself.
Chris: For those who are not familiar with the pronunciation, the word we are pronouncing here doesn’t look like it’s being pronounced. It looks like Alcazar. The other thing I think that’s useful for us to know, is you described the arches as being the Mudejar style. That’s basically after the reconquest that is architecture that is done that is still in the style of the Muslim architecture. But one of the ways you can tell the difference is, for instance, if you see any letters or you see any depictions of people or animals or things like that, you know that it is post reconquest. If it’s only the script verses from the Koran or geometric shapes, it might in fact be from before. As I recall in the… I can’t say Alcazar as well as you can, but as I recall in that particular one for instance, you’d see something that what looks like what would be a Muslim thing, but then you’d see Isabella and Ferdinand’s initials or something in it or something like that so you could tell it was from some time later on.
Cat: What’s really interesting about this particular structure is that it’s been used in so many films. Most recently it was on the fifth season of Game of Thrones. There’s a lot of buzz. I came in September or October of 2014. I’ve personally never seen the show. There’s a lot of actors moving in and out. I think it will be interesting to see how this particular building is portrayed in a fictional setting because it really is a good testament to the history of Seville and the different sorts of people who have come through the renaissance in the borough. It’s definitely worth a visit. It’s a bit costly. It’s about eight bucks, but definitely worth going into the Alcazar, because you can spend as much time as you like in there, as well.
Chris: Excellent. After we do that, where are we off to?
Cat: From Alcazar you’re close to what’s called the Jewish quarter, or the Barrio Santa Cruz. This is what I like to describe as a Spanish Disney World. I mean that in the best sense of the word simply because it’s so close to all the main attractions that you’ve got touristic bars where you see the menus translated into many different languages and often poorly. There are a lot of touristic shops, lots of souvenirs, people trying to peddle you fans, you see Gypsies trying to give you a sprig of rosemary, but it’s a good example of what they call the Tres Culturas or the three cultures that existed in Seville between the Christians, the Jews, and the Moors, back in the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s a neighborhood that has the cobblestone streets, the narrow alleyways, the beautiful plazas that just open up out of nowhere with the fountains, the smell of the orange trees. Its’ very romantic, if not a bit touristic, but it merits a walk-around and that way you’re still within the complex of the historical center.
Chris: Isn’t that the area where I would tend to find more Flamenco music too, if I’m there later in the evening?
Cat: It really depends. Andalusia itself is the cradle of Flamenco music. It’s believed to have originated between Cadiz, between Jerez, between the town of Utrera, which is halfway between Seville and the coast. There are quite a few, what are called tablaos, which are bars that have Flamenco music. They’re often staged, but you can find a lot of good shows within the Barrio Santa Cruz. I recommend Los Gallos. It’s a well-established tablao that’s got pretty good dancers. It’s a decent price. You’ll often get a drink included with the cost of your entrance ticket. And then you’re not seeing the free shows, which are fine, but often have the leftover dancers who are kind of past their prime.
One that sticks out in my mind is La Carboneria. What’s great about this place in particular is that they have shows every night, but it’s often not good Flamenco. Another place to consider seeing Flamenco is in the neighborhood of Triana, which is actually where I live. It’s the old gypsy and seafarers neighborhood. It has not so many touristic places, but it’s a neighborhood that you can walk around and you can feel like a local. There’s a lot of great bars and little hole-in-the-wall places too, and some more gastro bars that are starting to become more synonymous with the topless scene in Seville. You’ve also got all the ceramic factories over in that way and some really cool markets as well. I tend to walk people through Triana more than I do through Santa Cruz.
Chris: You mentioned topless and we were going to get there eventually, but we might as well define it near where you first used the term. So we do have that issue and I ran into this when I was in Spain. I’ve mentioned this on other shows before. We didn’t change to the Spanish schedule, which is a mistake because that meant we were out looking for someplace to eat, a real sit-down-dinner at maybe 6:00 or 7:00, or something like that when you can only find a tourist restaurant, which is almost guaranteed a bad meal. So tell me more about what I should have done.
Cat: I think it’s safe to say that food is one of the things that’s synonymous all throughout Spain. It’s a country that’s got a lot of different languages and dialects. It’s got a very varied history, but one thing that Spaniards are passionate about is food and drink. Because they love food and drink so much, they tend to eat several times a day. Maybe that’s why they’re all so skinny. Maybe it’s because I smoke, maybe it’s because I walk everywhere, but when I make my social plans, it often revolves around food or drink.
Typically Spaniards will eat a light breakfast at home before they go to work and then most offices give employees a 30 minute break to have a coffee and a toast. Usually on the toast, you can have the extra virgin olive oil, which is all manufactured down in southern Spain for the most part because of the abundance of olive trees. You might throw a bit of Iberian ham on there, you might have tomato. My personal breakfast of choice has cheese and tomato along with the olive oil. That typically occurs between 10 and 11, even push it into noon. The biggest meal of the day is lunch where you’ve got the big hearty soups, typically two or three courses, and a dessert and coffee afterward. That’s called la comida. And you eat that between two and four. There’s no such thing as a light lunch. There’s no such thing as grabbing a sandwich and getting back to work.
Chris: Although that’s changing somewhat, isn’t it?
Cat: That depends. I think it’s retained its importance in southern Spain where it’s more of the industrial areas like Madrid or Bilbao. People are tending to take shorter lunches because for…
Chris: If you have something salty to eat or something to make you a little more thirsty for a second beer. And then that has evolved into some olives or some variety…
Cat: Potato chips. Exactly. And unfortunately Seville isn’t like Granada or Mérida, in the sense that it’s common to get a little snack with your drink. There are places that might put out some nuts or some potato chips, or olives even, but a lot of times you’ll have to ask for them. And nothing really comes for free. There is a really great place in Triana that’s called Cerveceria La Grande. It has a red and white awning and it’s on the pedestrian street just off of the bridge that goes to Triana. They serve you three shrimp with each beer that you order. A lot of times we’ll head there just for a little snack after work before we go home and either have lunch or have dinner.
Chris: And this is, by my count, about the fifth time we have eaten during the day by this point, and we’re still at 8:00.
Cat: I would say closer to 10. I actually, since I work in the evenings, tend to eat dinner after 11. It’s maybe some soup or a piece of fruit and yogurt. It’s nothing heavy because then I go to bed right away. So the big meal of the day, the long meal, the meal where you meet with your friends and you have what’s called the sobremesa or the topics that you talk about with a full stomach, maybe a glass of wine, that’s in the middle of the day, between two and four.
Chris: Excellent. You had mentioned that you leave town in the summer. What is the best time of year to come to Seville, to Sevilla?
Cat: Seville is a city with a lot of extremes, so I would not come in June, July, or August if you can avoid it. Even the first half of September tends to be pretty hot. I usually recommend to people that they come between mid-March and mid-April. That’s a mild time of the year where all the blossoms are beginning to bloom, the city smells amazing, and you’ve got a lot of people in the street.
Someone once told me that civilians are the sorts of people who consider their living room to be a street or a bar or a court yard in a plaza, so there’s always a lot of people out. You’ll see people hunched under heat lamps in the dead of winter, just because they like eating outside or having their beer outside. The country of Spain itself is smoke free so you can’t smoke in public buildings. You see people miserable because they’re so cold. The only thing to do is, “Well, if I want to have my cigarette or I want to sit here and have the sun on my face while I’m drinking a beer, I’ll just have to deal with the cold.” Because what’s more important is being with my friends, having a beer, and the sunshine. In the spring we also have our two big festivals.
Chris: That was my next question.
Cat: Holy week is from palm Sunday to resurrection Sunday, so you’ve got all the big churches in Seville and even all the cities and towns that surround Seville, they’ve got their own celebrations, but Seville is the big drawl. It’s very traditional. They have counts of these brotherhoods that are called hermandades dating back to the 11th or 12th century. They’ve got their relics, they parade them around, and everyone dresses in their Sunday’s finest to see these brotherhoods parade these enormous statues around. You have to practice. You’ll see people out in the streets, out in the winter, carrying these big cinder blocks on top of these floats, to get used to carrying that heavy weight. You’ll see bands practicing for it.
As an American, it’s kind of a jarring sight to see. The penitents, who are dressed like the Ku-Klux-Klan, but it’s actually a way to not identify people who are doing their penitence because they wear these cloaks and these big pointed hats, and you can’t see their faces. It’s something that you should see, especially if you live in Spain, but I tend to like the April fair better. Things that I like to do are drink, and dance, and…
Chris: When you say the penitents, you didn’t mention what they were doing. You said they were wearing their hoods but how are they showing that they are penitent?
Cat: Each brotherhood has its set of traditions that go back centuries, Chris. So you might see people who carry heavy, wooden crosses. You might see people who are barefoot. There are also brotherhoods that practice silence. They don’t talk, there’s no band, and they expect the people in the crowds to be silent as well. So in 60 different brotherhoods within the city of Seville, there’s a lot of really cool, what we call, culto or secret traditions that set each brotherhood apart, apart from the different Virgin Mary’s that they carry, apart from the different songs that they play, apart from the way that they march or the way that their tunics look.
So if you’re really into it, you’re really into it. And if you’re not, like me, you tend to prefer the festival that starts two weeks after Holy Week, which is the Feria de Abril or the April Fair. This particular celebration started off as a livestock market and when the men were doing their trading, someone had the brilliant idea that, “These guys were going to get hungry, they’re going to get thirsty, so I’m going to set up a little tent where they can sit down, they can have a refreshment, they can have a plate of food to eat,” and it’s grown into just an enormous street party. You see the women dressed in their flamenco dresses. They dance flamenco in the streets. Men dress in their riding costumes. There are horse carriage parades. And it’s pretty much a week of hedonism right after the somber festival that is Holy Week.
The April Fair in Seville is known for being a little bit snooty, so a lot of people come with the misconception that they can just waltz in and out of these tents that they have. There’s about a thousand tents in the district that holds a fair. All of those are private, not all of them. I would say 90% of the tents are private, so you’ve got to know someone who’s inside or you have to sweet talk the bouncer. But once you get inside, it’s pretty much a celebration of things that are Andalusian from the wine to the horses to the music to the regional costume.
I’m not really into the Holy Week. I really love the fair and it’s something that I look forward to every year. I myself own two flamenco dresses. So it’s a lot of fun.
Chris: Excellent. All of that, we got interrupted there as we were walking through the Barrio Santa Cruz. Anything else that we want to do to finish our walk through Sevilla?
Cat: Seville has gone through a transformation the last 10 years. It’s always been known for being a traditional city, a beautiful city, but not a modern city. So the previous mayors started plans to modernize the city by adding a tram, by adding a metro and an underground network.
One of the biggest points of contention of the previous mayor’s tenure as mayor was that he built this enormous wooden structure. It’s one of the largest wooden structures in the world called the Metropol Parasol, but us Sevillanos call it Las Setas or The Mushrooms, because it essentially looks like a big waffle cone and you can take the elevator up. You can see some pretty commanding views. I actually tend to tell people to see Las Setas before they go to the La Giralda so that they can see the view of Sevilla with this building that’s become the city symbol.
Las Setas was built, I say, in 2009. The builders got a lot of flak for changing the face of Seville so to speak, because you have a city that’s known for being traditional and being very Spanish, and all of a sudden you’ve got this big eyesore in the center of the downtown area.
I think people are starting to come around to Las Setas especially since Roman mosaics were discovered right underneath. So according to city ordinance, those ruins had to be preserved. So there’s actually a nice museum underneath Las Setas, and they’ve used that space as a cultural center. So you can go and watch a big football match there. You can shop in the market that’s there. There’s a few nice bars and cocktail bars there. And apart from that, the views from the top are really great and you get a drink included. So you could go up there, and have a coffee, and enjoy a view of the city across the river to Triana. You see the Giralda. You can see the Plaza de España, which is also a must when you go to Spain.
Chris: I actually missed the Plaza de España when we were there.
Cat: You’re kidding.
Chris: No, we were through Spain in a hurry.
Cat: That’s too bad.
Chris: That’s leftover from a fair down a world’s fair though.
Cat: The 1929 Ibero-American Fair was held in Seville. So the country of Spain was still under a monarch at that time. So this monarch from Sotres commanded that a big park be erected to hold all of the crowds and each of the buildings that surrounds the Plaza de España itself were meant to house exhibitions from cities and countries in South and Central America.
The plaza itself was built as the Spain pavilion. You’ve got a half-moon plaza with two towers on each side and there are beautiful ceramic benches all around that half-circle that tell the story of the different provinces in Spain. So each province of Spain, 40 something of them have their most important moment immortalized in the ceramic that was manufactured in Seville, hand-painted in Seville, and it’s a really nice place to sit and reflect. It unfortunately also houses the foreigner’s office. It’s like a thorn in side to have to go there, because I have to deal with paperwork issues with my Visa, but at the same time, you’ve got a really beautiful plaza that’s been featured in several movies like the dictator and Star Wars Episode I.
It crowns what’s known as the Maria Luisa Park, which is the city’s green lung – an enormous park with lots of beautiful fountains. It’s got a few museums in there as well. So it’s a nice way to get out of the city and see a part of the city’s recent history.
Seville also held the 1992 Ibero-American Fair in the area that’s known as La Cartuja. That unfortunately has fallen into ruins. So there’s not really much to see on that northern end of the city except for pavilions and cracked sidewalks and a very poor use of public space.
Chris: As we start to think about wrapping this up…
Cat: I also feel very Sevillana living in Seville. I don’t know that there was ever a moment where I thought this is the place for me. This is why I live here. I love being here, because when you’ve got family back home and your traditions, you can never fully be from one place. For me, I think when I got a full time job after the teaching program, I had a study group of friends, I had a flamenco dress and I knew how to dance Sevillanas.
Chris: That seems like a fairly significant…
Cat: It took me a few years to really feel settled, but I don’t think that I’d be happier living anywhere else in Spain.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Seville”?
Cat: I have moments like that it seems like every other minute. I got hit by a car once. I’m from Chicago. I’m used to driving in all kinds of elements. When I got hit by a car in Seville, I just threw up my hands and said, “I must really be from here,” because people drive erratically, people don’t watch where they’re going, people don’t pay attention to stop signs, and I was in a crosswalk. I kind of bawled over an old lady and said, “Well, that’s the end of it.”
Either that or when I saw the recently deceased Duquesa de Alba. Cayetana de Alba is one of Spain’s most flamboyant characters in recent history. I saw her riding in her horse carriage at the April Fair and I thought, “Okay, this is the moment that I feel like I live here,” like that’s the one thing that I had to do in my Seville bucket list.
What’s really funny is there’s a website that’s taken a lot of hold in the last few years called Postureo de Sevilla. Postureo is things that are very typical. What’s really funny about Seville is that people tend to be a little bit fake. They’re pretentious. They think very highly of themselves, but when it really boils down to it, what they like is a cheap beer. What they like is a serranito sandwich, which is just a pork loin on the grill with some mayonnaise on it. One thing that’s kept me in Seville for so long, Chris, is that I feel like I can be myself and go a little bit further than that. I’ve taken on a lot of mannerisms that are typical of Seville from the handshakes to the expressions, even just being out here in the States.
Chris: You say the handshakes.
Cat: Yeah, they do these handshakes saying, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” but that’s supposed to mean like, “That person is way out of line,” or they’ve got lots of hand gestures to signify things from ordering the check to saying, “Let’s go,” to saying, “I have no money.” I tend to come back from Spain and be in the States and have a weird way of communicating with people who’ve known me my entire life because I use these expressions or I might say a word that doesn’t exist in English, but I’ve taken that word from Spanish and added… If I want to make a noun, I might add shun to the end of it.
I don’t feel like I could fit in in the States as easily anymore, but I know that I’ll never fit in in Seville as a Sevillana. They tend to be close-knit with their friends growing up. My fiancé’s best friend has been his best friend for 30 years. So it’s tough to get into those social circles, but once you’re in, you’re in for life. I feel very fortunate to have a good, solid group of friends both expat friends and Spanish friends.
Chris: Before we get to my last two questions, anything else we should dump before we go to Seville?
Cat: Seville is also known for its bull fighting culture. If you’re intrigued with that sort of artistry, animal cruelty issue aside, the bull ring does run tours. It’s a beautiful building built about 150 years ago and they do run tours in English on the hour, usually in the summer around half an hour as well, and it’s an interesting insight into how modern bull fighting started and how the tradition was kept alive in Seville.
Chris: Excellent. Last two questions. Finish this sentence, “You really know you’re in Seville when…” what?
Cat: You step in dog poop. People do not clean up after their dogs, but they consider it to be lucky.
Chris: They consider it to be lucky.
Cat: Yeah, you should just watch your step.
Chris: I think that’s a different answer to that question of all the ones I got. If you had to summarize Seville in three words, hopefully not including the words “dog poop”, what three words would you use?
Cat: Traditional, gorgeous and sweltering.
Cat: It’s really hot.
Chris: Where can people read about your travels?
Cat: I have a personal blog that’s a curated love letter to southern Spain and to Spanish culture called Sunshine and Siestas. SunshineandSiestas.com covers everything from Spanish language to teaching in Spain to Spanish food, which I write about biweekly, as well as different day trips, cultural notes. It’s kind of a big, old mess of why I love Spain so much and I write as if I were talking to someone.
Chris: Your favorite post that you did recently.
Cat: I wrote a post that I love going back and reading ever so often called the Expat Dilemma. It’s the issue of living in two places, having your heart in two different cities. I’m kind of coming to terms with being from a place and living in a different place. That’s the expat dilemma that, “Am I doing this right? Is there where I want to be? Is there anywhere else for me?” I think when it comes down to it, Seville is the place that I need to be and that I want to be right now, and it’s the place that I have to be because I have a mortgage, but apart from that, it’s a city that I feel very fortunate to have landed in. I explore those feelings within that post.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been Cat Gaa. Thanks so much for coming in the Amateur Travel and sharing with us your obvious love for Seville.
Cat: Gracias a ti.
Chris: I do have one new story for you and it’s kind of a belated Christmas story, some cross between people behaving badly on a plane and scrooge because a man got kicked off a plane because people wished him Merry Christmas. Now I understand that not everybody celebrates Christmas, but apparently this man started shouting at the first person who wished him Merry Christmas and then went on the plane and was greeted by a second flight attendant who also wished him a Merry Christmas. He started lecturing the flight attendants. They tried to calm him down. He refused to back down and continued hectoring. He was finally escorted off the plane to the cheers and applause of the other passengers.
You can debate what the appropriate greeting is at the holidays, but it sounded like a man who needed a little more eggnog.
In the community, we had a Trippy question of last week, which was, “What’s your favorite comfort food you have had on the road?” I’ll have to say I was a little surprised by the number one answer, which was Prague. Tiffany from Washington, DC said, “Prague does heavy meats and potatoes incredibly well. I eat duck almost every night served with vegetables and potatoes. It was heavy, flavorful and warmed me up. I think my problem must have been I didn’t have the duck.” We had votes for Thailand even for the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, although I’d have to say that Joanna of Oakland who voted for a New Mexican restaurant called Maria’s in Santa Fe that had a green, chili stew. That’s the one that I want to try, although I’m with Ben from the United Kingdom that a kebab is always great wherever you have it. You can check out those answers again at AmateurTraveler.com/trippy6.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. Remember to check out our sponsored DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Once again, the transcript of this episode will be available in a few weeks and that is sponsored by JayWay Travel, leaders in Eastern European travel. You can follow me on Twitter @chris2x, and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.
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5 Responses to “Travel to Seville, Spain – Episode 451”
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Tags: audio travel podcast, podcast, seville, spain
January 11th, 2015 at 4:11 am
I’ve been featured on @amateurtraveler podcast: Travel to Seville, #Spain: Episode 451 http://t.co/8NvXiSTTNk via @chris2x #sevillahoy
March 28th, 2015 at 3:19 pm
Yes, Seville one of the more beautiful cities of the world!!,
March 30th, 2016 at 1:48 pm
I haven’t been to many places outside of Madrid, just Toledo, and faraway Portugal. And so, I am looking forward to visiting the beautiful Seville, Spain.
January 26th, 2023 at 8:09 pm
I really enjoyed the information on Seville which I did visit once before in 2011 and I really enjoyed the city. I live In Dublin in Ireland and I am learning Spanish at present and I intend to go back to Seville in Spring of 2023 and I would appreciate any information on apartment rental accommodation sites that I could use there. My email address is — redacted — and my phone number is — redacted –.
January 27th, 2023 at 9:16 am
I just used AirBnb when I was there last June and it had a number of options. You could also try VRBO.