Sevilla November 2014
I retreated to this charming small apartment (rented through Airbnb) right in the centre of Sevilla , seeking total isolation and the peace and quiet to finish my book (subtitled A WILBY book ; “Will it ever be, will it ever be?” asked my friend, obviously tired of hearing me only talk about it). The ‘total isolation’ bit hasn’t exactly worked as I loved the company of Ini for five nights, who joined me to illustrate the book – we laughed until we cried and feared the neighbours would complain! Very good friends came for the weekend and now my family join me for the last weekend.
However, I have achieved my objective, and ahead of schedule too. I wrote the final paragraph at 3 a.m. on Monday morning 17 November. What a feeling of satisfaction. Now the printing saga, and the design of cover and back flap etc. However, it WILBY finished in my 80th year!
This last week therefore is pure vacation, giving me time to explore Sevilla. What a beautiful city this is, with each building more stunning than the next as you turn yet another corner. I have been here before but each time only for a couple of days. I can thoroughly recommend staying a whole week, particularly at this time of year when it is wonderful weather – blue, blue skies and temperatures vacillating between 18 and 26 degrees. I am now getting my sense of direction which enables me to look up, instead of down at my map, so I am seeing so many details I hadn’t noticed before. There are so many little streets which are virtually traffic-free.
I happen to be ‘living’ only seven minutes walk from the newest of the many El Corte Ingles shops. This one has a Gourmet Experience shop and restaurant on the fifth floor with a terrace with a great view. The Hypercor supermarket in the basement is huge and never crowded, so food shopping (minimal as I am alone and there are so many small bars all round me) is easy.
Sevilla somehow has a harmonious atmosphere and I somehow feel part of it. I go into a Spanish bar and am served by a Frenchman and chat to a young English girl. International but not really multi-cultural as compared with Amsterdam where I am often the only white Dutch/English person using the tram – the joy is that someone usually stands up for me.
By chance I happened upon a really great bar which won the prize recently for the Best Tapas. La Pepona, located in Javier Lasso de la Vega, just off Orfila (so very central) has deliciously different tapas served with pan de campo with just the right crunchy crust. A potato salad is not just a potato salad when presented so beautifully (see photos). The cod with a crispy crust was a treat, and I fully recommend the winning tapa, sardinas maceradas = marinated sardines (with no bones!); the service was professional and very friendly.
Perhaps the best meal I had was at Restaurante El Contenedor in Calle San Luis in La Macarena which I am told is the up-and-coming area of Sevilla for artists and small boutiques. This restaurant has a very international, modern style, with an open kitchen and an excellent menu of unusual, and above all delicious, dishes. This is located near the magnificent church of San Luis with its baroque facade.
For a very original dish I would go back any day to No_Kitchen, Amparo 9 (near the charming little shopping street Calle Regina). Their Falso spaghetti – being courgettes – was superb and their chocolate desert (home- made) was ‘to die for’. Again, very informal, friendly service. This little restaurant is particularly nice for a late (2 – 3 p.m.) lunch.
Eslava, in calle Eslava, is very much the ‘in-place’ with excellent tapas, but it is so popular that you jostle for standing space and if you ask for a table there are ten waiting in front of you. Also, for me, the noise level is such that I cannot hold a conversation. I think this is for the younger generation.
Looking for somewhere for lunch near my apartment in Calle Alfaqueque, I hit upon La Chalá in the square on the corner of Goles and Alfonso X11 – peaceful to sit outside (not a lot of traffic) in the sun, and an interesting menu. Open only for lunch (13.00 to 16.00 and 21.00 onwards). We went back there for dinner (wise to book) and every dish was deliciously memorable.
Taxis pass by at regular intervals to take you to your next destination! Taxis are not expensive in Sevilla.
As you will have gathered, it is all too easy to tapa ones way through the days in Sevilla.
I cannot say I find all service friendly! Particularly in the larger stores, I find it is either intrusive (they breathe down your neck the moment you show minimal interest in any article) or you are given the feeling that you are disturbing them if you actually want to buy two towels. Whatever you try on they tell you it looks great – I had the terrible urge to put on something two sizes too small (most sizes are too small for me anyhow) in absolutely the wrong colour and cut, and await the reaction. If I had had a friend with me with my sense of humour I should have done so. Are there no Training Institutes with courses on salesmanship? A gap in the market? Likewise my experience is that the more ‘up-market’ the bar, the more unfriendly/disinterested the service! Give me my small, local bars any day!
There is one ‘cultural difference’ that continues to mystify me! Can someone please explain to me how it happens that through the whole of Europe the plumbing is such that you can flush a toilet, but that in Spain (in general, also in a super-sophisticated city like Sevilla) you are reminded to deposit paper in a bin (all too often uncovered) and that however sophisticated the restaurant (and presumably, the clientèle), the aim of the clients is such that the papers litter the floor!
The Sunday Art Market under the huge trees on the square just outside the Museo de Bellas Artes was delightful with a wide variety of styles and proud artists willing to talk about their work without pressurizing you to buy. I therefore did buy – two delightful little ‘still-lifes’ depicting (what could be more representative of my stay here) a glass of wine and a tapa. Nearby I was thrilled to discover the shop selling engravings and old maps and to find a great map of my own area, the coastline of Southern Spain (Tarifa is marked) across from the coastline of Morocco, drawn by a famous French cartographer in the 17th century. My day was made. There are plenty of ‘self-service’ locations to hire bicycles through the city, but an especially large row of bikes is available on the Plaza del Museo.
We went to the huge second hand market on Sunday on the other side of the river but this was absolutely not ‘my scene’ – stall upon stall of old tools, masses of children’s mini-cars (but not one antique one made of metal, all were plastic made in China), throw- outs from houses that had been emptied – maybe I just don’t have the eye to spot a bargain. Some articles were so delightfully ‘the ultimate in kitsch’ that I was tempted, but realized that it would then only be a question of time before I put such an article out and it would find its way back to this market. I didn’t have time to visit the market (largely food, I believe) at the other end of the Triana bridge – have to save something for next time!
I want to mention again the area of La Macarena. I have seldom enjoyed lunch as much as at the fish bar adjacent to the fish market, alongside the old stone wall (‘if stones could talk’ as my new friend, Alias, said). If you hope to get a table, go around 13.00. They take your order at the bar and write your order under your name with a marker pen on the white tiles, calling you to collect your dishes. Very good indeed. Allow time to visit the Centro del Mudéjar (entrance free) which has a small, very select museum of old tiles and pots. Charming. Very nearby is ROMPEMOLDES, an artists’ complex where they have their ateliers on the ground floor and live upstairs. The shoes filed with plants guiding you in give you a foretaste of what is to come.
People watching, sitting on one of the seats so conveniently located on one of the many, beautiful squares (large and small) in Sevilla is an absorbing pastime. An older generation of well-groomed, classically dressed couples enjoy the sun at one of the outside tables. There are many truly beautiful younger girls, more informally dressed but with an inbred elegance and style. There are a lot of lightly-bearded, good looking young men wearing impenetrable dark glasses (sighs deeply – Oh, were I younger ...!!). Many young mothers dressed in the latest fashion and perfectly manicured are wheeling the newest of prams with pristine bedding and pristine babies, leading me to suspect a Philippine nanny at home. As they settled down happily on the roof terrace of Corte Ingles, the scene would have made a good advert for Pampers.
The school children in their uniforms make me think of home (home originally being England) in my day. I gather uniforms are now more the exception than the rule in the UK, and school uniforms are virtually unknown in Holland which for much of my life has been my home. On Sunday the little boys with their perfectly combed hair parted at one side, wearing their knee-high socks and a pullover casually draped round their shoulders, were the epitome of the upper class families. The occasional beggar arrives at her usual haunt, and unpacks her tools of the trade – her folding stool, the scarf round her head, the beggars’ bowl into which she puts an encouraging few cents herself, and her notice saying she has four children to feed. When she downs her tools and leaves, she is as well dressed as many a passer-by.
The city itself with its rich history, its plethora of beautiful buildings, well tended parks and squares, and the river, is hyper-attractive. Many are the books and excellent maps giving plenty of information. There are guides available through agencies, or for ‘free’ – these too are knowledgeable, and depend on tips for some income. I now understand why so many (?)Sevillanas (= locals from Sevilla ??) claim they would not consider living anywhere else – but they very often have the wherewithal to escape the suffocating heat of early to late summer, when temperatures can soar to well above 40 degrees. I think Amsterdam can compete with Sevilla as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities to live in, but there you need to be able to escape the grey skies and rain. Nowhere can you have it ‘all good all the time!’
I hope the above will encourage many of our guests in Dar Cilla (www.darcilla.com) to visit Sevilla for more than a couple of days. Perhaps you like to look up Alejandro Airbnb, who owns this very recently refurbished, small and modern apartment (2 to 3 persons) in an ideal location.
I have loved my stay, but now look forward to heading back home to Tarifa, wind or no wind, on Sunday.