TEN DAYS IN ANDALUCÍA
Always a romantic, the Spain I imagine brims with Flamenco; Bull Fighting; A maze of hip-hugging alleys; Tiny cobbled squares concealing miniscule tapas bars from all but locals in the know.
“How can we sandwich all that into 10 days?” I rant obstinately.
She gives me a knowing look. “Andalucía should fit the bill?”
We fly into SEVILLE, the Andalusian capital, and catch a commuter bus to town. The guide book, showing our hotel to be a mere couple of alleys away, is missing a few vital details.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get it sorted” I assure her, launching confidently into my first bit of Spanish on a well-dressed victim - Who cunningly hands us over to a cab driver!
Our hotel is a short, but tricky, 150 meters away. Across the sumptuous Alcazar Gardens. Through a gate in the ancient walls then up a razor thin alley into the wondrous jumble of squares known as Barrio de Santa Cruz. The Jewish heart of the old city. Careful what you wish for!
Seville dates back to Roman times. Way before the conquering Muslims nipped over The Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa in AD 711. Well before the Christians grabbed it back in 1248. Mix in a healthy population of Jewish traders drawn to a busy port on The Guadalquivir River and you have a city oozing with culture.
Conquering Christians turned the mosque into a church. When repair bills got out of hand they replaced the whole thing with one of the world’s largest cathedrals. Only The Giralda, the adjoining minaret that pierces the skyline, remains but don’t expect The Mullah to be belting out “Allah Akbar” any time soon! Ramps, built wide enough for guards to race to the top on horseback are now packed with tourists looking for a “Kodak” backdrop!
The Alcazar tops the list of “Oldest European Royal Palaces still in use” – That is, when The King and Queen are around. A few lascivious tidbits such as: “The Courtyard of the maidens,” (Legend has it that 100 virgins where gathered here and turned over as rent to the governing Moors), and the splendid subterranean “Baths of Dona Maria de Patilla,” mistress of King Peter The Cruel, keep the turnstiles humming!
We quickly embrace the Spanish way of life. Breakfast sets us up for the morning. At first, lunch between 2/3pm proves a challenge but we get used to stocking up on chocolate croissants before the town goes to sleep! Forget searching for a tube of sunblock or a postcard for Aunt Nellie in the afternoon heat. All we find are shuttered shops in empty streets. We go with the flow and take a siesta.
Andalusians are famous for having fun. The evening is when the whole place springs to life. At around 9pm, freshly showered, smartly dressed locals start flooding the narrow alleys heading for their favourite tapas place. With a 1000 to chose from, variety is not a problem.
Candles twinkle on outdoor tables. Black panted, white shirted waiters hustle up business. Hungry diners scrutinize menus. Shops fill with animated customers. Opera singers busk to a cheering crowd behind the cathedral. Flamenco music resonates through the alleys. A last chance to practise before the performance begins at this nightclub or that bar.
“Where are we?" she asks anxiously.
“I’ve no idea but isn’t it wonderful?”
We decide to do a loop of three Andalusian cities. CORDOBA, a mere 1 ½ hour bus trip through endless undulating olive groves was once the largest and most dazzling cultured city in Western Europe. A place where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived in harmony.
The Mezquita, a mosque reflecting the city’s importance was built in AD 785 and enlarged 4 times into a massive structure containing 1293 columns to support a myriad of arches.
Again, Christian conquerors, anxious to give their Islamic foes a black eye, chose the centre of this amazing structure to create a cathedral! Apart from closing in the 19 doors, (presumably to keep the silverware in tact?) and hanging a few Christian artefacts among the forest of arches, the extraordinary building is still very much intact.
Time has taken a toll on Cordoba. The restored Roman bridge is impressive and the Mezquita is definitely worth a visit despite being “Christianised,” but the city centre lacks the effervescent charm of Seville. Perhaps we are spoilt. Yes, we arrive on a weekend when many attractions are closed, but the amount of indiscriminate graffiti seems to indicate a city in decline.
So it’s on to GRANADA just a 3 hour bus ride away.
Eighty thousand students have brought a serious buzz to the bars and night life in this sophisticated colonial city. We choose a hotel at the foot of the hottest tourist spot in Andalucía.
The Alhambra is a 9th century hilltop fortress that morphed into a fortress/palace with its own adjoining village - Servants have to live somewhere! Full of intricate Arabic designs in whimsical buildings cleverly built around stepped water and flower gardens, it is surely the icing on the Andalusian Islamic cake.
Be warned, a daily limit is applied to the number of tickets sold so get an early start up the hill and avoid the cruise ship crowds bused in from the coast.
Through gaps in the narrow alleys of the old Muslim quarter of Albayzin, spread across the neighbouring hillside, it is possible to photograph one World Heritage Site from another!
At sunset, bars along The River Darrow are bustling with life. Buskers politely wait their turn to perform for the crowd. We settle at a comfortable table and gaze up at floodlit walls. The last visitors to The Alhambra appear like ants on the hilltop.
“Two glasses of vino tinto por favor.”
At two bucks apiece, how can we go wrong?
Tapas are delivered to our table with the wine.
Whoops! – “We didn’t order these. There must be some mistake?”
“They are free senor!”
Returning to Seville the train clocks 140 KMH. Andalucía has been a great choice. We loved the alleys. The energy. The people. The music. Bull fighting? – Well maybe next time?
IF YOU GO:
WHERE TO STAY: Always stay in the heart of the place. Dealing with buses or taxis late at night is a pain. I used www.booking.com for hotel reservations without any hitches.
COSTS: Seville was the most expensive at around E90 for a suite including breakfast. In Cordoba and Granada we paid around E45 without breakfast. Food and wine are generally great value – With a low Euro think indulgence!
GETTING AROUND: Forget a rental car – Parking is a serious problem. Excellent bus and train services exist between all destinations. Cabs are reasonable and drivers are generally honest.
SAFETY: Always look out for pickpockets. Never carry a purse. Always wear a money belt under your clothing. We watched several demonstrations by middle class people facing economic disaster – None were violent.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: We were there in mid June. Expect the midday sun to be HOT. Buy or take a sun hat and plenty of sunscreen. May and September are cooler with less tourists around.
Copyright © 2014 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.