A moving feast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - DIANE ARM­STRONG

Long be­fore the pro­ces­sion comes into view, I hear the bang­ing of drums and see clouds of in­cense swirling into the night sky. Then they ap­pear — al­tar boys in white sur­plices clutch­ing big crosses, a pha­lanx of drum­mers and trum­peters, plump women in lace man­til­las and of­fi­cials in their best navy suits.

Emerg­ing be­hind is a gi­gan­tic statue of the Madonna on a sil­ver plat­form, its bear­ers con­cealed be­neath vel­vet hang­ings. I’m won­der­ing how they know where to go when I no­tice two men walk­ing be­side the plat­form, whis­per­ing in­struc­tions.

I can’t take my eyes off this pageant, which is es­pe­cially thrilling be­cause it’s so un­ex­pected. Ac­cord­ing to our Span­ish guide, David, it cel­e­brates the coronation of the Vir­gin and we’re lucky to have chanced upon it.

We are walk­ing to­wards Seville’s Tri­ana dis­trict on the other side of the Guadalquivir River for din­ner, be­cause David is on a mis­sion to take us to tapas bars where the lo­cals eat. By the time the pro­ces­sion is over it’s 10pm but this is Spain and no one hur­ries for din­ner. The streets are so crowded with vi­va­cious, well-dressed peo­ple you’d think it was a hol­i­day. Cou­ples are em­brac­ing, brides­maids singing and kids run­ning all over the place.

Our first stop is the food mar­ket. Many stalls have closed and, as we sit at a sim­ple wooden table in the pas­sage­way, clean­ers are sweep­ing, sluic­ing and mop­ping around us. It doesn’t look promis­ing but the tapas sur­passes the set­ting. There are crim­son slices of freshly cured tuna, chicken with toma­toes, mar­i­nated cod, salmorejo, and cap­sicum stuffed with mack­erel. We wash it all down with a lo­cal red.

Meal over, I nav­i­gate my way past chil­dren whizzing around on tri­cy­cles and roller­skates, and chat to three lit­tle girls. Ten-year-old Daniela sur­prises me with her good English, and in­tro­duces her grand­fa­ther, Jose. As soon as he hears we’re Aus­tralian, a stream of vol­u­ble Span­ish en­sues. Daniela trans­lates that he loves kan­ga­roos, be­cause they are “jummy”. Does she mean jumpy? She shakes her head, and mimes chew­ing. Ah, yummy. Jose wants to know if my part­ner Bert likes wine, women and Span­ish food. Ob­vi­ously sat­is­fied with the re­ply, he kisses me on both cheeks and wishes us a good hol­i­day.

Then we head for David’s favourite tapas bar but he warns us that “Spa­niards like to eat shoul­der to shoul­der”. Las Golon­dri­nas is in­deed packed to the rafters and the place is buzzing. We man­age to squeeze in near the counter and watch amazed at the speed with which plat­ters emerge from the tiny hole-in-the wall kitchen where two women in red ker­chiefs are im­mac­u­lately made up and smil­ing de­spite the heat, the late hour and the pres­sure of pro­duc­ing food non-stop.

As soon as we or­der a drink, we re­ceive a com­pli­men­tary tapas dish, an en­dear­ing Span­ish cus­tom. Stand­ing at the counter like the lo­cals, pour­ing wine from a jug, we then or­der grilled pork slices, mush­rooms filled with gar­lic and av­o­cado, and mar­i­nated spiced car­rots. Then we or­der the same again.

David has one more treat in store — a drink at the old­est bar in Seville. El Rin­c­on­cillo opened in 1670 and still draws the crowds. It’s an at­trac­tive bar with dec­o­ra­tive tiles and a pol­ished tim­ber counter above which hangs an ar­ray of smoked hams. It’s easy to en­joy a glass of verdejo white wine and soak up the lively at­mos­phere.

Seville is one of the cities on this 12-day tour of Spain and Por­tu­gal or­gan­ised by Wandering the World. I had ex­pected fla­menco, fi­es­tas and Moor­ish palaces, but

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