Seville: Vibrant and easy on the wallet
I watched the dancer, Yasaray Rodriguez, seated on stage perfectly upright and immaculately dressed, listening to the accompanying guitar player. A vocalist began to cry out a song of pain or lost love - folk melodies in harsh quarter tones, like a muezzin issuing a call to prayer at a mosque.
The emotion in Yasaray’s face become more and more intense, the angst greater and greater, until it seemed to lift her off her chair. Finally, she began to dance, a series of increasingly complex palos, movements that involved sharp claps and stomps, intricate hand movements and acrobatic turns and seemed to play off the guitar.
Watching flamenco for the first time in the performance hall at the Casa de la Guitarra in Seville was both exhausting and exhilarating. The volume and intensity led a child in the front row to clasp his hands tightly over his ears and close his eyes; I might have done the same had I not been so enthralled.
That show capped off just another day in Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region, where familiar rituals are anything but ordinary and demonstrate Sevillians’ intense lust for life.
An afternoon in Seville might include strolling down its sunbaked streets and alleyways, walking among bougainvillea and admiring its intricate, Moorish-inspired mudéjar architecture, or taking in an impromptu street show in one of its beautiful plazas. And it will definitely involve tapas or montaditos - small bites and sandwiches consumed throughout the day, usually with an inexpensive drink.
I spent several such enjoyable days in Seville, taking in the city’s rich history, consuming its wonderful food and never once worrying about putting stress on my bank account.
If there’s a city in Europe with better weather than Seville, I’d like to visit it. Its Mediterranean climate means hot, dry summers and rainy winters. Even in the dead of December and January, average high temperatures rarely dip below 15.5°C.
I stayed with my friend Claudia, a native, and she credits the climate for the dynamic buzz of the city and its general aura of happiness.
“It makes you feel different. Normally we are always out, in the streets,” she said. “Every day you can pick up the phone and say, ‘Want a drink?’ And someone will want to hang out with you, outside. It’s not that we’re always partying, or we’re lazy - we’re not - but every free moment, we have fun.”
It was tough to argue with that sentiment when I arrived on a sunny afternoon, driving with Claudia down Paseo de Palmeras and watching the tall, gently swaying palm trees pass us on either side.
We continued on through Maria Luisa Park, the primary site of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The most famous of the structures created for that event may be the Plaza de España. The extremely lavish semicircular structure curves around a large open plaza and a series of canals and fountains. Murals constructed from brightly coloured ceramic tiles, one for each province of Spain, line the plaza. When Claudia and I visited, the plaza was abuzz with activity from tourists and vendors hawking toys and soliciting boat rides in the canal. A walk through the adjacent gardens, lush and peaceful, is also recommended.
Not everyone will be lucky enough to have a friend to stay with, of course. The Cool Sevilla Hotel, with a good central location and solid online reviews, has superior double rooms from € 56 for select dates at the end of June. Those looking to save further can check out options on Airbnb, where private rooms go for less than US$30 per night and entire apartments from around US$50.
Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, is particularly important in Seville - it happened to be when I arrived, and while it made typical tourist activities somewhat difficult, I don’t regret the decision at all. The various pasos, or ‘processions,’ by the cofradías, (religious brotherhoods) passing late into the night offered a fascinating glimpse into the traditions that are centuries old.
We walked briskly on narrow, stone streets that squeaked with dried wax from previous processions, remnants of the candles carried by the nazarenos in their pointy hooded robes (outfits that may shock American visitors, as they closely resemble those associated with the Ku Klux Klan).
After hitting a blockade of people going down one street and unable to go farther, we doubled back and wound through a back alley to approach the parade from a different locale.
The centrepiece of each procession is a large float - intricately carved, beautifully decorated, about the size of a small automobile - that depicts a scene from the Gospels. The floats are also extremely heavy and are carried by dozens of men, called costaleros, who rotate in and out during the course of the day.
After a night of procession-watching, packed together with thousands of other people, you work up an appetite. After one paso, well after midnight, we headed to Bodeguita Fabiola - a small restaurant. Suffice it to say that most of my days were broken up by five or six small, wonderful meals - acorn-fed ham, pungent cheeses, perfectly briny olives. One morning I took in a late brunch at the Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a modern food court overlooking the Guadalquivir River, and enjoyed a powerfully saline, jetblack arroz negro, made with cuttlefish and squid ink, from the arrocería stall.
It was fuel enough to propel me across the river to the Triana neighbourhood, passing by the Castillo de San Jorge, a former headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. “We don’t need to invent anything new,” Claudia told me when I first arrived in Seville. At that moment, I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but by the time I left, I understood.
Boating in the Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain
Flamenco at Casa de la Guitarra. Siesta in the Plaza de Espana
The Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic building in Europe