We have been promising ourselves a trip around the sights of Andalucía for some time and booked it all rather last minute. As it turns out, the experience has been so rich, and we have taken so many photos, that I am forced to divide our week into blogs for each of the three main cities: Seville, Córdoba and Granada.
We leave London on a rainy grey day and arrive to brilliant sunshine in Malaga. Soon we are speeding along in our hire car towards Ronda (Ross says it’s en route, which it is, sort of!). I love the countryside, though its dry and gold, but the rocky outcrops with the occasional flock of sheep and large ploughed fields are pleasing to the eye. Ronda is famous for its gorge – its name means ‘surrounded by mountains’ – and pretty old buildings perched on either side of the bridge spanning the river far below.
It’s taken longer than we thought to get here, so we march to the bridge and back and grab lunch (the first of many jamon ibercio sandwiched between scrumptious olive oil baguettes) at about 4 pm before continuing to Seville.
Parking is as frightful as warned, with most of the streets in the centre closed off but with the help of satnav (what DID we do without it?) we find a scary underground carpark close to the hotel and walk from there.
The Hotel Simon is an traditional Andalusian mansion centred round a central courtyard complete with fountain. It’s seen better days but our room is large, has a huge black marble bathroom and is bang next door to Seville’s most famous tapas bar, Casa Morales, where we quaff sherry and stuff ourselves with local delicacies. And lose the guide book at some point in the evening…to rediscover it mysteriously the next day on the bedside table.
We oversleep and by the time we reach the Cathedral the queue stretches round the block. We are rescued by a seedy looking elderly guide, Alfonso, who offers a surprisingly good deal at 18 Euros each for a group tour, ‘no queues’. Of course he pockets the difference from 2 x 20! He says he’s been doing tours for 40 years and while his patter is tip-top his attitude is a bit suspect – judging by his jokes on the Japanese and Muslims (not repeatable) he was probably a Franco supporter.
More good tapas in the Jewish quarter and a quick sqizz round the excellent little Jewish museum. The Sephardi Jews, the secular and scientific cornerstone of medieval Andalusian society, were massacred in Seville in 1391 and many converted, but in 1478 Ferdinand and Isabella started persecuting the converts before finally expelling around 200,000 for good in 1492. The Sephardi are a very specific Jewish sect with their own language, Ladino, and unique customs, often as a result of having to hide their faith during the inquisition and after.
The Hamsa or hand of Fatima derives from the Jewish Hand of Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron. It is found all over the Jewish and Arab parts of Seville and Cordoba, testimony to former harmonious coexistence
Now apparently they are welcomed back and can have dual nationality – so long as they can provide evidence of their roots (difficult post-holocaust) and fluency in Spanish. As we discover later, there are only 3 surviving synagogues in Spain – one in Cordoba and two more in Toledo.
From there to the Plaza de Espana, a flamboyant red brick complex with its own little gondolas and boats; we even come across a rather marvellous flamenco display. Extraordinary.
The Alcazar is the other great site in Moorish Seville, the second city in the al-Andalus Caliphate, with Córdoba being the first. We queue for an hour and half to get in, despite getting there early – but not early enough. Now we have a complete panic about getting into the Alhambra – there is no availability online or with any tours. Eventually we find a private tour that costs an arm and a leg – but it’s the only way. We later learn that the Alhambra only releases 6600 tickets per day and at designated times so you have to book MONTHS in advance. Or be fleeced. On the basis of this knowledge we book a tour for the Mesquite in Córdoba – again the only one we could find, luckily much more modest in price. I am so thrown by all this I book for the wrong day, but luckily a quick phone call sorts it out…
The Alcazar is truly stunning, though packed with tourists (I have never seen so many Chinese out of China). Without a guide we struggle slightly and I’m sure we missed masses. But the sumptuous Casa de Salinas, a 16thcentury palace, complete with original tiles, Carrera marble columns, stucco plasterwork and antique furniture, still inhabited by its restorers and owners, a 100-year-old matriarch and three of her sons, all of whom we brush shoulders with, is almost empty and redolent of another era.
We enjoy our brief sojourn in Seville, but looking back, see it is much more touristy than the other two places we visit (Cordoba & Granada), much larger but a real city. There are a lot of beggars too, many with dogs and dog baskets, new to me! Never saw anyone give money. Nevertheless the Cathedral and Alcazar are stunning, and the horse-drawn carriages add to the charm. Two days of tapas is good, but is there anything else, we wonder? On to Córdoba…
Fitness monitor: Day 1 9.6 kms; Day 2 11.5 kms…and it improves or worsens in the coming days, depending on your view!