I’ve heard it said multiple times that if you want to experience Spain, Barcelona is not really the place to go. Catalan culture is very different to Spanish culture, and if you want any ‘Spanish’ experiences in Barcelona (eg. Flamenco dancing) it’s virtually guaranteed that they’re unauthentic tourist performances.
Therefore I decided it would be interesting to visit somewhere in Spain outside of Catalonia, and decided on Seville. It has a strong Moorish influence, very different to Barcelona.
We found Seville similar to Barcelona in terms of weather – cool mornings but hot days. We had an interesting hotel (Pension San Benito) which was a single building with an open centre, with the rooms around the outside. This meant when you stepped out of your room, the corridor was more of a balcony which was open up through the roof above and down to the level below. The toilets were shared but there was a shower in the room, which was convenient if a little odd. The hostess didn’t speak any English, but her daughter (around our age I guessed) could speak it fairly well.
We took a free walking tour on our first morning, however not the company we normally go with, as they don’t operate in Seville. This helped us get our bearings and we realised that our hotel was very close to all the main sites of the historic centre.
We spent our first afternoon visiting the cathedral of Seville, which aside from being quite an impressive building itself (an interesting blend of Moorish and Gothic architecture), is also home to Christopher Columbus’s tomb. Not that his tomb is really much of a tomb, so much as a memorial, as not much of his body is actually present – only his foot! His body has been moved between three countries over the years, and along the way, bits of his body have gone missing until only the foot remains – nobody knows what has happened to the rest of it!
While in Seville we also visited the Real (royal) Alcazar, or palace. It still functions as the home of the king when he comes to stay in Seville. It also has a very Moorish influence with lovely outdoor gardens, and will be familiar to many as the film location of the kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones. I did always think Dorne sounded like Spain! Unlike many northern European palaces, it doesn’t have much in the way of furniture on display in its rooms – the building itself is the attraction, with its Moorish design and its many elaborate mosaics which cover the walls, floors, and sometimes ceilings. Take some food with you when visiting – you can be there several hours and the food available is not very inspiring.
We also went to see the pavilion at the Placa de España – a very famous building of Seville which looks like it should be a palace, but was only built as the Spanish pavilion when Spain hosted the world expo. It now contains government and military offices so you can’t really go inside (although I think there’s a military museum you can visit), but you can take the stairs up and walk along the balconies.
On our last night we went to see a flamenco performance at a local flamenco studio. I was a little disappointed that in the one hour show we only saw three dances, but the guitarist was exceptional and the singer very good too. I did enjoy having the chance to see flamenco being danced though. It was a very small show, with perhaps 80 audience members, certainly no more than 100.
We also finally found somewhere with good churros! We tried them in Barcelona but the place we had basically just heated up frozen ones and they weren’t much good. The ones we had in Seville at least tasted fresh, although I still think I’ve had better in London and Australia. The Spanish also do the dipping chocolate a bit strangely – it’s very runny, nearly the consistency of hot chocolate. The ones I’ve had in Australia use basically melted chocolate (probably not really Spanish), and in London while it’s normally thinner, it’s not quite so runny.
Seville was also the first place we went where the siesta culture was very apparent. A lot of places closed sometime between 2 and 4, and only reopened between 6 and 8, with many restaurants staying open and serving food until 11 or 12 midnight. This was normally only the case with places that served food, like restaurants and cafes, while supermarkets, banks, tourist attractions etc stayed open all day.
One of our favourite meals we had while in Seville was when we had to go for a hike to do our laundry. The nearest laundromat had inconvenient hours, so one evening we went for a walk to a laundromat about 20 minutes away, outside of the historic centre and in a more residential area. While the clothes were in the washing machine, we went to get some dinner. Being still a very central location, there were plenty of options down the main street (many of which we saw opening at about 8 when we were walking to the laundromat) so we didn’t have much difficulty finding somewhere to eat. We ended up sitting near two retiree Australian couples (travelling separately who also coincidentally sat beside each other) and while our hostess spoke limited English we got along well, and the food was fantastic – and the prices lower than they would have been for something similar in the historic centre.
So if you’re ever looking for somewhere to get a taste of Spain outside Barcelona, I do recommend Seville!