Seville: A Serendipitous City in the South

Seville, the city that has a soul, flamenco and endless charm. After spending a day in this beautiful city, I fell in love and was eager to see more. Every inch of the city has something special to offer and provided extreme amounts of AndalucĂ­an culture. Needless to say, it has been my favorite city in Spain thus far.

This past Wednesday I hopped on an early train that put me in Seville around noon. Since I was traveling solo, I spent the trip reading up on the city and planning what sites I wanted to see each day. I always try and make a plan, but it was especially important to have one this trip since I was traveling alone. I stayed in Hostel One Seville, which I highly recommend to all student travelers, especially if you are traveling alone. Upon arrival the hostel provided numerous activities I could sign up for in the evenings such as bar crawls and flamenco shows. I did sign up for a flamenco show and rented a bike for the following day.

After taking a minute to recover from my train ride I ventured into the spectacular city center. I briefly saw the cathedral and Alcazar before heading to towards Plaza de Espana. On the way I saw some spectacular buildings such as the fancy Hotel Alfonso XIII, Portugal Consulate, and the theatre of Seville. Plaza de Espana came out of now where and I was taken aback by its size and beauty. It was built in 1929 for the international fair and is an amazing homage to all of Spain. A walk around the semi-circle shows all these tile murals dedicated to each city in Spain. Each mural tells a story, usually of how the city was founded or a significant historical event. I found Almeria’s tile mural and it was a depiction of the Christians taking over the city. Across from Plaza de Espana was the Maria Luisa gardens which were georgous and a perfect place to eat lunch. To anyone that visits these gardens I recommend visiting Plaza de America that consisted of beautiful rose gardens encompassed by some beautiful museums. 
Hotel Alonso XIII

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

I picked a perfect time to travel to Seville because this week was their second biggest fair, Feria de Abril. It always takes place a couple weeks after Semana Santa and is a giant celebration. Women dress up in flamenco outfits, men wear suits and horse carriages are everywhere providing transportation to the fair goers. At the fair grounds there are private tents that people party in from morning until late night, basically a 24 hour party. There are a couple tents open to the public, but I did not venture inside since I was alone and looked like a complete tourist in my jean shorts and tank top. The fair is also similar to a carnival or fall festival with rides (some not up to American safety standards) and games. It was a fun and lively atmosphere both during the day and night.

The men on their horses enjoying a refreshing drink!

The private party tents
Woman dressed in a tradition Flamenco dress

Torre del Oro
After the fair I headed to the neighborhood of Triana, where my sister Courtney lived when she studied in Seville. I was hoping to go inside some of its many pottery shops, but unfortunately they all closed early due to Feria. After wondering the charming streets, I saw the Torre del Oro (home of the naval museum) and Plaza de Torros then headed back to my hostel with gelato in hand.

That evening I headed to the flamenco show with other people from my hostel. I actually met a guy from Fort Wayne, Indiana who was stationed just a little outside of Seville with the army. The flamenco show consisted of 4 people, two dancers, a singer and a guitar player. It was completely unrehearsed since that is what the flamenco lifestyle is about. It is supposed to be a dance of feeling and emotion from the soul rather than a rehearsed routine. The woman's dance was amazing in the way she quickly moved her feet to make a beat; it rivaled a tap dancer. At one point her earring flew off because she was dancing so hard. It was a great taste of Sevillan culture.

The next morning I woke up early, hoped on my bike, and rode to the north of the city to the Church of the Macarena. This church made my list because it houses two of the main floats they use in the Semana Santa parades, and is also home to the La Macarena or "Weeping Virgen", Seville's most popular image of Mary. Sculpted in the late 17th century, the doll has 5 crystal tear drops and an expression halfway between smiling and crying. The church also has a museum that housed gigantic and extremely intricate floats used during the Semana Santa parade, such as Christ of the Judgement. During the actual parades 48 men carry the three-ton float on their backs and shuffle through the streets from midnight to 2:00pm on Good Friday. The neighborhood of the Macarena includes some of the old Roman walls that remain within the city. And yes, this neighborhood is what the song “Macarena” is named after, a dance that  I am extremely good at.

The "Weeping Virgen"

La Macarena float used in parades during Semana Santa (1.5 tons)

Christ of the Judgement float

Next on my was list was Seville’s cathedral, the third biggest in Europe, and biggest gothic cathedral anywhere. I rode on the bike trail from the which encompasses the whole city center and makes getting from point A to B extremely easy. The cathedral was 3 euros with my student ID, and was exceptionally beautiful on the inside. This cathedral has some interesting things that differentiate it from other churches such as Christopher Columbus’s grave (since his body has been moved so many times it is debatable whether that is his remains or not but a DNA test in 2006 proved it is his remains), Spain's most valuable crown with the largest pearl in the world, and the Giralda tower that provides a spectacular view of the city. Before this cathedral was built a Mosque existed, but was then tore down  in 1401 and in its place this spectacular Catholic cathedral was built.

Most valuable crown in Spain

The beautiful cathedral is behind me!

Following the cathedral, I toured the old Jewish Quarter known as the neighborhood of Santa Cruz. The streets in this area are so small that cars cannot drive here. It is full of souvenir shops, precious plazas, restaurants and courtyards adorned with flowers. This area of town is a place to just roam and “get lost in”. Rather than getting lost by myself, I did the self-guided tour in Rick Steve’s Spain book. It pointed out some cool buildings and alleyways I would have not noticed otherwise.

Once I had seen most of the neighborhood, I ventured to the Church of the Savior to escape the heat and was able to get in free with my ticket from the cathedral. This church was adorned with ornate altar pieces, but was not dark and dim lit like most other churches. I just sat in a pew and took in its magnificence for a little while before biking to Plaza de Espana. I had time in the day to kill and enjoyed this area so much that I decided to go back. After returning to my hostel for a power nap, I took another bike ride on the northeast side of the river in the technological park. This area was just like it sounds, unattractive with nothing to see, but I did stumble upon the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was a nice surprise in the middle of no where. Since Seville has such nice bike trails, this bike ride was more for the experience rather than specific sites I wanted to visit.

Museum of Contemporary Art

The Cathedral at night
Later that night my friends arrived in Seville (since we left from Seville for Portugal the next morning). After eating gelato (surprise, surprise) we headed towards the Feria de Abril to experience it at night. During our walk we were able to experience the cathedral at night, which was something every tourist should do. Lights from the surrounding buildings light up the cathedral, giving it a magnificent glow. I am extremely jealous of my sister Abby, who studied in Seville and had this as her backyard.

Feria from the Ferris Wheel

Feria at night was a little more crazier than during the day because young locals come and party. The private tents are carried into the street and people of all ages are taking part in the festivities. After riding the Ferris Wheel and some other rides, we decided to call it a night and get some rest for Portugal.

Once the Portugal trip was over (that will be a separate blog) we returned back to Seville for one more day and night. Monday morning we awoke and headed towards the Real Alcazar, the royal palace that still houses the King and Queen when they visit Seville. The Alcazar is the oldest palace in Europe still in use. It is special due to its Muedjar style, a mix between Moorish and Christian. The intricate detail within all of the courtyards and rooms was amazing. The arches and tile work spread through the entire palace and into the gardens. I wish I had more time in the gardens due to their huge size and pure beauty. I felt separated from the rest of the city with the beautiful fountains, roses and peacocks roaming around, which is how I am sure the King and Queen wanted it.

As you can tell from my extremely long blog, Seville was a city to dedicate time to. The gardens and plazas made me fall in love with the city, but its culture and charm make me want to return.

1. Hostel One Seville is a great hostel. It is reasonably priced, clean, provides activties and is about a 15 minute walk from the cathedral.
2.     Three days and two nights is enough to see all of the sites in Seville. Never rush however because Seville is a city to wander around and take it all of its beauty.
3.     Dedicate about 2+ hours to the Real Alcazar and about 1.5 hours to the Cathedral.
4.     Rent a bike if you can for a whole day because it saves your feet from walking and gets you around the city quicker.
5.     If you want good Mexican food go to Iguanas Ranas right next to the Alcazar.
6.     If you are traveling alone make an outline of what sites you want to see each day. Nothing needs to be set in stone, but it makes it easier to have a plan when traveling alone.   


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