Well, semester break and come and gone and I spent the break traveling in Andalucía with some friends from home who came over to visit. Andalucía is in southern Spain and is thought of for the white hill towns that dot the landscape as well as the strong Moorish influence in the art and architecture of the region.
As I'm sure I've said before, Spain is an amazing country. The diversity in scenery, influence, culture and food is striking as one travels from the north where we are to the southern tip, just a stones throw away from Africa. As with most places, my measure is visceral. I love to learn about the history of a place, but my middle aged, menopausal brain just doesn't retain stuff like it used to, so I "remember" things through my senses, and Andalucía did not disappoint.
We began our trip in Sevilla where we rented an apartamento that was within walking distance of "el centro". Sevilla is known for bullfighting, flamenco and deliciously refreshing cold tomato soups called gazpacho and salmorejo. Within minutes of arriving we had our first taste of salmorejo and flamenco as we met up with a friend from home who is living and working in Sevilla.
The bar was a cozy, somewhat subterranean place that we found in Rick Steves' guidebook and filled with tourists but the atmosphere was fun and relaxed and the flamenco was free!
The biggest attraction, as far as I am concerned, in Sevilla is the magnificent Alcazar, the Moorish palace that is still used by Spanish royalty. It's one of the best remaining examples of mudéjar architecture, the work of Moors who remained in Spain after the Reconquista. It is a magnificent structure, filled with arches and tilework and gardens beyond description. After the breakfast of champions (a bocadillo de jamón and a cafe con leche), we wound our way through the streets of Sevilla, along the river and through the magnificent cathedral, up the bell tower for a view of the city, and into the Alcazar itself.
It's hard to capture the magnitude of this place. Every inch is filled with intricate detail. Prayers to Allah, both in architectural detail and through visual stimulation. To imagine the amount of effort that went into the creation of a place like this is beyond comprehension. The tilework is incredible. Color explodes from the walls, floors and ceilings. It's almost too much to take in as you wander through each room, one more magnificent than the next.
And if the structure itself isn't enough of a homage to Allah, the gardens provide a contemplative, prayerful and spectacular compliment themselves. Peacocks roam the gardens, water reflects the magnificence of Allah, flowers and trees and still more tilework frame long pathways to wander.
I had been here when I was a kid and I remember being struck by the beauty of this place. Returning, some 30 years later, I was not disappointed. Amongst the many spectacular sights we saw on our trip, this was, by far, my favorite.
A discussion of our trip to Sevilla would not be complete without a mention of the most amazing food we enjoyed, thanks to the recommendations and guidance of our trusted "tour guide" extraordinaire, the eldest of my friends Judy and Steve's children. It is, I will say unabashedly, one of the benefits of "knowing" someone in the place that you visit. You get the chance to see a different side of the city, a side that the locals know about but the tourists, usually, do not. Such was the case of our meals in this remarkable city. Under her tutelage we tasted some amazing food, a salmon tartar in a trendy, slow food restaurant that was to die for, a quail egg tapa in a packed cafe that was voted the best in all of Sevilla, and some amazing pork in a whiskey sauce in an old, locals only bar just steps away from the cathedral.
On our last night, as we sipped our vino blanco and munched on our tapas in the Placa de Hercules, I found myself wondering if there was a way to stay here, to do what my friends' daughter had managed to do, if just for a while.