Travel: God and gastronomy

Full set of photos

My flight out of Barcelona was relatively early (8:30 am), and I had grand intentions of waking up early enough to take public transit to the airport. I did wake up when I’d planned, but then dozed off again (as I’m wont to do), so taxi it is! I think this was my first flight with Ryanair, and it was, thankfully, uneventful. I arrived in Seville and was pleasantly surprised to find that getting into the city centre was an easy busy ride. It was perhaps a mere 5 seconds after disembarking that I was made very aware of the fact that I was now in the south of Spain. Heat! Mercifully, it was a short walk to my AirBnB, where I met my AirBnB host. She spoke essentially no English, so we rather amusingly communicated via Google translate (though she had several pre-translated pieces of information to what I assume were common questions). The apartment was a charming, well-appointed loft, the perfect size for just me. After I’d settled in, it was time to explore a new city!

My first stop was Seville Cathedral, just a short walk from my apartment. It was certainly not hard to miss it. Holy huge! It was absolutely massive. It is in fact the largest Gothic cathedral (and third largest church) in the world. Something of that scale really takes one’s breath away. The ornately-carved ceilings just soar, and the giant stone pillars stand like redwood trees. The cool, calm respite of the church was welcome, and I made my way through, craning my neck to see everything. I especially loved the beautifully-carved organs that seemed be as tall as the church itself.

Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral

I passed the many chapels until I reached a dramatic coffin, which I later learned houses the one and only Christopher Columbus, or at least 200 grams of him. Apparently, his body has been moved around to different countries throughout history, as a result of various wars and conflict, so many have claimed to have his body. Ultimately, they did a DNA test (as they definitely have his son’s body) and determined that he is in fact in Seville Cathedral, but only 200 grams of him.

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Christopher Colombus’ tomb

I felt myself wanting to linger longer, soaking it all in, but I finally made my way out, through the orange orchard. I was a little sad that the Giralda Tower was closed for maintenance, as it’s supposed to afford a beautiful view of the city. Alas, a little something for next time! I strolled through the adjacent plaza, marvelling at its colours and vibrancy. I was also sweltering, but it was thankfully only a short walk to a gelato spot–the perfect respite for a hot summer day. I enjoyed my gelato on what turned out to be a formerly sun-warmed stone bench before wandering down to the riverfront.

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It was certainly a picturesque walk, passing the impressive Torre del Oro and the multi-coloured buildings across the river. The shaded riverside boulevard provided a welcome relief from the sun and heat, which made for a pleasant walk back to the apartment. I definitely now understand the concept of a siesta now, as the heat saps you of your energy (particularly if coupled with a glass or two of wine), so that all you can do upon entering your apartment is flop ungainly into bed and sleep for several hours. I normally abhor daytime naps (I usually feel groggy and headachy afterwards), but evidently this type of nap in the hot Spanish summer is a necessity.

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Since it was my first night in Seville, I thought an excellent way to learn about all the good foods by taking a food tour. I set out to meet my Devour tour guide at the Plaza de la Escarnacion, under the shade of a gigantic modern mushroom-like structure, bizarrely incongruent with the architecture of the square. It wasn’t long before I was met by the lovely and effervescent Sara, who’d be my guide for the evening. We chatted while waiting for the other couple who’d be joining us, and I was happy to learn we’d be a small group. The tour was a combination of history and food, so we first learned about the different groups who had colonized the area and subsequently influenced the food and culture as a result. Our first food stop was Bar El Comercio, a charming old-man bar where we enjoyed slices of Iberian ham and vermouth on ice. I learned that vermouth over ice is a) not at all like the vermouth we use in martinis and the like back home, b) a very common aperitif in Spain, and c) super tasty! From there, we wandered through cozy plazas, learning little nuggets of history, and eventually through the courtyard of El Divino Salvador. Built on the site of a former mosque, it was interesting to see the remnants of Moorish culture still lingering in the architecture and ponder what it means to dominate another culture (either by destroying their sacred places completely or absorbing them).

manchego cheese and Iberian pork belly
manchego cheese and Iberian pork belly

Our next stop was a tiny hole in the wall where we feasted on manchego cheese and Iberian pork belly while sipping on sherry derived from oranges (from a recipe that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years). From there, we meandered our way past the Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower (another example of a formerly Moorish structure that was taken over by the Christians, whereupon they added additional floors and an Athena-esque statue on top). Another form of dominance, evidently, is just sticking things on top of someone else’s things. We made our way through the Barrio de Santa Cruz (old Jewish quarter), learning about its, unsurprisingly, tortured history, including a rather gruesome, Romeo-and-Juliet tale involving love, betrayal and decapitation. Our next food stop was at a former wine merchant’s shop, which still housed the giant, ceramic vats that used to contain wine. We enjoyed a very dry sherry wine with our tapas–a chorizo-like sausage as well as cod topped with salmorejo (super tasty). We chatted about our travels and where we were from (the American couple lived in New York), and it was nice to spend an evening talking to other human beings–an uncommon feat as a solo traveler.

our guide Sara animatedly showing us her slides
our guide, Sara, animatedly showing us her slides

Sara was a lovely guide, filled with interesting anecdotes and an adorable book of slides that she’d use to illustrate various historical points. The American couple had just come from Morocco, and Nicole had been recovering from some stomach problems. Unfortunately, they came to a head at our fourth stop, and she was not looking happy. They ultimately decided to head back to their hotel, which left me to have essentially a private tour. I enjoyed salmorejo, a Spanish cold tomato soup originating in the south, garnished with ham and hard-boiled egg, as well as fried zucchini stuffed with ham and cheese. I also tried tinto de verano (“red wine of summer”), which is red wine with lemonade, and was suitably light and refreshing. Sara suggested this over sangria, as apparently the latter is not really commonly drunk by locals and has become more of a tourist drink. Our final stop was just next door, where Sara, who seems to know everyone, was greeted effusively by the waitstaff. They brought us many delicious tapas, including lamb with couscous (showing its Moorish history), pork cheeks and cod fritters. I sampled two different types of sherry wine, a sweeter and a drier one, and basked in the warm glow of good food, wine and cheerful company.  It no longer felt like a tour, but just two friends chatting amiably.

sherry and dessert
sherry and dessert

There are advantages to being chummy with the staff, as they slipped in an extra foie gras tapas (it’s like they know me!), and rather endearingly showed me the photo they took with Harrison Ford when he visited. As our night wound down, Sara kindly invited me to join her and her friends for a night out on Saturday, and I was happy to accept the invitation, not willing to pass up the opportunity to not only hang out with a new friend but also experience how locals enjoy their Saturday night. Contact information exchanged, we parted ways, and it was a blissfully short walk by to my AirBnB apartment. A thoroughly successful first day in Seville!

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