Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spain Trip Report and Photos - Seville


The start of a new week would bring us to a new city, Seville.  We took a train from Madrid (again, a very convenient experience with the exception of lugging all our bags onto the thing) and caught a cab over to the hotel.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Hotel, the Hotel Alfonso XIII.  We had put off booking a hotel for the longest time in Seville because the Alfonso, an SPG property, was way more expensive in terms of points than our hotels in Madrid and Barcelona.

So we had wavered on where else we could stay, and were extremely close to booking a different hotel when thought I should just check the Alfonso’s rates one more time.  That last time, they finally offered a cash and points rate that made the cost pretty reasonable.  We booked our room there and hoped for the best.

The best was certainly what we got as we checked in and went up to our room with a large living area, massive bathroom, bedroom, and four balconies.  That would work.  The hotel itself was built for a 1929 exposition at the direction of the king (hence the name).  It was renovated this year and whatever they did, the place looked pretty good.

But we didn’t want to spend our time in Seville in a hotel room, so once we were settled in we headed out quickly to again orient ourselves with a Rick Steves walking tour.

Our hotel was located really close to some of the major city sights (including another cathedral) and the Barrio Santa Cruz.  We started off on the tour into the Barrio when the rain started.  Fortunately, we hadn’t gotten too far away and quickly turned back and decided to spend another drizzly part of the day inside a cathedral.

The Seville cathedral was yet another really large cathedral, apparently the 3rd largest in Europe.  Again, with these large structures from so long ago, I’m amazed at whoever built the freaking thing, and marveled at its exterior as we waited in the ticket line.

As we got inside, my wife noticed there while the tickets were sold for general admission, there were also student ticket rates.  And although my wife graduated college quite some time ago, she still carries her old student ID for just such an occasion (that occasion being student ticket rates, not visiting cathedrals).  I gave up carrying my undergrad ID a long time ago, and my UChicago ID mentions being issued in 2007, so that wouldn’t work.  My wife’s however (and the reason she still carries it), doesn’t have an issue or expiration date.

So no problem, right?


When we got to the front, I asked to purchase one general admission and one student ticket.  The woman behind the counter, who looked slightly annoyed as if she has to put up with fake students all the time, asked for ID.  When my wife presented hers, she got denied hardcore.  No dates meant no student tickets.  They take these fake students seriously in Spain (or at least this particular clerk did).

I tried to not be embarrassed, mostly by laughing at my wife.  We paid the general admission and went into the house of god without having deceived management.

The cathedral, like others that we visited previously, was impressive.  We walked around and admired the ceilings, the ornately carved knave, the small back rooms where priests prepare and keep paintings of Jesus and gold stuff.  The high altar was a bit of a letdown in Seville, mostly because after staring at it for a minute we realized it was a big poster with the high altar drawn on it, covering it for restoration efforts.  Looking at a medieval piece of art loses a little of its luster when you’re only looking at a picture of it.  But we quickly moved on to the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

That was pretty cool, a tomb above ground, held aloft by four carved kings of Spain.  Nice treatment for a guy from Italy who articles have suggested may actually be Jewish.  I think the tomb (or our guide book) also mentioned they did some DNA testing to confirm that he was actually in there.  I hope they didn’t end up burying a less successful Columbus by accident.

When we completed our self-guided tour of the cathedral, we made our way to the other major attraction in the building, the 30+ story bell tower.

Of course we were going up to the top, and of course they didn’t have elevators back then.

The tower also didn’t have stairs, apparently so that people could ride their horses up the bell tower when they had to get up there quickly (or when they were just lazy).  So we walked up the 30+ flights, each of which was essentially a stone ramp at about a 40 degree angle.  As there’s no electrical wiring in the tower, it was also pretty dark in there with the exception of the occasional window to offer you a view of part of Seville.

At the top, the tower offered a clear view of the entire city (and a pretty good view of the cathedral too).  It was really cool being up there and looking around to identify landmarks we knew about (which was really just the bullfighting arena that we would head to later).

By the time we went back down the bell tower, it was time for a much deserved tapas break.  Near the cathedral there was a place called Bodega Santa Cruz that a friend recommended.  They served tapas so they met the key criteria.

It was a weird time in the afternoon so there weren’t many other people in the place, and as we sat down we debated what to get besides our standard day-drinking.  We made a couple choices, and as I went to order, my wife saw a couple serving plates on the counter with a couple different types of salad. 

They looked good to her, so we bailed on our initially planned order and got a couple of them.

Then we ate them, and realized they were both chock full of tuna (which neither of us like at all).  Oops.
It tasted horrible to me, and my wife didn’t like it either, the downside of trying new things I suppose (especially when you don’t read the language the description is written in).

We would’ve left quickly after paying (it would’ve been easy because they tracked our tab by writing on the bar in chalk, which I don’t see as being particularly easier but I guess is more eco-friendly), but we were interrupted by a huge argument between two waiters.  I don’t know what they were fighting about because they decided to do it in Spanish, but it ended with one flicking the other off from about a foot away and the other storming off.

Maybe it was related to their disgusting tuna.

The food we had would have to suffice, because we were getting closer to the marquee event of our Seville trip, the bullfight!

Earlier, when we had checked in at the hotel, the concierge helped us get tickets to the fight, which happens every Sunday during the season.  In fact, that’s why we were arriving in Seville on a Sunday.  We didn’t exactly know what to expect from a bullfight (and it turned out I knew a little bit more about what to expect than my wife did), but when you’re in Spain how can you not go?  That’s like someone not visiting a sumo match in Japan or a donkey show in Mexico (what, doesn’t everyone do that too?)

We had gone back to the hotel and gotten ready for a night out before heading out to the stadium.

As we approached, it seemed like it was similar enough to our American sporting events.  The stadium was surrounded by a bunch of vendors selling all kinds of stuff (no bootleg t-shirts like America though).  As we entered the concrete structure, we were surrounded by all kinds of people, men and women, children and the elderly.  It seemed like all kinds were welcome at the bullfight.

So we found our seats (which were pretty good), and quickly realized that even from the expensive seats (just a few feet from the sandy arena floor), they were still concrete bleachers. 

Not so comfortable, so I quickly went back out to the concourse and found one of the vendors for some cheap seat cushions.  Much improved.

But we sat outside, on our new cushions, and wondered exactly what the heck this event was going to look like.  After a while, the seats began to fill (though it never got beyond maybe 75% full), and eventually, things got started.

Now from the program, which was in Spanish, I read that there would be three bullfighters and six bulls.  Of course, I had no idea how long a bullfight was supposed to last.  I guess I assumed it was like a UFC fight, in that the bull would come out and then depending on when the bull felt like getting killed, it could last as little as a few seconds.

This turned out to not be the case.

There are several discrete phases of each bullfight, as we discovered sitting there on our cheap cushion rentals.  Since I don’t know exactly the Spanish terms, I’ll describe it as I remember it (which full disclosure, may be slightly out of order but should be mostly right).

Phase I – Parade of the flashy people

First, all the participants in the bullfight walk around the ring to introduce themselves.  The main guy/girl, the matador, is wearing a bright sparkly outfit.  They walk around to lots of attention.  There are also several other guys, also wearing sparkly outfits.  They walk around too.  There are also men on horses with spears.  I believe they came out too, but we’ll get to them later.

Phase II – Make the Bull Feel Stupid

Did I mention the band at the bullfight?  Oh yes, there’s a band.  Kind of like a college marching band, and they play short little tunes between each of the phases.  So there’s that going on also.

But after the parade of people comes by, eventually they release the bull.  With great musical fanfare, the door to the ring opens and a bull comes charging out into the ring.

Just FYI, this is the high point for the bull.

Because as the bull comes out, all the people in glittery outfits take to the ring to taunt it.  They run around calling out to the bull.  Of course, being a bull, it chases them until they duck out of the ring through tiny human-sized (not bull sized) gaps in the wall.  I assume it’s to either tire the bull out, or just to make it feel inadequate.

So now the bull feels kinda stupid, after all, it’s been chasing these disco queens around the ring only to have them jump out when it gets close, like Charlie Brown kicking a football.  Except replace Lucy with a bunch of Spanish people that intend on killing you.

That goes on for a little while before the next chorus of horns sounds and out come these men on horses.

Phase III – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They

The men on horses seem a little strange, in part because they aren’t wearing the same Liberace outlet mall clothes.  They have a more plain uniform, except for their feet, which are armor plated to the extreme.  They ride horses which appear to have blinders on (because no horse worth anything would voluntarily hang out with a pissed-off bull, I assume).  The horses also have large blankets draped over them.  One final accessory, for each rider, is a giant spear.

The spear is not decorative, these things are functional.

I know this because the riders move around the bull, and allow it to charge them.  When the bull charges and hits the horse, the rider stabs the bull in its upper back with the spear.

This doesn’t seem to work out well for the bull (or for the horse!).  I couldn’t get over how bad it seemed for the horses in this scenario.  You get blindfolded and marched out to a ring where a bull charges at you with no protection beyond a blanket.  We watched enough matches that it seemed like these horses were at pretty serious risk, but fortunately nothing seemed to permanently damage them.

The bulls weren’t so lucky, and usually left this phase with a whole bunch of spear wounds and blood pouring from their wounds.

Phase IV – Now We’re Going to Stab You

With yet another triumphant horn blast, the men on horses depart and are replaced with our band of wacky-dressed warriors.  Only this time some of them are armed.  Not the matador mind you, they stay above the fray until the final act.  For this phase the secondary people come in with pairs of tiny swords (or maybe they’re spears, I couldn’t tell.  Either way they are definitely not TSA approved).

Now this actually gets pretty interesting, because as the bull (still bleeding btw) looks for the guy who stabbed him with the spear, one by one the guys with the smaller knives/spears sprint towards to bull. 

As they approach, they raise their spears (one in each hand), and continue running at the bull.  They do this at an angle to preserve some kind of escape route.  But not before they slam down their spears right into the bull.  Then, somewhat obviously, they get the hell out of there.

I thought this was the most exciting part, or at least the most fair.  It still ended with more wounds and blood on the bull though.  And more blood, definitely more blood.

Part V – The Final Curtain

At this point, the bull is getting kind of tired.  Part of that is from running around for the last ten minutes, and the other part is from getting stabbed repeatedly.

With their rival worn out, now it’s time for the matador to step in and finish the job (which to me seems a bit like a closer coming in for a one-out save).  The matador comes out with the cape and a new, thin sword, and goes toe-to-hoof with the bull.

The matador runs the bull around for a bit, taunting it, before preparing for the final strike.  That strike is becomes something of a matter of precision, as the matador waits for the bull to charge one last time, and as it does, stabs it right in a key spot to drop it (Like Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star).

Then the bull dies and everybody cheers.  The matador and crew (henchmen?) walk off to applause, while a horse drawn cart comes out to literally drag the bull off the sandy arena floor.

Ta da!

Now, that’s a bullfight in a nutshell.  The entire ‘sport’ takes maybe 15 minutes?  Maybe 25, it’s hard to say, because there are multiple bullfights in a single event (in this regard, similar to a UFC event, or wrestling).  While that gives you a sense of how it works, there were obviously a couple notes of things we observed while we were there:

-          We didn’t see a full-on adult bullfight, we saw what was apparently the junior bullfights, with younger matadors and young bulls.  I’m guessing this is what these are the events they do before they make it to the big show…(except of course, for the smaller bulls).  Still, even if they were smaller bulls, they looked big enough to us.

-          The matadors however, were shockingly young.  Like these people were born in the 1990’s, which was unbelievable to us.  They were so young, but totally managed to kill those bulls (which actually seems less odd when you remember that our armed forces are mostly people of that age, another scary thought altogether)

-          There was a female matador.  The way the event was structured rotated a set of three matadors such that each one went in against two bulls (though not at the same time, because apparently the bullfighting federation hasn’t figured out how a handicap match would work yet).  The very first matador we saw was actually a girl.  This seemed mildly surprising, although maybe they have some kind of title IX equivalent in Spain.  That would have to be the case, because this girl was easily the worst of the three matadors we saw (she had a couple mistakes that, while it didn’t get her killed, made the crowd yell ‘OH!’ in a shocked kind of way)

-          Lots of kids were in attendance, which seemed odd for a bloodsport where you know something is going to be killed right in front of you.  Like it looked just like a crowd you’d see at a baseball game here in the U.S.  Except of course in our country things don’t end with Roy Halladay stabbing David Wright in the neck with a sword (although I would watch that).

-          My wife apparently didn’t know all that much about bullfights when we went.  She agreed to come along in the interest of cultural observation, although once we actually got to the bullfight she explained she thought it was more like a rodeo.  She did not have a good time, which I can perfectly understand if you assume you’re going out for a fun evening only to see something stabbed to death in from of you (not unlike many evenings in Chicago btw).  The blood made it hard for her to watch, and after the first match or two she asked the people next to us, ‘Cuantos toros?’  The reply, seis toros, shocked her, and gave me a good indication that we wouldn’t be staying for the whole event.  We watched the first three matches, which got us to halftime (FYI, no cheerleaders at a bullfight, other American stadium features not included at Spanish bullfights: jumbotrons, T-shirt cannons, the wave).  By getting to halftime I thought was had done well for ourselves, considering my wife couldn’t even look when there was blood (like 90% of the time).  I wanted to give ourselves one more match, just to get a little more of our money’s worth.  Of course that fourth match was one that took forever when the matador couldn’t find the jugular with her sword, so it took her a while to kill the poor thing.  It really ended on a down note, but obviously more so for the bull.

Our experience with the bullfight left us with mixed feelings.  While my wife was feeling a little uneasy, I was pretty hungry.  The weather had turned a bit brisk, like fall, and we thought we’d do some walking around the city on a meandering path towards somewhere to eat.

There’s a river that runs through Seville, right near where the bullfight arena is, so we walked along the river eventually crossing the Santa Isabel II bridge, figuring there would be some options over there.   

While that proved to be the case, we didn’t exactly get a great vibe from the area.  The cool breeze meant no one seemed to be outside, lounging in the outdoor seating areas at the various riverside restaurants, which gave the area a spooky feel.  We wandered down that street, making a right and walking away from the river and searching for better options inland.

As we walked through the town, it became clear that there were not a ton of restaurants in the area.  The closest thing we found was the frequent presence of discarded Domino’s delivery menus, potentially the result of a lazy marketer.  Of course, we weren’t about to go down that road, although a part of me wondered what the Spanish take on stuffed crust pizza would be like.

Eventually, we started to hear a faint commotion in the distance.  And of course, when you’re in a foreign country with a less-than-perfect grasp of the local language and little knowledge of the city, you immediately walk TOWARDS that commotion (At least there would be people there).  We walked closer and closer to the noise, until eventually stumbling right onto some kind of religious parade.

To this day, I’m still not sure what the occasion was (apart from a Sunday).  There were people marching.  There was a band.  And a fair amount of catholic imagery.  We stood and watched the parade for a while before realizing that despite the festive atmosphere and cultural exposure, it wasn’t going to put tapas in our mouths.  So we continued to wander, this time back over the bridge towards the bullring.

Fortunately, this is why they have guidebooks.  And while our sense of direction led us astray, we had a set of recommendations from a combination of Rick Steves and the hotel concierge.

We soon found ourselves at Café Pepe Hillo.  With a wide variety of tapas and wines, and not an overcrowded dining room, we settled in to a table in the corner.  The restaurant generally agreed with us, as our vantage point in the corner offered the opportunity to look out across the place.  It appeared to be a good mix of actual Spanish people and maybe some other foreign-looking folks like us.  We really liked the food, and all things considered it was just about perfect.  The only exception though, was all the bullfighting depictions and memorabilia.

If you can imagine a sports bar, with posters, jerseys, and other stuff plastered all over the walls, Café Pepe Hillo is the same thing, only it’s a bullfighting bar.  And that means instead of jerseys, you get bull heads.  Not exactly something my wife was looking for (even better was the picture right behind her at the table, that illustrated a bullfighter lying mortally wounded in the middle of the ring…she wasn’t a huge fan of that)

As the night went on, we started to think about where we should go next.  For my wife, there was only one logical choice.  She had heard about a bar called La Carboneria.  It was a hole in the wall flamenco bar somewhere out in the city.  From what I understood, it was a place where you could go and have more drinks (of course!) while watching various performances of flamenco dancing and music.

So off we went, with a vague idea of where the bar was, and our nicely laminated map of Seville (which I continued to pull out every two blocks to make sure we were on track in a way that I’m sure looked cool and sophisticated). 

Walking through the narrow streets in dim lighting made things a little tricky, particularly given that this place was a hole in the wall and hard to find on a good day.  As we got closer, we heard another commotion, similar to the one we heard earlier.  And as similar to the last commotion, we went towards the rumbling of a crowd, happening upon another parade!  This time, the marchers looked to be young, maybe a high school or middle school band.  The kids, all dressed up in suits surrounded a gigantic parade float with a whole bunch of religious stuff on it (don’t ask me for specifics, I would only embarrass myself)

But as we got up to the group, the marching band started up, and they began a loud (if brief) processional as their colleagues rotated and marched the float along the dark street.  They moved along until they reached the church, at which point they stopped, rotated the float (almost like they were parallel parking), and brought the thing inside.

I don’t know exactly whether the parade continued, but we weren’t about to keep watching it.  We also started to wonder how people could live in a city where marching bands appear to constantly parade around and at all hours of the night (it must’ve been 11-12 or so).  Seemingly a late hour for a parade, but not for flamenco bar.

It turned out that the bar itself was quite close to where we saw the parade.  We found it and essentially let ourselves in.  The bar itself looked like a more elaborate fraternity house.  Not a lot of Greek stuff on the walls, but the same level of scuzziness (I realize I’m not exactly selling it, maybe it would be better to say it had a lot of character).  The entry hall of the house and initial rooms had a fair number of people milling around, with a man playing the piano.

But the house stretched back farther, and as we walked through it opened up into a large stage area, with a long bar running along the left and two levels of seating on the right.  The seating area was filled with picnic tables and benches, with large groups of tourists and their accompanying pitchers of sangria.  It was dark and warm in the room, which must have had a hundred guests watching the performance of a couple flamenco performers (music, not dancing)

The musicians were into it, I guess that’s their job after all, and we stood near the bar for a few minutes watching the performance and eyeing the crowd for some seats.  It was almost exactly what we were picturing a (seemingly) authentic flamenco performance.  We got some drinks at the bar and looked to find seats when the performers stopped.

Expecting a short break as they rested between sets, we took seats from some other guests who got up. 

Of course, lots of people were getting up.  That’s because, as we found out, the performance was over. 

A little disappointing as we only got to see if for a few minutes (who did these Spanish people think they were ending before midnight???), but as we got up and walked back towards the door, more people had gathered around the entry foyer.  Someone had taken a seat at the piano, where he was joined by another guy singing.

As terrible judges of flamenco musical talent, we stayed and listened.  It could have been Spain’s best flamenco performer or a guy who got rejected during the first round of auditions at Flamenco Idol, there’s no way we could’ve known.  But it was entertaining, and because we had gone all the way out there, we were damned sure going to listen to anyone making music, even a homeless man with a broken kazoo.

The performers entertained as we hung around in the entry hall to the club, unable to decide whether to stay or go.  Eventually, standing for that long at the end of a big sightseeing and travel day answered the question for us and we returned to the hotel.


I think we surprised ourselves the next morning when we woke up at 9:30.  Such a late start on the day was new for us, but we weren’t about to let the whole morning go by without another hearty breakfast.

The odd thing about our whole vacation is that the Spanish don’t really do big breakfasts.  That’s not odd in and of itself, but the Spanish philosophy comes into a contradiction with the philosophy of Starwood, who believe that throwing lots of food at you is the way to go.

With another complimentary breakfast buffet, we felt obligated to visit the restaurant, which surrounded the inner courtyard of the hotel.  We had a relaxing start to the day at our table, at least until one of us spilled a pot of coffee all over everything.   

That’s when we took the hint and got out of there for a busy day sightseeing. Our first debate was whether we should visit the Alcazar of the walking tour of the Barrio Santa Cruz first.

We had plenty of time for both, so we went back and finished our walking tour of the Barrio (the one that had been interrupted by rain the day before).  Fortunately, no giant asteroid or robot uprising had destroyed the historic barrio since the day before, so we had the chance to see everything we missed. 

During our walks through the narrow streets, we noticed many of the houses maintained elaborate gardens in inner courtyards.  It’s a theme we saw at many of the palaces we visited too, these central areas of finely manicured shrubbery.

But beyond that, not much to remember of the walk before coming back to explore the large fortress of Seville, the Alcazar.  Note, this is not to be confused with the Alhambra, which is another but distinctly different Spanish fortress.  The Alcazar was a cool fortress located right near many of the other central sites of Seville.  Its large walls formed part of the boundary for the Barrio Santa Cruz (and were no doubt effective…the walls were pretty high).

The Alcazar originated as a Moorish fort, but as tended to happen to Moorish landmarks, it was eventually taken over by the Spanish who then converted everything for their own purposes.  The palace was large and sprawling, with lots of different courtyards and structures.  The structures themselves often had ornately carved ceilings across their various rooms.  They were ornate enough to wonder exactly how much time people had on their hands back then to do something so time consuming and detailed.  Then you remember they didn’t have HBO and it makes a lot more sense.

We wandered around the grounds of the Alcazar, and after touring the buildings we made our way to the palace gardens.  Gardens, as we had noticed in checking out the smaller houses of Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz, are no joke in Spain.  It’s almost as if the rich people would look to throw up a garden as if to say to the world, “Look how wealthy I am, I don’t even need to use this area for crops”

The gardens were beautiful and dotted with fountains and pools.  We walked around to explore the grounds, being careful to avoid the school field trips as much as possible.  I was particularly intrigued by some of the area maps on display at the palace.  In particular, there was an area supposedly dedicated to a hedge maze.

I don’t know why I find hedge mazes fascinating, but I do.  Something about creating such an elaborate set of bushes such that you could force people to lose all sense of direction appeals to me.  I really wanted to find it (and maybe get lost in it!).  So I led us on an expedition to find the maze.

We looked in all possible directions for this maze.  We doubled back, re-traced out steps, even went back to a map to find this thing.  But after wandering within the palace for so long, I got the sense my wife was running out of patience, especially because she absolutely did not want anything to do with a hedge maze (why, you might ask?  I have no idea.  Who could possibly dislike elaborately configured shrubs that have proven effective settings for horror movies?)

Eventually, we gave up our quest to find the hedge maze, which may have not even existed.  But it was a nice day out at the Alcazar on the whole.  The weather was beautiful and validated our decision to check out the cathedral in the drizzle.

We were so enamored with the pleasant sunny day, we pressed on after the Alcazar and went to check out the Murillo gardens.  Yes, Seville has another large set of gardens.

It made for another nice walk outside, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the Murillo gardens just weren’t up to snuff relative to the Alcazar.  They were nice, don’t get us wrong, but clearly a step down (obviously, one of them was in a royal palace while the other was open to the public, which would you expect to be nicer?)

Famished from a long morning of walking, we headed towards another recommendation for a midday snack and drinking.  After all, it was the early afternoon, so some wine was absolutely in order.

Our destination was a small seafood counter that, along with a series of other storefronts, lined a small street.  Set out in front were a large group of tables on a relatively relaxed plaza.  The seafood place, the name of which escapes me, offered a wide variety of (mostly fried) seafood.  Place your order with the clerk, and they’ll scoop up a bunch and wrap them in a big paper funnel so it’s that much easier to eat. 

Now, looking back on our experience, we can pretend like my wife and I looked at the menu and all our options before agreeing on a choice.  We can pretend that was the case.  But in reality, it was clear my wife had one thing on her mind.  Gambas.  And sin gambas, she was going to be extremely unhappy with a certain specific husband.

Gambas are shrimp, for those who didn’t cover seafood menu items during their Spanish class. 
With our order, the clerk scooped up a bunch of the coated and fried treats from the large hopper on the counter, which radiated deliciousness via its heat lamps.

With our newly procured paper cone of fried shrimp, we made our way out to the tables.  A waiter from one of the nearby bars (honestly can’t say which one in our case) happily took our order, and our early afternoon cocktail hour began.

It’s hard to overstate exactly how happy my wife was to be eating the fried shrimp.  She found them exceptional (although part of it must have been just the idea of it all.  Sitting outdoors in the middle of the week with nothing to do.  Certainly something we could get used to).

We sat there and made sure to enjoy every last gamba and every last drop of vino.

With our batteries recharged, it was back off to see more sights before leaving for Grenada the following morning.

Following the parade of gambas, we walked over to check out the Plaza Espana, the centerpiece of the 1929 International Exposition.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a World’s Fair and an International Exposition.  I believe they’re the same thing where you invest a ton of money into elaborate structures and festivities to show the world how awesome you are.

A fine idea, I wish we still had them, but 1929 was probably not the best year to set one up.  The whole Great Depression and all.

But that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the Plaza Espana, which looked exactly as I pictured a Disney castle would look (and since I’m American, this is my basis for comparison).  A huge semicircular palace complete with a massive courtyard.  The courtyard featured an elaborate fountain in the center, with a wide flat open space surrounding it.  Obviously others made the connection to a Disney-esque castle, as horse-drawn carriages pulled tourists in circles around the grounds.

The Plaza also displayed a set of intricate panels, each one representing a different area of Spain.  But they weren’t flags, they were closer to dioramas, in that each attempted to illustrate some history or significance of their region.  You could tell some of the weaker ones just didn’t have much to say (they shouldn’t feel bad, as even now I couldn’t tell you what the big guys like Barcelona had on their panels)

But the Plaza was cool, a throwback to when you showed your prowess as a country by building an elaborate affair and inviting the upper crust of society.  Monocles and such.

Anyway, that was enough reliving the late 20’s for us, and we made our way back to the hotel for a brief stopover to plan a brief look around for some souvenirs.  We hadn’t purchased anything yet, and as Americans, this made us feel strangely uncomfortable. 

We had to consume, and as such we started combing the local shops through the Barrio Santa Cruz in search of the perfect items (also, an ulterior motive, as we had read about a cookie store run by nuns.  Yes, I mentioned one of those from our time in Madrid.  And no, I am not confusing them; they’ve got them all over the place here).

 I’d love to tell you that we knew exactly what kind of souvenir we were searching for.  We collect refrigerator magnets, so that was on the agenda, but we also wanted something more substantial.  And there was apparently no better way to find it than looking in each individual souvenir store in the Barrio Santa Cruz.  Didn’t matter what they had outside on their racks, the postcards of the cathedral, the tiny flamenco figurines, etc., we were going to go inside and quickly become dissatisfied with our options!!!

Some people are energized by the shopping process, the thrill of the hunt and all. While my wife may have some qualities like that, I’m the exact opposite, and find it exhausting.  As a result, as we entered each store, I’d try to find a calm out of the way place where I could stand and try not to fall asleep.  It didn’t always work.  And so we went from store to store, frustrations mounting.

Oh, and when we got the nun cookie store, it was closed (but at least we were just a little early, we made a point to come back later).

As the number of stores approached infinity, we finally started to make some progress.  The first stroke of good fortune was when we happened upon a nice looking fridge magnet that looked like a vintage travel poster for Seville.  DONE.  Next we found ourselves (or rather, I found myself, it was my wife who took us there) in the middle of a china shop.  Seville, unbeknownst to me, is famous for its china.  So there in that store we stood and debated the merits of purchasing a piece.

I thought about all the serving pieces we collected during our engagement and in our wedding presents, but I held my tongue and my wife debated the merits of the new addition.  After what seemed like an eternity of waffling (but was probably only 20 minutes) it became the newest addition to our eventual kitchen set (because our current kitchen is too small to accommodate all the stuff, it is our eventual kitchen where we’ll use it).

But my wife was happy, so I was happy.  And then the nuns were around with their cookie shop, so they were happy too (actually that’s not exactly true.  We got to the nun cookie shop and tried to debate what cookies to buy with the help of the least friendly shop clerk we’d seen in a while.  Maybe she just didn’t like that we weren’t fluent in Spanish, maybe she could tell we were Jews and thought to herself, ‘didn’t we expel all you guys in 1492?  Hard to say, but she was quite frosty when we inquired as to the different types of cookies.)  But despite their attitude, we weren’t going to be denied some nun-cookies. I ended up picking some Anise-flavored cookies and made short work of them over the next 24 hours, although I’d give them a mixed review.  Nuns, despite the benefit of God’s love as an ingredient in their cookies, can’t beat Chips Ahoy.

But cookies weren’t the only items on our agenda for the last night in Seville.  Aside from food, we were also extremely interested in seeing a Flamenco show.  Like a bullfight, flamenco is just another one of the things you have to see while in Spain (although not quite as much bloodshed).

We bought tickets for one of the shows, and went over to the small theater early that evening.  Before going inside, I don’t think we knew exactly how small it was going to be.  The room had space for maybe 75 people, but only because the basic chairs around the edges of the room were as close together as possible.   The chairs formed a U shape around the room, which was dark with limited sunlight coming in through some high skylights.  The focal point of the room was a small wooden platform, maybe 6-8 inches high, which seemed like where we would see the dancing.

Unfortunately for my wife and me, we were among the last to arrive, so our seats were assigned by process of elimination.  Most of the best views were taken, but we managed to find two together in the back.

We didn’t really know what to expect, only that it would be a Flamenco show.  The shaggy hippie-ish guy in the Woody Woodpecker T shirt who took our tickets didn’t give me the impression it was a tightly run ship, so the agenda for the show remained a mystery.

Ultimately, there were four performers, a guitar player, a singer, and two dancers (one guy and one girl).  Each got their own individual air time to display their talents, including individual and couples dance time.

The performers were extremely talented, and during their session on the platform they played and danced with a ton of energy.  Flamenco, it seems, is half how serious a face you make and half how hard you stamp your feet.

The male dancer during the performance, for example, was stamping up a storm.  In rapid succession, with what sounded like a ton of force, he was pounding the heck out of that platform (even at one point bringing in a small cane to help him stamp some more)

It was certainly impressive to see, but the only distracting element for me was the fact that he bore a striking resemblance to SNL alum Chris Kattan.  That was unfortunate, because the entire time I couldn’t take my mind off the connection and was trying to see if this was an elaborate improv comedy routine.

It wasn’t.

The other thing we noticed, particularly as the event went on, was the temperature in the room.

When we entered the theater, we didn’t really notice it, but the room had no windows.  It also didn’t seem to have air conditioning.  This might not be a problem, until you cram 75 tourists in there and throw in a couple of dancers working as hard as they possibly can.

Chris Kattan was dancing like crazy, and as such started sweating like crazy.  Well, the heat and stench of the BO ending up wafting over all of us in the crowd.  By the end of the show, I couldn’t smell anything else, and while the dancers were really cool to see, we got the heck out of there as soon as possible.

The cool outside air flushed the BO out of our system, and allowed us to enjoy dinner outside at a small restaurant not far from where my wife got her delicious fried shrimp earlier.  We shared tapas again, what a surprise, this time including among other things some squid ink spaghetti, before some chocolate cake for dessert and a return to the hotel.

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