Last October, a friend and I traveled to Spain for a three-city trip. After Barcelona – the first city on our self-planned tour – we boarded a Vueling flight to head 650 miles southwest, to Seville, in about the time it takes to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles. While I liked Barcelona, it’s a large city and shares many similarities with other large cities I’ve lived in. I looked forward to spending a couple of days in Seville, because it’s a smaller (population-wise, not size).
We stayed in the Triana district, a scenic neighborhood along a river, connected to the rest of Seville by a bridge, Puente de Triana.
We spent our first afternoon exploring the city center, intending to visit the Royal Alcazar, a palace, grand in every sense of the word, known for its lush and expansive gardens, and for being the oldest palace still in use. As it turns out, parts of Seville are designed like a maze. Like rats, we’d wander down one narrow street and cross over to another, only to realize we’d already been there, running into the same people, clearly also puzzled, some with their noses in a map. [Here’s a tip: GPS on your smartphone works with or without a mobile network. It pinpoints your location and is much more convenient than carrying around a giant guidebook or map.]
Finally, after an hour of zigzagging through the Santa Cruz area, we found the palace – which was designed like a labyrinth! Another place to get lost.
By 6pm we found ourselves in a familiar conundrum, starting to get hungry, but not sure what to eat. Our stomachs were on an American, childfree, working professional meal schedule, meaning we generally eat dinner anytime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., with 9 p.m. pushing it on a weeknight. By 9, Spanish dinner has barely begun! The solution is tapas and cervecerias (bars with snacks).
On each international trip I’ve taken, I have a “Ho-ly!” moment. In Tanzania, it was “Ho-ly shit! I am in Africa with real live lions a few feet away from me! I never would have imagined I’d be doing this (and please don’t let me get eaten)!” In Costa Rica, it was, “Holy crap! I am zip-lining over the mountains in Costa Rica. I cannot believe this (and please let this zip-line be safe)!” In Seville, as I sat entranced watching a flamenco show, in the region from where flamenco hails, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “Holy cow, V, we are in SPAIN, watching a FLAMENCO show!” In Amsterdam, it was…well, anyway, the point is, it’s a surreal feeling, a wave of gratitude envelopes me; I wonder – how did I get so lucky?
That evening, we had dinner reservations for 9:30 at Vineria San Telmo, which still made us earlier than most of the diners. Like nerds showing up for a lecture extra early, hands ready to raise.
It was another excellent Spanish meal. Prior to coming to Spain, I hadn’t been all that enthralled with Spanish cuisine. Never one to suggest, “Let’s go out for [over-priced] tapas!” Now I know better. I hadn’t dined on good Spanish food until I came to Spain. Quite a long way to go to change my mind.
On the way home that night, we considered taking a taxi the few miles through the maze and over the bridge to our hotel, but decided to brave the rain (and getting lost in the maze) to get in more sightseeing.
And now for a ham break…
The next day we joined a free walking tour led by Feel the City Tours. Guided through the city by an enthusiastic local, a former history major, we learned about the major monuments in Seville including Christopher Columbus’ tomb in Seville Cathedral, the massive Plaza de Espana where scenes from Star Wars I & II were shot and Plaza de Toros (Bull Plaza). Bullfighting is an important part of Seville’s (and Spain’s) history, but my friend and I agreed, with little fuss or discussion, that we weren’t interested in seeing a bullfight. I also noticed a ton of cervecerias (bars), the abundance of which, were explained by our guide as such, “In Seville, you see a church, a tapas bar, a church, a tapas bar…We have 100 churches and 800 tapas bars [a chuckle]. Here, life is outside. It’s too hot to be home. Home is for nothing but sleep.” Luckily, since we visited in October, the weather was just right.
That evening, we dined at Contenedor, where I enjoyed one of my favorite meals ever. One of those meals where I am thanking all the deities for my hardworking taste buds and the ability to smell deliciousness. The flavors of the dishes tasted familiar, the ingredients: fresh, identifiable and comforting – like soul food is to me – but, the execution was different enough to boggle my mouth. To think, we almost didn’t eat there.
It’s a popular restaurant and we didn’t have reservations. It was drizzling again that evening and again we’d gotten lost walking through the maze of Santa Cruz. Walking around for hours had exhausted us, we were cranky and my friend was starving. “We have full,” the hostess told us. We’d learned on our trip that meant, “No reservation, no dining.” V wasn’t having it; she and her stomach would not be deterred. She pleaded with the hostess, “Please, we’ve been walking for so long and it’s hot. We are hungry. Can you just fit two people? Please?” I have no idea if the hostess understood V or not, it seemed fewer people in Seville spoke English than in Barcelona, but the muscles in her face relaxed, she smiled and beckoned for us to follow her into the restaurant, where she said something in rapid Spanish to the chef, and then seated us at a small bar facing the kitchen. “Wow!” I said admiringly to V.
Our meal lasted a leisurely three hours. We drank, giggled, gushed over the meal we ate family-style, and observed the buzz of the other diners, everyone appearing effervescent with the excitement a Friday night and multiple bottles of wine with friends & family produces. It felt homey. We were part of a big dining family for the evening. The staff intent on ensuring our comfort. When we left the restaurant hours later, we realized we hadn’t seen a single table turnover in the three hours we’d been there. I’ve never had a more relaxing meal. The perfect meal to close out our time in Seville.