Who would have thought we would be playing Old-Time American Film trivia with our driver / guide as we twisted our way through a few of the 1,200 White Villages of Southern Spain? Guido was born in Italy, learned English in the UK, now lives in Sevilla, and knows a ton about American films. Marsha was in her element as we traveled the countryside.
Leaving cold, blustery Tarifa, we enjoyed a warm and a comfortable 3½ hour bus ride to Sevilla. A 15-minute walk brought us to one of our best flats so far, one block from the cathedral. Patricia met us at the door and explained how everything worked. She just started last month as an Airbnb host and is doing a great job. We are sure she will become a Super Host very soon. Our new temporary home was well-stocked with all the necessities and some nice extras: toiletries, condiments, bread, beer, wine, and more. Our large, ground level flat opened into a beautiful tiled courtyard. From there we opened the iron gate and stepped into our Spanish neighborhood. Looking up we could see the cathedral tower, just a block away, peeking through the narrow opening between the three-story shops and apartments. These narrow streets are referred to as kissing lanes because lovers could be on their balconies, across the road from each other, lean over and steal a kiss. Children, young lovers, and pensioners contentedly move about their lovely hamlet-like city. We loved the vibe of Sevilla.
Sevilla was Spain’s largest and wealthiest city during the 17th century. During the 19th century the wealthy made it one of the major stops on the European Grand Tour. Although the modern tram quietly slips down the main pedestrian street, the city has retained its charm with tapas bars, cafes, and markets being frequented by locals. You can hear, and smell, the plethora of horse-drawn carriages lined up to take tourists around one of the many enchanting plazas.
We learned more about the countless orange trees that line streets and outline plazas. They maintain their leaves throughout the year and provide needed shade during the intense summer heat. During the spring their flowers give off an intoxicating aroma. One person we met said it was like walking through heaven. We also learned that you do not eat these very bitter oranges. They are used in vitamins, perfume, and marmalade that is shipped primarily to the UK. Those Brits!
Very early in the week we signed up for a Triana Market Tour. Our guide walked us through the fruit and vegetable stalls to explain what some of the strange-looking produce was and how it is used in a typical Spanish home. Then there were the fishmonger displays. Some of these sea critters were recognizable and some looked like aliens. Finally, we spent some time dedicated to the country’s obsession: jamon (ham). We learned why those huge hanging pig hind legs we saw in grocery stores, neighborhood shops, and city markets can cost from €175 to over €400. The best and most desirable is referred to as Jamon Iberico. These little free-range porkers eat nothing but acorns for two years. Then they visit the butcher. After three years of curing, they are ready for the discerning Spaniard. Marsha asked our guide, “Who buys these expensive cuts?” “I do,” she replied. Families purchase these delicious legs, hang them up outside, and when ready, the legs are held in a special vise in order to slice off very thin pieces for months to share with other family members, neighbors, and friends. Jamon is more than just food, it is a cultural and social way of life.
Our market tour was very informative and gave us a better insight to Spanish life. Although we seldom purchase anything that needs to be carried in our year-long luggage (one backpack and one small rolling suitcase each), Marsha bought some saffron and smoked paprika for future cooking when her sister, Barb, joins us in Lisbon. The first image below is from the shop where we purchased the spices. The shopkeeper is measuring paprika. The small boxes of saffron on the black board at the top are €4. We love going to neighborhood markets like this. You are quickly plunged into their culture in a very exciting way.
Our daily outings led us to numerous discoveries. At the former Augustinian Convent and now El Toono Pasteria de Conventos, we bought two large communion wafers call tabletas. To do this, you find the window with a discreet lazy susan that hides the identity of the nuns inside, ring the bell, are greeted by the voice of a Spanish nun, request your purchase, place your €s on one of the shelves facing you, turn the lazy susan, and watch your purchase magically appear. Were the tabletas good? Well … we considered our purchase as a donation to the church.
Directly below the Triana Market is the Castle of San Jorge. This archeological discovery was unearthed during construction of the market. The free museum of the Castle and prison gives an honest look at the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. I am impressed with countries who acknowledge their unfavorable history as a way to remind all of us of what we are capable of and hopefully learn how to live in peace. As we observed these underground ruins and read the stories, I was reminded of our time in Germany. They also are willing to acknowledge their past for a more humane, tolerant, and loving future.
We discovered a temporary traveling exhibition being held across the river from us. It was the van Gogh Experience. Experience is a very good word to use for this multimedia production of Vincent’s biography told through his paintings. His life was shown through his early work in the Netherlands, his creative efforts while in a mental institution in Arles, his colorfully explosive work when in Paris, and more. We entered the exhibit by walking through several rooms with examples of his work on the walls, including the history behind each one. Then we entered a cavernous room with twenty large screens that chronologically displayed Van Gogh’s paintings dissolving into the next, throughout his life. Visitors were sitting on benches, enveloped in bean bag lounges, and standing while music added another dimension to the images we were viewing. It was impossible for me to capture any of this with photography, so I didn’t even try. Here is a screen grab to give you just a taste.
Now, back to Guido, our driver / guide for the White Villages Tour we took. Once again, we claimed the front seats. This is how we were able to play old-Time American Film trivia with Guido throughout the day, have a great view of the countryside, and enjoy easier access in and out of the van. Our fellow travelers were an older couple from Argentina (Spanish only) and two young teachers from Taiwan (perfect English, Chinese, and workable Spanish) whom we dubbed ‘The Selfie Queens.’ The girls were fun, loveable, and silly; like those goofy and irrepressible cousins that you can’t help but enjoy. Marsha asked them if they had thousands of pictures of themselves. They laughed and squealed, “No, we have millions!”
The first White Village we encountered was Zahara. All of these villages are picturesque; their white buildings standing out against the beautiful mountains. After walking around Zaharah and stopping for a toast snack, we drove just outside of town to visit an olive oil production farm and store to meet the owner and sample some of their oil. The young man is the current owner from eleven generations. We walked through the processing plant, all done by hand, then entered his store to watch an informative video. There are pictures hanging on every available wall space: bull fighters, flamenco dancers and guitarists, and famous patrons. Since Guido and I were talking earlier about Hemingway and Orson Wells, he pointed out their pictures to me.
The next White Village was Ronda, where Orson Wells’ ashes were sprinkled near Spain’s largest and oldest bullring. He was a huge fan. Ronda was very impressive with its three famous bridges. This would be a fun village to return to and explore at a more leisurely pace.
Our final White Village was the dramatic Setenil de las Bodegas. Seven thousand years ago, people were living here in caves. Today the city has incorporated these original dwellings into shops, homes, bars, and restaurants. It was a fascinating walk around this ancient village.
The ten-hour van tour went by quickly. On the way back to Sevilla, Marsha and I enjoyed some more film and song trivia with Guido. It was a most engaging and educational day.
Later in the week we visited the major sights of Sevilla. We have become more knowledgeable of the Moorish buildings and enjoyed the Real Alcazar here. There is something very calming about the consistency of their geometric architecture, the lush gardens, and gurgling water features.
Sevilla’s cathedral is not only the largest Spanish cathedral, it is the third largest in Europe, and the largest gothic cathedral in the world. In 1401 the mosque was destroyed during the Reconquista to build a cathedral so huge that “anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Now that is a God-honoring reason to build a place of worship! Construction was a one-hundred-year project that now houses the remains of Spain’s famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. Chris not only traveled when he was alive, he was quite the nomad after he died. He was first buried in northwestern Spain, moved to a monastery in Sevilla, then to his requested Cuba, and finally back to Sevilla to rest in the cathedral. His current “home” is shown in the third image below.
Our last night in Sevilla was topped off by going to the only Flamenco Museum in the world to see a performance. The intimate setting is considered the most authentic Flamenco guitar, song, and dancing in Sevilla. They sure have fast feet! It was a very enjoyable cultural experience.
Sevilla is a fantastic city and we would enjoy returning. We would secure our flat with Patricia again and maybe find Guido for some more trivia.
Our next post will be about Merida, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal.
This week’s flat can be seen by clicking on the bed image below.
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Preston & Marsha
Don’t Retire: Reload – Groovin’ on the Flip Side