Friday, April 24, 2009

Seville, Best time to visit

A few weeks ago I was in Seville. It was a project-holiday - to research rumours of a humane foie gras produced nearby, and to get some sun and smoke cigars.

During the research part, I ended up in a little town called Fuente de Cantos, about 100k north of the city. I was looking for a patería, a particular one, somewhere in this village. But it took me two hours to find it, having taken directions from a drunk, and by the time I arrived, the shutters were down. I waited another hour, but nobody passed, sighed, and decided to return in the morning.

Back in Seville, my hostel had been blindsided by tourists and my bed was gone. Without a bed they would not allow roof access (to eat my picnic), so I sat by the river instead and hoped that with patience I would locate an alternate cabin. With some searching, I found the Hostal Picasso. It was right by the cathedral and offered a great position to explore Seville. Lunched and eager, I decided to investigate.

The city of Seville has gravity. Towers of grand stone press into the streets; domed, thick and old. Gleaming plazas roll out like racetracks, circular courtyards span like stadiums, and great spires prick the clouds. Between these Moorish giants the streets gather in organic knots, turning, winding, ducking under one another like frightened foxes. The beauty is clamorous. However, there is a price. During the best months the city becomes clotted with tourists. The good news is that if you are smart you can avoid them.

The optimal time to visit Seville is in the spring, just before Holy Week. The days are bright, the streets are wide with empty sunshine, and the largest throngs of tourists still exchange their dollars across the Atlantic Ocean. You can sneak into the grand cathedral in the morning, tour the narrow alleys of Santa Cruz unobstructed and enjoy cheap board, right in the heart of the city centre. Enervated locals have smiles for tourists, the flamenco shows are still attended by Spaniards and the buses are spacious for excursions beyond. It is the ideal romantic escape, best enjoyed in pairs. Plus, if you’re lucky, you can catch the rehearsals for the Christian parade at midnight on Friday night, where purple robed fanatics don pointed hats and chant below thick candlelight under the medieval presence of ancient stone.

There isn’t space here to recount every wonder, but if you’re in Seville you must visit the Feria market for olives, bread and fruit. Picnic in the Parque María Luisa and digest at the Plaza de España, whose neoclassical architecture was chosen for on-location filming by the Star Wars team. Just before midnight make sure to be inside Casa Anselma in Triana for a glimpse of underground flamenco. There is no sign so ask around.

DIARIT: 9/10

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