Friday 22 October, early but I’m not sleepy anymore. The hotel fountain is still off (to avoid the reader some painful suspense: I won’t hear it anymore during my stay). I could do with a coffee, but I’m not that desperate that I cannot walk those sunny and crisp three minutes to Horno san Buenaventura, when I could for no effort at all get a bite at the hotel. With my best Spanish, I sit at the counter of the San Buenaventura and order a café con leche y una tostada de jamón Ibérico. These live up to their reputation, which means a very good way to start a day indeed. So good I order otro café con leche y tostada while enjoying the morning.
After breakfast and a shy hasta luego to the waiter (which, whenever I use it, never fails to rise a smile for some reason) I head for the Alcázar, the royal palace. What an amazing place! It really has two parts, intertwining to some extent: a building and gardens, both of which are enchanting. If you visit, I recommend taking the audio guide, which is very nicely made: the guide says enough to put each room in its context (what it is used for, who made what addition to the original room, architectural styles,…) without drowning the listener under oceans of dates and obscure historical facts. Even an uninformed visitor with limited attention span and low obscureness tolerance (that is, me) could follow with pleasure what was narrated.
A few impressions from my visit: on the one hand, large buildings in mixed architecture and decoration, basically with Moorish influence (lots of carved walls with intricate geometric and vegetal designs, and occasional Arabic writings); also, those sort of colourful tiles (many blue ones, with geometric designs again), which give the rooms freshness and light. Even the ceilings are ornate and and delicately carved. The buildings are balanced between inner rooms and patios which are half open to the outside, featuring fountains or water pieces, roofs opening to the skies, which must be a delight in starry summer nights.
Also striking to me were the admiral room, which held a large model of Christopher Columbus’s caravel, and a neighbouring room with a portrait of Louis Philippe, the last King of France. (I didn’t find anyone to ask what he was doing there, but I was happy to see him in some sort of paradoxical way.)
The general lack of furniture probably helped that no area was actually fenced off, except for a couple of walls and a room which were being renovated. So we could really walk in any order we choose (and avoid those loud guided groups), and touch things — walls, sculptures, trees, tiles, not the boat model.
On the other hand there are the gardens. I like gardens in general, and these were particularly pleasant to walk around. There are several differently styled sections, all with their own character, all a a treat to walk in; they must be breathtaking in spring. Some have plenty of large flowers and plants. Others are beset with sculpted fountains and elegant ponds. Ducks and peacocks abound. The Mercury Fountain upstairs (yes, there are two levels) feature a waterfall falling into a pool. Somewhere in the middle of the garden there is a maze of myrrh. All in all I just walked around aimlessly, along whichever path was tempting me at that point, letting delight overwhelm me. Numerous benches allow one to sit and enjoy the day, which I certainly did.
Plus, I even got to eat a date from the garden of the Alcázar: many palm trees and birds mean that there are quite a few dates lying on the ground, so all I had to do was pick up a ripe-looking one, wash it in a nearby fountain, and — bon appétit!
Leaving the Real Alcázar dazzled, I still had to wait some time until meeting with Az, Nog and dragonqueen at the Cathedral Fountain for lunch. Not that we would have lunch at the fountain (or in the cathedral), but we would meet there. The walk in the old city was great, you walk at random and everywhere you turn everthing is beautiful. Some balconies are even tiled from below, so that the casual pedestrian looking up has something nice to see: how cool is that?
I met Az and Nog on time, but apparently dragonqueen had been misdirected to another fountain, which was just like ours except, well, no cathedral. After a bit of Harold Lloydesque chasing around, we finally got together, and went to our next destination: La Azotea.
On our way we ran into Jessica, which we were indeed supposed to meet but still met by chance (does this make sense?). La Azotea was, well, I should stop saying amazing every time lest readers stop believing me but what can I do? Amazing it was. Possibly the reason is that following suggestions of a Seville expert, we end up seeing the pick of the pack.
So anyway, the lunch was fabulous and very tasty, see the live report starting here. After which we went to a supermarket in which I got cheese (when I travel, the standard for me is taking back wine and cheese. I can’t help: that’s who I am, that’s what I do). The cheese lady at the supermarket let us taste some, which I never thought would still fit into my overfull belly, but there we go. Eventually I took some fruity and potent ones. Drool.
Then we separated for the afternoon. Come the evening. We meet again (but without Jessica), and head for a rooftop bar. The moon was full, the temperature pleasant, the vino tinto smooth, and the view great. Hey, a rooftop in the centre of Sevilla a stonethrow from the cathedral, what would you expect? So the evening ended up in the neatest way.
A few general impressions of Sevilla:
Sevilla city centre is very pleasant to walk in (at least in this season, not too hot not too cold): lots of wee winding streets, giving you both the feeling of being lost and not being lost — you walk at random until you think you don’t know where you are anymore, and then you turn a corner and zou! here comes a street or monument or place you know already (OK, usually the Alcázar or the cathedral, but still).
Language: a little Spanish goes a long way. In fairness, I didn’t need much more than café con leche, tostada con Ibérico, cerveza, un sello por la Francia, or hasta luego, but still I like to believe that the people thought I knew more Spanish than I actually do. Not those who asked questions back though: these found out swiftly that I had no clue (which allowed me to practise no comprendo and no habla español). Redde Caesari quae sunt Caesaris: what little Spanish I know comes from various and unexpected places — Hombre Lobo came from the Eels album, Cuándo se come aquí from a Lucky Luke comics, Otro Cuba libre from a song by Hubert-Félix Thiéfaine, Puedo comer vidrio, no me duele from the philanthropist Edward the Bonobo, and Está caliente from my sister in law speaking to her baby daughter.
Another early impression of the city: it is quite noisy, but in a pleasant fashion — not cars or loud drunken people, but rather people in the streets speaking, having tapas, cerveza and fun. Although the city appears to be bloody full of French — I suspect Les vacances de la Toussaint to be responsible for that though.
The last mystery of the day, which was triggered in the Alcázar, is the smell of myrtle. The plant can be found here and there in the gardens and patios; as I mentioned the plant labyrinth in the gardens is shaped by myrtle bushes. So, what about myrtle? Well, it could be that mythical Smell of my Grandmother’s Soap, which will be forever associated in my memories with the fragrance of her house in Sèvres near Paris, and with my grandmother but to a lesser extend (I have other memories of her). For twenty years I have been looking for some soap with that smell, and never found it again. Could this be the lost granny fragrance?
And finally, late at night I drifted to sleep in wonder and amazement… Could the next day be as soothing as this one? Would the spectre of boredom and depression assault me? Would I find the answer to the Granny Soap Smell Mystery?