Shades of Chevy Chase in Seville (Excerpt #1 from A Pile of Rocks on the Side of the Road: Taco’s European Adventures)

Look Kids! It’s Big Ben, Parliament!                                                                     …I Mean it’s la Giralda, the Cathedral!

FAREWELL TO RONDA

Starting Point: Ronda. After a good night’s rest before the satisfying continental breakfast provided by the hotel, we took a quick walk across the street to take in the morning light at Alameda del Tajo, the park with the lovely gardens and dramatic view we had explored the night before. It just seemed the perfect place to say goodbye to the lovely and romantic town that had embraced and nursed Vidal and his stomach ailment; this beautiful ancient town upon the cliffs. We thanked the hotel staff once more and at 10am headed off; having decided Sevilla would be our next stop. Vidal was still feeling a bit weak, and as this was our ‘wing-it’ portion of our Spain road trip, we thought it was best to focus on the ‘must see’ places first. We knew there was much to see in Sevilla, but we weren’t sure how many nights we would need there to experience it all. A quick stop for a supply of Vidal’s ‘agua tonica’ medicine for the road, and we were off!

CALL THE BARBER, DON JUAN, & CARMEN; LOOK OUT, SEVILLA, HERE WE COME!!

Sevilla was the #1 choice overall in Spain for each of us, and we were pumped! Knowing it was the birthplace of flamenco was enough to get our toes tapping, fingers snapping and clicking our heels all the way there; then there were the museums, the history we both craved to drink in. Number One on that particular list for both of us was the Archivo General de Indias -The Archives of the Indies; where every document of the discovery of the Americas and subsequent conquest by both the conquistadores and the Catholic Church were held. Myself being fascinated with history, I knew I could easily lose myself within its walls for minimum 2 days, and knew Vidal would be right there with me. Then there was the famous landmark, the 15th century Gothic cathedral (largest Catholic cathedral in the world, not including St. Peter’s basilica) and Giralda (the name for its equally famous minaret/bell tower), and the narrow winding maze of the medieval Barrio de Santa Cruz: the old Jewish Quarter. Let’s not forget some of Sevilla’s famous characters: The Barber, Don Juan, and of course, Carmen. Would their ghosts be wandering the streets? Would we run into any bands of gypsies who would gladly put on an impromptu flamenco show for us? And let’s also not forget the world famous celebrated Andalusian horses. How to fit one of those beauties as a souvenir in my luggage, I was not sure … Nor was I sure how my cats would react when I tried to figure out how to keep it on our balcony; Pippi Longstocking I am not (well, only once for Halloween, but that was in 6th grade, and my mom drew the line at bringing a horse in the house!). But at that moment, those were all just fleeting thoughts as we drove onward to Sevilla, and thankfully, NOT having to do so all the way on another country highway!

THE ANDALUSIAN COUNTRYSIDE

The highway to Sevilla was very scenic, not much different than the previous day’s ride with fields changing colors from green, yellow and gold; the mountain backdrop turning into rolling hills. We spotted a couple of castles perched above typical Andalusian whitewashed towns along the way, but too far away for photo ops. We had seen a sign early on for Arcos de Frontera, a place on our lists of ‘Wouldn’t Mind Seeing’, but the exit never appeared, so we never stopped…

THE SOUTHERN BELLE

At 11:30am Sevilla came into view, we could see it was a sprawling city. Spain’s fourth largest, it was a former home to Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Jews and Moors; supposedly founded by none other than Hercules. It retains much of its Moorish influence; although Sevilla itself was returned to the Christians in the 13th century, the Moors were not expelled until 1492. It was the ‘southern capital’ of the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Fernando in the 15th century and became the Gateway to the New World after Cristobal Colón discovered the Americas. His remains are supposedly in a mausoleum in the cathedral. Of equal importance in Sevilla’s (infamous) history is the Inquisition- the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Fernando had moved the Holy Seat to Sevilla in 1481. Not exactly something I would care to have on my list of accomplishments, but  that’s me.

WHERE’S THE YOU ARE HERE SIGN?

We arrived in Sevilla at 11:30am on the dot. Entering the capital of Andalucía, it looked like any other big city. We looked (okay, I looked, as that is the co-pilot’s job!) for ‘Centro Historico’ signs for the historical section, but saw nothing. Very confusing. It felt like we were driving for a good hour (in reality, more likely only 15 minutes) before I finally spotted ‘Centro’, so we gave that a shot, followed the signs. Finally! I whooped- hollering and bouncing in my seat (almost giving Vidal a coronary attack) as I spotted the towering Giralda, knowing we were heading in the right direction. Without having a map of Sevilla, I figured we would just find the cathedral and grab a cheap hotel near it, simple as that. As Mexico’s cities were laid out similar to Spain’s, it seemed logical that, as in Mexico, the cathedral would be at the heart of the city and everything we wanted to be near would be within walking distance.

HISTORICAL BUILDINGS, WE MUST BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE!

We followed in the direction of the Giralda, which towered like a beacon leading us to it; passing up historical buildings and parks on the way that we had read about: the Torre de Oro, Parque de Maria Luisa, the Plaza de España. But most impressive was when we were in view of the Cathedral with Giralda towering next to it, and all that surrounded it: The Archivo de Indias, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Alcázar. I advised Vidal to park somewhere near the cathedral so we could find a nearby hotel… I really thought that would be easy; Vidal had really forgotten that we had no hotel reservation (we were supposed to be WINGING IT, I reminded him!). No street parking available, Vidal was seething as he kept driving, eventually finding a parking garage 5 blocks away, in the Barrio (‘neighborhood’) Arenal. We parked and took off to find a cheap hotel, hostel or pensión nearby. We wandered around a plaza behind the parking garage and through alleys, finding expensive hotels but no luck for a cheap one. We knew we would not find hotels as cheap as one can easily find in Latin America, but this was bordering ridiculous. Our friends in England had lent us a Spain travel book, which we had brought with us. In it were recommendations of a few hotels with $$, $$$ and $$$ in lieu of prices for the hotels. There were no cheap $ hotels listed, but there was one which seemed quaint and which Vidal became obsessed with finding – regardless of my pointing out the $$$ sign which indicated it would NOT be in our price range. We found it, it was indeed $$$, we kept looking for an alternative. 30 minutes into the search (not to mention it was HOT!) and afraid to wander too far (as I personally knew 2 people who’d had their rental cars broken into), we headed straight for the cathedral and decided to try our luck on the other side of it, where we initially thought would be more expensive.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD THAT LEADS TO YOUR HOTEL

Through very narrow and winding streets, we saw a sign for Hotel Sierpes someone near the expensive hotels had recommended, so we followed it. Very quaint; even better it was very cheap. Right up our alley. Literally. The streets were all so narrow they could barely pass for streets, but could pass for alleys. The interior was full of Spanish charm, with beautiful tiles, a bit of religious art in the form of the face of Jesus with his thorny crown painted over 12 tiles; the lobby looked much like some cozy living room with chandeliers, a few antiques here and there, wicker furniture, lace curtains and a grandma asleep in a rocking chair near the TV; a crocheted blanket thrown over her. We paid, got our key, and were given a map to follow to drive back, as they had a parking garage included. The guy told us to be careful, as it was now mid-day rush hour, and we might not be able to make a left turn on the main street.  If that happened, we would have to go up a few blocks and around to the main roundabout and head back to make a right turn… Sounds easy, right???

LOOK KIDS! IT’S BIG BEN! PARLIAMENT!

With my great sense of direction, we found the parking garage and our car lickety-split, I with the map in hand and Vidal at the wheel, following the directions on the map to the main street-Avenida de la Constitución… No left turn. We waved to the Cathedral and Giralda on the left as we passed by, found the roundabout and headed back, but had to go a few blocks out of our way, as the right turning lane was blocked at an inconvenient spot for us… but we missed the right turn. We had to turn around, wave once more at the Cathedral and Giralda, back around the roundabout and the long detour… Missed the turn again. Turned around, waved at the Cathedral and Giralda. Back around the roundabout, this time Vidal snuck in behind some other cars who snuck into the supposedly closed right turn lane, as I cowered low in my seat, as if that would make us and the car invisible… The Cathedral in sight…. SLOWLY… Vidal turned right. We followed the map, which unfortunately was not too clear about one way streets, and we ended back up on the main street. Thank God we didn’t have a problem with our tiny Rent-a- Matchbox Car, as nothing bigger than a thimble could maneuver through those narrow streets! Turned around, waved once more at the Cathedral and Giralda, once again around the roundabout and the illegal right turn lane, made the right turn and tried another street… Same result; led us back to the main street. Yes, we were stuck with Chevy Chase as his unforgettable character Clark Griswald in National Lampoon’s European Vacation II! I waved on the left at Big Ben & Parliament…I mean, at the Cathedral & Giralda, round the roundabout and who cared if we were caught in the illegal right lane at that point; back to the right turn… This time we were going to ask a taxi driver. He gave us directions, which naturally led us immediately to where else? Avenida de la Constitución! I could no longer keep a straight face as my overactive imagination had replaced Vidal in the driver’s seat with Chevy Chase/Clark Griswald, grinning maniacally. Roundabout…Illegal lane… Right turn… Ask directions… Avenida de la Constitución. No longer certain if Chevy Chase/Clark Griswald was shouting out loud or just in my head, but I heard him clearly:

“Hey, kids! Look! Its Big Ben! Parliament!”

although I was not quite sure what kids he was referring to, as we had not brought our cats with us. Maybe I was just hungry. Roundabout… Illegal lane… Right turn…

SERIOUSLY, ARE WE THERE YET?

Vidal wanted to pay a taxi driver to follow; I was a bit more optimistic (more accurately just plain adhering to my rule of NEVER asking for directions- I WILL find it!) and said no, let’s have faith and try following the map just one more time. Supposedly we were supposed to turn left on this one street, but it said wrong way. The coast was clear; we went for it, praying… And at 2:30pm sharp, we found the hotel, a full 3 hours after we had arrived in Sevilla. The guy had all but given up on us, as it had been over 2 hours since we had left him! The beauty of it was that we had discovered in a roundabout way (pun intended) that we had just accomplished one of my wishes: To wander the streets of Barrio Santa Cruz: the Jewish Quarter. Yes, God really does have a marvelous sense of humor. We unpacked, freshened up and headed for the cathedral, only to find the Giralda was closed for construction. Oh, well. So we would not get our bird’s eye view of Sevilla on that trip…  Having said that, I was not so sure I wanted to see anything more of Giralda quite yet, anyway!

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