Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
Trip End Jul 03, 2008

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Andalusia,
Saturday, May 31, 2008

After spending a great night in Cordoba, I headed back to the train station to catch the 1:15 AVE train to Seville.  It was about 40 minutes south of Cordoba, and the views of the Andalusian countryside were beautiful.   Once I arrived I grabbed a cab and started out on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to get to my hotel.  The winding, extremely narrow cobblestone streets were a little scary when sitting in the back of the cab.  In fact, many of the streets in Seville are so narrow that cars cannot make it through.  Which is why, the cab driver finally stopped his cab, unloaded my bag, and pointed me in the direction of my hotel.  It was only a 5 minute walk.  I had read on Trip Advisor, that my hotel, Hotel Alcantara, was only 2 stars, but the reviews were very good.  It was ridiculously cheap (66 Eur/night), so I took a chance.  I have to say, it was perfectly fine.  The room was about the size of my closet in Atlanta, but it was clean, nicely appointed, and had everything that one person would need.  Plus, the hotel offered a breakfast for only 5 Euros every  morning and had a very nice little outdoor courtyard where you could sit and eat.  This is very cheap for Spain, and considering they had meats, cheeses, yogurt (better than the typical pastries and coffee breakfast!), I was pretty happy. 

I had read (on TripAdvisor) that I needed to make a reservation right away if I wanted to buy tickets to the Flamenco show that was held nightly right next door to my hotel.  Of course, when I showed up at the box office, I was told they were sold out. But, then I told them I was only there for one night and was there alone - either they felt sorry for me, or they needed the money, but they said they could make room for me under the circumstances.  The show was at 7:30pm.  On my way out to explore the city, I overheard a young woman speaking American English who was passing out flyers for that night's Flamenco show.  I stopped to talk with her - she was from San Francisco and had moved to Seville to be a Flamenco Dancer.  But, she said, in Seville, not anyone could just dance the Flamenco just anywhere.  Some places (like the one I had just bought tickets for) were only for native born Sevillians  she had to dance in a "lesser" club.  Apparently, people expect to see the typical dark hair, almond-shaped, dark-eyed Spaniard dancing Flamenco in Seville as opposed to this blue eyed, fair-skinned American.  Interesting...

So, I had a few hours before the show, so I started wandering around the city.  Seville is much like Cordoba, except it's bigger, and as a result, is a little more touristy.  The sun was shining, and it was about 78 degrees.  Everyone was enjoying lunch or coffee in the many outdoor cafes and tapas bars that were all over the place.  There were shops everywhere - everything from the major designers to tourist traps.  After a few minutes, I arrived in the Plaza Mayor of Seville which is, of course, where the Cathedral is.  Now this Cathedral isn't just any Spanish cathedral.  It's the one where Kind Ferdinand "The Saint", who was the first Spanish King to take Spain away from the Moors in the 1200's, is buried - well, not exactly buried.  His body is in a solid silver crypt that sits on the main altar in the Royal Chapel (one of the many chapels in the Cathedral).  More on that later....
So, I toured the Cathedral which - as I have described every Cathedral I've seen in Europe - was breathtaking, walked around the city, had a little lunch and before I knew it, it was time to head back for the Flamenco show.

I showed up on time and was lead into a small room with a stage in the middle.  I took my seat and after the American Flamenco dancer explained in English and Spanish how we were not to record or take any pictures of any kind (to protect the artisitic rights of the performers). In a few minutes, the show started when I guy with a guitar and a woman wearing a traditional Spanish dress (not really flamenco though) with jet black hair pulled tight into a bun came out and sat in 2 of 3 chairs on stage.  The guy started playing, and I'm telling you - he knew what he was doing.  You know the Spanish guitar - it was great.  The woman started singing - actually, this was a bit different from what I expected.  She sounded like an Arab.  It was not the typical Spanish music that you hear in the US at wine bars touting "Spanish Wine Night" with guest flamenco performers.  I didn't realize how much flamenco dancing is truly a mixture of Spanish and Arabic cultures.  Since the Moors ruled Spain for 1200 years, it makes sense that the influences would still be visible.  After a few minutes, a guy came out and sat next to the woman, then the female flamenco dancer came out later.  Both the singer and the other guy (who was another dancer as it turned out) clapped at different rhythms to the guitar music.  Once the woman started dancing it was pretty much, the typical flamenco that most of us have seen - except one thing - it looked painful.  The look on this poor woman's face was excrutiating.  And later, when the guy got up to dance - he did the same thing.  There was not a single smile on either of their faces the entire time.  Dancing the flamenco is apparently, serious business in Seville.  The other thing I thought was somewhat amusing is that after all that dancing an scowling and dancing and scowling, when the dancers were finished (regardless of where the singer, clapper and guitar player were in the song), then would just leave stage.  There was no "Ole!", smile, bow, etc...until the very end.  Again - serious business - the Flamenco cannot be expected to conform to time limits or to accomodate an actual accompaniest!  I got a little kick out of the seriousness of it all.  But, it was over in about an hour, and I could say that I had witnessed an authentic Flamenco show - in the city that was known for it. 

Ok - on to my evening....My friend Ruben (from Madrid) had given me a list of places to visit in Seville (and Cordoba for that matter) and so I headed out for tapas and then later to a great little bar that was part of the King Alfonso Hotel (the only 5 star hotel in Seville).  The people were friendly and the scenery great.  There's not much more to tell other than good food, good wine, nice company made for a very enjoyable evening.

The next day I made sure I was up early enough to make it to the Cathedral's 11am service.  I didn't really come prepared to go to Mass at such a fancy church, but I pieced a few things together so that I didn't show a lack of respect by dressing like a vagabond.  It's hard to actually get in to where church is held at such a place. First, you have to fight your way past all the tourists, then the guards have the actually let you in to the areas where worship is going on.  Everything is roped off so that the tourists don't disrupt the service.  I was lucky - 11am Mass would be celebrated in the Royal Chapel (where King Ferdinand is buried).  It was a small chapel - probably could hold 100 people at most - but it was lavishly decorated.  Everything was either gold or silver.  There was a choir loft off to the side where the choir processed in and sat down.  That service was a day of special music.  I have no idea what they were singing - but it was beautiful.  The service was presided over by a couple of old Spanish priests who were probably no more than 6 feet tall standing on top of each other, and it was all in Spanish.  It was unusual for me, as having grown up Catholic, all of the prayers and recitations that I new by heart in English were in Spanish.  And of course, there was no "Order of Worship" for me to follow.  I figured it out - enough.  The celebrant also spent a few minutes at the end of the service to tell us about the history of that chapel (which was how I learned that the King's was literally on the altar).  It was a great experience.  There is nothing like worshiping in a place with that kind of history.  Especially with my involvement in churches in the past - it's amazing how the people back then put their whole lives and all of their money into building these enormous cathedrals, while today building committees can't even raise enough money to fix roof leaks and drywall repairs.  It's sad. 

So, the rest of my day I pretty much walked around Seville.  As you can tell, my days of seeing every single historical monument, cathedral, etc... are over.  Lately I have just been going to each new city without much of a plan other than to walk around and enjoy the sites around me - whatever those are.  There's a huge park right in the middle of the city that was filled with families with their kids and dogs.  I walked around for a while before grabbing lunch at a little outdoor cafe (on my list that Ruben gave me).  On my way back to my hotel, I stopped for an ice cream then caught a cab to the train station.  Seville is a beautiful city, and I can tell why all my Spanish friends simply insisted that I not leave Spain without visiting it. 

That's all for now.  Hope you all had a great weekend!
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