What do you do when you have a few days of leave about to expire? For me, staying at home (to take time out) is never an option. That would just be a waste of precious time (even if Cape Town is home). As I have been mostly out of office lately (in Munich, India and Durban), I decided to limit my break to a week. The destination – Andalusia, in southern Spain.
Arriving in Madrid was eventful. In the last seconds before touchdown, a change in wind direction thwarted the plane from side to side, forcing the pilot to abort the landing. The second attempt was only marginally better, but landed us safely at Barajas International Airport. Thankfully, the rest of my week in Spain required far less requests for immediate Higher intervention. My first taste of local culture was the ubiquitous churros, which went down well with a rich, velvety chocolat leche condensada (a thick hot chocolate made with condensed milk). My encounter with Madrid was brief, having left with the high speed Renfe train to Seville, the largest city in the Andalusian region.
The region has an opulent history spanning great civilisations of the Romans, Visigoths and later the Islamic empire of Al-Andalus, before finally giving way to the Christian kingdoms. Much of that history has been preserved, architecture retained or expanded on, and culture blended to create a remarkable scene to experience.
Hotel Casa Imperial, our base for our stay in Seville, was easier to get to than the roundabout directions Google dragged us on. Tucked in an alleyway at the edge of the old town, navigating to the heart of Seville was a little tricky at first. Narrow, cobble stone paths lead to the humungous cathedral, dominated by La Giralda, once the minaret of the mosque that stood here, and now converted into a bell tower. The lower portions retain their Moorish influence and blend into the Renaissance top.
We ventured across the road to the Real Alcazar. A series of royal palaces and one of the oldest continuously inhabited in Europe. Alcazar, comes from the Arabic, Al-Qasr, meaning a royal home, and although the initial palace started during the Islamic era, successive kings have added their legacy to the compound. It’s a place where the soothing It’s not hard to imagine the calmness and opulence of the palace during its heyday. Water features dampen out the noise, courtyards provide shade and emphasise key architectural design features, intricate carvings display the glory of the empire and manicured gardens provide pleasure. In one of the rooms, my jaw dropped looking at the roof, probably one of the best I’ve seen on the trip.
As I would come to see, sculptured gardens played an integral part of the Moorish and subsequent kingdoms. And provided the perfect respite from the summer heat. We walked along the wide Guadalquivir River to the Maria Luisa Park with its vast boulevards of shade. It was the end of the citrus season so large numbers of oranges lined the pathways. It’s the same oranges that’s famously used for Seville marmalade. The park leads to the Plaza de Espana, a large semi-circular Renaissance building flanked by tall towers and centred by a gushing fountain. The plaza is a vibrant gathering point for locals and tourists, entertainers and families.
I walked a lot in Spain, sometimes as much as 20km a day, simply exploring the streets, buildings and gardens of the towns we stayed in. 20km seems an absurd amount in hindsight, but we never really felt it. There were enough distractions and sweet treats (semolina pastries, creamy ice cream, …). Seville was a great starting point to the rest of Andalusia. There was enough English understood to get by, but I was hoping to practice some Spanish, which I later found useful in Granada. Keep following for the next part of my trip.