Sunday Sofa Sojourns #10: Seville, Spain

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

There are oranges almost everywhere in Seville, or at least, in the places tourists like the Hub and me frequented. There are trees heavy with orange fruit, fallen oranges on the ground, oranges accidentally squashed underfoot, mouldy oranges, oranges not yet quite ripe.

However temptingly orange and Sunkist-like the fruit looked, the general advice was not to pick one up and eat it. Notice the locals don’t do that either? That’s because Seville oranges are bitter. The British actually use it to make their beloved marmalade. So, we just contented ourselves with deep breaths of the fresh citrus-scented air.

In Seville we took long, leisurely walks all over the city. It was small and compact, and the number of “must-sees” was just right for a short weekend break. Unlike other European cities we had been to, we didn’t feel as pressured to be out and about all the time, and we even had time for a siesta in the afternoons.

We managed to get one of seven lovely rooms at a small hotel on Calle Zaragoza. The breakfast at the Taberna restaurant was exceptional – fresh squeezed orange juice, hot baked bread with sweet olive oil for dipping, coffee with kick, and slices of Jamón Serrano.

The Taberna del Alabardero courtyard

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The hotel was within walking distance of the Seville Cathedral, the largest Christian church in the world. The cathedral’s towering Gothic arches allow the building interior to have a temperature markedly different from the outside – inside it was cool and perfect for muni-muni (deep thinking).

The Seville Cathedral’s main entrance
The main altar’s 15th century altarpiece, the world’s largest. Composed of 45 Bible scenes with over 1,000 characters
The cathedral’s arches
Found this 17th century Madonna with Child in one of the displays. It’s by an “anonymous Filipino artist”

While we were there, we also climbed up the cathedral bell tower, also known as La Giralda. It had fantastic rooftop views of the city. The climb was made easier by the fact that it was a ramp rather than steps, the original design being intended for men on horseback. It was still quite steep though.

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In Barcelona, bull-fighting had been banned since the year before our trip. I’m not too sure about Seville, but when we were there the season hadn’t started yet so we just went to the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza for the tour and a visit to the museum. I’ve never seen a bullfight before– and I’m not too sure I want to.

Plaza de Toros

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We toured the usual spots in Seville – the Real Alcazar, a luxurious Moorish palace with intricate designs on the walls and ceilings, the Plaza de España, a lovely square that was apparently used in a Star Wars film for its other-worldly feel, the Casa de Pilatos, a well-preserved urban mansion that reminded me of old Spanish-era houses in the Philippines.

Real Alcazar
Real Alcazar’s Sala de Justicia, with its impressive ceiling. Look closely: it’s composed of little stars with the royal emblems in the middle
Plaza de España, with colourful tile maps of Andalucian cities
A whimsical sculpture of a reading little girl we found while wandering, whom I later found to be a monument to the Spanish politician and women’s advocate Clara Campoamor

Seville was the first Spanish city we had been to, so we were really keen on seeing authentic flamenco dancing. Walking around the back-streets we chanced upon a small, cosy theatre on Calle Alvarez Quintero. The flamenco show started at 9pm and costed a mere €17 back then (€15 if you’re 26 years old and below). We were treated to passionate (in the guy’s case, the hip-swaying, furrowed-brow crooning, really intense kind of passionate) flamenco dancing and singing. Eyes closed one could easily imagine oneself walking in a fruit-laden courtyard, bathed in red-orange hues in the style of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or eating tapas on a rustic table in a small whitewashed kitchen.

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Then again, I could be over-romanticising things.

We made a side trip to the Archivo de Indias, a library of documents related to the Spanish colonization of the New World. The building itself was built in 1598. I wanted to go see if there was anything about the Philippines in there.

We watched a short video presentation about the history of the building itself and the neglect it experienced – apparently, at some point it even became a halfway house for the homeless. It’s been renovated extensively since. The day of our visit, the exhibit was mainly about Latin American colonies. The only mention of the Philippines was a tiny dot on an old brown map exhibited behind glass.

Archivo de Indias

Sometimes, I catch myself talking casually about difficult times in world history and feel an odd twinge of guilt. My colleagues in a previous workplace included a British national and an Argentinian. I recall discussing colonies and empires with them over our lunch breaks. (It was the Argentinian who asked me if I ever felt upset about having to apply for a Schengen visa, given we were colonised by the Spanish for centuries. According to him, we should get a free pass since the Philippines was practically a part of Spain. Suffice it to say, a lunch hour was not enough for that conversation.)

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I’ve mentioned how much I liked grocery stores in a previous post. Same thing goes when we travel; we make it a point to stop by one in the places we visit. I feel that I get a glimpse into a country’s culture by looking at what they buy. I also find we have more in common than we think.

Anyway, we found these biscuits in the store we went to:

The Filipinos biscuits were doughnut-shaped, and came in milk chocolate or white chocolate flavours. It had either a light-coloured biscuit inside (similar to rosquillos biscuits in the Philippines, except Filipinos biscuits didn’t have scalloped edges) or a dark-coloured biscuit.

I remember reading about these Filipinos biscuits many years ago in the Inquirer when some congressmen thought the name an insult (note these biscuits have been in the market for over 40 years). The foreign secretary at that time, Domingo Siazon, attempted to counter the protest by noting that Austrians do not complain that small sausages are called “Vienna sausages.” (How about Belgian waffles, Hawaiian burgers, French toast?)

Names aside, it was a tasty biscuit.

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #2: Madrid, Spain

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post a throwback photo every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

Was this taken in Luneta Park?

No — this was taken almost 11,650km away in Avenida de las Islas Filipinas, Madrid. It’s a replica of the Rizal Monument in Luneta and bears Rizal’s last poem, Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell), on the side in both Rizal’s original Spanish and the Filipino translation. It’s difficult to miss; the monument is just a short walk from the Islas Filipinas metro station.

It was a little odd for me to see something so familiar in a place so far from home. Yet another reminder that the ties between Spain and the Philippines run deep.

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One of my favourite moments in Madrid was when we visited Botín, an institution of Madrid traditional cuisine. Established 1725, it’s also the oldest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records (fans included Ernest Hemingway). We ordered Botín’s specialty, conchinillo asado (Castilian roast suckling pig), which came with a boiled potato. Hub and I were discussing what else to order with it when the waiter – who turned out to be Filipino – overheard us and came over saying “Ma’am, masarap po ‘yan sa kanin.” (Ma’am, that tastes good with rice.)

Not only did he bring us a small bowl of rice to go with our conchinillo (off menu perk!) but he introduced us to the chef downstairs, also a Filipino.

Hence, we discovered that Spain’s oldest kitchen is run by fellow OFWs too. Ties run deep, indeed.

Think critically dear readers,