Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SPAIN: Seville

a familiar sight along Spanish highwaysWe woke early in Salamanca to be on the road at 8.45. While I packed the car, Gustav went to settle up at reception, and I can't say I was surprised when they tacked an additional unadvertised 16€ on for dog and car parking (also unmentioned at check-in time). It's part of the hotel culture of France and Spain (after lots of experience) that your bill will always be about 20-40% more than what you think it will be. It’s a bit like flying on a cheap airline, where you can’t take any part of the service for granted. I’m sure metered water and electricity are on the horizon. The hotel culture elsewhere in Europe is to throw in everything as included in the main tariff, even with the same hotel chains, which makes trip budgeting much easier.

580km Salamanca - Seville - Medina-SidoniaToday's drive to Medina-Sidonia would only be about 5 hours all up and about 100km less distance travelled. Getting out of our corner of France is almost always the slowest part of the trip and I prefer to get the longest stretch of driving done on the first day while I’m still feeling fresh. Yesterday's road tolls had added up to about 50€ (through both countries), but we drove quite a long way today without any toll. The alternative to using the toll-roads is a much slower journey which translates into more hotel bills, more petrol and more wear and tear on brakes. That said, it’s definitely a cost that has to be factored in on these long journeys.

Everything south of Salamanca was as new to me as it was to Gustav, and for the first couple of hours it was nice and cool, perfect driving weather. We made a stop around 10am, I can't remember where but it was the first roadside place with a coffee sign, so we got some of that and a plate of churros for breakfast. The drive itself was only fitfully interesting, usually when going through some mountainous terrain, otherwise it was a bit monotonous.River GuadalquivirWe got into Seville just before 1.30pm with the intent of having lunch and a few hours’ break before the much shorter journey on to Medina-Sidonia. The city is very flat, sitting on a river plain and is the capital of Andalusia which is one of the autonomous nation-states that make up modern Spain. This political structure has massive ramifications for Spain’s current economic state since the country’s decision to join the Eurozone is at odds with the way that money is spent (mostly by these states rather than the federal government) and the way that Spaniards see themselves, which has much more to do with local city or state identity.

Torre del Oro Monument to Tolerance (or elephance?)

After some driving in circles through traffic that reminded us both of Bangkok - found some convenient parking near the Torre del Oro (gold tower). I grabbed a quick wifi connection at a nearby McDonalds so that we could get directions to a phone store. Hurrying down to the nearest Orange tienda, we got there 5-10 minutes before 2pm and as it was almost siesta closing time they said we couldn't come in even to buy a SIM card. A customer with some English asked on our behalf and they said they wouldn't have any cards till that evening and suggested we go to The Phone House a few doors up. I got in there and waited for over twenty minutes while a customer made some non-specific rant and then each time he was nearly done would start to leave and then think of something else and come back to the counter. After that it took 15 seconds to establish that they had no PAYG micro-SIM cards in stock and couldn't help us. grrrrrrr.

Munson's lady friend Munson gelato tongue

So we went off to wander around touristically, first being welcomed by a lady and her tiny terrier, the latter of whom was smaller than Munson’s head, but rather promiscuously turned to present herself when he approached.

Gustav quickly identified a gelato store where we spent some time deciphering some of the stranger flavours like "clouds" and "kinder" (is this made for or of German children?). Needless to say, Munson was very attentive as variously flavoured balls of ice-cream were deposited onto our cones.

After a couple of hours of wandering near the Alcázar palace and the streets filled with horse-drawn carriages, we chanced on a Movistar phone store that was open through siesta time, but they were also out of PAYG cards. A national shortage? My thought was that with the country going broke they couldn’t source any of them from suppliers. At least the money seemed to have been spent well on transport and urban infrastructure – everywhere we went seemed to be sparkling with new roads and modern amenities. We’ve passed a lot of wind turbines, and solar power plants being used to make these areas more energy independent.

Seville cathedral jostles with Alcázar cathedral - The Giralda belltower Alcazar gateway

The huge expanse of Seville’s old town is too great to be seen in one day, even superficially. Hitting a town during the afternoon siesta (as I’ve done so often in Spain, France and Italy) is a bit frustrating as you only really get to see other tourists, and a lot of the real city is boarded up for the afternoon. That said, this is the first Spanish city I’ve been in that wears its Moorish heritage so visibly, even as these extraordinarily rich edifices mingle with gothic flying buttresses and Catholic weeping Madonnas on every other wall.

( I must apologise for the blurry smudges that are on the periphery of some of these photos, due to a crumb that fell on my camera lens. I’ve cropped around most of the them as best I could.)

downtown Seville wall detailscovered streets

It was a baking hot 37C in Seville this afternoon which diminished our lunchtime appetite for anything more than the gelato, but sent Munson into the first fountain that would accommodate him. Leaving the city streets behind we moved to the river walkway – the river itself allowing inland Seville to be a commercial port accessible even to cruise boats. Above I’ve inserted a picture of Munson next to Eduardo Chillida’s abstract sculpture Monument to Tolerance which looks like an elephant from where I’ve photographed it (whereas Munson looks like one from any angle). I’ve seen some of his metal (also rather elephantine) works around San Sebastian too.

I love cities which still embrace these large public spaces without selling off every bit of overhanging space to commercial interests. I’ve read that the Barangaroo area on Sydney Harbour which was opening up again after many decades of being a port facility, is now being consumed by ugly casino and entertainment complexes. I can’t see the point of destroying limited harbourside public space with buildings designed for people to be entertained inside by looking at gambling tables or 3D movies. Stick those things out in an area that is screaming for employment opportunities!

After a few hours we were ready to get back on the road again for our ultimate destination.

Fountain of duplication


  1. Thanks, I finally got to see Un Chien Andalou after avoiding it for so long.

    1. I'm hoping Criterion Collection will issue a tidied up version of this blog.