Two summers ago, my friend, Clay Cohn, and I embarked on what we call an epic journey. Our itinerary was gutted with heritage sites across Andalusia.
We embarked from Alexandria, Egypt on 30 June 2011. We took a train to Cairo's Rameses Station, spent a night in Cairo at the newer Four Seasons Nile Hotel. Back in Alexandria, Clay saw me struggling with my suitcase. He took it from me and said 'I'll hand this over to you in Casablanca' where we were suppose part ways a month later, showcasing his commitment to this friendship.
The next day we boarded an Egypt Air direct flight to Madrid's Barajas International airport. After going through the immigration formalities and collecting our luggage, we negotiated the labyrinthine airport complex and made our way to the T4 metro line, which took us to Atocha Renfe train station. Since we were early for our train to Seville and had purchased and printed our tickets before the start of the trip, we grabbed a quick lunch. We took the high-speed train called Alto Velocidad Espana, which was very comfortable and so punctual as to be almost comical after being in Egypt, and arrived at Seville's Santa Justa train station two and a half hours later. If you want to get to Andalusia straightaway, taking a train from wherever you land, either Barcelona or Madrid, might be the way.
We walked from the train station to the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia. Clay's navigation got off to an inauspicious start as the map immediately didn't match up to the ground. We finally got to the hotel with our best survival Spanish and the help of some friendly locals. The hotel was comfortable, with a beautifully decorated piano lounge.
After a meal at a restaurant near the hotel which supplied Clay with the needed calories to prevent collapse but left me dissatisfied with the quality of the food, we took a walk around the historic Barrio de Santa Cruz neighborhood in order to get a feel for the city and to identify our objectives for the next day's sightseeing.
Clay was particularly impressed with the architecture of seemingly every building, as this was his first time in Europe. That wasn't the case for me who has been visiting Europe since he was 3-months-old. My father still recalls seeing me for the first time at London's Heathrow Airport, where I held his finger with my small hands, which he remembers vividly, and I don't.
We made our way to the Cathedral and the Alcazar, familiarizing ourselves with the winding streets of the city. After taking an ice cream break at the Plaza San Sebastian, we headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
We began the next day with a sumptuous breakfast buffet. We then spent the entire day exploring the breathtaking Alcazar and its gardens. On my insistence, we resolved to commit to eating only in good restaurants, preferably ones that served paella, no matter how long we had to search. We hit the jackpot when we discovered San Marcos, a subterranean restaurant down one of the narrow streets near the Plaza de Santa Cruz. This elegant restaurant served excellent gazpacho (this is the first time I had a soup served cold) and paella, and became our nightly dinner stop during our time in Seville.
After dinner, we made the 5-minute walk to the Los Gallos tablao for a flamenco performance. We both enjoyed this performance, whose most memorable performer was the singer we nicknamed "my boy, Blue," a stocky older white-haired gentleman.
The following day, after fortifying ourselves with the hotel breakfast, we began the day with a tour of the Plaza de Toros de La Real Maestranza, the oldest bullring in Spain and one of the birthplaces of bullfighting on foot. We saw a flyer for a performance of Don Giovanni at an opera house adjacent to the bullring, but decided against it due to the high cost. After the bullring tour, we passed by the Torre Del Oro on the way to the Cathedral but, finding it locked, we did not climb to the top. We spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing at the Cathedral, officially the largest in the world. After eating at San Marco, we headed back to the Arenal neighborhood, the location of the Plaza de Toros, for a flamenco show at the El Arenal tablao.
We were now falling in love with Flamenco culture, dance, history and singing style.
While we were waiting to get in the door some passers-by were doing flamenco dancing on the street as they walked along. They must have been real flamenco dancers because they were good.
Our objective for the next day was the ruins of the Roman city of Italica, near the present-day city of Santiponce. We took the public bus to Santiponce and made the long walk from the bus stop to the Italica site, stopping for some pistachios, bread, and grapes at a grocery store along the way.
We toured Italica, engaging in some simulated gladiatorial combat in the 20,000-seat amphitheater and viewing the surviving mosaics in the Casa del Planetario (house of the Planetarium) and the Casa del los Pajaros (house of the birds).
We took the bus back to Seville and saw a flamenco show at the Museo Del Baile Flamenco, which was my favorite flamenco show of the trip. The male dancer, whose name I remember was Jose, was particularly impressive. The little girl sitting next to us cowered back in her seat every time his sweat sprayed into the crowd. After dinner we took a walk around Seville, taking in the Parque Maria Luisa and the monumental Plaza de Espana, with its extensive tile work depicting a map and a historical scene from each Spanish province.
The next day we took a taxi to Santa Justa train station, having learned a lesson from our sweat-soaked walk with our luggage on the day of our arrival. We got on the Cordoba-bound train.
Part 2 will focus on Cordoba.