IN an effort to stretch out and get the absolute most from the final, dwindling days of the Easter holidays we have come away to Sevilla for a couple of days.
Now, the drive from Estepona to Sevilla isn’t the most inspiring of journeys and that seemingly endless stretch of road from Los Barrios to Sevilla is particularly monotonous. So much so that the most excitement we experienced was stopping for three wee stops in quick succession for our suddenly and inexplicably incontinent youngest. Apart from that there was nothing of note to report.
And then, all of a sudden, after two hours of mind numbing boredom there we were, all of a sudden, on the outskirts of Sevilla.
Cue a mad scrabbling to find my phone, start up the navigation app and type in our intended destination. Unfortunately the Internet coverage was intermittent and I don’t think the app was working correctly either because the little blue circle that supposedly marked our exact location kept freezing and didn’t show our exact location at all.
Consequently the route we selected to the hotel was a bit of a leap of faith, should we trust the app to tell us where we actually were or should we try and navigate our way independent of technology?
After several wrong turns amended hastily with some (probably illegal) three point turns we finally found our own way to the street that our hotel was on.
Rather helpfully, at this point the app sprang into life and confirmed that, just as we pulled up in front of the very clearly signed Hotel San Pablo, we were at the Hotel San Pablo. Well, that’s great, thanks for your help there navigation app!
The front entrance of the hotel was very grand looking but on arriving inside I couldn’t help but think that it looked rather like a prison. A very fancy prison admittedly and a prison with shiny marble floors, comfortable couches in the lobby and a bowl full of help-yourself sweets at the front desk but a prison nonetheless.
Despite my lowly description though, rest assured that the San Pablo Hotel is very lovely indeed and looks this way because it used to be an apartment block which has been remodelled and made over and is now a perfectly fabulous hotel.
Because each room used to be an apartment our room was as close to staying in a hotel suite as we are ever likely to get. Our family room was divided into a front room with twin beds in one corner, a main bedroom with a huge king size bed and a bathroom. Opposite the door was another mysteriously locked door which we deduced would have been the kitchen. How very luxurious, spending a night in a hotel with the children but not actually having to sleep in the same room as the children! I can’t help but feel like this is how the other half live when they stay in hotels. Ok, so it’s a very basic, budgetty, verging on pauperish, very distant indeed version of their hotel experience perhaps but a version nonetheless.
In a typically British way we had to get out our travel kettle and make a lovely cup of tea before we could even contemplate going out to explore but it wasn’t too long before, feeling suitably refreshed we headed out to the centre of Sevilla. Now I have only been to Sevilla three times previously, I’ve passed through it many times on my way to somewhere else but I’ve only stopped off there three times.
The first time was about 15 years ago and my overnight stay revolved around a rather alcohol-fuelled evening. I do, however, have a vague recollection of spending a not so joyful hour feeling a tad bored on one of the river cruises (the novelty wore off very quickly), of being continually pestered by an old lady to buy a sprig of ‘lucky’ heather in the grounds of the cathedral and of indulging rather too freely at a pick-and-mix type affair in a bar. In place of sweets in the pick-and-mix arrangement were pickled garlic, olives and those yellow flat bean things whose name escapes me. I think I might have consumed my body weight in garlic that night. Not advisable.
The second time I was in Sevilla was about 10 years ago. Having just bought our apartment my boyfriend and I decided a trip to IKEA would be fun. In those days that meant going all the way to Sevilla which as we know requires at least a couple of hours in the car along a tedious road from Estepona. We set off around the shop in a we’re-buying-things-for-our-new-house buzz of excitement, wandered around looking at all the things we could furnish it with and eventually left having bought only a pack of three tea towels and an oven glove. We then drove all the way home again in order to transform our home with our new purchases.
The last time I was in Sevilla was a few months ago when my friend, Carrie and I came here for a night out to see some friends, who live in Sevilla and who are in a Pearl Jam tribute band, play in a local venue. My overwhelming memories of that night were of walking an extremely circuitous route to the venue which despite being a mere ten minute walk from where we were staying (as we discovered in the light of day the following morning) actually took us about an hour of speed walking, of staying in a very strange little hostel which was presided over rather strictly by a humourless Richard Stilgoe lookalike and of having the best tortilla and allioli bocadillo that I have ever eaten in my life, which incidentally was foolishly followed by a huge falafel because we had stumbled into a kebab shop immediately on turning the corner from the bocadillo shop and then suffered a night of feeling sick due to over eating and more than likely, over drinking too.
So clearly this fourth excursion to Sevilla had a lot to live up to.
We decided to trust our own internal navigation system to find our way to the city centre, which worked surprisingly well. Technology is very overrated. We parked up and set off to explore and as we walked around the centre and along the river we became instantly aware that getting around was going to be potentially hazardous.
If we weren’t stumbling inadvertently into the path of speeding cyclists or jaunty joggers then we could quite possibly be finding a tram suddenly and alarmingly looming up behind us or even find ourselves in peril of being stood on by a horse or rolled over by a carriage.
We also realised that unless we were very careful we could easily find ourselves bankrupted in a few short hours. After enquiring about the prices to go on a sightseeing bus (18€ each), a horse drawn carriage (42€) and a river cruise (15€ each) we decided to give those a miss even if the children were entitled to ride for free. We considered suggesting the children go on their own while mummy and daddy enjoyed a nice quiet beer in the bar but we thought that while the children would undoubtably be enjoying a fine, cultural education, it might be judged as irresponsible parenting on our part. So we stayed together and wandered along a little more, popping our heads in at various attractions and landmarks along the way only to pop quickly back out again on seeing that everything seemed to have a hefty price tag.
And then, across the road we noticed an oasis of calm in the form of a little playground surrounded by benches and gardens. We sat and had a rest while the children played. Just over the road we could see a very grand looking hotel, Hotel Alfonso XIII. We sat and watched the people taking tea on its beautiful terrace and while we sat on our bench I googled it, curious to see what it was like inside. My research revealed that the rooms were as grand as we expected. I bet the people staying there didn’t need to take their own travel kettle. I looked up the prices for a single room and was given the option to select from rooms which ranged from 325€ to 2567€. So quite reasonable really by Sevilla’s standards.
Once we got used to co-existing safely with bikes, horses and trams we found Sevilla to be a wonderfully friendly, vibrant and beautiful place. We also found that we really didn’t need to be paying extortionate amounts to see the city because we could see it on foot for free. We did eventually give in to the continuous pleas from our children who were desperate to go on the tram though. We bought four tickets (only 1.40€ each) and this allowed us to ride up and down the short tram line as many times as wanted as long as we didn’t get off and we weren’t on there for more than 30 minutes. So we travelled up and down the line several times by which time they had got the tram urge out of their systems and were happy to disembark back at the same place we had got on.
We walked through the Parque Maria Luisa which was incredibly vast, strikingly beautiful and filled with plants and buildings of the most amazing colours. The Plaza de España was especially eye catching with its wonderful architecture and intricately tiled walls and floors. Around the inside edge is a moat on which you can rent a boat and sail around it and then in the centre of the plaza there is a majestic fountain. Whenever we happen upon a water feature we can be sure that either one or both of our children will generally fall in it and this was no exception. Our oldest, Sam, managed to fall in although luckily came out of it red faced and with just one leg submerged. Consequently, he had to walk around for the next couple of hours in a soggy shoe while I found myself walking around for the next couple of hours waving his dripping sock in an effort to dry it out. Again we had opted not to pay to rent a pedal carriage, a row boat or a Segway but instead continued walking, wandering through the fabulous gardens, climbing up a small tower to reach the top of a waterfall and walking around ponds and traversing over bridges.
As well as being wonderfully economical, getting around on foot means that you’re closer to everything around you and that you can notice any finer details. For example, if we hadn’t been walking around chances are we wouldn’t have noticed the symbol ‘no8do’ that appears on various things around the city, most noticeably on bridges, railings, drain covers and taxis. Every time we saw this symbol we wondered what it meant and so turned to our good friend Mr Google once again to find out. It turns out that the symbol is the city’s logo and the ‘8’ isn’t actually a number 8 at all but instead it represents a bundle of wool called a ‘madeja’ in Spanish. Put together the ‘no’, the ‘madeja’ and the ‘do’ and you get ‘no me ha dejado’ if you say it quickly enough in a local accent. This means means ‘it has not abandoned me’, referring to the city and is something that quite possibly we would never have picked up on if we had been whizzing about in a tourist bus.
After stopping for lunch we continued with our wandering, every now and then realising we were lost and not at all in the place we had expected to be. Consulting our map and the big street maps that popped up every now and then on street corners we would set off on a new route before eventually realising we must have taken a wrong turn at some point because yet again we had turned up in a completely unexpected place. We did by some stroke of luck manage to locate the Santa Cruz area though which was somewhere that we had wanted to find and which is a colourful maze of narrow streets lined with souvenir shops, a variety of unique bars and restaurants and ceramics and craft shops.
And so it was that in this meandering, looping, circuitous manner we must have covered most of the city on foot. In the morning I had contemplated starting up the sports tracker app on my phone to record just how much distance we covered but I hadn’t and as we walked ourselves to the point of exhaustion I wished that I had. We had walked for just over 6 hours with short stops for lunch and while we rode on the tram.
Seeing a place on foot really is the best way to go. Incidentally it was also the best way to go to work off the gazillion calories I had consumed at the hotel buffet breakfast that morning. I don’t know what it is about buffet breakfasts that make me want to stuff myself to the point of explosion with absolutely everything that is on offer but that is always the case whenever we stay at hotels although there really is no better place to walk off those calories than Sevilla.
We may be returning home tomorrow but we have lots of wonderful memories of our little holiday in Sevilla and we will definitely be returning soon.