TREVOR LEEDEN (also referred to as “LORD L”), CHRONICLES A RECENT FAMILY ROAD TRIP TO THE REGION OF ANDALUCIA AND DISCOVERS THE BEAUTY AND HISTORY OF SEVILLA AND CADIZ
If, like my family you don’t know how long this unique country is going to be your home, then when holidays come around you need to make the most of it. The last school holidays presented us with the opportunity to load up Rocinante (the faithful Ford C-Max) and head south. The very size of our homelands makes driving long distances seem second nature to Australians and Americans, and so we have no problems with covering 1,400 kilometres in 8 days – and seeing the sights along the way.
We headed down the A5 bound for Andalucia, the south of Spain. It’s about a 5-6 hour drive through rolling plains and sweeping rain. Henry Higgins was right, the rain in Spain really does fall on the plain! With a couple of refreshment stops along the way to check out the coffee , in hindsight, it may have been better to drive straight through. It’s no secret that keeping kids occupied can be an issue, but having finally relented and providing los niños with Kindles and an iPod Touch did the trick. They dutifully looked up when something of interest appeared and were otherwise engrossed in their new devices the whole time (the occasional skirmish over the charger notwithstanding). It was a pleasant day’s driving (6 hours including breaks) to the stunning city of Sevilla, Spain’s 4th largest with more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than you can poke a stick at.
Our hotel was a 10 minute drive from the city but we chose to eat locally after a long day – made longer by having to wait until after 8:00 pm for anything to open (still struggle with this concept!). It was worth it though as we found a little bistro called Al Gusto that served up some of the simplest but best tapas we’ve had.
Travel Tip: The children are 11 and 8 and we economise when travelling by generally taking a room that has a foldout couch. We stayed at the Silken Al-Andalus Palace Hotel, a 4-star hotel. The hotel is enormous and quite new, the sleeping arrangements were fine, but there were several occurrences that would ensure we do not go there again. Free WiFi didn’t exist as advertised (a real issue if you rely upon wifi access) and can only be used in the hotel foyer, there was a €5 per day surcharge for a kettle in the room, only 2 towels were provided each day, and a continental breakfast cost €15 per person. Apart from that, it was fine!
Next morning, we hit the old city running, only to be stopped in our tracks by a café that didn’t want our business. The only conclusion one can draw is that the waiter chose not to serve us and the subsequent eatery handed out the worst breakfast I’ve ever had. This was a real shame because we were sitting right across from the cathedral with a superb brass quintet serenading us. (Travel Warning: The variable level of service and food quality followed us everywhere we went around Andalucia, but I guess not every establishment aspires a Michelin star). Let’s get to the good, indeed GREAT, stuff…..
Seville Cathedral is simply awesome and will, quite literally, takes your breath away. It is the largest gothic cathedral and 3rd largest of any kind in the world, and also the largest in terms of ‘volume’. It dates back to 1184 when it was built firstly as a mosque before the gothic cathedral was ADDED onto it from 1434. Nothing prepares you for the experience of walking inside, you literally suck in air at the sheer size of the expanse (23,500 square metres to be precise!). Every great cathedral in the world is something to behold, but this one’s a real doozy. There are the tombs of several medieval and middle age Spanish kings and queens, the cathedral treasure had to be seen to be believed, and it is also the final resting place of Cristóbal Colón’s (Christopher Columbus) remains (which seemed to travel as much as he did when alive) in an extraordinarily ornate catafalque. Attached to the cathedral is the 98 metre high La Giralda bell tower (the symbol of the city), which began life as the mosque’s minaret before the bell tower was extended on the top. It was amazing, the minaret portion consisting of 35 ramps instead of stairs so that the sultan could ride his horse up to the top for the view, and finally extended by 17 steps during the Spanish renaissance to form the bell tower.
Across the courtyard from the cathedral is the Alcazar. Apart from its physical location, Sevilla’s Moorish palace/fortress is every bit as spectacular as its illustrious counterpart in Granada (the Alhambra), so don’t feel short changed if you haven’t been to Granada. It is, of course, a World Heritage Site, possibly the best example of mudejar architecture still in existence, and the oldest royal palace still in use in all of Europe. The use of glazed ceramic tiles throughout is quite amazing and the gardens are fabulous, as is the Patio de las Doncellas, meaning “The Courtyard of the Maidens”, which references the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from Christian kingdoms in Iberia!
Time was running out for us and it was a choice of the General Archive Of The Indies or Plaza de Espana; we went to the latter, and what a sight it is. It was only built in 1929, but it is an outstanding example of Regionalist Revival Architecture, a mixture of diverse historic styles, ArtDeco and of course lavish glazed ceramic tiles. We had time to stroll through the tiny alleys and lanes of Santa Cruz, the medieval Jewish barrio and pop into a local watering hole before finally settling down for dinner. Our restaurant was something to behold, and if we weren’t previously aware that we were in the regional heart of bullfighting then we were now, as the mounted heads of 8 bulls stared down at us eating. Indeed, it seemed that most establishments had the head of at least one unfortunate el toro mounted on the wall. Dulcinea was initially put off by it – “look at that one, how sad his eyes are”, but really, how would you feel if someone lopped off your head! The food? It was excellent.
Next day, we’re in Rocinante and heading further south down the old highway (not hard to work out why they built the freeway!) towards the famous seaport town of Cadiz (as opposed to Sevilla, which is 80km inland and Spain’s only river port). Don L has done some research and so on the back of advice like “it’s a lovely little town on the way”, we head to Jerez.
Jerez happens to be the epicentre of Spain’s famed sherry industry and all the major bodegas are located here, so we’re up for a tipple or two (los niños are fine – electronics rule!). We are disappointed in Jerez. We don’t see any medieval grandeur, and to make matters worse, EVERY bodega is closed because it’s Sunday. We expected the bodegas of Spain to operate along the lines of wineries back home, but no, Sunday remains a day of rest. Whilst this is frustrating for the LegsyBoys on holiday, we can also appreciate the Spanish willingness to hold onto some old fashioned virtues, like not opening on a Sunday even in a tourist destination. So we leave Jerez with a thumbs down and head onto the seaside town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, renowned as the departure point for Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, as well as the place where the first map of the world was drawn. There’s a beach here (the Atlantic in winter!) but there’s little else to excite here.
Ten kilometres on is our destination, the famous port city of Cadiz, the oldest continually occupied city in Spain (and one of the oldest in Europe), one of the most densely populated cities in Europe, and home to the Spanish Armada Navy. It’s located like a bulb on the end of a narrow strip of land (to all intents like an island) and access is via a massive bridge. In the 18th Century, Cadiz was the most important and wealthiest trading city in Europe, controlling all shipping with the New World (isn’t history fascinating when you can actually SEE IT).
Because of its location, Cadiz is also renowned for its seafood and Don L has researched this. A specialty of the region is fish’n’chips except there’s no chips as the Spanish don’t do chips like Anglo Saxons do. The fish still comes wrapped in paper etc, just no chips (not wishing to harp on the point!). Freiduria Las Flores is the premier venue to pick up some fish’n’….fish, so we make a beeline for it. There’s also a delicacy that Cadiz is famed for called ‘cazon en adobo’, or DOGFISH in spicy batter (made from paprika, oregano, salt, garlic and vinegar!). If nothing else, we are intrepid and so Buzzy opts for some whiting (which was delicious, but not quite the succulence of the famed King George Whiting from South Australia) and Don L went for the jugular. It came in chunks and each piece had what seemed to be a giant vertebra in the middle of it (I HATE bones in fish!), and it tasted AWFUL. Buzzy and Dulcinea had a go and concurred, and the aroma was REVOLTING – we could still smell it clinging to us 3 hours later. BUT, we gave it a go, and that’s what’s important – if you don’t try then you never find out.
Our day over, we wandered back through the alleyways, stumbling across an impromptu street party that was just great and had los niños in stitches as the senora was singing VERY NAUGHTY words (unlike the children, I cannot speak Spanish despite my best efforts to learn, and so was not aware of the ribald nature of the homely senora’s songs!!).
We headed ‘home’ to Sevilla up the freeway and went back to the local eatery where we were greeted like regulars, which I guess we were all things considered.