Romantic Seville without the cliches

valentine, romantic, romance, heart

If you want to make sure that you and your Significant Other have a suitably romantic time in Seville on Valentine’s Day, here are a few ideas.

It’s ccccc-cold here at the moment – yes, I know it’s southern Spain, and yes, it is sunny, but the air temperature is a tad chilly. What a great excuse to nip back to your hotel room, crank up the heating and have a sneaky…. siesta. A bed in a toasty-warm room, bathed in sunshine – perfect.

If you need a last-minute hotel tip, the Alcoba del Rey is a Moorish-style place, with four-poster beds, rich colours and an Arabian feel. The location’s nothing special, but the interiors will sweep you away to another time and place… And if the bed creates especially meaningful memories, you can take it home; all their furniture, mostly handmade in Morocco, is for sale.

Take your love to a private spot, such as this Mudejar tower-in-a-tower at the 14th-century La Cartuja monastery. You’re almost guaranteed not to be interrupted, let alone seen, as it’s way off the beaten tourist track. (Even with the Ai Weiwei exhibition on, the tower is hidden away in the garden and unlikely to be spotted.)

romance, romantic, valentines. tower, cartuja

It has wonderful views over the river and city from the horseshoe-shaped arches with their swishy beaded curtains, an art installation left after a contemporary art festival some years ago.

tower, romance, romantic, valentine

You can also get great views from an Expo 92 tower on the river, next to the recently reopened Pabellon de Navegacion. Nothing much to look at, but once you’re 65 metres up, you have the whole city spread out beneath you – La Cartuja, the river and the old city. Come in the evening for the soft glow of sunset. Other places with great views, though much busier, are the Setas and of course the Giralda.

For a more historic vibe, Barrio Santa Cruz has lots of spots for lovers, with its maze of narrow, cobbled alleys, secret, hidden squares and flower-filled patios. The Romeo and Juliet balcony in Plaza Alfaro inspired the Bard, according to some – a nice story, but unlikely.

balcony

Then there are Maria de Padilla’s baths under the Alcazar palace. She was Pedro the Cruel’s mistress: passionate, secret, illicit love – perfect.

Alcazar, Seville, Sevilla, romantic, Valentine's Baths of Maria Padilla

In the Parque Maria Luisa, you’ll find the Glorieta de Becquer, a statue dedicated to the 19th-century romantic poet who was born here in Seville. The three swooning ladies, posed so dramatically, are el amor ilusionado (hopeful love), el amor poseído (possessed love) and el amor perdido (lost love). Round the corner are el amor herido (wounded love) and el amor que hiere (love which wounds), but I’d stick with the first two if I were you.

Credit: Antonio Marin Segovia under Creative Commons license.

Credit: Antonio Marin Segovia under Creative Commons license.

If the mood takes you, here are some of Becquer’s verses you could recount to your love in this poetic spot, just so to make sure (s)he fully appreciates the strength of your feelings:

Volveran del amor en tus oidos las palabras ardientes a sonar;
tu corazón, de su profundo sueño tal vez despertará:

pero mudo y absorto y de rodillas, como se adora a Dios ante su altar, como yo te he querido… desengáñate: ¡asi no te querrán!”

***

Burning words of love will sound once more in you ears;
perhaps your heart will wake from its deep sleep: 

but silent, absorbed and on their knees, as men worship God before his altar,
as I have loved you… don’t fool yourself: they will not love you like that!”

And finally, back to present day: the padlocks. As in other cities around the world, couples put padlocks onto the Triana Bridge to symbolise the force of their love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Juanlu and Aroa!

Nine things I’ve learned while living in Spain

 

 

If you live here too, you may have experienced some of these quirks – and learned how to deal with them; and if you don’t – well, it’s a little insight into living in this intense, upside-down part of the world.

Some of these may be peculiar to Seville, in which case I’d love to hear what experiences other people have had in different cities around Spain.

1) Sales assistants are not there to help you (as if!)

If you have the temerity to walk into a shop and interrupt the dependiente (shop assistant)’s in-depth conversation with her colleague about the new boots/haircut/boyfriend she’s got her eye on, don’t expect a welcoming smile. At best: a scathing glare. At worst: you’ll be ignored. Similarly, if you’re bold enough to ask them for assistance – availability of item in different size/colour – you’ll be met with a bald “No!” – As in, “No, I don’t know if we have it”, “No, I’m not going to look”, and “No, I don’t care if I’m being unhelpful. You interrupted Carmen telling me about her hot date last night. Now get out of my face, guiri.” One well-known department store (the clue is in the photo) is especially notorious for the baaad-assed attitude of its sales ladies.

What not to say: “So, what did you really want to be? Before you became a sales assistant?”

2) Read it and weep (and then call to complain)

Scour your bank transactions (they send you a little slip for each individual one here, rather than a monthly statement like in the UK – an environmental crime by any standards) for strange, inexplicable transactions or fees. Banks often trying to slip charges in unnoticed, relying on people not reading those little stashes of paper carefully. If you query such a fee, it will often be refunded immediately and without argument. The same goes for phone bills – you can be unwittingly signed up, and charged, for premium services which add tens of euros to your monthly bill. Call and they’ll cancel them, no problem. However with traffic fines, it’s a different story – they can be taken out of your bank account without your permission or even knowledge (embargar la cuenta), and it is virtually impossible to get them refunded. In short: watch all bills like a hawk, and if in doubt, call and query.

What not to say: “You’re doing this on purpose because I’m foreign and therefore rich, stupid and fair game, aren’t you?”

3) Thank you kindly

Social etiquette is very different here – don’t expect notes of thanks for presents or parties, or even replies to invitations. I’ve hosted barbeques where I’ve been expecting anything from 10 to 25 people –  an interesting catering challenge. And when I invited 25 school friends to my son’s fifth birthday, with an RSVP and phone number underlined, how many mothers do you think replied? One – and she’s German. If I do get a note/email/phone call to thank afterwards, I am overwhelmed with delight. (My own efficiency in sending thank yous to family back in the UK has become correspondingly sloppy.)

What not to say: “Oh, sorry, you didn’t reply, so I assumed you weren’t coming.”

Credit: Alan Cleaver under Creative Commons licence

Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

4) Be fashionably late

Don’t turn up on time when meeting people socially – you’ll be standing around for at least half an hour. The Andalucian idea of time is, to put it politely, elastic. And once you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that if you’re meeting your girlfriends for tapas at 9pm, don’t even think about arriving until after 9.30pm, or you’ll be nursing a glass of wine on your tod and trying to avoid eye contact with the opposite sex (or not, depending). In case your friends are even later than anticipated, a book or smartphone will keep you from looking conspicuously stood-up (or just sad and desperate).

What not to say: “But we said 9pm! You’re half an hour late!”

5) Run that by me again

Don’t be surprised if people sneer at you with a contemptuous expression when you try to communicate in their language (“¿QUE?”) – such rudeness is, sadly, normal. I still haven’t got used to it. Now I’m not saying my Spanish is perfect, and my accent is not great either, but their inability to comprehend me is more down to their lack of effort in trying to do so, than in my poor command of the local language.

What not to say: “I’m sorry my Spanish is so bad, it must be terrible for you trying to understand me.”

6) Mama rules in la cocina. End of story

Don’t be shocked if, when eating in a family home, the mother doesn’t sit down at the table and eat her meal with you. She will make sure everyone else has their food, before eating herself. Extraordinary but true. The first time I ate at my suegra’s house, I got up after I’d finished, to take my plate into the kitchen. She looked at me and said, “I’ll do that,” in such a way that I realised I’d crossed a boundary, and so I didn’t make the same mistake again. And you certainly don’t offer to help with the cooking, which is taken as an insult about her abilities in the kitchen. And never, ever imply, even in jest, that a Spanish woman’s culinary skills are anything other than exemplary. Every Spanish man says his mother’s gazpacho is the best ever – don’t even bother arguing, it’s not worth it – it’s his sacred place.

What not to say: “Is it me, or is this a bit overdone?”

(Unfortunately us non-Spanish don’t get anything as snazzy as the electronic DNI – just a scruffy piece of paper.)

7) Copy copy copy, check check check

If you’re going to any government office – Social Security, Registry, Hacienda (tax office) – triple-check you have all essential documents before leaving, such as ID (DNI, passport, birth certificate), Certificado de Empadronamiento (recent). Similarly, whenever applying for any job/school/nursery/course/benefit take at least five photocopies of all essential documents (the originals will be signed in blue, so you know which they are). And a book. And a bottle of water. You’ll be waiting in the queue for a while. Also, when collecting an official document, read it carefully before you sign it, to make sure the essential information is correct. A friend had her baby’s birth certificate filled out with her husband’s two surnames, rather than his first one, then her own. So her baby’s name is legally wrong. This short film about someone visiting the Seguridad Social office to register as autonoma (freelance) is very funny. An exagguration of all the paperwork needed, perhaps, but you get the point. (Thanks to Ben for giving me the link, as I couldn’t find it.)

What not to say: “Oops, I forgot to bring a copy. Why don’t you take the original?”

Credit: Black Country Museum/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

Credit: Black Country Museums/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

During the eight years I’ve lived here in Spain, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been jaw-droppingly astonished at the unfathomably strange behaviour of people here in various everyday situations.

8) Pull on your red… boots, baby

In Spain, as soon as November arrives, there’s a little-known piece of legislation which dictates that all Spanish women must discard their shoes and put on boots. Long, short, flat, high-heeled – every female will have her legs encased in leather for the next four months. Even if it’s sunny and 20 degrees. No, it’s winter, therefore it’s “cold” (er, no it’s not), and therefore I wear my boots. That is all.

What not to say: “Don’t your feet get a bit sweaty in this heat?”

9) Don’t be a litter lout – even if they are

Dropping litter is a national sport in Spain. Watch any person – child, middle-aged or elderly – eating in the street, and I’ll bet you my local rubbish container they drop the wrapper on the ground. Not sneakily or with any shame, just straight-out. No bad conscience, because such behaviour is not ill-thought-of here – they’re used to dropping pistachio shells and those teeny weeny napkins on the floor of tapas bars. Litter bins are just for decoration.

What not to say: (Pointing to rubbish bin) “Ever seen one of those? Know what it’s for?”

Are there any aspects of Spanish customs which you find particularly strange, annoying or hard to understand? Tell me!

My first blogging award, 2011 in review, and 2012 (eek)

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I know I’m a bit late in doing a year review, but it’s still January (by the skin of my teeth), and I haven’t even sent off our Christmas thank you letters yet (written two weeks ago, lost on my desk, then refound a week ago).

MY FIRST BLOGGING AWARDS!

Back in November, I was given this award by fellow Andalucian expat mummy blogger Bibseymama. She is extremely funny and I urge you to read her blog, whether or not you live here, and whether or not you have kids. She has a great way of looking at the world which is guaranteed to make you chuckle.

I was supposed to pass the award on to recently-discovered bloggers. Um, I didn’t quite manage that because *whispers* I don’t get much time to read other bloggers. Although, since Bibsey’s kind award, I’ve started making more effort to read more food and Andalucia ones, and even about food and Andalucia. (Part of this is bloggers’ etiquette, which comes down to simple manners – you comment on my blog, and I’ll comment on yours.) You can find them in the column to the right.

I was lucky enough to get second award that month – Quiero Milk, who writes about her mission to become bilingual – very kindly gave me a Best blog award. And it was even in my favourite colour – pink!

THE BLOG IN 2011

Last year was a busy one for my blog – I did 60-odd posts, including nearly one a day in October, for A Post A Day. I was encouraged (OK, mercilessly harrased) into it by fellow blogger Digamama. That experience was a curious sweet torture - writing and blogging (in other words formatting text, adding photos) which I love, and having to come up with an idea for a post on a daily basis which I found a struggle. But it was a good exercise. I had a loooong break once October was finished. I’ve also been getting more followers, subscribers and comments, which is very exciting and makes it all worthwhile. I love hearing people’s  comments, criticisms and observations. So please, keep ‘em coming!

The blogging highlights for me were getting my new camera (which I STILL don’t know how to use properly); watching a flamenco performance with my close personal friends, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duquesa de Alba; and cheering the latter on at her wedding (for some reason, my invitation to the marriage ceremony itself failed to materialise. Bloody Spanish postal system). That post was my best performer of the year. Thanks, Cayetana.

THE FUTURE’S… ER…ER….

Looking forward to 2012, which we’re already now a month into, I’ve shied away from having to think too much about what lies ahead. Jobs, economy, the future, pensions – the mere thought makes me come out in a cold sweat and go and find a large bar of chocolate to eat.

The key to (my) sanity.

Many bloggers listed what they wanted to do this year. The only thing I want is for my husband to get a job. Boring as hell, but there we go. Therein lies this family’s economic and emotional stability. My hopes aren’t high – unemployment is predicted to continue heading north – but you never know.

MODEST GOALS FOR 2012

Things I want to achieve this year: read more Spanish books; learn how use my lovely camera properly and take some good photos (my brother’s a photographer, and I’ve always wanted to impress him); cook more home food; tidy up my office.

My flashy camera, of whose controls I can use an impressive 10%. One of my aims this year is to actually (gasp) learn how to use it. Read the instructions, like. Steady, girl.

I like to be realistic – I’m not going to arse on about getting fit, running a marathon, learning Arabic, giving up chocolate, or any such high-falluting nonsense. Cleaning my house more often is about my level of aspiration. Doing more crafts with the kids. Baking the odd cake. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Walking in Sevilla province: pine forests, glades and lakes

The province of Seville: we will scour it for family-friendly walks.

This year, I’ve decided to make an effort to get out of the house with the kids at least once every weekend, to go on a little adventure. Within easy distance – in other words, inside Sevilla province. Which gives us plenty of variety, with parks, hills, woods and my beloved Doñana park (which straddles Seville and Huelva provinces); vias (old train routes) and senderos (hiking paths).

Via Verde de la Sierra in south-east Seville province. One for another post.

This means piling into the car with a picnic and bikes, changes of clothes and, of course, the camera, and heading off somewhere in the countryside for plenty of charging about and fresh air. We can explore, learn about nay-cha, cul-cha, and run about till we’re all knackered.

A sight to bring a smile to any parent: tired children.

The Spanish are partial to having picnics and barbeques with family and friends in parks, but they prefer the tables-and-chairs version to the rug-on-the-floor so beloved by the English. I was brought up with buns and thermoses and tupperware. Walks were an integral part of our family time together. However they don’t seem to be quite such a big deal here – unless you count strolling up Calle Sierpes after a slap-up lunch, to see and be seen, and check out the shop window displays.

Setting off on our bike ride in Las Doblas.

Our first such outing this year was to Las Doblas, a route which follows the Guadiamar river west of Seville. This is located just outside Sanlucar la Mayor, at the bottom of the hill leaving the town on the old Huelva road, next to the solar power station (tall towers aglow with sunlight).

There’s a big car park, various barbeques with seating areas (ugly fixed concrete picnic tables), a footpath, and a lake with a long wooden walkway. The scenery is unspoiled and beautiful, with a wide variety of plants. We were lucky enough to go on a sunny winter’s day, when we barely saw another soul. The path was mostly in reasonable condition, with a few dodgy, uneven parts; the five-year-old had no problems, and we pulled the two-year-old along on her bike.

Walkway across lake - just like the Florida Keys.

After about an hour’s gentle stop-start rambling, we left the path and found some mimbre plants, which my son fancied using as arrows (he’s into the castle thing). This is similar to wicker, and is used to make baskets and furniture.

Zac with a mimbre plant/arrow.

Then we found our way to the Guadiamar river, whose banks were covered in trees and plants; it was almost like a forest, with sunlight glinting through and illuminating the water. Apparently there are little turtles around here, though we didn’t spot any. Too noisy, I guess.

The river was bathed in sunlight, so it looked like a fairytale glade.

The one blot on this particular landscape was a derelict restaurant. Built by the Junta, it was never used, which seems a shameful waste, as its setting – by the lake – was so serene and completely surrounded by nature.

Lake with abandoned building, designed as a restaurant.

I’m no botanist, but we saw many plants I couldn’t resist snapping – a wonderful variety of textures and colours, from bare, silvery branches, to little margaritas (daisies), to soft, feathery ones that almost seemed to swim in the breeze.

We’ve also had some shorter walks, such as along the first section of the Via Verde, which goes from Camas to Santiponce. Camas is not a pretty town, so getting out of it is probably sensible.

Leaving Camas on the Via Verde.

This was more of an urban adventure, as the via crosses over a dual carriageway before heading on with fields up the hill to the left, and an industrial estate to the right. The path is in good condition.

Then, our latest excursion was to a park just outside the town of Guillena, called Parque Gergal. It is named after the reservoir nearby.

Exploring the Parque Gergal

This park is not in perfect condition: its barbeques have seen better days, though like other country parks (unlike in towns and cities) there was very little litter on the ground.

A pine tree with caterpillar tent.

This park was full of pine trees, so the kids had fun collecting pine cones from the ground. Some of them had white tents woven around their branches. My husband told me this is a bug called procesionaria, a caterpillar which spins a web around branches during the winter, coming out at night to feed on the pine needles. When spring comes, these destructive larvae hatch into moths.

We found a tiny hermita, a statue of the Virgen del Pilar in a little cupboard, with a veleta (wind vane) on top, complete with rooster. Bizarrely, it was a) English, and b) upside-down, with an M in place of a W (Spanish would have an E for este, and an O for oueste).

The Gergal reservoir and dam.

From this park, we had a great view of the mighty dam which holds in the water of the Gangal reservoir, and streams which come out. Alongside this dam runs the Ruta del Agua, the far end of which we visited back in December.

A little dell for your private picnic.

This park was on a slope, and had lots of little dips and separate areas screened off by bushes and trees. Apart from the loud folkloric music competing from each car, it was a calm place with dogs, children and the odd morning-after raver.

A tree perfectly designed for two children to climb. How thoughtful.

Previous excursions have included the aforementioned Ruta del AguaCañada de los Pajaros and Italica – next up will be the Roman ruins of Carmona. I also want to go to the waterfalls near San Nicolas del Pueblo, in the north of the province near Cazalla.

Do you have a favourite walk near Sevilla? I’d love to hear any suggestions.

La Pepa comes to Sevilla

On Sunday we went down to the Muelle de las Delicias to see Galeon La Pepa. My daughter got very excited, thinking we were going to see Peppa Pig, and was rather confused when George wasn’t there too.

Muelle de las Delicias, with its cobbles and old railway lines from the goods trains.

But the ship was pretty cool, so that was OK. La Pepa was here almost two years ago, then called the Galeon de Andalucia. It’s a wooden replica of a 17th-century trading ship, 55 metres long and with three masts.

The galleon has been renamed as part of the celebrations this March for the bicentenary of the first democracy in Spain, drawn up in Cadiz in 1812. The democracy was known as La Pepa, after the day when it was written – Dia de San Jose.

Boarding the galleon - the commemorative La Pepa banners were everywhere.

Now, as on Dia de Andalucia 2010, we had blue skies and sunshine, although being a normal weekend, rather than a puente, the queues were manageable – we only had to wait for about 10 minutes to board the ship and look around.

A jolly sailor from the crew of the Galleon de Andalucia/La Pepa.

The crew, who took part in the voyage to Shanghai (for the Expo) and the Philippines – with plenty of stops along the way, as various plaques showed – were on board to explain how various parts of the galleon worked. Sails are used for about half the time  (I would love to see those massive sheets billowing in the wind). One of them told me that they had no internet or satellite phones – no way of contacting their families. A Spanish son who doesn’t call his mother every day? Especially when he’s en el extranjero? Por dios!

Another sailor - the fact that they were rather good-looking young chaps had nothing to do with it, of course.

It was a real novelty to meet people who took such pleasure in greeting the public and explaining about their work, and their amazing journey aboard this magnificent vessel. Their enthusiasm was tangible – and infectious – as they told us what it was like to sail in La Pepa. Other boats often came alongside to greet them, and they were invariably welcomed warmly when they arrived in a new port, though in the Phillippines especially, they told me, people were out in force to see this floating Hispanic history lesson from their former colonial masters.

Trading routes from Cadiz - round the world, and back again.

As we had recently visited Seville’s fab new maritime museum, the Pabellon de la Navegacion, a few km up the river next to La Cartuja, with all its interactive games involving pulling rigging, steering ships and shooting pirates, it was great for the kids to see a real ship’s wheel, anchors and other nautical niceties.

I'm loving the cannon's macrame harness.

The wheel on the bridge - "Hard a'port, cap'n!" (Haven't you always wanted to say that? I have.)

We also saw the bathroom (small, but with a pretty ceramic sink and, true to its period, no plastic in sight), the captain’s cabin (very small) and the Sala del Almirante – the Admiral’s Room, with its sofas (un-period), dining table and coats of arms.

Sala del Almirante - where the rum is consumed, one imagines.

It was a fascinating visit – especially since we eschewed the queue last time, with then-much younger children who were a) not interested and b) not patient.

La Pepa, with its La Pepa flags fluttering gently in the breeze - tasteful advertising if ever I saw it.

The galleon will be in Cadiz in time for 19 March, but I was told they will be making a call at Malaga either before or after the main event commemorating La Pepa’s 200th anniversary. It has already visited the ports of Bilbao, Santander, La Coruña and Huelva – as well as Cadiz (of course), where 25,000 people came on board – and will be heading up the east coast of Spain to Valencia and Barcelona, among others.

The galleon, with the Puente del Quinto Centenario, built for Expo 92 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage of discovery.

In the meantime, it’s a pretty impressive sight, surrounded by smaller craft – sailing boats, canoes, windsurfers – moored at this beautiful quay on the river Guadalquivir. This is the spot from where so many of the New World ships left in search of lands to colonise, and to where they returned laden with gold and silver, helping to create the mighty Spanish Empire, and Seville’s Golden Age.

La Pepa is at the Muelle de las Delicias in Seville until 29 January. You can visit the ship from 3pm-6pm on Fridays, and 10am-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays; admission is scot-free. For more information about future port visits, see the Fundacion Nao Victoria’s website.