Story and photos by Betsy Marvin
“Eye-opening…mind-altering…broadening”, all these terms can describe the travel experience. And residing in an environment and culture other than one’s own takes another step, often changing perspective profoundly.
We arrived by train from Madrid, rolling into the Santa Justa station shortly after noon, and noticed a large sign, as we looked for the taxi stand, to the “Salida Kansas City,” referring to an exit to the avenue named for a sister city of Seville’s. Numerous cabs waited to waft tourists into the old city, and we were soon at our apartment building, just outside the famous Santa Cruz neighborhood.
An agent waved to us from the top flat, and hurried downstairs to help with luggage. She began her explanations, descriptions and instructions in rapid Spanish, and at one point inquired whether Spanish or French was better for us. Aha! My husband jumped in with his fluent French, and from then on the conversation was between them. (I believe she also spoke a little English, to be used if necessary.) We learned about the stove, the linens, the windows, the closets, the keys, and paid the rent and said goodbye. After she left, we noticed the absence of a washing machine, cupboard space for food, an iron – amenities we’d enjoyed in other vacation apartments, but with air-conditioning, internet access, bed and bath, stove and fridge, we are satisfied. It’s a good exercise sometimes, living without our accustomed “luxuries.”
We went out to wander through narrow streets, finding some delicious chilled soup and a tiny convenience store to buy milk, cereal and coffee, our morning must-haves. The tourist presence seems much heavier than nine years ago, our last visit, but that was in February. As summer approaches, it can only increase. See, I’m already sounding like a local!
On Monday I ventured out to look for some food and other basics, and came upon a small “supermercado” not far away. My heart fell as I beheld the shelves, though, especially the produce, wilted, bruised, and browned. I filled my cart with bottled and packaged goods, as well as cleaning supplies and toiletries, and determined to find a real market. Imagine my delight when my husband told me of noticing one en route to his work, just a few blocks away!
In the late afternoon, we visited the Garden of Murillo, just outside the Alcazar. Huge oleanders of brilliant fuchsia, coral, pink and white alternated with orange trees, just now shedding tiny hard green oranges, and enormous Moreton Bay fig trees, over a hundred years old. Geometric walks punctuated with bright ceramic tile benches and fountains characterize this lovely park.
Nearby the maze of narrow lanes in the Santa Cruz neighborhood twist and turn, offering one colorful vista after another. Stucco walls topped by pots of red and orange geraniums or a fall of scarlet bougainvillea shade the alleyways. The typical Andalusian foyers lined with ceramic tiles in many designs, often blue and gold, leading through elaborate iron gates into tiled courtyards of lush plants, offering an invitation to wonder what’s really inside.
The following morning, in the cool early hours, I investigated the Puerta de la Carne market just a few blocks away. Here I was pleased to find many vendors with fruit and vegetable produce, wonderful fresh fish and seafood, including some funny little brown snails, or caracoles. A couple of booths featured cheeses, notably Manchego, the famed whitish sheep cheese, and others we want to try. I bought some domestic figs, although fancy Turkish ones were available as well. Some dark striped melons were new to me, and we look forward to learning their names and their flavors!
We had the opportunity to visit a roof terrace, common for hotels and apartments here. Three stories above the warren of walkways, the view across the rooftops over to the Giralda Tower and the Seville Cathedral, across flowerpots, patio furniture, and antennas, gives an otherworld sense, especially at dusk.
And so we’ve had our first introductions, each beckoning us to venture further. What a month it will be!
*We found our apartment by looking on the internet (Search: Vacation rentals Seville). We looked for agencies that specialize in “vacation homes,” i.e., furnished with cooking equipment and linens. The prices range widely, and clearly the furnishings vary with the price. Another consideration that affects rent is the location. Unless the renter knows the city, it’s a good idea to keep to the tourist center in urban areas, lest he land in an inexpensive but edgy neighborhood.
Most will ask for a deposit to hold the flat or house, with the remainder to be paid in Euros, cash upon arrival. A contract is signed, contact phone numbers exchanged, a schedule set up for linen renewals, cleaning (if included), etc. Agents vary, too, but they are generally willing to answer any questions about the dwelling and area (nearby shops, landmarks, public transit, etc.) for the duration of the rental.