The first day in-country always means a late rising. Wednesday night I zonked out around 8 PM, no reading, no thinking, nothing. Around 2 AM, I was wide awake, taking me back to the good old days of trying to power though early hours waking in the Renaissance in Shanghai. It’s tough to convince yourself that you can go back to sleep when you know full well that it’s 4 PM where you’re supposed to be, but it can be done. And of course, the benefit is clear. Anyway, I managed and made it through to the beginning of the early morning church bells (1 at 15 past, 2 at 30 past, 3 at 45 past) at 5 AM. They get you counting and just like sheep, put you out again. Next thing I knew it was 9 o’clock and time to get up.
We had a bit of confusion lingering in the air. Our old friend the rental agent Macarena had invited us out to lunch before we left home, and the plan was that I would contact her once we were in Sevilla so we could arrange a time. Well, I did that using her favorite (and way too technological for me) means, WhatsApp. Given my struggle contacting the rental agent for this apartment on the previous day, I was sure it wasn’t working, additionally so when she didn’t respond. Therefore, we had no idea how to plan or what to wear or how the day was going to shake out. But checking my messages, sure enough she had replied the night before and I had slept straight through the notices. 2 PM was the time to meet, which gave us a few hours to wander about.
It’s been 3 years since we were here last, and for some reason the place just seemed more mobbed. There were changes too – no more cars or horses in front of the cathedral, the taxi stand removed from our street and few odds and ends here and there in a different configuration. Most sadly, our favorite cookie store was gone – replaced by a more modern and upscale eatery. No more polvarones for us, those slightly bizcochito-like confection made by nuns here for centuries. A genuine loss.
After coffee and Napolitano, we decided to revisit the grocery store to gather supplies to make use of the Nespresso machine in our apartment. We took the long way around, checking on the rehab of the old artillery factory (still closed) and crossing the Arenal neighborhood past our favorite fish fry restaurant (more on that later.) Pods and milk gathered, we took an even longer way home past our other favorite cookie store which was also closed. This one hadsold these great, crispy little almond cookies also made by nuns in the church across the plaza from the store. It may sound like we’re artisanal cookie groupies, but we’re really not – we just have an affection for old, locally sourced things like these, and it’s quite disappointing to see them disappear.
Macarena was prompt and we headed off to our destination for the day, Real Club Pineda, an expensive golf and equestrian club. Our vacations are always car-free, so it’s interesting to take a drive to parts of town where we never walk. The route there was down Avenida de Palmera, a fancy street whose name was apt considering the palm trees that lined it, behind which were huge early 20th century mansions, now converted to apartments in most cases. The Club was at the end of the street, bordering a far less toney barrio.
Pineda is comprised of about 150 acres of absolutely beautiful grounds including a world class golf course and tennis facility. Plus pools, restaurants, squash courts and even a croquet pitch. But the real attraction is the equestrian facility, hundreds of beautifully appointed brick stalls loaded with Arabs, PREs and all kinds of mix and match horses. Two covered arenas are provided for indoor riding, a running track, an outdoor jumping arena and a beautiful outdoor dressage ring. We always try to watch the Rolex Meet on television at home, so we have a decent idea of what a good facility provides, and this one certainly met those standards. Wandering around for a bit we finally found Macarena’s husband Ignacio and sat down to an excellent lunch of croquettes, fried calamari and a Sevilliana specialty, ensaladito. Essentially American potato salad.
As you age, one of the things recommended to keep your brain fluid is learning and using a foreign language. I can attest that the effect is real – I cannot recall a more intellectually challenging and exhausting afternoon than yesterday, trying to carry on a couple of hours of conversation among four people in two different languages on topic running the gamut of children, grandchildren, geography, how to measure horses, Portuguese, rental apartments, climate, politics, favorite foods and travel. MLW had had the genius idea of bringing along some photos of our place so we had those as a nice basis to begin the talking. From there it just flowed on and on until the wine and food were exhausted.
Before leaving Ignacio took us to meet his horse, a nice little gray Arab, being groomed by their son. A cute horse, and clearly the pride of Ignazio’s life. Macarena had an errand in town, so she dropped us off at Puerta de Jerez and we walked home from there.
Local custom requires that we wait until at least 8 before going to dinner so we hung out in our apartment for a bit and then took a long walk to see if we could find a certain bus station that was supposedly the origin point for buses to Carmona, a little town north of here that we are interested in visiting. The online schedules for the local routes are confusing as hell, with different stations and routes mentioned. Sites like Trip Advisor only serve to make things worse as the tales posted by tourists who claim to have actually done the thing you’re interested in, are often full of outdated or simply wrong information. It takes a bit of detective work to get things straight, and last night was no different. We found the station, took a look around and finally chatted with a woman in the information booth. It turned out that yes, there are bused from that station, but not at the proper time and that indeed, the station we’d been to further down the road was the correct departure route. Glad we figured that one out before actually trying to take the bus.
By now it was dark enough to properly seek sustenance, so we headed away from the station and back towards the cathedral, stopping first for a stroll through the Real Fábrica de Tabacos de Sevilla. Historically, when Spain began to plunder the riches of the New World, tabaco was so prized that the king decided to monopolize its importation and refinement. This grand old building (converted to the University of Seville in 1954) was the site of that work. Women labored for hours on end in these walls preparing tobacco products for consumption, the most famous of which was Carmen, the heroine of the eponymous opera by Bizet. Today, it’s classrooms and galleries, in the latter of which was an interesting show of busts and statues made from plaster casts of the original ancient marble version found in galleries across Europe. Apparently, this work was a popular source of decoration for wealthy households during the Belles Artes era.
Our original plan was to have a small dinner at a tapas bar recommended to us by a landlord years before. Café Moneda by name, it’s located off Avenida Constitución near the back of the cathedral, and for some reason every time we’ve been there, it’s been closed. Earlier in the day we’d passed it and it was bustling. Tonight though, it was closed. I think it finally sunk in that it’s a lunch restaurant.
Now destinationless, we headed down into Arenal, marveling at the line of open but completely empty restaurants, broken up occasionally by some very popular bar spilling out into the street. I’m always amazed at the number of places that take the time to open up, cook food, set tables and then sit there empty. Makes you wonder how they do it, financially.
Now faced with dozens of choices, one place jumped out immediately – Freiduría El Arenal, the fish fry place. When busy, it’s a standing room only place, you get a beer or a glass of wine and your food is provided to you in big paper cones. No silverware, no plates, the clientele spills out onto the street, standing at chest-high tables and eating with fingers. Last time, that was our experience, this time we were lucky – business had not picked up and the place was empty. We grabbed an inside table with chairs and waited with a bottle of Cruz Campo beer (me) and a copa de tinto (MLW.) The food comes straight from the deep fryer – tonight pecaditas de merluza (hake nuggets) and croquettas de bacalao (cod croquettes.) Simple eating at its very finest. Following a nice chat with the proprietress about spring allergies, we headed in the direction of home.
In the final stretch of the day, we did walk through the now-replaced cookie place and had a glance at what the new establishment was offering – nice deserts and dinners, but none of the old stuff and nothing to pull us in. Walking out though, we spotted a new store front – A Taste of Spain – and popped in for a quick glance. Sort of a self-serve pastry and candy shop, this place offered all kinds of interesting Spanish products like turron (almond candy,) nougat, marzipan, olive oil, saffron and a bunch of other stuff. We decided to try a chocolate turron bar but while MLW was checking out, a little bag of joy caught my eye – Yemas, that wonderful confection from Avila (also made by nuns of course) that is almost as good as the great confection of Madrid, ponche. I added that to the bill and we went back on our way home, munching on a Yema while watching the full Moon rise over the parapets of the Real Alcazar.