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Seville | Tourist for the Day

Here at veoapartment blog we pride ourselves on the invaluable information and advice about visiting Spain that we give our readers and guests, as well as all those insightful historical and cultural tidbits to help you understand what you’re seeing. We were just busily patting ourselves on our collective back when it occurred to us that we haven’t actually “done” the tourist thing for a while, and we should actually remind ourselves what it’s like to be a visitor. The obvious choice was to revisit Seville’s three main monuments, which are all UNESCO Heritage Sites: the Alcázar Royal Palace, the Cathedral and Giralda Tower and the Archivos de India. Despite the daunting prospect of being out of the office for several hours* a crack team of investigative reporters (myself and a colleague) was rapidly assembled, and we set off into the sunshine.

tourist in sevilla (1)the Cathedral and Giralda tower seen from the Plaza Triunfo

Tip 1. The first thing a serious tourist needs is, of course, a good breakfast. We had ours at the excellent La Azotea Santa Cruz (coffee, ham and tomato on toast, and delicious fruit smoothies) in Mateos Gago, the street going up from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes behind the Cathedral. For a more traditional coffee and tostada try the Horno San Buenaventura on Avenida de la Constitución, across from the Cathedral.

Tip 2. There is often a long queue for tickets to the Cathedral. Avoid it by buying a combined ticket at the El Salvador church (worth having a quick look inside while you’re there too), which will allow you to by-pass the Cathedral queue.

Tip 3. The Cathedral is normally open from 11am to 5 pm (last entrance 4.30), but closes early on Mondays (3.30 pm). It’s a working Cathedral so Sunday mornings it is not open for tourist visits. In the afternoons it’s open 2.30 to 6 pm.

Fun Cathedral Facts: It’s the third largest church in the world, and the largest Gothic cathedral, as well as having the most ostentatious (sorry, biggest) gold altarpiece. The Giralda tower and the outer walls of the Patio de Naranjas (Courtyard of the Oranges) are from the Moorish period (12th century), the main body of the Cathedral is Gothic (15th century), the Royal Chapel and anything with bells in it is Renaissance (16th century), and the sections with rectangular windows are Barroque (17th century). It contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus (probably).

Fun Cathedral Things to Do: Look in the angled mirror that allows you to look down at the vault of the cathedral roof. Play Hunt the Crocodile (yes, there is one – not alive fortunately). Climb the Tower. This is actually the most fun thing. It’s a ramp, not stairs, so it’s not too arduous, and you can look out of the windows on the way up and watch the city spreading out below you. The view from the top is worth the exertion.

Tip 4. If you want to know more, get the audio guide.

tourist in sevilla (3)a fountain inside the Alcázar Palace gardens

Tip 5. The Alcázar and the Cathedral is a lot to do in one sitting (allow 2 hours for the Alcazar and 1 for the Cathedral, but you may want longer), so either do them on successive days, or do lunch in between. We just had a cold beer, and it wasn’t really enough, but we weren’t on holiday, and you are, so don’t worry about the time. In summer do the Alcazar in the morning before it gets too hot. Opening times are 9.30 am – 5.00 pm (October – March), 9.30 am – 7.00 pm (April – September).

Fun Alcazar Facts: Originally the site of a 9th century Moorish fortress, the oldest remaining parts – the outer walls and the Yesio Patio – date to the 11th century. The main palace was built by Peter the Cruel in the 14th century in the Mudejar style, and further additions and modifications continued through the Golden Age into the 17th century. It’s the oldest Royal Palace in Europe and is still the official residence of the King of Spain in Seville. It’s shortly to be used for filming part of season 5 of “Game of Thrones”. The Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla are actually rainwater tanks, but are still one of my favourite bits.

tourist in sevilla (4)baths of Doña María de Padilla

Fun Alcazar Things to Do: Read the English translations of the information signs (can they really not afford a professional translator)? Although the Palace is awesome, the main fun things are in the gardens. Visit the maze, the Pool of Mercury (a fish pond with an airial fountain), and the Wall of Grotesques.

Tip 6: Get a map (it’s surprisingly easy to get disoriented) and an audio guide, and remember to look up at the ceilings as well as horizontally at everything else.

tourist in sevilla (2)Archivos de India entrance on Avenida de la Constitución

Our final stop was the Archivos de India, the big square building between the Cathedral and the Alcazar Palace. The document boxes are actually empty (the main archive is now across the street), but they give an idea of what the building looked like in use. You can see some of the old documents in display cabinets and there are often exhibitions, so check to see what’s on. When we were there it was hosting a gold and silver model of Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria. Admission is free. Opening times are 8.00 – 2.30 pm (Monday – Friday ).

Fun Archivos Things to Do: Watch the little film about the history of the building, including its connection to the Americas’ trade (in Spanish with English subtitles). Fascinating.

*Bear in mind this was July and the office has air-conditioning…

Seville | The Crocodile in the Cathedral

This week we have another guest blog post by history buff, tour guide and long-time Seville resident Peter Tatford Seville Concierge. As usual, Peter has a story to tell.

cathedral giralda

It is only to be expected that a city as old as Seville, that at different times has had close connections with many other parts of the world, will have acquired its fair share of unusual objects. One such is the Lagarto, or lizard, actually a stuffed crocodile, which hangs from the ceiling in the corner of the Courtyard of the Oranges beside Seville Cathedral, and gives its name to the Gate of the Lizard, the old Moorish gate with the typical Visigothic horseshoe arch next to the Giralda Tower. Despite its size and location, it’s surprisingly easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But when you do see it, the obvious question springs at once to the mind. “Why is there a crocodile just outside the Cathedral?” There is, of course, a story…

Once upon a time (in the Middle Ages) there was a king of Castile (the central region of Spain) called Alfonso X, also known as the Wise because of his love of learning, especially esoteric learning. His father, Ferdinand III, had conquered Seville from the Moors in 1248, and made it the capital of the kingdom, which Alfonso inherited in 1252.

Now, this being a once upon a time story, Alfonso had a beautiful daughter, named Berenguela. Actually, we don’t know if she was beautiful, but we do know she was illegitimate, so it’s as likely a reason as any for why the Emir of Egypt wished for her hand in marriage. To this end, the Emir sent a magnificent embassy to Seville with rich and exotic gifts for the king and princess. Among these gifts was a live crocodile, whose size astonished the Spanish. I’ve heard it said that the crocodile lived for many years and converted to Christianity, but a second version of the tale, that the crocodile languished in its captivity and shortly died, seems more likely. In either case, a wooden model of the beast was carved, and covered with its skin, and this was hung in the corner of the Courtyard of the Oranges, where it can still be seen today. And the Emir never got the girl.

cathedral crocodile

Charming though the tale may be, there are those who see a deeper meaning in the crocodile. In ancient Egypt the crocodile God, whose name was Sobekh, was of great power, as a savant like Alfonso would certainly have known. He was important to the cycles of fertility and vegetation through his connection to the Nile, and devourer of the souls who failed to pass the judgement of Osiris after death. More importantly, he was able to protect against the evil eye, and the placing of a crocodile over the entrance to the cathedral was probably intended to help to keep the forces of evil at bay.

And there he has been ever since, through several earthquakes and the complete rebuilding of the cathedral in its modern form, a kitsch oddity and surprise for the eyes of children.

Right nearby are our Giralda Terrace apartments, three superb modern apartments in a fantastic location next to the cathedral.

Barcelona | Gaudi’s Barcelona

There can be few cities and architects in the world whose names are more closely linked than those of Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi. Born in 1852 (died 1926) he became a leading figure in the Catalan Modernist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but inspired by the forms he found in nature he developed a style of architecture and decoration that transcended labels and is nowadays seen as truly unique.

For the visitor to Barcelona there are four Gaudi creations that are absolute must-sees.

sagrada familiaphoto courtesy of wikimedia

Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia, or Basilica and Church of the Holy Family (it’s not a cathedral – Barcelona already has one of those), is considered to be Gaudi’s masterwork. He took control of the project in 1883, shortly after it began, and as of today, more than 130 years later, it is still under construction, though there is a target for completion of 2026 to mark the centenary of his death.

Both the scale and the intricacy of the work are amazing. The eight (so far) tapering towers rise out of a fairly mundane suburban backdrop, and the church’s three facades, representing the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory, are adorned with scenes from the life of Christ. As with all Gaudi’s work, it’s the attention to detail that fascinates, especially the more whimsical elements, like the tortoises that form the bases of some of the pillars.

Be prepared for long queues, which in the summer heat call for considerable fortitude and plenty of water!

parc guelltiled benches in Parc Güell

Park Güell

Quite different is Park Güell, originally conceived as a housing project, but now a municipal garden on a hill overlooking the north of the city. Here you can find some of Gaudi’s best known work, including the mosaic salamander, and the entrance pavilions that always remind me irresistibly of gingerbread houses, The hypostyle hall, with the terrace of curved benches that forms its roof, has an Egyptian inspiration, and like many of the architectural elements seems almost to have grown out of the ground.
Entrance to the park was free until last year – now there is an 8€ charge.

Casa Mila (La Pedrera)

Down on the Passeig de Gracia (Barcelona’s main shopping street) you can find the first of the two most famous Gaudi houses, designed and built by Gaudi for a wealthy Catalan businessman, the Mila House. It’s most obviously notable for being built almost entirely of curves with very few straight lines or surfaces. My favourite things here are actually the “witch-scarers” on the roof, which bear a striking resemblance to Star Wars stormtroopers, but the whole building is worth exploring at length.

casa battlo“dragon’s back” rooftop of Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

My favourite Gaudi of all, however, can be found a little further down the street. Casa Batlló, like the Mila totally renovated for a wealthy businessman, is also known locally as the “House of Bones”, and it’s easy to see why. The balconies of the façade closely resemble skulls, and the window supports of the main floor do look remarkably like bones. From inside, the effect of the curved windows is really stunning, but as at Mila, everything seems to be curved, and gives a slightly eerie feeling of being inside something living. Make sure to see the interior light-well, the atrium, with its bright tiles extending dizzyingly right up through the full height of the building.

Veoapartment has recently acquired several new additions to our holiday rental properties, many of them in the stylish Eixample and boho Gracia neighbourhoods, close to these fabulous Gaudi buildings and other important sights.

Granada | Apartments with Parking

As in many historic Spanish cities, driving a car into the old centre of Granada can be quite a challenge. Private cars are forbidden to enter many of the central areas, or entry is restricted to residents, but even in areas where it is permitted you still need to be careful. Many of the main streets have a bus lane on the right, which you can’t use, and these are all watched on video cameras, so it’s very easy to get fined if you don’t know the neighbourhood.

You then have the problem of finding parking for your car. Street parking isn’t really an option, as there are hardly any spaces, which leaves you with the two following possibilities.

1. Public car parks

Public car parks are scarce in most residential and historic neighbourhoods, and also expensive, usually around 20 Euros a day. You should look up a list of Granada Car Parks before travelling and enter the address of your choice on your GPS navigating system, but even after arriving successfully there is no guarantee that there will be free spaces.

2. Apartments with parking

granada-parking-1

The best option if you’re travelling by car, whether it’s your own or a rental, is to rent an apartment with onsite parking. Our preferred apartments for this purpose are veoapartment San José, located in the lower Albaicín, which is close to both the Alhambra and Cathedral, as well as being an important historic neighbourhood. These apartments have a spacious underground parking area large enough to accommodate minivans, and with plenty of room to manouevre.

granada-parking-2

An apartment with its own garage makes parking easy, and you can take your luggage up to your apartment in the elevator. The San Jose complex has apartments of various sizes and price levels available, many of them with private terraces with views of the Alhambra or Cathedral. For example, 2-bedroom Veoapartment San José, with a terrace looking towards the Cathedral.

granada-parking-3

The photos here show the apartment building in the square, and the entrance to the underground car park.

When you do a search on the veoapartment website, apply the “Parking” filter to the search results. This will reduce the number of available apartments to those which have parking at the apartment. If you want to use the garage, just fill in the space on the online booking form when making your booking.

The Bonfires of Saint John

Next week, on the night of Monday 23rd June, the shortest night of the year, towns along the coast of Spain will be celebrating La Noche de San Juan, Saint John’s Night, the eve of Saint John’s Day. Despite the name, it is, of course, an essentially pagan festival marking the passing of the summer solstice, and is a time for rituals of purification, renewal, and the assurance of good fortune for the coming year.

bonfires la corunaLa Coruña – photo courtesy of The Telegraph

Preparations for the festivities may go on for several days beforehand, particularly the building of the bonfires that give them their popular name, Las Hogueras, or the bonfires of Saint John. These are traditionally made on the beach, mostly of driftwood, but including old furniture, or indeed, anything else that you want to ritually dispose of. They are lit at dusk and often kept burning until dawn, and from a distance the sight can be both impressive and a little eerie. It’s also common to burn an effigy of Judas Iscariot, a Christian touch added to the original, and in Alicante satirical models of local figures that are specially made for the occasion and paraded around the streets before being added to the pyres (although influenced by it, this is not to be confused with the Valencian fallas festival in March). As with all such celebrations (especially in Spain), this is the time for families and groups of friends to gather round the flames, sharing food, drink and the communal spirit.

When the fires have burned down sufficiently, you are supposed to jump over them three times. This is said to purify and cleanse you, and to burn away all your problems, but if bonfire-jumping seems too risky, don’t worry, there are other ways to achieve the same effect. Women can prepare perfumed water, made with the scents of seven plants, including roses, rosemary and laurel, for washing or bathing. Most common is to take a dip in the sea at midnight, washing away your cares and making a new start for the new year. In many places it’s considered to be bad luck to bathe in the sea before Saint John’s Eve, and in a climate like Spain’s this may be why people are so enthusiastic about this particular ritual!

San-Juan-festival-in-MalagaMalaga – photo courtesy of The Guardian

One of the biggest Saint John’s Night parties is in Malaga, and thousands of people will spend the day preparing the bonfires, and everything else you need for an all-night beach party. If you’re in town it’s an unmissable experience, especially after midnight when the serious revellers get going in earnest, singing and dancing in the dying light of the fires. You may even end up sleeping out under the stars, but if not, you have a comfortable apartment to go back to.

In some parts of Spain it is customary for to go to sleep on St. John’s Eve with three potatoes under your pillow – one peeled, one half-peeled and the other unpeeled. When you wake up take one of them out without looking. If it’s peeled, you’ll have money problems, half-peeled signifies a year of ups and downs, and unpeeled means a year of prosperity and good health. No cheating now.