Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 05 2009

Sick in Seville

We’d arranged a trip to Tangiers in the morning, though it was raining and blustery. It was worth a shot, and all the travel agents said it was ok, though these were of course the same travel agents who said Gibraltar would be ok.

As soon as we had entered the ferry terminal vicinity, a guy in a pink shirt waved us over, and Gordon showed him the tickets. The guy said they were no good, that those were hotel bills. I was thinking, this guy’s either nuts or up to no good, but Gordon seemed to believe him, parked the car where the guy said and then followed him, not towards but away from the terminal.

At this point I was on full scam alert, but all I could do was follow Gordon and Ray at enough of a distance that I could help out if there was any funny business. It was one thing for us to lose our trip money; that I hadn’t paid yet, but my computer was in the car, and I was sure that looting would ensue where it was now.

Pink Shirt led us back across the highway to another travel agency, as I’d thought he might, to try to get Gordon to buy another ticket from another company, I’m guessing. At this point Gordon seemed to catch on and came right back out, walking towards the terminal again. Pink Shirt followed us all the way, hoping for a tip for his “services” I suppose. Ray and I got the keys for Gordon to go move the car up into the proper parking lot.

It was all moot, of course, because we couldn’t go to Africa; Ray and I just don’t have the right visa. We could have gotten all of these beforehand, of course, but we just didn’t think of it.

Back in the car, we looked for breakfast, ending up at a seedy diner by the bus station, full of smoke, trash and shady figures, transients and drivers, taxis lined up outside as we mapped out the way to Seville.

That drive was much more pleasant, through rolling hills and green pastures with short trees and the occasional herd of cows, horses or sheep. Vast wind farms crowned every other horizon. Gordon, perhaps to make up for the terminal episode, drove at a hundred miles per hour, getting us there in just a few hours. The VW had no complaint; we’d discovered earlier that it is a turbo diesel and got excellent mileage. The weather was brilliant now as we passed towns on hilltops surrounding central church towers, ugly utilitarian sheds around the edges.

Finding the hotel in Seville was difficult; we were looking for a place in the old quarter, which is a warren of tiny alleys with no parking and no real directions. Just finding the old quarter itself was an exercise in frustration, with Gordon on the phone and driving according to the hotel’s instructions. I found myself wishing we’d taken the GPS option on the car.

We eventually parked the car at a nearby underground garage and lugged our things into the maze of old buildings to find the Amadeus, a hotel converted from a traditional home with courtyards inside. I selected a room on the second floor with a semi-balcony overlooking the back courtyard and the door overlooking the main lobby atrium. All the furniture is old, the doors tall and wooden with original metal knobs, the walls thick and the ceilings featuring wooden beams. It felt a bit like staying at Grandma’s house. It is a musical-themed hotel with various instruments lying around, mostly broken, and music performances playing in the lobby on a small dvd set. Musicians get a practice room, but alas are not eligible for a discount. And no trumpets or washtub basses to be found, either.

After we were settled in we headed out for a late lunch at a local tapas bar where the floor slopes down from the door and is covered in dust and paper. The food was very good, and my eye was caught by one of the staff behind the counter, a stocky Spanish man with a missing tooth that showed when he smiled, which was not often.
We continued to walk around the area afterwards, passing the huge cathedral and the old palace nearby. Seville is full of orange trees, now full of ripe fruit that nobody bothers eating or picking for some reason. I wondered if it would just go to waste or if the city went through and picked all the fruit at some point. Maybe it is just ornamental and tastes awful? I have no idea, but fruit was already dropping into the street. If the city had more Chinese tourists there wouldn’t be any fruit left no matter how it tasted, I thought.

Being dumb tourists ourselves, we took a ride in a horse-drawn carriage even though it was too cold; I had been lured by the sun into wearing only a thin jacket and sweater instead of my big jacket. The driver called out the names of various places we passed in Spanish nonchalantly, waving his hand at traffic. Nobody honked at the carriages, which was strange as we had been honked at incessantly on the way in. Perhaps there have been cases of horses being spooked by car horns.

As the sun set it got even colder. We stopped in another tapas place that was packed with people, mostly a party of older people celebrating the birthday of one of their number perhaps. We stood at a table for a while, and I was thankful when we were finally seated as I was beat, but not hungry. “Is he ok?” the owner asked after I only ordered one dish. Afterwards we all had shots of a caramel flavored vodka that was like eating an entire cake in one small glass.

I was still ok when I came back to the hotel, but a couple of hours later I became violently ill and spent the entire night in and out of the bathroom, throwing up repeatedly into the bidet. I think my stomach had just had too much and too many different kinds of foods, combined with the cold and other things. I finally slept early in the morning, staying in and sleeping the entire next day as well as the next night.

I was feeling better by Wednesday morning, though not exactly tip top strut stuff. I had toast for breakfast, eventually; Gordon is pretty picky about where he eats, and he was in the mood for eggs of a certain kind, and we ended up walking around a while before finding a place. Then the heavyset waitress with caramel-colored hair said we could only order eggs while sitting outside, but toast only if you were sitting inside. So we walked around some more before ending up at a trendy café on the main boulevard full of young people wearing black sweaters using Macbooks, where we got eggs and toast and listened to Spanish music videos. I watched the people passing by on the street outside, young and old, and the occasional tram. Seville’s metro currently has only four stops and runs just a short distance, but it is supposed to be expanded in the future.

After breakfast, I went alone to see the great cathedral, one of the biggest in the world apparently. This was the place where Christopher Columbus prayed for good luck before setting out on his journey to the Americas; he ended up just a few feet away as his tomb is also here, born aloft by four statues. The cathedral is impressive in its size, but it is not as focused in its construction as Notre Dame. Sure, you could play a good game of football inside without breaking any of the stained glass windows, but the space isn’t really used to great effect. Even the gigantic organ, bigger than most buildings, looks tiny inside it. I climbed the tower that was the original mosque’s minaret, dodging Spanish teenagers running down the ramps the opposite way, and found that the sunny weather had disappeared; rain was now pouring from the sky and blowing into the tower windows. A collection of bells is located at the top, each with its own name. As I looked down on the city I could see that rooftop space is much better utilized here than in Taipei. Here they have converted the rooftops into comfortable spaces with patios and swimming pools. But it was cold and wet; I headed slowly back down.

I met Gordon and Ray back down by the horses. Gordon had just toured Alcazar and highly recommended it. I needed to sit down somewhere, so Ray and I went to the palace and bought tickets and an audio guide, voiced by the same people who did the one to Alhambra. The rainy weekday meant that not many people were inside, and I was able to just sit inside the rooms listening to the commentary and thinking about old palace life as long as I liked. It is an impressive place, as it should be; Seville was the capital of course, but it is not as impressive as Alhambra with its imposing geography. The most interesting parts were the Sultan’s bedrooms, in the inner sanctums and private halls and escape routes. The gardens were closed, the staff said, due to some imagined wind problem. Ray and I had hot drinks at the café before it closed. It was sunny again outside, so we waited by the cathedral for the strong late afternoon light for a photo, but the light never quite came to the full fruition it had the day before.

It was our last full day in Seville, so we decided to take the boat tour, a short walk away by an old tower on the river. The boats would only run if four or more people bought tickets, so we waited for another group and then got on board.

As soon as we cast off, the sky clouded up again and the temperature dropped. We went down below to watch the city slide past, some historical landmarks, 60’s-era apartment buildings topped with neon signs, an old style sailing ship that might have been a replica of one of Columbus’ ships, and the depressing remains of the ’92 expo, huge structures now seemingly abandoned. I would have liked to go there and take pictures of the desolation, but the weather and our schedule wouldn’t allow it. It was interesting to think that Columbus set out from these waters, but the tour wasn’t nearly as interesting as the one in Paris.

Rain began to bead up the windows of the boat as we neared the dock nearly an hour later. I had not brought my umbrella, again fooled by the previously good weather. I was beginning to think that Seville is just bad luck for me; perhaps it is my Indian blood.

Though the walk to the river had taken about five minutes, the walk back to the hotel took about three hours, or at least it felt like it. The architects of the city somehow found a way to make the structures dump as much water on pedestrians in the streets below as is physically possible, and the streets and sidewalks made short work of my supposedly water-resistant shoes, which now need replacing. Thankfully I was wearing my big Gore-Tex jacket, which repelled the rain well enough, but my pants and feet were soaked.

Back at the hotel, I borrowed Ray and Gordon’s bathtub to soak for a bit and warm up before we headed out again for dinner. I had had only had a piece of toast in two day’s time so I really just wanted something to eat, but again we ended up wandering around the maze for about ten minutes before we found the place Gordon was looking for. It was an elegant establishment with tablecloths, folded napkins, wineglasses, an atrium and no customers; we had the entire place to ourselves. Taking it slow, I just had some salty chicken rice soup and water.

It’s Thursday morning now. I am sitting in a comfy chair in the atrium trying to connect to the finicky wifi connection that doesn’t work most of the time. We are going to check out after breakfast and head for our final stop on this trip, Madrid. Rain is pelting down on the Plexiglas roof high above me, loud enough to overwhelm the opera playing softly in the corner.

posted by Poagao at 3:31 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. I am more than happy to see you resumed writing the journal. Take care!

    Comment by Daniel — February 6, 2009 @ 11:11 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment