Tag Archives: Spain

Seville’s Cathedral and the Alcázar

According to the legend, the builders of the Cathedral declared: “Let us create such a building that future generations will take us for lunatics.” The enormity of the Cathedral certainly does border on madness. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and one of the world’s largest churches. It took more than 100 years to build it. Much of the gold looted in Latin America went into this very edifice. The Cathedral occupies the spot of an earlier pre-Reconsquista Grand Mosque – only the Giralda and the orange gardens remain from that time.

The entrance:

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Gorgeous Sevilla

What are the top tourist attractions in Spain? The conventional answers to this question would be Barcelona, Madrid, perhaps the Canary Islands. After this trip to Spain I changed my mind completely. The most incredible, fascinating, impressive tourist city in Spain must surely be Sevilla. If anyone should ask me for a travel advice in Spain, Sevilla will be my first suggestion from now on. Like a huge birthday cake full of exquisite and varied flavours, it simply explodes with head turning attractions and authentic experiences. Sevilla surpasses all expectation.

So much so that I even have trouble choosing where to start. Let it be the fairytale-like Plaza Espana. This ensemble was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exhibition and like the Eiffel tower never left – turning instead to a symbol of the city.

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Despite its small size, the township of Tarifa is widely known. Firstly, although Gibraltar gave its name to the Strait and controls it militarily, the Southern tip of Europe is in fact in Tarifa. Secondly, due to this geographical fact Tarifa faces the open water on both sides – and therefore it is extremely windy. The winds have made Tarifa a veritable Mecca for all sorts of surfers – from wave surfers to windsurfers to kitesurfers. Thirdly, due to the permanent extreme sports community a kind of a mini-Woodstock atmosphere has formed here.

I arrived in Tarifa at the time when the season was winding down, though not the winds. Tarifa stood half-empty, and yet the weather was warm and of course windy. A dreamy mood at the beach:

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Look at Spain and try to imagine the point closest to the ocean. The one point from where you would try to launch a Trans-Atlantic journey. Well, Cádiz would be it. The lower left corner, the one that almost looks achingly (or greedily?) towards the riches of Latin America. This strategic position immediately behind the Pillars of Hercules, as well as its ideal natural harbour, made Cádiz probably the oldest town in Europe. The Phoenicians founded it in the days when the world was still young and no empire had ever set its sights on the European continent.

Cádiz’s location is surreal. Old Cádiz is found on a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a sliver of narrow land. As if a classical ruler had decided in his flight of fancy to build a fairytale city based on a project imagined by a court philosopher. In our days the town no longer fits to the peninsula and has steadily grown towards and onto the mainland.

When Columbus discovered America, the first base where the riches flowed and where they were counted and distributed was Sevilla. Sevilla is the point where the river Guadalquivir loses its navigability, hence that was where the ships had to stop and unload. Later a disaster struck: Guadalquivir silted and the unloading point with all the riches was moved here, to Cádiz, bringing with it an unimaginable wealth. This went on until the fall of the Spanish colonial empire in the beginning of 19th century.

Here in the distance you can see the narrow strip of land that leads towards the mainland (it has the wide sand beach, whereas Old Cádiz only offers a boring and narrow stone beach).

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Welcome to Andalusia: Jerez de la Frontera

Spain is surprisingly heterogenous. Compared to Italy, its geography looks more like a single entity, and yet culturally it is more diverse – take for one the fact that so many of its regional languages and dialects remain in active use. (Gastronomically though Italy is the clear champion.) This means you just have to visit different parts of Spain. And I’ve been to quite a few, though I always wanted to spend a bit more time in Andalusia. My brother spent one winter in Granada with his family and I visited them there, but it was a short visit and Andalusia has many other interesting places apart from Granada. Therefore this time I headed South West from Barcelona – and the first stop was Jerez de la Frontera.

Jerez is most famous thanks to sherry, the famous fortified wine that originates here. The very word sherry is a linguistic derivative of Jerez. The wine is rather strong, up to 20 degrees. I was surprised to find the amazing variety of various sherries to be found in any Jerez restaurant. Wikipedia has a wealth of info on all of them, I will say that I liked the sweet varieties the most – such as Pedro Ximenez.
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I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Barcelona. And yet I realise that I keep finding myself here. This year was the sixth time that I came to Barça, not counting comings and goings within each visit. For example this time I did a change here on my way from Girona airport to Andorra, then from Andorra to a plane to Belgrade, and another time on the way from Sardinia – but all of this I consider as one visit.

Barcelona is a middle sized city, but it feels like a huge one. You can’t come here unannounced and expect to find accommodation easily, the way I do most everywhere in the world on my big trip. In terms of hotel availability and prices Barcelona is in the same league with London, Paris and New York, despite the fact that it’s way smaller. For me Barcelona is full of unexpected twists that are no problem if you know about them, but that keep disorienting you if you come here as a visitor. Above all it is counter-intuitive: things are not where you expect them to be and clear information is hard to obtain.
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