Seville, April Fair, Cordoba and Lisbon
The 3 cities that I visited, namely Seville, Cordoba and Lisbon had one common denominator; with their close proximity to Northern Africa and a history of Moorish domination, the region was a unique melting pot of European, Mediterranean, African, Gypsy and Arabic culture. In the week that I was there I was a full-flung tourist – I visited everything as advised by the guidebooks and was completely mesmerised by the enchanting architecture and interior design, delicious food and beautiful people.
Seville, April Fair and Cordoba
I wanted to stop the girl in her tracks and tell her how stunning she looked; could she please stop for a moment and let me take a picture of her gorgeous dress, make-up and hair do? Not pose for me, but just continue what she was doing before except to freeze in action, for I want to capture that splendid moment forever…
By a stroke of luck I arrived in Seville on the week of the April Fair, the infamous city wide celebration of the Holy week. During this 6 day long of non-stop eating, drinking and merry making, the fair grounds of Seville is transformed into a mini city with hundreds of tents. Unfortunately, it is difficult for an outsider to participate in the fun bits as most of the tents are privately leased to families, businesses or other groups of people with common interest to congregate at the fair for unabashed partying. Nonetheless a tourist is kept sufficiently entertained just standing on the pathway watching the thousands of colourful flamenco dresses strutting by, each girl trying to outdo the other with immaculate make up and dazzling jewelleries. Families with co-ordinated dresses, traditional and not-so traditional costumes, bright orange polka dots and gigantic plastic flowers, teenage girls with their eyes flicking everywhere wondering who is watching their every moves and older folks singing and dancing like no one is looking – I was overwhelmed and my camera was overworked.
Seville is absolutely magnificent; I had fallen in love with this city.
Often overshadowed by the glamorous Madrid and spectacular Barcelona, the fourth largest city of Spain is frequently overlooked by international visitors. Ashamed to say, it took my third visit to the country before I uncovered this modest gem tucked away in the Andalucía province, South West of Spain. Large enough to be fashionable and sophisticated, yet small enough to maintain a friendly and sincere charm, Seville is the perfect destination for a relaxing getaway. I spent 5 nights soaking up the balmy climate and cordial atmosphere, walking through plazas after plazas of folks enjoying beer and tapas, students congregating with a guitar and song and tourists all dressed up trying to find their way to a fancy restaurant and flamenco performance. The city is also home to the 3rd largest cathedral in the world (after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London). The dominating tower embellished with Arabic motifs had me debating whether it was the architect or the city that had the identity crisis.
The irony was that in Cordoba, neighbouring city of Seville had the 3rd largest mosque in the world. Yet the tower (are mosques even suppose to have towers?) resembles a cathedral. Cordoba markets itself as a ‘City of 3 cultures’ – the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews living side by side in harmony but that was hundreds of years ago. The Jews had all but been expelled since the 1400s, leaving behind only a tiny synagogue as evidence of their presence.
I saw this tourist T-Shirt that read ‘España = Mucho (Calor) ²’ which translate as ‘Spain is very hot’. Already in early May the daytime temperature reached a burning 34°C. It is no wonder shops are shut usually by mid-day to re-open late afternoon. The only place one should be in the heat is a cevezaría. I dare not imagine what July and August will be like, now I can understand why many people die in Spain during summer heat waves. People of this region (both Spain and Portugal) are late risers. Each morning I would get up at an 8-9 (which to me is indulgence!), leave my room around 9-10 and still the streets are dead. It’s hard to find good breakfast, and a sure sign that they are meant for tourists is when breakfasts are all named ‘Menus Americano’, or ‘Desayuno Inglaterra’. On the other hand, dinner places don’t open till 8pm, and even then the diners are predominately tourists. At a local tapas place, as I hungrily devour my dinner at 9pm, I noticed that the Spanish folks are still having a drink or two, slowly building up to their main meal…
Portugal – Lisbon, Sintra and Cabo da Roca
A mere 2 days but I’ve had so much fun in Portugal. Other than having a few too many ‘Pastais da Belem’, the world famous ‘Portuguese Tarts’, I managed to pack nearly most of what the capital city had to offer into 2 short days. In Lisbon, I visited Alfama, a hilly suburb with an old Moorish fort, Belem a coastal village and home to the original custard tarts and strolled through the notorious Barrio Alto and its nightspots. The following day I went on the most popular day trip route to Sintra (quaint little touristy village), Palace of Pena (fairy tale like summer palace for the last royal family), Moorish Castle (ancient remains of an old civilisation) and Cabo da Roca, most westerly point of Europe just so I can say I’ve been there.
The people of Portugal are literally more colourful than in Spain. There I find a more exciting mixture of pale and dark skin, not unlike the well known Brazilian and Cuban blend of ‘black coffee’, ‘coffee with milk’ and ‘milk with coffee’. I wondered if it was due to a less regulated Portuguese border or somehow the common language had attracted many Brazilians to the country. Most of the tourists in Lisbon I’ve encountered are from Spain. On occasions I do wonder if there lies a deep-seated habit of setting tourist traps to rip their richer neighbours off. Ordering a meal in Spain is straightforward – what you order you see in your bill. In Lisbon, I can never predict what will show up eventually.
I had the pleasure and luck to sit with an old Portuguese couple at the Pastais da Belem café. Being true blue Portuguese they couldn’t understand a word of Spanish, though fortunately the husband knew a tiny bit of English. They assured me that while there are Pastais all throughout Portugal, there is none like Pastais da Belem. The wife told me in animated body language that on a good day she can devour 9 of those scrumptious tarts in a row.
Before I know it, it was over. Here I rest at the airport lounge waiting for the flight to take me home where the reality of shutting down my business awaits; I need to cut it loose with ruthless efficiently or it will be too painful to tolerate. At least before this agonising but inevitable path that I will have to take, I managed a week-long of escape to a world I am so fond of. Only with the inspiration that came with travel could I remind myself that life will continue wonderfully even after my creation is dead.
Posted by Ching Yin
at 3:06 PM JST