Seville is more than its Holy Week and Feria celebrations, when prices go up and the lines to major sites like its famed cathedral and Royal Alcázar palace grow longer. The Andalusian capital reveals itself as a walkable —and bikeable — city with layers of its Christian, Muslim and Jewish heritage still visible. Venture beyond the usual church-palace itinerary and discover more of this multicultural history in a startling, but less-visited basilica, in examples of Moorish-Gothic Mudéjar architecture, in minarets that became bell towers and in the remnants of a Jewish cemetery.
Begin in the Triana district, across the Guadalquivir river that once separated the aristocrats from the poor and working classes. Near the riverbank, the traditional Triana Marketis a lovely, covered space where some vendors sell fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, their stalls marked with bright ceramic tiles, while others sell coffee, fancy pastries or souvenir posters and lacy fans.
But underneath the market are the remains of the medieval Castle of San Jorge, the seat of the notorious Spanish Inquisitionand now home to the Museum of Tolerance. The exhibition chronicles abuses of power by the Catholic monarchy and takes a poignant look at some of the thousands of people who were imprisoned and tortured, including Jews who had converted to Christianity but were suspected of secretly practicing Judaism. As visitors walk through the ruins of homes, stables and jail cells, they are urged to examine “the tragic nature of the past” (free).
Once an area that sheltered sailors and ceramics workers, the residents still proudly refer to the area as the Independent Republic of Triana. For an introduction to Seville’s cuisine sample a few of the neighborhood’s characteristic tapas bars. A solo tour, guided by a young dancer named Jesús (notjustatourist.com; 95 euros, or about $111) was a perfect introduction to navigating the culture of the smaller tapas servings (versus the larger portions called raciones).
Start by admiring the azulejo tiles and vintage bullfight posters at Casa Cuesta, in operation since 1880. Try a tinto de verano, a fizzy red-wine-based drink, while sampling pork-cheek stew, an Arab-influenced spinach and chickpea casserole, or fried eggplant fingers drizzled with dark cane-sugar syrup. Move on up the road to the original outpost of Las Golondrinas for a glass of Cruzcampo pilsner and a dish of grilled mushrooms with parsley aioli, or a slab of sizzling hot, salt-flaked pork loin on bread that soaks up the juices. The final stop on our tour was the sleeker Tipico for dry white sherry and traditional dishes presented in fresh ways, including an olive oil and potato salad with tuna and diced red onion.
Stroll a few minutes east of the old city walls for a low-key but filling breakfast at La SinMiedo, a cultural center and cafe with a feminist ethos. Sit in the open-air, family-friendly courtyard sipping a café con leche (1.30 euros) while the woman behind the bar prepares toasted brown bread with ham and havarti cheese (1.20 euros) or a bowl of yogurt and fruit (2.20 euros). Buy a souvenir coffee mug with an image of Simone de Beauvoir, Rosa Parks or the Spanish writer Emilia Pardo Bazán, and consider returning for an evening concert or dance performance in the center’s Isadora Duncan Room.
Continue to Calle San Luis, a long, narrow street anchored by the neo-baroque and relatively recent (1941) Basílica de la Macarena. Behind the altar is the bejeweled 17th-century “Virgin of Hope,” a centerpiece of Seville’s Holy Week festivities. Time it right and you might encounter a wedding ceremony and women wearing lace mantillas elevated by ornate hair combs.
Continue down San Luis for a snack of marinated salmon with egg salad and toast (6.5 euros) at Kök Tu Cocina, which calls itself a gastronomic atelier, with the contemporary décor to match. Then check out the wares at the nearby Janmei boutique: colorful ceramic bowls (6.95 euros) and dangly earrings (12.50 euros), among other items. Continue to Plaza San Marcos to view the Moorish accents on the tower of the Catholic church. The tower, like that of Seville Cathedral, replaced a long-ago minaret.
Seville has no shortage of places to see hip-swiveling flamenco dancing, some less touristy than others. Why just see a show when you can be the show? At Casa de la Memoria you can join a one-hour beginner’s flamenco lesson (10 euros). (A staff member might even use your smartphone to record the result so you can practice at home.) The Casa also offers live flamenco performances in the evenings where you might see your instructor do those tricky wrist movements, foot stomps and hand claps at professional speed. Ask about a lesson-show package (25 euros).
Head to the Alameda de Hércules, a rectangular plaza ringed with trees that has become a hipster haven, and which is notable for a pair of Roman-era columns supporting statues of Hercules and Julius Caesar. Grab an outdoor table under an umbrella at Arte y Sabor, which is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.Try the fresh-mushroom soup (3.60 euros) and falafel with yogurt sauce (2.90 euros), accompanied by herbed green olives, seeded rolls and crunchy crackers called picos.
Rest those tired feet and weary shoulders at the Aire de Sevilla thermal baths. Enter a 16th-century Mudéjar-style palace said to have been built over the site of a first-century bath house. Stash your belongings in a locker and change into a swimsuit and robe before descending a candlelit staircase to the salt pool in the oldest part of the spa. Move on to the hammam steam room and the cold-blast shower stall, then climb the stairs to laze in the Moorish atmosphere of the tepidarium’s turquoise waters beneath brass lanterns. Try the smaller hot tub and the cold plunge pool, or visit the Bath of a Thousand Jets, whichaccommodates at least a dozen people. Afterward, relax in the sunny courtyard with a glass of lemony water. (37 euros on weekends; extra for massages or a wine bath in a marble tub.)
A guided Sevilla BikeTour leaves from the Mak In Line cycling shop. Pedal along the river and across the Isabel II Bridge to parts of the city few tourists see. The route can swing through the courtyards of the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art — a former monastery turned ceramics factory turned museum, where the eerie Cristina Lucas “Alicia” installation pokes through the windows — and roll past sites that remain from Expo ’92,including a towering model of an Ariane rocket outside what was the Pavilion of the Future. Navigation becomes trickier as you circle back across the river, past cars and children kicking soccer balls, to the Plaza de España (“Star Wars” fans may recognize it as the capital of Naboo) and back along the river as young people gather along the banks with classical guitarsto serenade the sunset. (Roughly two hours, 25 euros.)
Instead of waiting in line at the EME Catedral Hotel for a seat at its rooftop bar with a cathedral view, try the panorama from the Hotel Inglaterra’s rooftop bar, La Terraza.Another choice is the multilevel Roof bar atop the Hotel Casa Romana, for its take on a Negroni.
Spaniards eat late, and it’s not unusual to see people waiting for seats in the bustling Santa Cruz neighborhood. But tables can turn quickly at casual venues like La Bartola, and its generous tapas portions of organic vegetable combos and Spanish-Asian fusion dishes like a spicy pork “wok” (4.50 euros) and tuna carpaccio (4.50 euros), or a more traditional garlic and almond soup (3 euros) are worth the wait. The place is also a wine bar — try a glass of the red, oak-aged Tetas de la Sacristana or a young, citrusy white called K-Nai.
Gain insight into the another aspect of Seville’s past during a walking tour from the Center for Jewish Interpretation.Over roughly two hours, you’ll be introduced to streets that used to be named for the shoemakers and bakers who had lived in the now-vanished community. You will see a convent built in the 14th century on what had been the site of a synagogue, and visit an underground parking garage that displaced all but one of some 300 graves from what had been the Jewish cemetery. The one grave that was not relocated is preserved behind glass at stall No. 9 (22 euros).
For a souvenir that weighs next to nothing, try Inés Rosales Tortas de Aceite. These crisp, sugar-dusted wafers from the Seville region are made with olive oil and come in flavors like orange, cinnamon or anise and sesame. A package of six runs about 2.5 euros at the brand’s shop a few minutes’ walk north of the cathedral.
The 50-room Hotel Palacio Villapanés (Calle Santiago 31, 34-954-50-20-63; palaciovillapanes.com; from around 200 euros, without breakfast, off season; hotel prices in Seville rise during festival periods) is a converted 18th-century Sevillian baroque palace with lacelike iron gates and a traditional open, marble-pillared courtyard that doubles as a palm garden and cocktail lounge. Check-in takes place in a quiet antechamber as you sit with a glass of sparkling cava or a cup of tea. Rooms feature wooden flooring and fluffy white duvets and a minibar with all of its contents free, including fizzy sangria in a bottle. Hanging in the large bathrooms are robes you can wear to the basement spa where wet and dry saunas await.
Triana House (Calle Rodrigo de Triana 98; 34-644-889-810; trianahouse.com; from around 170 euros) has no lobby and no communal spaces unless you count the marble staircase, but behind its unassuming exterior are possibly the loveliest and quietest bedrooms on the Triana side of Seville, with a whiff of Art Deco design in its chevron-patterned black and white stone floors. A hearty breakfast that might include cured ham, tomato tapenade, muffins, toast and olive oil is delivered to your door at the requested time. Its six rooms are tastefully decorated according to themes like Paris, Napoli or Beijing.
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