Monday, August 9, 2010

European stop 5: Sevilla, Spain

We flew from Barcelona to Sevilla and landed in our favorite city right before making our way to our favorite hotel of our whole trip. Let's get started!

Total time in Sevilla: 2.5 days, 3 nights

Money-saving tip: 
If you're visiting multiple cities on your trip and you're wondering where you should do laundry, let me recommend waiting until you get to Sevilla, where you'll find the cheapest prices and efficient service. Matt needed to do laundry by our second day in Sevilla, so he dropped his clothes off at Lavanderia Roma (Calle Castelar 2C -- right off Avenida de la Constitucion) in the morning and they were ready by early evening. He only needed one load, and at 6 Euros per load this was way better than any of the self-service laundromats we saw in Barcelona. The bonus, of course, is that you do not have to do any of the work, so it's definitely a small luxury.

Casa Romano Hotel Boutique
Calle Trajano 15
Our room overlooked the courtyard with this pretty tiled fountain.
Price we paid per night: $166
Location: Situated in El Centro between Alameda de Hercules and Plaza del Duque, this hotel is in the perfect spot for sightseeing and finding good food. Alameda de Hercules is a huge plaza lined with tons of bars and restaurants. The Plaza del Duque has an El Corte Ingles, which is basically like a Macy's with a giant grocery store in the basement, so we definitely went there for afternoon snacks (and Fanta Limon!) every day we were there.
Room: Our room was plenty big and nicely decorated. In addition to the bed, there was comfortable space for a table, desk, two chairs and a large closet. The bathroom was also probably the nicest one we saw on our trip, and I know I'm biased when I say it was decorated more like an American bathroom than a European bathroom, so it wins bonus points for style.
Breakfast included?: Yes. And, it seems fitting that not only was this our favorite hotel, but this was also our favorite breakfast. In addition to all the European breakfast buffet staples we came to expect, this hotel also offered fresh fruit beyond the apples and pears we'd seen elsewhere and included hot items, such as scrambled eggs and sausage, as well.
Service: Incredibly friendly and helpful. And, although I would never normally seek it out on my own, the glass of sherry (a drink Sevilla is famous for) offered upon arrival is a nice way to say, "Welcome!"
Internet: No free Internet, but there is a bar with Internet access across the street.
TV: Good-sized TV with good station variety, including a couple English-language stations.
Overall assessment: When you visit Sevilla, this is the place to stay. It feels like a sanctuary, yet it's in the perfect location for tourists. As an added bonus, this hotel also has a sundeck and a (very) small pool on the roof, which is something we didn't find at any of our other hotels.

Casa Paco
Location: Alameda Hercules
Genre: Tapas bar
How we found it: Walking down the Alameda Hercules, which is right near our hotel, we found this place that appeared to have the greatest number of people sitting outside. We took that as a good sign.
What we ate: This is one of maybe two places we visited during our whole trip where I forgot to write down our menu, but what I do know is that we shared four tapas plates, two of which came smothered in cheese, rendering them inedible for my lactose-intolerant husband.
Total cost: $38
Overall assessment: This was a disappointing tapas experience. Maybe it was because we solely read off a Spanish menu and didn't know entirely what we were doing. Maybe it was because we got a lot more cheese than we bargained for. Either way, it was fun sitting outside and people watching, but the food was below average.

Bar Levies
Location: Calle San Jose 15 (in El Centro)
Genre: Inexpensive tapas bar
How we found it: Lonely Planet Spain book
What we ate: Two glasses of red wine, two bottles of water, gazpacho, patatas bravas, fried calamari, spinach croquettes.
Yup, that's a tomato-flavored ice cube in our gazpacho!

Total cost: 20 Euros ($26)
Overall assessment: Our Lonely Planet book told us this tapas bar appeals to students, and we can see why. The food was all very well prepared and everything was truly inexpensive. I miss how you can have a complete meal, with alcohol, for so little cost -- you just don't find that in America!

Las Columnas
Location: Alameda Hercules
Genre: Inexpensive, self-service tapas bar
How we found it: Walking along Alameda Hercules, we were looking for a place with lots of outdoor seating.
What we ate: A pitcher of sangria, jamon, stewed spinach with garbanzo beans, patatas bravas, braised pork.
Total cost: $29
Overall assessment: This laid-back bar had better food and faster service than Casa Paco just a couple doors down along Alameda Hercules, so I would recommend this as a place to try out if you find yourself in this hip spot. The braised pork was a nice surprise -- it was like tender BBQ that had just fallen straight off the bone.

Part of the reason we love Sevilla is that it is a beautiful and manageable town. You can move at a leisurely pace, sip your sangria or coffee, and not worry that you won't have time to see everything. If you visit for three nights, you'll have more than enough time to soak in the history but also kick back.

Alcazar (and gardens)
Price: $9 (adult ticket)
This fort-turned-palace is an excellent place to take in the melding of Islamic and Spanish architecture. If you don't make it to Granada to see La Alhambra, the Alcazar is a smaller, less-crowded version of the other famous Spanish palace that will leave you just as satisfied.
Tip: Invest in an audio guide here. This was the best audio guide we had on our trip. The information is just enough to keep you interested while still allowing you to tour the palace at your own pace, and the instructions for where to use the guide are easy to follow. We opted to share one guide and simply turned up the volume and found quiet corners where we wouldn't bother other visitors (and they wouldn't bother us!).
Fun facts: Some of the construction materials used in the Alcazar are wood and plaster, which were considered appropriate Islamic building materials because they are not permanent. Ironically, the Alcazar has been standing for well over 1,000 years. Also, the Alcazar is the official residence of the royal family today when they visit Sevilla.

Cathedral and La Giralda
Price: 8 Euros (adult ticket)
The cathedral was built on the site of an old mosque that was consecrated in the mid 1200s after the Catholic takeover of Sevilla. La Giralda is the remaining minaret of the original mosque. The only other remaining feature of the original mosque is a courtyard filled with orange trees outside the cathedral.
Tip: Definitely take a walk up La Giralda. Unlike other churches we visited on our trip -- St. Peter's in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona -- this bell tower is easy to climb. The way up to the tower is composed of a series of ramps rather than steps because guards used to ride up La Giralda on horseback.
Fun facts: Inside this massive Gothic cathedral you'll find Christopher Columbus' (supposed) tomb that made its way here in 1902, and a massive high altar considered to be the biggest altarpiece in the world.
Cathedral with La Giralda (the bell tower)
Inside the cathedral
Christopher Columbus' tomb
The world's largest altarpiece
The view of the Alcazar from inside La Giralda

Flamenco show at La Carboneria
Price: Free
La Carboneria is a mostly outdoor bar with covered seating that offers live flamenco shows every night. Our show consisted of three performers: a woman who danced and clapped, a man who sang, and a man who played the guitar. There were no traditional flamenco costumes and no other major frills, but for a free performance it was fun to hear the music and watch the dancing. I don't know anything about flamenco, but I definitely want to learn more after watching this. 
Tip 1: Write down the address of the bar: Calle Levies 18. Then see if a local can direct you to the spot. We tried this, and one nice lady who lived in Sevilla helped us find it by asking about five other locals as well. It is difficult to find! Look for a bright red wooden door -- there are no other signs.
Tip 2: This bar is hot. Just be warned and be prepared, and be ready to drink something cold when you arrive.

As a final note, there was a mini-bar at this hotel as well as a mini-snack bar. Although I would never buy anything from an overpriced mini-bar, there were Pringles in our mini-snack bar that were tempting me for three days, and I finally succumbed and bought a box of Pringles at El Corte Ingles near our hotel. The best part? This packaging, that I did not even notice until I had almost finished all the Pringles:
Next up...we take a train to Granada where we visit La Alhambra!


  1. I love that Cathedral. Quite a trek to the top, but well worth it. Amazing views!

  2. Thank you for the laundry tip! We are going to Spain this summer with - two kids in tow - so I was worried about laundry!