** This is a fairly long post, if you are short on time you can read brief travel stories
The driver applied a sudden break and I woke up. After traveling for around six hours, our bus had crossed the border into Southern Spain from Portugal. It was five in the morning; everyone in the bus was asleep as we entered the outskirts of Seville, the capital of Andalucía province.
Soon the bus dropped us at the Seville bus station; it was early in the morning and there was still an hour in sunrise. My friend and I rushed to the indoor waiting area because it was quite cold outside. In the waiting area, we opened city maps and our to do list for the city. We had not booked a hostel so I searched through booking.com and came across Black Swan Hostel; it was rated as #1 in the value for money category. However, like all other hostels it also opened its check-in counter at 2pm. Exploring the city is not at all fun if your backpacks are fully loaded, in desperation I called the hostel and to my delight received a warm welcome from them. The receptionist told us that the hostel had a 2pm check-in policy; however, we could come and submit our luggage at the hostel. It was still dark outside with 30 mins to sunrise. We decided to walk to the hostel which was hardly 2km away from the bus station. The city was dead asleep, the roads were empty, and it had rained all night so the breeze was slightly cold. The street lights were lit, all buildings had flash lights turned on them but there was not a single person on the streets. The fancy lighting was extremely beautiful and peaceful because hustle of the day had not started yet.
Google maps helped us get to the hostel, where we submitted our extra luggage. The receptionist informed us about the free breakfast policy at the hostel. As we completed our breakfasts, the sun started to rise and the sky turned from pure black to shades of blue. Soon we were on our way to Plaza De Espana, the iconic building has been portrayed as a trademark of Seville.
The Black swan hostel is situated very conveniently with all major tourist attractions in a 3 km radius. It was still early in the morning; the only people we came across were the city cleaning staff of the municipality. It started raining again on our way; thankfully we had raincoats and umbrellas to save us. We reached Plaza De Espana to find out that we were the only tourists on the site. We reached there too early and that meant we had ample time to absorb our surrounding and of course do some nice photography, after all human beings have the tendency to ruin nice pictures. In an hour the whole structure would be bustling with tourists.
The architecture of Plaza de Espana depicts a unique blend of Moorish and Spanish cultures. It has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie series Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Theedon, It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.
It started raining quite hard so we decided to halt our tourism and took shelter inside the building; a few Chinese tourists were also there. The building was beautiful from the inside as well; we went to the second floor of the building which was equally magnificent.
After spending a couple of hours at this architectural masterpiece we left for our next destination, Real Alcazar. I had heard a lot about its immense architectural beauty, historical significance and relevance in modern pop culture.
In the year 711 Muslim Moors swept in from Africa and conquered the Iberian Peninsula. They ruled Spain for five centuries inspiring a Europe wide crusade among Christians to conquer the region. The Muslim rule stretched till France but bit by bit the Moors were pushed back, Seville was conquered by Christian forces in in 1248. By 1492, Muslims were completely driven out of Western Europe.
In Seville the Moors ruled from this building, ten centuries later it is still the oldest palace still in use in Europe. While the ground floor is open for tourists the floors above are reserved for the Spanish royal family. The present building has gone through several expansions by later Spanish kings. Nevertheless, the building was allowed to retain its inscription of Quranic verses. New additions included shapes and images of animals and other living objects. It is a preeminent example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula and displays a unique coexistence of Islam and Christianity, the east and the west. As such this building shreds Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis to pieces.
The palace was the birthplace of Infanta Maria Antonietta of Spain (1729-1785), daughter of Philip V of Spain and Elisabeth Farnese, when the king was in the city to oversee the signing of the Treaty of Seville (1729) which ended the Anglo-Spanish War (1727). In more recent times the palace served as the headquarters of House Dorne in the 5th season of Game of thrones.
Today it is one of the most visited sites in the world. We left Real Alcazar completely overwhelmed, every inch of the building lived to its reputation. The Alcazar’s exit opens into a wide platform with Seville cathedral, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It drizzled all day; we walked through the beautiful Seville streets all the way to our hostel. The city had its very unique vibe and you could feel it. The beautifully paved streets were surrounded by colorful buildings on both sides; every building had its own color and persona.
It was well past 2pm so we returned to the hostel, picked our luggage and checked into our room, which was a beautifully decorated, cozy and warm room with 3 bunk beds. We were delighted to discover that the hostel had arranged a free dinner and flamenco show in the night, our trip to Seville was getting unbelievably beautiful at every turn. We ended up at this hostel as a coincidence and then its free meals and proximity to all major tourist sites was something we had not foreseen. The hostel itself had a beautiful interior just like everything outside in the city. I was tired after walking and exploring the city so I took a nap. When I woke up I met our roommates, who were from France and Morocco respectively. They turned out to be really nice lads and we got along very well. I had read the travel diary of Ibn-e-Batuta, the famous traveler from Tangiers, Morocco. So I knew a bit about his country however, the Morocco guy struggled with English. It was the French guy, Romain Tovar who would bridge our language barrier. Romain was traveling around Spain; he was very keen to know about Pakistan so I told him about the sheer beauty of Pakistan and its deep historical and cultural roots. He promised that he would visit Pakistan soon. He was surprised to see how a trip to Pakistan would be very economical given the poor standing of Pakistani Rupee against Euro. I didn’t know if it was something to be happy or sad for.
The Black Swan hostel has a very interesting tradition that it provides its guests with the essential ingredients and then all the guests work together to prepare the dinner in the kitchen. This is a not just a cooking exercise but also a great social activity, through it you get to know everyone in the hostel. We joined 15 other guests in the kitchen; we divided the work equally among ourselves. I had to cut potatoes, which I believe I did quite artistically. The 15 of us were roughly the same age and all of us were passionate travelers so everyone had great stories to tell. One of the guests was a lady from Hungary, she had just returned from the historic city of Cordoba where I would go in the morning. She guided me about the train that leaves for Cordoba, its timings and all the important places to see in the city.
After the dinner we were informed that the Flamenco show would take place in the old quarters of the city, a 15 min walk from the hostel. Flamenco is an integral part of Andalucían culture. Writers and poets over the years have given it a magical and mysterious meaning, a spiritual significance that goes beyond human understanding. Flamenco is made up of four elements, Cante-Voice, Baile-Dance, Toque-Guitar, and the Jaleo, which roughly translated means “hell raising” and involves the handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement. It’s a fascinating part of Andalucian culture and I had always wanted to see it.
We left the hostel at 10pm, it was still raining outside. We walked through the empty streets of old town to a quarter that hosted the Flamenco show. The quarter was full of people and there was hardly space to step. We were joined by other guests at the quarter; I managed to find a place to stand. Taking pictures was not allowed and thankfully so because I didn’t worry about taking pictures and recording it, I believe I was able to experience the setting better and truly immerse in a pure Andalucican experience.
It was well past midnight as we made our way back to the hostel through the old quarters of a city with its abundance in history, culture and untold stories. Back at the hostel we greeted goodbyes to all the guests and promised to stay in touch with the hopes of meeting again somewhere someday. I woke up at 5am to catch my train to Cordoba.