Question: Which is the country with the second-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world?
Answer: Spain, of course!
Spain’s such an exotic country to me, especially the city of Sevilla. Its definitely very un-European. The weather is almost always clear and sunny, the people lively, and the architecture decidedly unique. Another great day today. It feels like I’ve been having a succession of good days in Spain, over and over, and I’m seriously entertaining the thought of staying in the Iberian Peninsula, missing my flight to Paris and such, and then just buying a ticket home when its time to go.
Woke up and once again, bright sunshine and blue skies greeted me as I looked out of the window. I could get used to this! Had a very expensive (about S$10! First and last time!) but delicious breakfast at a cafe overlooking the plaza just a couple of metres away from my hostel. Basking in the bright sunshine, I started on one of the novels I bought in the charity shops of the UK, munched on my delicious ham-and-cheese sandwich and sipped a cappuccino. All the while indulging in that feeling of contentment and happiness. Lovely.
The weather was positively getting hotter, so for the first time on this trip, I shed my jacket and jeans, and changed into T-shirt, shorts and slippers back at the hostel. Never has sunshine felt so comfortably warm. I cannot even begin to describe how light-hearted and high-spirited I felt as I strolled down the maze-like streets in the ancient quarter and found my way to Sevilla’s No.1 tourist attraction, the Alcazar.
This could very well be one of the best things I’ve seen in my life. It ranks right up there with the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden Palace, Bondi Beach in Sydney, Mount Fuji and the Scottish Highlands in my personal rankings of things I’m glad to have seen in life. An absolutely stunning monument deserving all of 10/10.
And the best thing, once again, is that its free. Free-of-charge! 0 euros! (only for students though). But wow, so amazing. You simply have to visit this place one day. It is reason enough to come to Spain. I was stunned beyond belief by the grandeur of the rooms and gardens of this huge palace. The architecture is so unique and intricate, a blend of Islamic and European influence (it was once a Moorish palace, they ruled Spain for quite a long period of time). It's incredible, it's superb, it's fantastic, it's gorgeous, it's beyond words.
I lost track of time as I went shutter-crazy, intent on capturing every single inch of beauty, the lovely fountains, the lush gardens, the delicate carvings, the intricate mosaic tile patterns, the bright colours, the sweeping arches, columns and pillars, the richly-patterned ceilings… and of course I found time to sit down in a corner of the garden by myself, taking in the splendour of the scene before me and scarcely believing what I was seeing. For free! I’d willingly part with 20 euros or more for this, really. The palace is big, and I lost my way several times, but each time I got lost, I discovered another gorgeous courtyard or stunning garden. Each turn, each corner, reveals something of such beauty I felt I could just spend an entire day wandering through, bench-hopping to different corners of the garden, admiring the flowers, the shrubs, the pruned hedges, the cool fountains…
But of course my stomach got the better of me. By 3pm, I was starving, having had nothing to eat since that S$10 cappuccino-and-sandwich at 11am that morning. Since I was having such a wonderful day, I decided to pamper myself further and so gloriously overstretched my budget with an 8 euros (S$16) menu del dia lunch. It roughly translates to set lunch menu of the day, and is a regular fixture in every Spanish bar/restaurant/cafeteria (remember I don’t know how to differentiate between them). They usually cost around 10 euros, but Sevilla seems to have quite a few of these at 8-9 euros. I even saw a 7-euro establishment, but it was empty so I didn’t go there. If I had money, this is what I’d do every day in Spain: wake up early, have a cafe y toasta (coffee and toast) for about 2 euros, explore the old town leisurely, have lunch for 10 euros, then take a siesta or laze at a beach/plaza under the warm sunshine, go for some shopping and pre-dinner drinks, and have a late dinner at 10pm before going for more drinks. Now, that’s the life! But because I’m really just another poor backpacker, I only had an 8-euro menu del dia for lunch and that’s that.
To be completely honest, a S$16 or even S$20 lunch isn’t expensive for what you’re getting. What can S$20 buy you in a restaurant in Singapore? Sub-standard mass-produced crap along the lines of Fish n Co and Cafe Cartel, that’s what (and then comes the irritating 17% surcharge. If I ever become a politician (not that I want to at the moment), the first thing I’ll do is to abolish this practice of tacking on taxes when the bill comes). Here, it gets you two courses, bread, a drink and a desert. Pretty good quality most of the time, from the happy faces of the locals patronising each place, but I have to concede the lunch I had wasn’t the best (probably because its only 8 euros). Still, it was nice to just slow down and relax, eat a very very slow lunch and continue reading that great book I started at breakfast.
On a separate note, throughout the streets of Sevilla, there is this fragrant smell of flowers. It's really nice, and although the streets aren’t as clean as you’d picture, the sweet, flowery smell is very pleasant. The fragrance seems to permeate the entire old town quarter! Looking up, I’d see balconies overflowing with hanging vines and flowering plants. It's just such a beautiful, beautiful city! And although it's incredibly touristy, it's very lived-in as well. I saw school children getting off from school, teenagers hanging out, old people talking in the plazas and many other snippets of daily life on my way back to the hostel.
Perfect weather can’t last forever, and after lunch it finally rained. Not a heavy rain, just a normal-light shower, but still it was pretty irritating. But the weather in Spain is so good that even rains last for less than an hour, and before long the sun was out again. Now, that is something I can get used to!