Thursday, May 4, 2023

Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower


Seville Cathedral
One of the high points of my trip to Seville was the visit to Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower, which are in the heart of the city. This gargantuan edifice's sheer magnificence and opulence act like a magnet for visitors. It is the third largest place of Christian worship after St Peter's Church in Rome and St Paul's Cathedral in London, The 105m tall Giralda is perhaps the tallest structure in the region and the surrounding cathedral with engraved arches, huge doors with carvings, and intricate work are spellbinding. The catholic monarchs Ferdinand and his family, Christopher Columbus and his son Diego lay buried in this cathedral.


Facade of the Cathedral

It was built as a mosque in 1172 AD and completed in 1198 AD. Soon after the conquest of Seville by King Ferdinand, it was converted into a cathedral in 1248 AD. The interiors were converted into huge chapels. According to the cathedral chapter, it was said that 'Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad'. The construction of the Gothic cathedral continued till 1511.

Giralda Tower

Among the most noticeable features of the cathedral are its huge area of around 15000 square metres, a great boxlike choir loft, and vast carved scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, The builders preserved some parts of the mosque like the courtyard for ablutions, the huge minaret( converted to bell tower called Giralda) and patios with orange trees. The cathedral has 15 doors on its surrounding four facades. Each of these doors has unique carvings and scenes from Bible depicted on them. The cathedral has 80 chapels in its precincts. 

A View from Giralda Tower

A climb on the Girala Tower is a must to appreciate the beauty of not only the tower but also the views of the city from the windows and from the top. The decorated facades and the windows on the tower are stepped to match the ramps and maximise the light inside the chamber. After the conversion of the mosque to a church the minaret underwent a change as a bell tower. A cross and a bell were mounted in 1400. This iconic structure became an inspiration for several more buildings that were constructed using similar designs like the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, The Freedom Tower in Miami, both in the USA and the clock tower at the University of Puerto Rico.

A view of the roofs of the Cathedral

Some tips for the people who would like to visit the cathedral when in Seville is to visit in the early hours of the day to avoid the rush and also book the tickets online in advance. The 35 sloping ramps take the visitor atop the viewing gallery on the Giralda Tower, The place is restricted so best avoid rush hour to soak the beauty of the city on reaching the top. Finally do not forget to see the final burial place of one of the greatest navigators Christopher Columbus!

PS: All pictures are mine

Monday, April 10, 2023

Real Alcazar- A Treat for the Senses


The Royal Alcazar
Little did I know about a magnificent palace called  'The Real Alcazar' till I had planned a short trip to Sevilla in Spain around Christmas in the year gone by. Historically, the Alcazar located, just opposite the Cathedral of Sevilla, is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. One cannot miss the enormous edifice which leaves the onlooker in disbelief and awe even before stepping into the place. A steady stream of visitors is a testimony to its popularity.

The Main Courtyard
The Royal Alcazar was founded in the middle ages at the beginning of the 10th century. The Caliph of Cordoba ordered a new place for the government premises. Ever since its construction, it witnessed tumultuous upheavals and changes to keep pace with the changing times. Since 1248-49 ever since conquered by Castilians, the place has retained the title of the Royal Residence and as the city's political hub. Besides the architectural frame that acquired new forms as the rulers changed, the new use of spaces, the creation of gardens, endless water aqueducts and fountains with the stamp of the creators in the labyrinth of structures and gardens created 11 centuries ago, the palace has mysteries ensconced in its bosom,
The intricate tapestry on dome

The influence of the Crown of Spain is visible in the buildings of Alcazar due to its relationship ever since its creation. The influence of the changing fashion with times is visible in the intricate interiors. One such example is the Courtyard of Maidens which was refurbished in the Renaissance style. 

The lovely inlay work
The Renaissance artists contributed magnificent treasures to this building. Among other treasures are stylish wooden furniture, paintings, pieces of art, chandeliers, clocks, and tapestries that adorn this palace.
An immaculate tiling work

The upper floors of the place are still reserved for the monarchy to stay when visiting Sevilla. This place is renowned for its artistic tiles. Different forms of tiles can be seen as one moves from one end to the other end of this palace, Puerta del Leon or the Main Entrance has a huge figure of a Lion holding a cross in its claws. A little further is the Courtyard of the Maidens where according to a legend, 

The beautiful gardens of the Alcazar
Moors demanded 100 virgins every year from the Iberia region. There are several other places and gardens that abound and need more than an entire day just to get a glimpse and appreciate the beauty of the place,
The jaw-dropping beauty of the gardens

It would be impossible to capture the details of this fascinating place in a single post but some of the pictures will speak more than words about the beauty of this palace.

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, March 27, 2023

Sabores de Seville


A View from Giralda Tower

Sabores de Seville, translated as 'flavours of Seville', comes to mind when visiting this splendid city in Spain. The range of exotic flavours especially during the Christmas festive time is a wide array of choices, be it food, the flavour of music and dance, fairs, or illumination in a truly magnificent way. Every nook and corner was vibrant with activity.

The historic La Campana

A day spent exploring the magnificent castle and Giralda tower was soul-enriching, The intricate mosaic inlay work in the cathedral, the huge tinted glass, the coffin of Christopher Columbus and bird's eye views of the city from the Giralda Tower were enough to take the breath away. I will devote a full post to sharing my experience of this huge edifice in the forthcoming post. After a walk around, the hunger pangs took over and a quick search brought us to ' La Campana' in the heart of the city. This shop has been in existence since 1885 and the decor has not changed much over time. The beautiful glass cases show off the delicious selections of cakes and pastries. Don't forget to seek the opinion of friendly salespeople who can suggest some exotic treats that will go down memory lane, with the flavours igniting the taste buds. There is a galore of Tortillas, Empanadas and a lot more besides the sweet savouries.

The Bullfight Arena
A walk further down the alleyways bursting with people brought us to Plaza de Torros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria, or the famous Bullfighting Arena. Unfortunately, there were no shows so we had to be content by admiring the beauty of this huge circular venue. This is the largest ring in Spain with a unique Baroque facade dating back to 1762-1881. A number of statues of the greatest bullfighters adorn the periphery of the arena. There is also a museum that recounts the history of the place.
A Flamenco performance in Sevilla

A fitting finale to an eventful day ended on a slightly dark end of a street where the theatre staging a ' Flamenco Dance' was to be held. There are several such performances held every evening in Seville and we were fortunate to attend one. Nobody knows the exact origin of this electrifying dance but origins can be traced back to the Andalucian region of Spain, Latin America or the Caribbean. An interesting fact that I learnt was that around the 9th-14th  century, some migrants from Rajasthan ( yes in India) migrated to Spain. They brought with them tambourines, bells and wooden castanets and with a repertoire of dances and music set the stage ablaze. The passage of time with the Jewish and Moorish influences brought these dances to the present form. The underlying beauty of these performances is the 'cante' or the song in its different forms, the rhythm and synchronization of tapping of feet and gyrations of the performers. The ' baile' or the dance leaves spectators asking for more. 

I will continue with the journey in the forthcoming posts to share more such memories of the vacation.

PS- All pics and videos are mine

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Alluring Kolkata


A view of Hoogly
The magic of Kolkata never diminishes no matter how many times one visits the city. My association with the town has been forged over three decades but never have I experienced a dull moment in the city. One of the prime ministers had termed Kolkata as a 'dying city' but far from it, has surged several folds since then. I will recount some of the unusual moments that I got to experience which include the nostalgia of some earlier memories that had faded with time.

The new bridge on Hoogly

A morning walk to Middleton Street, Victoria and nearby parks like Elliot Park, Ho Chin Minh Sarani, Shakespeare Sarini and Minto Park, which I have done countless times stirs up some lovely memories. The enormous palatial houses built during the colonial era like Kankaria House with sprawling green gardens rub shoulders with the towering edifices of Tata Steel and Virginia House, the headquarters of ITC. The street vendors have lit up their stoves for the preparation of egg rolls, luchi and dum aloo, the fragrance of which starts filling the air. The greatest dichotomy is to see the US Consulate office guarded with uniformed men has an address of Ho Chin Minh Sarani ( the leading communist)!

A scene of morning Adda on the Theatre Road
Cross over Camac Street to enter the Shakespeare Sarani ( erstwhile Theatre Road) where once one of the greatest theatres ran packed shows. On a weekend morning, one can see literally dozens of groups in all age groups who have brought their folded chairs discussing animatedly the current politics. ongoing exams or movies, Virtually any topic under the sun is discussed with savouries like dhokla, fafda, samosas, jalebi, and kachoris being downed with endless streams of kulhar -chai* (the earthenware disposable glass). These are termed " Addas" where the intelligentsia brainstorms and are a must witness at least once when in the city. A little further is Minto Park where one can see people exercising and enjoying the fresh air from the nearby lotus pond( called as Pakhur in Bengali).
The legendary tram at Garihat

On this visit, I travelled to a busy suburb Garihat, known for its huge market for shopping, but with a different agenda. I walked to the 'tram depot' where several trams more than a century old still plying on a few routes were parked. They evolved from horse-drawn trams to steam trains from early 1880 to 1904 when the electric tram got introduced. I boarded the one which was on the Esplanade route and the thrill of riding to Park Circus was akin to a five-year-old on a train ride. 

Inside the Kolkata tram
The rickety tram stops whenever one waves a hand showing the friendliness of these great people. The 20-minute run will go down the memory as one of the most unique experiences.
An array of Sandesh at Nepal Sweets

There are literally hundreds of sweet shops with names like Balram Mallick, Haldiram. Nobin Chandra Das, and some hidden gems all over the city. One such gem is Nepal Sweets on Elgin Road which makes the unique Rose Sandesh, Nalin Gur Sandesh and Kesar Pedas. The sweets in Kolkata need several posts to flavour just a few delicacies. 

Pakuria Salasar Dham temple
Among several temples and places of worship like Kalighat, ISKON and many more, I got to see Pakuria Salasar Dham on the western end of the city. Located on the road that connects the city with a modern bridge, it is very beautiful with a peaceful environment. Many devotees come here to seek the fulfilment of their wishes.

On the way back, the road was slightly crowded and a unique style of overtaking that I witnessed, was the waving of red cloth from the window by the vehicle intending to overtake, A brief halt by the side of the mighty Hoogly was mandatory to soak in the beauty of the old Howrah bridge and the new one.  The sight of small boats cast alongside adds to the beauty. The glowing solar panels on the boats were an indicator that the city is not dying but changing with the modern times like many things one sees here. It was a trip where I was rewarded several times with new discoveries.

PS- All pics are mine

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Kissing Street of Seville


The Kissing Street
So much to see and so little time! This is true when visiting one of the most touristy cities in southern Spain, Seville. Reams have been written about this city's architectural beauty, which boasts of one of the finest specimens of Gothic and Moorish architecture like The Cathedral, Giralda Tower, The Real Alcazar, Plaza de Espana and so many more. I will take you to some of these spots in my forthcoming posts, but in this post, I will take you to this fascinating city's lesser-explored corners and alleyways.


Just a stone's throw away from the Giralda Tower lies the entrance to the old Juderia, or the Jewish quarters. Once it was the second biggest in Spain after the one in Toledo till the expulsion of Jews in 1483. The neighbourhood is seeping in history, legends of the past and intrigue. 

The Mill Stones on the Walls

A very lesser-known fact that left me wondering was the sight of round grinding mill stones on the outer facades of some houses in Barrio Santa Cruz. A little probing revealed that these were built into the walls to reinforce them from constant rubbing due to lesser spaces in the narrow streets and to prevent the destruction of the buildings during carnages. The street winds into picturesque alleyways and is sometimes so narrow that on stretching arms both ends of the street can be reached. Probably this is the reason that Al Antiguo Ricon del Besso got its name as the 'Kissing Corner'. It is not difficult to envision illicit lovers on opposite balconies stretching themselves in an embrace.

Colourful Houses

Most of the street names are displayed in decorative ceramics adding to the decor. The streets are named after saints, holy orders, or trades performed there. such as Calle Abades Alta( the Upper Abbot Street), Calle de los Boteros(the Street of Wineskin makers), Calle de Azafaran(the Saffron Street) or Calle de las Ropas Viejas( the street where old clothes are sold), The unusual list is fairly long one, but in all fairness need to add one of the best one called Calle de Quebrantahuesos or the Bone Breaking Street. ( maybe because there was a bone-setting hospital that needed to be set up to treat the broken bones by the mafia?). Many of the streets have Arabic names due to the Moorish influence like Calle de la Medina(Meaning the Walled Town in Arabic). A return back to Juderia remains incomplete without seeing Calle de la Vida( or Street of Life) and finally Calle de la Muert( Street of the Dead),

Beautiful Patios

The patios of this neighbourhood have lovely plazas with doors peeking into the houses with beautiful patios complete with columns and potted germanium, bougainvillaeas, and roses of different hues. A white tile outside the house painted in hand with a symbol of a crescent, a cross or a Star of David indicates the owner is a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew.

The Aqua ducts
Finally, when I emerged from the Jewish quarters, I came across a fascinating water duct built a few centuries back that is still intact. A little further Jardines de Murilo( a beautiful garden with an edifice erected in memory of Christopher Columbus) is well worth a visit. 
Jardines de Murilo( Christopher Columbus Memorial)

It was a day packed with surprises and in my next post I will take you to some more memorable places in Seville

PS All pics are mine

Monday, February 27, 2023

Hola Seville

The Guadiana International Bridge

" Hola! Como Se llama"? I asked. ( Hello, what is your name?)

" Mi nombre es Gabreilla" y tu? She replied( My name is Gabriella and yours?)

At last, I was getting to practice the Spanish that I have tried to learn during the times of confinement at home during the Covid times, which has fortunately gotten eclipsed with time. After deboarding the bus we headed for the AirBnB accommodation in the heart of the city. I exchanged a few pleasantries with the cab driver in Spanish before meeting Gabriella, the owner of the accommodation. It felt extremely gratifying to see someone understand what I was saying!

Torren Seville

It was Christmas eve in the year that just ended when I was travelling from Faro to Seville in Spain. It is a journey of 2 hours and 45 minutes by road and I had chosen Flixbus which was not only comfortable but also provided great scenic views en route. The sight of the orchards of oranges/ tangerines in lush green fields were very captivating. We passed by the impressive Guaidana International bridge spanning over the Guaidana River, with one end in Portugal and the other end in Spain(at Ayamonte). This bridge which is toll-free has drastically cut down the travel time between the two countries. After almost one and a half hours of travel, the bus halted at Huelva, a small port town, The town is surrounded by beautiful beaches making it an ideal place for beach lovers in summer. The journey continued till we sighted Torren Seville( or the Seville Tower, the tallest building in the Andalusia region of Spain) which is very close to the Plaza de Armas bus station. 

The Cathedral

Quickly, after going around the beautiful accommodation we headed for the town. The narrow cobbled streets of the downtown were humming with activity and we were eager to buy some groceries as otherwise, the stores would close in a few hours for Christmas only to reopen after two days.

The Christmas Illuminations in the City Centre

Barrio Santa Cruz is the heart of Seville, centred around the Cathedral with a maze of winding streets. It is home to excellent dining places, museums, and the nightlife of the city. The first glimpse of the cathedral and the towering Giralda tower left us wonder-struck just for its sheer size and opulence. Seville is world-renowned for its majestic architecture, and flamenco dancing. A visit remains incomplete without flavouring the tapas in one of the hundreds of tapas bars that are an integral part of life here. The overwhelming Plaza de Espana built-in Renaissance style with a diameter of 200m is the hub of most of the activities in the city centre.

The Giralda Tower

While we were still exploring the city hundreds of neon lights were switched on that illuminated the city like a fairyland. Every street was crammed with onlookers and tourists and music blared from the cafes and cafeterias adding to the charm. It is one of the safest cities for women solo travellers as even during the late hours of the night the place remains peaceful.

It was a long day full of assimilating different cultures and meeting friendly people. We returned back to our place by a different route as it is very easy to get lost in the maze of streets here. I will take you to the beautiful places and the experiences devoured during my stay in Seville in the next post.

PS- All pics are mine

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Tavira- A Little Portuguese Jewel


The Roman Bridge

Our final destination in Portugal was a place we missed visiting by a whisker as we missed the right connection. Luckily, the disappointment did not last long as after a quick snack at our favourite Urban Bakery in Faro we headed to the tiny railway station along the coastline. It is one of the prettiest railway stations I have seen, overlooking the sea and the rail line passing over a tiny bridge. This was a compelling reason to travel to Tavira by train. There were very few people at the station and the train was to arrive in half an hour. We enjoyed the uninterrupted view of the sea from the railway platform and basked in the sun. A forty-minute train ride from Faro to Tavira is full of surprises as the lovely views of lagoons, quaint villages en route, marshes, and brooks greet the visitors. We passed by the small towns of Olahao, Quelfes, Luz, and  Santa Luz till we arrived at Tavira

Tavira is a small town on the Algarve coast nestled along the sea inlets and lagoons of the Ria Formosa natural reserve. Tavira is known for amazing beaches, salt pans that attract flamingoes and spoonbills and other wading birds. A fifteen-minute walk from the railway station through the town that resembles parts of Goa brought is to the city centre. The town was festooned with buntings, Christmas lights and decorations welcoming Santa. The first picturesque sight that greeted us was the Medieval Roman Bridge across the Gialo River, which links the two ends of the town. It is said that long before the Romans that had occupied this town hundreds of years back, the Moors who had migrated from Africa, had constructed this bridge. 

The Excavation site

The lovely town's origin date back to Phonecians who had settled here in the 8th Century. While exploring the town we came across a recently excavated site where the constructions and artefacts of the era have been excavated. 

After the 11 century, this little town grew in prominence in the region. The Moorish occupation from the 8th to 13th century BC left a mark on agriculture, architecture and culture. The influence is visible even today in form of whitewashed buildings, Moorish-style windows and rooftops of the buildings. 

Misericordia church

Much of the beauty of this place was knocked down by a terrible earthquake in 1755. 

The Clock Tower

The city was since rebuilt with some stunning edifices added to the picturesque town like around 37 churches, including the Church of Santa Maria da Castelo, and a  clock tower that was once a minaret.
Fado Com Historia

While exploring the botanical gardens and the old town and immersing in the panoramic views from the elevated old city, we came across Fado com Historia a tourist attraction next to Misericordia church. The stylish place has a capacity of around 50 people where Fado music performances are held every evening to celebrate the form of mournful tunes and lyrics about the sea or the lives of poor people which originated in the 19th century

The Gran Market Plaza

The beautiful beaches can be visited by half an hour's boat ride. The turquoise blue sea looks very inviting with boats bobbing on the crest of tiny waves of water. A walk through the Gran Plaza is a must to have a glimpse of cafes, bars vending Sangria( a popular drink), shops and curio sellers lined along. The economy of the place has greatly benefited from the rush of tourists to this town in summer.

This region produces a rich variety of fruits. It is also known for the Mel da Serra de Monchique variety of honey prepared from lavender, citrus plums etc and is used in a large variety of cakes and cookies. The sea salt, sweet potatoes and citrus fruits of this region are also well known.

A view of the setting sun at Faro lagoon

After a very satisfying day, we headed back to Tavira railway station to take the return train to Faro, We were rewarded to see the splendid view of the sun at different parts of the lagoon and finally viewing the setting sun at the Faro railway station from where we had commenced our journey. In my next post, I will take you to yet another lovely destination

PS- All pics are mine