Friday 12 July 2013
A vast cathedral with a lunch to match; a peaceful park and a confected plaza—that was Friday in a nutshell. But we needed to start the day with something to fortify our legs.
I learned how to cook Eggs à la Ho Chi Minh from a street-vendor who had a tiny mobile kitchen on a bicycle which she parked outside the Hotel Ana in Saigon, where she fed the tourists as they emerged onto the street. I have cooked this dish many times whilst travelling with Susie, Ruby and Clare. It can be cooked on a campfire or a stove top, and it requires no plates or utensils (although a paper serviette is handy). Each omelette should be prepared individually, but with a bit of practice it should take less than a couple of minutes per breakfast. Wash it down with black coffee or an orange juice.
Ingredients: Oil, roughly chopped onion and tomato, eggs, seasoning, and a Saigon roll (or equivalent).
Method: Heat the oil, sautée the onions, add the tomato, and when the latter are soft, throw in an egg or two with the seasoning and mix it around quickly so that it forms a small omelette that can be slipped inside a Saigon roll which has been split lengthwise.
Variations: The Vietnamese version is prepared in a small wok; use peanut oil with a dash of sesame oil, chop the onions very roughly, and season with fish sauce. For the European (vegetarian) version, heat olive oil in a small fry pan, chop the onions finely and fry them gently until they are translucent, and season with pepper and herbs (e.g. keep some rosemary in your salt grinder). In either version, use a liberal amount of oil so the bread roll is not too dry.
Having thus fortified ourselves, we walked to Seville Cathedral, AKA Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. We had by this stage of our journey seen many cathedrals, so we were not easily impressed; but it was impossible not to be impressed by this edifice. It is vast, and the vastness is accentuated by the narrowness of the entry passage. The true proportions become apparent as you approach the central nave, which soars some 40 metres above the floor. But it is not just the height; the floor plan is 100 by 135 metres, and the columns are accordingly massive. I made the mistake of trying to work my way through the audioguide in a methodical fashion, but after I had lost track of Susan and Ruby I realised that this was folly. I have since learned that the cathedral contains over 80 chapels.
When I relocated Susie and Ruby, we ascended the Giralda—the famous tower adjoining the cathedral, which is a converted minaret. The tower is ascended by ramps rather than stairs, as the watchmen originally ascended on horseback. The viewing platform affords views of Seville from a height of 100 metres in three directions (one direction was covered with scaffolding while we were there).
After our tour of the cathedral, we rested for a while in the courtyard of orange trees, and then searched for lunch in Santa Cruz. We settled on a venue called La Catedral which had the cool, misty spray under the awnings. We ordered a vegetable paella plus three tapas: baked mushrooms, bocarones (white anchovies), and berenjenas al catedral. The latter was a specialty, and it was one of the best vegetarian dishes we found during our stay. It consists of eggplant flavoured with a dark honey sauce. We washed all this down with a bottle of light white wine.
After a big lunch we were in desperate need of a siesta, but Susie did not want to head home. So we headed instead to the Park Maria Luisa where Susie took a siesta in a delightful little garden dedicated to the memory of the poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. Ruby wandered off to explore the park. She was a bit distant during our stay in Seville. I got the impression that her thoughts were returning to home. She was nearing the end of a seven-month absence, so her return—which would occur in a week or so—must have seemed imminent. We were away for only eleven weeks, so two weeks seemed far too early to let our thoughts stray back to the antipodes.
After our siesta, we drifted into the Plaza de España, which the guide book describes as a ‘confection’. This is a perfect descriptor. It is at once impressive and just a bit twee, with its Venice-inspired moat and its tiled benches dedicated to the major cities of Spain. It was, after all, built as a “show pony” for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and a show-pony it remains. But it is a delightful place to wander around, and its placement amid beautiful parkland was an inspired decision. Having walked into an architectural lolly-shop, we decided that the proper thing to do was to eat lollies; and so Ruby rowed us gently along the moat as the day faded into dusk.
Ruby’s mood seemed to pick up as we were leaving the plaza. Susie photographed her as she climbed a lamp post, and her cheeky cheerfulness had clearly returned (the same image later appeared as her profile pic on Facebook).
We caught taxi back to the Alameda and, later in the evening, Ruby made a lovely Greek salad from some of the fresh ingredients that we had bought the day before.