spain, pt 5. seville: the four horsemen

martín had departed and i had strayed away from madrid and down into the marvelous countryside of andalusia.  i wasn’t sure what exactly i would be doing but i had 5 days before i needed to be in morocco and i didn’t want to spend that whole time in madrid.  just a couple hours on the train rushing by the rolling hillsides and golden fields had been sufficient proof that i had made the right decision, and i knew i was headed where the music was playing.

i pulled into seville and had a brief wander through the confusing streets before locating perhaps the best hostel i would end up staying at my entire trip, a place called “la banda rooftop hostel.”  run by four brits who had long been friends and had a dream of running a hostel in a spanish speaking country, i could see almost immediately that they had created one of the best cultures i had ever seen, not just in a hostel, but even amongst work environments.  these guys loved what they did, and people loved being there.

after i got settled in, i went up to the rooftop.  since it was in the title of the place, i wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  what i found was a wonderfully quaint terrace with a modest view of the cathedral and a small garden that lined the railings.  it was a perfect place to relax, and there were a few guests who were doing just that, spread out among the patio furniture, reading books or typing away on laptops.  i sat down amongst them and tried to soak in a little of the sun’s warmth.  a minute later a young man sitting next to me struck up a friendly conversation.  he had long black hair, covered up by an aged worn bowler cap, a la old 1930s america.  he had sunglasses on and was slightly unshaven, and had an old troubadour look about him that seemed to suggest he liked stories, whether reading about them or experiencing them.  either way was fine by me, and i decided he had an old-fashioned kind of bob dylan look about him, which made me snicker and say to myself “of course!” when he introduced himself as dylan only a few seconds later.  dylan was from vermont and he had never traveled extensively before, but had always wanted to go to spain, so he had booked a flight for two weeks in spain with no reservations and had skipped down to seville only two days before.  he filled me in a little on the area around us and suggested a few favorites before i left him, making plans to meet up again that night.

i went back down into the lobby and conferred with tom, one of the la banda founders.  i expressed to him that there were only two important things i needed to experience in seville:  good local-style tapas, and flamenco.  tom dutifully pulled out a map and started marking spots for me to try out, while i tried intensely to pay attention, knowing all bets were off once i left the hostel and was lost wandering the streets of old sevilla by myself.

when tom was finished marking everything all over the map, i set out into the streets and started to get a feel for sevilla as i popped in and out of four or five different tapas locations, sampling all manner of different dishes and wines.  my favorite of all these places was the last place i stopped, in a little spot called “la bodega de santa cruz,” located just up the road from the cathedral of sevilla.  in an unassuming and unfancy building on the corner of the cobblestone road, the place was bustling with life as patrons stood packed around tables and the bar, nursing their wines and beers and hungrily devouring their small plates of delicious fare and talking and laughing loudly while the aromas wafted alluringly above the crowd and out into the streets, attracting people in droves.  this place was a party, and i had arrived just in time.  i shouldered my way up to the bar and waited patiently for someone to make eye contact with me.

bodega santa cruz
bodega santa cruz

the four men working behind the bar were working their asses off.  moving back and forth at breakneck pace between the patrons and the window leading back into the kitchen, the bartenders would look around for someone to flag them down, a quick exchange would take place in hurried spanish, the bartender would turn around, yell the order back into the kitchen, then turn around and scribble something in chalk onto the counter in front of the customer, tallying up the order and the cost.  these guys didn’t use receipts apparently.  then, minutes later, someone from the kitchen would yell something out as he produced the order, unconcerned with what would happen next, leaving the bartender to figure it out.  i marveled at the efficiency.  the back of the house didn’t care at all about the front of the house, and the front of the house didn’t care what was happening in the back, as both departments trusted the other implicitly to get the job done.

in between taking orders and delivering them, the bartenders joked loudly with each other and with everyone in the bar.  when someone tipped any of them, they would loudly show their appreciation and then take the coin and take a jump shot, trying to shoot the coin into a brightly labeled bucket high above the bar, obviously the place where they all shared their tips, making a spectacle of the whole thing to which the crowd happily applauded. i wondered if they knew every single person there, because each time someone new entered and pushed their way up front to place an order, the bartenders would look over and shout a greeting over the dull roar of the crowd with a degree of familiarity that suggested they weren’t a first time visitor or a tourist.  i started to get nervous that maybe i didn’t belong here, but before i could spend too much time inside my own head, the eldest gentleman of the four was suddenly in front of me blurting something in spanish that i didn’t understand. deducing he was asking me what i wanted and that he was in a hurry, i stumbled my way through a few spanish sentences, communicating that i wanted a glass of wine and whatever his favorite thing on the menu was.  i waited for half a second, hoping he understood what i had tried to say.  he quickly winked at me, then turned around toward the kitchen and yelled something.  he turned back around to face me, scribbled in chalk on the counter in front of me, flashed me a thumbs up, and scampered off to serve some other starving soul at the bar.  two minutes later a plate of cooked meat was in front of me with delicious gravy.  i had no idea what it was but it tasted

the bodega boys pose for a photo, manuel in center
the bodega boys pose for a photo, manuel in center

incredible.  i flagged down the bartender and ordered another, and he brought me something different this time, equally delectable.  we repeated this dance another three times, and each time the bartender looked at me with a huge, confident grin, as if to suggest “good, right!?!”  i loved this place, and decided to come back every day i was in seville.  each time i did, manuel, the man who had initially taken my order (that is to say, the man who ordered for me), recognized me and then would shout “aye, brandón!” and would insist i sit on his side of the bar, where he would continue ordering new plates for me each time.  bodega santa cruz became my favorite restaurant of my entire trip, simply because of the atmosphere.  i’d never before had so much fun while eating.

that night i returned to the hostel to learn that the la banda boys had a nightly recurring “family dinner” where you could pay five euros and partake of a homecooked meal on the rooftop terrace.  i was already full, but after seeing that basically the entire hostel was going to be there, i paid the cost and joined the group, figuring it would be an easy way to make some friends.

on the menu for the night was a fantastic chicken curry, and everyone was seated around a long table enjoying beers and chatting away.  there was a small bar along the far wall, manned by another of the la banda founders.  i walked over, grabbed myself a fruity cocktail, wanting a change of pace from the light beers and red wines i’d been drinking at the various tapas places all day.  ollie cheerfully chatted me up with idle conversation while he enthusiastically made my drink and i tipped him generously, already feeling at home among the lively atmosphere.

i grabbed a seat near the middle of the table and took stock of the group around me.  dylan was nearby, as was a hungarian girl named orsolya i had met earlier in the day who was in town to speak at a work conference.  i noticed a group of american students speaking very loudly at one end of the table, a group of four french guys smoking cigarettes talking back to them, trying to battle the onslaught of volume with their downplayed essence of cool. there were a few brazilians happily conversing with a british girl named joy with a sweet disposition and another pretty american girl named bridgit, along with an australian guy and bigger guy from new zealand named toby, whom both seemed to be dominating much of the conversation with their humor.  there were also a few pockets of germans, a couple japanese, and a few other nationalities sprinkled out among the group.  the atmosphere was lively and stoked in positivity, and when the food arrived, the energy seemed only to grow.  this was a good group, and i was happy to be among it.  i waited awhile before jumping into the conversation with the australian, dylan, toby the kiwi, bridgit, and joy.  we all talked happily and shared travel stories in between huge bites of curry.  when the plates had begun to clear, the la banda boys offered seconds to the group.  toby and i were the only ones to greedily fill our plates a second time.

the group stayed up on the roof for a few more hours before moving down into the lobby where people continued conversing and consuming beers.  i realized this was the first time on my entire trip that i had actually wanted to stay in the hostel rather than explore the city.  i wondered if i had lost my wanderlust, but quickly realized that the chemistry among this group was a rarity among most of the places i had been.  as the night began to wane, we all made plans to go out the next night and explore the nightlife.

the next day i arose groggily, paying the price for the previous day’s alcohol consumption.  not willing to waste the day, however, i set out to go explore the alcázar. on my way out i ran into toby, the garrulous kiwi from the night before, who happened to be going to the same place.  we gladly teamed up and started walking.

a kiwi gent on the strut
a kiwi gent on the strut near the torre del oro

unfortunately the weather was a little gloomy that day, but we made the most of it.  walking briskly along the streets, we covered a lot of ground that day, seeing the torre del oro, maría luisa park, plaza de españa, and the royal alcázar of seville before eventually getting stranded in a torrential downpour.  i laughed at toby harmlessly for wearing sandals when there was a high chance of rain, but he was unfazed.  the architecture in seville was magnificent and unique, a blending of influences from both christian and islamic sources between the moors, gothics, castilles and others, and a stark change from the modernity of barcelona and madrid.

one foot with an attitude, maria luisa park
one foot with an attitude, maria luisa park

at one point i was wandering the gardens of the alcázar, following the roaming peacocks, strutting around and showing off their beauty, when i turned and looked down a dirt path.  a duck waddled confidently down through a crowd of tourists, followed by a peacock.  at first i thought the peacock was chasing him off, but i quickly noticed that the two were a pair.  this, i had never seen before.  i followed them along, trying to make sense of it.  each time another peacock tried to get close and familiarize himself with the peacock, the duck would aggressively chase him off.  i started to realize that the duck thought he was the boyfriend of the peacock, and i started to laugh.  i couldn’t get enough of these two.  after about twenty minutes the duck started to get annoyed that i was getting too close with my camera and he tried to chase me off.  i watched incredulously as the duck approached me menacingly.

a jealous protector
the jealous protector

“you have big balls, little guy” i said aloud as he got close.  not knowing what to do, i lowered my camera lens down to his level and put it right in front of him as he drew near.  he unleashed a flurry of anger into my camera, pecking at the glass and snarling furiously for about five seconds before realizing that my camera was a little more stout than a peacock.  he cocked his head at me sideways, giving me one last bitter look before stumbling backward and heading back to his peacock companion.  i laughed out loud and simultaneously cursed myself for not having the camera on to catch it all on film.

that night the whole group met back up at the family dinner at la banda.  after another fantastic dinner and a few rounds of drinks, toby, dylan, the australian (i honestly never learned his name.  we had a blast together, but the exchange of names between us just never happened, so we continued on like it was no big deal for the rest of the week) and i decided to head out into the city in search of nightlife. the dinner had begun with the plan that a majority of the hostel was going to follow us out, but i insisted we ditch the crowds only because one of the american students had taken a liking to me, and she wouldn’t leave me alone.  loud and obnoxious and desperate to “one-up” every story anyone told so as to prove her value to the group, i know she meant well but i didn’t want anything to do with her.  some of the guys had begun to laugh at how she had been aggressively persisting with me, making her intentions for me very well known among the whole group.  i gave the guys the signal and we stealthily vanished from the gathering.

orange baths in the alcazar
baths in the alcazar

the first couple places we went were pretty dead, but the third place we happened upon was packed to the brim, so we committed to getting into the action.  it became apparent to me that everyone in our group was fairly laid back, so i took it upon myself to adopt a more “aggressive” personality for the night, just for the purpose of trying to make things happen for us a little more easily. we jokingly began referring to ourselves as “the four horsemen,” strutting around the bar with big smiles, telling each other jokes and laughing raucously with a feigned confidence that may have been misinterpreted as assholery, but it was all in good fun.  i pushed my way up to the bar and ordered a round of beers for the guys.  as i turned to pass them back to the guys scattered around the crowd, i noticed four stunningly beautiful women right behind me, struggling desperately to get to the bar to order a drink, and failing.  i stared awestruck for a second before managing a “hi!”  the two nearest to me gave me a sideways look of mistrust and replied with a subdued “hi…”

el pintor y el perro
el pintor y el perro

realizing that i sounded like every other male stray dog in the place, i course-corrected.  “sorry… are you trying to order a drink?  here, you can take my place…” i offered to the girl closest to me, moving out of the way to make room for her.  she looked at me appreciatively and moved to the bar to order while her friends waited in the crowd tolerantly.  i passed the beers to the other guys, giving them a look to suggest that we should try and talk to these girls.  as i passed the last beer to dylan, i noticed he was already talking to the shortest of the group, a little beauty named isi.  perfect, i thought proudly, that’s my boy!  i quickly struck up a conversation with the other girls and introduced toby and the australian.

they were all german students, two partaking in an exchange program in seville, and the other two visiting.  elisa seemed to be the de facto leader of the group, and she and isi had been living in seville for two months thus far, loving every second of it.  elisa had long, very blonde hair and pretty blue eyes, and a big smile to match her vibrant, happy personality.  she liked to smile and laugh, and she did it often. she was fun to be around.  isi was a petite beauty with dark brown hair and dark eyes and a more demure personality.  i could see why dylan liked her.  the other two of the group were friends of elisa’s from back home, visiting for the week.  steffi had big, captivating blue eyes that seemed to betray her every thought and emotion.  she had high cheekbones and a gorgeous smile to go with her brownish-blonde hair.  she had a feisty streak in her that made me laugh repeatedly throughout the night.  jana was arguably the shyest of the group, but in a sweet way, not bad.  she was more than happy to let the rest of the big personalities in the group take center stage and make fools of themselves, and was always willing to offer an appreciative laugh.  she also had blue eyes, but flowing brown hair and a beautifully innocent smile.

stepping out of the light
stepping out of the light

an hour later we had convinced the girls to leave with us to another bar.  the other place had been too loud and too crowded to have a real conversation, so we found another place and went in, only to find much of the rest of our hostel inside.  before i knew it, the american student had found me again.  i panicked, and the other guys began laughing.  the next thing i knew, she and i were holding a tray of shots organized in the colors of the french flag that one from the french contingent, a guy named remy, had purchased for me and my “girlfriend,” he said with a mischievous guffaw, and the rest of the frenchmen laughed riotously as toby, dylan, and the australian joined in.  “she’s been looking for you since you left!” he said, and everyone laughed all the more.

i played along politely for about thirty minutes before pulling the rest of “the four horsemen” together and stressed the importance of escaping.  i had noticed that dylan and isi were getting along quite well and emphasized that this large crew was poisonous to his progress, as well as any of ours.  we agreed to head out and find somewhere else to enjoy the night.  dylan quickly went to close out his tab, and as he did, toby, the australian, and myself all agreed to put our own motives aside for the sole purpose of supporting dylan for the night.  “no matter what, dylan is the hero tonight.  let’s make him look like a king!” i exclaimed, decreeing our rally cry before dylan returned.

we convinced the girls to leave with us and toby created a distraction so i could escape the clingy presence of the american student.  he caught up with us a few minutes later as we located a dance club.  we all entered and quickly carved out a place in the middle of the dance floor and started bouncing around like hilarious fools.  after a couple songs, we realized that our group was a little smaller than it had been all night.

“where’s dylan?!”  i shouted above the music to toby and the australian.  they both looked around and then shrugged.

“where’s isi?”  i persisted.  they both looked around and shrugged again.  i let a devilish smile creep across my face.  we all laughed impishly before returning our attention to our lovely german dance partners.

we danced spiritedly long into the night, not caring who was watching.  chief idiot among the dancing fools of our group was myself, who twice was baited into “dance-off’s” with other people on the floor.  eventually, however, i ran out of steam and it was time to call it a night.  we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  as we walked home i lamented aloud the fact that we probably wouldn’t see the girls ever again.  they had been a thousand times more fun than i could have possibly hoped for in a random meet at a bar.

we got back to the hostel and stood outside for a few minutes while toby finished his smoke.  we joked about the night’s events, and suddenly dylan emerged from a shadowy alley, relieved to have found his way home alone.

“dylan!  where you been you ol’ dog, you!?!”

15 minute break b&w
15 minute break

dylan looked up sheepishly, and offered no immediate explanation.  we all burst into laughter. dylan explained that he and isi had never made it to the nightclub, instead electing to stay behind at the bars, where it was possible there may have been a small makeout session. we proudly voiced our approval. some lady poked her head out of a window across the street and yelled in spanish for us to keep it down.  we stifled more laughter and went inside the hostel.

“tonight was a good night, fellas.  see ya tomorrow” i said appreciatively before tip-toeing into my dorm room and collapsing on my bed.

—-

this week’s jar of jam is a sexy single that i’ve been rocking to for a number of months now.  honne is a brand new duo coming from the london dance floors, sporting soulful, slow-burning smooth beats that are sure to spice up even the dullest of evenings with your love interest.  give a listen, and if you really enjoy it, honne is offering a free download of the single in exchange for your email address.  a worthy trade in my opinion.  enjoy…

and for those following along at home, here’s the running playlist:

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