Monday, January 4, 2010

Sevilla vs Barcelona - The Tale of the Tape

One of the beauties of Spain is the richness and diversity of its cities. Madrid, San Sebastian, Santander, Oviedo, Granada, I could go on; there are so many places to visit and see. No two are alike and each has its own unique charm that truly makes Spain different from the rest of the countries I've visited in Europe and traveling the Iberian peninsula is well-worth your while. For example, take the capital of Andalucia, Sevilla, and the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona.

When speaking about European cities, a good first place to start I think is with the cathedral since its has historically served as the heart of the city and as such a spectacular building architecturally speaking.

The one with trees is the Gothic Cathedral. The tall spires and the lightness of the façade are a relatively recent addition (19th century) masking the short and squat style typical of medieval Catalan Gothic (Think Santa Maria del Pi and thanks CalderEagle for pointing that out).

The one with clouds is located in Sevilla, the tower at the back known as la giralda. One of the largest cathedrals in Europe, it ranks right up there with the more famous ones in Paris, Cologne and Salisbury in my opinion. La giralda was considered so beautiful in fact, los reconquistadores left it intact, razing the mosque that once stood there and replacing it with a cathedral no singular picture could do justice to. Plus, it's got real live bats for that truly Gothic feel.

Around the cathedral tends to be old district of European cities and the main arteries of life. Both Sevilla and Barcelona's centers are full of narrow, twisting, confusing alleys with the principle difference being the color of the walls: white in the south, gray or tan in the north. I also had the impression there were less balconies and drug dealers on the corners down there. Wandering around both, though, and you'll find shops, bars and signs on walls that make you stop and take a picture.

Drinking in Sevilla still maintains an authentic Spanishness. Kids clapping, singing and olé-ing can be heard in plazas and locals mix with expats and tourists at tiny bodegas and bars, the crowds spilling out on the street day or night. Barcelona's bar scene veer to the trendy, hip side, the drinkers a reflection of the cosmopolitan nature of the city who prefer to hit the town only at night.

In fact, one of the things that impressed me most down there was how well the expats spoke Spanish and seemed integrated with the locals. Many not only had the accent, but also the slight shrug and bat of the eyes that makes Andaluz so expressive and could have passed for natives had they not come from India, Ireland and China.

That's a rare thing in Barcelona. You can tell most people's country of origin from the accent they speak Spanish with, no matter how grammatically correct. There's the odd guiri who speaks Catalan. The shear size of the expat population no doubt plays a part, but there also seems to be an invisible divided between the locals and foreigners living here, but that's a post for another day.

Other differences include the trees. What I've been told are sycamores, but also known as planes, are the dominant ones found shading Barcelona's streets while in Sevilla its the orange tree that gives the city its sweet smell and whose fruit make English marmalade.

As for food, there's the toasted, yet soft, bun and the filling montadito to the crunchy, mostly bread bocadillo. Pescaito frito or butifarra? Both in small quantities, but I'd side more with the former if only for the adobo which is a battered white fish marinated in vinegar. Meanwhile, patatas bravas was starting to appear on tapas menus in Sevilla and I wondered how long it'd take for papa alioli makes an appearance here. For breakfast, Catalan pastries rival or surpass their more illustrious French neighbors while in Andalucia, they're more like bread. You're in Spain, so you're bound to eat and drink well with some scenic buildings and lively streets.

If you're visiting for the first time and don't know when you'll be back or on a short term experience, both cities are a must-visit. If you live in Spain and haven't been to either, you're an idiot. Depending on the budget, the high speed train known as the AVE is the most comfortable option. It's a little pricier but takes the same time door-to-door, offers leg and elbow room and a chance to see the Spanish countryside while reducing your carbon footprint. More pics on Facebook


  1. Interesting post. I love montaditos in Sevilla. Wish I could find them elsewhere in the world.

    I would suggest that Catalan Gothic Cathedrals are more short and squat than tall and spriry. (Think Santa Maria Del Pi.). The spires on the Barcelona Cathedral are from a Neo Gothic late 19th century facade.

    I am half way through your book,from Barcelona, and am enjoying it. Happy New Year.

  2. You're right about the Santa Maria del Pi. Thanks for pointing that out! A ti tambien, feliz año nuevo!