The wing-it method suddenly started working again, just as I’d given up on it. We woke up to a relatively sunny day, a stack of clean clothes, a bag of groceries, a clear mental map of Sevilla, and well-defined backup plans. Our goal was to get tickets to the Real Alcázar after eating lunch. We figured we’d have to stand in line for a long time but that we had a good shot at getting a time slot sometime in the next couple of days. After we got the tickets, we could walk a few paces to the Archive of the Indies and check out the exhibit. Our expectations were nice and low.
We took the bus downtown and went straight to Starbucks. I checked TripAdvisor to see what restaurants were near the palace. It just so happened that the first place I looked at had vegan tapas! We walked there to have lunch. The place was packed to the gills, but we managed to get seats. Minutes later, a drenching downpour started outside. We had window seats and watched as all the locals ran by, trying to stay out of the rain in their regular street clothes. We were wearing rain jackets and rain pants, a uniform absolutely guaranteed to mark one as a tourist, yet so practical it should be more widespread. Or does my thinking this also mark me as middle-aged?
A fabulous meal has the power to change lives. Only the day before, we had been trudging through these same streets, under the same precipitation, hangry and miserable. Now everything gleamed with beauty and possibility. It was more than just a lunch: it was a power-up.
We had tempura sushi. HOW did we not know this is a thing? It was even better than the day I invented tater tot pot pie.
The rain had stopped by the time we finished our fine meal. We walked toward the palace, truly feeling like we were on a fabulous vacation. There was a long line out the gates. In the sunshine, we could stand and enjoy the atmosphere. The Real Alcázar shares a square with the Cathedral. Other than all the modern people in their contemporary clothes, this little patch of Spain is redolent of history. It could have been a time when people cared more about making their surroundings beautiful. Unfortunately, ours is a time when many people follow their lowest drives. The first impulse of the barely literate is graffiti, and before that comes litter.
To our surprise, we waited only ten minutes and were able to enter the palace grounds. Well, then! First we beat the rain and got a table for lunch right away. Now our Plan B had moved up to Plan A! We had our bags scanned and passed through a metal detector. The Real Alcázar immediately had our attention, and we stayed over three hours.
The only thing American culture has managed to produce on this scale over our brief history is: THE SHOPPING MALL. Instead of the vast palace gardens, we have free parking. Instead of elaborate decorations on every square inch, we have hundreds of thousands of OBJECTS, most of which will be considered laughably obsolete within 7 years.
The grandeur of the Real Alcázar came from its design, not its materials. There was something endlessly pleasing about the proportions of the rooms. It aged well as an architectural icon in a way that I doubt La Sagrada Família ever will. Pretty impressive for what was little more than mud, plaster, and paint! We are DIY artisans with a strong background in history and material culture. We saw how most of the decorative elements of the palace could have been mass produced with molds and templates. Then it struck me.
It would be totally possible to reproduce most of the bricks, panels, and tiles for the average surburbanite.
My husband elaborated that they could be 3D-printed.
I added that there were probably high-res images out there of all the features, and you could do it from photographs without even being on the same continent.
(If anyone uses this idea, please tap me and let me know!)
It was funny to think that we could decorate our back yard with design elements from a splendiferous palace. A wealthy enough person could replicate the entire thing, brick by brick, and if it was done in California, it could even include palm trees at the same spots. Get a few peacocks and boom, done!
As we wandered through the vast halls, we talked about what life might have been like for the earlier inhabitants. (There is still a royal family living in a restricted part of the palace). People must have used any excuse possible to get any kind of sinecure or foothold to be closer to the seat of power.
“It’s a gossip factory,” I said. Everything revolved around who knew whom. People must have spent all their time finagling and jostling for leverage. There must have been so much envy, jealousy, backbiting, and ceaseless shifting of bizarre love triangles. Courtiers would have had little to do other than to look good and trade secrets. Prestige would have depended so much on maintaining a poker face and somehow managing to say the right thing. So basically, a high school with more jewels.
Centuries ago, someone must have had a perfect moment. “Here I am, so fashionable, so popular, in the most important place with the most important people. DANG, I look good. O how awesome it is to be me. Palace life 4EVA.” Then they died.
It was a melancholy ruin in some ways. We had trouble believing that we, mere peasants, were allowed to walk on these anointed tiles. There was no furniture, and considering how much wear and tear, graffiti and litter and vandalism we saw, it was easy to imagine that any prior furnishings had either been sold off or come to a rough end. How the mighty have fallen. Hoi polloi had infiltrated the keep, with our Space Age phones, GPS, antibiotics, and all the rest.
We used the public restrooms and I had a good laugh about that. I’m peeing in a palace! And this plumbing is better than anything yon vanished nobility ever knew or imagined.
Can’t we have both? Can’t we have modern technological progress and live surrounded by staggering beauty?
We wound up the day feeling sated. We had eaten well and drunk enough to quench the endlessly thirsting eye. Better to quit while we were ahead. My sore toe was “bothering” me again (and six weeks later, it would continue to hurt every time it got wet). We took the bus back to camp and made a big dinner on our wonky new stove.
Just as we were finishing our meal, an older couple approached us and asked, “English?” In all the travel we have ever done, nobody has ever guessed we were anything other than Americans. Usually this was due to body mass index. We’re leaner these days but everyone can still tell. This time, it was our equipment. The gentleman said he had noticed the REI logo on our tent. This couple was traveling across Spain via bicycle. My husband had noticed their bike trailer and their camping table, which the man admitted he had customized to fit. He turned out to be a mechanical engineer. This profession seems to produce more than its share of dedicated travelers, perhaps due to their can-do troubleshooting perspective as much as their level of disposable income. Note that many of the top polyglots publishing today are engineers by trade as well.
We talked with this nice couple for over an hour. They were Swiss and they had a bit of a rebellious streak. Much of Europe has really interesting public use laws allowing people to camp more or less anywhere they wish, even on private property, although it’s considered good form to ask nicely. This man seemed to get a kick out of setting up camp anywhere that was convenient and just keeping a low profile. We told the Swiss couple about the 65-year-old Americans we had met who walked from Egypt to Spain. They looked at each other significantly. They didn’t say anything, but we figured later that they might well have been the same age or older. Everywhere we have gone, we have met older people who are fitter, doing more extreme travel challenges, and exhibiting much stronger language skills.
(We met one other couple with a bike trailer, in La Línea. They were young Russians with a toddler in diapers).
We went to bed in our little yellow tent, one we now realized was a flag announcing our nation of origin. It had been a perfect day. Wandering the streets as urchins one day, posing as courtiers the next, trading gossip in the modern walled city of our camping.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.