Visitors to Seville today might claim that the Real Alcazar is more palace than fortress but thankfully, I found it can still provide a refuge for the unseasoned traveller.
A bench overlooking the east bank of the Guadalquivir River provides some respite from the heated tangle of streets in the heart of the city. I sit hugging my rucksack, which contains all that is essential to me on this first lone venture around Spain – passport, euros and a return bus ticket to Madrid. The riverbank is deserted apart from a few other tourists taking in the view of the Triana district opposite. Behind us is the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the oldest surviving bullfighting ring in Spain. Perhaps, like me, they are morbidly contemplating the fact that this must be the place where the fictional Carmen was stabbed to death whilst her lover celebrated his victory in the ring.
I watch a beggar making his way along the walkway, stopping at each occupied seat to ask for a little change. None, I note with self-righteous disdain, do. Gestured away by the less charitable, he has almost reached me before I have found my purse, which I have wedged in the depths of my rucksack for safekeeping. Cautiously reluctant to bring it into view, I snatch a few coins from it.
I prepare to place the money in the empty MacDonald’s cup he carries, but he is insistent on my placing it directly into his outstretched hand. As I do, I realise the paltry amount I have given. The smugness of charity turns to shame. But, I am not quite shamed enough to delve back into the rucksack for more.
And still I expect a simple “gracias” as he moves on. However, he is no longer in a hurry. Instead he hovers uncomfortably close; his ingratitude palpable. I am not yet sufficiently competent in Spanish to understand a litany of invective in an Andalucian accent, but I can hardly misinterpret his tone - indignation rapidly progressing to outrage.
He presents one of my euro cents between his thumb and index finger with the flourish of a magician about to start a sleight of hand trick. But, it is with the skill of a rugby player that he executes an impressive drop punt kick high over the metal railing into the Guadalquivir. Body rigid with guilt, my eyes follow the arc of its curving trajectory. It is easier than looking him in the face. I sense him taking up position for the next, until the whole of my offering is defiantly wending its way to the Atlantic.
He is still cursing as he exits the scene but occasionally turns back to ensure that I can still hear. I wonder what the other tourists who sit disingenuously oblivious on adjacent benches are contemplating now.
From here, it is a short walk to the Real Alcazar. I am reassured when I read in my guidebook that it is like stepping into another world, that its gardens provide some shade from this Seville heat and, as I carefully count the coins in my purse, that I still have enough change for the entrance fee.