To escape one of our worst early summers of recent years I visited Seville and Cadiz in Andalusia for the first time last month, just in time for the weather in southern Spain to hit the other extreme, of often unbearable 40+ degree heat – the Spanish version of a heatwave.
However my week there was made a whole lot cooler by two random animal-themed incidents on the first and last day which perfectly captured the vibe of the place.
Without going into too much detail about the city, Seville’s biggest cultural draw is its 14th-century Moorish palace called The Alcázar, where the mrs and I decided to visit on our first morning before the afternoon heat took hold. Unfortunately that’s what hundreds of other tourists had opted to do too, so in we bundled with the queuing hordes to wander the ancient halls and courtyards.
After an hour of having to muscle in on photo vantage points I decided to escape the herds, grab a coffee and stroll solo around the quiet shaded area of the outdoor gardens while Jen continued inside, as she wanted to find the spots where Game of Thrones had been filmed. It turned out to be one of the better holiday decisions I've ever made.
I’d completely forgotten that there were peacocks roaming the grounds, until I suddenly come face to face with one strolling along a perimeter wall in a secluded corner of the site.
Luckily I’m packing my good camera so slowly reach for it like a Wild West sheriff for his holster when faced with an outlaw.
As soon as it clocks me taking a snap it stops dead and fixes me a stare (above) like I’ve breached a strict no-photo rule.
After standing static in each other’s gaze for several moments, the peacock makes its move. Turns out this bird wasn’t shy or affronted at all, just wanted to show me its best side.
After a few graceful bodily rotations of fully-fanned plumage, the display is tragically disturbed by a distant wanderer who spots what’s going down and makes a bee-line towards us having flagged his chums.
Knowing this private show was over I immediately retreat before the peace is broken; the last thing I saw was its elaborate rear-end before it too ran away from the party-crashers.
I felt particularly smug upon rendezvousing with bird expert Jen, who after grudgingly viewing my pics suggested that the fowl had been attracted to my similarly blue-coloured t-shirt and so was attempting to outdo it or trying to bust a move.
Whatever its reason, I’d found my inner peace for the day, knowing those right-place-right-time moments don’t happen often in life.
This second, more bizarre happening timed itself perfectly for the usually poignant final evening, with airport and back-to-work reality looming the next morning.
We’d made it to the coastal city of Cadiz, 100km south of Seville, and for our last meal of the holiday we found one of its best-reviewed restaurants, 'El Tio de la Tiza', tucked away on a sequestered square, where we bagged one of the remaining tables and began perusing the menu.
Fine, just the one snails then, I concede, clocking that this is clearly a no-no in Spain for some reason, although unconvinced that the portions could be that much bigger.
When they arrived, it became clear. I’d never seen that many snails before in one dish, and supplied with only a toothpick to prong them out of their shells it would’ve taken the best part of an hour to get through them, if you hadn’t got bored going through the motions. Locals must have more time on their hands for this kind of leisurely eating; about a third of the way through I had to stop.
I hate perfectly good food going in the bin though, so, emboldened by the strong accompanying table wine following pre-beers I decided to offer the remaining snails to the first Anglophone table I could isolate on the square, and once the waiters were out of sight strode its way with the bowl of molluscs.
The two couples at the table were initially taken aback by the randomness of this bequeathal but as their food hadn’t yet arrived they did the right thing and accepted the snails.
Happy with how that had turned out I turned back to Jen just as our fish mains arrived: shark for me and monkfish for Mrs.
A few minutes later the last person to have had the snail bowl returns it to our table with still a third of them left, explaining they couldn’t eat any more as it’ll ruin their dinner so thanks but please take them back.
We beheld the dish that kept giving as the disciples probably did after Jesus had fed the multitudes. The only remaining option was an American family that had taken a table on the other side of us, and who had funnily enough just had a service problem whereby they’d all received their starters except the teenage son, whose order hadn’t gone through.
It was his lucky day though, as I stepped in with the lingering snails, explaining how to eat them as they'd never done so before and had no clue. The boy was tentative at first but rather than wait for his starter while his fam tucked into theirs it became clear that the sensible option was to eat the snails. And thankfully once he popped he didn’t stop.
At long last the final mollusc was consumed, and there’d even been enough for mum, dad and sis to have a couple each too, all delighting in the novelty of it in the slightly over-dramatic manner unique to Americans abroad.
But they needn’t have worried because no sooner had Jen and I swallowed the last bite of our mains, a waiter arrived at our table with two plates of chocolate dessert ordered for us by the Yanks, followed by two rounds of liqueurs sent with a waved thumbs-up from the Brits on the other side.
And so concludes this real-life fable, with the moral that you should always leave the beaten track at tourist attractions to increase your chances of meeting a beautiful bird, and always dole out surplus snails when the portions are too large.
See also: travel blog post on Seville & Cadiz (+ Cuba) with photography at Proper Mileage
+ recent travel feature for Fodor's, on Baalbek, Lebanon - Kris Griffiths, 2021