But a visit was long overdue and off I went with my rucksack Camino-ready. I booked into an hotel in the Barrio Santa Cruz, the centre and the quaintest of all barrios. The Big Man, my walking companion would join me in time to set off on the Camino.
But first there were the pretty narrow streets, and sea food tapas and chilled white sherry to be endured. I wanted to visit old haunts like the magnificent Plaza España (above) and linger in the park where I used to read in the shade in the summer afternoons when temperatures soared.
As I strolled I took in the familiar sights and some very familiar people – the pushy shoe shine man is still there getting older but still as pushy!
With huge pleasure I visited the little bar Mezquita in the street named after the local church, Santa Maria La Blanca. I was met with hugs and kisses and cries of “cuanto tiempo”, how long it has been seen we have seen you! Here I met up with Antonio and Mercedes who over the years have become friends. The story of that friendship began, as some of you might remember, in 2007 when I was spending New Year in Sevilla. I first wrote about it here.
In summary this is what happened. I was going to meet friends to celebrate New Year and I took with me the traditional gifts we give in Scotland: a lump of coal, shortbread and a bottle of whisky – may you always have fire in your hearth, food to eat and whisky to drink. And good luck in the coming year! I can’t remember what happened but I didn’t meet my friends as planned and I ended up in a tiny bar crammed full of people. Not wanting to carry the gifts all night I called over the woman behind the bar and presented her with the presents, to her complete astonishment. Fast forward some months when I visited again to be treated like royalty...kisses, welcome, a clean tablecloth was produced, the same lady opened a bottle of chilled wine. “Thank you for your lucky presents at New Year” she said, “we won the lottery”.
7 years on we still laugh at that. Of course I claim no credit or magical powers but that stroke of good luck fired an ambition in Mercedes and Antonio to work even harder and grow their business. Now they have two restaurants and two larger and very busy bars. Their handsome son has trained as a cocktail barman and juggles with bottles in his own cocktail bar next door to the Mezquita and their lovely daughter is preparing to go to University. Antonio, as ever, complained about how much he had to do. He did this when he only had one little bar that held 12 customers! “Are you finished growing the empire now?” I asked. “Well actually John, we’ve just bought a summer house with a swimming pool. We’d love you to use it on your next visit.” Hold me back!
That friendship is such we are also able to share the up and downs which happen in every family. Life has not all been plain sailing. But through their hard work and determination Antonio and Mercedes have a family and a business of which they can be very proud. Antonio bade me farewell by repeating his invitation for me to return “Perhaps you’ll come at New Year and bring the coal and whisky again?”
And so with the Big Man I had a final meal and on 9 January we set out from Sevilla. The Via de la Plata was my very first Camino. The one that started all of this! The next story can only be ” In praise of the Via de la Plata”. Watch this space.