In the Spanish city of Seville, just about everybody is loyal to one of the city's two soccer clubs. The hotel clerk who checks us in upon our arrival is with Real Betis.
When I ask about game schedules, he checks a palm-sized device and confirms a Betis game the following night at 10. So I take a cab to the stadium the next day and buy a "reservado" ticket, towards the center of the stadium and fairly high up, for about 40 euros.
In Europe, the higher-up tickets are considered more valuable because you have an overview of the pitch and can watch the play end-to-end.
Bettis is considered the more upstart, working class team of the city's two sides, the other called Sevilla. I show up early and walk down the street a couple blocks from the stadium, where the shops and bars are located. I buy a Betis green and white scarf, so as to blend in with the fans (a must in South America but not really required here), and pay 1.25 euros for a glass of beer.
The hole-in-the-wall bar is taking the glasses off gray plastic trays as fast as they can be washed, and filling them with golden, draft Cruzcampo.
Fairly equal parts men and women, the crowd drinks on the sidewalk and in the street which is blocked off. A vendor at a street stall is shucking clams from a small red-netted sack, and steaming them at the table.
On a packed, side street, young people are drinking from their own supplies. At one point, a group lights a flare and their heads and shoulders suddenly become black outlines against a bright-red, sulphurous background, as they break out into an enthusiastic rendition of the team song.
But the singing peters out quickly, and the flare dies down.
Finally, the crowd starts moving towards the stadium. The opposite of rowdy, they walk along chatting. Inside the stadium, the couple next to me offers some of their nuts. The stadium sells only non-alcoholic beer.
The game quickly develops into an unmitigated disaster for the Bettis side. Their opponents, Espanyol from Barcelona, have a worse record but they score on their first chance, about three minutes into the game.
The Betis defense remains dismal and Espanyol goes on to score twice more, with a chance on almost every attack. The home team scores in the final stages of the game, off a corner kick rebound that fell to a Betis foot. Final score 3-1 for Espanyol.
Despite a frustrating performance by their team, the crowd walks out peacefully. Rows of dark-red city buses are lined up to take the fans to various neighborhoods in the city. There are few police, and the crowd is soon gone.
I catch a bus, modern, comfortable and half-empty, that gets me to the Prado de San Sebastian bus station, near the centre of town. From there, I can find the hotel by following the Rio Guadalquivir, the river running through the historic center.
The next morning after the game, we leave our comfortable Hotel Becquer to get back on the highway.
I had never understood that Spain has an arid climate, and winding down from the mountainous area around Seville we enter a long stretch of dry, open land, not unlike Southern California, before reaching Alicante.
Negotiating the one-way, narrow streets of the old down in a rented VW is a bit maddening, but my girlfriend Sanae directs me with her iPhone's GPS.
The one consistent thing about the GPS was that it had difficulty counting the number of streets radiating off the round-abouts, which are ever present. So it was a bit harrowing to guess which street, identified only in horribly mangled Spanish, the voice was telling us to take.
We eventually find a tiny, unmarked driveway going into a pulled-down, metal door, set in a massive, old-stone building on a narrow, one-way street - which turns out to be the garage door for the Hospes Amerigo hotel. Although the rates are reasonable at roughly 160 euro a night, it is a luxurious, five-star hotel with plenty of friendly service, and someone to park the car.
While Alicante has a beautiful old town, it suffers from an invasion of cruise ship tourists. At the outdoor cafe, where we have a dinner of grilled local fish and french fries with a bottle of red wine from the region, I hear Swedish spoken at three tables around me, and English at a couple more. I don't hear any Spanish.
The next morning, we make our way easily out of the old town onto the main road heading to the airport nearby, and from there, it an hour's flight back to Barcelona where we plan to wind up the trip.
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