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In the footsteps of “Game of Thrones“

Ever since the hit drama series was shot in Seville, fans have been travelling to Andalusia from all over the world. Tourist guide Pepe Pallarés saw this as a business opportunity and now offers special tours.

And all of this because of Miguel. “He’s freaky“ Pepe says shaking his head. “He’s crazy“. Thanks to his husband Miguel, he now has “this stress“. He has to give interviews in the Alcázar palace, pose in front of cameras, even talk about plastic oranges!

Pepe Pallarés has been guiding tourists through his hometown Seville for twenty years. He does it with the theatrical vigour of an opera singer. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more amusing tourist guide. Still, when the crisis hit and drained the Iberian Peninsula three years ago, things could have gone better for the Spaniard of small stature with a penchant for big drama. But then ”Game of Thrones“, the most successful television series of all times, arrived in Andalusia. “Juego de Tronos“, Pepe explains with a sigh, is his husband’s second great love. Miguel’s bedtime reading is the novel “A Song of Ice and Fire“ from which the series was adapted. At night, he sleeps in a shirt of the fantasy drama and even sips his morning coffee from a fan mug. Interestingly, Miguel is a serious journalist who compares the fictitious story of endless war to Spanish reality, and the power struggles of the clans to those of the parties in the Spanish parliament.

Photos: Edelweiss TravelMagazine/Francisco Javier Fernandez Bordonada

George R. R. Martin‘s “Sunspear“

So there was plenty of excitement in the House Pallarés when the crew of the American HBO television network arrived at the place where the Romans, the Moors and the Spanish conquerors had also once marked their presence: at the shores of the Guadalquivir, the only navigable river in Spain that transformed Seville into a rich trading city. Today, Seville is, in a way, Barcelona’s little sister – more relaxed yet no less beguiling. The light on this sunny afternoon can be likened to honey, and the air is filled with a perfume of jasmine and orange blossoms. And then there’s the architecture: avenues, romantic courtyards, towers and palaces in every size and pastel hue. The old town presents a maze of tiny alleyways which may mean getting lost. Surprises are hidden behind every corner: the squeaking wheels of a horse-drawn carriage, an old church or an enchanting spot that invites to pause in the shade of fig trees or lianas.

The creator of “Game of Thrones“, George R. R. Martin, could not have done a better job at conceiving of the southernmost point of his imaginary continent “Westeros”: the Kingdom of Dorne with “Sunspear” as its capital. A highly appropriate name for one of the hottest cities in Europe, where temperatures already surpass twenty-five degrees Celsius in spring. The ruler’s seat, the Alcázar palace, is equally magical. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace is more than a thousand years old and, besides other attractions like the “Plaza de España”, Pepe’s place of work.

No special treatment for the superstar

“Pepe, Pepe, Pepe,“ Miguel begged until Pepe gave in and exploited his connections to the Alcázar staff, to obtain one of their uniforms. That is how, in October 2014, Miguel managed to enter through the main palace entrance, get past all the barriers, cross the courtyard and the opulently decorated halls and galleries, right up to the Ambassadors Hall where the reception of the hostile Lannisters was being filmed.

According to Pepe, the “Game of Thrones“ tour was actually Miguel‘s idea. He rolls his eyes as if he weren’t the slightest bit proud of becoming a bit of a celebrity as a result of it. Pepe is the first and only guide with “Game of Thrones“ photographs on his iPad. Moreover, he tells amusing anecdotes, not just on his tours but also on Spanish television – for instance, that superstar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau aka Jaime Lannister had to pay an admission fee because the staff at the Alcázar entrance did not recognise him. Or that the crew’s plastic oranges were still hanging on the trees in the Alcázar gardens long after filming had been completed.

Live and love as if there were no tomorrow

Pepe looks older than on his website “sevillabypepe“. He wears a long scarf, just like Luciano Pavarotti did. He also has a bit of a tummy, a sign of the good life that, irrespective of crises, is as much a part of life in Seville as a plate of tapas: “It’s the oriental blood in our veins,” Pepe says pointing to the tiling on the walls and the horseshoe arches – just like in Morocco. The palace dates back to the time when the Moors ruled al-Andalus. The Strait of Gibraltar was a bridge crossed not just by troops and goods, but also by thoughts, ideas and arts. Later, a culture evolved under the Christian King Peter I in which the Jews, Christians and Moslems lived in peaceful coexistence. That culture continues to influence Seville and its inhabitants to this day, right down to the chickpeas in the spinach, the gesticulating in the alleyways and the flirting until late at night.

Pepe says: “We live and love as if there were no tomorrow.“ These customs are something other people have to get used to. When the “Game of Thrones“ crew used opaque tarpaulins to close off the palace rooms and parts of the gardens that stretch over 4,100 square metres, love-crazed fans were lurking behind them. Not content with snapshots of their favourite stars, the fans did not shy away from asking to be kissed by handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Some of them even gave him an unsolicited smooch. Thereafter, the cool Dane preferred to spend his evenings in the safety of his sterile four-star hotel ”NH Collection“. “We are all just very, very passionate,“ Pepe explains and raises his hands apologetically. He, too, sends out customer e-mails that end with kisses rather than greetings and is, by his own admission, very “touchy”.

Emilia Clarke‘s lavish party in a small tapas bar

The people here are warm and friendly. Pepe and Miguel welcome new neighbours by bringing them salt and olive oil. Or they simply invite them over to their house. But this openness is not the only reason why crowds of tourists are filling the streets of Seville’s old town again. In times of terrorism, people are afraid to fly to the Middle East – and Seville with its oriental flair offers an alternative. The boom is of course also due to “Game of Thrones“. After the fifth season of the series was broadcast, there was an increase by twenty-five per cent of overnight stays in Seville.

The little town of Osuna roughly an hour’s train ride from Seville has benefitted even more. The town is also included in Pepe’s tour programme. Because Osuna’s bullfighting arena is not painted white, it was chosen as the Arena of Meeren where Queen Daenerys took off on her first dragon flight. It was the thing in Osuna. For seventeen days, HBO flooded the little town with a 250-strong crew and 2500 extras. The stars jogged along the typical whitewashed houses, and the Dragon Queen aka Emilia Clarke celebrated her birthday party in the “Casa Curro” tapas bar. The party was so lavish that the bar owner’s eyes still sparkle when she talks about it today. And Pepe? He can hardly keep up with the requests for his tours. As a result, he is not too unhappy that season six of the series is happening elsewhere. “Too much stress,“ he says in the evening while sipping on a glass of white wine at ”Casa Vizcaíno“, a bar in the Macarena neighbourhood away from the tourist crowds. Once home to the drug scene, Macarena is today lined with bars, small boutiques and galleries. “The Soho of Seville“ is what Pepe calls this part of town that begins north of the ”Metropol Parasol“. This gigantic wooden structure spanning across “Plaza de la Encarnación” is like a web of mushrooms and represents the modern, creative Seville. No wonder Pepe and Miguel live here and spend their evenings in the company of friends, as is customary for all Andalusians.

Pepe used to enjoy his wine with a packet of cigarettes. “But I suffered a heart attack. In December,“ he says, his voice void of drama this time. That explains his decision to work part-time for a while. His friends who arrive in dribs and drabs agree that this is a good idea. By the time Miguel, Pepe’s husband and “Game of Thrones“ fan from the outset, arrives the topic is firmly in the hands of the series. What does season six have to offer? Clearly, since this is Seville, no such discussion can be had without wine and tapas: “Salud!“

(Text: Edelweiss TravelMagazine/Carole Koch)