For our first full-day in Seville, we boarded our small bus and set out for a full-day tour.Our first stop: the monument depicting Christopher Columbus, which was a gift from the people of America to the people of Spain in 1929.Our second stop: a tour of the cool (it was quite sunny and hot today!) and lovely monastery where Christopher Columbus met with the abbot and prayed and, apparently, left his only son, before setting sail for unknown lands. Six Franciscan monks still live in the monastery, and the tour takes one through the exquisite chapel, the cloister, and several breezy hallways. Interspersed along the way are a meeting room and a dining room, which are kept as they would’ve looked at the time. And in a separate section of the complex are a few display cases of artifacts and, in the final room, boxes of dirt that Columbus brought back from all the places he visited.

the monastery Columbus visited before setting sail

After that, we drove down the road to a museum of sorts set up in the city’s marshy area. (We were along a river and quite close to the Atlantic at this point.) This center had a small museum and recreations of a Spanish village of the era. The star attractions, however, were the life-size replicas of Columbus’s three ships. The tiny Nina is hardly bigger than a modern commercial fishing boat, the Pinta is a bit bigger than that, and the Santa Maria looks like the battle ships of the period that we all imagine. I was told that there were, in order by size, 20, 30, and 40 men on each ship. The real treat was being able to go on board each one and see what the view from the deck might’ve looked like. Or, more accurately, how hard it must’ve been to stand up on the deck! On all three, the deck is taller in the middle and curved down toward the sides. They always look flat in the movies! A few manequins and props and, below deck, speakers broadcasting the sound of water and creaking boards, completed the claustrophic but fascinating picture.

the replica of one of Columbus's ships

the replica of one of Columbus’s ships

 Then it was on to the day’s main attraction: Hacienda Maria. I think we were all a bit confused as the bus driver took us through a huge industrial area of factories and refineries, and then turned into a parking lot beside a warehouse. But once inside, we understood. Our hosts have amassed a stunning collection of close to a hundred carriages, and they are all (except the three being restored) stored here. They’ve implemented an interesting regimen of cleaning and “watering” the floor to keep the carriages clean and as hydrated as possible in this dry climate. In several metal containers (yes, the kind carried on board container ships), all the harness. lamps, and other collections are neatly stored. Before the group wandered off enjoy a close look at all the carriages, the introductions were made, everyone was “officially” welcomed, and we were invited to enjoy a beautiful and bountiful spread of local delicacies and traditional food. There were several special kinds of ham, delicious fresh-cooked pork, omelet (which is mostly potato), cheese, and more. Part way through our visit, a man arrived with the most delicious strawberries — fresh, sweet, and juicy. The area we were in (Huelva) is apparently one of the main growers and suppliers of strawberries for all of Europe.

part of one of the rows of carriages in the Hacienda Maria collection

part of one of the rows of carriages in the Hacienda Maria collection

After a lovely long visit, where everyone had ample opportunity to visit with each other, our hosts, and several of their friends, and to look at all of the many carriages, we headed off for the actual farm. Here, we were introduced to several gorgeous Andalusian stallions and were treated to a ridden dressage demonstration by two more Andalusian horses, one brown and one black. The perfect end to our perfect day came next, when we were all invited to walk out into the mares’ field, which is full of friendly Andalusian mares and, as of now, fourteen, foals. They are awaiting thirteen more. We wandered among the horses, scratching chins and noses, and making more new friends.

one of Hacienda Maria's friendly mares