Sixteen years ago I sat in my first Spanish class, flipping through the pages of my textbook and stubbornly ignoring Señor Bergeron’s insistent demands to escúchame! It wasn’t the words in the book that had caught my attention – this was my first class after all – but the pictures. The annual Tomatina festival, the colorful architecture in Barcelona, the running of the bulls, the gorgeous sunny beaches of the Costa del Sol – oh, yes, Spain was somewhere I knew right away I was going to see some day.
The years passed and life happened – a baby, a marriage, bills, a home to take care of, and my travel dreams just kept moving further and further down the list in terms of importance. When we found out we were moving to London, my heart skipped a beat because well, it’s London, but also because those long-buried dreams that I’d almost given up hope on were beginning to look more and more like reality. We’ve spent the last year traveling to some pretty phenomenal places, but the climax for me happened this past summer when I was finally able to set my feet on the ground in the one place I’ve always said I must see before I die – España.
Because this trip had sixteen years of expectations to live up to, almost a whole year’s worth of planning and preparation went into putting it together. I’d taken Spanish classes in both high school and college, but 8+ years with no occasion to use it had left me back at square one. Over six months, I took forty hours of intensive Spanish to try to get my skills back somewhat. I’m still nowhere near where I once was, but it was a start. And as an added benefit, it was the class that helped me decide exactly where I wanted my first foray into Spain to begin.
All of Spain’s regions have their particulars that draw me in, but the one I kept coming back to was Andalusia, and in particular, Seville, the region’s capital. A city steeped in history, beauty, and classic Spanish charm, I knew if we started our trip off here, we wouldn’t be disappointed.
The entire plane ride over, my stomach was in knots with anticipation, two parts excitement, one part anxiety. You see, normally when we travel to another non-English speaking country, we just fumble our way through it until we find someone who speaks our language. This time was going to be a little different. We had been told not to expect many English-speakers in Andalusia, so that meant we would be depending on me to talk to the taxi drivers, order our food, buy our bus tickets, and understand directions. No pressure or anything, right?
Within ten minutes of landing, we were already putting my new skills to use. As confidently as I could, I walked up to the taxi driver, told him where we needed to go, and then asked him how much it would cost. He responded as if we were having a normal conversation, which clearly we were, but to me it was a much, much more momentous occasion. A native Spanish speaker had actually understood what I said. If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about – the first time you actually use it and it works is like scoring a winning touchdown in the last few seconds of the game. After that first success, conversing became much easier. However, when the situation called for a more lengthy or important exchange, I always began with – Lo siento, mi español es horrible. That normally earned me a laugh and the kindness of a much slower and more enunciated conversation. After five days of that, I felt like I had improved tremendously, but I also couldn’t wait to get back to a country where conversing didn’t require the use of 100% of my brain capacity.
But I’m getting off track – I have a feeling these tangents will be pretty common for me when talking about Spain. This post is supposed to be about Seville – see all those pretty photos up there? That’s Seville. Pronounced Se-vee-ya if you want to get technical about it. We stayed in the neighborhood of Triana along the River Guadalquivir, about a twenty minute walk from the central part of Seville. I can’t recommend this area highly enough. Being further away from the sites meant less crowds, cheaper meals, and a more authentic experience, in my opinion. Plus, walking to the city every morning on nearly empty streets and soaking up the glorious Spanish sun was one of my favorite parts of the day.
Just as I’d suspected, Seville was the perfect tipping point for our vacation. Visiting the world heritage sites in the famous Plaza del Triunfo, walking through the colorful square at the Puerta de Jerez – this is what I’d waited sixteen years for. The bold colors, the heat, the cloudless blue skies, the exuberant personalities of the people, the complete absence of English, the lack of modern skyscrapers and sterile city buildings – at no point could I forget I was in Spain, if that makes any sense. Maybe many places in Spain are like this, but I really appreciated the fact that Seville matched and surpassed all my expectations of this country in every way.
As per usual, I’ve got many more posts coming about Seville, and the other cities in Andalusia that we saw, in which I hope I’ll be able to demonstrate even better how much we loved touring this fascinating region. Thanks to nothing but sun and blue skies for the entirety of our trip, almost every photo was a keeper! A very good thing seeing as my photos will always do a much better job of conveying the atmosphere of the places we visit than my rambling stories and anecdotes do!
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