The First Trip (February 19th-21st)
Alright, well, long story short, in one of my literature classes I met Deanna, an American student from Vancouver, who also studies German and who is also really friendly and really funny. Unlike many of the students who come to study at the CLM in Granada, she isn’t part of any program, and independently lives with three Spanish roommates in an apartment. Since we both live close to the Plaza de Toros, we were able to walk home together and I think that’s when we first tossed around the idea of trekking to Seville. A few days later I met with Deanna and her friend Katie, a student here with a group from Winona State, and we all went together to a teahouse nearby to discuss travel plans. We booked our hostel, bought our bus tickets, and Friday the 19th we were in a taxi on our way to the bus station!
The bus ride from Granada to Seville is approximately three hours, give or take. It takes you through windy, rocky hill country, past quaint Andalucian cities and towns, and stretch after stretch of olive groves. I suppose those not from South Dakota feel the same about the Eastern half of my state—corn, more corn, oh look! some soybeans!, cows, more cows, patch of wetlands, patch of prairie, farm!… but already that sounds a bit more interesting than olive grove after olive grove as far as the eye can see, right? Anyways, watching olive groves flit past is a bit like counting sheep—gradually you nod off and a sudden jolt of the bus thirty minutes later and you’re awake again.
There are two interesting things that come from this drive, however: the first being that on account of all the rain Andalucía has been receiving this winter, you’re able to see the extent of the flooding. Some olive groves are half underwater, some stretches of the autovía are under threat of being submerged, houses and fields and completely washed out… and still the rain comes down! The second thing is that as you pass smaller cities and villages, especially in the hilly mountain areas, you will see old castles sitting atop a hill high above the settlement. I’d actually like to visit some of these nameless castles, just out of curiousity, wondering why it is that we never hear about them…?
I was awake for our arrival in Seville and watched with amusement at how quickly the urbanity of the city leapt up from the countryside. This always surprises me, whether I’m Berlin or Boston… I’m never sure why. I suppose because for Sioux Falls it seems like such a long crawl before you reach the city?
Anyways, so we arrived in Seville, hopped in a taxi, and made our way to our hostel. We stayed at The Garden Backpacker which is a very central location and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is thinking about staying a night or two in Seville! It’s affordable, clean, they provide breakfast, and they offer a variety of tours to their guests. The only downside is at this time there are only 3 bathrooms, but from the looks of it, they were trying to remedy this problem. Friday night we kept it rather low key, going out for tapas and then for a flamenco show. We found a very affordable flamenco show for 5 euros, but it’s tucked away in a neighbourhood I’m not sure I would be able to find again!
Saturday was our big tour day. It was also our first sunny day in nearly three weeks! It was absolutely gorgeous. Of course the conclusion that we inevitably reached about Seville as a result of the beautiful, sunny weather, is that Seville itself is beautiful and sunny! We first went to the Indian Archives building and wandered through that. It was interesting enough, but if you don’t like ambling slowly around, observing document after document, then it is probably not something you would be interested in. After the Archives we walked out to the Plaza del Triunfo where we were meeting a tour guide for the Reales Alcazares. There were only four other people that were part of our little tour group and the tour guide was very knowledgeable about everything, so this made for a great tour—much better than tromping around in groups of 30! The tour guide was with a company recommended by Rick Steves, but I forget the name of the company or how we found it. In any case, it was a very affordable 6 euros, and I can’t complain! Well, I could, but that’s just me wanting to take my sweet time staring and taking pictures like a dorky tourist. My overall opinion of the Reales Alcazares is that they are lovely… but La Alhambra is still lovelier by far. J
The three of us spent a short time in the gardens of the Reales Alcazares before deciding to go to lunch. We went to a cafeteria near Starbucks and the Indian archives and we all got some very tasty bocadillos! (Have I mentioned that the bocadillo is one of my favourite Spanish foods?) We had a heck of a time getting our check, however, and physically had to accost our waiter at least four times before we managed to get it. While we were waiting to get the check, I was irresistibly drawn to the pastries, and purchased three little slices of baklava. They were ohhhh so divine and delicious, and so much more inexpensive than slices of baklava from Nick’s or Bagel Boy! … as long as you don’t take into account the exchange rate, that is!
After lunch we wandered back to Plaza Nueva, which we had gone by several times, and where there is a very fun artesian bazaar set up. Unfortunately at this time I didn’t have any small change so I didn’t wind up buying anything—but maybe that is better anyways? Because we wanted to take the walking tour of the city offered by the hostel, we decided to return to the bazaar, and quick scurry back to use the restrooms at the hostel and then leave on the tour. We made it in just the nick of time! The walking tour was free and we did get to see some interesting spots in the city, but in the end “free” is really relative, as in the end you are expected to tip. We tipped our tour guide 5 euro, but in comparison to our highly informative tour guide earlier, who we only paid 6 euros, I think that 5 euro was a bit much. However, I don’t mean to discourage you from walking tours! I highly recommend them, as they are a great way to see the city, and when you have a good guide, you get to learn the history of the places and things you see at the same time.
We rested for a little bit after the tour and then went out for tapas/supper, and then I think we systematically crashed after taking showers. The following morning we got up to visit el Museo de Bellas Artes and if you are in Seville, I truly recommend making time to visit this! We were lucky in that there was an excellent exhibit from Murillo being shown, and we were also lucky because we went early and there was no line, and finally we were lucky because we were students and got in free! (Tip: if you are traveling around Spain, bring an international student ID card—it gets you in free or at a discounted rate at a lot of places!) The museum’s collection has a lot of religious art and this can range from beautiful, to creepy, to boring, and you begin to feel as if you can’t stare at any more Christian art until finally you reach the last sala, which has a lovely collection of works depicting Spaniards or Spanish “scenes”, such as the death of a bull fighter, women working in a tobacco factory, flamenco dancers… ah yes, and the portrait of Bécquer (a poet from the Spanish Romanticism period). I was pleasantly surprised that I got to see his portrait in person!
Leaving the museum, we lingered in the plaza outside a little longer. At the hostel we were informed that Sunday mornings (if the weather is good, which it more or less was), there is a little artist’s market held. By the time we exited the museum there were plenty of artists with their paintings laid out to sell, and I only wish I had had more money and more space in my suitcase, because some of them were absolutely beautiful. Deanna and Katie bartered with one artist over small wooden paintings of Seville panoramas, and she wound up getting two of them for only 30 euro—a great deal for the quality of art she received!
We killed some time at the bazaar again and then getting hungry we wandered around the surrounding neighbourhood and found a restaurant that was open for American lunch. I think it was more or less chance that we found a restaurant that was willing to serve us at 11 or 12 or whatever it was. It was a bit expensive but the food we received was delicious, and I had a delectable slice of pine nut cake for dessert. Yum! After lunch we stopped in at a tourist shoppe and I bought two posters; ironically our next stop on our way to the cathedral was a vintage poster store, called Felix, which was very neat. So if you’re looking for vintage wall art, copies or originals, stop by there. It’s right across the street from the cathedral and the Indian archives.
With time running out, we hurried for a quick visit of the Cathedral. The Cathedral in Seville, I believe, is the third largest in the world. Outside it looks massive enough, but once you are in it… it really is almost overwhelming how enormous it is. Contrary to what our tour guide on the walking tour told us, climbing up the tour is free and if you visit the Cathedral, you must go up the tour. The view is amazing!
After spending a few minutes at the top, we hurried down and out and back to the hostel, where we called a taxi to go back to the bus station. We arrived in Granada after dark and took a taxi back to our respective neighbourhoods. If you happen to arrive at the Granadabus station after dark, my host family recommends taking a taxi, as there is quite a bit of riff raff that goes on in that part of town at night. Whether or not this is true, I’d rather play it safe and pay 3 euro for the taxi ride.
Anyways it was a great trip in all, and I don’t think I’ve done the city as much justice as I could. Seville really is wonderful and for a few moments each day I was there, I was wondering, “Why am I studying in Granada and not Seville?” ;)
Click the below link for pictures from my first trip to Seville!
Also: if you’re studying in Granada at the CLM, there is a great tetería only about two minutes’ walk away. It’s called Mil y una noches. There is a good variety of teas, juices and shakes. You can also order very affordable döner there, and best of all (for me, anyway) is the baklava and other sweets they have! The environment is very cozy and comfortable and the staff is very friendly.