How do I convey how absolutely amazing Seville was? I don’t think I can, really. I know this because for so long before I’d gone there I’d heard from myriad other travellers that Seville was one of their favourite cities in the world, but nobody could quite tell me why, and a thorough session Googling it didn’t yield better results either. It just sounded like another Spanish city, but not with anything that spectacular to set it apart from its ilk. And yet, after spending six days there I totally joined the ranks of the believers – in fact, I think I fell in love with it on my third day. So, if you’re reading this, please understand that whatever I say about Seville won’t even come close to doing it justice, but that you’ll have to go and see it for yourself – and that you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you do.
The First Awful Night:
I’d gotten in to Seville pretty late – my train ticket had said I’d arrive at 8:15pm, but my ticket lied and we didn’t atually pull in until more than half an hour after that, on top of which my phone was having serious trouble connecting to the wifi at the station to let me figure out how to get to my hostel, so I spent another half an hour wandering around trying to get that to work. I’d like to think that if I’d been earlier, none of the events of later that night would have come to pass, mainly because I would have gotten to my hostel at a reasonable time and would have started talking to better people than I ended up with.
As it so happened, however, by the time I did get to my hostel it was quite late, so when the group of people I was sharing my room with asked me if I’d like to come out with them, I jumped at the opportunity. There were four of them – an Aussie girl, two Kiwi guys, and a third guy from Manchester; they all worked in London and had come down together just for the weekend.
They were seriously lovely at first – until they got drunk. The guys went from being really nice to smashing beer bottles against the wall, stealing drinks, putting me in a headlock and trying very, very hard to convince me to hook up with one of them. The saddest thing is that the one they were trying to convince me to get with was nicer than the others, and apologised for his friends…..then kept trying to put his arms around me anyway. The girl apologised for the guys, but said that they were great guys usually, and that the one who was into me was actually really sweet. I don’t know what her definition of a sweet/good guy is, but it definitely wasn’t the same as mine.
When we got back, I climbed straight into my top bunk, curled up into a ball clutching my phone and swiss army knife (which was totally overreacting but it made me feel better) and hoped they’d just leave me alone (whch they did). I woke up really early the next morning because I was so hungry and thirsty, but I didn’t want to get out of bed and deal with them so I just lay there, pretending to be asleep, until they checked out.
BUT – that was the only negative experience that marred my time in Seville, and the rest of it more than made up for it. Soon after I did get up, Louisa, one of the volunteers at the hostel, came in to make the beds. We got to talking and when I told her what had happened she was so lovely and sypathetic, told me I should have asked to change rooms (why didn’t I think of that?!) and invited me out with her the next afternoon to see the Alcazar. It’s amazing how little kindnesses from strangers can completely change your mood, and I went from feeling kind of sad and lonely to being excited and happy again.
Jenga, Eric and Ty:
Late that afternoon I somehow ended up in a giant Jenga game. I don’t have anything against playing Jenga but unless it’s raining and the internet isn’t working, I usually feel like I have better things to do. This was, however, the most amazing Jenga session I’ve ever been part of and I’d never realised it could be quite so exciting and nerve wracking. We had a table full of players from all over the world, drinking and laughing and all getting very into the game, and it was exhilerating trying to build our tower just a little bit higher each time.
We never got to the highest point, but it didn’t matter because that’s how I met Eric (a 30 year old male nurse from the US) and Ty (a 19 year old rock climbing enthusiast from Canada) and the three of us bonded over our tendency towards crass humour, love of food and thirst for adventure. When you’re travelling alone your experience can be so dependent on the people you meet, and when you run into someone who you click with really well it just makes everything that much more enjoyable. Those two became my best friends for the next few days, and it made Seville feel like home because of it.
Rock climbing and the taxi adventure:
“There’s this really cool bridge,” Ty told me, “not too far from here, where there’s rock climbing holds along the underside and a whole stretch for bouldering.” About 30 minutes of walking later, I realised that our ideas of what consitutes ‘not far’ were quite significantly different. Getting to the rock climbing bridge was a little bit like trying to find the Holy Grail. We’d walk in what we thought was the right direction and all of a sudden the road would curve away perpendicular to where we wanted to head. We’d walk along the river and all of a sudden there’d be a huge impassable fence in front of us. We’d go around the fence and instead of finding ourselves back on a road we’d be walking through huge parking lots.
On the plus side, we were definitely getting to see a lot more of Seville than most tourists. I say ‘plus side’ but I’m not sure if it’s a part of Seville most people really want to see, to be honest. I felt like I was pretty intimately acquainted with the city’s carparks by the end of it, and it was a little more intimately acquainted than I really had much of a desire to be. Having said that though we did also come across some very cool buildings and structures – some historical, some very space-agey that we couldn’t fathom the purpose of.
When we did finally get to the wall (which I’d been beginning to think was purely mythical) it didn’t disappoint. The holds climbed across the inside of each of the bridge’s legs, and all across the bottom, and along the wall next to it. It was better than a lot of indoor climbing centers, and it was completely free and open. One of the less cool things about Spain though is that they’re much more into bouldering than climbing, and climbing generally requires you to have your own ropes. We’d tried to hire ropes but it seemed like the only way you could do it was by joining a rock climbing association (and paying the associated membership fees). So we had to settle for just bouldering, and watching other people climb, which hurt my pride a little because I’m a decent climber but terrible at bouldering.
While Ty, who had bought his climbing gear with him, persisted with the bouldering, Eric and I gave up after a while and instead practiced some tumbling and stretching. Eric turned out to be really good at walking on his hands, but he couldn’t cartwheel, while I could, so I felt a little less terrible about myself after that. It didn’t take long before we were completely knackered though, and desperately in need of some food. I’d just like to point out how depressing it is to spend ages walking in the hot sun while you’re starving and tired and thirsty, but that’s exactly what we spent the next 15 minutes doing.
We’d had the lovely idea that we’d catch a taxi back to the hostel to avoid having to walk for over an hour yet again, but while there seemed to be taxis absolutely everywhere when we didn’t need them, there wasn’t a single one to be seen when we were trying to catch one. It was almost comical – we’d see one in the distance and try to intercept it only to realise it was already occupied, or when we did spy a free one it’d be on the other side of a cross street and gone before we could get near. I ultimately asked a restaurant owner where a good place to catch a cab was, and followed the owner’s directions to a giant roundabout where we sprinted as soon as we saw a free cab and jumped in so exuberantly that the driver probably thought we were running away from something. I’ve rarely felt such intense joy at getting into a taxi that even the combined stench of our three sweaty bodies couldn’t stop me from grinning like I’d just won the lottery.
All the tapas:
Granada had been famous for the free tapas, but Seville was the part of Spain that had the best tapas. Our favourite place was Vineria San Telmo, which was this amazing little restaurant that had specialties like “Fresh cod ‘Rotena style’, slow cooked with tomatoes, peppers and potatoes” and “Grilled salmon with ratatouille and squid ink oil”. My favourite was the “Filo pastry filled with tender stewed bull’s tail”, which was so juicy and and flavoursome that I still have dreams about it some nights. We always had the same waiter, who recognised us and, when they ran out of the dessert we wanted, bought us free shots of some heady dessert liquer that tasted a little like heaven and left my insides feeling very pleasantly warm for a long while afterwards.
I can’t quite emphasize how amazing the food was, not just at Vineria San Telmo, but everywhere in Seville. It wasn’t hit and miss – it was just hits. I ate at a French influenced place once, where there was classical music and it was super fancy and everything was handmade and artsy and it still didn’t cost me much. It was like eating at Cafe Sydney, except the food here was a lot better and the waiters were less snooty. Cafe Sydney’s food (work took us there once, I could never afford to go there otherwise) looked great but was always too salty or bitter – this food looked amazing and tasted just as good. We’d have all these fancy dishes, with duck and other expensive ingredients, and they’d be huge portions and it’d be like 3 Euros, or 5 at the most, for these huge ‘tapas’ portions that were the equivalent of a small meal. Is it any surprise that I was getting a little pudgy? If you do ever go to Seville though, eating will be one of the main attractions – and it deserves to be.
La Banda Rooftop Hostel:
Staying at La Banda was definitely a big part of why I loved being in Seville so much. When you’re travelling solo, and especially for a long period of time, the places you stay can really affect your mood. There’s nothing worse than staying in a smelly, dirty room with lots of snoring roomies and dirty, dingy bathrooms to make you homesick and seriously uncomfortable.
La Banda was this gorgeous little building on Calle Dos De Mayo, just across from the bull ring, that was technically a hostel but felt a lot more like a homestay. The first night when I got in, Chloe, who was at reception at the time, welcomed me in like a friend and took the time to ask about my trip and actually listened like she was interested. Then Tom came by and introduced himself and told me about dinner on the roof and asked if I’d like to join. They didn’t feel like hostel workers – instead it felt like when I couchsurf; they seemed genuinely interested in me. Apart from my first night at La Banda, where I chose the wrong travel companions, the rest of my time was spent not just with Eric and Ty and the other people I’d met there, but with the staff at La Banda. I’d come in and ask questions and they’d give me lots of helpful advice – you could tell they really knew and loved this city.
And they really did – the story behind La Banda is as intriguing as the place itself. Four friends from England (Tom, Richie, Sam and Ollie) had visited Seville a few years ago and fallen in love with it, and had talked about someday opening up a hostel there. Then, more recently, they got the funds together and decided to make it a reality. They’d purchased another hostel that had gone bankrupt and was in a pretty sorry state, renovated and refurbished the whole place, and opened up La Banda. What’s more impressive is that they’re all super creative and so all the decor and furniture you see in La Banda has mainly been made by them, and some of it by their friends. My favourite are the tables in the living room that are made out of old doors. Not to mention that they’ve also put together a book (with lovely illustrations by Emma, another of the girls who works there), t-shirts, stickers and various other La Banda merchandise. It’s so quirky and cool.
And they really put their heart into this place – they sit and discuss their cocktail list and rewrite it with the changing seasons, they throw parties, they cook dinners every night, they used to have yoga classes, they’re taking over a club for a huge New Year’s Party. They just have so many ideas, and they turn them into a reality, and it’s very inspiring. They’re really community minded too – I know Chloe cooks food and takes it around to the homeless, and they took all of their old blankets and snuck around like little Santas in the night, putting them over people sleeping in the streets. Their coin collection also gets regularly deposited into the hat of buskers they really like. Speaking of music, every single person there was constantly commenting on how great the music they played was – and how varied, with bits of deep house and techno and lots of Spanish and Latin and World music as well. It always seemed to fit the general mood perfectly.
It was so easy to fall into – to want to be a part of this, to get excited about all they were doing, to actually bother going on Facebook without them even asking and clicking ‘like’ on their page because we all honestly wanted to keep in touch and know what they were doing. Eric went so far as to decide to get a La Banda symbol tattooed on his ankle. It sounds over the top, but when you stay with someone and have such a good time and you feel like you’re getting to be a part of their dream, it’s very intoxicating. I loved chilling in the kitchen while they were cooking, and tasting cocktail dregs, and chatting to whoever was at reception when I got back from wherever I’d been. Leaving La Banda was incredibly hard.
Apart from food and the general atmosphere, Seville is also famous for being the birthplace of Flamenco. I’d seen some Flamenco before and while it was alright, I wasn’t too into it. That all changed in Seville, when I went along with Eric and Sari one night to the Flamenco Museum. From talking to a lot of people, I honestly think that this is the best Flamenco you’ll find anywhere – they get different famous dancers in for their performances, and they are seriously breathtaking. It’s like this combination of tap dancing and those sexy Latin dance styles and singing and wonderfully haunting guitar.
When the dancers came out I was prepared to be disappointed because, I’m not going to lie, they were not what I would call attractive. Then they started dancing and I just thought they were the sexiest things out. It wasn’t just sexy either, you could see that in their dance was a renegotiation of feminity and masculinity and all this power play and cultural undertones, and it was hypnotic. We later saw the same dancers on a television advert, so we felt very fortunate to have experienced their dancing in real life.
I realised in Seville that I’m a really big fan of Moorish architecture. I’ve never felt particularly inclined to check out the insides of churches (except for the one in Sienna, which is the sole exception and the kind of place I could lose myself in all day) and I was unwilling to shell out the 8 Euros to see the inside of the Seville Cathedral, instead peeking in through the door and deciding it definitely was not worth my time. Churches, in my opinion, look better on the outside while the insides are too opulent and excessive, to the extent that I find most of them a bit intimidating and uncomfortable. All the Moorish architecture, however, is delicate and much more elegant. It’s so open and full of water fountains and greenery and very zen and peaceful.
The Alcazar in Seville is the oldest royal palace still in use in the whole of Europe, and it’s almost as beautiful as the Alhambra. We had a very leisurely visit just wandering around and chilling, and I felt very jealous of the Sevillians because all the residents of Seville get to go in for free as often as they like – Ollie was telling me that he has breakfast there sometimes. Eric and I wanted to see the sunset from the highest point, so we snuck over the gate and went up – but were then too scared to pop our heads over the parapet for fear we’d be caught, and instead Eric held his phone up and took some photos for us to look at later. They were, sadly, not great photos, but at least we got a good little adventure out of it.
Plaza De Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa:
One of the other lovely experiences I had was at the Plaza De Espana. Discovering that I hadn’t been there yet, Eric decided that we would walk there one evening as the sun was beginning to set. We got freshly roasted chestnuts on the way, and walked through the Parque de Maria Luisa, past these grandiose buildings from the 1929 World Fair held in Seville (called the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929) and newly erected Christmas markets. Our timing was perfect, the lighting rom-com worthy as we emerged in front of the Plaza.
We made it even better by hiring one of the row boats for 5 Euros for 35 minutes. ’35 minutes is way too long’, I thought, ‘we’ll probably only take around 10.’ I was wrong. We had this lovely row across the water, sharing intimate stories as the sun came down, until we got to the other end and realised it had been almost 35 minutes already and there was no time we’d get back in time. Luckily for us, we’d arrived just shortly before closing, and by the time we did get back, everything was packed away – including the office where we’d have to pay the difference – leaving only one poor guy waiting for us with our deposit who didn’t charge us extra but just put the boat away, thrust our money back at us, and headed off home.
The Shoe and Scarf Incidents:
One of the most frustrating things about travelling is that all the usual problems that you might have in your everyday life that are so small and easy to solve – because you’ve got all your typical house hold goods like sticky tape or bleach at hand – suddenly become almost insurmountable. When I’d been in Malaga someone had accidentally spilled their beer into my right boot and no amount of time leaving it in the sun to dry could stop it from squaking maddeningly. A little squeak here and there may not be so bad, but having a constantly squeaking right boot was making me worry that I’d snap and turn into a homicidal maniac, or that someone else who was hanging around me would snap first. Ultimately, Ty suggested pouring baking powder in it and I dared to hope for a brief while that my shoe problems were about to be history. Alas, the baking powder made my shoes smell less awful (stale beer and feet aren’t a great combination), but only made the squeaking softer instead of ending it altogether. Still, something was better than nothing.
My shoe failure was made up for by the success I had cleaning my scarf. If you ever stay at a decent hostel with friendly staff and really need cleaning products that you don’t have, always make the effort of asking if you can borrow theirs. I’d gotten some red wine on my white scarf, and throwing it in the laundry had turned the red drops into huge grey splotches. I’d given up on it and was set to throw it away when I thought of using the hostel’s bleach. The cleaning lady vetoed me though, saying it would ruin the scarf to use cleaning bleach instead of laundry bleach (although Google said it was an okay substitute in a pinch) and instead rubbed some magical blue liquid on the splotches, handed me some washing soap, and told me to handwash it. I did so despondently, sure that I was wasting my time – but when I pulled my scarf out of the water it was so white that it seemed to glisten. I was ecstatic. Then Iput it in the dryer with some guy’s black socks and the glistening white was replaced by a dull grey pallor, but it didn’t matter because at least I could use it again without looking like I belonged on the streets, and for that I was grateful.
Dinner at Ollie’s:
All the La Banda guys were fantastic, but my favourite was Ollie, who I’d bonded with over our similar taste in (and love of) music and because we’re both a little bit mischievious. Becoming friends with Ollie was great. Some people travel and just have lots of big nights and party all the time. I do love to dance, and I love having crazy, wild adventures – but I also really love understanding how other people live, and meeting interesting people who are doing fantastic things and who challenge the way I see the world. That’s the best part, I think, about travelling. You’re so exposed to different lifestyles and you become so much more aware of all the possibilities out there, and learn to see your prejudices and expectations as the social constructs they are rather than as inherent.
Hanging out with Ollie let me see Seville very differently. I loved seeing him call out to the ladies in the cafe around the corner from the hostel when they were closing up on his way home, and the Spanish conversations he’d have, laughing and friendly, with the hostel’s suppliers and delivery people. I think seeing how a person lives, the way they go about their every day lives, is part of the charm of being in another city, and it lets you see what that place is really like. I think what made me the most jealous of the guys and their life there was when I went over for dinner one night, after Ollie broke his promise that we’d have a big Tuesday night out. Instead Tom made terriyaki noodles and they all sat around drinking wine, with candles and dim lighting, listening to music and trading stories about Christmas. Especially after being on the road for a while, it felt really lovely to just be chilling at someone’s house over dinner, with everyone laughing and smiling and happy.
The Last Day:
I definitely didn’t want to leave Seville, and the only reason I wasn’t staying there for the rest of the month was because I felt like I needed to use up the travel days on my Eurail pass. Well – that and the fact that there was better music in Barcelona. I really loved Seville though, and everyone else I’ve spoken to feels the same. It’s become one of my favourite cities in the world, and the best way I can explain it is that it’s just really chilled, even though that doesn’t sound like much. If reading this convinces any of you to follow in my footsteps, I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.