One of the last places in Europe that I thought I would visit in my travels was Spain; I don’t speak the language (though have since pledged to try to take a class in it at W&M) and had that there were other places that were more typical of a “European experience” (e.g. Paris, Rome, etc.) than Seville. However, after visiting this beautiful Spanish city, I realized that it was one of the best decisions I made since coming to St. Andrews, and a great way to return the trek that Lindsay made up to the rainy coast of Scotland.
Though it’s been awhile since I returned from Seville (I’m writing this blog post after a whirlwind of a week in Paris, which will be addressed in a later entry or two), the memories and sights won’t soon be forgotten. A clash of Islamic and Judeo-Christian history is evident in much of the architecture and traditional tourist hotspots (Catedral de Sevilla and Alcázar). Combine that with the Spanish-adopted tradition of flamenco dancing from the gypsy nations that have long occupied Spain, you get an intrinsically unique culture, that I got a chance to bask in. The city itself feels intimate and friendly, even for a tourist like myself. After only a couple of days, I found myself able to navigate “el centro” relatively easily, which made the time that Lindsay was busy with school-related activities that much smoother. That in mind though, it’s still a city; there are enough back alleys and interesting shops to keep a student studying abroad there for a semester engaged and able to stumble upon new things.
To sort of quickly recap my experience and more memorable moments in Seville, I’ll do it the best way I know how (and what is quickly becoming a common theme for this blog): a list.
1.) Jesus (Lindsay’s host father) driving like a crazy mo’fo through the narrow-ass streets of Seville (Seriously, they are tiny. Don’t even bother buying a nice car, because it’ll just end up getting scratches on it from making tight turns and bumping into cars while parallel parking);
2.) Food: tapas bars, real paella, and gelato;
3.) Warm weather and sun (a welcome break from Scotland, even if my pastiness led to getting sunburnt);
4.) Surviving on a 2L bottle of water and one meal per day, mostly because I was too timid to order food without Lindsay’s help;
5.) Spanish clubbing and “drinking in moderation”;
6.) Old people errywhere;
7.) Getting to see a flamenco show—totally different than what I expected, but still a great cultural experience;
8.) Opening a wine bottle with a rape whistle (BEST MOMENT EVER);
9.) Constant bickering with Lindsay (wouldn’t expect anything less).
While the sights I got the opportunity to tour were beautiful (select photos will be subsequently posted), one of the sticking points for me was the language barrier. Even though Seville is the third largest city in Spain, it is not as tourist-oriented as Madrid or Barcelona. Many shop owners and waiters do not speak English (or at least not very well) and for the average American/Asian tourist, this can compromise the experience of exploring a new destination.
I had the privilege of meeting Lindsay’s host parents on her previous visits to Spain, Jesus and Carmen, when visiting Seville. Jesus actually picked me up from the airport, and played a practical joke of pretending to arrest me—being the head of arms of the national police force, it had the potential to be scary, had I not been accidentally warned by Lindsay of the chance that they would be stopping by to visit. Both Jesus and Carmen’s English skills were much better than my Spanish ones (which primarily consist of a familiarity with elementary school vocabulary words and being able to recite “The Pledge of Allegiance”, neither of which are very useful in conversation), but they tended to speak primarily in Spanish, and use Lindsay to translate if there was something more complicated than “how many brothers and sisters do you have?” that they wanted to ask me. Not that I could really blame them though—I’d do the exact same thing in their position, and in addition, it was almost rude of me to come into their country and not be able to speak at least a little bit of Spanish.
I felt helpless and frustrated at not being able to communicate what I wanted or how I was feeling. A good example of this was when I was invited to Lindsay’s host mother’s (Mercedes) apartment for dinner. Mercedes and my English:Spanish speaking ratio were pretty equivalent, so poor Lindsay got stuck as the translator again. I desperately wanted to show my sincere gratitude and appreciation for having me over, but it’s hard to adequately express such feelings with a simple “Mucho gracias”—at least I think so.
Despite the (at times overwhelming) setback of not speaking Spanish, I really did have a fantastic time seeing both a great city and friend, and it was the perfect time to take vacation—finals began a few days after I got back. Finals at St. Andrews are worth way more than at W&M (approx.. 70%), so I needed to be at my best mentally to finish up the school year. Right after finals, I headed off to France, for a week in Paris…
I don’t speak French either. Fantastic.