Going through Séville felt like when Leslie Knope sent Ron Swanson on an adventure through Scotland with exact directions for him to follow for him to find everything he will love (RIP). As soon as I booked my flight back in November, I emailed Katie and her best amiga from Spain Sam about everything I should do once I got there. Sam sent me back a detailed list of sights and restaurants, including the must-try dishes at her favorite places. I printed out the email and carried it with me through the city, crossing off restaurants and making notes as I went along. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if they had been there with me…and if I spoke Spanish. Speaking Spanish would have been a big help.
“Why didn’t you go to Barcelona or Madrid?” is a question I’ve been asked several times. The easy answer is that I asked Katie what her favorite city in Spain was and she said Séville so I booked my tickets about 20 minutes later. The other answer is that I cringe at the thought of spending all of my trip inside a museum (sorry, art history nerds) or a Google image search.
The second I arrived, I was completely enamored by the city. I knew that if Katie loved it I would too, I just didn’t realize how much and how quickly it would happen. I was in awe of the orange trees lining every street – and very quickly got a warning from Katie not to eat the oranges, as they are used for perfumes and oils rather than found on sale at food markets (those are the ones from Valencia).
As I wandered through Triana, where I was staying, I tried to wrap my head around a culture so different from American or French that hadn’t really seemed that foreign before I arrived. I peeked into ceramic workshops and eventually found myself near the Universidad de Séville in a Bermuda triangle of street artists as the sun set – roller blading tricks in front of me, a tap/flamenco dancer to my left and a young, amateur Spanish rapper to my right. I started to ask the rollerbladers if I could take their picture, and very quickly remembered that that phrase was not a part of my Spanish vocabulary.
Though I did go to the must-sees of Séville – Plaza de España, Parque Maria Luisa, the real Alcàzar, and the cathedral, I found myself lost in the Moorish influence and detailed work of the ceramic walls, floors, and bridge railings. Small pieces of art without a glass museum case is art I will take any day. That, and the street artists.
In Sam’s email/my Sevillana bible, she said that one of the best parts of Séville is the food – something which proved itself over and over again. I had some of the best – and cheapest – meals of my entire vacation in Séville, many thanks to the highly curated list I had been given. Tapas really are my favorite food, because you don’t have to actually make up your mind and it is 100 percent acceptable to order five different plates.
One night when my feet were feeling particularly resentful, I took a quick walk across the Triana bridge, for dinner at Lonja del Barranco – a very, very good Sam recommendation. I got paella and three different croquettas with jamon, mushrooms, and ox tail, and some very good wine before finishing with “cheesecake” that I think was actually made with mascarpone (which I guess is technically cheese whatever). Sitting next to the river with my assortment of plates, listening to music playing at nearby bars and the white noise of people speaking Spanish at neighboring tables was one of the most peaceful, inspiring meals of my life.
The following day, equipped with my watercolor notebook and camera, I trekked up the cathedral tower, rewarding myself with a tinto de verrano at a nearby bar on the roof of the Hotel Doña Maria, recommended by Sam (you all have to go there). It was quiet – I guess because not a lot of people drink at 3 p.m. in Spain – and felt like spring as I sat and sketched and wrote letters. Gah, paradise.
Before I left Séville, I knew I had to accomplish three more things: flamenco, ceramica, churros. Not necessarily in that order.
Katie told me her favorite churro place was across the Triana bridge but had sporadic hours, so I caught it while it was open during the typical siesta. At Los Especiales, the churreria, I watched as a man poured the churro dough into the oil before my eyes and handed me a cup of chocolate. Si. Por. Favor. I perched near the river with my afternoon snack and gleefully dunked the hot churros into the pudding-like chocolate, eating way more than I had originally intended (calories don’t count on vacation purely because all of the towers you climb negate them).
I arrived at Ceramica Triana just as they re-opened for the evening and spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out what I needed to buy* as my Séville souvenir. I eventually settled on a beautifully hand-painted vase that is now home to my paintbrushes. Check, check.
At this point, I only had one thing left on my list: flamenco. Flamenco on a Tuesday isn’t exactly the easiest thing to find, though, unsurprisingly. I headed to La Carboneria, where Sam said they usually had flamenco every night, with a warning from the couple I stayed with that they thought it had closed. Google Maps took me through back streets and alleys before finally arriving at my destination, which, thankfully, was still open for business.
Another tinto de verrano later, I was sitting on a bench against a wall listening to a very attractive Spaniard sing traditional flamenco guitar songs that originated in Andalusia. Even without the dancing, it was amazing to watch the amount of emotion he put into his performance – and to watch the old man who kept walking up to the front to join the performers and help keep the beat.
The next morning, on my way to the airport, I stopped at Los Especiales one more time and had coffee next to the river. Looking at all the colorful houses in Triana felt like I had already been there before, and I knew I would come back and see them again soon.** ♦
* Everyone who helped me pack to move to France knows the answer: nothing. I needed to buy nothing.
**Preferably with a Spanish-speaking guide.
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