Friday, June 17, 2016

Sola in the South of Spain

Before I left Spain, I really wanted to explore a bit of the country and thus booked Bla Bla Cars to Seville then to Córdoba. Seville was for two nights by myself, then I would meet up with friends on the third day in Córdoba. Not too shocking for a kiwi girl to be travelling around Europe alone, but to Europeans it comes as a bit of a surprise and they often ask why (like, do I not have friends?) and say how brave it is. This is exactly what happened to me on my Bla Bla Car to Sevilla and it got me thinking.

Europe is so easy to travel around, and at times a lot cheaper than just travelling inside New Zealand. Not only are there cheap bus companies and airlines, Bla Bla Car exists, which is comfortable and even more cost effective at times. You just reserve a seat in a stranger's car for a journey, through a website. But because it's so easy to travel around Europe, Europeans travel, and not alone. Families from the Netherlands have summer houses in Marbella, the British love the Balearic Islands, party people take pills in Ibiza... It's possible to do a weekend trip or a summer holiday in another country because it's only a couple of hours or so on a plane and it's cheap. Whereas if I was so say, travel with a friend from NZ, I'd be looking at going to Europe for an extended period of time, we'd both have to make sure we had coinciding time off work (or Uni, of which it's either over the summer in NZ hence winter in Europe) and hadn't already been to the same places before, and both wanted to spend time with each other for weeks. I suppose that's why tours like Contiki and TopDeck are so popular - you get to see a lot in a short space of time and make new friends. But it's not really my cup of tea and doesn't make sense to me - especially knowing quite a few people dotted around Europe who I am desperate to see. I'm happy to travel by myself (most of the time) and if I get sick of my company, it's only me who has to deal with it.


Yeah, so anyway... Bla Bla Car to Seville. Featuring a fast talking, fast driving Spaniard, a possible future Olympic athlete and a beer-drinking, video-showing, singing, middle aged Spanish man. It was actually quite a fun trip. The beer-drinking man sang Spanish songs to us and showed me videos about Spain and Sevilla on his smartphone. The athlete and him both gave me tips and insider info on Seville, so I learnt about the culture and what makes Sevillians tick. And the driver drove, well, fast, so even though it was quite far away we got there faster than I have on a bus.

The first thing I did when I got there was slip over in a puddle and get mud all up the back of my leg, which didn't exactly look like mud when it was up the back of my leg. Gr8 work Anita.

I checked in at my hostel (Black Swan Hostel, would definitely recommend it) and asked the staff for places where I should visit. With a map in hand and the intention to 'practice' my navigational skills, I set off to discover the city, promptly getting lost about two blocks from the hostel.

there's a song that goes 'Seville has a special colour' and it's very true. This is one of the most colourful, beautiful cities I had been to. Just imagine a city dotted with churches, outside of which are huge white pillars with purple wisteria woven around them. Random archways are painted red, white and ochre, and several of the houses also are white and ochre, with multi coloured flowers dripping off the balconies.

Then there was the park, a lush paradise with bird song and palm trees, more tropical flowers and the sound of water. Random tiled sections with more purple wisteria and pink fuschia. I loved the park so much I ran through it the next morning.

The Plaza de España is one of the most well known attractions in Spain. Go me, I thought, when I ended up there at dusk, and the colours really did shine through. It's unlike other plazas in that it's semi-circle shaped, and a canal runs through part of it - and you can row boats around it. Bridges cross the canals, and bordering it is the council building with balconies which you can enter to get a view of the plaza and the park. If you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably already seen it in the movies.

One of the places I was most excited to see was the Alcazar, which the Game of Thrones fans reading my ramblings may recognise as Dorne. Those gardens were also spectacular. Beautifully maintained. The glistening sound of the many water features and birds rang throughout the park. It boasted so many different colours, not just in the plants but also in the tiled designs that were inside the Alcazar building. Sevilla is close to Africa, so a lot of the designs are Moorish and Arab influenced.

I said that Seville had a special colour - it also had a special smell. Not the 'Spanish drain smell' one visiting friend once called the smell of Spain, but the smell of incense and rosemary. On Sunday I stumbled across a Christian procession in the neighbourhood of Triana. Finally it made semi-sense why a lot of men I had seen leaving churches were wearing white pants and sandals. They were marching with a statue of the Virgin. Marching with her was also a band, young children in traditional costume carrying really long candles, and young men in red and gold robes carrying incense. Further along the street were shrines with the Virgin, and people were throwing rosemary at it. I don't know why - maybe she liked roast potatoes.

The streets of Triana were blistering hot and several of the low, two stories houses had hung banners outside, probably because it was a Sunday. They were also covered in Rosemary, other dried plants, and Spanish people in restaurants enjoying a family lunch of beer and tapas. It was lively, happy, family friendly and I really found it quite wonderful.

Later on that night, I met up with an exchange student I met back in 2009 in Chile, who is now living in Seville. It's amazing what social media can do - I'd seen she put a few photos of Seville on Instagram, so commented on one of her photos that I was going to be there, and the suddenly there we were, reunited and catching up on our lives. That night we went to a traditional Seville tapas bar. It was painted white and covered in religious devour, small and crowded, but that's like any bar in Spain and I love it. The next day we wandered around to another neighbourhood and market, and went up Las Setas, the largest timber sculpture in the Northern Hemisphere, which offers amazing views over Seville.

I then caught a Bla Bla Car to Córdoba, to meet with my friend who had already been there for two nights.


Córdoba was more a traditional, untouched Spanish town. We stayed in the old part of the city, where all the buildings were white, flowers cascaded down balconies, and there were hundreds of patios.

What are patios?
It gets really hot there, and they're a cool place just inside the entrance of a house, shaded but in open air, where you can have a spot of tranquility amongst plants that are meticulously maintained. It's really quite something. Our hostel had two patios and a solarium on the rooftop, where we could look over the city to the fields and the hills.

I went to the Mezquita, quite a special place because it's a church yet also a mosque. Back in the day, Christians, Muslims and Jews lived harmoniously together there. It was quite impacting - red and white striped archways, together with crucifixes and statues of Christ and the Virgin.

The Alhambra are gardens in Córdoba, and like the Alcazar in Seville, full of water features and beautiful flowers. We climbed the tower and got more spectacular view over the city and the surrounding hillsides.

Even the Bla Bla Car back was great - more amazing scenery. It's hard to get bored on long journey when you go through completely new and beautiful places. Like most people who travel, I wish I had more time to spend there, but hopefully I will be back one day.

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