The South of SpainBarcelona, Spring 2013
There is a slogan that can be seen throughout Barcelona, graffitied on city walls and in the words of its proud people: “Catalunya is not Spain.” After my weekend in Andalucía, the southern region of Spain, I can now understand why.
In the past two months, Catalan culture has formed a special place in my heart, but Barcelona and its neighbors are not the same Spain I romanticized before coming abroad. I found the heart of authentically Spanish Spain in Granada and Sevilla.
My journey began with a method of transportation I’m not too keen on trying again. But I survived the 10-hour overnight train ride in the economy class and arrived in Granada, situated between rolling hills of fertile land and grazing farm animals. As I was walking through narrow alleyways, I could feel a sense of preserved history and tradition.
The Moorish influences were very present in food, architecture and language of some people on the streets. I could smell the sharp scent of leather intertwined with soft incense in shopkeepers’ tents. And then there was the Islamic palace, the most famous and most visited site in Spain. I am of course talking about the Alhambra. The trek there was a steep, tiring one, but the view of the city and intricate details of the palace’s ornate interior were worth it.
And you’ve heard of “the city that never sleeps?” Well it seems Granada is the city that always sleeps. When I arrived, the streets were empty and the stores were closed. Just when it had started to populate with people, the mid-afternoon siesta brought them back to their slumbers.
But I soon realized why they need so much more rest. Their late-night lifestyle requires a lot of energy. And I saw all that energy and more in Sevilla.
I stayed at Oasis Backpackers’ Palace Seville, a hostel I recommend for future travelers, and there were plenty of activities for guests. After exploring the charming Plaza España and part of the Alcázar gardens, my friend and I signed up for a flamenco show and a tapas tour. These turned out to be two very wise decisions.
First, the flamenco show. I had seen one at a local joint in Plaça Reial, but this 90 minute performance was incomparable. I was captivated by the swift, passionate movements of the dancers perfectly harmonized by soulful singing and classic Spanish guitar. But perhaps the most incredible flamenco I saw in Sevilla was not on stage, but in a bar along the Guadalquivir River. My friend and I were lured in by a sultry voice on acoustic guitar, and what we found was a hub for locals to gather and dance together. People of all ages and all skill levels were dancing flamenco. I witnessed a man serenade a woman through dance and a woman embrace her friend at the end of a song. The energy was contagious. I had never seen a room so full of people just enjoying life.
Then the tapas tour, led by a knowledgeable Spaniard, was my last experience of the city. I couldn’t have asked for a better note to end on. Together with a friendly couple from Munich and another from Quebec, the tour guide took us to three different types of tapas bars. Not only did we get to sample delectable snacks and traditional sherries, but we all had the chance to learn about different cultures. The best part about studying abroad is getting to meet people from all over the world and exchanging stories and laughs as well. We shared musings about politics, pop culture and our travels until the bar closed and we had to call it a night. We overstayed our welcome, but I would have been content to continue talking with them for a few hours more.
I enjoyed myself in Sevilla so much that I began to wonder if I made the right decision in choosing my study abroad city. Though I feel I did, I couldn’t help but picture myself living like this every day for four months. Just when I thought I’d adapted to the “Spanish” lifestyle in Barcelona — late meal times, even later nightlife, walking everywhere, navigating the metro — Sevilla and Granada changed my idea of that.
Real Spanish lifestyle is more than its stereotype of sleeping and eating. When Andalucía is done with its siesta, it is more than awake. It’s alive.
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