Travel Log 4 “Studying Abroad…It’s More than Just a Walk in the Park” By JonCarlo DeFeudis. Sevilla, Spain.

These past couple weeks have certainly been a blur to say the least but through my daily excursions and habit of journal writing I can culminate together my walks through urban Sevilla through my eyes for you all.  Richard Slimbach, author of Becoming World Wise, has wonderfully provided me with ten objectives to allow my excursions to reach their fullest potential. As I wandered the streets I kept in mind this quote from Slimbach, “It is only as the hero-wanderer advances beyond his or her limits that true “entrance” into another realm of experience occurs” (Slimbach, 186). The ten guidelines Slimbach lists are as follows, General directions, impressions, and orientation, Local currency basics, Personal safety awareness, Food options, Local History, Current affairs, Social etiquette, Romantic relationships, Public transportation, and finally, Do’s and Don’ts. Please hang in there with me these extrapolations may get a bit extensive and somewhat blurry and mixed together.

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Pictured:  Exploring the streets on a quiet night.

First off is the mapping and orientation exercise.  Practically my first night here I was given a map and off I went with a roommate to go find the night life. We quickly (but not quickly enough, I did get lost on the way home that night…  rather morning at that point) learned that two blocks to our north, adjacent to the center of the city is our key point of orientation. That being, La Plaza de Cuba. There we can pick up the street called Asuncion, which cuts straight through the shopping district and after a quarter mile, a sharp left will provide us back to our home on Virgen de la Victoria. On Asuncion there are almost all the necessities, a grocer, banks, clothing stores (mostly for women), cafes, convenient stores, book hovels, and electronics shops. In fact, the other day I finally found the post office which was on a street parallel to Asuncion. Clearly, Asuncion is vital to my everyday route, as it leads directly to and from Plaza de Cuba.

Now the other important path that juts from the Plaza is the San Telmo bridge, which if followed across the river will lead directly into the heart of Sevilla. One other, smaller yet just as notable street which also happens to begin at the Plaza de Cuba is the Calle de Betis. This street contains a few alluring riverside restaurants and clubs. Although the best feature of the Plaza is that it has a stop for the metro. I take the metro every day for class, and thus I arrive at the Plaza at the very least twice daily. Plaza de Cuba is quite a centerpiece to be near as it contains a taxi hub, a few bars (even an Irish-American bar that we frequent on Sundays for a severely harmful combination of Football and gluttony), and most of our friends happen to live close to this spot as well. What’s more is that as I aforementioned, the City center is just a walk across the bridge. Only a matter of 8 minutes on foot and the city opens up into giant buildings, not particularly tall in stature but grand and aged, deserving of respect. These buildings contain small specialty shops, cafes, and restaurants on the ground floor and apartment housing above. They cluster around the great Catedral which marks the very inner point of Sevilla. From here the cobblestone streets run wild and have no sense of organization as they wind up and through the city. All along the way buildings have tarps hung across each other at the rooftops, which hang above the streets to protect the people below from the ever present glares from the sun. Nestled in these twisting streets you can find the best fashion boutiques and an endless supply of tapas cafes.  These two areas are of vital importance to a newcomer in Sevilla. After nearly three weeks of constantly walking these areas I may have made enough sense and seen plenty of the public habits to give a proper image of this sun sparkled Spanish city.

Local currency can be a hassle at first until one realizes the norm. By far the hardest obstacle of the whole mess of Euros is the excess coins that come into play, (and to think we already have enough in America). The typical 5, 10, 20, and 50 cent denominations there are also very common dollar and two dollar coins. I must confess it is an absurd feeling to have so many coins in your pocket. I recommend using a coin jar to save up the small change and use the higher coins before any paper cash. Conveniently there are almost always banks nearby any given location with ATMs. But as I found out the hard way with my roommate, who had to exchange American dollars in cash for Euros, banks are only open 9am to 2pm here. Not much room for error there. If one takes a closer look to the coins and notes there are customized images and engravings of famous Spanish heroes, one such is Miguel de Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote. He is regarded as the most important Spanish writer of all time and is found on all the euro coins here in Spain.

Personal Safety has been hammered into my head over and over again here. So I will recite it as follows; don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket- keep it secure in your front pocket, be aware of crowds and unwanted hands, do not answer shady fellows with the time of day when asked, do not travel by the wrong parts of the neighborhood past midnight, do not walk home alone past midnight, keep quiet during night hours, avoid drinking excessively (that one is for you mom, don’t worry I’m being a good boy!), keep aware of your location and whereabouts at all times, do not engage overly with strangers at bars. Well the list goes on. By my account the most important step to safety is to stick with your friends and keep your wits about you. Yes. being abroad is about testing boundaries but for god’s sake don’t be that drunk American walking alone down the street at five in the morning. Another pleasant warning imparted upon us at orientation at the university; don’t believe the locals when they say jumping off the bridge is tradition; it won’t end well. Last but not least just have FUN!

Ah yes, the local culinary section is now upon us. The tradition in Sevilla, as it is in many Spanish cities is the love-hate affair as we foreigners know it, Tapas, or appetizers. Commonly all restaurants and cafes serve a multitude of small but delectable plates. They are cheap and come fast. The thing about food in Spain is that it is all very delicious and cheap. Rosa, my host mom, wisely told us to go tapas hopping; to have a drink and a tapa at a venue and then on to the next, repeat as many times as desired. On the streets there are a lot of local fruit stands that display colorful produce.  I had a sweet melon the other day from one such vendor, and it was like nothing I had ever had before; it was a perfectly hydrated and palatable fruit. There is a chain of small markets that provide all the food needs for the locals and it’s the only store consistently open all day here. Among the delicacies here is a dish that hold a very special place in my heart, Paella. I’ve walked by a particular restaurant in the center of the city that sets up a giant saucer of paella outside their door on the sidewalk to entice passerbys, somehow I have not yet fallen victim. Paella is a rice or risotto dish that is very versatile with vegetable medleys and sauce variations, but almost always is concluded by with a kitchen sink of seafood mixed in. If you walk past the good bakeries and cafes you will be greeted by an aroma of such heavenly chocolate and pastries that your body is taken over by a warm and fuzzy sensation. Happily, I report in that I have been taking full advantage of all the tapas and cafes at my fingertips. I cannot forget to mention that I have the distinct pleasure of the lovely Rosa cooking lunch and dinner six days a week for us. She is a passionate chef who incorporates traditional Mexican entrees, Spanish dishes, and American meals in our schedules. Often we have a hearty soup for lunch and a pasta dish for dinner. The drink of choice here is a specialty wine which is called Vino de Verano, which is enjoyed modestly by the locals and heavily by the foreigners.  It directly translates into Wine of the Summer, (no this is not like the Game of Thrones “Arbor Gold”) but it is a sweet red wine, sometimes sparkling. Well enough of all this talk of wine it is making me sleepy. Side note here: the popular Spanish beer brand, Cruz Campo might just own all of Spain, through its monopoly of bars.

Local History is my favorite subject, yet I have uncovered only just the tip of the iceberg so far in my journeys in Sevilla. Well a noteworthy piece of Sevillan history is that in 1492, when the Guadalquivir river was wider than it is now, Christopher Columbus departed with his immortal fleet flying the flag of the Spanish Regime. Of other particular pieces of history, I have picked up is that the Catedral is one of the tallest catholic churches in all of Europe. Upon visiting the Alcanzar, also known as the Plaza of Spain, it is evident that the Moors had settled in this city hundreds of years ago, as distinct Muslim architectural patterns are vivid in every inch of the palace. Much more to come on this subject when I actually listen to the tour guide.. next time (to my credit it was a blazing hot day when we took the tours. Safe to say I did not retain much information).

Upon attempting to read the newspaper several times in the mornings I have gathered little on the current state of affairs. I can see there are business and economic concerns as there are always in such a nation, although the trivial headlines are still a mystery to me. What makes more sense to me are the sports headlines, which they obsessively detail every inch of every futbol matter. Furthermore, what I have found easier to comprehend are the televised news broadcast where the reporters tend to talk slower and there are pictures and videos to help me. For instance, from one such broadcast I was able to gather that a young woman who had gone out one night to party was seemingly abducted, and nobody has seen her since. She disappeared. Although the part of the story that is most precarious is that the girl’s parents have recently been arguing and the mother claims to not have seen her that night, though there is evidence that she did. It’s a wild story, I know. I must confess that Rosa did help explain some of the minute details to me. But come on that’s a good synopsis right there.

Social Etiquette here is one of the toughest challenges. No it’s nothing about formality, but all about the adherent ignorance of a little something called time. I’m nearly positive in my studies of the Spaniards that they either don’t know what time is, or they simply don’t care. I mean they simply never rush or go out of their way to make anything a quick process. Ordering at a restaurant, waiting in line, walking down the street, looking for assistance in a store is all something that is not taken with seriousness by the locals here, and each task must be regarded with the utmost patience and understanding. For slowly, I am realizing that besides getting on the metro on time for class there is no need to rush anywhere. It is just how life goes here, the Spaniards are very laid back people, and they like it that way. At first I thought I was the fact that I was foreign that I never got good service at a café or by a clerk in the store, but through my repeated observation I have come to conclude it is a truth of Spanish life to relax, breath in the hot air, and drink the coffee. Along the same vein is the subject of tardiness for arrival, which is by all means accepted and taken thoroughly. Now I have not met many locals yet, but I have been told if one has a scheduled meeting at 10 o’clock, the Spaniard will most always not arrive until 15 or 30 minutes late, which is simply their natural way of doing things. Sort of like Island Time. (There’s no rush… get another pinacolada). Greeting here is what is typical for most European countries a pleasantry followed by a kiss on both cheeks. A most common and enjoyed term for greeting is “Encantado(a)” which translates to “My pleasure [to meet you]”. Although it is perceived that in Europe one is supposed to wear pants to all events in order to be up to social par, that is a myth in Sevilla. The reason being that Sevilla is one of the warmest cities in Europe, therefore permitting the strange American custom of wearing shorts out without social consequence. Above all the most necessary trait one needs in Spain is to be patient and unbridled by schedules.

Romance is a more intimate subject in Spain than in the States. In Spain it is acceptable to be very touchy and hands on with others. It is the social nature of the Spaniards to be very outward and expressive in conversation. I can’t say this is a bad trait as it often enlivens others and creates a stronger sense of comradery and passion when meeting others, say for the first time. You are not meant to feel stranger to these people. They treat you as their own.

Sevilla is a place where the old world and the new world meet. Here one can take a horse driven carriage to practically any spot in the city. I had wondered why there are public workers out late at night washing the cobblestone streets, only to realize it had to do with horses. Besides that, there are masses of mopeds and motorcycle riders, or as we call them, Moped Gangs. This seems to be the preferred mode of transportation. Although of there are plenty of small hatchback cars and buses. A tram also runs through the center of the city. Beneath the city runs the metro which is a simple one-way track, making it nearly impossible to get lost upon. Taxis are plentiful in certain hotspots such as the Plaza de Cuba. Also Sevilla has many bicyclists whom enjoy the generous biking paths across every main sidewalk in the city. The many bike paths give the impression that biking might be the easiest mode of transportation.

Lastly the Do’s and Don’t’s section:

Do feel free to smoke in any public area, but not in bars. Do feel free to touch another person liberally. Do wear sandals or flip flops around the house. Do take advantage of siesta and take a midday nap. Do politely call or waive over for the waiter or waitresses’ attention when ready for something, they do not wait on you like it is in America.

Do not make eye contact with strangers. Do not tip at meals unless otherwise told. Do not keep the lights or electronics on when not in use. Do not be loud in buildings at night. Do not ask to meet during siesta hours nor expect stores to be open during such hours (2-5pm). Do not use large bills in small local stores. Do not expect Spaniards to understand all of the Latin American terms learned in the states.

My Travelogue, Driving Over Lemons, an Optimist in Spain, by Chris Stewart, albeit written about the rural Spanish countryside really does have a lot of similar lessons to teach about assimilating into the Spanish culture. Stewart spends a lot of time in the book writing of his liminal experiences in which he tries to connect and befriend locals with which he has varying success. He talks a lot of dealing with the conservative Spaniards who would not change their ways. A great lesson from Chris’s story is how he transformed the shepherding community in a small Andalusian village by using an electric sheep shearing machine. At first the locals were stubborn and would trust the foreigner, but after watching with wonder his fantastic abilities they soon followed suit. Breaking down barriers like that is crucial in the first two states of a rite of passage.

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