There is usually an initial ‘honeymoon’ phase when moving to a new city. But then, like any relationship, cracks show. Cat Gaa lives in one of Spain’s most famous cities, Seville. What bits of this Andalusian metropolis does she love? What could she live without? Read on to find out….
By Cat Gaa
When I studied abroad in Spain seven years ago, I planned to spend my summer learning proper castellano where it originated – in Valladolid. The regal castles and wide avenues of the Golden Age called to me more than bullfights and flamenco dancers, so I was shocked to find my outgoing personality is best mirrored in an aldaluza’s fiery character. Two years later, I moved to Seville for a year, and another…and five years after settling in Seville, I’m still here.
While it’s easy to write about loving the typically Spanish things that characterize the city, like sangria and flamenco, I am not an aficionado of flamenco, bullfighting, or Holy Week, and only recently started following football (aka, soccer). My appreciation for Seville has evolved slowly from lust, during those first few hot days, to deep love thanks to finding pieces of the city that felt exclusively mine.
Seven Things I Love About Seville are…
The tapas scene
There are over 1000 tapas bars in Seville, and columnist Antonio Burgos once questioned how it was that the city continues to thrive during the crippling economic crisis. His answer? Tapas bars. While Seville’s cuisine can’t match the celebrated Basque or Catalan cuisine, the lively tapas scene makes dining out a treat in the Andalusian capital.
From brightly-lit bars inhabited by my beloved Spanish grandpas, serving little more than beer, olives and cold meats, to the trendier fusion bars that are popping up all over, the tapeo (being out for tapas) in Seville rarely disappoints. Around 8 p.m., sevillanos flock to the bars around the city center for catching up, having a drinking and eating their way through small dish after small dish, often just having one at each venue.
The varied nightlife
Apart from the tapeo, Seville’s nightlife has something for every taste. From flamenco bars to trance clubs, I can find something for my mood on any given night. The international crowd sticks to Calle Betis in the Triana neighborhood, the hippie hangouts and music bars flank the Alameda de Hércules. There’s also a thriving arts scene in the dozens of theaters scattered around the city. For information about what’s on, pick up the Giraldillo magazine, available at newsstands and tourism offices, or use their website (Spanish only).
The spring festivals
I decided I liked Seville during a muggy day in August, but everyone warned me I’d fall in love during the springtime. The fresh smell of orange blossoms, al fresco tapeo and trips to the beach became the norm, but my real initiation to Sevillian life came during the highly anticipated spring festivals: Holy Week and the April Fair. The festivities are national touristic highlights and enjoy their own office and director within the city government.
While the life-size floats depicting the finals days of Christ’s life aren’t my thing, my holiday time during Holy Week is: ten days to travel that have afforded me time to visit various cities around Spain, Turkey, Romania, and the Netherlands. And, after just two weeks’ time, the flamenco music roars through the streets of the Feria, the April Fair. Body-hugging dresses, horse carriages and makeshift tents celebrate Andalusian culture. Visit Seville’s Culture page by clicking here.
Fairly cheap living
My first year living in Spain, I made a measly 631€ a month from a teaching gig, and chose not to give many English lessons to fully immerse myself. While I did save a lot before leaving for Spain, that money could basically stretch the whole month with careful planning. Unlike Madrid or Barcelona, living in a shared flat is still cheap, and food and nightlife affordable. I love that making a decent salary in my full-time teaching job still allows for weekend trips, new clothes every once in a while and a yearly visit to Chicago.
It’s extremely walkable
Seville’s location along the Guadalquivir River means that the city is as flat as my Midwestern home – there’s just one hill in the whole place! What’s more, the city has turned the historic center into a pedestrian haven, making Avenida de la Constitución similar in feel to a mini Las Ramblas. Seville’s small size lends well to using your own two patas (paws) to get around.
It’s Arguably the Most Romantic City in Spain (and mixes old and new)
After studying in Castilla y León at age 19, I did a trip through Andalusia with a friend and gasped around every corner as we explored Seville. Due to its tumultuous past, Seville has glimpses into Roman, Visigoth, Muslim, Jewish and Christian cultures, apart from a beautiful riverfront and the modern bridges that span it. Seville’s former mayor, Alfredo Monteseirín, recently came under fire during his final term for trying to modernize the Hispalese capital and doing the groundbreaking on a controversial building, the Metrosol. Nicknamed the “Setas” for their mushroom-like appearance, it’s one of the tallest buildings in the city and smack-dab in the historic center. Some call it an eyesore, but I see it as an interesting addition to a traditional neighborhood.
The andaluz accent
Anywhere I travel, I’m immediately pegged as a resident in Southern Spain. The region’s accent, andaluz (or andalú if you’re sevillano), is plagued with missing consonants, making Ehpaña out of España, or swapping the /l/ sound for /r/. When I took the DELE Spanish exam, the men who conducted my oral exam even laughed at my adoption of the accent!
…and Three I Could Live Without
As spring’s quick life explodes into summer, the heat and haze settle over Seville, turning it into a ghost town. Due to Seville’s being situated on the low Guadalquivir valley, all of the heat that rolls in from Africa sits right over the city. It’s not uncommon to see temperatures hitting 30°C in May, and August is just unbearable – making the siesta culture thrive and shops close up early. I head for the hills of Galicia and the Windy City every summer to escape the heat!
The social circles
When I started dating my boyfriend five years ago, a co-worker quipped that I’d gotten the golden ticket into sevillano culture and social living. As someone who switched schools often growing up, wasn’t accustomed to the Spanish tendency to have the same classmates from nursery school right up through university, and even opted myself to study far from my native Chicago. I’ve found it hard to make Spanish friends of my own because of this, often seeking solace in my other amercanita friends living in Andalusia.
The public transportation
Were it not for my bike, I’d never get anywhere in Seville. The public transportation is far below where it should be in terms of coverage and speed, and I’d cite the medieval streets and poor communication between neighborhoods. What’s more, the local government keeps making changes to the traffic flow, which just confuses and infuriates citizens. There’s just one metro line and buses run once every hour on weekends, so the city’s rentable bike system is a great way to traverse the small city.
Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in Chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and daily cravings for Cruzcampo later, she writes at Sunshine and Siestas about life as an American in Seville. Follow her on instagram and twitter at @sunshinesiestas.