Spain: April 8 – June 7, 2016
It’s 5 months to the day, we set out on our adventure and here I sit in a place that wasn’t even on the original list of destinations. But this post isn’t about my current state of awesomeness, sitting in a recliner next to a warm fire in a cabin in a tropical paradise. Nope, instead, somehow I’ll try to retell the adventures in our first destination, Andalucía, Spain.
It’s fairly challenging to summon the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of a place experienced more than 150 days ago – even more challenging to sum up an experience over 2 months, 8 cities, and impacted by numerous friends (some new and some old). Yet, our first home base – Sevilla, Spain – was a great place to begin our journey. From my first trip to Spain back in 2006 to my most recent, every time I come to Spain, I feel at home. The people are so warm, welcoming, and the weather and terrain are so similar to California that one feels like they never left home.
Sevilla – Our Home Base
Speaking of feeling like home, the day after we arrived in Sevilla, my friend Ricardo visited Sevilla for his first time. He and I met in Italian class in Bologna in May 2013 and have stayed in touch through our trilingual, monthly Skype conversations. The mental gymnastics of a 1-2 hour conversation across political, historical, sarcastic, and linguistic topics in three different languages is a healthy challenge, at times. Other times, it literally feels like trying to fit a fat rich man on a camel through a needle with the wind blowing while hanging off a cliff. But I digress!
Having Ricardo in Sevilla for the first three days was such a blessing. After our first two weeks of being nomadic (one week without a home in the States and a week in Charleston), it was comforting to arrive in a familiar place with a familiar face. It also helped that I had a comfort buddy to work myself back into the Spanish language. Though, ironically, I spoke more Spanish with Ricardo in the first three days than I probably did in the rest of our 2 months in Spain. Plus, given that I’d been to Sevilla many years earlier, I was able to be an informal tour guide to both Ricardo and my wife during the first weekend.
Day Trips – Ronda, Setenil, and Córdoba
Once Ricardo left, it was time to get back to work and settle into our new home. My wife began Spanish classes at Sevilla Habla, which allowed her to meet new friends and expand her español. Eventually, her classmates turned into travel buddies and we ventured off to Ronda and Setenil with them one day on a tour with We Love Spain. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the tour, because I wouldn’t call it tour – more like a chauffeur to locations while everyone gets out to take photos with selfie sticks for their daily Facebook brag – it was a gorgeous day to explore two tiny towns we would have never thought to visit.
A couple of weeks later, we hopped on the train for an hour to spend a day visiting Córdoba. Much of the city can be seen in a day, especially since we don’t like to spend our time meddling inside of museums or dealing with hoards of tour groups. Thankfully, we arrived in Córdoba around 9am, only 1-2 hours before the weekend tour groups arrived. Once the groups arrived and the temps reached their daily highs, the streets and cafes were almost unbearable.
Córdoba is much more of tourist town than Sevilla and the prices surely matched that reality. However, we had to bear the crowds to visit the spectacular inside of the Mezquita – a tribute to years gone by when Christians and Muslims respected each other enough to appreciate each other’s views and relics.
Life in Sevilla
Springtime is perfect time to call Sevilla home. The climate is much more bearable than in the summer months when temps can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius on the average day. Our Airbnb in the Feria district of the town was nicely situated a block away from the once infamous Alameda de Hercules – a 500 year-old square turned marketplace, red light district, and now gentrified plaza over it’s lifespan. Today, it’s filled with restaurants, outdoor cafes, bars, and hundreds of people day and night, enjoying the sights, sounds, and taste of life in Sevilla. There’s a children playground in the middle of the Alameda adjacent to some of the most crowded bars where mom watch their kids frolic around the grounds, as they sip their cervezas, smoke their cigarettes, people watch and chat with their play date friends as the bar music blares in the background.
Situated outside of the main tourist district (by about a 10 minute walk), our neighborhood also had a few nice cafes and restaurants that became our staples during our brief time there. From my daily cortado and tostados con mantequilla and marmelada at La Señora Pop and my wife’s daily studies with her café con leche and slice of cake at Café El Viajero Sedentario to my $5 lunches at La Locanda di Andrea, where I was able to practice my Italian, the culinary options in Sevilla did not disappoint. Though most of the food in Sevilla is based on a tapas diet, one can get quite stuffed just hopping around from place to place in the evenings grabbing a $2-3 bite here and there. Carrillada soon became our tapa of choice, especially when you can have a plate of it with bread, butter, and a small glass of beer for just $3! Man, can I have some now?!
The only major challenge (at times) was the sporadic wifi service in the city and honestly in most of southern Europe. While download speeds were in the comfortable range of 12-13 Mbps…I never got over 1 Mbps upload in my entire time in Spain. Not to mention, it was common for the wifi to go out at the Airbnb and seemingly every other local spot at the same time. So it made for being in stealth mode as a web consultant difficult at times, though luckily most of my client calls were held between 5pm and 2am Central European time.
Weekend Trips – Granada & Valencia
Our first true getaway trip to Granada was met with mixed reactions. Again, I’d been there before and remembered Granada providing me with an almost spiritual experience. So I was eager to share it with my wife and for the most part, Granada was another good experience – though the weather didn’t quite cooperate. It was rather chilly and rainy much of time there, and so we enjoyed the city in the most effective way possible – spending lots of time in the Arabian tea houses, eating Shawarmas at nearly every turn, and one relaxing night at the Arabian spa.
Granada was also the first time we stayed at an Airbnb in the guestroom of someone’s house. Though it was rather cheap ($30/night), at this point, it’s not something that I’d choose to do again. We found ourselves in a similar position a couple of weeks later in Valencia and a couple of months later in Bologna, but those two trips were booked before our Granada experience. In our mid-30s, we’d just prefer to have our own space, even if it’s only for a quick weekend (and cheap).
Not surprisingly though, Granada still provided me with a spiritual gift, which I documented in my previous post – 30-Minute Mondays. Perhaps, if not for that experience, I would not have ended my 4-Year Blogging Blackout Period nor even be sharing this post online.
Valencia, on the other hand, was absolutely amazing. We stayed just steps away from the beach. There’s nothing like waking up at 6am and taking a walk on the beach as the sun rises, or strolling down the beachfront in the evenings as the sun sets. Though about 30 minutes from town by bus, I would highly recommend staying near the beach in Valencia. It’s simply a more relaxing experience than the city life. But don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the central area of town.
For me, Valencia is like a perfect mix between Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla. It has the grandeur of Madrid, the energy and seaside beauty of Barcelona, with the small town charm of Sevilla. If we ever decide to relocate to Spain, Valencia just might be the place.
Our Last Spanish Getaway – Cádiz
As we neared the end of our stay in Spain, we just couldn’t manage to sit still. Given that all of my clients are American, it was fitting that we took advantage of a Monday with no emails and phone calls to enjoy our own Memorial Day in Spain. Plus, having spent the previous weekend on the beach in Valencia, we just had to find a way to make it back to the beach. So, we hopped a train for 1.5 hours and headed to Cádiz for the day.
Cádiz is such a small town that one can literally walk off the train, around the town, visit the ginormous Cathedral, stop for lunch in the town square, walk to the beach and lay for an hour, and then have a quick afternoon drink/snack before heading back home on the train. And that’s exactly how we spent our first American holiday as ex-pats. It couldn’t have been any better!
Two months seemed to fly by so quickly, especially when those moments were filled with many hellos and goodbyes. The absolute best part about our stay in Sevilla was our rooftop terrace. Whether I was conducting client calls, listening to podcasts during my afternoon siestas, watching the sunrise or sunsets, or we were hosting evening tapas parties, we definitely made great use of that space and time. Hosting dinner parties was something we enjoyed during our first three years living together in California, and being able to do the same in Sevilla truly made it feel like home.
Read more Tales from the Nomadic Adventure and find out where we’ll be in the coming months.