Last summer I returned to Spain for the first time in 6 years. I'd been once to Barcelona for a night and Ibiza for three nights. I had an amazing time and have always wanted to go back. At my previous job our most significant time off was at the end of summer over Labor day. Something seemingly rare in the restaurant industry. Additionally, our executive chef was from Barcelona and I had an interest in trying and understanding Spanish cuisine and wine.
My first stop was Madrid. The focus of my whole trip was mainly to visit Portugal (more on this later) and with only 9 nights of travel, I had to plan accordingly. A former manager and friend would be attending business school from the coming year so I decided one night was sufficient for the timbering because I just knew I'd be back.
I stayed at an Airbnb in the neighborhood of La Latina. I chose it for its convenience and liveliness. I arrived at the airport and I attempted to get a bus into central Madrid but eventually caved due to impatience and called an Uber. My driver arrived and we made our way through rush hour traffic into the city. Riding in that car and heading west was one of the prettiest cab rides I've taken. Madrid is nestled between high hills and the bright, orange sun was making it's way over one of them. The orange-red tiles of the buildings seemed a little brighter and everything seemed to be of one color palette. I arrived close to my Airbnb but with one way streets and construction I was let out a bit before my building. I was let it by a neighbor of my host who was friendly. He asked me some details and let me know that I could ask him for help if I needed.
After settling in, I looked up nearby tapas restaurants and found one of interest. Night had fallen and locals were walking about the city. I got to the restaurant which was well-lit and fairly busy. I ordered a glass of Rioja and two tapas. The service was quite good and food was simple yet flavorful. While traveling alone has its upsides, in Spain it posed an odd problem as there were only so many tapas I could eat. I soon learned that having more wine or sherry was the best way to continue the culinary experience without becoming overly stuffed. After dinner, I wandered around a bit and then I started to make my way back to the apartment. Coincidentally, while walking through the plaza, I ran into my host's neighbor. He was with his flatmate. The Spanish travel in the month of August and since it was the end of August they'd all just returned from holiday and were catching up. I joined them in conversation after grabbing a couple cans of local Mahou beer. These young professionals sat late into the night drinking beer and eating sunflower seeds. I savored the way time passed by slowly and the excitement in their stories and expressions. Mind you, young locals speak English very well so my Spanish skills didn't have to be put to the test. We finally made our way home. The air was cool outdoors and I rested well.
In the morning I woke up early to walk to the train station and buy my ticket to Sevilla. I stopped at a cafeteria to have a coffee. After all of my research, I had landed on Sevilla, the capital of Andalusia. I wanted to visit other cities and town but definitely didn't want to spread myself too thin. The Atocha train station in Madrid is gorgeous. Open and atrium-like, it wasn't crowded and buying a ticket was incredibly easy.
I walked back towards La Latina to pack my things. I tend walked around La Latina since it wasn't as early and I figured people would be out and about. seeing the neighborhood during the day was even more special. The colors of the buildings, cobblestone streets and fabulously dressed residents was dream-like. After walking around and taking pictures I needed some breakfast. I found a cute cafe nearby and sat down to have another coffee and a tortilla or Spanish omelette. I had messaged the neighbor, Yon, and he joined me but I was already finished so we got my luggage and got some fresh juice before he walked me to the metro station so I could get my train to Sevilla. I wasn't even in Madrid for 24 hours but all you need is some good hospitality, wine, tapas and wandering around to appreciate the beauty of Madrid.
On the afternoon train down to Sevilla, I passed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of orange trees. Sevilla, the capital of the Andalusia region, is stunning! The fourth largest city in Spain, it has historically been important because of its location for trade. Additionally it was the capital of Muslim Spain centuries ago.
What I loved was that it was a city but the flowers and plants made it seem as if I was on an island in the Mediterranean. There wasn't much humidity in early September with warm days and mild nights. I think the only other city I walked around more was Havana. In my two nights of stay in Sevilla I walked a significant amount. Something like 9 miles. It's an extremely walkable city. I was staying east of the river close to Santa Cruz or the old Jewish quarters. Narrow winding streets with vivid, bright colors.
Sevilla seemed to be a city where speaking Spanish was important. In Madrid, maybe it was who I met, but the younger generation spoke excellent English so me speaking Spanish wasn't as necessary. I welcomed the opportunity though because I've been working on improving my Spanish and the more people and accents you're exposed to, the better.
My Airbnb was in an apartment with one other long term resident. I found a great bakery a couple blocks away which made me content. The first night I went to check out an outdoor bar and Flamenco dancers ended up having a performance which was beautiful. Flamenco is a dance that originated in Andalusia and while I've seen it performed elsewhere in the world, seeing it in Sevilla made it more raw and intense. The musicians are incredibly talented. I could have listened to it all night.
One thing for sure is that you have to get used to staying up late in Spain because nothing exciting seems to happen before 10:30pm- at the earliest! My mornings were spent stopping at the local bakery, I have a serious weakness for pastries.
The following morning I went to the Real Alcazar of Sevilla. This is a Moorish castle built in the 14th century and was used by Peter of Castile. It is now a UNESCO heritage site. I made to arrive shortly after it opened to avoid excessive crowds. The Moorish style and architecture is incredibly detailed and colorful.
Sevilla is an incredibly walkable city and therefore I suggest you have your most comfortable shoes and sandals. Espadrilles are the perfect shoe for this! Pick up a pair if you don't have your own. Personally, I mostly wore leather sandals from Nisolo. They're comfortable, ethically made and versatile.
I think the last time I walked so much in one city was in Havana back in April 2016. I loved walking around the old town and just sort of get lost in the streets. Even at night I'd ending of sort of wandering without using a map and make my way back to my Airbnb. Granted, it wasn't a very social adventure but I feel like I know Sevilla better as a result.
One thing I love about solo travel is that when I want to nosh on a something to hold me over till the next meal, I don't have to worry anyone else's stomachs. Fruit or gelato would usually be the best bets. Or a cafe con leche if I wasn't already energetic enough. When the heat of the day was at its highest, I would retire to my Airbnb and take a welcomed nap. It's also a great way to rest your body after all the walking!
I woke in time to walk to the Guadalquivir river to walk along and see the sunset and the Torre del Oro. The evening was calm yet lively. I absolutely loved dusk in this city. The sky is clear and the moon has risen.
I ended up connecting with two Americans who were visiting from NYC and Florida. I agreed to meet them for a drink after their day trip to towns nearby. Meeting for drinks after midnight didn't seem as strange as it reads because the night starts later in Spain. It was fun to exchange stories about our travels and experiences.
I could have easily spent the rest of my trip in Sevilla which would have allowed me to do a day trip to Cordoba like I'd wanted but I was eager to get to my next destination: Portugal.
Stay tuned for my next post!
Have you been to Spain? Which were your favorites cities? What did you love to eat and drink? I want to hear about it!