To this day, the greatest experience of my life has been my four months of studying abroad in 2013. I lived in Sevilla, Spain, (Seville to Americans) and since I was minoring in Spanish, I wanted to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible. I did a “homestay” and lived with a Spanish woman (my señora) who spoke not one word of English. Despite this, through my intermediate level Spanish, she became like a second mother, cooking all of my meals, doing my laundry and cleaning my room. It was the best decision of my life and I regret no part of it.
Though I traveled to new places almost every weekend, Sevilla became my home for those four months. Living somewhere vs vacationing somewhere is a profoundly difference experience. My relationship with this city and country is so personal. If you’re looking for an authentic experience in Spain, hands down visit Sevilla over Barcelona or Madrid (though they’re great too!). Sevilla isn’t overwhelmed with tourists, but has enough people to make it feel alive and is a truly cultural experience of Spain.
Here is what to expect if you’re traveling to Sevilla. Even just for a day…
- Orange trees. Everywhere. (but you can’t eat the oranges!) Sadly, they aren’t the tasty strain of oranges we are used to, and are super super bitter. You won’t die from eating one, but it won’t taste good at all. Nevertheless, having fruity trees around made me feel refreshed and tropical at all times.
- Produce markets on every corner ♡ Oh how I miss this. I absolutely loved being able to pick up a fresh piece of fruit on almost any street. (And not having to worry if it’s organic or GMO!) Not to mention the quality of the fruit is unlike any you will taste here. I don’t know any fast food snacking better than that.
- The Guadalquivir River. A beautiful river cuts in between the city, connecting the city center to the quieter neighborhoods, with 4 main bridges. You won’t see anyone swimming in the river, but there are boaters, kayakers and tours all day long. On a nice day many people will be hanging by the river, and there’s a path that gets filled with runners. Stop and get a drink or tea at one of the bars on the water and enjoy the view.
- Siestas. This was definitely something to get used to while living in Spain. The eating schedule in itself really was an adjustment. During the hours of around 2pm-5pm is the “siesta” (which means nap in English) where everything shuts down. Most markets, food establishments and places of business will be closed during this time, so plan your meals and outings accordingly. Though it can be frustrating to wait hours for something to open, it is just part of that care free Spanish mindset. We can learn a thing or two from them by taking time out of our day to relax.
- Meal Times. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Spain (and waiting to see what delicious lunch meal my señora would prepare me was the most exciting part of my days), and dinner is smaller and eaten MUCH later than in the US. I ate around 10pm every night, but some families eat a midnight! Expect this as the norm when you go there.
- Tapas. Spain is big on Tapas, which is appetizer portioned food. This was great for me, as I love eating small portions instead of huge meals, but for Americans this can be tough to get used to. Make sure you order your food with this portion size in mind. If you want a huge dinner, multiple small plates should be ordered.
- Getting Around: I say walk everywhere. There is public transportation, but the city is walkable. I walked everywhere (45 min one way to class) and it was super easy and doable. The weather is mild even in the winter. I love seeing a new place on foot no matter where I am.. I feel it immerses you and enhances your cultural experience. (I walked around Prague and many other cities for days in below freezing temps – and I am NOT a cold weather gal – but it’s totally worth it!). If for whatever reason you’d like to use public transportation, you will be able to navigate the buses easily. Taxis are an option too and are not expensive.
- Tipping: not completely offensive, but definitely not 20 percent. Usually we’d throw whatever change was given to us with the check (i.e. at the cafe, leave 80 cents.) 10 percent would be generous for a large bill.
- Service: Expect slow service. This is definitely something to get used to. Having worked in the restaurant industry for years, (and being American in general) I am a stickler about top notch service. Spaniards don’t see it this way. You’ll have to go out of your way to be seen in some cases, and it isn’t the typical dining experience you expect when home.
I don’t doubt your experience in this beautiful city will be less than amazing. My suggestion: live like the Spainards do. Don’t rush around and just live in the moment. Take in the culture and beauty around you, while eating good food and sipping on wine. If there are any other questions about Sevilla, comment below or message me directly. I’d be happy to answer ANYTHING about Spain 🙂