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Saturdays in Spain


When I arrived in Seville, Spain at the end of January, los árboles de naranjo (orange trees) were littered with brightly colored oranges on their branches. However, these were not “Florida oranges,” as in you would never eat them as they were. These were Seville oranges, a particularly tart orange which is now grown throughout the Mediterranean but whose origins began in Seville. They are considered ideal for making marmalade as they are higher in pectin than the sweet orange (aka the Florida orange) and so it not only gives it a better set but also a higher yield. A professor explained to one of my classes that once a year oranges of this variety are collected from trees throughout Seville and shipped to Britain to be used in marmalade (and you know how the Brits love their marmalade).  I never bought any which I sorely regret but I remember seeing “Seville Orange Marmalade” in my local supermarket one time. Years later and I’ve never seen it again.

While these orange trees were stunning to photograph once the oranges fell off and were run over by cars and horses and stepped on by people, well their smell was abysmal. Nasty abysmal.

Looking down on Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Courtyard) 
which is located inside the famous Catedral

Saturdays in Spain


There’s no sugarcoating it, customer service in Spain at dining/drinking establishments stinks. And seven years later I will forever remember the wise words of Pepa, one of my professors in Spain, “they don’t have to be nice to you, they’re not working for tips, they can be as mean and grumpy as they want as it doesn’t matter.” Coming from a country where customer service is (usually) a highly touted principle, it was somewhat of a “shock” to the mindset. It’s not an instance where I am saying “the United States does it better,” but just like having to get used to the extremely exotic meals when I studied abroad in South Korea, having to get used to the extremely rude and sometimes surly workers in Spain was also a shock to the system. You want a smile or pleasant sounding “buenos días” with that transaction? Good luck. What, you’d like another cup of cafe and the waiter who clearly sees you waving your hand around is choosing to ignore you? Not surprised.

However, there was one place that defied the Spanish customer service norm and that place was none other than…Starbucks. Yes, I’m sure at this moment you’re probably inwardly groaning to yourself thinking how Starbucks is polluting the land of sangria and tapas, Carmen and flamenco, centuries-old cultural traditions, not to mention Spain is a European country and so it is no stranger to delicious coffee. (I do want to mention that if you like tea you’re out of luck unless you’re like me and when battling a cold your host mother gifts you some ancient tea bags that had been left over from a student.)

The Starbucks in Seville was located on Avenida Constitución, one of the city’s busiest streets. I only went there a few times as this was long before my obsession with chai lattes. (This is probably a good thing since judging by the frequency in which I order chai lattes today, I can see as a student there I would have been going all the time, spending euros I shouldn’t have especially since the center where I took classes at was less than a five minute walk.) The first time I went was when my dad was visiting. We were looking for somewhere to get coffee to go (this is also somewhat unheard of in a country where the culture is to sit and enjoy your cafe) and we happened upon Starbucks. It was the friendliest experience I had ever had in a Spanish coffee drinking establishment. We were greeted immediately upon entering, exchanged pleasantries when we placed our order, and were told thanks for coming upon leaving. Yes, unheard of.

Here in America, I often get sick of Starbucks. They’re EVERYWHERE (too many I feel in some areas) and promote a culture of self-obsessed individuals with their speciality drinks ( I’d like a soy, non-fat, double espresso, low-fat cream, etc). I much prefer the non-chain coffee places as I’d like to give them my business more. But in a country like Spain where Starbucks are (thankfully) not plentiful, it’s not a bad thing especially when you get a smile with that coffee.

(Note: When I was in Lisbon, Portugal last year there was a Starbucks across the street from our hotel and we went a couple of times. Just like in Spain, the customer service there was phenomenal especially when compared to the chilling customer service we had at the port bar we went to.)

Saturdays in Spain


Although many textbooks depict Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, Spain’s most famous monarchs, as  a pair who strived for progress and innovation, a couple who stopped at nothing when it came to restoring the Catholic faith in Spain, they are not historical figures I admire. From my semester abroad in Spain, I learned just how evil they behaved, just how little saintliness they exhibited. By evil I’m referring to the persecution and subsequent expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain, two groups that contributed so much to Spain in areas like engineering, architecture, the arts and even sanitation. While I know that in the course of history there have existed plenty of corrupt and ruthless monarchs, none in my opinion have such a two-sided reputation in which the one side (the relatively positive historical side) is better known than the other.

When I visited the city of Granada, home to the famed Alhambra palace, I also toured the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) there which is the final resting place of Isabel and Ferdinand (along with some other family members). They were originally supposed to be buried in Toledo but changed their minds after Granada had fallen and it was successfully retaken from the Moors. Personally, with the exception of the Alhambra, I didn’t care much for Granada. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Ferdinand and Isabel were buried there (well, this might be a stretch), or maybe more of my feelings had to do with a famous legend. It’s said that when Muhammad XII (the last ruler in Granada) took one last view of the city and its green valley below, he burst into tears. So many of Spain’s most striking and impressive buildings were built by those who were driven from the land they loved so and who most likely cried like when they took that one last look of it.

Perhaps this is the last view that Muhammad XII had of his home. 
Wouldn’t you cry too if you were forced to leave it?

Saturdays in Spain


In my hometown of Philadelphia a landmark icon is the statue of William Penn (founder of the city) that rests atop the City Hall building. In my Spanish home of Seville, a landmark icon is the Giralda, an edifice that dates back to the time of Moorish rule in Spain when it was used as a minaret. It might just be my favorite building in all of Seville as it has so much to offer visitors-an incredible history, a great workout opportunity (a Spanish ruler back in the day deemed that he wanted ramps to go the top so that he could ride his horse-tough luck for today’s visitors who have to walk it), and the most stunning of vistas you could ever see. Every city in the world has one structure that sets it apart from the rest, that you can see no matter where you physically are; the Giralda is Seville’s. While there are innumerable things I want to see and experience in Seville again, if even just a glimpse could be had in person once more of the Giralda, I know I would be contented…for a bit.

Saturdays in Spain


While it’s hard to choose just one since Seville had so many, Plaza de España might just have been my place spot in the entire city. Although it was “new” (it was built in 1928) compared to some of Seville’s other famous attractions (the Cathedral was built in the 15th century for reference), Plaza de España is still a “show stopper”-utterly stunning and utterly magnificent.

Plaza de España was constructed for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and is a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture. However, due to the Great Depression that swept across the entire globe, the exposition was not the grand success organizers had envisioned it to be and it closed shortly after. Today, Plaza de España mainly consists of government buildings; however, for tourists and photographers alike, it’s a visual masterpiece.

I first visited Plaza de España shortly after I had arrived in Seville. This was in early February and while it was certainly “mild” compared to winter temperatures I was accostomed to back in the northeastern United States, it was still “cold” for Spain (daily temperatures were in the low 50s during the winter months). I enjoyed myself and yet I still visited there alone and was also contending with a head cold so I had somewhat willed myself to make it there. Although it was a free, outdoor attraction I didn’t visit again until two months later when my dad came to Spain. What a difference the weather made and even though I was sick again (this time recovering from food poisoning), having company made all the difference. The striking architecture, the beautiful tiles, and the gushing waters of the fountain in the center of the plaza are all reasons why I loved it so.

Saturdays in Spain


Unlike my previous two host family experiences abroad, my host family situation in Spain was more strictly a border and proprietor relationship. In Spain, hosting students is entirely a business there as in they have students in their homes year round. I was certainly fed two meals a day although I never would have asked for my host mom to fix me a snack even though there were many points in the day between meals where I was famished thanks to Spain’s rather nontraditional eating times. (Breakfast by American standards was a sham as it consisted of a piece of fruit and a roll which would have been fine had I not been made to operate on an American class schedule as in early classes with lunch not served until after 2 PM.)

While I did get to watch television I never would have gone into the sala and turned it on myself even if no one was around. The only place I felt was “mine” was the bedroom I shared with my American roommate although I was severely chastised one time for putting my wet washcloth on the space heater for a couple of minutes by my host mom who happened to come in unannounced one night, she was incredibly paranoid when it came to fires and talked about fires all the time. (Lest anyone think I was trying to start an inferno, I was simply tired of having damp articles that never fully dried since heating units don’t exist there.) However, even with the business aspect of the living arrangements, I know that my host family cared for my roommate and me. When I was sick and couldn’t eat normal foods for over a week, my host mom prepared me a bland diet. If we needed “lunch to go,” they would prepare one. Although nothing was cuter than the couple of times in which my host dad picked up McDonald’s for dinner since it seemed to give him pleasure to do so, fulfilling the global stereotype that Americans just love their Big Macs and fries. I was more happy that it gave my host mom the night off from cooking.

I didn’t keep in touch save for a Christmas card I sent some months after I had left and yet I know if I’m ever in Seville again, I’ll go over to the piso (apartment) and perhaps even ring the buzon (buzzer) just like I did all those years ago when the taxi first dropped me off there more than six years ago.

My host dad Diego, host brother Miguel and Diego’s grandson who was an occasional visitor

Saturdays in Spain


When I return to Spain I know that I need to give the medieval city of Toledo another try. My dad and I visited for the day as part of a tour and if there was ever an instance in which tour groups are a bad thing, our time in Toledo would be the perfect example. It’s not that I was missing something that everyone but me was seeing. The stunning beauty of the city was apparent. The centuries’ old historic buildings were there in front of me. But when you travel as part of a tour group, you’re often limited with what you can and cannot do since tour groups often adhere to strictly set schedules. So instead of wandering into small shops located on the city’s windy streets that sold stunning artisan crafts as judging from their display windows, we got to shop at the end of the tour in a workshop that most likely paid the tour company a kickback for bringing a busload of visitors to them. While I did see many popular attractions-El Greco’s famous painting The Burial of Count Orgaz and the Santa Mara la Blanca Synagogue-I never got to explore on my own, I never got to witness all of the things that deemed the city worthy of being named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I know there’s more to Toledo than what I saw, hopefully I can see the rest someday.

Saturdays in Spain


The first place I visited outside of Seville during my semester abroad in Spain was to see the Roman ruins of Itálica. Although not a monumental attraction by any means considering all there is to see and do in Seville, the ruins of Itálica are still worth a visit especially since they’re less than 30 minutes from the city center. Back in the day I had a major crush on Russell Crowe which developed after seeing his incredible performance in the 2000 film Gladiator (and who doesn’t like seeing a man in sandals either?) While towards the end of my semester abroad I was indeed fortunate to travel to Italy and see the Roman Forum and of course the Coliseum in Rome, Itálica was my first foray into the world of ancient Roman ruins (for a historical context-they were founded in 206 BC). Itálica is home to stunningly restored mosaics, a small (at least in comparison to the Coliseum) amphitheater, Roman roads but my favorite thing that I saw were the hallways in the amphitheater. Walking through them all I could think of was the character of Maximus and the many times he walked through similar ones, always with the serious and yet determined look on his face since he was not going to let Commodus emerge as the victor. There are some sights in the world that have truly withstood the test of time. Gazing at this picture, it’s almost as if we are back in 206 BC, don’t you think?

Saturdays in Spain


When I studied in Spain during college I took hundreds of photos. I had recently gotten my first ever digital camera and was no longer limited to taking shots I deemed “worthy.” I could snap at will and edit and delete later. Although I’ve certainly shared some photos of my time in Spain in various posts I’ve written over the past couple of years, I realized there are still many I’ve never shared on my blog and thought now would be a good time to start. So without further ado, I leave you with Saturdays in Spain (the next couple of Saturdays are going to be pretty busy for me but hopefully I’ll remember to post this or else the series will become Sundays in Spain). 

My host family’s house in Seville was located in the Triana neighborhood. For anyone not familiar with Seville, the Guadalquivir River flows through Spain and Triana is located on the one side and the more famous neighborhoods of Barrio Santa Cruz and Arenal on the other. (Long, long ago Triana was actually considered separate from Seville, similar to Montmartre in Paris.) The center where I studied at was located on the other side of the river and so Monday to Thursday, sometimes multiple times a day if I had classes in the evening, I walked across the Puente de Triana (the Triana Bridge as it is commonly known in English although its official name is Isabel II Bridge) and had the Seville skyline greet me. It never failed to mesmerize me seeing as how two of its most famous sites, the Catedral and the Giralda, have existed for centuries. While I do get to enjoy a pretty decent view on my way into work (the Pittsburgh skyline), I’m usually extremely tired and extremely irked over the traffic so I don’t get to enjoy it in the same way as when I walked across the Puene de Triana and saw all of Seville before me.

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