I flew to Spain in September with a list of recommendations from my Spanish friend Lucia, and what I found on Pinterest. Lucia also left me with the caution, “It’s really hot in Spain.” My boss, Blair, and I were headed to a conference in Seville, but found time to explore. Here are the top seven things we did Spain, how we traveled from city to city, and what we ate.
The Top Seven Things We Did in Spain:
1) The Seville Cathedral & La Giralda
Located just a few steps from our accommodation was this grand beauty of a cathedral. I’d seen pictures online, but being inside was pure holiness. The Seville Cathedral was so big that I lost Blair inside of it at one point. The main alter is gold, while the rest of the cathedral is a pale stone. Christopher Columbus’ remains are located in this cathedral. The Giralda is the bell tower of the cathedral and allows visitors a panoramic view of the city. I never feel like I’ve really seen a city until I see it from above.
2) Real Alcazar
The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace that was originally developed by Arab Muslim kings. Later, Catholic kings took over and layered their styles onto and into the palace. This specific mixture of styles is called “Mudéjar ” (which means of or denoting a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style of architecture and art prevalent in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries). This palace was unreal and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There was so much to see and so many intricately designed tiles.
I don’t know much about architecture, but the geometric details were astounding. It’s incredible to be in a space and know that kings used to live in that same space. The only reason I’d recommend a guided tour is so that you can make sure that you see everything. Each room had descriptions of the room’s purpose, but it’s easy to get lost as you wander through the rooms and gardens.
3) Walked Around Seville looking for churros
If you’ve read my posts before, you know one of my favorite things to do in a foreign city is to walk around. I like to go in and out of souvenir shops, look at buildings, and walk through the winding streets. I also love to stop at outdoor cafes and eat local desserts or sip local coffee. Apparently, churros (pronounced chorrrrre-ohs, you can never have enough “r’s”) are a breakfast food in Spain. So, we indulged in gelato every night instead.
4) Metropol Parasol
We were in Spain for a conference and our partners in Germany were kind enough to invite us to an event at the Metropol Parasol to learn more about their university. The Metropol Parasol is the largest wooden structure in the world. I’ve heard it described as mushrooms, but I think it looks more like a waffle. We enjoyed Spanish wine, ham, bread, cheese, and got to walk through the beauty of this structure.
5) The Royal Palace of Madrid
After our conference ended, we got to spend a day in Madrid before heading back to the states. The Palace in Madrid is a much different style than the one in Seville. The interior of The Royal Palace of Madrid looks like the kind of thing that Disney princess dreams are made of. Each room had a little description available which helped me understand the history and importance of the palace. Even if it was that King Charles III had died in the room we were standing in. Unfortunately, I was scolded for trying to take a photo, so you’ll have to settle for these three.
6) The Prado Museum
This national art museum was everything I’d hoped it would be. I got in for free with my student ID, saw some works of art I didn’t expect to see (The Garden of Earthly Delights, pictured above, but not taken by me), and learned a lot about Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes aka “Goya”. We also saw paintings of King Charles III in The Prado and recognized him from our Palace visit. These two attractions complimented each other well. This was another place where I was fussed at for trying to take a photo. But, this beautiful church, The San Jeronimo El Real, was right next door.
7) Walked around Madrid
A handful of the things we had planned to see that day were closed for renovations. But, we did have the opportunity to walk all over Madrid. We saw the Temple Debod, an Egyptian temple from the 2nd Century B.C., the Palacio de Cristal (The Crystal Palace) inside of the Buen Retiro park, The Plaza de Cibeles (pictured above), and The Puerta del Sol (Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”) which is the center of Spain. We also found the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree while walking through Madrid. We ended the evening drinking wine on the Hotel Indigo rooftop bar overlooking the city.
Getting To Spain:
We booked our flights through Travel Leaders, a Memphis based company, that organizes the best route at the best price. We flew from Memphis to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Madrid. When we arrived in Madrid, Blair said, “Now for the adventurous part.”
We were tasked with finding the train station to purchase tickets to Seville. Renfe, the train company, had tickets available and the next train left in a little over an hour. We hauled our stuff to the station, loaded it, and promptly fell asleep for the entire train ride. I remember opening my eyes briefly and seeing the Spanish countryside. I thought wow that’s beautiful and fell back asleep. When we arrived in Seville, it was easy to locate a taxi. The taxis were all lined up and passengers are supposed to go to the first taxi at the front of the line.
On our way back to Madrid, the train was booked and we had to take a Sociobus to Madrid. The bus was a lot like the American MegaBus. It got us there and it was fine, but the girl next to me was barefoot drinking beer, while the stranger next to her literally slept the entire 6 hour bus ride. We saw the Spanish landscape change as we headed north. Once in Madrid, the temperature had dropped significantly.
The Things I Ate in Spain:
I didn’t expect to see legs of ham hanging in every restaurant window and was skeptical when Blair suggested we eat a plate of it. The thinly sliced flavorful pieces were delicious and are ranked right up there with caramelized brie on toast after this trip. Not pictured: the churros I finally ate at out hotel’s breakfast.
Spain was a place I always dreamed of and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen nearly enough; Seville and Madrid were so different. Seville reminded me of Prague with the massive cathedral, outdoor cafes, and old town charm. Madrid had buildings reminiscent of Paris, but looked a bit like New York City when the night was active. They each had an enchantment I haven’t yet experienced elsewhere. I need to see the North of Spain with the lush countryside I’ve heard about. I need to see the coast and I need to see Barcelona. Spain has so much to offer and exceeded my expectations while also keeping so much hidden from me. It was nice to meet you, España.