We left Lagos on a bus, and headed east toward the Spanish border. I never thought I would pine for the spaciousness of airline seats, but there we were, packed on a sold-out bus with no bathroom and very little AC, for a 5 1/2 hour ride with our luggage in our laps. The overhead space was too small for anything but a few magazines, and there was no room under the seats either.
We were a little nervous about getting to our AirBnB in Seville without the benefit of phone service, but luckily the Portuguese SIM card worked sporadically, and we were able to navigate the half mile to the apartment with only a little bit of backtracking.
It was a relief to be in a country that spoke a language with which we were a little familiar. Shane took Spanish in high school, and has a limited knowledge that is sufficient for essentials such as asking for information or directions and ordering food. Portuguese had been such a challenge for us both - we had hoped to be able to pick up some of the language while we were there, but we felt completely lost even with our familiarity with French and Spanish.
From the perspective of a map, the borders of countries can seem like arbitrary lines in the continuity of geography. They can use natural markers, such as a steep mountain range or a raging river, but many of the borders have moved and adjusted over the centuries as power and people shifted. The Iberian Peninsula looks like one, singular piece of Europe's jigsaw puzzle, and it is easy to forget that there are two countries on it, each having its own history, its own language and its own culture. The Portuguese we met were adamant about their separateness from Spain and Spanish culture. The country is weary of being seen as a part of Spain, when it shares about as much culture with Spain as any other two bordering European countries.
It was not just the language that was different - there was a completely different aesthetic, different food, different attitudes. Seville was beautiful and bohemian. The dry heat was so intense that restaurants and parks periodically shot mist in the air, which evaporated from our skin almost immediately.
We only had one full day to take it in, and wish that we had had more time to spend there. We followed our host's advice to take a walking tour to the Cathedral, where a Spanish guitar player sat in the shade, providing a beautiful soundtrack for the view.
Carriages pulled by immaculately groomed horses clopped their way around the stunning walls and courtyards, and cold water was sold on every corner at a premium.
Many of the buildings contained busts and full statues of important men (yes, all of them were men) in Spanish history. One was featured holding a severed head. Many were important figures in Spanish Catholicism. I wondered about those men, and what their daily lives were like, and thought about what it took for them to be memorialized - valor, power, service, or courage.
Shane made sure we hit the Plaza de Espana, where Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed. It was a massive complex, with bridged pools of water and impossibly steep spires at either end.
The architecture in Seville was intricate and decidedly Catholic, and the food was a pleasant change from the ham, bony fish, and potatoes we had at almost every meal in Portugal. (I already missed the Portuguese wine, though, by the end of our second night.)
After an amazing dinner near our apartment, we wandered down the street until we came upon a jazz club with live music. The tiny singer, Rui Tajima, was pitch-perfect, and the stand-up bass player and guitarist had great improvisational timing. Shane ordered a mojito and I had a split of cava - we decided to go "all-in" on the Spanish-ness of the night.
The energy was vibrant, and pleasant, and the neighborhood was a perfect place for our stay - close to bars, restaurants, and stores for the essentials, but outside of the throngs of tourists. After we left the jazz club, we ended up sitting at an outside cafe, where a woman offered to play a recorder for some money. It was a creative twist on the fairly aggressive begging we had already seen, and I paid her two euros for 30 seconds of some pretty impressive and probably stoned recorder music. The couple at the table next to us was also impressed - they paid her in cigarettes, and we ended up having a lovely conversation with them after she left. As it turns out, they had both quit their jobs and decided to travel for a while without a real agenda. He was an investment banker and she was a teacher. Maybe our decision to do take this path isn't so crazy after all.
words + pictures + videos by Kara