Vivid Memories of Solo Travel in Sevilla
I haven’t been able to travel alone since the pandemic started. But I have fond memories of this trip to Sevilla I took at the end of 2019. Traveling alone made me hyper-aware of just how lovely a city it really is. Two years later, I still occasionally daydream about my last visit.
My high-speed AVE train arrives to Santa Justa station, I grab my trusty red Osprey backpack that goes everywhere with me, and exit the train. I opt to walk from the station to my AirBNB apartment to stretch my legs and take in the winding streets of the old town. I pass outdoor terrazas with a few patrons having an afternoon drink, but the streets are otherwise quiet.
Stop to check Google maps that I’m getting closer, because Sevilla’s streets do not adhere to any kind of rules or patterns. As the map indicates me to, I take a turn down a tiny alley just wide enough for one person to pass, not sure if I’m on the right street. It’s got a mysterious and haunted vibe, with ferns and tree branches hanging down in the street, making it feel like nature is taking over the city.
I find what I think may be the right building, though I’m pretty sure I have a confused look on my face, prompting a passerby to ask if I’m lost. I ring the bell, and a young woman answers, it seems I’ve found it! As she buzzes open the gate, I enter a courtyard typical of Andalucía full of plants, and head up the stairs. There’s a slightly creepy vibe with the dark stairs, and I’ve just come in from a tiny dark alley, so I note to myself to make sure to close the front entrance gate well when I come in the next time.
When the AirBNB host (caretaker?) opens the apartment, I’m pleased to see it matches the photos exactly, decorated with vibrant colors and posters and with a fully equipped kitchen. Of course, as I rented the whole apartment, I’ve got the place all to myself. Yay! (Honestly… gone are the days when I rent a spare bedroom in someone else’s house.) I pick up a few groceries as I always do when I travel, to have some breakfast food and a couple of meal options on hand. Zucchini and fresh pasta with pesto, some mozzarella and tomato and bread, and I’m set.
Once I unpack, I head out for a walk as twilight sets in. Despite being alone, I don’t feel any apprehension walking the streets. There are plenty of other people out and about, and I already know I’m in a safe area in a safe city. It brings a smile to my face to see Sevilla lit up with Christmas decorations, with the horse-drawn carriages against the charmingly decorated backdrop.
As nobody’s with me, I have all the time in the world to stop and take photos as I see fit. I spend quite a while on the San Telmo bridge over the Guadalquivir River (that sounds way more fun in English!) setting up my camera to take long-exposure photos of the iconic Torre de Oro.
I opt not to stop at any bars or cafés the first night – I’m here for two more – so it’s back to the apartment to make my own dinner and watch a movie on Netflix.
The next day is meetup day! When I travel alone, I’m almost always able to meet people. Sometimes I meet new people on apps like Couchsurfing, or sometimes I connect with people I already know. As it happens, Sevilla is a place that other English teachers I met in the past have now moved. First, around noon I meet up with fellow American Cat Gaa of Sunshine and Siestas and her adorable son in the Triana neighborhood for a tapa and a caña.
Before my next meetup, it’s warm enough to sit by the river in the sun and relax for a while, and also take advantage of the incredible light to take pictures around the neighborhood where I’m staying.
After a nice relaxing afternoon I make my way over to Alameda de Hercules, a lively neighborhood with a thriving LGBT scene, bars and restaurants, to meet up with Becky, a spunky and charming British girl I met during my year in Ferrol. Small world! We catch up over tapas and wine, and she tells me how she’s loving Sevilla and works doing subtitle translation.
The next morning I’m up and in the street bright and early. I’ve decided to walk to Plaza de España, the enormous plaza and monument built for the World’s Fair in 1929, located in Maria Luisa Park. This monument has plaques along the wall dedicated to all the different medium and large sized cities in Spain. (Of course, I take a number of selfies to send to my friends in various cities.) This is one of the top (and my favorite!) places to visit in Sevilla, and is beautiful any day of the year. You can spend quite a while taking in the enormous plaza, seeing all the different city tiles.
I notice the distinctive notes of flamenco music in the distance, so I make my way toward the music. There’s a small band and two dancers performing right next to the monument. The dancers, decked out in their traditional (and very polka-dotted) garb, are putting on quite a show and have attracted a crowd. The male dancer holds his head high as he twirls his wrists, spins around and taps his feet. His female dance partner plays off his energy, the tension of their pushing away and pulling toward each other palpable in the air. The crowd of mostly guiris (like me) is enthralled. I slip around the group to watch from various positions, and after I’ve taken what seem like hundreds of photos, I drop a couple of euros in their basket.
I’m really in a photographic mood today, so I keep snapping. The colors, textures and light make even the simplest things beautiful. The colored tiles, the textured sidewalk, the shadows falling on the ground. Once again, I’m glad to be on my own, knowing I’m not boring anyone with my photographic obsession, and can take all the time in the world to soak it all in. I’d also traded in my 100mm macro lens for a 50mm 1.8, which is much easier to carry all day and perfect for capturing things at a medium distance, like the dancers. My wide-angle 10-18mm lens is amazing for getting shots of beautiful buildings.
It’s getting close to lunchtime, so I check out a restaurant on Alameda de Herculés where I’d been the night before, and find Al Aljibe. I opt for the magret de pato (duck) and arroz con secreto, a rice dish with meat. I really enjoyed it! It was my only official meal on my own, and I took my time to savor the food, the tinto de verano (even though it was winter…) and observe my surroundings. There’s something that makes me feel a mix of brave and mysterious when I eat in a restaurant alone, and this experience was no different.
The final stop of the day is the one place I had never been in Sevilla despite visiting before: Las Setas (The Mushrooms)! Where do I start? Visit Sevilla explains it perfectly:
“The Metropol Parasol, popularly known as the Mushrooms of the Incarnation, is a wooden structure with 2 concrete columns that hold the access elevators to the viewpoint and is located in the central Plaza de la Encarnación in the city of Seville. It measures 150 x 70 metres and is approximately 26 metres high. It was the winning project in the competition opened by the Seville City Council to carry out the renovation of the square in which it is located; its designer was the architect from Berlin, Jürgen Mayer. The structure consists of six large, mushroom-shaped parasols, whose design is inspired by the arches of Seville’s cathedral and the ¨ficus¨ of nearby Plaza del Cristo de Burgos.”
So, in a nutshell: giant wooden mushroom-shaped (albeit abstractly shaped) towers that you can climb to the top of and see the whole city. Another place for photographers to spend hours!
My last morning in Sevilla, I wander over to the Macarena neighborhood for some last-minute shopping, picking up a few items in a neighborhood market and some roasted nuts from a kind street vendor. With one last caña at Bar Catalina, it’s time to make my way on to the next leg of my trip: Huelva.
Things to do in Sevilla that I didn’t do this trip but I’d done before and highly recommend:
- The Cathedral, obviously
- The Royal Alcazar palace
- Isla Cartuja and the Contemporary Art Museum with its odd sculptures
Things I still haven’t done in Sevilla:
- Ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Sigh….maybe someday?
I can’t wait to visit again! Traveling alone really let me soak in all the details of the city and feel its poetic beauty on a deeper level. Sevilla is one of the most inspiring cities I’ve ever been to, and I always leave feeling like I want to be an artist, a designer, a photographer, and a dancer all rolled into one. ¡Olé!