April 30, 2012

SIGHTSEEING: Shining Sevilla

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I arrived in Sevilla dazed and confused. After missing an overnight train in Madrid and attempting to tour Barcelona’s incredible Park Guell through a rainstorm, I was weary. I jumped on the first bus I saw and hoped it’d lead to the city center. Soon, I was driving through endless fields and sunshine. Energized by the scenery, I was content.

I floated off the bus and into the city. My keen ability to get lost coupled with my disregard for using maps left me walking aimlessly, but blissfully. Eventually, I approached a police officer to ask for directions. In a language best described as “high school Spanish,” I attempted to explain where I was trying to go. He led me in a direction best described as “that way” with hand gestures, and so I continued on.

The small city was littered with orange blossoms and smelled like a dream. After a few months in Rome, Sevilla felt fresh and bright. I was now used to hoards of tourists with audiotours in and maps upside down. But I didn’t have to navigate through mobs of people here. It was so refreshing to see kids riding their bicycles and running around in school uniforms. As I walked along smiling to myself, I heard my name. At first, I thought I might be hallucinating but soon realized it was my friends!

“Katerina? Kat!” I turned around. Sitting in the middle of the plaza was my roommate from Rome and a good friend from Cornell, with whom I was supposed to meet up with after checking in at my hostel. Excited and confused, I ran over and greeted them.

This was the pleasure of Sevilla — it felt personal and manageable. Stumbling around, I found my friends sitting, serendipitously. Reuniting with friends while abroad is simply one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. Whenever I’m in good company, a place becomes instantaneously comfortable.

The next day, I had a glorious morning sipping cafe au lait and eating delectable pastries with my roommate, Maria. We’d traveled a lot with school earlier in the semester, and the trips were always packed with itineraries moving at an ungodly pace. Traveling on our own, we didn’t have to adhere to anyone else’s plans.

Feeling liberated, we wandered through the sunny streets without worry that we wouldn’t be able to “fit it all in” or guilt that we were “wasting our time.” Though we marked a few landmarks on our map, Sevilla didn’t have a thousand monuments and museums.

Because we all have toy phones that seem to work about 15% of the time we need them, our ability to coordinate with friends was limited. We agreed earlier to “meet at the Cathedral at 5.” From there, we were going to a botellon. For those who haven’t discovered the eighth wonder of the world, botellon — drinking outdoors and in public — is just another reason why Spain might be the happiest country on earth.

It was something out of a dream: hoards of young people were hanging out on a strip of grass and trees by the river — singing, conversing and laughing while enjoying casual drinks. We sat in a circle swapping stories, eating churros and chocolate and enjoying the wonderful world that surrounded us. After some time police arrived and cleared the premises, but we were content. Soon, the sun set and the river was lit up and glowing — the scene was incredible. We wandered into the city in search of dinner, savoring our blissful day.

Sevilla immediately felt like home. Perhaps it was the endless sunshine or the incredible amount of greenery. I think it was something harder to pin down, though. Sevilla just felt right. It’s the type of thing pre-frosh talk about on college tours: the almost indefinable aura or feelings evoked by a place. This incredible Mediteranean city, with its Andalucian culture intact, delectable frybread and zest for the “good life,” quickly became my favorite place I’ve been.

Katerina Athanasiou a junior in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. She may be reached at kathanasiou@cornellsun.com. Notes from Abroad: Sightseeing appears on Tuesdays.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou