The first time I said goodbye to Seville (aka Sevilla, its proper name in Spanish and how it will remain written in the rest of this post), it was with drama. It was the summer of 2013. After living in beautiful Sevilla for almost half a year, seeing orange trees on every block, speaking Andaluz every day, and listening constantly to the claps and guitar strums of flamenco music, I was really starting to feel at home. On my final morning in Sevilla, it was with a great deal of melancholy that I walked from my apartment in El Porvenir through the Parque de María Luisa to the Puente de los Remedios.
I stared out over the Río Guadalquivir, conjuring reflective and nostalgic thoughts about this place that I had begun to call home. Going back to the United States filled me with a certain amount of dread. I had already begun scheming about how I would be able to return to Sevilla to live, back to the city in which I had established friendships and a life, totally independently.
And I felt the urge to leave a piece of me behind, something that would connect me, physically, to the ground beneath my feet. So, with that promised dramatic flair, I slid one of my little silver rings off of my finger, eyed it for a moment, and then hurled it into the river before me.
And then, giddy with the absurdity of the act that I had just committed, I turned around and walked back to my apartment, grabbed my suitcase, went to the airport, and got on a plane and went home.
It would take me nearly five years to return to Sevilla after that fateful last morning by the Río Guadalquivir. And in five years, well… a lot changes.
I finished college, and then began working in Baltimore. I traveled to places that I never dreamed of visiting before, like Bahrain and Guatemala and Jordan. I worked in various professional capacities and then I set out to travel the world (or at least part of it!). I started this blog. And I also feel like I grew infinitely as a person, in terms of my values, beliefs, and dreams for the future.
So fast forward nearly five years, to September 2017, when I am presented with the opportunity to travel once again. During the past year I had spent a considerable amount of time in various parts of the United States and Latin America. But something was telling me that it was time to go back to Spain.
I planned a trip that would start in Sevilla and held my breath as I purchased the airfare. It felt surreal to be going back after so many years. My trip would begin two weeks later. I started packing.
Those two weeks passed by in a blur, and before I knew it I was touching down in Madrid and boarding a south-bound train. All around me I heard the iconic sound of Castellaño Spanish, at times harsh and at times lightly lisping, peppered with “tíos” and “hostias” and “madre mías”. After so much time spent away from this accent, what once felt like a baseline for Spanish suddenly felt so foreign, especially compared to the softer cantaditos found throughout Latin America. As we ventured further south, Castellaño become Andaluz, with its rapidfire iterations and swallowed consonants. A long dormant part of my brain stirred in response to hearing Andaluz. I was really here, I thought.
Upon arrival in Sevilla, I hugged my old friends for dear life. We then made our way to Triana, a famous neighborhood in western Sevilla, for the start of my week back in town.
I had arrived promptly at 2:30 p.m., right on time for lunch. We went to a restaurant in Triana, across from the Iglesia de Santa Ana where there were streamers and banderitas zigzaging across the alleyway. We ordered cruzcampo and salmorejo and tortilla de patatas. There was a big group of people sitting on the other side of the alleyway. One member of this group pulled out a guitar, and promptly began to strum sevillanas while their companions clapped out the rhythm and danced. Familiar tastes, familiar sounds, familiar faces. Familiar heat on my back and face, causing sweat to form on my brow.
It was one of those moments, in which you feel absolutely displaced in time because nothing has changed, but everything has also changed. I just smiled, sipped my cruzcampo, and listened to the sounds of flamenco guitar and clapping as people danced sevillanas in the afternoon sun.
Walking down memory lane
Being a tourist in Sevilla felt so different from being a tourist elsewhere. I felt no real need to go to any major attractions in the city, and many of the attractions, such as the cathedral and the Real Alcázar, I had visited many years ago. During this week, my priority was simply to spend time with friends and go for many, many walks around the city that I once called home.
And walk I did. I spent hours walking around, from morning until lunchtime when the afternoon sun turned the city into such an oven that I would have to go inside to escape the heat and take a siesta. It was mid-October but it felt like summer, with afternoon highs of easily 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 degrees Celsius. After siesta, I would set out again in the evening, seeing the sunset from the bank of the Río Guadalquivir as it dipped below Triana’s skyline.
I wandered into the winding labyrinth of the centro histórico, walking over cobbled streets down familiar and unfamiliar alleyways. I went back through the Parque de María Luisa, passing by my favorite benches and fountains and viewpoints. I wandered around the feet of Las Setas, sat by the base of the cathedral, and even made it back to the residential and commercial neighborhood of Nervión.
And it felt as if every block were tinged with memories. Suddenly I would turn a corner and arrive at a place that I had trodden on nearly five years ago, and my whole being would be flooded with images, words, and feelings. I remembered sitting on a blanket in the Parque de María Luisa, learning to play Blackbird on guitar. I remembered dancing Sevillanas in Lo Nuestro on Calle Betis, and singing along with a room full of people singing along to Volare. I remembered walking home at seven in the morning after a night out in La Alameda, my eyes weary with sleep as the city was just beginning to wake up around me. Being back in Sevilla triggered so many memories, and even the bad memories didn’t feel so bad anymore. Each memory felt distinctly peaceful, and distinctly innocent.
My time in Sevilla inspired a lot of internal reflection, both on the months that I had spent living there, as well as on the feeling of returning after so many years.
Being in Sevilla felt so easy. Even after so much time had passed, I still remembered the zigzag of the streets, and exactly what to order in a restaurant, and even a little bit of the first Sevillana (but not much more than the first!). There was an amazing comfort to being there. The city hadn’t really changed much, which is especially apparent when you walk around seeing centuries-old architecture booming across the skyline. I loved revisiting the city and seeking out my old haunts, walking past the places where I walked every single day.
It was also incredibly interesting to see how much my Spanish had advanced since living in Sevilla five years ago. Back in 2013, my Spanish was good but definitely not fluent. My time spent living in Sevilla helped remarkably to push my Spanish towards fluency, especially giving me the confidence to converse without fear. However, I remember that even after many months living in Sevilla, I still found it very difficult to understand Andaluz. I had trouble fully understanding my friends as well. Five years later, after lots of practice both in the United States and abroad, my Spanish was drastically better. I could understand every word around me, and Andaluz didn’t seem so challenging this time around. I had made progress.
The best part about being in Sevilla was definitely getting to spend time with friends who I hadn’t seen in forever, and catching up after so many years. They made my experience back in Sevilla extra special, and I am very grateful for that.
But being in Sevilla was also strange, because something had changed. And that something, I realized very quickly, was me.
Sevilla was still Sevilla: a city of history and traditions, of nationalism and pride, of exclusivity and family, of heat and color. And walking around, and dancing Sevillanas, and passing the mini-feria at the side of the Río Guadalquivir, and hearing the distinct funeral horns of Semana Santa, and gazing in awe at the massive cathedral in the centro histórico, and seeing the ornate trajes de flamenco in shop windows in preparation for the upcoming feria… made it all the more clear that Sevilla had not changed one bit. I realized that, unlike my past self whimsically tossing my ring into the Río Guadalquivir, I could appreciate the beauty of these unique traditions in this unique place… but I didn’t miss it. Somehow, Sevilla no longer felt like enough for me.
Being in Sevilla, I felt comfortable but not nostalgic. I could enjoy strolling around its beautiful streets without feeling the yearn of returning. I could dance Sevillanas with a smile but not crave it the next morning. I could sip tinto de verano with a dear friend and know that I would miss my friend immensely when I left, but that I wouldn’t miss Sevilla quite so immensely.
The part of me that felt like I belonged in Sevilla remains in the past, perhaps located somewhere at the bottom of the Río Guadalquivir. But the present me has moved on. Sevilla is not the place that I want to make my home.
It felt so great being back there. But at the end of the week when I hugged my friends tight and said “nos vemos, hasta pronto”, it was with the sweet feeling that I was ready to leave. Without doubts, without nostalgia, and without clinging to the past.
How does it feel for you when you return to a place where you used to live? Does it feel nostalgic, comfortable, good, bad, or other? Do you think that this experience changes for living in another country versus in your own country? Is there a place where you used to live where you would like to return to? Let me know in the comments below!