The air is surprising when I wheel my bags out into the street on my first day in Spain, clear and cool but with the hint of what is to come. Like a tap you turn on that first runs cold but slowly you feel warm water mixing with the cool, till finally all you have is hot.
My 500mtr walk to the metro is not uncomfortable, with the help of a couple of passerby’s, a little English and a bit of sign language, what I already knew was confirmed (the metro was straight down the street). I really didn’t need to ask I think it was more just for reassurance.
Once I had taken the escalator to the first level of the Metro it was another thing, no ticket office, no one to try and speak to, only machines, but thankfully a large map and three really lovely Canadian boys. You really don’t want me to bore you with the details of how I manage to hold on to all my bags, get my money out and pay for my ticket, lets just say it was hard. Getting through the turnstiles was just as difficult but thankfully Spanish men are really helpful as well.
Intercity trains are run by Renfe, which is situated at Atoche, the largest of Madrid’s stations, the old terminal having been transformed into a tropical covered garden. It was easy to find the customer service to enquire about tickets, but as it turned out, not quite so to buy one. After being directed to an office and a machine that spat out tickets notifying you of your place in the queue, I realise in horror that my ticket said A244 when the LED display notifying the next customer to be served was only saying A103. With a single customer service representative working I quickly realised my dream of getting to Seville by lunch time was out the window.
During the next hour and a half I noted with perverse glee the many travellers that walked into the office and looked around in confusion, only to be told by another customer about the machine. Once they’d taken their ticket I waited for the inevitable series of reactions. Firstly a quick glance down at their number, then a corresponding glance at the flashing display for the current ticket to be called, followed by one of two actions when they realised how long the wait would be. The first was horrified disbelief, really entertaining. The best however, were the people that nervously scanned the seated customers with a half smile on their lips, certain that someone was playing a huge joke on them and they were about to “get punked”.
To be honest I’m really not that sure there wasn’t some comedy show being secretly filmed for Spanish television cause here is the rub, when I finally arrived at the glorious moment of my ticket being called, feeling like I had won the lottery, I was told ” sorry but this office is for pre booked tickets, you have to go to another ticket office to purchase tickets for travel today!”
All I want to say is I arrived in Seville at 4.30, took me longer than it should have, cost more than it would if I had booked and paid before I left Australia and it is my own fault. Train travel in Spain is actually brilliant, fast and clean and once you get the hang of it, very easy.
Seville is a seriously beautiful city, particularly the old Jewish quarter, which really is the only place to stay. There are far too many awesome sites to visit that I won’t mention them here, just google images and research them, totally worth it. The train station was relatively close to my hotel according to the map, so once again McDonalds, their black tea and free wi fi was greatly appreciated. I sat down drank my tea, had a wrap and sent a few messages to assure friends and family that I was still alive. Unfortunately the last message to my son finally depleted my iPad battery and I realised with horror that my phone had died as well. Aargh!
I almost crumbled into pure panic at that moment because I hadn’t written the address of my pension down on paper and had no idea of the name. However, just before I opened my mouth to scream I realised I had actually printed out the booking form, handing it to a taxi driver I sank with relief into the seat. Again as much as it pains my to say it, without a charged phone to follow google maps, there was no way I would have found the hotel if I had taken the bus. The taxi took me straight there and only cost €8. The narrow rabbit warren of streets and lanes in the old city was too hard to navigate on your own.
I had chosen La Montorena because of the position and price of course but also because of the mosaic lined foyer and roof top terrace and it turned out to be a good one. My single room was a shoe box but the bed was fine and the small bathroom opposite was mainly used by me alone. Again it may only have been €26 a night but the cleanliness was remarkable.
As I mentioned before but my trip to Spain is an extended one, nearly three three months in total then a month in England, so my bags are heavy. The narrow marble staircase up to the first and second floors made it impossible to drag up my huge rolling backpack. I had actually anticipated this and packed everything I thought I might need for the weekend into my overnight bag, so I store the big one downstairs.
Seville was my first taste of the heat of summer in southern Spain and it is strong, but being dry it is bearable at the same time, not the sticky ever present humidity of the tropics. Walking around the scenic sites is therefore a mostly comfortable experience. Bars are abundant, food is cheap and beverages (alcohol included) is even cheaper so once the heat drains you a little it is easy to recover your strength. Sangria in particular is an effective medicine.
Low cost accommodation can have a bad reputation for many reason, noisy young travellers for one thing. Not that they weren’t present at La Montorena but they weren’t that noisy. These days however, you are just as likely to find older travellers, just like yourself, they love to talk and the roof top terrace was the perfect place meet the other guests. I met a lovely Danish couple who had just arrived and were making a return visit. There is a definite comoraderie that you don’t get in resorts and upmarket hotels, maybe a sense of shared experience!
- Work out your metro train trip prior to taking it – mine involve taking 3 different train lines to the main station which I do think is weird when I was actually on the airport line to begin with but hey it’s Spain. And write it down – you will not remember!
- Book and pay for your intercity train ticket before you leave home – you do not want to star in Spanish Candid Camera!
- Buy a power converter also before you leave home – we rely so much on technology today you CANNOT be stuck without your device, that is unless you want to have a nervous breakdown!
- cafe/bars are cheap but even cheaper is grocery stores, the small corner store variety no exception. So if you are really trying to live cheaply a knife, rice wafers, avocado, tomato and some smoked salmon under a roof top cabana, with a €2.99 2011 bottle of red is fabulous ( just make sure the wafers you buy don’t have some sickly sweet creamy substance inside because you couldn’t read the label otherwise your eating with your fingers)