Part of an immersion experience is truly embracing the city in which you study. Living in Seville I want to explore the city and be able to say that I know Seville. Whenever someone mentions a site in Seville, I want to be able to say that I’ve been there and that I’m familiar with the place. Not only do I want to explore Seville, but I also want to explore the Andalusian region.
This weekend I traveled to the small town of Ronda that sits two hours from Seville. It’s known as un pueblo blanco for its whitewashed houses that line the cobblestone roads. Typically I associate the white houses with Greece and other countries in the Mediterranean but never with Spain. To see different sites that challenge the typical stereotype that society as a whole holds true about a country or way of life is a truly captivating experience.
Driving through the countryside from Seville to neighboring cities is always a wonderful experience of getting out of the city and into the natural environment with rolling hills and expansive fields. The landscape around Seville reminds me much of the landscape of the Central Coast of California. What I had heard from other people on my program is that Ronda is a nice escape from city life and from constantly having tons to do; it’s more of a relaxing day trip. After our last week of intensive period classes and final exams, that’s just what we needed.
Upon arriving in Ronda, much like when we arrived in Cadiz and we’re merely shuttled off the bus with no direction in mind, we had no idea where we wanted to go. A friend and I both looked up things for us to do while in Ronda and tried to memorize the map as best as possible. Ronda is a very small town so I figured we wouldn’t have any difficulties without a map, and since the center is the only place with a printer, mapless journeyers was our only option!
As we walked through the streets of Ronda, it felt much like the less populated parts of Seville – the same farmacias, the same chinos, the same cafeterias. While many of the cities around Seville feel very similar, each boasts a unique character and flaunts special landmarks. The first thing we found was a gorgeous park which led to a vista point where tourists and locals alike were stopped by the beauty of the Malaga land. Similar to moments when I traveled through New Zealand and Australia, no picture could capture the immense beauty of being there in person. We continued to the Plaza de Toros which is the oldest in Spain. While Seville has its own Plaza de Toros to flaunt, visiting the oldest one in Spain reveals the beginnings and the evolution of bullfighting. Although I’d only seen bullfighting rings on TV and in pictures, the area was much smaller than I expected. Ronda’s Plaza de Toros held its first bullfight in 1785. Visiting the ring and the adjacent museums proved to me how the importance of chivalry, nobility and historical heritage.
Along the cliff where vista points sat were numerous parks scattered about. For our lunchtime stop, we found a gabezo where a woman played the harp and where we had a gorgeous view that caused us to not talk much during lunch but rather absorb our surroundings. After our small break, we continued to walk along the cliff-side only to discover Puente Nuevo sitting right before our eyes. Puente Nuevo is a huge bridge over el Tajo gorge. Built in 1793 it spans 100 m, equivalent to a 30 floor building. The history and antiquity of the structures throughout Europe and the Andalusian region particularly strike me with their longevity. Another puente, or bridge, sits down the road from Puente Nuevo and boasts a gorgeous view of the expansive and most well-known bridge in Ronda. Puente Viejo is a less impressive bridge located among the whitewashed houses and situated with a view of fields contrasting the Malagan mountains on the other side of Puente Nuevo.
Part of traveling and enjoying places is to see all the sites that have made a mark in history but also to get a sense of the place by absorbing the culture and people watching. We discovered a hidden church, Iglesia de Nuestro Padre Jesus, where we enjoyed the views and the warm sunshine beating down on us. After the first two weeks of inescapable cold in Seville, I was thankful the sun gods finally heard our prayers. With all of the destinations checked off our list, it was time to relax. On our journey back to the park near the vista points, we walked down a narrow cobblestone road where we had to squeeze past a crowd of people who looked like they were having a siesta gathering, reminiscent of a block party in the US. When you take yourself out of the main tourist section of a city, you truly find the character of the place and develop an ability to distinguish the differences between the places you travel.
A nap in the sun and a sunburn later, we were back on a bus to Seville. The day trip to Ronda reinforced my belief that exploring the surrounding area is going to hold many similar characteristics to Seville but with close observation and the-path-less-traveled exploration differences are sure to show through.
A student at Lehigh University, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the spring semester of 2012. I posted about my adventures and cultural experiences at SenseSeville.
Next time, I'll discuss my sevillano "field trips" with my program.