Photograph by Ella Myers
Hot. That’s the only word I can use to sum up my experience in Seville. It was definitely not my cleverest idea to spend almost a week there at the end of August, but it certainly made for a unique travel experience. It’s almost a running joke at this point that I always choose unreasonably hot places to visit with my friend, Jess. First it was Athens in the middle of a historic heatwave, and now Seville in 43 degrees heat.
We would walk out of the door of our (thankfully air-conditioned) AirBnB every morning and within minutes of walking we would be sweating. On our first full day, we soldiered on and attempted to see the sights. We had booked ourselves tickets to see the Alcazár and were ready to be as amazed by it as we had been by the Alhambra. But before that, we had time to kill. Which shouldn’t have been a problem in one of Spain’s most highly visited cities – right? The problem was that we had come to Seville at the time of year when locals usually leave to stay on the Costa del Sol for a bit of cool air and relaxation, an escape from what is known as the ‘frying pan of Spain’. Well, we were slap bang in the middle of this frying pan and to top it all off, COVID also meant that even more things than usual were closed. We tried to visit the cathedral during the day – nope. The Jewish Museum was closed for the whole of July and August. All the bookshops were closed. When our search for culture proved unsuccessful, we inevitably turned to food but even here we were unlucky. After traipsing around, finding restaurant after restaurant closed, we eventually ate in the only place we could find, an overly-expensive tourist trap that we would never normally have eaten in.
Finally, after killing as much time as possible, sweating and gasping in the boiling heat, we visited the Alcazár, which would turn out to be the only site we visited in Seville. It was beautiful, especially the gardens and the breath-taking Salón de Embajadores. However, the most shocking thing about the place was how empty it was. Clearly, other tourists had been wiser than us and avoided Seville in August. But given the recent use of the Alcazár as a filming location for Game of Thrones and its very impressive beauty, it was still bewildering to see only 20-30 other tourists in the whole place. As the only site I actually saw in Seville, I can highly recommend the Alcazár, even if it isn’t quite as impressive as the Alhambra.
As soon as we left the Alcazár, we went and got some much-needed ice cream to cool down. The melting pots of icy sweetness already melting in our hands, we went to look for somewhere to sit. Finding a cool-looking marble bench, we went to sit down. Wearing a short dress, I was treated to a burning sensation all the way up my thighs. It was so hot that even white marble was radioactively hot to touch. The line was drawn. Seville in the day was simply too hot. And so we did as the Spaniards did, and simply retreated inside. After that first day of failed tourism, we only left the house before 9 in the morning or after 8 in the evening. An early morning rush to the supermarket or bakery for provisions was the only time the Seville sun would touch us. After three and a half weeks of travelling around Spain, this rest was actually quite welcome. We watched University Challenge and trashy films, listened to Jamiroquai and ate lots of pre-sliced supermarket cheese and Spanish oranges.
Once darkness hit however, we emerged from our cool and shady grotto and, like everyone else in Seville, came alive. A city that had been, on our first day, a literal desert was now a hive of activity. Restaurants were teeming with life, little kids running around at eleven at night, guitar players singing and families having hours-long dinners. Jess and I threw ourselves into the hubbub, sampling local delicacies and enjoying the noise and bustle after our daylight hours of confinement.
Even now that we were only going out at night, Seville still had plenty to offer us in the way of excitement and new experiences. We tried out a fish and seafood restaurant that seemed pretty popular, especially pleased with ourselves for snagging a table. Jess tried her first oysters, aware that we were never going to be able to eat them for such a good price back in England. Everything was really delicious but, unbeknownst to us, we had committed a cardinal sin of travelling. We had ordered the market price fish. Whilst perusing through the menu, we had caught sight of a dish that sounded interesting, but there had been no price attached to it. Puzzled, I asked the waiter, who reeled off an explanation in Spanish. The word mercado was muttered and I assumed the price changed a little depending on the cost of the fish that day. Fine, I thought.
Oh, how wrong I was. When the bill finally came we realised we had been charged over thirty euros for what had been a relatively small fish, admittedly battered and served with a nice sauce, but most certainly not worth the price we were paying. It was more expensive than everything else we had had that night combined. The bill was paid and the promise was made. Never again would I buy a market price fish.
The following night saw us venture further afield, away from the family-packed restaurants and into the cooler, younger area of the city. We found an outdoor bar that served shockingly cheap mojitos and had metal tables and chairs scattered around a corner of the square. Plonking ourselves down, we enjoyed the balminess of the night-time air, so much more welcoming than its daytime counterpart. I sipped on my sugary-sweet mojito, Jess lit up a cigarette. A man ambled over to our table, asking for a smoke. Jess politely proffered up her box of straights, far more inclined to be charitable in this land of cheap nicotine. “No, no,” the man muttered, pointing at the lit cigarette drooping from the corner of her mouth, “that one. For the feminine energy.” Grinning at each other, she passed over the cigarette, apparently endowed with a mystical female power. Even if we only got out for a couple hours of each day, we were still meeting the weird and wonderful people we usually did whilst travelling.
Seville may not have gone exactly as planned but I do think we got an authentic experience. Clearly, nobody was going outside in the day so it really was a case of doing as the locals did and choosing to experience Seville through its night-time culture rather than forcing ourselves to trudge around a mostly-closed city in the day. Seville is a city controlled by the weather, with huge swathes of linen draped from building to building in its main shopping streets to keep shoppers cool, and huge chunks of the population simply deserting the place as soon as the temperatures start flirting with the forties. So, even if we didn’t see the sights, we learned to do as sevillanos do in the height of summer – hunker down in the day and have fun at night.
If you enjoyed this piece from Ella Myers, she also has a travel blog, Tripping Over Excellence, where you can hear more about her travel adventures.