Little known false fact: “The City Upon a Hill” was actually about Toledo.

Staying in a city I knew I was only going to be in temporarily felt like a very strange introduction to Spain for me. Instead of flying right into Sevilla, all of us flew into Madrid, stayed there for two nights, took a bus to Toledo, stayed there for another night, and then took a final bus from Toledo to Sevilla where we met our host families. As someone who craves routine and finds it important to know what I’m surrounded by, the first few days were very difficult. Not only had I just been introduced to my roommate, but we were sharing a hotel room for three nights and learning a lot about each other and about our surroundings. One of the things that surprised me most when I met the other students in my program was how many of them had not only been abroad before, but had stayed in Spain before. Back home, I don’t know too many people who have traveled to Europe let alone spent an extended time in Europe so it was a little scary thinking I might already be falling behind.

I couldn’t choose one picture of the beautiful city of Toledo, I had to do more, so here is another. We crossed this bridge to enter the city and go to a few churches and museums.

The first thing I learned about Spain was that people walk everywhere. Taking a taxi/uber or driving places is not very common because almost everywhere is accessible by bike or walking. In Madrid we did a lot of walking tours through El Prado and La Plaza Mayor which took up most of the day. In Toledo, a bus took us to the top of the hill, but we walked all the way down and around to El Catedral de Primada, El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, La Iglesia de Santo Tomé, La Puerta de Sol and La Santa Maria la Blanca. I loved Toledo because of its deep roots in history and the evidence of its foundation all around. All the streets were narrow and wobbly from the out of place bricks and the views from the top of each hill were breathtaking.

My roommate and I are both huge art fans so we found the “artsy” part of Madrid and spent most of the first day walking around finding street art and little cafes. My roommate is vegan and we found a vegan cafe that also had kombucha that drastically improved my cold (*jetlag) for about 5 minutes.

After the three jam packed days of traveling were done it was finally time to go to Sevilla. From Toledo it’s about a four hour drive, but the bus drivers are required to take breaks more frequently than in the US so we stopped at a lot of places that held cafes, cafeterias, and convenience stores to give everyone a break. Getting back on the bus for the final time before we got to Sevilla was extremely nerve wracking. The bus was abuzz with people freaking out about not being able to communicate with their host families, saying the wrong things, not liking the food, or having a curfew. Some students even worked on writing out a whole speech so they would know exactly what to say the moment they met their host family. One of the more important reminders my program’s staff gave us was that we were going to have to kiss our host mothers on each cheek as a sign of greeting. Obviously, in America this is not customary and as someone who strongly believes in everyone having their own personal bubble I think this was the thing I was most worried about. I knew I could rehearse any phrase I wanted, but as soon as I saw my host mother all of that would go out the window. 

Standing next to the bus, trying to hold onto my broken suitcase and carry ons all I could think about were worst case scenarios. If I thought I was nervous before this was a whole new level of emotions. As I looked around at all the faces of the other host mothers and the other students anxiously awaiting their fate, I felt a sense of solidarity among everyone. No one knew what would come next and for some reason that sense of collective mystery comforted me. All of a sudden I was hearing my name called and I was being ushered into a car and I was trying to fit all the luggage in the car and then we were driving to our new “home” and my brain was still trying to catch up. My host mother, Aurelia, asked if we spoke spanish and after admitting we were not the strongest of speakers, the most silent car ride of my life began. Upon arrival to our house we were eagerly greeted by Pipe, the three year old beagle, that we would soon learn was ALWAYS hungry. Everything felt awkward and different, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before things started to normalize. Aurelia told us she had been hosting students for fourteen years which reassured me that she must be doing something right if she keeps welcoming new students into her house. Unpacking all of my things into a new room that I would somehow call home for three months felt strange and intimidating. The pale walls and single window weren’t exactly the most welcoming of decor, but the promise of a future full of Tortilla España (quiche with potatoes) for dinner boosted my spirits. After being sent out of the house to explore the city and find our school, my roommate and I met up with other students from the program to share reactions. We all seemed to be having a positive start and were all ready for Sevilla to feel like home soon. We were all craving a sense of familiarity after four days in three different cities and were excited to see what Sevilla had in store for us.

One of our first group trips in Sevilla was to the Catedral de Sevilla. It’s in the middle of a busy part of the city, right after La Universidad de Sevilla-which used to be the Royal Tobacco Factory- and has a beautiful view (that you can only experience once you’ve climbed 32 flights of stairs).