I am, unfortunately, one of those lesser-prepared-type traveling individuals: I do usually bring a guide or two, and I try to make an effort to learn a few phrases in the language, but this is coming from someone who is used to living in France and speaking French, so for some reason all the other countries seem intimidating somehow. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's just the way I am. And since this trip is particularly unexpected (given the fact that we booked our plane tickets on Wednesday and reserved our hotel room in Seville this morning), I have a feeling that we may overlook some essential aspects of the Spanish experience.
The funny thing is that when I was a student, back in the good ol' 1990s, I was so wrapped up in the French way of life -- culture, language, civilization, literature, etc. -- that all the other European countries seemed to fade into the background, or let's just say I wasn't in a big hurry to see them. I figured I should focus on visiting as much of France as I could while I was there, rather than run around Europe and try to see as many other countries as possible, as quickly as possible. That's just not my way of doing things. I tend to arrive in a country and make my way around bit by bit, improvising most of my decisions and visiting what feels right at the time (I'm a vibes kind of gal). This approach has led me to make the most of many a trip, although in some cases I did miss out on some sites that I probably should have seen at the time. But I've found that some of those "must-see" spots are sometimes so overhyped, and so overly swamped by tourists, that the visit itself ends up being spoiled by the stifling crush of people and the exaggerated gestures of locals desperately selling their wares to said tourists -- right up next to the unbelievable monuments.
Case in point: when my boyfriend and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a long weekend in Rome two years ago, after running around the city for two days trying to squeeze in all the most crucial monuments, and experiencing a particularly hellish afternoon in the massive crunch of tourists at the Sistine Chapel, we ended up renting bicycles on our last day and trekking around the Villa Borghese... We spent the afternoon off the beaten path, and visited the National Gallery of Modern Art -- which is essentially the last place people would (expect to) want to see in the ancient city of Rome. But this is exactly where we had the best time! A lovely lunch in the museum restaurant, a leisurely walk around the gallery, and afterwards the perfect opportunity to see some of the churches in the nearby neighborhood in the warmth of the late afternoon sun (and I unfortunately have not retained the names of these churches, although their images remain engraved in my memory; Italian is not my strong point, although I love the language!). I even discovered what has become one of my all-time favorite portraits in the National Gallery of Modern Art, a painting by a lesser-known Italian artist, Vittorio Matteo Corcos, which stays with me even today and which I later re-discovered on the cover of an excellent coffeetable book (quickly purchased and put on display in my living room): Les femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses. [A book which deserves an entire blog post devoted to it, but this will have to wait until I can do it justice... You can see examples of more images from its pages right here.]
Of course I'm not saying that one should avoid every tourist attraction -- that would be ridiculous, because after all we are all tourists at one point or another, and that's sort of the whole point of traveling to another country. But like Jenn has pointed out over at NPLI, tourists can be so unbearable sometimes, and I think I'm a bit sensitive to this -- so I try to avoid displaying the same kind of behavior when I'm abroad.
I think our plan will most likely be to improvise a good portion of the week... I will page through the guide on the flight down and probably mark up some inspiring spots. And I know that Spanish is quite close to French language-wise, but I have never studied it myself; thank goodness my boyfriend speaks a bit.
And all of this of course leads me to my first official Internet Blogger Request: given that I have a few days left before our departure, I thought I would ask YOU out there if you have any great recommendations of hidden corners or off-the-beaten-path wonders that made your visit to Andalusia unforgettable... Any suggestions for me? Inquiring minds and all... And I will be forever in your debt!