Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2013: work abroad. If I could offer you only one piece of advice for the future, an Erasmus year would be it.
It's unlikely that I will be asked to dispense any advice to this year's crop of school leavers, and even if I am, it's even more unlikely that my listeners will understand the reference in the opening paragraph. (In fact, even as a teenager of the 1990s, I didn't discover its original source until I looked it up just now.) But regardless of all that, my point remains true: one of the best things you can do in your early adult life is travel, work abroad, and make friends with people who are doing the same, because not only will you learn many things and see wonderful places, when you are older and more settled you will have fabulous friends to visit all over the globe.
My friend R. is one such person. We studied at university together, and when I moved to France for my year abroad, she went to Spain. After graduation, we once again found ourselves heading for foreign lands at the same time, and she now lives in Sevillle. I went to visit her in 2010, and this month, 3 years later, it was more than time for a catch-up. I got to see her baby boy and she met Understanding Frenchman for the first time.
Their small apartment being a bit too cramped for 5, Understanding Frenchman and I booked a little studio through Abritel, in the city centre near the Alameda de Hercules, and our 3 days in Seville were a perfect combination of baby cuddles, catch-up chocolate and churros, and sightseeing.
We went to the cathedral, whose tower, with its views over the rooftops of Seville, is definitely one of my all-time favourite buildings to climb:
Last time I went to Seville we were mostly there for the Feria, so I didn't have time to visit the Alcazar, a royal palace of a similar style to the Alhambra in Granada, which also has beautiful gardens:
We went to Plaza de Espana and visited the stunning palace that was built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929:
With the city preparing for this year's Feria, there were plenty of opportunities to admire displays of flamenco outfits. To a trained eye, there are differences in the styles of ruffles, and some people invest in a new dress every year:
The point of taking an apartment instead of a hotel room was so that we could cook at home instead of having to eat in restaurants all the time, but the abundance of tempting tapas meant that in fact we hardly ever did. And with a typical bill for two of us coming to about 25 euros, including drinks, we were able to taste all the local delicacies without breaking the bank.
One of the best places we found was in the Triana district, on the opposite side of the river from the cathedral. While it's easily accessible from the centre, it had a much more local feel to it. R. and her boyfriend also gave us good advice about everything from which wines to try to how to use the metro and the result was a smooth and relaxing visit with lots of good times and good company.
So if there's anyone out there (class of 2013 or otherwise!) who's thinking of taking the expat plunge, do it! It won't necessarily all be plain sailing, but you'll be reaping the rewards for years to come.