Americans have a terrible idea of Mexico. While Europe is sophisticated and romantic, Mexico is a dirty slum where you might get caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel shootout. Granted, there are a few nice tourist party beaches where you might come back alive. The thought of actually living in Mexico makes many Americans cringe.
Now, I was on a mission to discover the truth about "sophisticated romantic" Spain, and put the Spain/Mexico rivalry to rest once and for all. I was excited to see what the country had to offer, but was I also not expecting to be impressed (afterall, I was sure it couldn't compare to Mexico).
On the bus from Faro to Sevilla I was amazed at how strikingly similar Mexico and Spain were. Spain sported the same deserty and sparsely populated landscape with a random stripmall now and then along the freeway that I had become so acustomed to in Mexico.
Sevilla had similar architecture to my city of Guanajuato complete with romantic windy streets, alleyways filled with shops, street vendors and a giant center plaza. I must admit I was a little impressed. Furthermore, the Spanish culture captivated me from day one. They really do have afternoon siestas where the whole city shuts down between two and four. Afterward, everyone goes about their business and many of the shops are open until eight or nine pm, then it's common to hit up a tapas bar with your friends around ten and chat, eat and drink into the wee hours of the morning.
Tapas to the Spanish are coffee dates to Americans. Pair a 2-3 Euro tapa with a 1.50 Euro glass of wine, and you have the perfect makings for a casual outing, meeting or date. It's informal, noncommital and inexpensive...genious!
Unfortunately, by the time I reached Sevilla I had a pretty bad cold. I slept on the bus ride and when I got dropped off I just wanted to find the first hotel and go to bed. I arrived in the city with no map, no reservations, and in the middle of siesta hours when everything was closed. I started wandering around and coincidently stumbled upon a hostel I had read about online the night before. I guess that was my lucky day. I checked in and took a five hour siesta.
Lucky for me, the Spanish culture is so relaxed that I didn't feel guilty about sleeping most of the day, plus I always had the night to look forward to tapas. If I had to pick a place to be sick, Sevilla was perfect. It seemed like everyone just did one or two things each day. You might go to the store and do laundry then spend the rest of the day at a cafe, or go to a museum, take a siesta and go out for tapas. Not an entirely rough lifestyle if you ask me!
I spent a lot of time reading, writing and jamming out on the guitar with my fellow hostleites. It was a nice break from the usual tourist trek, and I feel like I really got a good grasp of the Spanish culture.
For those of you who are wondering, Mexico will always be Mexico, but Spain shares a lot of the same characteristics that make Mexico so special-it is easy to tell they are long lost cousins. And, Spain fulfills all of its stereotypes perfectly-relaxed culture, romantic gardens, beautiful cities, delicious food, late nights, sunshine and the European lifestyle.