It’s been about two months since I started studying in Seville, Spain. By now, I’ve gotten used to the city and can generally find anything I need rather quickly. During my first few days of school, however, things weren’t quite so convenient. The second or third day after our arrival, my roommate, John Pribnow, and I got quite lost in the maze-like corridors of the city.
European cities are much more compact than their American counterparts, due to fact that they are older and were not originally designed with cars in mind. Seville has a population similar to Baltimore, but it covers an area smaller than Des Moines. You might think “Oh, well that should make them easier to navigate, right? Smaller size means less streets.”
Not the case.
Instead of the standard “block” format that many U.S. roads follow, European roads and buildings tend to be thrown into a giant pile of madness where there is little to no discernible pattern. Not only that, but streets will often not have any signs labeling them. This lack of any order (at least to American eyes such as my own) causes the city’s layout to appear very confusing. No map can do it justice.
On this particular day, the school I am now attending had offered to give us a tour of the city, so that we could better understand the history and layout of Seville. With only half of a city map and a general idea of where the building might be, we set out towards the school, the meeting point for the tour. It wasn’t long before we realized that none of the streets we were walking on corresponded to the ones on the map. Somewhere along the way, we had taken the wrong street.
The road we took and the one we should have taken both led in the same direction, but branched off to different places. It also didn’t help matters that there are about ten different “man-riding-horse” statues around Seville and our map only mentioned one. Eventually, after about two hours of wandering the wrong area of town, we managed to find the school. We were too late for the tour but were glad to realize our mistake before classes started.
It wasn’t until several days later that I learned that our little adventure was actually nothing compared to the struggles of another student (the student’s knowledge of the Spanish language also happened to be limited to “muy bien”). He had spent an entire night wandering not just the city center, but also somehow ended up out in the suburbs. He didn’t return to his apartment until 7:00 the next morning.
Thankfully, I’ve since been able to figure out a formula for navigating Spanish streets: memorize where all the major streets are, and then just walk in the general direction of where you want to go. If that fails to work, it never hurts to use public transportation or, heaven forbid, ask for directions. Being male, that idea had completely slipped our minds.