I love getting email from readers, which is good because ever since I announced my decision to return to Seville from the US, my inbox has been flooded with questions. Practically everyone seems to be contemplating a trip here at some point over the next year, and they are baffled by the entry requirements (a fast-moving target) and curious whether the city’s street life has returned to its usual congenial roar (it has). It’s clear 2022 is shaping up to be a boom year for the city, and for my email inbox.
Part of this upsurge in popularity is because “Spain Is Now the Safest EU Destination,” according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Our region, Andalucía, has vaccinated more than 80% of its residents, achieving herd immunity and “green status” (less than 50 Covid cases per 100,000 inhabitants). Sevillanos are matter-of-fact about observing all the appropriate public safety protocols, especially masking, while maintaining an attitude of cheerful normalcy. People are moving on with their lives.
I am constantly astonished to find myself in a city that feels so post-pandemic. Not post-Covid, of course; we all know that the virus is still stalking the planet, and we’d be fools not to take proper precautions. And there’s always the chance some hideous new variant could arise, throwing everything into chaos again. But as of this writing, Seville feels like an oasis of safety in an uncertain world. Is it any wonder so many people are contemplating a visit?
My friend Charles is always telling me to stop saying nice things about Seville on this blog because we don’t want too many tourists overrunning the city. I keep explaining to him that people are going to come anyway, and if anyone should be held accountable, it's the city's leaders. At the very same time I started this blog, they launched a multi-million euro campaign to attract visitors, and it’s been successful beyond their wildest dreams. And yet Charles is convinced it's all my doing.
I point out to him that I may play some small part in inspiring people to visit, but my real job is making sure they have fun when they get here.
Those who don’t do their research often show up expecting a European version of Mexico. These poor souls wander about, bewildered by the complete lack of spicy food and mariachi music, and confused when ordering a tortilla results in the arrival of a dense potato omelet instead of the flat bread used to make burritos. Others read the tourist literature and limit themselves to the cathedral, the Alcázar palace, and the corporate-owned restaurants and cookie-cutter souvenir shops nearby. My job is to open doors for my readers, so they know where to find the oddball stuff, like tiles that predict your matrimonial future, sites used in filming Game of Thrones, and the kind of backstreet food that makes you want to get up and dance with the cook.
On top of all that, now I’ve got tips about Covid safety to share: where you can dine outdoors, get tested before your flight home, and buy masks that are as safe as KN95s but come in fashionable patterns and colors because hey, we all need a break from black and while and surgical blue sometimes.
So I’ve decided to put together a short guide to the city at this unique moment in its history, helping people figure out travel logistics and entry requirements, navigate the recent changes in the local culture, and stay safe and comfortable in transit and throughout their visit. I’m taking a few weeks off from writing on this blog to organize my notes into something approaching coherent form, and when it’s ready I’ll post the guide online so my regular readers can download it for free and others can purchase it in Kindle or paperback form.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or topics you’d like to see covered in this little guidebook, please let me know. And for heaven’s sake, don’t tell Charles about any of this. The less he knows the better. Mum’s the word.
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When I mention my daily siestas to Americans, they often look at me sideways, obviously wondering if I’ve entered my dotage, never matured past the age of five, or deteriorated into a day-drinking couch potato during the pandemic.
Some sidle away in quiet alarm at this point, but the hardier souls ask, “You take a nap every afternoon? Really? But then how can you sleep at night?”
‘I sleep better at night when I take a siesta,” I explain. “I’m a more relaxed person. My days have a gentler rhythm. And it’s like having fourteen mornings a week!”
If they’re still unconvinced, I can now point out that Spain was just awarded the highest health grade on the planet in a sleep study comparing life expectancy, the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, and average sleep time. ”Bloomberg gave Spain the highest health grade: 93 percent (that's a solid A), while the U.S. came in 35th with a score of 73 (eek, that's a D...minus),“ reported Well + Good. You may be surprised to learn more snooze time doesn’t automatically earn a higher health grade. Spain averages a modest 7 hours and 10 minutes, while Mexico, despite a solid 9 hours nightly, has the lowest life expectancy of the 37 countries in the study.
Lots of factors influence Spain’s health grade, of course, including the famous Mediterranean diet. But I am convinced (based on completely random, unscientific, anecdotal evidence) that another key element is their relaxed attitude toward sleep. As far as I can tell, nobody here in Seville worries about how many hours of shut-eye they’re getting. In the US, we’re bombarded with articles such as the CDC’s “1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep” with the ominous subhead, “A good night’s sleep is critical for good health” and an opening sentence citing the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Yikes! One minute into the article and I’m already feeling doomed.
When I moved to Seville, I was staggered by everyone’s insouciant attitude toward sleep. Last night, for instance, dinner with friends lasted until 1:30 AM — on a weeknight. You get even less snooze time during the annual seven-day Feria de Abril (April Fair). For this giant party, more than a million people dress up and spend every night drinking and dancing until dawn. They then stagger homeward, stopping briefly to refuel at a churros and chocolate stand before navigating the stairs to their apartment and falling into bed. Two hours later, they’re up, gulping coffee, and stumbling off to work. And nobody seems concerned.
“It’s just a week,” they say with a shrug. “I’ll be fine.” And so they are. Although to be honest, I wouldn’t schedule elective surgery, car repair, or even a haircut that week. Not everyone will be operating at peak efficiency.
A few years ago, rocket scientists started putting the siesta under a microscope to see if it might prove useful in outer space. “NASA’s research showed that naps really can fully restore cognitive function at the same rate as a full night’s sleep,” reported Business Insider. “The space agency found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed alertness improvements up to 54% and job performance improvements by 34%.” Astronauts call this a NASA nap.
In business circles, the preferred term is power nap, to make it sound more grown-up, professional, and goal-oriented. Executive nappers like to point out how many success icons, such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and Albert Einstein, snoozed every afternoon. They’ll then cite the health benefits: siestas reduce the chance of a fatal heart attack by 37% and can reverse information overload and prevent burnout. It’s not difficult to do a cost-benefit analysis that favors siestas. Oops, sorry, I mean power naps.
And then there’s the coffee nap. I personally have not tried this, but apparently you begin your rest period by downing a latte or espresso, then immediately lie down to sleep or just relax for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the caffeine molecules are fitting themselves into receptors in the brain that are normally occupied by a chemical called adenosine, which tends to build up during the day, making you sleepy. By around the 20-minute mark, stimulating caffeine molecules have replaced all the sleepy adenosine molecules, leaving you feeling bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and zippity doo dah. Proponents rave about the reinvigorating effects of this process, which has been dubbed the nappuccino.
Of course, it can be tough to find a suitable spot for a doze, especially if you’re traveling or working in a busy office. That’s why humanitarians in Barcelona, Spain created Nappuccino Corner, a café where, for the price of a modest lunch and a coffee, you get a free siesta in one of their individual resting pods. “They are not completely closed in order to prevent any claustrophobic feeling,” says the website, although I suspect it’s mostly to prevent any shenanigans from taking place inside.
With or without coffee, a siesta should only last about 20 minutes. That's because you want to stop before reaching deep REM sleep, which can leave you groggy afterwards. To avoid this, Einstein used to nap with a pencil loosely clasped in one hand, knowing that when he edged toward more profound slumber, the pencil would fall to the floor with a clatter and wake him. Even if you don't sleep but simply rest for 20 minutes, you get the benefits of a siesta. Afterwards, the Spanish advise reanimating yourself with a marienda (afternoon snack) of coffee and sweet pastry — essentially another breakfast — and why not?
“Napping gets a bad rap in our culture,” says Psychology Today. “There’s a stubborn perception that napping is a sign of laziness. In fact, it’s just the opposite.” The article explains how a siesta can increase alertness, improve concentration and accuracy, help you make better decisions, and enhance memory and learning.
Afternoon siestas not only improve your mental and physical wellbeing, they give you something pleasurable to look forward to every day. I begin by closing the shutters to create a cozy twilight, then stretch out on the couch; if it's cool enough, I wrap up in cozy blanket. I open my Kindle, read a few pages, then close my eyes, just for a moment … and wake up twenty minutes or so later, feeling deeply refreshed.
Do siestas really make you healthy, wealthy, and wise? Science says yes, but don’t take my word for it, or even Einstein’s. Try it for yourself. This will, of course, be easier if you work at home or live in Spain, where everything shuts down for the midday break. And no doubt your schedule is pretty full already. But hey, if Churchill could squeeze in naps while fighting off Hitler, maybe you can find twenty spare minutes in your schedule, too. Just be prepared for a few quizzical looks from friends, neighbors, and co-workers who have yet to discover the happy truth: taking a siesta is hitting the reset button on your day. And who doesn’t want to do that?
Now that I'm back home in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'm taking a fresh look at local culture and customs while discovering how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape.
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on Seville, travel to Europe, and where to find good eats and survival comforts.
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As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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