Archives for the month of: March, 2011

This last week, Julia and I were blessed with the best kind of busyness that visits from friends bring.

First, my bubbly, eternally optimistic and adorable friend since the 4th grade, Lindsey, flew in for a couple of days before continuing on to see her sister who is studying abroad in Rome. Her trip could aptly be described with the word “whirlwind.” We fit in a lot in the few days she was here as she admirably adapted to the time change while sight-seeing, tapas hopping and dodging rain drops.

Lindsey enjoying the audio guide and scrutinizing the bricks in the Alcázar, to determine if they were originally carved or molded.

I’ve found that I have not become tired of visiting the sights in Sevilla yet. They seem to take on fresh aspects through each person’s eyes with whom I share them. For instance, Lindsey is currently a Museum Studies grad student. Her thoughtful observations and scrutiny of detail deepened my historical appreciation for familiar sights such as the Alcázar, Cathedral and Plaza de España. She also fell in love with the tile that is abundant in the architecture here. On her last day, we went on a quest for keepsake tiles that she could take home, and she ended up with two tiles from the 1820s that we found in an antiques shop! Now I can’t stop noticing the beautiful tile everywhere I go.

Lindsey’s love affair with tile began in the Alcázar

We discovered a Labyrinth in the Alcázar gardens during Lindsey’s visit. I’ve been to the Alcázar close to 10 times, and had never noticed it before. It was a true challenge to find our way out of the maze!

The day after Lindsey departed for Italy, Julia’s and I’s warm and kind-hearted college roommate, Lauren, flew in from Ghana. She was there on a spring break trip with her Occupational Therapy graduate studies program at USC. She came to us exhausted but entirely enthusiastic about seeing our adopted home city. We toured her around the usual suspects (Alcázar, Cathedral, Plaza de España…) but found a unique way to see María Luísa park, the gardens where the Plaza de España is located. We rented a three-person bicycle and pedaled our hearts out for 30 minutes! I would recommend the experience, especially to travelers weary of walking tours. Another alternative would be row-boating in the Plaza de España, which I wrote about here.

We braved the Labyrinth once more with Lauren.

Our three-seater bike’s dashboard, with map and bell

Of course, Julia and I did our due diligence in sharing the city’s culinary gems we’ve discovered with our visitors. Here are some pictures from some of our sweet times…

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring in Sevilla, which means that ice cream season is upon us! Rayas Helados is a newer discovery for Julia and I, but is currently my vote for best in the city

Chicken with Roquefort sauce and potatoes at Café Levíes (I’ve neglected to write about this place before, but it is one of our go-to places). This is a tapas portion, which costs about 3 euros. It’s a good example of how cheap going out to eat in Spain can be, without sacrificing quality!

These little squares, called Torrijas de Miel, taste like cold French toast dipped in honey. They are a traditional Lenten sweet. We bought these from the bakery Los Angelitos, which I’ve written about before here.

I’ve praised the Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo and the piripis (below) at Bodeguita Antonio Romero before here and here, but I thought Lauren’s pictures of these dishes captured them well.

Piripis from Bodeguita Antonio Romero

I’ve also written about chocolate y churros before when we had them in Granada, here. Julia and I have happily discovered the churro stand on the Arenal side of the Triana bridge in Sevilla. It is open 8pm-8am on the weekends, making it a perfect late-night dance fuel or sugary finish to a Triana neighborhood tapas tour. The chocolate is balanced between too thick and too thin, and the churros, in their greasy glory, stand up well to the chocolate in their complementary role.

Chocolate with its trusty sidekick, churros!

A full week of hosting these fun friends left us with many great memories, new experiences in this amazing city and disbelief that their visits are over already!

We had an interesting finish to the week on Saturday night. Having sent Lauren off on her journey back to the States on Friday, we were having a tranquil night in on Saturday when we heard a commotion outside our window. Thinking it was probably a protest or parade on the main avenue a block from our house, which occur frequently, we were surprised to see this from our balcony…

Wow! It seems that during Lent we will get a glimpse of what Semana Santa at the end of April will look like!

Besos,

Jenna

Previous to this past weekend, if I had been stuck with the word “Carnaval” during a round of Taboo, I would have been limited to the words Venetian masks, New Orleans beads and Brazil to describe this festival to my fellow players. My concept of Carnaval was limited to its popular manifestations widely known in the U.S. Unbeknown to me, Carnaval is also celebrated in Spain. Certain cities are more famous for their Carnaval celebrations, and draw huge crowds, such as the Carnaval in Cádiz. Others are mostly local celebrations, like the one in Valverde del Camino, the tiny pueblo where Julia teaches. Julia and I had the opportunity to witness both of these distinct Carnavals during this past weekend and walked away with a bevy of new buzz words to describe Carnaval.

We first attended the one in Valverde del Camino, which was celebrated on the night of March 4. Julia had been told since September that this night of Carnaval when the town turns upside-down was not an event to be missed. We cobbled together costumes, as per the required dress code for Carnaval, and set off to see what we could see in Valverde…

Valverde’s celebrations kick off with a parade in the streets. Giant floats blaring music overflow with crowds of people. Julia and I estimate less than 3% of the people in the streets were NOT in costume.

Pirate was a popular costume choice. So was anything involving cross-dressing, such as the pictured male bride. Julia and I estimate about 1/3 of the men cross-dressed.

Julia ran into some of her students and fellow teachers at the Carnaval!

Middle Eastern costumes were also popular. In fact, we saw quite a few “Middle Eastern terrorists.” I thought it was interesting to see a costume that would be so taboo in the United States be completely accepted in a different cultural context.

Valverde’s parade ended in the town’s old train station, which had been converted into a dance hall, complete with bar and live music! This group was one of our favorites they made these scuba diver costumes completely out of household materials!

Found a cow to go with my cowgirl costume!

There was a large chocolate y churros tent outside of the old train station, providing all-night revelers with fuel. Julia and I left the station at 5:30am, and people were still dancing away!

While Valverde’s Carnaval was attended almost exclusively by locals, Cádiz’s Carnaval has become so popular that it is a major tourist draw. During the two weeks leading up to Cádiz’s Carnaval, costumed musical groups called chirigotas compete with sets of musical numbers. The competition is televised from Cádiz’s main theatre. Their songs are filled with political and cultural references, and Julia and I were assured that we would understand not one bit of their content. The official chirigotas participate in this televised competition, and then sing on stages and floats during the weekend of Carnaval. In addition, unofficial chirigotas roam the streets and attract crowds by spontaneously bursting into song. Many Spaniards consider the unofficial chirigotas a bigger draw than the official ones. Julia and I went to Cádiz during the day on Sunday, which is considered to be the actual Carnaval. After the sun goes down, the city dissolves into botellón, or one large drinking party.

An official chirigota on a float.

Another chirigota float. Though both these chirigotas were all-men groups, there were also co-ed, all-women, and junior chirigotas.

An unofficial chirigota, all in piggie suits. At one point, they were holding up a cured ham leg and had the crowd chanting “jamón! jamón! jamón!” (“ham! ham! ham!”).

Another unofficial chirigota. They called themselves the sad bullfighters from Cataluña, a northern Spain province where bull-fighting has been banned.

Julia and I loved that the Cádiz Carnaval crowd included families (despite the extremely racy content of the unofficial chirigota’s songs and the abundant drinking in the streets- as in people with shot glasses tied around their necks with coolers of drinks in tow) and people over the age of 65, like this lady in the Technicolor wig.

As the sun went down on Sunday, the streets were bathed in light with lights like these all over the city!

The week after Carnaval in Valverde, the place become a ghost town as everybody abandons the city for their country homes. It is customary for families and friends to travel from country home to country home, drinking and eating the week away. I imagine in Cádiz, the largest cleaning crews known to man must take over the city streets to clean up the confetti, silly string and remnants of the night’s revelries from yet another year’s Carnaval. I’ve indulged in similar rituals today by barely budging from bed and cleaning up the remnants of a room ripped apart by last-minute packing. The Carnavals were unique from anything I had ever experienced! If your travels in Europe ever coincide with the days of Carnaval, consider making the trip to Spain because it is very much worth seeing!

Besos,

Jenna