Archives for category: Living

Sevilla has been such a colorful and rich adopted home city for this year. In this post, some of the things I’m grateful Sevilla has introduced into my life…

Thank you Sevilla for perfect riverside days

For incredible sunsets

For your beautiful antiquities

For your brilliantly attired inhabitants

For the gourmet delights

Chocolate and churros day and night

For your excellent people-watching opportunities

Family on their way to Feria

For the whimsically decorated recycling containers

There are many of these unique containers which artists have been invited to decorate around the city

For your aromatic orange trees

Orange trees after a heavy springtime shower

And for our beloved Dos Jotas apartment

Typical aperitif in the Dos Jotas apartment: picos (bread sticks) and olives, with our “J” tiles that have adorned the kitchen all year

View from our kitchen window. Doesn’t that smokestack/vent thing kind of look like a “J”?

For all these things and more, like late-night flamenco serenades from the crowds at the bar below our window, the clip-clop of horse hooves pulling their carriages, discotecas where you can dance the night (and early morning) away, breakfasts at Bar Alfalfa and dinners at Café Levíes and the constant cacophony of Spanish filling the streets, I give Sevilla mil gracías. I’m so glad to have gotten to know this city. It will be hard to say good-bye on Wednesday. For now, I’m trying to enjoy what remains of our time here while coming up with a suitcase strategy that doesn’t end up with me in tears on the way to the airport!

And finally a thank you to those who made it possible for me to be here for this year- that includes my dad! Happy Father’s Day!!!




Just finished my last day of teaching this week! Remembering how uncertain and alienated I felt walking around the halls during my first week at my school made a dramatic contrast with my last week of reluctant and warm-hearted farewells.

My last week of teaching coincided with a visit by a group of British exchange students. I chaperoned one of their field trips to Baelo Claudia (a Roman ruins site) and Tarifa. Here are a couple of pics from the trip…

North Africa’s coastline in the distance/ Forlorn seaside ruins of Baelo Claudia/ Flock of sheep using a palm tree as a windbreaker

Julia and I are off on a field trip of our own to Berlin this week! So excited to celebrate this year, and the end of our heinous commutes!



During my year here, the two events that generated the most intense anticipation and hype were Semana Santa (and you all know how that turned out!) and Feria. Fortunately, the raging storms that plagued southern Spain during Easter week cleared up in time for the ferias to display their full spectrum of charm and splendor two weeks later.

“Are you going to dance Sevillanas?” “Have you tried rebujito?” “Are you going to wear a gitana dress?” These are a few of the questions my students peppered me with in the months before feria. There is an entire vocabulary connected to the ferias, and I think my students would be flabbergasted if they knew that 6 months ago, these questions would have been meaningless to me. So, for my non-Spanish readers who find these words senseless as I did, here is a glossary guide to all things feria…                         In some ways, ferias resemble fairs in the US

Feria: First thing first- what is a feria? It can be translated as the similar-sounding word “fair,” and in some ways, ferias do resemble typical fairs in the US. They have a vast section of carnival rides, and lots of deliciously unhealthy food to eat, though chocolate and churros stands take the place of funnel cakes or corn dogs.

Girl in flamenco dress on the “coches locos,” or bumper cars

Historically, the ferias were connected to commerce, and were a place and time to trade livestock, horses, foodtuffs, etc. Lots of cities in Spain have a feria, which is usually dedicated to a commercial product such as manzanilla wine (Sanlúcar), ham (Aracena), horses (Jérez de la Frontera), etc. Seville’s is simply called the Feria del Abril (April Fair), which was dedicated to livestock trading, and is today considered the grand ancestor of all the other ferias.

La portada, or entry gate, to Seville’s feria, lit up at night

The ferias last for one week, and certain days have special themes, or events. For example, at 12am on the Sunday before feria begins, there is a lighting ceremony, called the “Alumbrao,” when the vast light displays covering the feria grounds and gates are switched on simultaneously. Some ferias have a Kid’s Day, when the prices of rides and attractions are reduced, or a Ladies’ Day, when all of the women make a point to dress up and attend in large women-only groups. On the last day of some ferias, like Seville’s, there is a fireworks show to conclude the festivities. During the ferias, there are also bullfights, and some commercial activity, like buying and selling horses, continues today behind the scenes.

 A decorated horse carriage in front of a row of casetas in the Feria de Abril

Caseta: A caseta is a temporary 3-walled, roofed structure set up en masse at feria to create miniature cities. The little “streets” are even named, in Seville after famous bullfighters, and in Jerez after famous flamenco performers. Each caseta contains a kitchen, dining area, and often room for dancing. The casetas range from super simplistic to elegant and elaborate, and each year prizes are awarded to the best-decorated casetas.

One of the prettier casetas at night

I attended Seville’s Feria de Abril and Jerez’s Feria del Caballo, and a major difference between the two is that in Seville’s Feria, the casetas are private, and in Jerez, they are public. What does this mean? In Seville, individual families, companies or organizations own the casetas, and personally invite friends and colleagues to come spend time in their caseta. In this case, the food and drinks served are usually at the cost of the people who own the caseta.

Julia and I inside a public caseta in Jerez

In Jerez, the casetas operate much more like little bars and restaurants. Anyone can enter the caseta, and then pay for his or her own food and drinks. There are some public casetas in Seville, and some private ones in Jerez, but in each case, they are a small minority. As a visitor to Spain, Jerez’s feria makes for a much more interactive experience. At Seville’s feria, I felt like an observer, while in Jerez, I felt like a participant.

Two girls in matching gitana dresses

Gitana dresses: Gitana (gypsy), or flamenco, dresses are the traditional clothing for women to wear at ferias. One of my teachers explained to me that it is the only traditional Spanish dress that is subject to trends and changing currents of fashion. For example, a cascade of ruffles at the bottom of the dress may be trendy one year, while the next year, a more simplistic design might be favored, or long sleeves with flared cuffs may make way to short sleeves with a cropped jacket.

Matching mom and baby

Family uniform

Helpful older sister in a knee-length flamenco dress

Riding sidesaddle in a flamenco dress! I can attest to how difficult this would be- because the dresses are so tight, they’re quite uncomfortable to move around in!

And sidesaddle on a moto!

Two kind teachers let Helen and I borrow their flamenco dresses to wear to the Feria del Caballo.

The accessories, an indispensable part of the outfit, undergo the same fluctuations in popularity. For example, this year it was very stylish for young women to wear their flowers directly on top of their heads, while the more classic way to wear it is behind the ear.

My hairstyle for the ferias was very conservative- flower behind the ear, and only one peineta (little decorative comb). Women create very elaborate styles with multiple flower, peinetas, pins, etc.

I asked this teacher how women know what the flamenco dress trends are for a given year. Are there magazines? Websites? She said though flamenco dress fashion shows exist, the trends primarily spring from trendsetters who debut new looks at feria each year. This trend is subsequently copied in larger and larger numbers over the following years. Once the trend becomes totally diffused, it ceases to be fashionable, and new styles take its place.

Men in equestrian clothing

Men usually wear a nice suit (navy is a popular color choice), or equestrian clothing with flat-topped hats. Young boys are sometimes dressed in traditional equestrian clothing, though Julia and I think they look like little pirates! To me, the men and women together gave the impression of attending a Spanish prom.

A little “pirate”

Sevillanas: The Sevillanas are four dances that blend Spanish folk dance and flamenco. It seems that Spanish people, or at least those from Seville and Jerez, have these dances programmed into their DNA. Everybody dances these at the ferias. They are danced in partners, and consecutively in a series, first the first, then the second, and so on, and the series is repeated until the song is over. I didn’t learn the Sevillanas, though the teachers from my school tried to give me a crash course during our school’s luncheon at the Feria del Caballo. I can’t say it was very successful! Even without knowing the dances, however, it is a lot of fun to watch other people dancing them.

Me with a glass of rebujito, and a woman dancing Sevillanas in the background!

Rebujito and pimientos: Rebujito is the traditional feria drink, composed of Sprite and Vino Fino (a type of Sherry wine). It is really refreshing, especially on hot days, and I think people rightly warn of the need to take caution with this drink because the Sherry’s strong punch is well hidden behind the Sprite!


Pimientos, or green peppers fried in olive oil, are traditional feria food. I loved them, especially because they were like a little taste of Mexican food to me, and we have been sorely deprived of good Mexican food here!

Interestingly, though everyone I talked to loves rebujito and pimientos, they don’t drink or eat them outside of the ferias. I suppose this is akin to our only eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. There’s something about reserving it for a special occasion that makes the food even more special.

Ta-da! My outsider’s guide to ferias.

If you have any questions about these unique traditions, ask away and I’ll do my best to answer (or consult Wikipedia)!



Semana Santa, the week before Easter, is a really big deal in southern Spain. The kind of big deal that is talked up starting in Fall by all of the teachers as one of the must-see events of the year. The kind of big deal that has churches preparing their religious floats and the city preparing the procession routes months in advance. The kind of big deal that is reflected in astronomical price jumps in plane ticket and hotel room rates during the days its celebrated.

What I had gathered beforehand was that Semana Santa consisted in a continuous succession of religious processions throughout the city of Sevilla. The processions consist of elaborate religious floats bearing sculptures of Jesus and Mary, accompanied by musicians and people who belong to religious associations affiliated with the particular churches and floats. These people are called “Nazarenos,” and they wear an outfit that for Americans makes a frightening and disturbing first impression, because it is the outfit that the KKK borrowed since it grants anonymity to the wearer.

Nazarenos in procession

Julia and I returned from a trip to France on the Wednesday evening of Holy Week, and were invited out to see the processions, or pasos, by one of Julia’s teachers and his family. We almost didn’t go due to being tired from our trip, but decided to at the last minute. We got to see a couple of processions and they were so unique from anything I’ve seen in the States.

Nazareno holding a standard

The floats are all extremely beautiful artistically, and are decorated with candles and flowers. And they’re extremely heavy, usually weighing more than a metric ton! The floats are carried by teams of men called costaleros. Though the work is brutal, they consider it an honor to carry the floats, and the crowds love how the human movement gives the statues life.

Pentitentes are characterized by the crosses they carry and their non-pointy hats, and are marching to make public penance.

I was surprised by the universally reverent attitude that the watching crowds held for the processions. Without fail, the crowd became totally silent when one of the floats passed by. Whispered conversations and cell phone rings were hushed by other onlookers. A chaotic complement to this quietness were the children who ran around to the Nazarenos when the procession paused to ask for candy and wax from the Nazarenos’ long candles. Apparently, the kids form the wax into a ball which they save as a kind of Semana Santa souvenir.

A young Nazareno

People in Sevilla also told us that it always rains during Semana Santa, so we weren’t too worried when a couple of rain drops fell on Thursday morning since this seemed to comply with the superstition. However, a couple turned into a torrent, and a series of violent storms settled over Sevilla inundating the city most of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As the floats are extremely valuable, the processions are always canceled when there is the threat of rain, and so as of Thursday, not one procession took to the street! The last time that the Thursday night processions didn’t take place was 1933, for political reasons. So Julia and I witnessed a very historical non-event. What we thought was a preview on Wednesday night turned out to be the whole show for us!

I wish I had more pictures and experiences of Semana Santa to share with you all, but the weather dictated otherwise. The next big celebration in Sevilla is the Feria de Abril, which takes place in two weeks. It is also said that it always rains during Feria too, but I’m hoping that we’ve filled our quota of rain and canceled events!

The Easter message is all about hope, love and joy- wishing everyone all three this Easter!



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!



In your group of friends, I’m betting there is a particular month out of all 12 when it seems that all of your friends, their friends and their friend’s great-aunt’s cousin was born. I’ve heard for some, that it is October, for others, that it is August- for me, it is February. And in the midst of the birthday month madness, yours truly celebrated a birthday last weekend. It was a birthday of firsts for me: my first outside of the States, and my first when I was obliged to go to work. Luckily, ensuing weekend celebrations prevented any lasting trauma from the early morning and long commute on the day of.

Julia, being a birthday traditionalist, bought me a chocolate cake. I became a little obsessive with documenting the candle-lighting ceremony, which resulted in the birthday cake photo shoot below. If models and celebrities get this kind of treatment, why not beautifully voluptuous chocolate cake as well?

Setting the scene

Starting the flame

Almost there…

All a-blaze!!!

The cake is from a super petite bakery called Los Angelitos (Little Angels) located in the center of Sevilla, whose window displays are ever tantalizing. The shop-owner sold Julia on this cake with two words: “pure chocolate.” On this point, we admitted ourselves disappointed. The cake consisted of a genoise/sponge-like cake paired with a light mousse. You can see its insides below…

A cross-section of the cake

This made for a delicate cake that imparted more of a suggestion of chocolate, which may have been sufficient for milk chocolate lovers, but for hard-core dark chocolate users, it was a tease. The rich ganache coating was closer to what we were after. This scruple aside, it was a wonderfully yummy cake. I particularly loved the little white and milk chocolate striped “fan” decorations, which conjured up thoughts of flamenco. Reared on American diets of rich gooey brownies, fudgy cookies and dizzying sundae toppings, I imagine our scale of chocolatey-ness differs substantially from a Spaniards.

El fin!

A sweet way to start the new year!



This afternoon, Julia and I ventured to the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Sevilla (Museum of Popular Arts and Customs). One Spanish friend’s blunt remarks on the place were initially discouraging- “It’s really boring.” Hm. But with a wave of visitors beginning in March, Julia and I feel a responsibility to explore all of the city’s attractions, in order to be able to give definitive opinions on visit-worthy places (and not-so-worthy places). After all, a boring afternoon spent between the two of us is not as a tragic as one with a guest who has flown over 5,000 miles to see us.

The museum is located in the beautiful María Luisa park, in an ornately-decorated building leftover from the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. It houses a collection of everyday items, as well as re-constructions of traditional workshops and homes from Spain’s past. I felt like a visitor to planet earth, with plaques sporting statements such as “some decorative objects in homes are purely decorative while others also serve a practical purpose.” Just in case you hadn’t noticed…

However, Julia and I were entertained with some of the everyday objects of bygone eras. So, if you’re up to the challenge, let’s play a game of “Name that Ancient Spanish Item.” See if you can figure out what these were used for in real life…I’ll be impressed if you can!

Mystery Item #1

Mystery Item #2

Mystery Item #3

Mystery Item #4

Other entertaining items included…

Should I have this made into a doormat?

This sign in the section of artisanal tiles. Translation: “Blaspheming Prohibited.”

Perhaps originally used to serve sub-par coffee?

And this cup in the section on housewares. Doesn’t she have a striking resemblance to the Starbucks mermaid?

Concluding thoughts: the museum was lazy afternoon worthy, but definitely not transcontinental journey worthy. I learned some new things about a collection of old things. And I feel a refreshed appreciation for my coffee pot and electric heater!



PS- Thought I forgot about the guessing game? You guessed wrong! (Pardon the silliness, I really should be taking my siesta instead of writing this!)

Stumped about the items? I was! The Big Reveal…

#1: Heater

#2: Coffee grinder

#3: Olive oil and vinegar containers- can you imagine dressing your salad with these babies?

#4: Ceramic ink/pen holder

And all of them are from the 20th century! How’s that for surprising!

Julia (on the right) and I in the lobby of the beautiful Alfonso XIII Hotel

I hope you all had a joyful Christmas!

Thanks for reading!



Sevilla, food, and travels have been the A-list stars in this blog, and I’ve thoroughly neglected Jerez, the city I actually work in! I suppose it is the commuter’s curse to only know the confines of their workspace, and in my case, the train station, in the place they commute to.

Two weeks ago, Julia and I staged our own Bring Your Friend to Work Day, and she accompanied me along the marathon of 2 hours of train rides, 1 hour of walking, 10 minutes of Metro-ing, and the 7 hours of working that is my typical Tuesday.

Here are some pictures from our day…

This is the beautiful Jerez train station. It is about a 20 minute walk from the station to my school, and about 15 minutes from the station to the city center.

This slightly frightening statue welcomes visitors- I’m not sure what his story is.

Julia snapped this picture as we were leaving school. This is the gate to I.E.S. Fernando Savater, the secondary school where I work. This gate is always locked, and there is another locked door beyond this to get inside the building- maximum security- those kids aren’t escaping!

I gave my first test last week! I think was about as nervous as the students posing questions and striving to give them fair grades! When Julia visited, we gave some class presentations about Christmas in the U.S. The kids were horrified that we don’t have turrón and polvorones (a popular Spanish Christmas cookie). I assured them we had our own share of delicious ways to celebrate the season! I don’t think we sold them on eggnog though…

After school, we strolled over to the city center with Helen, the other language assistant at my school .As Jerez is known for its sherry wine production, it was fitting that they were constructing a Christmas tree of sherry bottles in this plaza.

I’ve posted before about the popularity of belenes (nativity scenes) in Spain. Here is Jerez’s main belén. The people figures in the photograph are life-size.

Another perspective of the belén

I have to take the Sevilla metro to get to and from my train station in Sevilla. On our way home we checked out this 3 Wise Men light display…

…and Christmas tree complete with flamingos and Sevilla-themed ornaments. It seems as if no corner of Sevilla has been neglected in decorating for the holidays!

On Saturday, I took a much longer 25-hour journey home to California! I have a couple of back-posts about sweets (surprise!) that I intend to put up while I’m home, so I won’t completely disappear during my break from Spain. I hope you enjoyed this sliver of a look into my daily grind in Jerez!



Helen, the other language assistant at my school, was Julia’s and I’s first official out-of-town visitor who hadn’t been to Sevilla before! Julia and I felt a great responsibility to give her a wow-worthy tour of the city we love. She put her day completely in our hands, and we attempted to blend together an itinerary of history and culture, sights and activity and of course, fabulous food to give her a slice of Sevilla life!

11:30am, Alcázar

The Alcázar, former Moorish fortress and later Catholic palace, is an opulent display of mudéjar architecture (architecture heavily influenced by Islamic design but not necesarily built by Muslims). Exquisite tile and plaster work, sprawling gardens, and gurgling fountains feed the visitor’s imagination to give an idea of how a by-gone era defined luxury. The fortress walls today serve to block out the noise of traffic and crowds, creating a modern tranquil escape in Sevilla’s city center.

1 pm, Lunch

Spanish tortilla with garlicky mayo

We decided to take Helen to a tapas place close to our apartment called Bodeguita Antonio Romero. I’ve already praised their delicious piripi montaditos in a previous post. They also happen to serve the best Spanish tortilla I’ve tried (not to be confused with the flour tortillas in Mexican cuisine, Spanish tortillas are kind of like a sliced potato omelet). Being a vegetarian in Spain, Helen has become a Spanish tortilla connoisseur since it is often the only menu item without meat in many places. To our delight, she gave this tortilla her seal of approval.

2:30pm, Plaza de España in María Luisa Park

The Plaza de España was built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition that took place in Sevilla. It’s moat has been under reconstruction for the past several months, but serendipitously opened in time for the beautiful day we had yesterday. We took advantage of the non-cold to hop in a rental row boat for some unique perspectives of the Plaza.

Julia and Helen, launching our row boat

Fellow boaters in the Plaza’s moat

Plaza de España tower

Many horse carts park and wait for clients in the Plaza

We really enjoyed this pony and donkey. They seemed to have formed a special alliance being dwarfed by all of the horses around them.

4:30pm, Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía

Advertisement for the Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía

After our row boat excursion, we were met by our friend Joanna, and all together we ventured to this Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía, or Gastronomy and Crafts Fair, where we found lots of samples to nibble. Julia and I picked up an orange balsamic vinegar- orange trees are everywhere in Sevilla!

6pm, Ending the day on a sweet note at the Dos Jotas Mesón

Almond, vanilla and chocolate montecados from Filella bakery

Samples proved to not be sufficient enough to sate our hunger after all of our excursioning, so we attempted to stop at a café for something more substantial. The good weather combined with a Saturday evening resulted in a complete people jam in the city center. We resorted to retiring to our apartment, where we had a stockpile of cookies from the nun’s cookie fair we attended last weekend, and we supplemented those with some montecados, popular powdery Spanish cookies, from one of our favorite bakeries. I will be posting more about montecados, and other Spanish sweets, in honor of the Christmas season soon!

With the weather as our co-conspirer, Julia and I had a lovely time playing tour guides for Helen!