Archives for posts with tag: Festivals

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)!




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!



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!




A tuno serenade

“The tunas are coming! The tunas are coming!” This is no fisherman’s cry in Spain. It heralds the arrival of dozens of groups of men, dressed up in antiquated minstrel-like outfits, equipped with guitars, tambourines and sonorous voices ready to serenade the people.

About the tunas: One of our Spanish friends, Patricia, told us that these fraternities of singing men are connected to the universities. Each university department may have its own tuna. Both current students and students long-graduated can be in the tuna. Tunas are all over Spain, not just Andalucía. They sing special folkloric songs, and sometimes Christmas carols (villancicos in Spanish) during this time of year. Their outfits consist of a tunic with puffy sleeves, short pants with tights, a sash covered in badges each representing one of their many travels and a cape adorned with a bevy of ribbons gifted them by their moms, aunts, girlfriends, lovers…

The tunos’ capes with ribbons

The whole group of players and singers together is called a tuna, while just one member is called a tuno. We were told by our Spanish friends to beware the tunas- they have quite the Don Juan reputation. At the same time, the Spanish girls seem to love the tunas. “There’s a tuno!” “Tunos! Tunos!” were the excited whispers heard in the bars and streets.

The serenade recipients

We were privy to both a small serenade by 2 tunos to a couple of the Spanish girls we were with, and a grand spontaneous concert by a whole tuna in a small street behind our apartment. Both were impressive. Both were surreal moments. Both were jarring reminders that we are in Spain. It’s amazing to see a 13th-century tradition alive and thriving!

To watch the tunos in action, check out this tape I was able to take of them singing a song about Sevilla:

I hope you enjoy the video!



The prospect of our long weekends here in Sevilla from the perspective of Thursday night can seem a bit daunting in figuring out how we will fill up the many hours without deadlines, commutes and early bedtimes. After our initial “hallelujahs!” at the end of the work week, we turn to pondering this “problem.” Since our social circle is still small, this can seem especially challenging.  Here is how this weekend unfolded…

FRI.: A little bit of culture…

Chilling in the museum gallery.

At the moment, there is an exhibition of a wildlife photographer’s work near the Alcázar. Julia and I went to take a peek. The collection is titled “A Zebra in My Bed.” Though there were no beds to be found in her pictures, there were lots of incredible nature shots. The exhibit is organized around 6 high-def TV screens set to slide-shows of the photos. Each TV screen represent a a “theme” of wildlife that the photographer focused on: Intelligence-looks, love-maternity, beauty-black and white, connection-pairs, fascination-birds and power-action and the photographs were grouped accordingly. It was impressive! Here is a link that shows just a few of her photos:

That night, we also attended the European Film Festival that’s been in Sevilla for the past week with one of our neighbors. We saw a film which was an hour and a half of interviews with a 91-year old Spanish woman! It was certainly a linguistic challenge for Julia and I.

SAT.: Deep sea encounters…

Pulpo a la gallega

On Saturday, a friend from our program was in town, and so went to lunch…around 3pm of course! Julia was brave enough to order the pulpo (translation=octopus) a la gallega, which involves a drenching of olive oil and a showering of sweet paprika. The dish was a bit intimidating, especially without the cooked potatoes that sometimes accompany the octopus. Needless to say, there were a couple of tentacles left on the plate when we left. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste!

SUN.: Rain, rain, rain…

Riding the tranvía

We found a church in an outer neighborhood of Sevilla (Protestant churches are few and far between here in predominately Catholic Spain), and it’s a bit of a public transportation adventure to get there for Sunday morning services (not that Julia and I have any lack of experience on public transpo thanks to our commutes!). Here’s a pic Julia snapped of me on the tram outside of our apartment.

Today was the first really rainy day we’ve had here. This meant 2 things…

Julia at the Starbucks across from our apartment. No peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes here- Starbucks decided that toffee nut lattes and praline mochas are more to the Spanish taste.

Holiday drinks at Starbucks and…

Santa penguin socks!!!

Have a jolly pre-holiday day!



On Saturday, Julia and I ventured out to a park near our apartment to grab dinner at the Festival of Nations, a temporary installation of merchandise and food booths representative of countries around the world. 2 weeks ago, we had the most horrible Mexican food I have ever encountered: a concoction of 2 soggy tortillas topped with a rubbery square of cheese warmed in a microwave that claimed to be an enchilada. This time, we picked the Brazilian booth, with hopes that the attendees, decked in their flag colors from head-to-toe and moving energetically to their music, would prepare some decent food. Though not as bad as the Mexican, the Brazilian fell in at mediocre- a salty black bean and meat stew with rice, and toasted manioc flour. Fortunately, there is always a show to distract the festival-goers, such as African drummers or Argentinian dancers.

On our way home, we encountered an entirely different kind of spectacle. We could hear loud music and crowds of people in the street perpendicular to ours, so we wandered over to see. Here is what we found…

I recorded a little video of this for ya’ll, but WordPress would not let me upload it, and Facebook said it would take a mere 892 hours 27 minutes to upload! Our internet connection in the apartment is reliable, but a little slow, which makes uploading pictures a tediously long process and uploading videos apparently impossible. So, here is a picture- it was a procession of a float topped with Virgin Mary, carried on the shoulders of about 20 men, complete with marching band behind. I think this is a little preview of what we will see during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in April! I love that this city that has surprises around every corner:-)