An Andalucian Vacation: Sevilla, Cádiz and Córdoba

After bidding farewell to the lovely Paris, our humble group of travelers split up to go our own way. One went to Dublin, another to Florence, and the other two (myself included) were headed toward Seville. When most people think of Seville, this is what they think of:

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Yes indeed, Seville is famous for its flamenco dancing and rich Andalusia culture. There is even an opera written about it, the Barber of Seville.

I chose Seville for a number of reasons. One, Semana Santa!! I will be going in depth about this more later. Reason number two was that it was close to Cádiz and Córdoba, two major cities in Andalusia. My last reason, and probably the most obvious was the amazing weather!

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At la Plaza de Espana

Right off the plane, my friend and I made our way toward our hostel. On our way, we encountered our very first sneak peak view of the Semana Santa processions.

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NOT Ku Klux Klan members!! I will be explaining all of this later.

Maneuvering our way through the crowd was difficult with all of our baggage, but we eventually managed to make it.

Upon arrival, we couldn’t help but notice that the difference between this hostel and the one in Paris was like night and day. The name of it was the Garden Backpacker’s Hostel. Hands down, this was the VERY BEST hostel I’ve ever stayed at. First of all, the staff was absolutely excellent—Valentina greeted us with a warm smile and answered any question we had patiently and positively. The array of services that were offered was extensive: maps, a Wii, free tours, free Wi-Fi, karaoke, free coffee and tea all day, sheets included, earplugs provided, a bike rental, and SO much more! The sense of community was very strong there, and it was a great place to meet other travelers from around the world.

Breakfast was not included, but I was fine with that since there was a full kitchen at our disposal. I mean, a FULL kitchen. It was great! It was also nice being able to cook my own breakfasts that actually have an adequate source of protein as well.

In addition, there was a spacious living room, rooftop terrace and a garden out back with a bar.

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Full sized kitchen

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Garden out back

I enjoyed a couple mornings with my tea or coffee on the terrace, sipping slowly, watching the sunrise in the ever so still silence. The only thing breaking the stillness was the delicate melodies of birds greeting the day. THIS, my friends, is a vacation!

Another cool thing our hostel did was provide dinner. Granted, it cost something, but really only the cost of ingredients. Ranging from 4-6 euro, the portions were perfect and the meals were all very healthy. We had veggie fajitas, couscous, and of course paella!

Not to mention, FREE SANGRIA EVERY NIGHT!Image

Yumm!

So, if anyone ever plans on going to Seville, I would wholeheartedly and HIGHLY recommend the Garden Backpacker’s Hostel on Calle Santiago!

Okay, enough ranting about my hostel; it’s time for a little lesson. You know I can’t write a blog without giving information as well. As a teacher, I use every opportunity to impart knowledge to my fellow peers and readers.

 

What is Semana Santa?

First of all, it is essential to know what this means in English: Holy Week. Every year during the Easter season, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is known as Semana Santa, or Holy Week. This is a Catholic tradition and it is celebrated with a variety of processions, masses, foods, family gatherings, prayers, traditions, you name it. The most important way this day is celebrated is the processions.

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So, what processions basically are is that they are 24-hour Catholic Easter parades. (My definition in a nutshell. If you learn anything from the post, it should be that!) In honor of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’ sacrifice, huge, ornamental alters are adorned with flowers, fabrics, candles, and gold items to be venerated by the public. The incredible thing about these alters is that they are not wheeled around the streets. Men underneath work together and carry them on their backs through the streets!!

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So, what processions basically are is that they are 24-hour Catholic Easter parades. (My definition in a nutshell. If you learn anything from the post, it should be that!) In honor of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’ sacrifice, huge, ornamental alters are adorned with flowers, fabrics, candles, and gold items to be venerated by the public. The incredible thing about these alters is that they are not wheeled around the streets. Men underneath work together and carry them on their backs through the streets!!

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Surrounding the alter is a range of different church attendees and officials, walking through the streets together. Many of them are part of the cofradía, which is a Catholic brotherhood. Now, I want you to do this exercise with me: pretend that you are NOT from the U.S, or at least have an open mind when you see this next picture:

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This is how they dress. This type of attire often has a stigma associated with it, especially in the states. No, these people are in NO WAY associated with the Ku Klux Klan!

With that said, why are they wearing these types of robes?

Well, the distinguishable pointy hats are called captutes (cah-poo-tays). The reason they are so tall and pointy is to signify reaching up to the heavens, to higher places, to God himself. But why are only their eyes showing? Humility, my friends. You see, during this walk these people are in prayer, dedicating their night walk to God. They don’t want other people to see their faces because they want it to be only between them and God.

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These get-ups originate back to the Inquisition where the condemned were to wear sambenitos, with different symbols on them representing the type of death sentence they were to receive if they didn’t repent. For us nowadays where we are (hopefully) a little more civil, this represents the martyrdom that people underwent during those times—the fact that they never gave up, despite their sufferings.

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To show even greater humility, some of the cofradís walk the streets BAREFOOT!

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Also a part of these processions is a band, playing powerful, well-rehearsed music as the alter completes its route. You can tell that the musicians have been practicing for an impressive amount of time for this moment. Every note is on point, synchronized, harmonic, powerful. Paired with the intense imagery of the statues on the alter, many people are moved to tears.

At times, some rich, soulful, unrestrained and improvised flamenco-style singing follows accompanies the band, sung from one woman a cappella.

The silence of the people that are taking this all in in breathtaking. You would have never known how quiet a massive group of people could be until you experience this.

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I got some great pictures of the processions in action, as well as video!

I also was able to watch a procession from the comfort of the rooftop terrace back at the hostel.

So, remember that these processions are literally going on day and night the entire time I was in Seville. These astonishing spectacles became a background detail during my time there.

So, back to our regular programming. The second day I was in Seville, well…I wasn’t in Seville. I spent the day in the sunny, warm, coastal, historical, sandy Cádiz! My home university, SUNY Geneseo offers Cádiz as their Spain program but it wouldn’t have gotten me back in time for graduation, which is why I didn’t do it. However, I vowed that I would visit it during my time in Spain because a number of my Spanish-major friends have studied there, my best friend included!

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My friend from home gave me a list of must-do’s during my day there that I eagerly followed. Upon arrival, my travel-buddy and I walked around enjoying the coast and the overall environment in the beginning, stopping at the Cathedral on the way. Every Spanish city has “THE Cathedral”, and Cádiz is no exception. We walked around inside, and well…it’s a cathedral. It follows the same basic layout and architectural blueprints as the rest of the cathedrals in Spain.

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We also went to the local market. Everything about it screamed Spanish—fresh pork cuts and chorizo, fresh fruits and veggies, saffron, music, and a fish market within. That fish market though…where I am from, I don’t see freshly-caught-that-morning-fish get skinned and filleted for a customer every day. Ever, actually.

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Needless to say, that was super impressive!

I got some saffron and some pictures of the market and then we went to the Torre Tavira, the tallest lookout tower in the city. We scaled to the top and took in the perfect 360 degree view. I couldn’t have asked for a better day—clear skies, sunshine, warmth…come on! We even got to see a projection of the city on a lens made of mirrors, which was awesome and creepy at the same time. In a dark room, our guide explained how the scope worked, moving around pieces systematically to show live views of the city on a white concave canvas. Definitely worth the 5 euro!

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Ham at the market

Since Cádiz is one of the oldest port cities in Spain, there is an immensely rich history behind every building, structure and road. There are castles, ports, and even an old Roman theater (since the Romans once owned this city as well.) A lot of money and goods have gone through this ancient city in the years past. On a long isthmus piece of land the Castillo de Sebastián was situated, which we made a long walk toward.

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At about 3:00, it was our siesta time…aka BEACH TIME!

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We laid out for a while and took in the sun (burning a little bit, to be honest). I was so relaxed, I almost fell asleep.

After reveling in the glorious sunshine, it was time for some noms—Spanish noms. We went to this cute bar/restaurant on the beach and sampled some paella. My friend got some cuttlefish, which although chewy, had a savory flavor to it. You could tell it was fresh!

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Before leaving, I made a pilgrimage to Le Poeme, a French patisserie recommended by my friend from home. There was a wide variety of teas to choose from, and the baked goods are to die for. I got a chocolate croissant and a macaron and they were better than the ones I had in France! I guess it makes sense though, since this place is owned by French women.

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Another notable feature is the delicate, hand-painted teapots that our loose-leaf tea was served in. If you particularly love these teapots, they are available for sale as well!

I only wish I could have spent more time in Cádiz, with its bright, colorful, lively energy coursing through me from the vivacious Andalucian atmosphere.

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It didn’t surprise me to learn that a Star Wars movie was filmed here, after seeing the buildings. Yeah, I can see that.

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But man, the blooming flowers and their heavenly aromas couldn’t be beat.

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After the tour, we stopped at a tapas place (of course!) and I ordered some gazpacho, which is a cold tomato soup—perfect for the hot day we were having! I wasn’t expecting it to come in a wine glass!

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That night at the hostel, we aprovechar’ed that free sangria and veggie crepes, enjoying some processions as well. We met some British girls at our hostel as well and we all saw the processions together.

Holy Thursday, Jueves Santo, is the most important day for processions because they go all through the night and the most important one is shown, La Virgen de Macarena. I stayed out for as long as I could, but ended up going to bed around 2:00am. I am not a night person.

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On Good Friday, my friend and I went to mass, and she patiently explained everything that was going on, since 1) I’m not Catholic, and 2) It was all in chanted Spanish. Granted, I understood the majority of what was going on, but having the readings in English beforehand helped immensely.

Saturday was dedicated to Córdoba, only about 2 hours away by bus. We left early enough in the day to make it there at a decent hour, and it was worth it. The major site to see in Córdoba is La Mezquita, “little mosque”.

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This building is most famous for its unique red and white stripes on the arches and it’s history of being an Islamic mosque. But what many people don’t know is the extent of the Catholic influence. (Come on, did you really expect anything in Spain to NOT have Catholic influence?)

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Juxtaposition

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We didn’t want to make Judaism feel left out (after all, Christianity, Islam and Judaism share the same roots), so we had lunch at a Sefardic restaurant—the best part—no pork!!!!!!!!!! Thank goodness for kosher regulations. I indulged in a platter of cooked vegetables.

The next day was Easter Sunday. It was a little strange not being at home for it, but then again, not really. My family doesn’t really do much for holidays, which is kind of good because then I don’t feel obligated to be around. Heck, I could spend Christmas in another country and it wouldn’t phase me.

Anyway, my friend and I dressed in our Easter Sunday dresses and attended this cute little hole-in-the-wall church in the afternoon. Afterward, we enjoyed some ice cream, despite the rain and relaxed back at the hostel. We made some strawberry and banana Jell-o (American tradition!), and I called my family back in the states.

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My friend and I in our Easter best!

 

The Alcázar of Sevilla

After a very long siesta, we decided to walk around a bit, since the rain had let up. We decided on the Alcázar, which reminded me a lot of the Alhambra back in Granada! (I talk all about the Alhambra in a previous blog post, “La Alhambra, Caves and Flamenco, Oh My!”) There was a very similar architecture, color scheme, and designs etched and painted into the walls and floors. The gardens were also gorgeous.

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So much detail!

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La herradura (horseshoe) designed arches

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THE most breathtaking dome I’ve ever seen

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Blue and green are characteristic of Arabic influenced designs

 

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If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was at the Alhambra again!

 

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Me and the beautiful fountains!

For dinner that night, we made some veggie pasta with mejillones (mussels) and savored the meal, sangria, conversation, and each other’s company in the gardens outside. I couldn’t have asked for a better Easter!

As we all know, even good things must come to an end eventually. Monday was dedicated to a travel day, so after many hours on bus and train we arrived back in Madrid safely.

I promised myself that I would enjoy my last week in Spain before it was time to return to New York. Where did the time go? I just got here!

In my next blog post, I will be wrapping up my experiences of here in Spain, reminiscing, describing my last week, letting you know what’s ahead, and probably crying as I type it all up. So until then, thank you for following me on this journey and I hope you stay tuned!

 

TAPAS OF THE WEEK

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Not eaten as a tapa, but rather a dessert, this TORRIJA is typical of Semana Santa. It’s much like French Toast in flavor and can be eaten cold or warm. I prefer it warm! No maple syrup for this, it’s sweet enough on its own!

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Some MOLLETE and jam with tea that I had in Cadiz. Mollete is their version of toast, made with a thicker bread with lots of nooks and crannies–like English muffins!

 

Hasta luego! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “An Andalucian Vacation: Sevilla, Cádiz and Córdoba

  1. Erika the second picture from Cádiz literally has my house and my bedroom window in it 😀 its the building right in the middle!!!! <3333 cádiz

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