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"I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things." --Antoine de St-Exupery

Friday, April 29, 2011

Semana Santa and Arab Baths

Last week we had off of school for Semana Santa. Unfortunately, as I said in my last post, it was expected to be rainy for most of the week. It was. I still was able to see some of the things that go on luckily.

So, Semana Santa in Sevilla is a big deal. Starting Palm Sunday and going through Easter, cofradias go through the city. These are processionals with two floats (usually) included in each. The floats are called pasos, one of Christ and the other of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes a third float is included that is of a scene. Each cofradia is put on by a religious brotherhood that starts at the home church and makes its way to the Cathedral and then loops back. I think the first actual brotherhood was formed in the early 1400's, but that could be wrong.

To start the cofradia, there is a cross carried followed by nazarenos. These are people dressed in outfits that look like the KKK with their pointed hoods. Not all of them wear white though. They wear the colors of the religious brotherhood. Some of the nazarenos walk barefoot which is pretty painful on the cobblestone. They do this as a penance. The number of nazarenos can range from the hundreds to the thousands. It all depends on the number of people in the brotherhood. Anyone can be a nazareno. We saw a lot of little kids, but obviously they did not walk for the whole time. The nazarenos also hand out candy :) They walk before the pasos, after the band, in between, all over. I'm sure there is an actual order to it, but that too can be distinctive to each brotherhood.

Nazarenos. They hold the long candles so that they can see at night.


A little nazareno taking a break :)

Heading over the bridge
Then there is a group of alter boys before each paso with incense and other such things.

The floats are carried by men called costaleros. Weeks before Semana Santa I had seen people carrying something walking in the street around midnight and I had no idea what it was. Now I realize they were practicing for Semana Santa. During the cofradia (which can last up to 14 hours depending on how far the home church is from the Cathedral), the men take breaks and put down the float and after a while, they switch men. Some of the men we saw had wounds on their neck from holding it up. The actual floats are very very detailed and some were made way back in the 16th century. A lot of tradition.

This was when I saw them about six weeks ago practicing at night

Un paso de Cristo

La Virgen

A cofradia that had a scene paso called "misterio"

People who live in the apartments throw flower petals on the pasos. Very pretty sight.

Some costaleros on a break on the right. That's their protective headgear...basically towels
Some cofradias have a band after each paso and after the paso of Christ, sometimes there are people who dress like the nazarenos (but not exactly) who carry crosses.

As for the crowd, if you want to see a paso while it's sitting in the church waiting for the cofradia to start, you are basically going to touch every person you pass. It is like being at a very very crowded concert where you pretty much can't move. Add heat to that equation and then you understand why there are ambulances around the corner. Last year my 21-year-old host sister Maria was taken away in an ambulance due to a heat stroke.

The day that each cofradia goes out is the same every year. They have these little booklets that tell you which ones are going out and has a map for each day and also give you streets and times where each cofradia should pass. Very handy and necessary.

However, as I said, this year was very rainy. Hardly any cofradias went out on Tuesday, none Thursday (which is supposed to be the best of the best), maybe one on Friday and maybe one on Saturday. On Sunday there is only one cofradia and luckily it was very nice out for that one. On the news, they would update everyone about every ten mintues about when pasos will leave the church and if they will. There is also one news station that covers only Semana Santa ongoings for the week. People crying filled the screens this year. They have been practicing and getting ready for so long and then to not be able to go? I can see why. And with all the tradition it can be very sad. I guess this was the second year no cofradias went out on Holy Thursday so people were very very upset. Everyone can still go and visit the pasos in the church, but it is far from the same.

On Wednesday I saw about four pasos. One we saw as it went over a bridge and we were able to see it very well. We stayed in the same spot for the whole thing and were there for about 2 and a half hours, so it was one that had a smaller brotherhood but it was also the longest in the sense that the home church was the furthest away from the Cathedral. After that, we went closer to the Cathedral since that is where all of the cofradias are headed. It was harder to see in that area because there were a lot more people, but it was still very neat.

Due to rain, we didn't do anything Thursday or Friday. Then on Saturday, we went to Pili's mom's house for dinner. I know Pili's family well now, so it was a very relaxing meal for the nine of us. It wasn't anything fancy, just a spread of mostly different types of fish on the table in the livingroom, people wearing pjs, etc, but it was still nice to get together. I think they threw this dinner together more for me since I was sort of starting to go stir crazy in the house doing nothing the three previous days.

On Sunday my host parents and I went to the final cofradia which was in Pepe's (my host dad) sisters' neighborhood so I was able to meet his side of the family. We went out for tapas after being very very crowded in the streets trying to see the pasos, but again, I think we went more for my sake. They kept saying how they can't remember the last time they saw one on a Sunday since there's only one and it's in a different neighborhood. I really appreciated them coming with me, it was just a very different Easter than what I normally have at home. I didn't see my host sister's until around 11pm that night whereas at home, my whole family gets together.

All of that got me to thinking about the assumption that Spain is very family oriented. I think this is true in the sense that basically the whole extended family lives in the same city so they see each other very often. In the sense of doing actually big family get togethers though, I think that is more characteristic of America since families tend to be more spread out. I've talked with a few other friends about this who are in homestays and they think the same thing. We were all kind of shocked that Easter Sunday was not a huge day for them when they had this huge buildup of a week.

I skype called my brother that day so I could talk with a lot of my extended family since a lot of us get together the celebrate. It was nice to talk to everyone! People here have been asking me if I'm ready to go home and I've been sort of back and forth, but talking to my family has made me that much more excited to come home, which is a lot better than feeling depressed about leaving.

This week, I had a final paper due and two presentations, so it's been pretty busy. I have one more paper, finals, and then that's all! I still feel like I have a lot to see in Sevilla and things to experience, so I'll have to make time. One thing that I did today was go and get an arab bath. There was a competition in our program between 11 groups of about four people where we would get a list of things to find in the city and had to take a picture with those things. Each person/place/thing was a certain number of points and you had to get it in by 5pm on Fridays. Well, my group won first place. The prize was an arab bath for each of us. This included three different bathing areas: 1) an area with a hot bath, a cold bath, and a warm bath, 2) an area with a sauna and jacuzzi, and 3) a saltwater bath. We had an hour and a half to go between all of these areas, drink mint tea, and, the best part, find time to fit in our 15 minute masage. It was amazing, to say the least.

Our group: Emily, Spencer, me, and Kaitlan with a famous flamenco singer we had to take a picture with
I'm now off school again for another week and a half due to the Feria de Sevilla which I will explain next time. Hopefully I'll have time to post before I head to Prague next Thursday, but if not, happy Mother's Day to all the mothers!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


To start, one thing I cannot wait for about coming home is not having to think of the exchange rate. Everything is going to seem so inexpensive, especially after being in London where one pound was about $1.65, so everything seemed very very expensive.

My friend Vanessa and I flew out on Thursday night after class and, after waiting in line for customs for over an hour an a half, made our way to my friend's place to stay the night at around 2:30am (thanks again Grace!!). After sleeping on nice leather couches (so much better than airport seats), we spent the morning walking around Hyde Park. The flowers were in bloom and it was so pretty. We saw the Peter Pan statue, Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, among other things. It was a very relaxing morning, which was what we needed.

Vanessa, Peter Pan, and I

Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

After that we got on the tube to find our hostel. Unfortunately, it took us over an hour to get there due to construction, a fire alarm, and not understanding streets. We finally made it, dropped off our things, and headed to the National Gallery. It holds western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century and was free so that made it all the more enjoyable. Trafalgar Square is right in front of the Gallery, so we grabbed a sandwich and hung out there for a bit. In the Square they also have the countdown clock to the 2012 Olympics.

The National Gallery

Trafalgar Square (setting up for a concert we thought)
That night we met up with my friend again at a pub near her apartment and it was really nice to just sit, have a drink, and talk. It was more of a laid back environment, which you don't find in Sevilla that much. When people go out here, they go all out as in you are dressed up, makeup perfect, etc. and so it was really nice to just hang out and speak English for a night.

The next day we started off by going to the British Museum, which was very close to our hostel and so cool. We saw so many interesting things including one of the first images of Buddha ever, mummies, and the Rosetta Stone. We spent a few hours there before making the trek to the London Tower (which was a really pretty walk by the river). The London Tower was very interesting as well. We saw the Crown Jewels, scratchings made by prisoners who were held in the towers, the site where people such as Queen Anne Boleyn were beheaded, and many ravens. The view we got of the Tower Bridge was really pretty too. The London Bridge was not as impressive as we were thinking it would be due to the fact that it has a song named after it, but I suppose since it was originally the only way to cross the river however many years ago that it has history on its side.
The British Museum

The Rosetta Stone

From the Parthanon

London Bridge

Tower Bridge

Scaffold Site

After that we stopped to see St. Paul's Cathedral, which was beautiful outside. We only saw a little bit of the inside, but that was gorgeous as well. That night we went out to eat at this nice Indian restaurant and had some amazing food. It was the one time we really splurged on money, but we figured that since we were going to Les Miserables later on that we should make a night out of it. The show was amazing! I've had the music stuck in my head ever since which suits me just fine.

Les Mis!!

St. Paul's Cathedral

 For Palm Sunday we started off by going to church at Westminster Abbey. Yet another gorgeous gorgeous place. And it's located right by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament so we were able get some very good pictures around that area. The London Marathon was also going on and ended at Buckingham Palace so we were able to follow that on our way there. It was a little crowded, but races are always exciting. We took a break on the grass by Buckingham Palace before deciding our next move, which was to head to a different part of town and see Harrods, one of the first department stores. That evening we walked around the area we were staying. There were so many little squares full of blooming flowers all over the place. We went to bed semi early that night since we wanted to fit some things in the next morning.

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben and they Eye

Buckingham Palace

After packing up and storing our bags in the luggage room at our hostel, we went to King's Cross Station, where they have a sign for Platform 9¾ (Harry Potter), but unfortunately that area was under construction! That was a bummer, but on our walk there we ran past a bookshop were every book was two pounds and in English! I got two books for about $6.65 which even in dollars is inexpensive! Before leaving, we went to the British Library since we had time. I am sooo glad we did. In the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, we saw original work by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, an original manuscript of the book Crash, original scores by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, Ravel, and Mendelssohn, the original Beatles' lyrics (one on the back of a birthday card) to Yesterday, Help, Hard Day's Night, and Ticket to Ride, letters by Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, and Freud, and also saw the Magna Carta. There was so much more along with all this, but these were my highlights (kind of long I guess).

We made it back on that night (Monday) ready to see what Semana Santa was all about in Sevilla! Unfortunately, it rained pretty much all of Tuesday and is raining again today. Yesterday I was able to go out and see what goes on in the city. Hopefully I can do that some more before the week is up (although I do have a lot of homework to do) so I will tell you all about the processions next time!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Third Continent

Hard to believe that I'm about to be finished with my three weeks straight of weekend traveling. Last weekend was amazing. I went to Morocco with my study abroad program so it was another weekend that was completely planned for us. Of course there are pros and cons to having less flexibility, but I think the pros definitely outweighed the cons this weekend.

We left early Thursday morning to take a bus ride (about 2.5 hours) to where we would catch the ferry. I'd never really been on a boat like that before and it was sort of windy so when we walked around the ground would move unexpectedly and it felt like I was wearing the "drunk goggles" they gave us in D.A.R.E. It was only about a half hour boat ride or so and it took us to Ceuta which is a Spanish province but on the continent of Africa. We then caught another bus and got through to boarder to Tetuán, the city where we spent the day and where our hotel was. Our guide for the day was "Michael Douglas" and he was awesome. We learned some Arabic words and felt completely free and comfortable to ask him questions about Islam all day. It was very interesting to hear the answers and reasons behind Islam from someone who is Islamic.  

That day we went to la Escuela Taller de Tetuán which was an art school where students learn the ins and outs of all the intricate details of their art. There was everything from painting on wood to cutting it to doing work with metal, etc. The pieces were amazing. Hard to believe that students did them.

Our group plus "Michael Douglas" right next to me on the bottom
After that we had a typical Moroccan lunch complete with vegetable soup, shish kebabs, couscous, steamed veggies, and mint tea and cookies to complete it. Mint tea is amazing there. We checked into our hotel then and headed out to the city.

Mmm mint tea

Tetuán is a city that contains a medina which is a section of the city that has very narrow and confusing streets. Tetuán's medina has 1,800 streets, and it is a very smaaaaall area. For that reason, and because it was a pretty crowded market, we had about four burly men with us as guards. It was not my favorite part of the trip. The streetw were very crowded, dirty, and smelly when you were deep within the medina. It was a good experience though. We saw a tannery, something that I will never ever do again, learned about some of the natural self-cleaning products they have, and talked more about Islam with our guide. All in all it's a day I wouldn't take back, but I wouldn't necessarily repeat it again.

In his hand is natural shampoo and the pile of stuff are natural teeth cleaners

The tannery...

Part of the market

The next day we went to Tangier which is one of the largest cities. We went to their Coke Bottling Company and got to see the whole assembling process. I sort of felt like I was coming out of an episode of Mr. Rogers when they have the "intermission" type thing and see what's going on in the world. It was pretty cool actually. To make it even better, six of us were wrapped in plastic wrap and then we all got to sample some of their drinks that are only sold in Morocco.

Me, Lauren, and Alison at the Coke factory

Then we took a beach break. Unfortunately we didn't have swimsuits, but it was still amazingly beautiful. After about a half hour there we went to have the best lunch ever. I think it was something called chicken pastry, but I'm not sure. All I know is that it was some of the best food I've tasted. And there were french fries, tea, and cookies which made it all the better.

Beautiful beach

A few of us

Las Cuevas (caves) de Hercules were next which was really neat since there's a cutout of Africa backwards in the rock so that sailors could find their way, or so the story goes. Soon after that, we rode camels. It was fine until I felt some slobber on my ankle and looked down to find that the camel behind me was all about going after my foot. It was definitely the troublemaker of the group and didn't give up even though one of the "trainers" was next to it the whole time.

Had to put in another beach shot

Africa! (backwards)

Caught in the act

Still paranoid at the end of the ride

The rest of the afternoon was filled with shopping in the market. This market was a lot smaller and less crowded, so we were allowed to go off on our own for a couple of hours. Bargaining was a necessity in Morocco and I think overall my friend and I did well. That night we had a relaxed dinner and went to bed pretty much right away.

Our final day was by far my favorite. We went to a city called Chefchaouen. The drive there alone was worth the trip. The whole time in Morocco I would see things that reminded me so much of El Salvador, but this drive made me feel like I was in El Salvador at times. Insanely beautiful. Chefchaouen is a city in the Rif Mountains that just sort of appears on the hills.

Pretty drive

We toured the city which was probably my favorite part due to the blue and white walls. They paint the bottom half of the walls blue and the top half white due to a tradition that started when the town was Jewish (now Islamic). They repaint the walls four times a year which I think is just amazing dedication. The whole culture in general of the town felt so much more inviting and just comfortable. It is definitely a place I could see going back to and maybe even staying for a longer period of time. We got to shop around again that afternoon and then had lunch and headed back to the ferry to take us to Sevilla.

Lauren and I

PC would be proud of the amount of the pictures I took here

On Sunday, my friend found out about something called el Encuentro de Alternativas which was a festival about taking care of the environment. Basically it was a hippie festival, something I would never have expected to find in sophisticated Sevilla, and was so much fun. Good music, good food, good shopping stands, good company, just overall a good time and nice break from the formality of Sevilla. I love Sevilla but I do miss all the diversity of Madison so it was nice to see and participate in a different part of Sevilla.

School is finally starting to get a little stressful. I have two group projects coming up the week after next and with the weather being in the 80s, it's pretty hard to get work done. Plus, we have off school next week for Semana Santa aka Holy Week. I'm leaving this Thursday night to go to London with my friend Vanessa and am very excited. We have tickets to see Les Miserables on Saturday night! I'll get back on Monday night and will spend a few days in Sevilla before going to my family's beach house for probably the majority of the weekend. May be a little tricky to fit in school, but I'll do my best :)