Seville Bucketlist: One Year Update

On this weekend, one year ago, my friend Canilaydee and I were enjoying a rare Friday off of work. It was Día del Profesorado, which is pretty much a mental health day for teachers in Andalucía that also coincides with Andalusia Day. We came on the same plane over from Spain, so our days in Seville are in the same ballpark. Thus, over caramel macchiatos at Starbucks (the shame!), we decided to make a bucketlist.

One year later, I’m still trying to cross several things off the list. There’s a few I’ve had the chance to do, and other that will have to wait until all of this business of jobs, grad school and freelancing gets a bit more settled. In the past year I’ve:

  • Eat breakfast at the sumptuous Hotel Alfonso XIII (closed for renovations till March 2012)

My friend Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Recetas Americanas got married to her boyfriend Alejandro last June, so we wanted to do something special for her. The first weekend of May we had Monday off, so Kelly, Claudia and I booked her a table at brunch at Seville’s breathtaking Hotel Alfonso XIII. Acting as a bit of a shower, a bit of Sunday morning mayhem, we guzzled champagne and bite-sized breakfast tapas. Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate and we couldn’t use the pool, but it was a great deal for endless food and drinks in one of Seville’s most beautiful buildings.

If you go: The hotel is closed until next month for renovations, and rooms are quite costly. As an alternative, you could have a coffee in the outdoor patio, a drink in the martini garden (where Cameron Diaz was spotted while filming Knight and Day) , or indulge in the Sunday brunch in the San Fernando restaurant. Prices weren’t available for the new temporada, but it cost us each about 39€, and they allowed us to bring our own cake.

  • Explore Hospital de la Caridad, noted for its collection of sevillano painters like Murillo and Velázquez

On a lazy Saturday morning just before Christmas, I entered the dark halls of the Hospital de la Caridad, a temple just off the banks of the Guadalquivir. The security guard sleepily took my five euro bill and held his arm up towards the heavy wooden door. Inside sat an arcaded patio, empty except for a docent that dozed in the morning sun that creep just behind the adjacent Giralda.

While the convent isn’t much to see, the chapel houses works by the Santa Caridad’s founder, religious painter Miguel Mañanra. The space is covered in scene from Christ’s life and the floor engraved with the names of the original members of la hermandad. While a little too opulent for my taste, the chapel and museum contain works of art that rival the collection in the nearby Fine Arts Museum.

If you go: Try and go on a Sunday for free access; otherwise, the entrance to a simple museum and inner grounds will run you 5€. I personally didn’t think it was worth it. The museum is located just behind the Teatro de la Maestranza just off the river, and can be reached by buses C3, C4, C5, 40 and 41, or just a short walk from the main sights of Avenida de la Constitución. Hours are Monday – Friday 9:30 - 13:30 and 15:30 - 19:30, and Sundays and festivals from 9:00 – 12:30.  

  • Visit museums like Archivo de las Indias, Palacio Lebrija and Artes y Costumbres

One great thing about being a teacher is the ability to be “invited” along to places. When I go on excursions with my students, we get to visit Roman ruins, horse shows and museums for free, so my visit a few weeks ago to the Museo Encuentado in the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares was  a real treat.

Two men dressed on period garb stood on the steps leading up to the neo-mudejar building that flanks one side of the Plaza de América, inside María Luisa Park. Using a hollowed-out gourd, they called the kids to attention before breaking us off into groups. Domingo explained the cultural heritage evident in Seville’s long history through the objects in the museum, and I was fascinated at how the museum could come to life for my young learners.

The museum has two floors dedicated to cultural heritage in Seville – artifacts, furniture, azulejos - and provides many dioramas of talleres that are especially pertinent to the area – the gold molding for semana santa floats, wine making, matanzas (if you want to know, click here), etc. I’ve yet to visit the other two, but all in good time…

If you go: The museum is located in the María Luisa Park that is walkable from the historic center, or you could alternately take buses 1, 6, 30, 31, 34, 37 or 38. The entrance cost is low – free for EU members and 1,50€ for all others, and the museum is open Tuesday from 2pm – 8:30pm, Wednesdays to saturday from 9am – 8:30pm and Sundays from 9am – 2:30pm.

  • See the Virgen de la Macarena in her Basilica

In Seville, one could ask if you were sevillista or bético, referencing the two Hispalense soccer teams. In a way, you could also ask if you were more for the Virgen de la Esperanza de Triana or the Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena.

When I have friends come to visit and we take a walk around my old barrio of Triana, I always pop into the small chapel on Calle Pureza where my preference, la Trianera, lives, to explain the cultural significance of Holy Week. Still, after four years and four Semana Santas passed, I still hadn’t been to the Basilica de la Macarena.

That was, until December 18th. And quite by accident. And on the worst day of the year to see her. The story is just way too funny and too much of a guiri moment, so click here if you want to read it.

If you go: Macarena’s oppulent home is located in the northern end of the historic center, just off of C/ Bequer. Alternately, you could takes buses C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, 2, 13 or 14 to the entrance of the church, which is free to enter. Standard hours apply, and expect to meet a lot of faithful on feast days and during Semana Santa.

  • Explore the Cementerio San Fernando, resting place of bullfighters and famous sevillanos

Just today, I crossed off another item (in addition to seeing the inside of the parliament palace). Kike lent me his car to cross town to the cemetery, where I was met with a hearse and a long funeral procession. Upon entering the brick and iron gates of San Fernando,  a guard who merely pointed to a sign prohibiting cameras. I tucked Camarón back into my bag and surrendered him to the guard, pleading that he keep it in the office.

I’ve always liked cemeteries for their solace and tranquility. Seville’s massive complex is located in the northern end of the city, and the Alamillo bridge is visible over the mausoleums and walls of graves. The plot is breathtaking – walls of white hold the mortal remains of Seville’s most celebrated bullfighters - like Juan Belmonte and Paquirri - and hijos predilctos, as well as flamenco singers and businessmen, like Osborne.

I was enraptured by the bright blue sky and ability to think clearly for once. The small details left on the graves, from fascists arrows to a plastic statue of a Disney princess to plastic flags and flowers, made life’s pleasures become a reality for me. Even in death, I could imagine what a neighbor treasures in life. In the hour I spent walking through decrepid old family mausoleums and placards that had been shattered and left abandoned, I saw shrines both great and humble. Loved ones of the departed cleaned and swept the gravesites, just like in the opening scene of the Manchego women in Volver. Much more than witnessing a cultural element in flamenco or bullfighting, I was witness to the utmost respect that Andalusians use when caring for the deceased. Well worth the loss of sleep for a bit of perspective.

If you go: San Fernando cemetery is open to the public every day from 8 – 5:30am. Keep in mind that it is a sacred place for Spaniards, so loud noises and photos are strictly prohibited. You can reach the cemetery by public TUSSAM bus #10 from Ponce de León in the center. The stop is located directly across from the entrance.

Other ideas for my Seville or Spain bucketlist? This year I’m traveling to Zaragosa and Murcia, two places I’ve never visited – so only Logroño will be left to conocer! What tops your travel bucketlist for this year? Leave me ideas in the comments after viewing my original blogpost here.

I like my Sketchers…

My kids are learning about food in both English and Science. The only grammar they need to know in English is, “Can I have a(n)/some ____, please?”, but I am the most exigente teacher ever and make them ask for everything in English.

So I amped it up, asking them to start distinguishing between I like and I love and I don’t like/I hate.

I wanted to use this video, but figured it would be too tough:

Instead, they folded a sheet of paper into four parts and labeled them, I LOVE, I LIKE, I DON’T LIKE, I HATE, filling in the blank and drawing the word.

I got everything from I love football to I hate football, got one I don’t like Engliss (typo intentional, here) and I don’t like pizza (who are youuuu?).

My favorite is below:

Now accepting awards for Greatest English Teacher Ever

Everybody Was Pueblo-Timing

Everyone in Spain is, sorry to tell you, not fútbol- or flamenco-obsessed. Not everyone in Spain loves jamón. Not everyone in Spain speaks Castillian. But, yes, everyone in Spain has a pueblo (and not-so-secretly loves it).

I learned this during my second year at IES Heliche. While discussing holidays (summer vacation for you gringos), I asked if anyone was going to a second home of theirs. Virtually all Andalusian families spend their summer months away from the sweltering cities at the hundreds of kilometers of coastline down here, so I expected to hear names of beaches within an hour’s drive (for the record, the lack of beaches is one of my extreme dislikes about Sevilla, along with the ever-shrinking airport and lack of live music – the good ones, I mean).

Nearly everyone in Olivares listed their summertime destination as Olivares. Like the ones below:

Ok, I assumed, there’s a financial crisis, and it’s likely that people are sticking around their hometowns, trying to stay in the shade. Qué no, the olivareños were simply moving house across town to their parcela – or little shack houses – with pools. Why leave your pueblo when all of your friends are around?

En fin, the pueblo is to Spaniards as our dogs are to Americans.

For ages, Ismael and I considered Olivares to be our pueblo, but I don’t feel the same way about Olivares as I do Kike’s town, San Nicolás del Puerto. With 700 inhabitants, this town is totally pueblarino and found high in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla.

While nothing can compare to a city as vibrant, folkloric and beautiful as Sevilla, I do love my pueblo time.

Cheers (with cough syrup)

The Sierra is home to several specialties, including the Miura brand anís flavored with guindas - a small, red cherry. I personally think it tastes like cough syrup and haven’t had so much as a sip for years. Still, bottles of the rojo líquido are consumed most often in the Sierra as an after-meal drink.

The Sierra’s crowning gem is Cazalla de la Sierra, a breathtaking pueblo blanco full of old men and wine cellars. Monica and I ended up here after hiking the Vía Verde last Spring, and this is where the famous anís is produced, bottled and packaged.  I tend to refer to anís as a grandpa drink (see here and see also: Monica’s love for old men and their attraction for her), but the serranos guzzle it down, served in a stout, bell-shapped glass with just one ice cube. Ask for un miura con un hielito and you’re set.

Sierra-Style Soirees

One of my favorite times to visit the pueblo is during their ferias, fiestas and romerías, all in the name of tourism, saints and, well, fun. San Nicolás is the birthplace of San Diego, and just about every male in the town is named after him (and the Novio wants his third child to be a flesh and bone sacrifice to him, too. Honest.) My pueblo is famous for its Halloween in July, Carnaval celebrations, Romería - a kind of pilgrimage to a hermitage -  and the same día de San Diego.

Here’s an excerpt from a blog I wrote after my first San Diego:

 After my usual siesta in Kike’s childhood bed, I took the main road in to its intersection with the main road out. There, sandwiched between the houses on Calle Diego, next to my favorite bar, was a charranga in full-swing and scores of small Diegos running around. The nearby owner of the camping, Diego (duh), welcomed me with a beer and I sang him the customary saint day song (Many children in Spain also receive gifts on the day the feast of the saint which bears their name is celebrated. San Enrique, for example, is July 13th. To my knowledge, there is no Saint Cat!), taught to me recently by my babies at school. The town was fuller than ever – Inma came from Córdoba to see her mother and ask that her son be baptised in the same church as she and other generations in her family had, and an old friend of Kike’s, María José, brought her small children and husband for the first time. The bailes, typically held on Saturday, were cut short due to the early morning parade to follow the next day.

 Small town festivals are often more raucous, more inviting and even more fun than the Fallas, San Isidro and Feria that Spain has become famous for.

Jamón, Jamón

Ask anyone what’s to be found in the Sierra, and the answer is undoubtedly JAMON. Spain’s great meat reigns king, and the famous Iberian ham is raised right in the mountains that run along the border of Andalucía and Extremadura. Kike’s father makes a living off of raising and selling pigs to the local matadero, so we have a leg of ham – hoof and all – in our house nearly every day of the year. While I can’t say I loved jamón when I came to Spain, the taste has certainly grown on me.

There are two types of pigs raised in the Peninsula – serrano and ibérico. The difference lies in both the color and the feed, which give the paletillas and patas their distinctive taste. Regardless, both varieties are trimmed, dipped in salt and hung to dry for up to two years before being sliced in thin rations for consumption. Ibérico’s pata negra is considered a delicacy for many palates, and its taste comes from – lo juro - the acrons the pigs munch on. Exportation has increased with relaxed laws in the US for serrano hams, but the minute I can have a real slice of guarrito in Chicago, I’ll feel like my parents can finally taste a part of the pueblo closest to my corazón.

Gastronomic Gems

Speaking of jamón, the food in the Sierra couldn’t be better: from guisos made by grandma to fresh chorizo and goat cheese, I always eat well in the pueblos. In San Nicolás, where tourism is slow – save the bikers and horseback riders among the Vía Verde – there’s no plethora of restaurants to choose from. In a normal weekend visit, we can hit all of them, and often venture into neighboring villages Alanís de la Sierra and Constantina for a meal, too.

By far the best eatery in the vicinity is Batán de las Monjas, a rustic-style restaurant owned by Diego. Part homestyle restaurant, part new-age dining (Diego’s son studied at a culinary school in NYC and now is one of the lead chefs at Seville’s famous La Bulla), the place oozes pueblo charm is the resting place for the livery that feasts off of bellota in hills surrounding the village. Typical prices for entrées are will run about 7€, so it’s easy to fill up for cheap. The migas in winter and creamy gazpacho in summer have won my heart, and Diego and his family always make me feel at home – even when not with the Novio!

A Cambio de Aires

San Nicolás has a truly privileged location, not only for its livestock, but also for its outdoor offerings. A Via Verde trail slices around the southern end of the village, making it accessible for bikers, hikers and riders. It’s normal to see bikes leaned up against Enrique’s bar on a sunny Sunday morning, giving the town an added tourism boost for the smattering of bars and eateries. There’s hills to climb, waterfalls to admire, a Roman bridge to jump from, wildlife galore and some of the warmest and down-home people you’ll ever meet. I’ve always felt like one more Marucha when I’m in San Nicolás, and for good reason – I’m accepted as one.

Have you got your own pueblo? What’s your favorite, FAVORITE thing about it? Been to the Sierra Norte de Sevilla? Tell me what to do next time!

Valencia Nocturna

The most curious thing I ever noticed about Valencia was the bat that hovers over the city crest. I had to squint, as I was coming off a wild weekend in Ibiza during my study abroad month. Present since the medieval reigns of kings on several coats of arms, the bat nowadays crowns the alcantarilla street covers, as well as the serves as the symbol of the Valencia Club de Fútbol, one of the top teams in the division.

It’s fitting, of course, as Valencia seems to be the ciudad nocturna – a place where nightlife booms and people (and boundless study abroad students) never seem to rest.

I set out with Camarón to explore the city I barely got out in when visiting, save a trip to the famed Ciutat de les Arts i Ciencies and a near-death experience driving to the beach with a 16-year-old German. Turning up from my hostel towards the city center, home to the Borgia palace and the Holy Grail (reputedly), small side streets covered in graffiti jutted off to either side, inevitably leading through the web of streets to the cathedral. Like all medieval cities, the buck stops at the Holy House, so I steered past the Torres de Quart.

The gate, it turns out, is the one once used by travelers (and feudal lords) entering from the mountains. The church of Saint Ursula sat quietly in its wake, no doubt witness to all those entering the old city. Near-empty bars and cafés sat along the way as bartenders looked bored, glancing down the Calle des Quarts to discos further up the road. I looked back over my shoulders towards the gate, able to get a full-on view.

I kept my eyes open for interesting graffiti or a bar throbbing with people, but no one seemed to be around. I wondered if Valencia was the destination I’d always heard it was.

As I inched closer to the city center, camera poised, the slinky alleys began growing wider and the streetlights cried out. I was approached by a man wielding a plastic bag. ¿Cerveza? Beer? Like Madrid, I was hounded by foreigners hocking cold drinks. The lights grew harsher, as did the raucous music coming from the bars up and down the street.

Study abroad students, sleeveless in the chilly night air, stood contemplative in my wake. “Omygod I was totally out till 5am last night. Sooooo drunk!” one girl mused as a tall friend bought a beer off the street. Natives leaned casually against the stone walls of the Casa Borgia sipping gintoncitos. I felt like I was gasping for air, suddenly too overwhelmed at all of the people and afraid someone would take Camarón.

Arriving at Plaza de la Virgen, awash in yellow light and nearly empty, save some teenagers on skateboards and the municipal cleaning crew, the square was a welcome respite. I remember eating an incredible duck a l’orange at a small bar tucked away on a side street seven years ago. It seemed amazing that I was in a city that I really didn’t care for and soaking in a totally new place.

Walking around the sprawling church, the light was suddenly gone. No one was next to the Miguelete tower or around in the courtyard adjacent the Archbizopal palace. It was quiet and the city took on a medieval feeling.  Even the Pope came along.

At the edge of the cathedral lies a gargantuan square that gives way to the new city, dripping in Victorian boulevards and more street food than I had imagined (I cursed myself for eating the overpriced tapa in the airport). Ah, yes, what Spain specializes in: mixing old with new.

Walking around Valencia at night made me love nocturnal Seville more (despite being voted one of the most poorly lit cities in Spain) : the rings of the puente de Triana reflected on the Río Guadalquivir, the towers of Plaza de España.

As I walked back to my hostel down empty alleys, the beer men called out again. ¿Cerveza guapa? ¿Te gusta esto? Maybe he was referring to himself, but I’ll just keep thinking he was asking if I liked Valencia.

Have you been to Valencia? What was your favorite site, in or outside the city? Are there any cities you’ve only known nocturnally?

A Dance for Every Heart

I’m going to take the liberty to break from my normal roundup of life in Spain, teaching baby English and enjoying the sunshine (and biting cold) and siestas of Spain for the next few minutes.

Back in college, I rarely pulled all-nighters. Hello, I studied journalism, and few sources were up that late. Every first weekend of February, however, I did stay up for 24 hours without sitting, sleeping or drinking alcohol all in the name of pediatric cancer. This was, of course, after raising $425 or more to get in the door, spending hours at morale meetings, visiting kids at the hospital and connecting with other dancers.

Dance Marathon was, by far, the most important student org I ever belonged to.

Imagine your little sister is diagnosed with cancer. You don’t live near a children’s hospital, the bills are piling up, and you can’t go to school. That’s where Dance Marathons – organized at college campuses, elementary schools and in cities across America – step in. Apart from providing research opportunities and providing better facilities for kids, my alma mater also provides emotional support for the families who are coping with childhood cancer.

The child assigned to me was Kelsey. She served as my contact family for my morale group and my sorority for years during her initial battle with bone cancer, then her secondary leukemia, and the relapse that occurred just a few months ago. At 14, I felt a connection with Kelsey and her family that made me feel like I had another cousin or sister. We wrote each other through email, talked occasionally on the phone and met when she came to Iowa City for check-ups.

After repping Kelsey for two years, she was passed onto another sorority sister, but stayed in the family – literally –  a sister from two pledge classes above me’s father married into Kelsey’s family. When I moved to Spain, we kept in touch through Facebook and the numerous postcards rumored to be kept safe in her bedroom. She went to technical college, took trips to Iowa City to see the Child Life Specialists and pretty much won the affection of everyone around her. She even made it to her 21st birthday and sent me pictures of her first time out with friends.

“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas. “I really have to come visit you in Spain to see why it is you’re still there.” I promised to call her once she was out of surgery for some build-up in fluids around her lungs, an effect of her current treatment. She was supposed to watch the bowl game, as she loved the Hawkeyes like I do, and then be operated on.

The following day, she passed away.

I always said I’d never have to be one of those dancers who had to remember a child through a memorial candle that burns during the 24-hour event, claiming the child is dancing in my heart. As the  DJ gets the crowd going at 7pm CST tomorrow (2am in Spain), Kelsey will be one of the children honored by that candle.

I lost two friends to cancer in 2011, so I’m asking those of you who follow my blog to consider learning about Dance Marathons (there’s one in Chicago), dancing in one, or even donating a few bucks to kids like Kelsey and her family that spend holidays in the hospital and can’t live a normal life like most of us enjoy. If you donate anything, please let me know via personal message or in the comments, and I’ll be sure to send you a postcard from Spain (be honest, it’s For The Kids!!).

Our morale dance in 2006, the year I suited up in red ended with the now well-worn mantra of Iowa’s Dance Marathon: A dream for every child, a dance for every heart. I sure take it to my own little heart, so please consider a small donation to make miracles happen for kids across the Midwest.

Donate now

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