Seville Snapshots: Palm Sunday Processions

I packed my bag hurriedly but with purpose: I’d need sunscreen, lipstick, a street map and my camera with long-distance lens. Nothing more, nothing less. I locked the door and walked hurriedly to the bar.

After more than seven years in Seville, I was finally staying to see Holy Week, the somber processions that punctuate the spring rains and precursor to the raucous fair. My ten-day break from school usually means a trip to somewhere far away from pointy hats and heavy floats – I’ve used Semana Santa to see the Taj Mahal, sip Turkish coffee in Istanbul, to road trip through Europe’s youngest country.

But this year, I made torrijas, a typical sweet eaten during Lent, and buckled down to see the pasos. After lunch in Triana, Kelly and I took the long way to see La Estrella – one of the neighborhood brotherhoods, called hermandades. This takes planning, sturdy shoes and a lot of patience.

Carrera Oficial Semana Santa Sevilla

Friends in Spain

As a Semana Santa Virgin – bad pun, I admit it – I was intrigued and had an open mind. And after weeks without even taking Camarón with me, he was long overdue for a day out. Over 400 photos later, I’ve been convinced that Holy Week is aesthetically pleasing, albeit a logistical headache, even in the back-end of Triana! Here are some of my (untouched!) favorites:

La Estrella – from the Seville side of the Puente de Triana

Rather than crossing over the Puente de Triana, we took El Cachorro. The city’s most iconic bridge sees five brotherhoods pass over on its way to the Carrera Oficial between la Campana and the Cathedral and back home.

La Estrella is Triana’s first and one of its most beloved. The purple and blue antifaces seemed less jarring in a bright afternoon light. Seeing my first paso had all of the hallmarks – nazarenos handing out candy to kids, barefoot brothers seeking penitence while clutching rosaries, two floats and brass bands.

We watched the Cristo de las Penas pass by, the air tinged with incense and azahar mixing with doughy fried churro steam. And, in true Semana Santa, we then went to a bar, had a drink, and emerged an hour later to wait for the Virgen de la Estrella.

I’d come to discover that this is Semana Santa – waiting, pushing, waiting, drinking a beer, walking, waiting.

Penitent of La Estrella Brotherhood Sevilla

Photographing Semana Santa

Incense Holy Week

El Cristo de la Penas en su Procesion

Barefoot penitents

Kid Nazarenos

Virgen de la Estrella

El Jesús Despojado – from Antonia Día/Adriano

As soon as the band immediately behind the Virgen de las Estrella passed by, the throngs of people immediately disseminated. Like a couple of cabritas, we followed them, hatching out a semi-plan with the use of the Llamador guide and a vague idea of where some streets were.

We found a spot on the curb just past the bull ring to watch Jesús Depojado – an image of Christ being disrobed – just before the Cruz de Guía emerged from an alleyway. Brothers handed us small pictures of the images, called estampitas, as they passed by, lighting the candles they held in their hands as dusk fell.

This particular procession captivated me, from the way children dipped their white gloves into the pools of hot wax as the cirios burned down to the way the costaleros turned the float around a tight corner to cheers and clapping. 

Cruz de Guia Jesús Despojado

Wax balls Holy Week

Holy Week Processions in Sevilla

Penitence Cross Holy Week Seville

Virgin Mary Procession

Virgen of the Jesus Despojada

Cirios in Holy Week Seville

La Amargura from Placentines/Alemanes

Kelly and I found Ximena and Helen after taking the long way around Barrio Santa Cruz. Helen had found a pocket of space in the shadow of the Giralda to watch her boyfriend’s procession, La Amargura. It was past 10pm, and the lights of the buildings had been switched off.

La Amargura is a serious brotherhood whose nazarenos cannot break rank. Even with their faces covered and hands grasping their antifaces, the solemnity was evident. When the white-clad nazarenos begin filing by with their cirios lit, I gasped. It was eery, haunting.


La Amargura near the Cathedral



Just as I was crossing over the Carrera Oficial with the help of some local police and a hold up with El Amor’s procession, my mom called. I stumbled back to Triana via side streets just in time to watch El Cristo de las Penas enter into its temple.

Like a car backing up into a garage, the float was maneuvered halfway in before lurching out three times, finally entering on the shoulders of 48 costaleros after more than 13 hours of procession. I stumbled into bed well after 3am, myself having done a procession of my own for 13 hours.

Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Sevilla? Which processions are your favorites?

Photo Post: the Chirigotas of the Carnavales de Cádiz

How to do the Carnavales de Cadiz

Pá qué quieren ir ha Chipiona shi aquí tenemoh Caí?

Two more beers and a plate of chicharrones were slammed down in front of us as the bar keep expressed exasperation. Why would anyone want to head to nearby Chipiona if the peninsula’s best Carnival celebration were right here in Cádiz?

We’d braved an overcast, misty day to head to San Fernando for the Novio’s wedding tuxedo the morning, and the fried fish and carnavales celebration were calling his name. 

A view of the bay of Cadiz

Entering the barrio de Santa María just north of the old city walls, there were few signs of debauchery and partygoers. I myself have been to the nighttime festivities of the Carnavales de Cádiz twice. Two booze-soaked nights where I stepped in puddles of urine and around broken glass.

Ah, youth.

When the Novio suggested making a day trip to see a friend of his and see the famed chirigotas, I was in. Not that I didn’t have fond memories of botellones and ridiculous children’s costumes, of course.

The Plaza del Ayuntamiento, one I’d seen so full of drunk people and bottles of San David, was bright in the midday sun. As we’d drank our beers, the mist had rolled off of one side of the Atlantic and over the Bahía Sur, passing Cádiz’s skinny land mass in the time it had taken to drink two cervezas

We’d met Jorge in the tangle of streets in the old town. Cádiz is one of Europe’s largest cities, and thus there is little rhyme or reason to the layout of the peninsula. Long on one side, short on the other, I was instantly turned around in the colonial-style pedestrian streets.

Streets of Cádiz old town

Lunch was at trendy La Candelaria, owned by a far-flung relative of Jorge’s. In this city of water and industry, it sees that families have been here as long as Hercules himself, and nearly everyone who walked into the bar over our long lunch knew one another.  

But we came for more than atún rojo en tempura and never-ending glasses of wine (the good stuff, not the plastic bottle stuff). We came for the chirigotas and costumes. 

The origins of carnival celebrations worldwide are rooted in Christian tradition. Celebrated each year just before Lent, believers often used this six-week period to refrain from life’s excesses. Carnaval, a play on the Latin words ‘carne’ for meat and ‘vale’ for farewell, is a last-ditch effort to eat, drink and be merry/drunk before Lent begins. I’d taken that advice to heart all of those years ago, but today would be a far lighter – I’d volunteered to drive home.

Costumes are traditionally worn, and Cádiz’s celebration – one of the largest in Spain – makes light of the humor of gaditanos. Rather than extravagant costumes, gaditanos use their costumes as social commentary. Especially popular this year were Pablo Iglesia, whatsapp icons and the Duquesa de Alba.

costumes of the carnivals de cadiz

Funny Costume Ideas Carnavales de Cadiz

Crazy costumes at Cadiz carnavales

san esteban Carnavales de Cadiz

The chirigotas themselves are the huge draw of the daytime during the two weeks that the festivities drag on. These choruses, usually made up of men in the same costume, sing satirical verses about politics, current events and everyday life while troubadoring around the streets of the Casco Antiguo.

Small clumps of people choked the skinny alleyways as chorus members drank beer until they’d deemed that enough people had gathered to watch. They’d break into song, often asking audience members to join in. We saw everyone from kids dressed as housewives to men dressed as questionable nuns with plastic butts under their habits and plastic cups of beer in their hands.

what is a chirigota

costumes for Carnival

carnival in Cadiz chirigotas

The most famous chirigotas perform for crowds in the famed Teatro Gran Falla, but those who take to the street are often illegal – illegal as in looking for a good buzz on the street!

We wound our way from the Plaza de la Catedral to the Plaza San Antonio and up Calle Cervantes to the Plaza del Mentidero. Named not for liars but the fact that this is where town criers often announced news and events, this square has transformed into the place for rumors to be born – making it a focal point of the festivities (and closer to the Carnavales I knew – littered with bottles and half-eaten food!).

What it's like at the Carnavales de Cadiz

We were back in Seville before nightfall, thoroughly exhausted and still sporting wet shoes from the morning rainfall. Jorge took us around the Alameda park on the northern tip of the island as the sun began to set, a welcome respite from the crowds and noise.

Want more Spanish fiesta? Read my posts on the Feria de Sevilla | La Tomatina de Buñol | The Feria del Caballo de Jerez 

Seville Snapshots: Costaleros Practicing for Holy Week

The capataz knocks once. As if mechanically, the 40-off men beneath the wooden structure heave together, resting on their heels, hands gripping the wooden beams above their heads.

A second knock, and they launch into the air together.

On the third, the simulation float has rested on their shoulders, and they begin a coordinated dance down the street, walking in sync as they practice for their glorious penitence – Holy Week.

You all know that I paso de pasos (and the crowds, and the brass bands and even the torrijas), but the grueling pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral and back fascinates me. No one bears the brunt more than the costaleros, who must pay for this prestigious position within their brotherhoods and seek penitence through their labor, carrying over 100 pounds for an average of eight hours.

In the weeks leading up to Viernes de Dolores, no less than 60 brotherhoods will crisscross the city to practice, placing cinderblocks on top of the metal float to simulate the large statue, each depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life or of the weeping Virgin Mary. For ten days, Seville is full of religious fervor as the ornate pasos descend on the city center.

For an official route plan with approximate times, check here. You can use this to either catch the processions, or totally avoid them!

What are your Holy Week plans? Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Seville?

Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad! But People, so nice!

The bus driver slammed on the brakes, causing me to crash into the handrail I was using to steady myself. “Thank you! Bus Station!”

We were regurgitated from the Dubrovnik city bus and into the dreary station, where ruddy-faced city folk roamed like the stray cats we’d seen all over the city. Taxi? a few whispered as we passed by with our suitcases. Hotel? I approached the dirty ticket window and asked for two one-ways to Herceg Novi, Montenegro, an hour south of the Pearl of the Adriatic. After two glowing days in the city and a big life decision, I would be stepping foot in my thirtieth country.

Hayley and I settled into the plastic benches inside the station, watching the rain come down. Fifteen minutes ticked by past our sheduled departure time. Then another fifteen. Buses headed to Zagreb or Mostar rumbled in and out, but nothing marked HERCEG NOVI or any other destination rolled by.

Ninety minutes after we expected to, we had passed two border controls and entered Crna Gora. The highway snakes between a series of mountains, finally dumping us out in the seaside village of Igalo on the Bay of Kotor. Low, dark clouds rolled in over the wide mouth of the famous bay, which looks like two butterfly bandages stuck together.

It was odd to remember that Montenegro was born in the same year as kiddies I taught in first grade last year, that’s it’s been centuries since they’ve had their own money, that for years they were the little sister to Serbia after the Yugoslav conflict. I braced myself for bullet holes in buildings, or war cries painted on cracked and crumbling drywall. Montenegro looked the same as Dubrovnik, just with half of the signs written in Cyrillic, a homage to the city’s tumultuous past.

Dovar met us across the street from the bus station. It’s apparently really easy to spot two bewildered American girls in a country that a cell phone claims is Serbia and things are written in cyrillic and the Roman alphabet. Our car was upgraded to an automatic, snow chains came included and we were a mere 200 meters from our rental apartment. Stana great us with open arms, enveloping us into a big hug.

“Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad. Ok. We come, girls.”

She made us hot drinks, showing us around the apartment and a few scattered and torn maps of the area. Once we’d satisfied our internet vice, we set out in hopes of finding a place to eat. Stana didn’t understand our requests for food, instead offering us up a few wrinkled oranges she’d cultivated from her garden.

The rain started pouring the moment we got into the car. Unaware of how to get to the historic part of town, we drove away from the apartment and followed the narrow, winding roads until Hayley spotted a red, white and green awning. “Ah! Italian! Stop the car!”

We stopped and I immediately regretted putting my umbrella in the trunk, especially after our two gorgeous days walking the walls in Dubrovnik and drinking beers at cliffside bars. The street had turned into a landslide, a waterfall, and the Italian restaurant was actually a shoe store. Montenegro has become a popular getaway for the jet set, but we were at the end of March.

The historic center, which spills down a hill right into the Bay of Kotor, was a ghost town. The only open establishment was Portofino, easily the priciest restaurant in town during the low season. As it turned out, the hail had shut off the power in the entire historic center, and we were offered  a limited menu: Caesar Salad or Caesar Salad, to be eaten by candlelight.

At least the beer was still cold.

As we asked for the bill, the waitress told us in broken English that we’d been invited to a drink by the group of men sitting near the door. We’d observed the four townies throwing back shots of the national spirit, Rakia. They raised our glasses to us, and we did the same to them.

I think I’m going to like Montenegro, I thought to myself, crap weather or not.

Have you ever been to Montenegro? What did you like about the country, or not?

Seville Snapshots: Making a Splash in Croatia

This blog is a long love letter to Spain, particularly Andalucía, but traveling outside the land of sunshine and siestas is a lovely hiccup to my everyday life, my vida cotidiana. Like any expat, I’ve got my gripes about my adopted city, but spending a week away from Seville always rejuvenates my love for the place I now call my hogar dulce hogar.

I have a short list of what makes me happy: sunshine, cold beer and traveling (I’d also add food and puppies to this list). When Hayley and I decided to spend Holy Week outside of Spain, we were looking for those few things in our destination. We settled on Croatia, landing in Dubrovnik just as the rain clouds threatened the Easter processions back home and had a quick lunch to be able to enjoy the sunshine while we hunted down a cheap Balkan beer.

Rounding the old city walls near the ancient port, we captured the twinkle of the sun against the jade waters, the cats lazing in its warmth. In an attempt to find the famous Buza bar, we were met by an old man removing the last of his clothing, revealing a speedo and a belly that looked like he’d also been spending years downing Ožujsko beers at Buza. Clucking at us, he turned around, toes barely grasping the cement pier, and swung his arms backwards.

I was a gymnast my entire youth. He was making a go for it.

The old man’s backflip got me thinking about life and aging and goals. He reminded me that I’m never too old to try something new, to push myself to the limits, to quite literally jump into something headfirst. As his friend clapped and I held my breath, he bobbed up and down in the Adriatic, looking refreshed and pleased with himself.

Today may be April Fool’s Day in the US, but I’m not joking around anymore – I’ve got something big in the pipeline, and I’m ready to make a splash in 2013.

Seville Snapshots: Who’s That Nazareno?

Smell that? It’s incense. Feel that? That’s some sevillano whose trying to push his way past you.

Yes, amiguitos, Holy Week is upon us, the stretch of time between Viernes de Dolores until Easter Sunday where sevillanos dress in their finest, women don enormous combs and black lace veils and pointy capirote hats dot the old part of town. The faithful spend all day on their feet, parading from church to Cathedral and back with enormous floats depicting the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

I’m not much of a capillita, but ten days of religious floats means ten days of travel for me.

That said, I’m off to Dubrovnik, Croatia and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, country #30 on my 30×30 quest. Where will you be during Semana Santa? Do you like Holy Week, or would you rather get your fix in a Holy Week bar?

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