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 

Ibiza’s Can’t Miss Emblematic Buildings

My only trip to the Baleares Islands has been to party mecca Ibiza, and island with seemingly more sheep than residents, more discos than churches. But there’s more to this ancient islands past the nightclubs and party offers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One can find a lot of interesting buildings and medieval constructions to visit if a decision to take a trip to the island is made. Based mostly in monuments and emblematic constructions, Ibiza’s architecture brings us some of the most impressive buildings in Spain. In fact, the historic city is one of Spain’s UNESCO World Heritage City, thanks to its medieval constructions and Phoenician origins.

There’s a wealth of information about some of these buildings on Ibiza’s Official Tourism Site, and also you can check out some of their recommendations for visiting the island.

The Dalt Vila Walls

Located in the city of Ibiza to protect it from attacks in the past, these amazing walls, built in the XVI century and declared a World Heritage area by the UNESCO, is an attraction that no tourist should ever miss. The walled area, with a heptagonal form, has a defensive bastion in every one of its angles. 

The Puig de Missa

Located in the town of Santa Eularia des Riu, this church-cum-fortress of the XVI/XVII century is located in the hill nearby the town, therefore placing it in the perfect spot to prevent pirate attacks and refuge the townsfolk from their pillages, safe in the top of the hill.

Aside from the church, the town of Santa Eularia, known for its historic district formed by white houses and pleasant streets, is quaint and full of artisan shops that will prove very interesting for those who love anything medieval.

Des Savinar Tower

Located in the Hort Cove Natural Reserve, near the town of San Antonio, this impressive tower was completed in 1756. Originally intended to be an artillery tower, it never housed cannons, so it’s use was limited to a watch tower. With views of the Es Vedra and Es Vedranell rock, and a height of 200 meters above the sea level, the tower brings us a lovely vista of the sea, and sunsets deserving to be on the best postcards.

The beaches in Ibiza

Due to the large distance between the Hort Cove and the town of San Antonio, we need to rent a car in order to move around the cove and to the natural reserve. We can also make the most of our trip and enjoy the cove, where we will find a beach with thin sand and crystalline waters.

The Ibiza Cathedral

The Ibiza cathedral, built above an old arabian temple, is the shining jewel of the old town. With a beautiful Gothic style, this cathedral finished its construction in the XVIII century, and we can find important medieval art pieces in its interior, like the Saint Gregory altarpiece, or a collection of golden silver from the XIV century. Like many other churches in Ibiza, it has an special tower built as a refuge for the townsfolk from pirates. 

Aside from these magnificent constructions, in Ibiza we can find a lot of pristine beaches and fun nightlife, but for those of us who like to enjoy medieval zones and old buildings will undoubtedly enjoy something other than foam parties.

Have you ever been to Ibiza?

Other posts of interest: A Tenerife Road Trip // Spain’s Architectural Sites // Autonomous Community Spotlight: Islas Baleares

Spain Snapshots: The Carnavales de Cádiz

If andaluces are considered Spain’s most affable folk, it’s believed that the gaditanos, those from Cádiz, are blessed with the gift of wit. At no time in the year is this trait so celebrated as during the Carnavales de Cádiz.

Based (very) loosely on Venice’s extravagant Carnivale, this pre-Lenten festival is a huge tourist draw in Andalucía in which choirs, called coros, entertain city dwellers from flatbed trucks around the historic center. There’s also a song competition between chirigotas, or small, satirical musical groups who compose their own verses about whatever happens to be controversial each year.

But because it’s before Lent, why not add a pagan element to the festivities? Cádiz’s city center fills with young people who dress in costumes and carry around bottles of booze on Saturday night.

My first Carnaval experience was insane – partying with my Erasmus friends from Seville and Huelva, dressed up as an Indian with a kid’s costume I bought for 8€, endless amounts of tinto de verano and strong mixed drinks. I even ripped my shoes up on the broken glass that littered the streets.

Returning home at 6am and pulling into Plaza de Cuba just before 8, I slept the entire day, waking only for feul and a groggy Skype date with my parents.

Carnaval, you kicked my culo (but I blame the cheap tinto de verano).

For the next few years, I happened to always be out-of-town for the festivities (though I did make it to Cologne for their classed-up Carnival). In 2011, I joined a few friends, this year dressed for the weather and better rested.

The serpentine streets that wrap around town hall, the port and the cathedral held even more people than I remembered, pre-crisis. Like the chirigotas, revelers dress in sarcastic guises, or something that pokes fun at politicians or current events.

In 2011, everyone was hasta el moño with the government limiting freedoms, like pirating music and driving too fast on the highway. My personal favorite? When costumes are scandalous and obnoxious. Case in point: 

Being smarter this time around, we spent the night making friends and reliving our college days. No broken glass, lost friends or cold limbs!

Interested in attending the Carnavales?

March 1st and 8th are the huge party nights in 2014. Be sure to reserve travel and accommodation as far ahead as possible, as the city of Cádiz is quite small and everything gets booked up quite quickly. It’s not advisable to go by car, as parking is limited. You could also get a ticket with a student travel company and stay up all night.

Bring enough cash, as ATMs will run out of small bills, and you’ll probably be tempted to buy something to snack on from a street vendor. Dress for the weather – the nights will get chilly along the coast.

You can also consider attending a less-chaotic carnival in other towns around Spain, like Sanlúcar de la Barrameda or Chipiona. Plus, the choirs and chirigotas are a treat, and there is plenty of ambiance during the daytime.

Love festivals? Check out my articles on other Spanish Fiestas:

Spain’s Best Parties (Part 1) // The Tomatina // The Feria de Sevilla

Seville’s Best Terrace Bars for Summer

When the days in Seville heat up (which should have happened, um, six weeks ago), the streets empty out. Buildings are hugged for shade, gazpacho and cold beer are chugged by the gallon. Sevilla literally becomes a ghost town in the summer months, and those of us unfortunate enough to be here have only one option (unless you count day-long showers while eating popsicles as a feasible option, which I totally and shamelessly do):

Terrace bars, called terrazas.

Seville's BestSeville is nestled in the Guadalquivir River valley, one of the flattest parts in all of Spain. This means that all of the hot air sits in right on top of the city, creating an effect called er borchorno. During the evening, the Guadalquivir is just about the only place where we can get some relief, so many of the discos take their booze bottles down to the banks and take advantage of the breeze. I have tons of great memories of nights where I’d roll out of bed at 8pm when the night was finally cooling down, grab some drinks with friends and head to the discos.

Here’s a few of my top picks:

ROOF: This concept bar opened in Spring 2012, staking claim on a multi-storied roof in the Macarena neighborhood. An acquaintance was in charge of the set-up and social media, so I took advantage and dragged La Cait along with me.

The design is part-sevillano-bar, part-Moroccan-bungalow, and ROOF serves up imaginative cocktails along with decent snacks. Just be aware of the long lines for a drink on weekends, and bring your camera – the views are incredible, particularly at night. (ROOF is located on the top floor of the Hotel Casa Romana at Calle Trajano, 5. Cocktails will run you 6-8€. Open daily from midday.)

Terraza at Hotel EME – The hip hang at a terrace bar that’s right next to the Giralda, making it a perfect place to watch the sun go down while having a gin tonic. Electronic music pulsates at pretty much any hour of the day, and cocktails are wildly expensive, but treating yourself to an overpriced mojito when your best friend visits it acceptable, right? (Calle Alemanes, 27, on the 4th floor of the Hotele EME Cathedral).

Hotel Inglaterra – I was introduced to this bar when Gary Arndt, the blogger behind the successful Everything, Everywhere, had tapas with Sandra of Seville Traveler and me. The terrace doesn’t have a ton of character, with fake grass and plastic chairs, but it does have some of the best views of the center of town and a bird’s-eye view of Plaza Nueva – plus, it’s not too crowded or expensive. (Plaza Nueva, 7. Open from 5:30pm daily).

Capote – having a beer at Caopte takes me back to my days as an auxiliar de conversación, long before adult responsibilities like a full-time job and master’s. Nestled just below the Triana bridge, the open-air bar has great parties and promotions, and it’s often a good place from which to start the night. Famous for their mojitos, the bar’s always full of an eclectic mix of people, and they offer cachimbas and ample seating. (Next to the Triana Bridge, open from 1om until 4am from Semana Santa until mid September)

Embarcadero – I wasn’t clued into Embarcadero until a few summers ago. Crammed between two riverside restaurants, a steep staircase leads right down to the water, and the bar has a nautical feel. Embarcadero actually means pier, so lone sailboats rock gently with the current of the Guadalquivir, and heavy ropes are all that separate the water from the wooden planks of the floor. Live music, good service and unobstructed views of the Torre del Oro make this bar one of my favorites. (Calle Betis, 69. Open daily from 5pm until around 2am)

Alfonso – When the summer months get too hot to bear, two discos open at the foot of Plaza de América in María Luisa Park. With the dramatic backdrop of the lush green space and its museums, Alfonso’s breezy terrace rocks into the wee hours of the morning. This is a place to see and be seen without feeling so stuffy. (Located at the south end of Plaza de América in María Luisa park, just off Avenida de la Palmera. Typically open mid-June to mid-September from 10pm).

There’s a whole loads of other – Puerto de Cuba, Chile, Ritual, Bilindo, Casino – but I’m too low key to ever go to them (or get into them!).

The Gourmet Experience at El Corte Inglés: Even if it’s not summertime, the terrace on the top floor of the Corte Inglés in Duque operates yearround, provng that sevillanos will brave any sort of weather to be able to smoke and drink outside. 

terraza Corte Ingles Gourmet

Apart from food offerings, cocktails and beer are served every day of the week on the spacious terrace, which boasts views of the old town. (Situated on the sixth floor of the flagship Corte Inglés in Plaza del Duque, right in the heart of town. Open daily from noon; hours fluctuate for weekends and holidays.)

Have any favorite terrace bars in your city? Please have a sip in my honor – I’m busy planning my wedding!

Seville Snapshots: Twilight at the Setas of Plaza de la Encarnacion

Planning a trip to Seville? Look no further than Sandra of Seville Traveller. Like me, a visit to Seville brought her back to live in the capital of Andalusia, and she uses her free time to write great tips about how to enjoy the city. You can sign up for her free newsletter, which comes with a PDF of tips, or check out her guest posts on Sunshine and Siestas!
 
 
People say that you tend to miss what you have next to you, while you are willing to explore further corners. And it’s true: I hadn’t had a chance to go up the observation deck at the Setas before last December. That day I woke up with one thing in mind: to capture the beautiful dusk light with my camera. The day was going to be clear, though I was hoping for a few clouds since the make the visual experience much more rewarding but I had to do with what I had: a perfect blue sky.
 
 
The idea was to explore the whole structure by walking around at a slow pace, looking for the best spots to place my tripod and be ahead of other visitors. Lucky for me, the premises were almost empty and most people spent only a few minutes at the main lookout. I had the Steas to myself, so the only thing left to do was wait. My iPod did the rest. I looked around…
 
 
In the background, the view over the Guadalquivir River and both bridges, the Alamillo and the Barqueta, was beautiful. On the right hand side, the sun was slowly going down, from yellow to orange and finally red, reflecting its light on the soon-to-be-completed skyscraper, the Pelli Tower. Right in front of me I had Seville’s main highlights, El Salvador Church, the Cathedral and the Giralda. Finally, on the left hand side of the city was a sea of scattered domes.

The picture illustrating this post shows the main view at a moment photographers call the blue hour. See how amazing the sky looks? Contrary to most European cities, Seville enjoys a light that is hard to find anywhere else. Don’t you want to see it with your own eyes?

 
Setas de Sevilla (former Metropol Parasol)
The Setas the Sevilla observation deck can be visited from Sunday to Thursday from 10.30am until midnight and on Friday and Saturday from 10.30am to 1am. It only costs 1.35 euros and it’s free for children up to 12 years old. The best part is that you can still as long as you want – there aren’t any time limitations.
 
The website is only in Spanish but you can still visit it to have a look and watch some very cool videos.
 
Want to add the Setas to your Seville itinerary? You have to check out the Seville in Two Days e-book, chock full of ideas, routes and logistics when visiting the Andalusian capital.

Sandra lives in Seville and spends all her free time exploring the world (30+ countries so far!). She is the editor of Seville Traveller, an online resource about the city. She has also published a Pocket Guide that will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. You can follow her on Twitter or keep posted through Facebook.

How to Dress for the Feria de Sevilla

Chhh, chh, chikiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!! Veeeeeh.

Why, WHY do store assistants have to cluck in this country, I sighed, my sinus infection suddenly growing worse as I waited for her to stride over to me.

Ehtá floooh, ¡qué noooo! Plucking the flower the size of a softball out of my hand, she replaced it with a bigger one. This one is right. I gawked at the mirror, laughing at my red, swollen eyes and the coral monstrosity perched atop my head.

I wished Cait was with me to witness yet another cultural mess up on my part. Just a few weeks earlier, I went to have my traje de gitana, or flamenco dress, taken out. My butt suddenly didn’t fit into it any longer, so the shop assistant clucked at me to come out of the dressing room, bare-assed, and stand with my it to the mirror while she adjusted it. This flower is for a ten-year old, much to small for your head.

It’s now sitting in my box of flamenco accessories, called complementos. I am no match for old ladies at the Corte Inglés.

Spring’s azahar and incense also bring along the liveliest festival in Andalucía, the Feria de Abril. During my first winter living in Spain, my friend Susana offered to take me to buy a cheap traje at the Molina factory outlet. Though simple, my dress made me fit in when I first showed up at the Real.

But I was CLUELESS about the complementos – I chose earrings and flowers fit for little girls. The rule of thumb is, literally, the bigger, the more gitana you are.

Case in point: The style every gitana’s wearing. The cani ruffle sleeves are big, as is lace, flouncier skirts (mermaid cut is soooo not gitana this year) and lunares as big as a melon.

I chose something a little more classic, with a scooped neck and long sleeves (I’d only had sleeveless before), three volantes and enough arte to knock Calle de Gitanillo de Triana (olé la más bonita de la Feria!) on its feet.

As for complementos, I had to venture of solo, as my Feria +1, Kelly, won’t be going this year, and Cait was in class. Remembering the equation of guapaness, I chose to match the coral colored rickrack on the volantes with just a toque of turquoise. My first stop was in Mateos Complementos, C/Francos, 6, where much of the jewelry was handmade.

Showing the attendant the color of my dress, he helped me pick out a pair of lovely coral hoops that were painted with a beige flower, matching my color scheme perfectly. He tried to show me a mantilla shawl, but I had one and assured him that the color was the same as the earrings. He said the bright color would look lovely next to my eyes and pinkish skin (I sound like a mole, ew).

Mateo opened a glass case and took out two beautiful combs  in oro antiguo, carefully positioning them in my ponytail. Alá tú! he crooned as I looked in the mirror. Sold and sold. ¿Qué pasa, te gusta la Feria? he asked to my scoffs. Asking me if I like Feria is like asking me if I like ice cream.

I peeked in the other stores along the street and in the token Don Regalón. No cheap plastic necklaces this year, I promised myself.

As I browsed the shelves at the Corte Inglés, Clucky came up to me with the flower. I knew I had no choice but to buy it, along with the earrings I bought in oro antiguo with just a hint of blue to match the peineta. I’m discovering that my ganas for Feria is becoming proportionate to the days left until the main gate, fashioned after the Iglesia del Salvador, is lit up and Feria officially begins.

Are you planning on heading to la Feria de Abril, or have you been? If you need me, I’ll probably be on C/Gitanillo de Triana, y olé! And now, a bailar!

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