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 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 pretty decent food. Just be aware of the long lines for a drink, and bring your camera – the views are incredible. (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. (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. They’ve even done a huge re-design this summer. (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, and it’s as close as my friends usually get to my house! (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!).

Have any favorite terrace bars in your city? Please have a sip in my honor – I’m buried under master’s work until July 1st!

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!

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?

…eres mi rincón favorito de Madrid.

If I were Spain, what city would I be?

I’d need to be at least big enough for an airport since I love to pack my bags and go. Have an eclectic mix of old and new, as well as domestic and foreign. I’m deathly pale, so beaches won’t really be necessary (Bye, bye Valencia and Barcelona and Málaga). A city in which graffiti is practically patrimonio de la humanidad, but monuments are revered and protected.

I wouldn’t be stuffy Seville, my Spanish pueblo natal, so to speak. I think Madrid – its bustle, its nitty-gritty neighborhoods, its hidden gems – would be my city doppelgänger, although we haven’t always been fans of one another. In fact, I can’t even see myself living in Spain’s capital (and, let’s face it, I would die without 1€ beers).

Madrid lies just two hours southwest of Valladolid, the city I learned castellano and how to sleep a siesta in. During the five-week program, our quirky director Denise (más bien, Denissshhh with her ceceo) took us first to Segovia to take in the devil’s aqueduct, to Salamanca to betake the oldest university in Spain which still retains its college town vibe, to Donostia for snacking on pintxos. I had to wait four weekends before day-trippin’ to Madrid, capital city and hub of Spanish life. Like Shakira’s hit song that summer, una tortura.

Madrid lived humbly in its early days as a shepherd’s village in the geographic belly button of Spain. Since then, a power struggle between two royal families, the Bourbons and the Haspburgs (yes, like in Austria) built the city into a thriving metropolis, home to the Spanish parliament, the largest population in Iberia and plenty of foreigners.

My trip to Madrid was supposed to be full of art at the Prado and Reina Sofía, strolls in the Parque del Retiro and cochinillo. Instead, I got a hurried tour through two important art collections, creepy Teletubbies in the park and a fried squid sandwich. Madrid was not for me.

In the 15 or so subsequent trips I’ve taken to Madrid, the most recent being this last weekend, I’ve come to appreciate its beauty in uniform buildings, wide avenues and attention to every walk of life.

Certainly, I could sit for hours at the Estanque in Retiro and watch couples aimlessly row heavy boats back and forth in their alloted 45-minutes. Reina Sofía would be like window shopping for me, dando un capricho as I pay the steep admission to take in quirky and important pieces of artwork. Sol, the starting point to all major, national highways in Spain would become my ground zero for exploring the central neighborhoods full of immigrants. If I lived in Madrid, I would botellón at Templo del Debod and have churros at San Gines in the early morning hours. I light up when seeing Cibeles atop her lion-driven chariot and can trace the metro stops on the light blue and light green lines.

Mis rincones favoritos de Madrid…Cibeles, Retiro and the Metro

I love stumbling upon cupcake shops and Indian places along the funky Calle Huertas. Adore the wrought iron balconies facing centuries-old facades of governmental palaces. The strange mix of bus, taxi and pedestrian traffic. The noise. That Gran Via is as close as I’ve been to NYC. I love that boutiques abound around Fuencarral, and that the bartender at Kike’s childhood hangout in Malaseña gives me free anchovies with each beer, even if I don’t eat them. And nobody judges me when I dip into a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for coffee, nor when I stare at the “lady friends” on C/Montera.

Madrid isn’t a place I see myself living in anytime soon, but, like a moth to a flame, I love visiting. Case in point: Last Thursday, eager for some restaurant recommendations, I asked friends to suggest a good ethnic food place. Not only was the food amazing, but ten of my madriles came to enjoy it with me. Madrid, for as big and boisterous, gritty and glamorous as it is, always welcomes me with open arms, overpriced drinks and an endless agenda of things to do.

Have you visited Madrid? What impressed you – or didn’t – about the city? Any must sees (I’ve done most) or must-try restaurants? Do you feel this way about a place you’ve never lived in, but have traveled to frequently?

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