Two Weeks on the Camino de Santiago: 14 Pictures of my Journey (Part 2)

Where we last left off, I had literally just climbed a mountain, but I had also scaled a mountain of self-doubt that told me my body was not strong enough to continue. We were halfway there, distance-wise, but coming to grips with the impending end of the journey.

Day Eight // Monday, August 5th, 2013 // Gontán – Vilalba //20km

Money can buy you happiness, it turns out, and we left Abadín before dawn after a few beers the night before and a sound sleep in a comforable bed to the tune of 19€ each. At this point, I’d only opened my sleeping bag once.

We didn’t speak much on the way to Vilalba, a once-powerful city that hosts a Parador. All of the sudden, there were more pilgrims on the trail who we’d never seen before, and we felt rushed to get to the next inn on time with Croissanthead (our so-named mascot for an earlier Xacobeo celebration). We had wine at the parador and met the cook, a man who had walked 15 Caminos in his life. I’d read somewhere that those who live along the trail are obligated by law to protect pilgrims and not do anything to ruin or impede their Camino. Written or not, pilgrims are respected by these townspeople, and not just for the tourism dollars they bring in. We were treated to a snack, courtesy of this fellow peregrino.

Even the local Proteccion Civil officer who ran the large albergue locked up 15 minutes later than normal because we invited him to a shot of orujo.

Day Nine // Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 // Vilalba – Baamonde // 20km

The reality of passing the halfway point in our journey was starting to weigh on me. The simplicity of pilgrim life was so inviting after a year of many changes and transitions for me, and knowing that I’d be finished in just five days got me a little depressed. I no longer befriended pilgrims, knowing I’d have to say goodbye to them once we reached Santiago. José was an exception. Sharing 20 kilometers with him into Baamonde was a treat.

The road that day was littered with small towns, dairy farms and leafy groves of trees and rudimentary stone structures. José is a secondary teacher in Valencia, so Hayley and I immediately had a connection with him and his outlook on life. Almost immediately after meeting another pilgrim, you exchanged the, ‘So what brings you on the Camino?’ question. José’s was simple, and it made me think of my own reasons.

The say the Camino always provides, and it does – from new friendships to a bit of clarity to a stronger body, or even a hot plate of food after a long trek.

That afternoon when we rolled into Baamonde, just 103 kilometers from Santiago, and we had ample time to enjoy the 94 others who were there sharing four showers with us. Afternoon beers, a large and tasty meal in a table that was far too small for us and our food, jam sessions in the patio as we waited out a rain cloud. When you only have one thing in common and nothing else matters, it’s easy to make friends. Besides, that’s what Facebook is for!

Day Ten // Wednesaday, August 7th, 2013 // Baamonde – Miraz // 14.5km

“Be careful of the Santa Campana,” Fernando warned us before retiring to bed. Our walk from the sprawling pilgrim’s inn at Baamonde to the rumored ‘nicest albergue on the Norte’ was a short one, but we’d have to rush – there were just 26 beds in Miraz.

We woke at 5am. It would be dark until nearly 7:30 a.m., but we didn’t have any time to waste. My guidebook told me that we’d walk three kilometers out of Baaaaaaaaaaamonde before turning left over the train tracks. Our flashlights bounced off trees, searching desperately before we got off-track and lost a bed.

Then it began raining. We thankfully didn’t see the witches of the Santa Campana, said to lure pilgrims into sorcery by handing them candles when it’s dark and rainy along the trail.

By the time we got to Miraz around 9:30 that morning, there were already six or eight other pilgrims in line. We set our bags down under the overhang, respecting the pre-established order for beds and joined the others in the town’s only bar. We considered continuing on to Sobrado, but I’m glad we didn’t – apart from a warm bed and blanket and other English speakers (the small albergue is run by the British Cofraternity of Saint James volunteers), we spent hours in the bar, warming up over beers and sandwiches. The rain and the fact that we had to wait forever was made better by the fact that there was a bit of cerveciña to make the time pass quicker.

Day Eleven // Thursday, August 8th, 2013 // Miraz – Sobrado dos Monxes // 25.5km

We took our time walking into Sobrado dos Monxes the following day, knowing that we were nearing the end of the road. It was a perfect day, with puffy clouds within reach and enough solitude to hash out issues and just talk about nothing in between.

The albergue is housed in a 10th Century monastery, and Hayley and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our weeks working in a haunted monastery in Uclés, Cuenca. The pilgrim hysteria was high, as a Jesuit group was also there, taking up nearly half the beds. After checking in and getting our stamp from the monks who lived on site and raised dogs and cows (which Carmela and I got to see!), Hayley and I escaped to a bar further outside of town. When we finished, half a bottle of wine each later, a stray dog who I’d tripped over earlier in the day was waiting for us, his broken chain dangling from his neck as he drooled over the hot pavement. We tried to lose him, and the poor pup kept getting shooed out of the monastery.

I honestly would have loved wasting hours petting him in the interior lawn of the sprawling, gorgeous palace, but he was not allowed to enter.

Long live Blacky. That is, if he stops tripping pilgrims.

Day Twelve // Friday, August 9th, 2013 // Sobrado dos Monxes – Arzúa // 22km

Fernando gave us a pep talk as we headed out of Sobrado towards Arzúa, the last major stop on the Francés and where our route would hook up with the main pilgrim trail. We’d lose most of our friends on this day who favored a shorter route that skipped the pilgrim town. Many bikers making their way to Santiago passed us, and we knew they’d reach Santiago in time for Pilgrim’s Mass that morning while we still had more than 50km to go.

Reaching Arzúa was a bit strange – there was already a long line outside the municipal inn when we arrived, despite making good time. Most of the private inns were booked up, too. In the end, a hotel offered us a good price for a street side room right near the central plaza.

‘You’ll need these,’ he said, handing us a pair of earplugs. I already had some, courtesy of the Novio, but I shrugged and took them anyway. We took long showers, ate a filling lunch and caught up on the news for the first time in days. Here in Arzúa, pilgrims are kings and there are loads of facilities for them. We had ample choices of where to eat, had special deals on laundry services and massages, and found ourselves feeling alone in a booming town – it took us ages to find familiar pilgrims.

Pilgrim culture shock at its finest.

Our second to last sleep was interrupted early the next morning by a bagpipe. The town had some sort of festival, hence the lack of private inns, and its last revelers were playing bagpipes to signal the end of the party. So that’s what the earplugs were for.

Day Thirteen // Saturday, August 10th, 2013 // Arzúa – O Pedrouzo // 19km

We wizened up and book a private pension again, not willing to hurry our penultimate day for sake of a cheap bed. This meant we could take our time walking, stop more often and really soak up the last few kilometers. By now, we were 41km away from the Plaza do Obradoiro, which we decided to split into two days.

This day was among the most enjoyable – frequently stopping for a beer, running into familiar faces, realizing we’d done 300 kilometers and were all but finished. Joining us were loads of bikers (we nearly got plowed into!), many families and scout groups, and even people pushing strollers! We saw the turigrinos - those who sent their packs ahead and just walked with little weight. I felt lighter than on any other day, and even the purge I’d do later that day of things I wouldn’t need or hadn’t used in two weeks seemed to lighten the load tremendously.

I realized that I’d done everything I intended to do on the Way, save arrive in one piece to Santiago.

Hayley stopped just ahead of me and pointed - didn’t you want to leave something at this mile marker? Once in Galicia, it’s easy to see how many kilometers are left until the cathedral because they’re all marked with the distance down to the thousandth. Exactly at 21,0km I left a purple and orange ribbon for Kelsey. I’d scatter several more the following day, too – at the Lavacolla airport, at Monte do Gozo and at Saint James’s tomb.

Day Fourteen // Sunday, August 11th, 2013 // O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela // 21km

I slept terribly. Maybe I was anxious, but it could be because a homeless man walked into the albergue and took a shower, and then an obnoxious family who hadn’t walked much all took showers after 11pm, turning on lights and hair dryers after I’d already drifted into dreamland. I tried to read Shirley McClain’s The Camino, but it was full of weird mystical dreams and meeting random dead Scottish men who give her a locket and then there’s a big black dog that chases her and she sends him a big red heart of love in her bind of some shit.

Anyway.

I was grumpy, but we didn’t have time for it. Every step meant one second less of our journey, one second closer to the end. Memorials and statues were around every corner, and I felt like we were racing to get to the finish line (we did want to arrive by mass at noon). I made sure to stop in the chapel of Santa Lucia, following my protocol to always leave her a donation as my Catholic aunt told me I was to do if I took her name for my confirmation. I was emotional, about ready to burst at any moment.

It finally happened after reaching Monte do Gozo. After leaving a ribbon on the memorial to Pope John Paul II and stamping our passport for one of the last times, we started the trek downhill. I teared up, wiping away my emotion as Hayley warned me to get it together, or we’d never make it.

We stalled as much as possible without losing track of the time, which included shooting last-minute footage, splitting an Aquarius, stopping to admire a part of the city we hadn’t seen on previous visits. It was ending.

As we arrived to the old town, I was overcome with emotion – for the struggles, for Kelsey, for knowing that tomorrow meant Seville and life and the school year and social media. The bagpipe that I’d heard several times on previous visits rang out and I tripped over my feet. Within moments, we’d passed under the arch and into the morning sunlight. The lichen-covered church towered before us, and even though I’d seen it many times, it was more striking and more beautiful and just plain bigger than ever before. We laid down immediately, taking it all in, happy for the journey and the fact that our legs didn’t fall off.

We had 36 hours or so in Santiago, in which we drank beer, ate international food and paid out respects to Saint James. Hayley decided to shop for other clothes to wear on the plane, but I wore my smelly clothes home, concha attached to my bag. I was proud of it, and I wanted to it last until I was back home.

The thing is, the fact that I’ve seen and done something I’ve always dreamed about doing means that it’s going to last forever in my heart and my memories and my photos.

Yes, even this one: creepy doll heads in Lavacolla, just one of the weird things we saw in 325 kilometers.

Want more? My flickr page has every photo you could ever want to see, and I’m working on my first video! In the meantime, you can watch Hayley’s Camino video and tear up when I do when arriving to the Obradoiro (or laugh at how excited I get about a plate of lentejas)! To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, check out my resources page, or get your FAQs answered by Trevor of A Texan in Spain.

Seville Snapshots: First Day on the #CaminoFTK

When I wrote this draft on Wednesday afternoon, I was excited to be within five days of hiking the Camino de Santiago, something I’ve been planning do do for the majority of my adult life. As I scheduled the post, got a knock on my door, telling me that a train had derailed just outside of nearby Santiago de Compostela. My thoughts went immediately to the teachers who I’d put on a Madrid-bound train and their well-being, as we had very little information and messages were not immediately returned.

Panic crept into my stomach. That, or nerves, or just that vomit feeling when you know that something is awry.

I opened up my computer and dialed the number for ADIF, Spain’s train operators, and we were told that there were no delays on the overnight train to Chamartiín, which passes through the stretch of tracks between Coruña and Santiago. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then turned on the TV.

The images were horrifying, enough to prick my eyes with tears. 

Teacher and students in front of the Catedral de Santiago. Adore these kids.

I’ve attended the Apostol festivities in Santiago de Compostela, celebrating Spain’s patron saint and praying that I’d one day arrive to the ancient Praza do Obradoiro after walking across the country to arrive. Just five days before embarking, the city was marred with a tragedy beyond words, and one that has claimed 80 lives to date.

The calls began rolling in, as my friends and family connected ‘Santiago’ with this pilgrimmage that I’m walking today. While I assured everyone that I was safe in my dorm room at camp, earnestly watching the TV, I thought about the new dimension that this trek might have. By the time we arrive to Santiago on August 11th, the debris will no doubt be cleared, but the emotional scars will still be deep. I’m not a religious person, but perhaps the reflection I’ll do on the hike will make me a more spiritul person. Or maybe I’ll meet someone affected by the tragedy. After all, they say miracles occur on the Way. What I am positive will happen is that the generosity and the humility of the Galician people will manifest itself in a myriad of ways, and that the Camino will change me.

—–

It’s finally here: my master’s is finished, camp has been closed down, and between the stress and the long nights and the teenage STINK, it’s all lead up to the day when Hayley and I get to start the Camino de Santiago. It’s finally here and I could jump out of my skin with excitement.

Depending on where in the world you are, I’ve likely woken up in my four-star hotel (the last real pillow for two weeks), pulled on layer of wicking-laden clothes, and  started the walk in total darkness. Maybe we’ll encounter a rain storm or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll strip off our boots and wade in the chilly Cantabrian Sea and get some relief for sore feet and already-forming blisters. Maybe we’ll have met other cancer survivors or their loved ones.

But this is our Camino and we’re finally making the journey.

Being in Coruña, less than 100km from Santiago, for four weeks was a reminder and an internal countdown to the 200miles in front of us. The world is literally at our feet, and as my boots and custom Podoactiva insoles hit the pavement while I broke them in around the Crystal City, the yellow-and-blue route markers on the Camino Inglés accompanied me proving that while all roads lead to Rome, a few lead to Santiago, as well. It’s just following the end of that long middle ridge to the end of the road.

As other pilgrims pass in Coruña, I mutter a ‘Buen Camino’ under my breath, not quite sure if I fit the role yet. Surely a 13-pound pack, sore knees and a farmer’s tan will do the trick by the time we reach Soto de Luiña sometime today. Our first stage is a killer 40 kilometers, but it will be a good introduction into what this is all about: Walking. Break for food (and coffee for me). Walking more. Break to ponder and check out the coast. A few more kilometers. Break to tend to feet. Break for lunch. Big glass of red wine. Laughter. Remembering. Looking ahead. And more walking until we arrived to the Plaza de Obradoiro on August 11th.

Follow along with the hashtag #CaminoFTK on Twitter and instagram (@hayleycomments, @caserexpat and @sunshineandsiestas), and definitely click to read all of my Santiago-related posts. I’ve loved reading all of your well wishes, and sincerely thank those of you who have felt motivated to donate to a cause that’s very important to me, the University of Iowa Dance Marathon.

Seville Snapshots: Calle Pureza, the heart of Triana

Soy Ana, de la Calle Pureza

Kelly never fails to let people believe she’s trianera, a resident of the Triana neighborhood of Seville. When I called this barrio home for three years, we’d often wax poetic about just how special it felt, that it was more a feeling than monuments or a glossy exterior. Triana is the old fisherman’s barrio, where squat houses crumble next to soaring church spires, where a tapa is bigger and cheaper than in the center. I had all of my people here – the man around the corner who made my coffee, the woman at the laundromat who would re-wash a garment – for free – if she wasn’t satisfied.

Even the natives – those who have grown up and attended school in the neighborhood – swell with pride when describing a neighborhood where gypsies sing flamenco on the streets every now and again and azulejo tiles line the hole-in-the-wall bars.

While walking down Calle Pureza, a street that snakes through the heart of Triana, I heard a hoarse “cuidaaaaaao” as I was fumbling with Camarón’s settings. I was on the way to shoot the wedding of a guiri friend and her sevillano boyfriend, nervously changing between auto and manual. An abuelo weidling a shopping cart wizzed by me, dodging oncoming traffic as he carried nearly a dozen long septres towards the pristine basilica. I raised Camarón to my face and shot.

 Olé mi Triana.

I had a great time shooting Andrea and Carlos’s wedding in early June, and I’m as happy as they are with the results. If you’re looking for someone to shoot an event, engagement pictures, etc. in Seville, get in touch! Alternately, I’m looking for guest bloggers for the upcoming months. Send your stories and photos to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com.

Seville Snapshots: Domingo de Romería

“The hilly encinas are my office,” said Jose, not looking away from his ham leg, from which he took thin cuts and arranged them neatly onto a plate for us. I’d been eating since arriving to the Ermita de San Diego in teeny San Nicolás del Puerto, my favorite village in Spain, and my stomach could only hold so much.

Springtime in Andalucia is all about a healthy mix of hedonism and religion (which surprisingly go hand-in-hand). Holy Week revelers pay a somber penitence to the cruxifiction and resurrection, then sherry is drunk by the bucketfull during ferias all over Andalucía, and concludes with romerías in nearly all of the pueblos from late April until September.

I’ve mentioned San Nicolás del Puerto, a tiny dot of a town on Andalucia’s map. At 700 people and seven bars (seven more than in my hometown of 55,000), the city is the source of the Hueznár River, part of the Vía Verde and the birthplace of San Diego de Alcalá. Nearly all of the town’s festivities revolve around the poor man’s saint, including the Romería de San Diego, held the second Sunday of May each year.

For a small village, San Nicolás throws a big party for the romería, which is like one-part religious procession, one part tailgate. Everyone brings their coolers full of food – chacina, tortilla de papas, filetes empanados, and homemade cakes – and finds a shady spot in the hills near the hemitage for setting up their picnic. They’re often reserved by parking cars, using a fruit crate for a makeshft sign, or by tradition – I always know where Rafalín and the Novio´s father will be with their own portapotty.

At noon, the saint comes dancing in, carried on the shoulders of locals and preceeded by a brass band from the nearby Alanís de la Sierra. It’s kind of like a homecoming, and I can almost imagine my high school’s fight song instead of the paso doble that accompanies the saint before mass. Diego bobs up and down as partygoers watch on horseback, some dressed in flamenco dresses and trajes cortos. The Novio and I watched from afar, busy kicking back a few bottles of beer and helping ourselves to everyone else’s food, lest it go to waste.

Have you ever been to a Romería? Spain’s biggest and most popular, El Rocío of Almonte (Huelva) is this coming Sunday. Read about my experience at last year’s fair here.

Preparing for the Camino: Why I’m Walking

Muuuuyyyyyy bien chicos! Raquel’s morning greeting was accompanied with a slurp and the decapitation of the top quarter of Spain. “El Camino de Santiago is today’s topic.”

I dutifully took out my notebook, etching the bull’s hide of Spain and marking the end of the pilgrimmage across the top of Spain with a star. As Raquel recounted her experience walking a month across age-old trails between drags on a cigarette, I’d been imagining a return to Spain one day to walk the Way to Santiago de Compostela.

During my 2012 trip, I ran into some of my old students from IES Heliche. All roads may lead to Rome, but quite a few lead to Santiago, too!

Galicia, the region in which Santiago is located, is like my second home in Spain. On half a dozen occasions, I’ve laid my eyes on its sprawling cathedral, watched backpackers with no common language embrace in the sacred Plaza do Obradoiro, smelt the mix of incense and sweat left by peregrinos as I’ve hugged the bejeweled bust of St. James, the patron saint of Spain. I’ve even spent the Xacobeo, the Holy Years in which St. James’s Day falls on a Sunday, partying until dawn in the sacred city. The Camino has been part of my Spain bucket list since that sweltering day in June when Raquel first talked about it.

Jesus, my friend James and the Patrón himself in front of the Catedral de Santiago in 2010, a Holy Year

While many legends exist about its origins, perhaps the most common story is the one in which St. James, one of Jesus’s disciples, had his remains placed in a boat from Jerusalem. The saint was covered in conch shells and barnacles when his boat washed up on the northwest coast of Spain, and the remains were subsequently buried. Centuries later, a shepherd claims to have seen a cluster of stars in a field at night over the reputed tomb of the saint, and King Alfonso II ordered a massive cathedral to be built in that very place. For the last milenia, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have descended on the city – now a major tourist draw and intellectual center – believing that completing at least the last 100 kilometers on foot brings pleneray indulgence. This route is called la Ruta Xacobea in local galego, or the Camino de Santiago in Castellano. To me, its one name, El Camino, holds a world of meaning.

The Camino is the subject of numerous books and films, and ever since its first inference, I’ve read many of them. Paulo Coehlo’s  The Pilgrammage, Field of Stars by Kevin Codd, A Journey of Days by Guy Thatcher all stick out in my mind, and a flight home from Spain in 2011 had me watching Emilio Estevez’s poignant film, The Way.

After years of wishing, planning and reading loads of books on the Camino, I’ve finally made plans to go. My hiking boots and trail bag are purchased, our route has been carefully outlined in red from Gijón to Santiago de Compostela. Towards the end of July, Hayley and I will set out from Asturias, rumbo Santiago. The Northern Route, called the Ruta del Norte, is less-traveled, more physically straining and supposedly breathtaking, as the majority of our first week will be along the coast before taking the Primitivo route until we reach the end of our trek.

People walk for many reasons – for spiritual reasons, for a journey of self-discovery, for the sport and adventure of it all. But I’m not walking just for me and a goal eight years in the making. I’ve decided to walk two weeks on the Camino de Santiago For the Kids – to raise money for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, an organization that has been important to me for nearly ten years.

As a college student, I would only pull an all-nighter once a year, during the annual Dance Marathon. During a full day, I could not sleep, sit or drink alcohol, an this was after raising a minimum of $425 to even get in the door. For an entire day, we’d put our bodies through hell to feel some sort of what kids and their families felt.

Coupled with bi-weekly visits to the hospital’s Child Life center and numerous leadership positions, I was hooked on helping and creating tomorrow by dancing today. When I became a Morale Captain in 2005, I was assigned a family to sponsor. The Lees were coping with Kelsey’s recent diagnosis of leukemia, a side effect of the chemo she’d received earlier in the year. We began to exchange emails and phone calls, excited to meet one another at the Big Event in February, 2006. Kelsey was only 14 years old and already fighting cancer for the second time.

After repping the Lees 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. Even when I moved across the charca, we kept in touch through Facebook, postcards and Skype. Invitations for her high school and technical graduation got sent to my parents’s house, along with a yearly Luau-themed fundraiser her family held in their town. Kelsey felt like a cousin to me, so I was crushed when I learned she’d relapsed once again.

“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas 2011 as I was preparing to visit my family in Arizona. “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 treatment.

The following day, she passed away. Her mother sent me a text message that I read, hysterical, in the Philadelphia International Airport as I boarded a Madrid-bound plane. Attempts to organize a mini-Dance Marathon at my old school never materialized, but I donated part of my severance package to Dance Marathon in Kelsey’s name and joined the Iowa Bone Marrow Donors Network. As Hayley and I made preliminary plans for this summer, I contact the UIDM’s sponsorship and business directors, setting up a donation page and walking in memory of Kelsey and all of the other families coping.

2013 has really been my year, between a promotion, getting my European driver’s license and (fingers crossed) obtaining my master’s degree. Things may be coming up roses for me, but I realize that this year has been tough on many of my loved ones. That said, I want to raise awareness of the numerous Dance Marathons that are emotionally and financially supporting families afflicted with childhood cancer, as well as trying to raise $500 – 100% of which will go to the University of Iowa Dance Marathon. My pilgrim conch shell will be accompanied by the leis Kelsey and I wore during the Big Events we spent together, my name-tags from when I was on the leadership team, and lime green letters FTK – For the Kids.

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the University of Iowa Dance Marathon to keep Creating Tomorrow by Dancing Today, and follow me at #CaminoFTK on twitter and instagram.

And many thanks to my sponsors, without whom this Camino would not be possible.

Interested in helping me complete the Camino For the Kids? Please contact me for sponsorship opportunities or check out my Camino Pinterest board for inspiration!

 

My Favorite Holy Week Bars in Seville

Danny and I decided to make one last stop for the night, mostly fueled by our bladders than our ganas for another beer. I ordered a Coke and dipped into the bathroom while Danny paid.

Two minutes later, as I left, the lights had been lowered, and Danny looked pale under the glow of a projector. He pointed to a screen, which showed an image of a bloody Jesus from a black-and-white film.

“Oh, you get used to that,¨I cooed, but he had already downed his beer and was halfway through the door. Novatos.

“Not cool, Cat. We’re no longer friends.”

For me, the week-long revelry that surrounds Seville’s Holy Week has meant just a ten-day travel break for me. Living in Triana’s vortex of cofradías meant that braving Semana Santa, locked inside my house while life-sized depictions of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ passed below my window. Paso de pasos, quite frankly.

Still, I have become more and more fascinated in the pageantry and culture of Holy Week, and often take guests to bars full of musty busts of the Virgin Mother, spiderweb-covered chalices and black and white photos of anguished Christs to explain the parts of the cofradía and their symbolism. Plus, I kinda love having Jesus watch me have a cold glass of beer and snack of olives, I guess?

Bar Santa Ana – Calle Pureza, Triana

Far and away my favorite of the bunch is Bar Santa Ana. It’s the typical old man bar around the corner from your flat where you feel intimidated to walk into, but secretly have always wanted to – dozens of images of the nearby Esperanza de Triana and San Gonzalo brotherhoods. Bullfights are run on TV while you sip your beer, tabbed up right in front of you on the bar, and the countdown to Palm Sunday hangs over your head while you eat from a huge tapas menu.

La Freqsuita -  Calle Mateos Gago

With a name like the fresh one, La Fresquita has a lot to live up to with its beer. Still, it’s served cold and often accompanied with olives or even a pocket calendar. The small space – its biggest downside – is covered floor to ceiling in pictures of processions and a countdown to Palm Sunday. Since the bar is right off of the main tourist sites and centrally located on Mateos Gago, many patrons spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar.

Kiosko La Melva – Manuel Siurot, s/n (at the cross of Cardenal Ilundain). Hours depend on the boss, Eli.

My weekday bar is always Kiosko La Melva. Once a shack used to provide workers from the ABC Newspaper offices with their midday snacks and beers, the small structure is unbeatable for cold beer (which only costs 1€!) and small, delectable fish sandwiches. Eli and Moises, the wise cracking buddies who man the bar during the mornings and evenings, collect memorabilia from Semana Santas past to fill the bar’s small interior. Their favorites? The Jesus del Gran Poder and la Macarena, who are associated with the Real Betis football club! You can take the 1 or the 3 bus to the bar, which is located near the Virgen del Rocio Hospital. Closed when raining, Saturday nights and all day Sunday.

Garlochí – Calle Boteros, 26, Alfalfa.

Seville’s tackiest bar deserves a mention here, although it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction. Wafts of incense arrive to the street as a lifelike Virgin Mary, eyes towards the heavens, guards the door. The plush decor and aptly named drinks – like Christ’s Blood – make it a favorite among tourists, but there’s a “Garlochi Lite” next door with cheaper drinks and not so many eyes starting at you as you pound your cervezas.

As a non-capillita, I had to ask my dear friend La Dolan for her top picks for Semana Santa bars around the city. She told me of Carrerra Oficial, just steps from Plaza San Lorenzo and the Basilica del Jesus del Gran Poder that has put a replica of the famous church’s facades as part of its decor. The bar is on Javier Lasso de la Vega, 3.

Have you ever experienced Semana Santa in Seville? Or been to a Holy Week bar here?

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