The Do’s and Dont’s of the Feria de Abril of Seville

Recently, Shawn of Azahar Sevilla and the mastermind behind Seville Tapas tweeted that I have a reputation of being feriante, a lover of Seville’s famous festival, the Feria de Abril. We may have only met briefly, but mujer gets me. What’s not to love about a week dedicated to revelry, horses, wine and curve-hugging dresses?

Two weeks after sevillanos have dried their tears after another washed out Holy Week, a makeshift city of temporary tents is erected at the southwest end of the city. Known as the Real de la Feria, this pueblecito comes alive during six days of the year, from 9pm on the Monday two weeks after Resurrection Sunday to the following Sunday’s fireworks show.

The dizzying, vibrant week can be characterized by a whirl of polka dotted dresses, the jingle of horse bells and the sound of sevillanas, a type of flamenco music, and it’s one of Spain’s most well known festivals. But as a city deep-rooted in tradition, even the April Fair has its set of unofficial rules. I consider myself a fairly well-weathered feriante after five years of teaching class after late nights, of using my enchufe to my advantage and of lasting through six days of partying.

DO bring your wallet

One of the biggest pitfalls to Feria is that it falls two weeks after Holy Week (my perfect excuse for traveling during 10 days). Feria is a wallet drain.

First is the costly flamenco dress and everything that goes with it – the flower, shawl, earrings and shoes. I got my most recent dress during the July sale season for a mere 125€ and the accessories, called complementos, cost me another 60€. Styles change de feria en feria, so some wealthy women get a new dress each year!

My caseta membership costs Kike and I 150€ a year (we alternate who pays, this year me toca, while he’ll pay the cheaper gym membership), and then there’s the food, the drinks and the need to buy a new pair of shoes when I dance the others right into the trash. Tapas are not served in casetas, but rather raciones that can be 6 – 12€, while a jarra of rebujito can cost up to 10€! What’s more, hotels and taxis operate on a holiday price, so rates will be sky-high like during Holy Week. City buses have a 2€ day pass, and they’ll extend working hours – look for the “Especial Feria” bus.

To keep costs down, I usually eat lunch at home and walk to the fairgrounds and always ignore my dwindling bank account for the sake of un buen rato. Feria only comes once a year!

DON’T only see Feria by night

The fairgrounds open daily around 1p.m. and most casetas stay open until the wee hours, meaning the Feria de Abril is an exercise in stamina, and not just for your wallet. My first few years in Seville, I worked outside the city and therefore had to run home, change into my traje de gitana, eat and get to Calle Gitanillo de Triana. I’d alternate dancing sevillanas with sips of rebujito and riding the carnival attractions in Calle del Infierno, arriving home in the early morning hours and collapsing in my bed hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

I may have inadvertently taught my high schoolers the word “hangover” in English my second year in Olivares.

There are two different sides to the fair – during the day, horse carriages and riders crowd the streets, even parking their horse next to their caseta and drinking sherry by the glass atop the stallion. Music spills out of the tents at all hours, and kids roam the streets with plastic toys and cotton candy the size of their torsos. The ambience is festive and cultural.

As night falls, the carnival rides at the Calle del Infierno begin to light up, and the round paper lanterns, called farolillos, come on. While you’d be pressed to find a caseta that isn’t playing a rumba or sevillana, everyone switches from rebujito and beer to mixed drinks, and casetas are often open all night long. I’ve had mornings where I’ve ended the long day of partying with chocolate con churros!

I’m also partial to weekday visits. During Friday and Saturday, other villages in the area get a day off to enjoy the fair, which means that it’s difficult to walk and navigate around the streets, all named for bullfighters.

DO dress up

Feria is the pinnacle of pijo culture – women will don the traditional traje de gitana, a tight, ruffled dress that cost upwards of 500€. If you’re not keen on dressing like a wealthy gypsy, be sure to look nice. I went to the alumbrado, the lighting of the main gate and the official start to the festivities, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers, not fully aware of how the event worked. I’ve since wizened up and now make it a priority to have a few nice dresses on hand in case there’s a chance of rain or I can’t bear wearing my traje.

If you’re a chico, wear a suit and tie. Caseta etiquette is very important, and you’ll be expected to follow suit (literally!). If you’re planning on riding a horse, a traje corto, a short jacket and riding pants with a wide-brimmed hat called a cordobés. I’ve ridden in horse carriages, but never on the back of a jerezano stallion, kind of my dream!

DON’T forget the caseta etiquette

Casetas are the temporary tents that act as houses, kitchens, concert halls and lounges during the Feria. Since the private spaces come at a commodity (there’s even a waiting list for when a family or organization decides not to continue paying), a certain type of behavior is expected – you can’t be overly drunk, improperly dressed or smoking within the walls.

One year, a friend of a friend was visiting, and I took them to the Novio’s friend’s caseta. This girl, K, was not sipping the lethal rebujito, but instead treating it like a shot. She bumbled around like an idiot and starting making out with the Novio’s youngest brother, causing quite an escándolo and getting us banned from the caseta.

There’s also an unspoken rule that you can’t bring your twelve friends with you. The Novio’s best friend’s wife, Susana, often encourages me to invite some pals, but I try and keep it limited to two, maybe three. Even my own caseta has a one-buddy-per-socio rule!

DO set limits on consumption

If Feria is a marathon for your wallet and feet, it’s no stroll through the Real for your liver, either. The drink of choice is rebujito, a refreshing mix of half a litre of dry sherry and 7-Up, and it is potent. The sugary drink is usually served in enormous jars and drunk out of plastic shot glasses or sherry glasses between friends. Drinking water and curbing the intake often helps, as well as getting some fresh air every so often. During my first year, the only kind of connection I had was in Los Sanotes, and Kelly and I made sure to be there every day. Susana’s uncle finally reminded me that there was more to Feria than one caseta out of over 1000, and a break in the dancing and drinking will allow you to take in the ambience.

Be sure to eat during the day, too. I usually don’t want to stop dancing for a montadito or fried fish, but spacing out your drinks and punctuating them with some heavy food like carrillada or tortilla will help you last longer.

DON’T be pesada with your contacts, and try and make them early.

Feria is a time when enchufe, the age-old connections game that lives and thrives in Seville – nearly all of the casetas are private and protected by a doorman. I usually have to say the name of the person who I’m meeting or offer to drag that person back to the door after I’ve found them to prove that I’ve been invited. Phone lines collapse and batteries run dead, or someone is too drunk to get to their phone. Make your plans with friends ahead of time to avoid the letdown of arriving to the fairgrounds and having to wander around while you wait for an invitation.

I’ve have several invitations to casetas where I’m brought food and drink outside, though I’ve never actually psychically been inside of them. But that’s alright with me…as long as there’s rebujito and a plate of ham waiting, that is!

While I’m busy with pouring over relaciones institucionales or dancing my brains out on Calle Gitanillo de Triana, here are a few of the articles I’ve written in the past about la semana más bonita:

How to dress up a flamenco dress

A vivir! Que son dos días!

The Feria during the economic crisis

My first Feria experience 

Any other tips and tricks for enjoying the fair?

Seville Snapshots: The View from Patio de los Naranjos

As I hang out up north, running a summer camp and looking after 16 teachers and a blogger, I’m pining for Seville: the heat, the food, the open, wide sky. I’m delighted that Christine in Spain sent me a gorgeous picture that encompasses so many wonderful things about the city, and that she was patient enough to wait in line.
Says Christine: I chose to contribute this photo in particular because I think it captures the essence of Seville: the orange trees which are so symbolic of the city, and the commanding presence of the Cathedral and Giralda in the background. I took this on a mild, sunny January day when the streets were buzzing with people as they so often seem to do in Spain.

Links:
If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Travel Highlights from the First Six Months of 2012

It really hit me when I was saying goodbye to my students last week – time really does fly when you’re having fun. I’ve been so busy with everything that I never even stopped to take it all in, and what I’ve done the most in these last six months is travel. Menudo vida, ¿no?

January

On the tail end of my trip to the American Southwest with Kike in tow, I spent three weekends in a row out of town. First up was a trip to visit Hayley in Antequera and celebrate her birthday. Amongst other things, we went to Málaga to have a seafood cumple lunch at the famous El Tintero, where there’s no menu, just a live auction for your food! I don’t know what was better – fresh espetos or Hayley’s red velvet cake!

The following weekend, I got a cheap trip to Alicante to visit my dear friend, Julie. I’d never been before, so Julie showed me her sleepy seaside town – the tapas scene, the dominating Castillo Santa Bárbara and I even snuck a night in Valencia in!

February

One of my favorite places in Spain is Kike’s village of San Nicolás del Puerto. Nestled between the hills of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla and the acorn trees that feed the pigs, this pueblito of 700 people has become a treasured weekend getaway. This time, we took Susana, Alfonso and Luna, who loved the horses and piglets at Finca Los Leones.

March

I was thrilled that Kike would be spending time during a three-month training course in Galicia which has become like a second home to me in Spain. Our trip took us to Santiago, La Coruña and El Ferrol and included stunning weather, surprise run-ins and even a broken car. It’s all cake when you’re with the one you love, though!

Following that, I finally realized my dream of traveling to Turkey. Though we didn’t get to explore anything outside of Istanbul, I was taken by the warmness of its people, the monstrous monuments and the sumptuous food. I’d love to go back one day and see parts of the interior and coast.

April

After arriving from Turkey, I took a train out to Zaragosa, capital of Aragón and one of Spain’s largest cities. The weather did everything but let the sun come through, so we spent a lot of time relaxing and cooking while we stayed with Gonzalo, a friend of Kike’s from the military. Am I willing to go back? Sure, but not anytime THAT soon.

May

In 2012, I wanted to change up my travel routine a bit, so I went along with Audrey’s idea to do a giant obstacle course. She had exaggerated on obstacle course, but inversely: I signed up for the Tough Mudder, a 10-mile run with 25 obstacles somewhere along the way in the fields outside of the Boughton House. My body ached for days afterwards, but it was worth it. We got to see Oxford, too.

The weekend before, we’d gone to Murcia, a little forgotten corner of Spain where nothing happened but a wine tasting and a fight on the beach, all wrapped up into a lot of time in the car.

June

June has been quiet, comparatively. Between ending my current job and starting a new one, I’ve only made it to Marid for a weekend for a conference and a few goodbyes.

So, what’s next? The only big trips we’ve got on the horizon are this summer and at Christmas, but I’ll have three-day weekends to enjoy from September on. I’m heading to La Coruña Monday to work for the same summer camps I’ve been at the last three Julys (my apologies for the lack of posts), then making my yearly trip to America for the month of August. While I’m there, I’ll visit NYC and Boston for the first time in my life before heading back to Spain in early September. I’m also heading to the Travel Bloggers Unit conference in Porto with Lauren of Spanish Sabores.

So what’s been your travel highlight of these first few months of 2012, and what’s up next for you? Leave me a message in the comments so I know where to expect a postcard from!

How Oxford Changed my Mind About England

I dislike England. Phew, feels good to admit it.

I’ve now been to the British Isles four times – three to England, and once to Scotland (which, for the record, I loved). But England I just do not like. Too impersonal, too similar to my home country, too expensive and sub-par food. Add that to airport hassles each time, and it takes an awful lot of convincing to get me to England.

Audrey convinced me. A Facebook invite to an event called Tough Mudder, coupled with a cheap Ryan Air flight meant I’d be spending a weekend is cheery old London, and a little race on Sunday.

I grumpily boarded the plane on Friday evening, knowing full well I’d be missing the Feria de Jérez and the Romería of San Nicolás, my adopted pueblo. I wanted to spend the weekend in Spain. Two hours, turbulence and a long customs line meant I’d missed my bus into the city center, and in the end I arrived at my hostel near the British Museum around 3am. I hate England.

Upon seeing my friends the following morning, we were faced with a decision: where to go to get the hell out of London. Audrey got in on the wrong side of the car as we narrowed it down to two destinations: either Oxford or Cambridge. Any guesses as to how the four of us earn money??

Sunglasses on (yes, we got a sunny weekend!), map route to Oxford highlighted and Audrey finally on the right side of the road, we drove the 60 miles northwest to England’s poshest university town, admiring the vast yellow fields of rapeseed and low-hanging clouds.

Oxford was full of two things: bicycles and people wearing commencement robes. We happened to be there on the weekend that young hopefuls were packing up their rooms and heading into the Real World, while three of the four of us are on our fifth years in Spain. I’ll drink (a delicious local beer) to that.

While having pints at White Horse, a small underground pub near the heart of the village, we squeezed into a table with six older men and women. They’d come down for the weekend from the Northern end of the country, taking advantage of the postcard-perfect weather. The happily handed over a map and encouraged us to see any one of the university’s 80+ colleges.

After living in America and Spain all my life, I assumed the colleges were the different university buildings for the different areas of study. Instead, the colleges at British universities are residence halls with vast, grassy lawns and towering turrets. It was like jumping right into Hogwarts as we peered into the doors and saw graduates in their long, black robes playing cricket on the lawns.

A glimpse into the 80+ colleges that surround the Oxford campus. No beer pong here, just cricket!

Nearly all of the colleges were closed that day due to the commencement activities, so we troved the bustling center, full of shops and quaint pubs. I was immediately transported back to my trip to Ireland with my parens in 2010 and the number of roadside joints we popped into for a quick pint or some grubby pub food. A trip to the Sainsbury’s meant we were well stocked with gourmet crackers, humus and some veggies, and we did as the locals – found a soft, emerald lawn to stretch our legs and fill our bellies.

Around us, graduates snapped up pictures in front of their well-loved grounds and I likened Oxford to Galway – walkable, a bit quirky (if posh can be that at all) and inviting. The warm weather did well to lift our spirits as we talked about our own graduations: Lauren is heading to China to teach, Audrey back to Texas to start field work for a business she’s creating, and Annie to school in Colorado. That leaves me, not yet ready to walk down the commencement road and leave Spain behind for a different future.

Our time meter was not quite up on the rental car, so we ducked into a pub as the evening weather was turning cool. Tomorrow we’d be up at the crack of dawn to run the Tough Mudder, but who could really think of tomorrow when we’re all just living for today?

Have you ever been to Oxford? What were your impressions? Is there a city in a country you’re not fond of that you’ve come to enjoy?

Signs of Spring

While it’s no secret that I love this short-lived season in Seville, we are getting it a bit early. It’s technically winter for a few more days, but we’re already enjoying longer hours of sun, warm temperatures and very little rain – in Galicia, it’s rained 30% less than normal. While I’m all about a rainless winter (I’m a Chicagoan, so the less nasty weather we have in Seville, the more I’m convinced that this is the place for me!), it may all come during Spring’s big festivals, Semana Santa and la Feria de Abril.

Spring is in full-swing here, so I’m set to enjoy. Seville’s hallmarks during primavera are well-known and best enjoyed outdoors. We’re enjoying temperatures in the low 70s, azahar in full bloom and festivals atope. Though April showers may bring more flowers come May, I’m heading out on every sunny day.

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Revuelto de Abril

Pues, VAYA MES! Between Semana Santa and the Language Village came Branko’s visit, barbeques, azahar, springtime’s quick transition to summer and, claro, the April Fair. Menudo primavera que hemos pegao! I haven’t had two moments to sit still, so I’ll just leave some photos at the moment, as well as a link to my ode to Feria on Matt’s travel blog.

churros at 6am with my visitor and our beers from the churrero.

dancing Sevillanas con Josito

Twilight on C/Gitanillo de Triana at the Fairgrounds

Love Love LOVE these two

quick trip to Granada with the girls

Branko’s visit to Sevilla and our trip to the Alcazar

BBQ on Christene’s terraza with the Cathedral behind us

Saying goodbye to Marta from Heliche

A que parezco una gitana de Triana!

Mis ninas en Feria: Now it’s time for caracoles and the beach!!
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