Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Andalucía, ¡Olé!: Sevilla

I am the world's worst procrastinator. By that I mean that not only do I procrastinate a lot, I also procrastinate badly--as in, I don't even do fun things while I procrastinate. I've wasted dozens of hours in the last two weeks, but I didn't spend any of those hours on blogging! So now I am using classtime to blog because honestly, I fail at life. But that's another blogpost...

Anyway, three weeks ago I went to Sevilla and Cádiz with Kelsey and Aubrey. They're beautiful annd historical cities in the south of Spain, in the region called Andalucía (from the Arabic Al-Andalus, meaning "paradise"). Sevilla is known as the world capital of flamenco dance, and is also home to the largest cathedral in the world. Cádiz is actually the oldest city in Europe--it was founded by Phoenicians 3,100 years ago!

We started the trip out early on Friday, October 28th. I had to wake up at 6 am to get to the south-bound bus station on time to catch out 8 am bus, which was kind of the worst thing ever, since I seem to be incapable of going to sleep before 2 am these days. And because this was before day light savings time ended, it was still pitch black when we pulled out of the bus station, making everything just so much more painful. Thankfully, I was armed with my sleepy time playlist (lots of The Smiths and Bon Iver) and my inflatable neck pillow, and slept until we arrived at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Spain is full of lots of middle-of-nowheres. In California, you can't drive 15 minutes without seeing a movie theatre, but there's really nothing in between Spain's major cities--just giant yellow-brown fields and the occasional cow.

Rest stop with Europe's most expensive KinderBueno candy bars
First cat sighting of the trip!
Kelsey & Aubrey on da bus
It took six hours to get to Sevilla. Pretty brutal, and I fell asleep every time I tried to do homework...oops. When we finally arrived in the city, we realized we had no idea where we were--Kelsey had printed out the directions the hostel had emailed to us, and they gave directions from two bus stations. It took a ridiculous amount of wandering to finally find a sign telling us where we were. After further searching for the taxi stand, we got into one of Sevilla's Prius taxis and headed to the hostel. The website had said the hostel was located "right in the heart of old town, just steps from the cathedral," and for once, it was an honest description. However, upon checking in we were informed we'd actually be staying in a building just across the street--that had only one bathroom and NO WIFI. Disastrous.

No internet, but a gorgeous view!
I like balconies.
Ikea bunkbeds, of course.
After we freshened up and stowed our luggage, we went on an excursion to find some cold beer and tapas. The weather was absolutely perfect--mid 70s and sunny, the way Madrid was before it decided to copy Seattle's weather patterns. Stupid Madrid.

Just part of the cathedral; the tower on the right is the famous giralda
The cathedral is a mix of gothic and moorish architecture
A lot of buildings here are that distinctive shade of yellow--it's the same shade as the sand used in bullfighting arenas
Aubrey & me
 [photo cred: Kelsey]
Cruzcampo cerveza, traditional Andalucian beer. Noms.
And then I showed off my muscles...
Happy to be in the sunshine again.
After drinks, we went back to the hostel to ask about finding a flamenco show. They directed us to the Flamenco Museum--the only one in the world!--and even walked us there, so we wouldn't get lost in the incredibly windy cobblestone streets. So first we explored the museum for a bit--there were lots of cool videos, and a room of costumes I didn't take any good pictures of because it was super dark (excuses, excuses...)

Chairs & orange trees hanging over the flamenco stage
Some...interesting...flamenco costumes
Me & Aubs being pro flamenco dancers, obvs.
I did manage a mirror shot in the costume room. Typical.
And then it was time for the flamenco espectáculo (flamenco spectacle/show)--or, as the Andalucians pronounce it, echpectáculo. (They have a funny accent down here, which also includes dropping 's' off the end of words--ie., gracia instead of gracias).

¡Qué dramático!
The interaction between the musicians and dancers was amazing.
This guy was so sassy.
Further proof of sassiness.

Growing up in Santa Barbara, I've seen tons of flamenco every summer at Old Spanish Days, a week-long celebration of Santa Barbara's Spanish heritage. But I never saw flamenco like this. These two were actually very famous dancers, putting on a special show to honor the life of a famous Andalucian poet. Anyway, the way they interacted with each other and the musicians was fascinating. True flamenco is not a bunch of 16-year-old-girls in lime green polka dotted dresses dancing in a line on the courthouse steps, like I see every summer at home. True flamenco is very intimate, performed in small restaurants or bars, and focuses on the expression of emotions via dance. When the woman did her soleada dance, I was actually near tears--every flick of her hand, stomp of her foot, or wrinkle of her brow served to create an incredibly powerful atmosphere of melancholy and longing. Then later, during the final pair dance, I was laughing as the woman stole the man's hat and teased him, telling him he wasn't dancing well or fast enough.

When the show was over, someone from the hostel was waiting outside to take us back for paella & sangria night on the hostel's rooftop terrace!

The hostel was decorated for Halloween!
Joseph makin' paella
View from the terrace
Beer, sangria, and the best paella I've ever had. I was a happy, happy girl.
The paella riquíssima (very delicious)--for once, it wasn't coated in about eight kilos of salt. The Spaniards love their salt and it is absolutely foul. Anyway, we ended up meeting a bunch of really cool Americans. One of them was actually studying in Sevilla and was at the hostel with her friend who had come to visit her, so she offered to take us out after dinner. We ended up at an Irish pub with really rad Halloween decorations and delicious mojitos.

Mojitos, heavy on the sugar. Mmm.
We ended up calling it an early night (2 am is early by Spanish standards) so we could be up early for a full day of exploring the city, starting with a tour organized by the hostel. Our tour guide was an Italian studying archaeology in Sevilla, and he was legitimately insane--a welcome change from the middle-aged tour guides we've had in the past who make me want to cry with how boring they are. This was also the first tour I've ever had in English...maybe that's why I paid more attention...

Anyway, just a sample of Felipo's craziness: he described a frieze above the entrance to the cathedral that depicts Jesus expelling the moneylenders from the temple as "the first time we see Jesus kicking asses."

That's Felipo in the acid-ash capris...
Plaque commemorating people killed on this street by the ETA in 1998
Main street. Not pictured: the 3 Starbucks...
CAT outside of the old naval academy building
The river Guadalquivir
Oh hey!
Rowers rowin'
The river area reminded me of a painting by Thomas Eakins, Max Schmitt in a Single Schull:

Art history nerd 4 life.
Me & Kels
Next on the tour was la Plaza de España. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which was basically a pathetic attempt to make Latin American stop hating Spain for stealing all their gold and silver and giving smallpox to all their people. I don't think it worked very well, but at least we're left with some spectacular architecture! Also, parts of Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones were filmed here, so that's pretty rad.

Typical Sevillan red & yellow--red for the blood of the bulls, yellow for the bullring sand
A series of bridges represent the different regions of Spain 
The tour lasted a whopping three hours, after which we were absolutely starving. After a quick and disappointing lunch consisting of lagrimitas de pollo (translation: "little chicken teardrops"...what?!), we headed to the cathedral. We got there fifteen minutes before it closed, but thankfully were able to stay inside for almost an hour. I guess the Spanish lateness applies to closing of national monuments as well. I'm not complaining!

The cathedral, as I already mentioned, is the largest cathedral in the world and the third largest church in the world. When its construction was completed in the 16th century, it replaced the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul as the largest cathedral. Christopher Columbus is buried there, but somehow I totally missed his grave--oops.  Construction was initially begun in 1184 by Muslims, but after the Christian conquest of 1248 by Ferdinand III, it was converted into a Catholic church. It still has many elements of the original Muslim structure because I guess the Catholics didn't hate the Muslims guts enough to destroy all of the awesome buildings they built. The most noticeable remnant of its moorish days is the giralda, the large tower, which used to be the mosque's minaret. It is 343 feet high but has zero stairs--instead, it has about 40 ramps spiraling to the top. This is because the muezzin (man in charge of calling Muslims to prayer) would have to climb the tower five times a day, and it would be way too exhausting if he had to walk--so he rode a donkey.

The gothic end of the cathedral
The cathedral offers sanctuary to those laid off or on strike. This was a teacher's strike, and behind the barriers they had beds set up to sleep there.
I'll never get over the vaulted ceilings of gothic cathedrals
I was very disappointed to discover they do not offer donkey rides to the top of the giralda--I had to walk! What the heck, man? The thing is donkey-equipped! So unfair. At least the views from the top were absolutely amazing!
A little tilt-shift action...

I wanted to go to that rooftop pool SO badly.
The tower strikes a pretty impressive shadow
Embroidered cape worn by Carlos V at his coronation on October 23, 1520. THIS THING IS 491 YEARS OLD.
Cute circle scarf, bro.
After getting back to the hostel, I checked Foursquare (my fav social networking app) from my iPod to find a restaurant for dinner. The top-visited restaurant far and away was called Las Coloniales and promised to have "comida buenissima y barata" (delicious and cheap food) and wasn't too far away from our hostel, so I broke out the map and we were on our way.

I've actually become really good at reading maps, believe it or not
Once we finally found the restaurant, we asked the waiter for a table and he told us to write our names on a chalkboard hanging by the bar and wait. We ended up waiting an hour, but oh god, was it worth it. We ended up ordering so much food, the waiter had to put the wine bucket on a chair, because it wouldn't fit on the table...¡qué vergüenza! (How embarrassing!) If I remember correctly, this is everything we ordered...

  • chicken with almond sauce
  • crunchy eggplant with drizzled in honey
  • toast with roquefort cheese and blueberry jam
  • goat cheese salad
  • chocolate cheesecake
  • one bottle of wine
  • one bottle of cava (Spanish champagne)

Not only we were the crazy girls with 23098 plates of food on the table, we also had an Eminem rap-a-long at one point. (Quietly, though...I'm not that obnoxious American!)

Spanish wine is da best
Me & Aubs
All of the foods...devoured.
Chocolate cheesecake & cava!

The best part is, all this food (and drink) only cost us €20 each!

So stoked about dinner.
Ghost tourists!
We got back from dinner at around 11:45 pm to discover that everyone in our hostel room was already asleep...what party poopers. Kelsey and I decided to head over to the river and enjoy the surprisingly not-cold night.

I wish I had had my DSLR with me--it was so pretty!
We ended up staying up way too late, but thankfully daylight savings time ended in Europe that night (a week earlier than the US) so we gained a splendid hour of sleep and were decently well-rested for the next day.

After eating literally 4 pieces of toast and Nutella in the hostel, I headed out with Kelsey, Aubrey, and our new friend Lindsay to explore the Real Alcázar (Royal Fortress). The site was originally founded by the Arabs in 712 CE. Like the cathedral, it was taken over by Christians in 1248, and also like the cathedral, it still contains a vast amount of moorish architecture...this time because the Muslims were clearly much better at tiling than the Christians.

Entrance to the Alcázar
From the central courtyard
Coolest. Architecture. Ever.
Aaand the scariest fish ever...
Las chicas
Legend has it, this was the private baths of a king's mistress
The gardens were SO. PRETTY. I didn't want to leave that windowsill!
Not-so-creepy fishies.
Sometimes I photograph other photogs.
And then we came across a bunch of peacocks and I refrained from singing that horrible Katy Perry song.

Whatchu lookin' at?
Nommin' on bread crumbs
Dat tilework!
So obsessed with Islamic architecture.
Adios, ¡Alcázar!
Before catching our train to our next destination, Cádiz, we stopped by Los Archivos de las Américas (Archives of the Americas), home to the largest collection of documents relating to the discovery of the Americas. Unfortunately, it was way cooler in concept than actuality, and some of the signs were printed in Comic Sans. Oh, the horror!

Sevilla is an absolutely gorgeous city, and it reminded me a lot of Santa Barbara. It's always refreshing to be in a small town after a few weeks in the metropolis that is Madrid. I wish I had been able to spend a little bit more time there so I could have crossed over the river to the next town, which is famous for its pottery, but c'est la vie. Just another reason for me to come back...

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