Friday – It all started bright and early on another morning…4:45am to be exact. I met Anna and Sarah at the corner and we shared a cab to the airport to meet the rest of our interest group. The flight went off without a hitch. We were all exhausted and I managed to sleep a little. We took a train into the city, checked into the hostel, and headed out for Las Ramblas and The Market. Las Ramblas was absolutely nuts…so many people, so much going on, a bit overwhelming. It definitely had the best display of street performers I have ever seen. And they were selling everything from birds to gerbils to seeds…so random. We had some free time at the Market so we walked around and searched for food. The market was nuts as well, they were selling every possible kind of meat and body parts of animals. We saw sheep’s head, cow tongue, possibly a brain or heart of some kind…not really sure, live crabs, weird sea creatures, and of course tons and tons of ham. We found some pizza and bought some chocolates.
Las Ramblas Street Performers
Market on Las Ramblas
After some food and rest, we metroed it to the Arc de Triomf. We walked through the park and to the Parlament de Catalunya. It was a pretty building that reminded me of Paris & Madrid…basically that’s how the whole city of Barcelona feels, a mix between 2 cultures. We took a tour, saw the important chambers, snapped some photos and were on our way. We walked out to the water and had the rest of the afternoon/night free. Sarah and I got some ice cream and did some people watching before deciding we needed real food. We found a tapas place that had €1.20 tapas…the cheapest I have ever seen. I had tortilla española and a seafood salad type thing and we’re pretty sure Sarah had caviar. They were tasty. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, walked up Las Ramblas again, stopped to get some snacks and then headed back to the hostel. I’m pretty sure we all fell asleep about 9:30 (I’d only slept 2 hours the night before).
Arc de Triomf
Parlament de Catalunya
Saturday – We started out with a walk through the old city, through 2 cathedrals, and the windy streets. The cathedrals were cool but I’m unfortunately getting to that point where I feel like I can’t tour another cathedral. I tried to make the most of it. We broke for lunch and Sarah & I found tortilla española in the grocery store! Probably the best day ever! We did our usual lunch: sitting in a plaza with bread and whatever else we could buy for less than €5 and watching the people go by.
I won’t bore you with more pictures of Spanish Cathedrals 🙂
After lunch we wandered through the city in search of Gaudí buildings. Some people call him insane…I definitely classify him as a genius. His work was incredible to see. We ended the day at Parc Güel, the park about a 20 minute bus ride from downtown that was entirely designed by Antoni Gaudí. It was whimsical and fairy tale like, just like all his other masterpieces. We walked and took lots of pictures before heading back towards our hostel.
Parc Güel, Gaudí
Sarah and I decided to walk around a bit more and we happen to walk by the Cathedral and catch some people dancing Sardanas, the typical dance of Catalunya. The entire plaza in front of the Cathedral was full of people, mostly in their 70’s & 80’s dancing in circles. There was a band playing and everyone stopped to take pictures and watch. It was amazing, I caught it on video. We walked a bit and found possibly the most American place to eat dinner. It was basically a buffet with soup, salad, and meat…just what we were in the mood for. They even had an ice cream machine! We took the metro to the Sagrada Família to see it lit up at night. It is an amazing thing to see. We got back to the hostel with barely enough time for me to shower and get ready to meet my friend from Mizzou who is studying in Barcelona. I found our metro meeting point on the map and headed out. We went to a little bar and later to a club. We called it a night around 4 am and I headed back to the hostel via metro/sketchy streets…probably not the best option. It was great to see her though, all the way in Barcelona!
Sardana outside the Cathedral
Sunday – After another night of 2 hours of sleep, I got up at 7:15, showered, ate breakfast, and headed out with the rest of the group for the Sagrada Família. It was even better to see during the day because you could see all the details. It’s so incredibly detailed and appears to be melting to the ground. We took the elevator up into one of the towers, had great views of the city, and then climbed all the way back down the stairs before touring the inside. The inside is pretty but full of construction materials. I read somewhere that the earliest estimates say that it will be complete in 2026 or somewhere around there. From the looks of it, it seems like they will never finish it. Its an unbelievable project that I’m glad I’m not investing my whole life in. Props to the people who are. After our tour of Gaudí’s crazy cathedral, we headed back to the hostel to be told by our leader that our flight to Sevilla had been cancelled for that afternoon.
Inside a Tower, Sagrada Familia
Inside the Sagrada Familia
Thanks to volcanic ash from Iceland covering Europe, the whole air transportation system on the continent had basically been halted. We headed to the bus station and hoped for the best. After waiting to hear the verdict, we all had tickets for a 10pm bus to Sevilla. At this point it was about 12pm which meant 10 HOURS IN THE BUS STATION! I know we weren’t in the worst situation of all the people affected by the cancellations but nonetheless, 10 hours is a long time to wait. All 25 of us staked out a corner on the top floor and camped out for the day. We left here and there to walk around, get food, and pass the time. A few of us bought Spanish newspapers to see if we could figure out what the rest of the world was saying about the mess. One girl had a blackberry that kept us informed of what was going on. A lot of people in our group were traveling from Barcelona to other place because we don’t have class this week so they had to make quick arrangements after all the flights were cancelled. What a mess/bummer. After hours of trying to sleep on the cold floor, endless people watching, stocking up on food for the trek, and basically going nuts, we all boarded a bus for our 15 HOUR ride back to Sevilla. Luckily most of us were completely exhausted so we were able to sleep as best as possible on a charter bus. I was lucky enough to get the very back corner which I’m now convinced is the best possible seat to be in. I woke up randomly for the first 9 hour leg of our trip before we stopped in Ubeda (a.k.a. middle of nowhere Spain) to switch buses. I was able to sleep for most of the rest of the 7 hours before we finally arrived in Sevilla at about 1:30pm Monday. It was an incredibly long journey but we all made it. I sympathize with the people who were in much worse predicaments than we were. I successfully survived my first flight cancellation.
Stranded in Barcelona
Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Sevilla: within Spain, Sevilla has one of the best known celebrations in the country during Holy Week and possibly for the entire year. Holy Week in Spain is obviously a big deal anyways, given the fact that its a predominantly Catholic country and has been for centuries. The celebrations you see in the cities are unlike anything else and definitely would not be possible in the United States. Its something that everyone should have the experience to see, especially if you are a devout Christian and more specifically Catholic.
So what exactly is it? Basically each day of Holy Week and even starting the Friday and Saturday before Palm Sunday there are processions throughout the city. Each church within the city has a brotherhood or cofradía of traditionally men, although now women can participate, who pay yearly dues. During Holy Week, these brothers or nazarenos, dress in different colored robes according to their brotherhood and wear hoods or capirotes much like the KKK in the U.S. (Interestingly enough, the KKK took the idea of the hoods from these religious brothers who had been wearing them since as early as the 14th century and now when people see the hoods, they don’t think of religious penitents but instead of racist intolerants.)
Nazarenos, La Rendición
Each procession has nazarenos and a float or paso of Jesus followed by the Virgin. Each procession marches out of their church and through the narrow streets to and inside the main cathedral in downtown. Some of the processions march for 8-10 hours due to their distance from the cathedral and the fact that the crowd has to clear the street and the actual pasos are so incredibly heavy. The biggest procession we saw had over 2000 nazarenos and took about an hour to pass by where we were standing. Depending on the brotherhood, the procession starts with a band playing religious music, followed by nazarenos carrying candles, some walking barefoot and carrying/praying with rosaries.
Band, Las Aguas
After the nazarenos, the first float or paso comes through which is a depiction of the Passion of Christ.
Jesus de la Redención, Jesus of the Redemption
Followed by more nazarenos, sometimes bearing crosses
El Gran Poder, The Great Power
The last paso is of the Virgin all decked out in gold and silver wearing a velvet robe.
Virgen de Las Aguas, Virgin of the Waters
Each float is carried by men, or costaleros, marching in step underneath and unseen so it appears the paso is actually floating. They are incredibly heavy with some being carried by 40 or 50 men each carrying about 100 lbs. on their shoulders.
For weeks before, Semana Santa could be heard on everyone’s lips in Sevilla. I could feel the tourists pouring into the city as Palm Sunday approached and there was definitely an air of excitement. All throughout the city center, construction of platforms and bleachers had been taking place for weeks. The main avenue in front of the Cathedral had been completely lined with little wooden folding chairs that each sold for €100 or about $150 to people who wanted the best views of each paso as it passed through and into the Cathedral.
I was in Portugal for the first weekend but I went to my first paso on Holy Monday (Lunes Santo) with a friend and a guide from our CIEE Study Center. I had no idea what to expect but it is really something that is surreal to experience. Just imagine the most confusing, oldest part of the city with narrow streets and tall buildings with balconies compleeeetely FULL of people, like unable to move at all amounts of people. And that is how the entire downtown area of Sevilla was. People would line up for the pasos hours before they came by just to get a good view. People would stand in the street until the paso was close enough that the police came by and pushed everyone up into the sidewalk. I have never felt so claustrophobic in my life. At one point, we were literally like a herd of cattle trying to get down an alleyway. We were being pushed into people without any control until we finally turned a corner and had room to at least walk without being pushed along. Holy Monday I saw the La Redención (The Redemption) paso as well as Las Aguas (The Waters).
Tuesday morning Sarah and I headed to Salamanca & Ávila (see post below). They also have Semana Santa celebrations although they are not nearly as elaborate as in Sevilla and therefore not the amount of people. We did manage to see a paso in Salamanca on Tuesday night and one in Ávila on Wednesday. We headed back to Sevilla just in time for La Madrugada (The Dawn), the biggest night of Semana Santa.
I have never ever seen anything in my life like I saw during La Madrugada. I left my house at about 9:30pm in search of food since my family hadn’t made me dinner after I got off the bus from Salamanca. I didn’t really know where I was going but decided to head to the city center to see if I could find some food. The sheer amount of people was unbelievable. And all the bars were completely packed but people had their little stools outside and brought the bar atmosphere out into the tiny streets. I have never seen so many people just gathered on sidewalks, sitting on curbs, in the street, on ledges, any nook and cranny they could fit just drinking beer, eating sandwiches, eating tapas, talking in small groups, families with little kids, and old people all showing just how Spanish they were. I honestly just walked around the streets completely lost because the main routes were so packed or full of pasos, with my mouth almost open as I tried to take it all in. I stumbled upon a little store selling bocadillos (sandwiches), chips and a water bottle for 4euro so I got my little meal and headed for the Cathedral for more people watching and to eat my sandwich. It was just fascinating to sit on the steps and take in the atmosphere. I really can’t explain what it was like. I ate my food, stuck around the cathedral for a while watching a few pasos, then decided to head to another section of the city. It took me probably about an hour when normally its about 15 minutes. I saw people lined up on the sidewalks in front of a church after I got through the huge crowds and decided to wait with them since there was obviously a paso coming through. I waited about 30 minutes before it came by.
I finally got a hold of a few friends and we met up and headed for a main plaza where 2 pasos would be coming by. Finding a spot in the plaza was absolutely impossible. The sidewalks were completely full of little wooden folding chairs and barricaded off and the only space in the streets was literally just big enough for the paso to get through. The plaza was as packed as it could get with people standing. After realizing that even if we could find a spot for 5 of us, we wouldn’t be able to see anything, we decided to walk down a narrow small street. The sidewalks of the street were equally as packed so we walked down the middle of the street for a few minutes before the police walked toward us followed by a paso. They were basically pushing everyone up onto the sidewalks so the paso could get through. We decided to split up and just find a spot for ourselves. It turned out for the best because our view was so much better than if we had stayed in the plaza. I could literally touch the paso as it went by. The paso was El Gran Poder (The Great Power), it was completely silent with no band and the onlookers were quiet as it passed. Its the oldest procession dating from 1340 and the biggest one I saw. I think there were over 2000 nazarenos and it took about an hour to pass us. Because it was at night, all the candles of the nazarenos were lit, as well as the candles on the paso of the Virgin. Just being on that tiny Spanish street, surrounded by thousands of silent people, and watching everything in front of me was one of the most memorable experiences. During that paso we also experienced a saeta or an impromptu song sung by a passerby in flamenco style singing praises to Jesus and Mary. I couldn’t understand any of it, but the man singing it was the only thing you could hear and was standing in the balcony right above my head…SOOOO cool. As the Virgin went by, we heard the man in front guiding the costaleros. The paso was so wide and the street was so narrow, they were literally a few meters from the balconies as they passed. Since the costaleros can’t see at all where they’re going, the man in front shouting directions is very important. We could hear him say “a la izquierda un poquito, siempre andando, siempre andando” (to the left a little, always walking, always walking). Such a cool thing to see.
Nazarenos, El Gran Poder
María Santísima del Mayor Dolor y Traspaso, El Gran Poder
Holy Mary of Great Pain and Crossing, The Great Power
After an hour of El Gran Poder, we headed for a much more open space to see La Esperanza de Triana (The Hope of Triana). Since Triana is the neighborhood where most of us live, we were excited. The Christ in that paso, Cristo de las Tres Caidas (Jesus of the Three Falls), was the most beautiful one I saw. There was so much gold it was unbelievable and people touched and kissed it as it walked by. The Virgin was beautiful as well but most of them started to look the same. After La Esperanza, I decided to head home, it was about 5:30 am. I had been out for 8 hours and I only saw about half the pasos that night. One of my friends was out until 9:30am!! And THAT is how big of a deal La Madrugada is…an overnight party of pasos in the crowded tiny Spanish streets.
Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope)
Good Friday was more low key than the night before but nonetheless, still a big deal. We saw two pasos, El Cachorro (The Puppy) and La O. I never figured out why one of the brotherhoods is called The Puppy but there has to be some religious significance. We did get to see the costaleros turn the corner with the Virgin in El Cachorro which took about 10 minutes and after which, everyone cheered on the costaleros.
Santísimo Cristo de la Expiración, El Cachorro
The Most Holy Christ of the Expiration, The Puppy
Nuestra Madre y Señora del Patrocinio, El Cachorro
Our Mother & Lady of the Patronage
La O was the most memorable though. The nazarenos were all dressed in purple satin, head to toe. We were once again on a tiny crowded Spanish street watching the nazarenos pass by with candles lit. The coolest part was seeing the costaleros switch. Because the pasos are so heavy, the costaleros switch out fairly often. We happened to be standing at the very spot where they decided it was time to switch out. The man in front yelling directions, counted off and they lowered the Virgin. A few costaleros switch out at a time, row by row. When they’re ready to start again, the costaleros are all cheering and encouraging each other to keep going. Right before they lift the Virgin up, they all yell in unison something to the effect of “La Virgen al cielo” (We lift her to the heavens). It was sooooo cool to see and hear.
Nazarenos, La O
María Santísima de La O, Most Holy Mother of the O
Costaleros, La O
Although Holy Week is a huge celebration in Sevilla, I felt like Easter definitely lacked in celebration. I could go on and on about what I think about Spain and Catholicism but that’s another blog post.
Semana Santa in Sevilla IS one of the things that should be seen and experienced if at all possible. Even if you’re not a Christian, its still a religious experience that can be appreciated and respected for its historical and traditional aspects. Although I think a lot of the religious aspect of it has been lost, it would be a meaningful experience for a Christian who takes their faith seriously.