Sevilla and the Semana Santa Festival

In order to simplify things for you, I am going to combine all of my Seville visits into this one post. I actually ended up visiting Seville three separate times with trips to Portugal and Cadiz in-between within two weeks. And best of all, I’m just a little bit behind on blog posts so this will speed my catch up ;)

Sevilla ended up on my destination list due to a couple of reasons. Firstly it was the cheapest place in south Spain to fly to from Marrakech. Secondly Seville and Madrid were the only two places I’d even heard of in Spain before coming over to Europe (did I ever mention my geography skills are a bit lacking?). Thirdly there aren’t a huge number of festivals happening in Spain during April, but the Semana Santa festival happens to be Seville’s biggest annual festival and my main reason for returning to Seville for visit number two. And finally the last reason is that not only did I end up really really liking Sevilla (as in I felt like I could happily live here), but it’s the easiest place to get to south Portugal from. Hence my reason for visit number three.

My first day in Sevilla I went to a restaurant called Velmeria San Telmo as recommended by a hostel staff member. A few mouth orgasms later and I was hooked. I ended up eating my lunch there every day while in Sevilla which was about six days in total. Yum yum.

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This potato salad with mayonaise and tuna topped with shrimp and capsicum (spanish name ensaladilla rusa) was to die for

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A banoffee pie dessert that I ate in honour of my birthday

I did a couple of free walking tours and got what become known in the hostel as the Qwan Experience. Qwan was the guide for both of my tours. A really lovely Spanish chap who loved to talk. And talk. And then talk some more. A very passionate man about his city and the history with lots of gestures and what I can only describe as typical Spanish body movements. I’m the kind of person who is only good at listening for the first five minutes before switching off. So those tours were kinda terrible to be honest. That’s a good four-five hours of my life I’ll never get back. Why I went back for the second tour I’ll never know.

A couple of gems I did learn however. Sevilla is a very religious city although the people themselves aren’t actually hardcore believers. They merely act very over-religious with going to church many times a week, wearing big golden crosses and carrying around their favourite pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in their wallets to compare with their friends. Huh. Apparently this is typical behaviour from since the inquisition where a lot of Muslims and Jews were persecuted. Acting oververtly Christian was a great way to not get suspected or killed. Seville also a very poor city apparently despite looking really rich and prosperous which is from the days when Spain colonised South America and had lots of gold.

Touristy things I saw included the outside of the cathedral (ever since seeing Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, all other cathedrals have been ruined for me and seem so boring in comparison. I rarely go inside many now especially if there is an entrance fee which this one did have), the Alzucar palace, Plaza de España, the bull ring, and the Flamenco museum. I probably could have packed more in since I was in Sevilla for a total of seven nights but hey, it was really nice a couple of chilled afternoons reading in the Plaza Espana gardens combined with long afternoon siestas and lazy late lunches at that favourite restaurant of mine.

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I love photographing swans 

 

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Pretty roses in the Plaza de España garden

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One of the many many churches within Sevilla

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The ‘Mushrooms’. A wooden structure you could go to the top of to view the city

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The bull ring – Plaza de Toros

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Some kayakers on the river

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Plaza de España - An amazing place to walk around

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The fountain in the centre of Plaza de España being photographed

I kept seeing these young girls in white dresses doing photo-shoots everywhere. I think it was to do with some Jewish coming-of-age thing

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At the Alcázar Place. Another stunning place to visit

20140420-140748.jpgA close up of some of the tile work on the walls of the Alcázar palace

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So many pretty Alcázar flowers

And of course there was the big Semana Santa festival going on for visits two and three. A.k.a Holy Week. Semana Santa always happens in the week right before Easter and is essentially a week-long celebration of Jesus and his ordeals over Easter. It involves every church in the city (and there are many many churches in the overtly religious Sevilla) doing a parade through the streets with a couple of two-ton heavy floats with elaborate religious scenes on top to the cathedral and back. Each float needs about fifty men to carry it and each parade procession lasts many hours with the longest being thirteen hours if your church is located really far away from the cathedral. That’s a long time to carry two ton. The processions would go all day and into the night until 3am.

Each float is accompanied by a full matching band and many of what looks like the Ku Klux klan. As I learned later on, apparently the KKK stole their costume idea from the Semana Santa festival.

A float emerges from a church

Interestingly it is considered a great honour to be one of the float carriers and due to high numbers of applications, each man is only able to do it once in a lifetime. Sometimes when the processions are cancelled to bad weather, it is not uncommon for grown Spanish men to be seen crying in the streets at their lost chance of being a float carrier.

The population of the city swells from the usual eight hundred thousand to about three million in total over the whole week. This makes the streets very very crowded. And if your intended path through the city happens to cut across one of the parade routes, you’ll need to be prepared to take a couple of hours to get through as people really pack in to watch the possessions. Claustrophobics are advised to stay home.

One of the many marching bands with a mini marcher

I should also point out that I am not religious myself. Not am I am atheist as I don’t strictly non-believe and actively dis-promote the church. I consider myself to be more of an agnostic spiritually where I don’t believe in a particular religion, but I also don’t disbelieve that there is or could be something out there. I do however like the idea that positive thinking and acts of kindness do generate brownie points or karma in general though.

Visit #1
Where I stayed: La Banda Rooftop Hostel
Price: €20 in a 6 bed dorm
Overall: Really liked this hostel. The bed was the most comfy bed I have *ever* slept on (with the possible exception being Shelley’s memory foam mattress I napped on once). Every night there was a dinner on which was a great chance to meet others and mingle with cheap drinks from the hostel bar. I felt the staff had great taste in music as I generally loved whatever was playing in the reception lounge area.

Visit #2 and 3
Where I stayed: Garden Backpacker
Price: €25 in a 12 bed dorm
Overall: I would have stayed in the La Banda hostel again quite happily but their prices were raised to €35 a night during the festival which I was not so keen to pay. My usual accommodation budget is more like €15 a night. The main thing that attracted me to Garden Backpackers is that the hostel has it’s own lovely garden as well as free sangria in the evenings. Admittedly it was only the cheap supermarket stuff but hey free is free! The hostel dinners each night were also cheap and extremely delicious. And mostly vegetarian which I really liked. Great to have a chance to catch up on my five-plus a day.

 

Happy Zombie Jesus Day from Snazzy

A tale of a creepy Arab man on the train to Marrakech

An amazing lamp-filled shop in Marrakech

Early the next morning, I was slightly unimpressed that my Fez hostel host hadn’t left out a breakfast package for me as promised. But as it was time to head to the bus station, I had to leave feeling hungry and in need of tea. But as I commented in my last post, it was the host that appeared to be kind of an idiot so I wasn’t really that surprised.

I rode the bus for the next few hours to the capital city of Rabat. I’d considered stopping in Casablanca but heard it was pretty industrial. The only reason most tourists head there is because of the movie Casablanca. Which I haven’t watched. So I thought Rabat would be the better option. I was again unimpressed to find out on arrival in Rabat that there were again no luggage storage facilities. And not in the train station either which I found very odd with Rabat being the capital city.

It was hot and sweaty. My stomach was rumbling and shoulders aching with the weight of my bag. I was wearing clothing that covered most of my skin as dressing conservatively is highly recommended for Morocco. I didn’t feel like I needed to wear a head scarf there although I did during my first day in Tangier as all the male attention was a bit overwhelming. Being blonde tends to generate even more attention.

So let’s talk about Moroccan men. I mentioned in another post how the attitude of Arabic men towards women is markedly different in contrast to the rest of the world. But what does this translate to. Well Moroccan women all wear headscarves covering all hair, along with often a type of long sleeved dress extending down to ankle-length called a djellaba. The younger women still wear headscarves but usually with normal clothes which are always long-sleeved with trousers. The only exposed skin is the face, hands and feet. The men and children seemed to wear anything although not shorts. I found it wasn’t difficult to dress conservatively although I could sense it would get harder as the heat increased in summer. A scarf was great for converting my lower/necked tops into a more appropriate style.

Now the deal-breaker. Despite foreign females covering their flesh, it doesn’t stop Moroccan men seeming to think foreign women are easy and loose. And indeed I had so many offers of sex, comments on my appearance, flirting, blown kisses that I felt like a hooker. Interestingly my other mother Julie pointed out on another post that the porn industry has a lot to answer for with making it appear that all white females are sexually available. I really felt the truth of that during my time in Moroccan.

Overall though all this attention was just verbal and gestures. The men wouldn’t come too close and make me feel that I was actually physically threatened. Except for one incident on the train between Rabat and Marrakech.

I was feeling pretty exhausted and the walking around Rabat with my heavy backpack hadn’t helped. The people hadn’t been particularly friendly and the small part of the medina I saw just wasn’t as pretty as Fez or Chefchaouen. Once on the train I managed to snag a window seat and rested my head right against the window with my small bag with valuables under my legs.

I woke up to find a hand on my thigh – on my upper thigh to be more specific. Belonging to an young Arabic man sitting right next to me. I freaked out and grabbed his hand and shoved it back at him telling him off. The asshole had the cheek to smile and wink at me. Ick.

I grabbed my small bag and pushed out past him. There was no way I was going to sit next to him for the rest of my train trip. I managed to find another seat with a Moroccan woman but I felt too weirded out to sleep for the rest of the trip. I had no idea how long his hand had been there or why he even thought it was okay to touch a sleeping stranger. Moroccan women definitely would not tolerate that kind of behaviour.

I was glad to arrive into Marrakech finally later that day. My petit taxi dropped me off in Place D’Jeema El Fna square and I walked through the crowds of touts and tourists ignoring the many offers of hotels and Sahara excursions. The square was packed with stalls along with performers with snakes and monkeys on leashes. Trying to entice tourists to touch their animals and pose for a photo so they could then be charged inflated prices. Henna ladies putting photos of henna designs in your face. And replying ‘Maybe later?’ to my firm no.

I made it to my hostel and settled in for the night. Exhaustion knocked me out like a log on the head.

Over the next couple of days I enjoyed going to ancient palaces and gardens, wandering through the medina, eating street food along with too many tagines, dodging motorbikes in the small narrow streets, trying out some shisha at the hostel and drinking multiple cups of mint tea.

Inside of a palace over one thousand years old

Flowers at the palace

A blue-themed Jewish Synagogue

One of the many horse carriages ready to transport tourists around for a fee of course

Inside the medina

Beautiful shop displays

Camels chill by a pay phone

Sunset from the rooftop of my hostel with a mosque silhouette

Love the vintage-filter version too

Enjoy this overload of photos from the Jardin Marjorelle garden I went to and loved. The snappy blue and red colours really made the beautifully maintained plants really pop.

I actually found Marrakech to be my least favourite out of the places I stayed in. The touts were particularly aggressive there due to I assume Marrakech having the highest number of tourists in the country. The henna ladies had a habit of trying to grab your hand so they could start painting a henna design without your permission (it would only take them maybe twenty seconds) and then charge up to 200 dirhams for something that usually costs maybe 30 dirhams.

The restaurants were rather expensive with 70-90 dirham tagines which was considerably higher compared to Fez and Tangier. I did manage to find a cheap place to eat and there were also food stalls that appeared in the square every night. But the problem with those food stalls is that the Moroccans were very competitive with promoting their own stall. And when you chose a different stall to their particular one you could hear them muttering things like ‘American assholes’. Not an effective way to get customers. One tasty thing I did find is orange juice. There are a row of stalls selling juice all day long and it is certainly the best orange juice I’ve ever had. Nice and refreshing too with the heat. Plus at 4 dirhams you can’t go wrong.

Mint tea. Image from foodilicious.smeak.com

My taxi driver going to the airport on my last morning tried to charge me over three times the usual fee. I suspect he could tell I was a little stressed as I had programmed my flight time incorrectly into my google calendar with the wrong time zone again (meaning I woke up, then realised I had less than an hour until check-in closed) and was running late. Sadly this is NOT the first time I have done this.

I really did not have time to haggle but luckily I literally only had seventy dirham left in my wallet. As I triumphantly told the taxi driver while shaking my empty wallet at him, I couldn’t pay two hundred dirhams since seventy was all I had. And considering the usual price is meant to be sixty dirhams, the driver was still getting a bargain really. Once I went to grab my bag back out of the taxi boot the driver realised I was serious and accepted my price. He was even nice enough to drive over the speed limit and through red lights to the airport. Although I suspect that was his usual style of driving anyway.

With plenty of time after that fast driving I was able to cruise through the airport, check my bag, and nibble on some last Moroccan snacks while awaiting my flight.

Next stop – Sevilla, Spain.

Hitch-hiking Moroccan ladies in traditional djellaba

Where I stayed: Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge
Price: €10 in a 10 bed dorm
Overall: One of my top hostels ever for sure. It was painted in bright red colours with the multiple common areas overflowing with decorations and cozy couches. There was free shisha and mint tea, and even a tortoise running around on the roof terrace. The atmosphere was chatty and friendly with kind sociable staff. The only negative I had was that the showers ran out of hot water very quickly so I essentially had cold showers for three of my nights there.

Looking down the centre shaft to the lounge area