Thursday, April 14, 2016

When in...Rome

I had been pretty indifferent about going to Rome until I had a conversation with my host dad one night in the kitchen during first semester. After telling me about how much he loved the city, despite how touristy it is, I decided I had to go. I found a decently priced flight in January and sort of forgot about it until a week or so before I was going. I quick google search lead me to a small eco-hostel about 30 minutes outside the city. It sounded like the perfect place to stay. Since I wasn’t going to check in until Friday night and had an inconveniently early flight home on Monday morning, I threw a romper and some PJs in my backpack, grabbed my three essential travel items: my camera, my journal, and my toothbrush and hopped on the plane.

My game plan was to “do the Vatican”, that is the museums and St. Peter’s, on Friday once I arrived. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I was expecting it to be pretty easy. Unfortunately I had been feeling sick since I got on the plane and was light-headed the entire afternoon. I was also very overwhelmed by how crowded it was. I’m not sure if you remember but since the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, I’ve had a hard time riding on the metro. Rome was no different. I had to take the metro both to and from the Vatican. On the way there, there were some guys smoking in the metro, but with very big/smoky electric cigarettes. I thought it was weird but then a mother turned and looked at another woman with this horrified look on her face. I don’t know what it was, but it made me sick. I had to get off at the next stop and then get on the next train. On the way back I was in a very full car and there were two men with camo backpacks. I’m sure they were perfectly nice guys but I was convinced that something bad was going to happen when I saw them texting a guy a few seats down. Again, I felt sick but made myself stay on the train.

Anyway. The Vatican was overwhelming. It was huge and crowded and frustrating. I didn’t like it at all. I definitely feel much more “holy” in my little church at home or in the streets during Semana Santa than I did there. It was too much. I headed out to my hostel around 6pm. It was a 30 minute train ride…for some reason I can do trains, just not metros. When I got to the little town of Zagarolo I walked the 20 minutes to the hostel even though they had free pick up. I didn’t feel like calling them and wanted to walk anyway. The sidewalk was sketchy at best, so I got rides all of the other times I went to the station.

The hostel, Wiki Hostel, was perfect. I absolutely loved it. As they were checking me in they told me that since it was Friday there was a pizza party for only 6 euros. They had a wood-brick oven and these Italian guys to cook tons of pizza/teach us how to do it. And they were made with all local ingredients. The bar was also stocked with local wine, by the bottle only. It was exactly what I needed. While I waited for the cooking to commence, one of the employees, a British expat, gave me a map of Rome and helped me plan out the perfect two day itinerary complete with pizza and gelato suggestions. During the pizza party I ate so much of the best pizza I’ve ever had/made and met a bunch of cool people (yay hostels!). We finished off the night with a Nutella pizza J

The next day I got up for breakfast at the hostel before heading into Rome around 11. I followed pretty closely the itinerary that the guy at the hostel gave me, stopping at a few churches and parks before walking around the Coliseum and Forum. I didn’t pay to go in since I have seen Roman ruins before (in Italica, a Roman center just outside of Sevilla). It was super fun to people watch. I especially liked watching this one older couple who were carrying around Teddy Bears taking pictures of them in front of the ruins. It was adorable. I went to lunch at the recommended pizza place and got the truffle pizza. Wow. It was good. On my way to get gelato I stopped in a Nepalese store and talked for almost an hour with the guy who owns it. He moved from Nepal ten years ago to open the store and he took the time to explain a lot of the Buddhist symbols and theory to me even after I told him that I wasn’t going to buy anything. The coolest thing he showed me were these “singing bowls” which are used for meditation and relaxation. It was really cool and he showed me how to use them and explained how they are used in different cultures. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I love things like that; if I hadn’t decided to walk in just to browse I would have missed out on all of that. It was also kind of funny, who would have thought I’d get my first introduction to Buddhism in Rome?

After my intro to all things Nepalese I made my way to the gelato place. They sell gelato on every street corner in Rome so it’s really hard to know where you should go. I’m sure it’s good everywhere but I’ve ended up with sub-par gelato too many times in my life. The place I went to, Giolitti, is super popular/old and they have something like 70 flavors. It's the oldest one in Rome having opened in 1890. It’s literally insane if you go during the day. I walked by at 11pm on my last night and it was a completely different story. After waiting for ten years/literally being pushed out of the way by those annoying people who go up with ten orders, I finally got my first Roman Gelato: Caramel and Stracciatella. It was beautiful and everything I needed after a hot morning of walking around the city. At this point I was pretty tired, so I took it easy, wandering around a bit before getting the train back to the hostel. I knew the next day would be a long one so I took advantage of the “order-in” service that my hostel provides, you can order from a number of local restaurants and they bring it right to the hostel. I got eggplant parm and chickory. It was great. I went to bed pretty early, though I had some trouble falling asleep because one of the women in my room breathed really, really loudly. I had lucked out the first night because I was the only person in my room…but that’s life. I do love hostels, but I also love sleeping in peace and quiet.

The next morning after breakfast we went on a tour of the “old town” of Zagarolo. The town history is really interesting. It’s older than the Roman Empire and they were constantly at war with the Vatican because “those who rule religion rule everything”. There’s also a wine festival in the fall where they have local wine running from the city fountains all weekend! I need to come back in October! My favorite part of the city was looking down all of the little alleyways. They were adorable and felt like “real Italy”. It was also interesting because there were a ton of cars on the tiny streets and the tour guide told us that all of the town residents insist on driving their cars to church on Sunday even though the majority of them live less than a mile away. There’s a petition to ban cars from the old town. After the tour we went to a farmer’s market which is still relatively new. There are a lot of people in the town interested in sustainability and being eco-friendly. There are a bunch of projects in their beginning stages right now; it’ll be interesting to see where they go!

I headed into “town” (lol that sounds so casual. Rome. I headed into Rome) and went straight for the gelato place. I had been thinking about it since the previous day and I was super excited to try champagne and blackberry. Of course by the time I got up to the front of the “line” they were out of champagne. I settled for stracciatella and mint which is my go-to combination. Despite not being the combination I had been dreaming about <3 it did not disappoint. My afternoon was largely spent exploring Trastevere a neighborhood on the Vatican side of the river. I absolutely loved roaming through the tiny streets and sitting in the plazas and people watching. The front part of the area (closer to the river) is pretty well developed touristic-ly but not so crowded that it’s overwhelming. It maintains its charm for sure. A bit farther back I found a plaza full of locals. There was a mini open air market (I got to try some cookies!) and lots of kids playing soccer and just fooling around while the parents were socializing. It was very similar to Sevilla and one of the things that I have loved seeing over here. People just relaxing and playing on a Sunday night. Ugh that’s the life.

I found a cute restaurant on a side street for dinner. It was warm enough to sit outside even though it was like 8:30. One of the things I like to do when I’m eating alone is write in my notebook so I don’t get bored. It’s also fun to see what I write about after a bit of wine. So, here we go (translated from Spanish-I’ve been journaling in Spanish recently):
            Dinner- “Sette Oche in Altalena/Reclamavano la cena”
·         The sky is a wicked pretty navy blue right now
·         Bread, grilled zucchini, and olives as the “with your drink snack”
·         White wine, a “mini jar”
·         There are a lot of English speakers but it’s a quiet street. There are some French speakers next to me (I think?)
·         I ordered “Linguine al lemon” for dinner
·         I really like listening to other people’s conversations. Is that creepy? Lol at this family talking about choosing a college. Been there done that.
·         I kind of feel like a food critic writing in this notebook. I wonder if I pull it off well? Probs not. I look like I’m 16.
·         The pasta is very good, I’ve never had pasta with lemon…honestly it kind of tastes like a dessert. But I like it a lot. I’m kinda full but I’m definitely going to have a coffee and dessert. I need to stretch this out as long as I can.
·         I really like this place. Minus the fact that there was a piece of meat in the app dish. But I’ll survive.
·         Dessert: Café Latte (unfortunately café con leche does not seem to be a thing here) and “tortino caldo al cuore di cioccolato”, whatever that is.
·         Thanks to this wine I have lots of energy right now and am excited to go see Rome “by night”
·         There’s this group of old men laughing with the waitress. They look like locals. The couple next to me is smoking…typical. I feel like I’m definitely sticking out right now. The sky is black now and there are some stars.
·         The group of women to my left (that I thought was French) is speaking some weird language. Sometimes it sounds like Italian but also French, English, and German. Maybe it’s Dutch? What’s going on here?
·         This dessert looks good!
·         OMG it’s an Italian lava cake…there’s chocolate on the inside!!!
·         24 euros for the meal. It was good, too much food for me but very yummy.

After I paid I went and sat on the couch with the restaurant cat for a bit to use the wifi and plan my route. I had to catch the bus to the airport at midnight so I had about two hours to go see all of the “sights” lit up. I made it to the Coliseum, the Forum, and Trevi fountain (much less crowded by night but still a lot of people). At midnight:15 I got on the airport bus and arrived to the terminal around 1. I got cozy and watched 5 episodes of “Ranch” on Netflix and ya esta. My plane left at 6:30, I landed in Sevilla at 9:30 and then unfortunately had to get a taxi since it was down pouring and I have a 20 minute walk home from the bus station. The taxi driver was nice to talk to though, speaking Spanish is always a good time.

So Rome. Loved it. You should go. Stay in Zaragolo. Eat Pizza. Drink wine. Be happy. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Semana Santa

[Note: now we are actually in feria]

¡Venga, vamos, me parece que estamos en FERIA! Today is Easter Sunday and so the last day of Semana Santa. Whereas in the United States Easter is the culmination of Lent and a commercialized mess that involves Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs, Easter Sunday is much more casual here in Sevilla. In fact, today feels more like the official start to Feria than anything.
As you may know, or not because I haven’t blogged about it yet, I spent the first part of my spring break in Paris [blog coming soon] and then returned to Sevilla early Wednesday morning to see some of Semana Santa and to spend Easter with my host family. Mejor dicho I came home early to run myself ragged during the marathon of Semana Santa and to spend Easter getting pumped for Feria and pretending to work on my various essays. Here’s an overview of my first (but certainly not last) Semana Santa experience here in Sevilla!

First of all, what the heck is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter. It traditionally starts on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) but Sevilla decided it couldn’t get enough so it now starts on the Friday before Palm Sunday with Viernes de Dolores and Sábado de Pasion. Throughout the week different hermandades salen con sus pasos por la ciudad. It’s hard to explain but basically the different church organizations, think knights of Columbus but for all ages, process around the city with these huge like-like sculptures/scenes of Jesus and Mary. The sculptures are carried on gigantic wooden platforms decorated with flowers and candles and are carried by dozens of men. They are accompanied by members of the organization ranging from little babies to teenagers to adults to senior citizens. These people are often dressed up as nazarenos (with the KKK style hood). The processions can last up to 14 hours and a supposed to be an act of penance. The hoods are worn so that the people walking can do their penance anonymously. People will often walk barefoot as well.. The hermandades walk all through the city, each on its own route, but all of them do the Carrera Official and process from La Campana to/through the Cathedral.  It’s hard to explain but it’s one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. It’s sad that nothing like this would happen in the United States. I’m sure someone would be offended. The thing is, while it’s religious it’s also hugely cultural. One of my professors and Sevillan born and raised and very strongly agnostic and he thinks it’s the most amazing display of culture he’s ever seen and his studies have literally taken him all over the world. [Note: “pasos” are both the sculptures and the procession as a whole]
Semana Santa is a holiday in all of Spain but each area of the county celebrates it differently. Even here in Andalucia there are no two cities that celebrate it the same. From what I here it’s much more joyous in the south and more somber up north. I also hear that Sevilla is a truly one of a kind celebration.
So what did my Semana Santa look like?
Wednesday (Miercoles Santo): I got back from Paris pretty early on Wednesday morning. I didn’t sleep much the night before so I went to bed as soon as I got home and slept until lunch. My host sister was the only one home during lunch so while she ate she described Semana Santa a bit to me and told me about how it had rained earlier in the week so some of the pasos (the sculpture/platforms) didn’t get to do their route. I had to tutor at five and I left a bit early to walk through the center of the city to see what was going on. It was crazy. I saw a little bit of one paso and then got yelled at because I was apparently in a ticketed area and I obviously didn’t have a ticket. After tutoring my favorite nine year old, I saw the paso of El Baratillo before stumbling upon a cute vegetarian/vegan bakery where I obviously had to get a snack. Then I went to a plaza behind the cathedral and saw San Bernardo. It was pretty impresionante to see their Christ sculpture, a crucifixion with red velvet detailing and purple flowers, in a plaza between the cathedral, the Archive de Indias and the Alcázar. I felt like I was transported to another century. Minus all of the smart phones being used to take pictures. I called it a night pretty early and was home by dinner time (read: 10pm).
Las Cigarreros
Thursday (Jueves Santo): I knew that Thursday was going to be a long day because it was La Madrugá, the early morning hours of Friday where some of the biggest and oldest processions take place. I of course was an idiot and didn’t take the day to rest so I was even more tired when nighttime rolled around. My adventure started after lunch when I went to go see Las Cigarreros, the only paso in Los Remedios which is my neighborhood. I got there pretty early so I was in the first row. I got to take a ton of cool pictures and see what happens close up. Some of the things, like the little kids asking the nazerenos (the people with the KKK style hoods) for candy as they walk by, you can’t see if you’re further back. I stood next to an older woman and we talked a bit. The funniest thing was when two women walked by smoking she turned to me and said, “Jeez, these days women smoke more than the men…”
I had the perfect view of the paso as it came around the corner onto calle Asuncion. The Christ always comes first and this particular one, which has Roman soldiers on it as well, was just amazing to see coming around the corner with the booming music of the band and the incense smoke everywhere. The Virgen is a whole different story. After the Christ you have to wait a bit to see her but when she’s getting close you can feel the excitement growing. “Is she coming?” “Mama when is the Virgen coming?” “How much longer?” When she came around the corner, hundreds of rose petals were thrown off the balconies. Amazing. Beautiful. Wonderful. Perfect. As she went by, a woman next me who was holding her grandson started crying because he shouted “there’s Maria!” I looked around and she was certainly not the only one.
After that paso ended I spent the rest of the afternoon planning out my route for La Madrugá. Once I found all of the churches and streets that I was planning on going to I went to the grocery store to stock up on candy to keep me awake. Since the streets are usually packed it’s normal to go to the churches in the afternoon to see the pasos up close. I went to Esperanza de Triana on calle Pureza and it was literally INSANE. The street was packed 10 hours ahead of time. Trianeros, that is people who live in Triana, are very proud of being from Triana, it used to be a separate city. Everything is a big party in Triana!
Christ of the 3 falls- not my picture
Early Early Friday morning (La Madrugá): I went back home to bundle up for the 45 degree weather and then went out to get Italian food with Caroline. After we ate I set out to Plaza de San Lorenzo to wait for the salida (leaving) of Gran Poder. I waited for two and a half hours, which was rough but it was worth it. The time was also broken up by a parade of Roman Soldiers who marched throughout the city entering in each of the churches before the pasos leave. I loved this, it made me feel like I was actually watching Holy Thursday/Good Friday happen 2,000 years ago. This is specific to La Madrugá. Unlike some of the others Gran Poder left in silence and then when the Christ appeared there was singing. After that, I headed to Puente de Triana (a bridge) to see Esperanza de Triana. My host dad and one of my host sisters walk in it; my host dad is one of the people who carry the Virgen. Esperanza is long. Very long. Like two hours long. I will say, the Christ (Cristo de las tres caídas/of the three falls) is 100% my favorite, especially with the music and the Virgin is beautiful as well. I can’t explain how beautiful it was when she passed right in front of me. After Esperanza I was getting very tired, it was about 4:30am at this point. It’s hard when you don’t have anyone to talk to and keep you motivated. I was jealous of all of the families and friends that make a day out of each paso, setting up chairs early and bringing picnics, enjoying each other as much as the main event. 
El Silencio-Not my Picture
The last paso I saw was el Silencio which is the oldest hermandad in Sevilla (from the 1300s). I watched them re-enter the church at the end of their route. It was cool because it was also in silence. The paso of the Virgen was decorated entirely in azahar, the flowers from the orange trees. I had plans to go see La Macarena but the streets were all blocked and I was very tired, it was about 6am at this point. Looking back, I’m sad I didn’t see it but I don’t think I would have made the walk back home. I went back to Puente de Triana and got churros and chocolate from the churros stand and sat myself down for the first time in almost 8 hours. I enjoyed my greasy, delicious churros with my favorite view of the city-looking over the river toward Triana. Even though I was exhausted and a bit grumpy, everything was perfect. I normally feel out of place when I’m surrounded by a bunch of Spanish people but at that moment I didn’t really care. After that feeling passed over, I speed-walked home, showered, and was in bed by 8am. My alarm went off for getting up to tutor at 11am and I promptly sent the family a message saying that I had gotten back late/early and asked if I could come after lunch instead. Since the little girl’s dad is one of the guys who carry the Christ in Gran Poder, they understood.
My favorite view, at sunrise
Friday (Viernes Santo): I slept until lunch and then went to tutor at five. At lunch my host sister was telling me about what it’s like to walk in the procession and how she has done it since she was 12. The hemandades seem very cool to me. I think I would want to be in one if I lived here. It’s another thing that I love about the culture and wish I was a part of. She also was telling me that she saw her dad at one point and called out “Alfonso Alfonso!” but he didn’t reply. He said that he heard her but assumed someone was calling a different Alfonso because “there are a million Alfonsos”. She said that all of the pasos stop at this one chapel for a mini-breakfast and when she was eating she could see both the Christ and the Virgen (which is usually impossible) and that it was so impresionante she cried. If you couldn’t tell, Semana Santa is very emotional for the Sevillanos. On the way home from tutoring I watched two more pasos on el puente (bridge). They were much shorter than Esperanza!
Saturday (Sábado Santo): I went out to dinner in Santa Cruz (the Old Jewish Quarter) with Caroline and her aunt who was visiting. She was really interesting and I loved hearing about their trip but I was super surprised to hear such a thick southern accent after having been in Spain for such a long time! I forgot what they sound like! Afterward I went to the chapel at the University for an Easter Vigil mass. It was long but beautiful. There was also a baptism and I thought the priest’s words about the new member (a younger boy) were beautiful, about how all of the saints now had a new son/brother and how he had this whole new family. I loved it. Equally powerful was when we sang “Ave Maria” at the end and the Virgen was still on her paso with all the flowers and candles inside the chapel. After mass there was a social in the university with hot chocolate and lots of traditional sweets. I met a group of girls from the US so I talked to them, ate a bit, and then headed home.

Easter (La Pascua): Sunday morning I got up and went to my usual spot, Café de Indias, to work on my various papers before heading over to Plaza de España for a sevillanas class. Like usual I had a blast and I met a girl who is here teaching with the government program that I was thinking about for next year. She says she loves it and she’s coming back next year as well. The program seems really cool, except that you can’t chose exactly where you want to be placed. After the class we went to go have a drink and talk about being American in Sevilla. I went home for lunch. Since it was a holiday we had a lunch de fiesta, meaning lots of food and wine. Just like with Christmas, I have realized that the only thing you really need to do for a holiday is have good food and good conversation. That’s it. Later, I went to the park to sit in the sun for a bit and then walked around the fairgrounds.

Puerta de Feria!
That was that for my Semana Santa. Some people don’t like it but I thought it was absolutely amazing. The culture is amazing and I’m always sad that we don’t have anything close to similar in the United States. The aspect of community/family was beautiful to watch but made me sad that I did most of it alone. Most of the other study abroaders were traveling and my Spanish friends had all gone back to their respective towns. I had an interesting conversation with the girl I met in my sevillanas class about how hard it was to make Spanish friends from Sevilla. Even though it’s a city, people born here tend to stay here and so the friends that they have are friends that they’ve had since they were two. Obviously this isn’t true in every case but it’s true in every case I have seen. I understand- if you aren’t looking for friends you aren’t going to look for friends, especially with people who aren’t here permanently. This is why I’ve had so much more success with Erasmus students (European students studying abroad) and people from other parts of Spain.