Monday, April 5, 2010

"The trip from hell"

Before coming to Spain, I wouldn't have called myself a big traveler. Yes, it's true that I've been to a little over half of the United States and to Mexico twice. (I can't even count Canada, I was only there for 20 minutes.) However, I consider a traveler to be one that not only has a passport, but actually uses it. And after three months of traveling around Spain (soon to be followed by Paris, London, Portugal, and Italy), I feel like I've got the traveling routine down.

Which is why I was nervous for my parents to come visit me during Semana Santa. Having never been to Europe before, I was slightly scared about them making their connection in Amsterdam, and then in Madrid.

I had a right to be scared.

On my way to get the bus that runs routinely to and from the airport, I get a call from my Dad. "Your Mom's on the plane, but I'm still in Madrid." Apparently when you don't book your flight 24 hours in advance (whether or not you're able to because you're currently on an international flight), your tickets are susceptible to be demoted to stand-by. Wonderful. It would turn out that he would spend the night in Madrid, without any euros or Spanish speaking abilities. It was only the first night, and yet it was already "turning into the trip from hell." (Title of this blog courtesy of my Father.)

But the next day when I picked up my Dad and brought him back to the hotel (where both of my parents would sleep most of the day away), I relaxed. "Finally," I thought, "they're here and now I can show them Sevilla."


I had heard that Sevilla during Semana Santa (the Holy Week before Easter) would be full of people, but I had no idea just HOW packed it was going to be. Given that Chantel is the navigator in our relationship, I usually stick to main streets to get around this city. And of course, all the main streets are where all the processions are. I guess I should explain a little bit about what happens during Semana Santa first...

Ok, here's the dealio: there are processions every day during the week, and every procession has a 'paso.' A paso is like a parade float, except that it is carried by men (who usually wear only socks or go barefoot) and has depictions of Jesus or Mary on top. There are also other parts of the processions, like old men shouldering crosses and adolescents toting giant really depends on the procession. The costumes that they wear look freakishly similar to those of the KKK, but here in Sevilla they get creative with the colors and textures. (For example: purple velvet KKK hats.) The pasos are from medieval times, and depict different scenes, emotions, and stories from Jesus' life. Like my Dad described it, "It's like the Rose Parade for Catholics."

Semana Santa is big in Spain, but it's biggest in Sevilla. Read: crazy amounts of people. Usually in the streets that I wanted to use. It became routine for us to be walking along my normal route, and suddenly begin to hear slow marching drums, signifying a procession in close proximity. One night, it took us more than an hour to walk home, a walk that normally takes me only 15. Let's just say that I got a lot of practice asking for directions in Spanish during the week...

But let us remember that the saying goes "save the best for last." Accordingly, on the last day of their stay, my Mom's wallet was stolen. We believe it happened during a very short picture-taking interval, but during Semana Santa, that's all the time a prepared thief needs. By the time we returned to the hotel and called the credit-card companies, they had already made 6 ATM withdrawals with one card, within a period of two hours. At least it was Good Friday, meaning that all of the stores were closed. After canceling the rest of the cards, we proceeded to spend 3 hours waiting in the Consejería de la Policia (Police Department) so my Mom could formally sign a complaint. I think they were both ready to go back to the States after that experience...

BUT, even with all of the stress and messed up plans, I am very grateful that my parents were able to visit me and see where I've been living for the past 3 months. Things that we did in Sevilla (in no particular order):

- Arabic Baths: My Dad, having never experienced a massage in his life, was very skeptical. But after I waited in the lobby for an hour for them to get out because they had lost track of time, I knew I was right to schedule this for them.

- La Catedral y La Giralda: My parents were really impressed with the architecture and the wonderful views. Although, not as happy with length of the vertical trek to see them. "They should really have first aid people around, what if people collapse on the way up?"

- La plaza de toros: We visited the bull-fighting ring and learned about the history of the sport - in English AND Spanish!

- Casa de la memoria: A traditional Flamenco show. Both were impressed with the 'rapidez' (quickness) of the feet movements, even if the French guy next to us was trying to clap along. (He was failing. Miserably.)

- Cádiz: The beach town I've visited before with my program. We spent the morning in the historic center and the afternoon at the beach. I think my Dad's favorite part were the train rides though. "I was really impressed by the train! So clean and smooth!"

- Alameda de Húrcules: Its appeal was slightly ruined after spending three hours at the police department located here...

- Carriage ride around Sevilla: Second in stereotypical tourism behavior only to the double-decker tour buses, the 45-minute carriage ride was actually really fun. Seeing as none of the drivers knew English, I had to translate for my parents. This was quite enjoyable, especially when the driver made a point of explaining a certain statue of a naked woman. 'Transparent bathing suit' works in both languages, in case you were wondering.

- Las reales alcázares: The royal palace and its gardens. I visited this with my program earlier and thought it was beautiful then, but now that spring is upon us, it's even more gorgeous. Inside the palace, there's a certain tapestry from Brussels from 1554 that my Dad - the history buff - got a kick out of. Prom pic!

-Plaza de España: It got dark while we were there, and the full moon was out. Gorgeous.

- Sweet restaurants, most notably San Marco, Mama Mia, and Río Grande: Since I get three meals every day at home, it's a very rare occasion when I eat out in Sevilla. We found San Marco wandering around the old part of the city, barrio Santa Cruz, and the two others were on the river. Being true Italians, we went to lots of Italian places (i.e. Mama Mia) but I made sure that they tried the Spanish food instead. I think my Mom's favorite was the Paella de verduras (rice dish with vegetables). They both liked the ice cream. :)

- Chencha's apartment: I was so happy to be able to show my parents where I live, and who I live with (excluding Juan, he wasn't there...standard). When my parents first walked in, Chencha gave them both a big hug with some cheek kisses, and proceeded to joke with them: "Normally, she is your daughter, but right now, she's mine!" She, like a typical Spanish mom, fed us Torrijas (kind of like french toast, except cooked with wine and orange peel instead of butter and syrup, a typical Spanish dessert during Semana Santa) and coffee. Although I was a little nervous about how the translated meeting would go, conversation never stopped and it seemed apparent that everyone was enjoying themselves. She even invited us to come back later in the week, but we had to cancel and spend 3 hours in the police department instead.

And of course...we bonded! I was sad to see them leave, even with some of the more stressful moments of the trip. I know they were happy to return to America (and English), but I'm very thankful that they were able to visit me. (CAUTION: Extreme cheesiness ahead.) I love you Mom and Dad!

To finish off Semana Santa in style, I traveled to Cádiz once more with the one and only Jenny McCoy and her roommate Stacy. We laid on the beach, drank strawberry margaritas, ate mexican food, talked, laughed, and shared a bed (ooh la la). Long story short, it was a wonderful way to end the Easter craziness of Sevilla, and I was so happy to be able to spend time with the first first I met at Michigan. :)

Things are back to normal here in Sevilla, although not for long. Feria (the other big holiday here) starts on the 20th of April, but Chantel and I will spend the first part of it in Paris! For now, I'm back to studying, eating a lot of arroz con leche, and enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of Sevilla in the springtime. (Although they still somehow refer to it as winter...Hello? It's 78 degrees outside!)

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