Seville Snapshot: The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos

Not too many years ago, I asked my high school students what the Reyes Magos had brought them. In the midst of a financial crisis, I was shocked to hear they received computers, souped up cell phones and other goodies.

After all, Santa Claus and his team of reindeer don’t have any Spanish children on their list because Spaniards have the tradition of the Reyes Magos, or the Three Wise Men of the Orient. They roll into town on big floats, called carrozas, and Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar pelt everyone from the little kiddies to the abuelitas who elbow you out of the way with hard candy and small gifts.

I usually watch the floats on Calle San Jacinto from the refuge of Java Cafe, occassionally venturing into the crowd-choked streets for a better view or a few pieces of candy that have fallen between hands, bags and upturned umbrellas and onto the ground.

This year, as the Novio is still away, I watched the city parade and its 30 floats from the front row with some friends. Grabbing candy off the sides of floats, I nearly got my head taken off by the parade of horses, brass bands and floats as my shoes became sticking from the crushed candy under them.

I took loads of great pictured from right in the front, but I can’t seem to get them off of my camera! No worries, I’ve got fistfuls of caramelos!

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo, along with a short description of where you took it and links to any pages you’d like included, to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every Monday, or join me at my Facebook page for more scoop on El Sur! What’s your favorite Spanish holiday tradition?

Seville Snapshots: Merry Christmas from Sunshine and Siestas

Christmas used to mean bickering in my family. The chores, the frantic house cleaning and cooking, the rush of kisses from the in-laws after finally deciding who would be hosting. The constant car trips, the Christmas Mass standing up, the incessant carols blasting from every car radio – I could have done without it.

Then I moved to Spain.

I escape not only the bickering, but also the Christmas carols (I swear I know just the chorus of a handful of Spanish villancicos), the tree hunt looking for Nancy’s perfect Douglas Fir, the snow in Chicago. And somehow along the way, Christmas has become one of the best opportunities I have to see my family. Over the last six navidades that I’ve found myself in Spain, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Andalusia and Ireland, to Morocco, to The American Southwest. Gone are the holiday traditions we’ve had since forever, as my family and I create world travel as our Christmas treat to one another. I miss watching Morgan step gingerly into the snow when it’s higher than her head and treating Aunt Pat to lunch at the Walnut Room after seeing the windows at Field’s, but helping my family make travel as important to them as it is to me is what fuels the magic for me during the season.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas from me. I am forever grateful for my readers who seem like family more and more each day. Estés donde estés, enjoy this wonderful season, and don’t worry so much about your waistline (dude, Spain has lard cookies as its holiday indulgence, so you can’t be any worse off than me!). Wishing you all the very, very best for 2013 from Spain!

Besos, Cat

LUXE: Seville’s Luxury Hostel

When  I first moved to La Hispalense, I was in touch with Shawn, the woman behind Seville Tapas Tours, about an apartment. The balcony overlooked the bustling Mateos Gago Street and was within earshot of the Giralda’s massive church bells. I could image the smell of orange blossoms wafting into my bedroom window at night as the sounds below lulled me to sleep, but the apartment was not meant to be. Living right in the middle of the historic quarter would have been lovely, but perhaps a bit noisy.

When visiting, my friends who prefer to stay in the city center always look for a place near the Cathedral for its proximity to tapas bars and attractions. Tucked into a side street just steps off of the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes is Grand Luxe Hostel, a hostel concept offering premium accomodation in the middle of Spain’s most vibrant city.

The cobblestoned alleyway leads you to the heavy wooden door of Grand Luxe Hostel. The building, restored in the late 19th Century, is modern and fully-quipped, featuring in-suite bathrooms and rooms especially for families. Grand Luze features 64 for beds in a mix of private double, mixed dorms, girls-only dorms and private twin, all at afforable prices right in the heart of Seville’s quaint Santa Cruz neighborhood.

The building has several ammenities – such as an elevator, free wi-fi, a kitchen with complmentary breakfast, and even free gym access at nearby Cuesta Sport in the morning. What’s more, the open areas are comfy and condusive for mingling.

Owner Kate’s eye for design makes the space modern, bright and fun, while the building still retains its charm. In each room, guests enjoy free reading lamps, personal cubbies and private lockers.

The hostel’s best kept secret? The terrace views of the Cathedral and Giralda, which can be enjoyed with a complimentary glass of wine at dusk. The hostel is a prefect jumping off point for Seville’s famous nightlife – great tapas bars, flamenco peñas and cocktail bars are only a stone’s throw away from Grand Luxe, and it’s also within walking distance of the bus station for a quick getaway.

Owners José Luis and Kate

Rooms and bed are available from December 16th, 2012. You can find LUXE on Hostelworld, Hostelbookers or their personal website. They’ve also got a Facebook page, or you can look them up on twitter at @grandluxehostel.

I was not compensated in any way for this article. All views and opinions are my own.

Seville Snapshot: Christmas Lights at Town Hall

When it comes to Christmas, I’m typically a Scrooge. My ears bleed when I hear Christmas Carols or their Spanish counterpart, and the only redeeming part of the season are peppermint flavored ice cream, coffee and candy canes.

But Seville’s Christmas lights make the city look even better, I’ve always loved Christmas markets. Typically lit at dusk on the Día de la Constitución, December 6th, I was amazed to see them go on while waiting for some friends in Plaza Nueva on November 30th. Like watching the portada of the Feria light up in the Real, my childlike wonder of Christmas lights returned for a brief moment on a rainy evening, the rain splattering my face the way snowflakes used to in Chicago. I was suddenly thaknful that my parents had gotten cheap flights to Europe to be able to share the season with me. On the municipal Christmas tree, the reflection of the ayuntamiento, town hall, shone on a Christmas ball, dressed up for the season.

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo, along with a short description of where you took it and links to any pages you’d like included, to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every Monday, or join me at my Facebook page for more scoop on El Sur! What’s your favorite Spanish holiday tradition?

Seville Snapshot: The Feria de Belén

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in Spain is the nativity scene, called a belén. It also happens to be my favorite Spanish name for a girl, though I wouldn’t name my daughter after the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Again, at the risk of sounding un-American, I don’t like Christmas, either.

But the belenes, a household nativity scene, fascinate me. Tiny villages  are constructed out of figurines taking the form of primitive buildings, the Holy Family and even working mills, crops and animals. My own family has the same nativity scene under our tree that we’ve had every year – plastic Holy Family with two faceless sheep, an ox, a plastic angel that balances on a nail up top. I once told my mother I’d do the Spanish tradition of buying one new piece each year, much like I did with my American Girl Doll years back.

Seville holds an annual Feria del Belén, a month-long set-up of small, artisan stands that sell all of these tiny cattle, baskets and shepherds.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at the small effigies and menagerie of barnyard animals, but my long-distance lens caught something quite by accident just last week: the Virgen Mary nursing.

Thanksgiving Turkeys and Triumphs

Can I admit something, at the risk of sounding like a bad American?

I never liked Thanksgiving as a kid. My mind keeps going to the hours of preparation at my grandmother’s house, clipping off the ends of green beans and trying to ignore bickering. I’d eat far too much, fall asleep watching football and feel groggy for days straight. Aside from the long weekend, I didn’t see the point of spending a whole day eating and watching TV, all in the name of spending time with family and glorifying a bird.

Then I moved away from America, to a land where cranberries, pecans and even turkeys are scarce (after all, pavo is the Spanish way of say a buck).

All of the sudden, Thanksgiving became a good excuse to get together with those closest to being my kin.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations in my ever-changing group of friends has never been just about us Americans and our traditions – we teach Spaniards about the hand turkey while drinking the garnacha-based wines (which, according to, are the best matches for turkey!) and chattering a half a dozen languages.

Yes, I am thankful for my amoeba of culture in Seville – something that is just as much Spanish as American with a smatter of German, Mexican and everything in between.

But this year, I promised Kike a turkey, cranberry sauce and everything that my grandmother made him as breakfast last Christmas in Arizona (he no longer scoffs at my weird breakfast choices – mine is the type of family that eats waffles for dinner and cold leftovers for breakfast). He played his part by bringing back over a few cans of pumpkin and gravy mix and urged me to call on a turkey from a neighborhood carnicería. I began gathering recipes and making a rudimentary plan for how I’d make a full-on Thanksgiving dinner with one oven and two hands.

Then his dumb job sent him abroad nine days earlier than expected, effectively missing Pavo Palooza.

Still, the turkey show must go on, I thought, and I extended the offer to his mother and friend Susana again, not wanting to have to eat turkey bocadillos alone until Reyes.

I was not without challenges, from the lack of a microwave to last-minute changes in the menu due to no  fresh green beans, sage and evaporated milk in the supermarket or even a can opener from the American goodies I brought back with me. There’s a reason I’m the go-to giuri for plastic forks and wine at our parties.


Pumpkin Pie. Stuffing. Cornbread. Carrots and Garlic Green Beans. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Turkey. Tinto and Beer.

Turkey: 18,40€

Groceries not at home: 51,59€

New can opener: 5,15€

Total: 85,14€

Even the Brits I work with suggested that I start preparing a schedule ahead of time, and I did: cleaning, pie, vegetables, cornbread and stuffing on Friday, turkey and potatoes on Saturday. I was up before the sun on Saturday when I realized that the evaporated milk I’d refused to buy out of principle was going to be necessary for the pie I was too lazy to make the day before.

I wrote on Kike’s Facebook wall for our anniversary, stating that he would have enjoyed watching me fight with a ten-pound bird more than consuming it. For four hours, I set my alarm every half and hour to give the turkey a little broth bath, nervous if I hadn’t gotten all of the gizzards out or I didn’t let it cook enough inside. When my guests – Carmín, Alejandro, Susana and Inma – showed up right on time, I offered them beer and wine, and they marveled at the sudden transformation of an anti-housewife as I shooed them out of the kitchen. The only person I’d let in was Luna, my friends’ two-year-old daughter, who chowed down on cornbread and checked the status of the turkey.

In the end, the meat was cooked, no one cared that the stuffing was a bit cold and I didn’t end up with too much leftovers. We spent the afternoon laughing, telling jokes and finding places in our stomach to fit more food in. Wanting to do everything al estilo americano, I had to teach them the gravy volcano, explain that they’d probably fall asleep after consuming the turkey and look for American football games on YouTube. I felt lucky (thankful, if you will) about having friends and family who were open to trying out my holiday and easing the ache I sometimes feel for being so far away.

What Kike has got is mala suerte, heaved my beloved Doña Carmen. This food is making me think twice about American cuisine!

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