Photo Post: the Chirigotas of the Carnavales de Cádiz

How to do the Carnavales de Cadiz

Pá qué quieren ir ha Chipiona shi aquí tenemoh Caí?

Two more beers and a plate of chicharrones were slammed down in front of us as the bar keep expressed exasperation. Why would anyone want to head to nearby Chipiona if the peninsula’s best Carnival celebration were right here in Cádiz?

We’d braved an overcast, misty day to head to San Fernando for the Novio’s wedding tuxedo the morning, and the fried fish and carnavales celebration were calling his name. 

A view of the bay of Cadiz

Entering the barrio de Santa María just north of the old city walls, there were few signs of debauchery and partygoers. I myself have been to the nighttime festivities of the Carnavales de Cádiz twice. Two booze-soaked nights where I stepped in puddles of urine and around broken glass.

Ah, youth.

When the Novio suggested making a day trip to see a friend of his and see the famed chirigotas, I was in. Not that I didn’t have fond memories of botellones and ridiculous children’s costumes, of course.

The Plaza del Ayuntamiento, one I’d seen so full of drunk people and bottles of San David, was bright in the midday sun. As we’d drank our beers, the mist had rolled off of one side of the Atlantic and over the Bahía Sur, passing Cádiz’s skinny land mass in the time it had taken to drink two cervezas

We’d met Jorge in the tangle of streets in the old town. Cádiz is one of Europe’s largest cities, and thus there is little rhyme or reason to the layout of the peninsula. Long on one side, short on the other, I was instantly turned around in the colonial-style pedestrian streets.

Streets of Cádiz old town

Lunch was at trendy La Candelaria, owned by a far-flung relative of Jorge’s. In this city of water and industry, it sees that families have been here as long as Hercules himself, and nearly everyone who walked into the bar over our long lunch knew one another.  

But we came for more than atún rojo en tempura and never-ending glasses of wine (the good stuff, not the plastic bottle stuff). We came for the chirigotas and costumes. 

The origins of carnival celebrations worldwide are rooted in Christian tradition. Celebrated each year just before Lent, believers often used this six-week period to refrain from life’s excesses. Carnaval, a play on the Latin words ‘carne’ for meat and ‘vale’ for farewell, is a last-ditch effort to eat, drink and be merry/drunk before Lent begins. I’d taken that advice to heart all of those years ago, but today would be a far lighter – I’d volunteered to drive home.

Costumes are traditionally worn, and Cádiz’s celebration – one of the largest in Spain – makes light of the humor of gaditanos. Rather than extravagant costumes, gaditanos use their costumes as social commentary. Especially popular this year were Pablo Iglesia, whatsapp icons and the Duquesa de Alba.

costumes of the carnivals de cadiz

Funny Costume Ideas Carnavales de Cadiz

Crazy costumes at Cadiz carnavales

san esteban Carnavales de Cadiz

The chirigotas themselves are the huge draw of the daytime during the two weeks that the festivities drag on. These choruses, usually made up of men in the same costume, sing satirical verses about politics, current events and everyday life while troubadoring around the streets of the Casco Antiguo.

Small clumps of people choked the skinny alleyways as chorus members drank beer until they’d deemed that enough people had gathered to watch. They’d break into song, often asking audience members to join in. We saw everyone from kids dressed as housewives to men dressed as questionable nuns with plastic butts under their habits and plastic cups of beer in their hands.

what is a chirigota

costumes for Carnival

carnival in Cadiz chirigotas

The most famous chirigotas perform for crowds in the famed Teatro Gran Falla, but those who take to the street are often illegal – illegal as in looking for a good buzz on the street!

We wound our way from the Plaza de la Catedral to the Plaza San Antonio and up Calle Cervantes to the Plaza del Mentidero. Named not for liars but the fact that this is where town criers often announced news and events, this square has transformed into the place for rumors to be born – making it a focal point of the festivities (and closer to the Carnavales I knew – littered with bottles and half-eaten food!).

What it's like at the Carnavales de Cadiz

We were back in Seville before nightfall, thoroughly exhausted and still sporting wet shoes from the morning rainfall. Jorge took us around the Alameda park on the northern tip of the island as the sun began to set, a welcome respite from the crowds and noise.

Want more Spanish fiesta? Read my posts on the Feria de Sevilla | La Tomatina de Buñol | The Feria del Caballo de Jerez 

Seville Snapshots: Costaleros Practicing for Holy Week

The capataz knocks once. As if mechanically, the 40-off men beneath the wooden structure heave together, resting on their heels, hands gripping the wooden beams above their heads.

A second knock, and they launch into the air together.

On the third, the simulation float has rested on their shoulders, and they begin a coordinated dance down the street, walking in sync as they practice for their glorious penitence – Holy Week.

You all know that I paso de pasos (and the crowds, and the brass bands and even the torrijas), but the grueling pilgrimage from one’s church to the Cathedral and back fascinates me. No one bears the brunt more than the costaleros, who must pay for this prestigious position within their brotherhoods and seek penitence through their labor, carrying over 100 pounds for an average of eight hours.

In the weeks leading up to Viernes de Dolores, no less than 60 brotherhoods will crisscross the city to practice, placing cinderblocks on top of the metal float to simulate the large statue, each depicting the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life or of the weeping Virgin Mary. For ten days, Seville is full of religious fervor as the ornate pasos descend on the city center.

For an official route plan with approximate times, check here. You can use this to either catch the processions, or totally avoid them!

What are your Holy Week plans? Have you ever seen Semana Santa in Seville?

Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad! But People, so nice!

The bus driver slammed on the brakes, causing me to crash into the handrail I was using to steady myself. “Thank you! Bus Station!”

We were regurgitated from the Dubrovnik city bus and into the dreary station, where ruddy-faced city folk roamed like the stray cats we’d seen all over the city. Taxi? a few whispered as we passed by with our suitcases. Hotel? I approached the dirty ticket window and asked for two one-ways to Herceg Novi, Montenegro, an hour south of the Pearl of the Adriatic. After two glowing days in the city and a big life decision, I would be stepping foot in my thirtieth country.

Hayley and I settled into the plastic benches inside the station, watching the rain come down. Fifteen minutes ticked by past our sheduled departure time. Then another fifteen. Buses headed to Zagreb or Mostar rumbled in and out, but nothing marked HERCEG NOVI or any other destination rolled by.

Ninety minutes after we expected to, we had passed two border controls and entered Crna Gora. The highway snakes between a series of mountains, finally dumping us out in the seaside village of Igalo on the Bay of Kotor. Low, dark clouds rolled in over the wide mouth of the famous bay, which looks like two butterfly bandages stuck together.

It was odd to remember that Montenegro was born in the same year as kiddies I taught in first grade last year, that’s it’s been centuries since they’ve had their own money, that for years they were the little sister to Serbia after the Yugoslav conflict. I braced myself for bullet holes in buildings, or war cries painted on cracked and crumbling drywall. Montenegro looked the same as Dubrovnik, just with half of the signs written in Cyrillic, a homage to the city’s tumultuous past.

Dovar met us across the street from the bus station. It’s apparently really easy to spot two bewildered American girls in a country that a cell phone claims is Serbia and things are written in cyrillic and the Roman alphabet. Our car was upgraded to an automatic, snow chains came included and we were a mere 200 meters from our rental apartment. Stana great us with open arms, enveloping us into a big hug.

“Montenegro! Very nice! Weather, very bad. Ok. We come, girls.”

She made us hot drinks, showing us around the apartment and a few scattered and torn maps of the area. Once we’d satisfied our internet vice, we set out in hopes of finding a place to eat. Stana didn’t understand our requests for food, instead offering us up a few wrinkled oranges she’d cultivated from her garden.

The rain started pouring the moment we got into the car. Unaware of how to get to the historic part of town, we drove away from the apartment and followed the narrow, winding roads until Hayley spotted a red, white and green awning. “Ah! Italian! Stop the car!”

We stopped and I immediately regretted putting my umbrella in the trunk, especially after our two gorgeous days walking the walls in Dubrovnik and drinking beers at cliffside bars. The street had turned into a landslide, a waterfall, and the Italian restaurant was actually a shoe store. Montenegro has become a popular getaway for the jet set, but we were at the end of March.

The historic center, which spills down a hill right into the Bay of Kotor, was a ghost town. The only open establishment was Portofino, easily the priciest restaurant in town during the low season. As it turned out, the hail had shut off the power in the entire historic center, and we were offered  a limited menu: Caesar Salad or Caesar Salad, to be eaten by candlelight.

At least the beer was still cold.

As we asked for the bill, the waitress told us in broken English that we’d been invited to a drink by the group of men sitting near the door. We’d observed the four townies throwing back shots of the national spirit, Rakia. They raised our glasses to us, and we did the same to them.

I think I’m going to like Montenegro, I thought to myself, crap weather or not.

Have you ever been to Montenegro? What did you like about the country, or not?

Seville Snapshots: Making a Splash in Croatia

This blog is a long love letter to Spain, particularly Andalucía, but traveling outside the land of sunshine and siestas is a lovely hiccup to my everyday life, my vida cotidiana. Like any expat, I’ve got my gripes about my adopted city, but spending a week away from Seville always rejuvenates my love for the place I now call my hogar dulce hogar.

I have a short list of what makes me happy: sunshine, cold beer and traveling (I’d also add food and puppies to this list). When Hayley and I decided to spend Holy Week outside of Spain, we were looking for those few things in our destination. We settled on Croatia, landing in Dubrovnik just as the rain clouds threatened the Easter processions back home and had a quick lunch to be able to enjoy the sunshine while we hunted down a cheap Balkan beer.

Rounding the old city walls near the ancient port, we captured the twinkle of the sun against the jade waters, the cats lazing in its warmth. In an attempt to find the famous Buza bar, we were met by an old man removing the last of his clothing, revealing a speedo and a belly that looked like he’d also been spending years downing Ožujsko beers at Buza. Clucking at us, he turned around, toes barely grasping the cement pier, and swung his arms backwards.

I was a gymnast my entire youth. He was making a go for it.

The old man’s backflip got me thinking about life and aging and goals. He reminded me that I’m never too old to try something new, to push myself to the limits, to quite literally jump into something headfirst. As his friend clapped and I held my breath, he bobbed up and down in the Adriatic, looking refreshed and pleased with himself.

Today may be April Fool’s Day in the US, but I’m not joking around anymore – I’ve got something big in the pipeline, and I’m ready to make a splash in 2013.

Seville Snapshots: Who’s That Nazareno?

Smell that? It’s incense. Feel that? That’s some sevillano whose trying to push his way past you.

Yes, amiguitos, Holy Week is upon us, the stretch of time between Viernes de Dolores until Easter Sunday where sevillanos dress in their finest, women don enormous combs and black lace veils and pointy capirote hats dot the old part of town. The faithful spend all day on their feet, parading from church to Cathedral and back with enormous floats depicting the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

I’m not much of a capillita, but ten days of religious floats means ten days of travel for me.

That said, I’m off to Dubrovnik, Croatia and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, country #30 on my 30×30 quest. Where will you be during Semana Santa? Do you like Holy Week, or would you rather get your fix in a Holy Week bar?

My Favorite Holy Week Bars in Seville

Danny and I decided to make one last stop for the night, mostly fueled by our bladders than our ganas for another beer. I ordered a Coke and dipped into the bathroom while Danny paid.

Two minutes later, as I left, the lights had been lowered, and Danny looked pale under the glow of a projector. He pointed to a screen, which showed an image of a bloody Jesus from a black-and-white film.

“Oh, you get used to that,¨I cooed, but he had already downed his beer and was halfway through the door. Novatos.

“Not cool, Cat. We’re no longer friends.”

For me, the week-long revelry that surrounds Seville’s Holy Week has meant just a ten-day travel break for me. Living in Triana’s vortex of cofradías meant that braving Semana Santa, locked inside my house while life-sized depictions of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ passed below my window. Paso de pasos, quite frankly.

Still, I have become more and more fascinated in the pageantry and culture of Holy Week, and often take guests to bars full of musty busts of the Virgin Mother, spiderweb-covered chalices and black and white photos of anguished Christs to explain the parts of the cofradía and their symbolism. Plus, I kinda love having Jesus watch me have a cold glass of beer and snack of olives, I guess?

Bar Santa Ana – Calle Pureza, Triana

Far and away my favorite of the bunch is Bar Santa Ana. It’s the typical old man bar around the corner from your flat where you feel intimidated to walk into, but secretly have always wanted to – dozens of images of the nearby Esperanza de Triana and San Gonzalo brotherhoods. Bullfights are run on TV while you sip your beer, tabbed up right in front of you on the bar, and the countdown to Palm Sunday hangs over your head while you eat from a huge tapas menu.

La Freqsuita -  Calle Mateos Gago

With a name like the fresh one, La Fresquita has a lot to live up to with its beer. Still, it’s served cold and often accompanied with olives or even a pocket calendar. The small space – its biggest downside – is covered floor to ceiling in pictures of processions and a countdown to Palm Sunday. Since the bar is right off of the main tourist sites and centrally located on Mateos Gago, many patrons spill out onto the sidewalk in front of the bar.

Kiosko La Melva – Manuel Siurot, s/n (at the cross of Cardenal Ilundain). Hours depend on the boss, Eli.

My weekday bar is always Kiosko La Melva. Once a shack used to provide workers from the ABC Newspaper offices with their midday snacks and beers, the small structure is unbeatable for cold beer (which only costs 1€!) and small, delectable fish sandwiches. Eli and Moises, the wise cracking buddies who man the bar during the mornings and evenings, collect memorabilia from Semana Santas past to fill the bar’s small interior. Their favorites? The Jesus del Gran Poder and la Macarena, who are associated with the Real Betis football club! You can take the 1 or the 3 bus to the bar, which is located near the Virgen del Rocio Hospital. Closed when raining, Saturday nights and all day Sunday.

Garlochí – Calle Boteros, 26, Alfalfa.

Seville’s tackiest bar deserves a mention here, although it’s become a bit of a tourist attraction. Wafts of incense arrive to the street as a lifelike Virgin Mary, eyes towards the heavens, guards the door. The plush decor and aptly named drinks – like Christ’s Blood – make it a favorite among tourists, but there’s a “Garlochi Lite” next door with cheaper drinks and not so many eyes starting at you as you pound your cervezas.

As a non-capillita, I had to ask my dear friend La Dolan for her top picks for Semana Santa bars around the city. She told me of Carrerra Oficial, just steps from Plaza San Lorenzo and the Basilica del Jesus del Gran Poder that has put a replica of the famous church’s facades as part of its decor. The bar is on Javier Lasso de la Vega, 3.

Have you ever experienced Semana Santa in Seville? Or been to a Holy Week bar here?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...