Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Semana Santa.

Spain is known for its wonderful Easter celebrations.  Having finally experienced my first Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain, I can say it was worth the wait.  For starters, my mom was here to spend the entire two week vacation with me.  That was enough in itself, but all of the things we did, saw, ate... made it "egg-tra" special! (You'll soon see why Easter was "egg-tra" special.)

I arrived back from Greece on April 11. My mom arrived in Spain on April 11. So, it's safe to say, we missed no time in starting our trip together! In the airport, she met Divina and Toni who she had heard all about and two of the Spanish students, Paula and Lucia, who immediately began calling her their American mom! It was quite a rush of emotions for her, as her phone hadn't worked since she put the sim card in upside down after arriving in Spain and the fact that we hadn't seen each other since Christmas. It was so nice to arrive "home" and have my mom waiting for me!

After arriving in Navalmoral, we wasted no time in meeting my friends! We collected Maria at the house and went out for tapas. She met most all of my Spanish friends in a bar we frequent quite often, Zaragata. It was a fun night, lots of Spanglish was spoken and many yummy tapas were eaten. 

Again we wasted no time in beginning our Semana Santa travels. We went to Jarandilla on Tuesday to visit the primary school. We dyed Easter eggs with the first and fourth graders - which sounds fun for sure, but when you take into account that this was their FIRST EVER experience seeing, hearing, and trying of this American tradition - then it really is "Egg-tra" fun! They were so nervous.  Each student was told to bring his or her own egg to school. Well, what they brought their eggs in was part of the fun.... we had paper towels, plastic cups, tinfoil, plastic boxes, kleenex, and the "oops" - at the bottom of the backpack.  We had lots of fun colors to choose from and stickers to really make them "egg-tra special". We all had a fun day coloring eggs!
Plastic tube? Good!
Plastic bag? Vale!
paper towel wasn't such a good idea...
Tuesday evening we went on a tour of La Vera, the region where Jarandilla de la Vera is located. We had three wonderful guides: Divina, Toni y Emiliano, Toni's husband. We went to Garganta la Olla, Valverde de la Vera, Losar de la Vera (on a short hike! and for dinner), Villanueva, Piornal, Valle del Jerte.... seriously, we hit all of the little towns and stopped for drinks in a few.  It was such a nice evening with wonderful people! 
Toni, Mom, Me, Emiliano in Garganta la Olla
Garganta de Cuartos, Losar de la Vera
We slept in the Parador in Jarandilla on Tuesday night. What's a Parador? (Comenius friends reading this, this isn't for you!) A Parador is an old castle/monastery/palace/etc.... bought by the Spanish government and turned into a hotel to pay for restoring and caretaking of the historical building.  Jarandilla's Parador is a castle from the XV century, home to Emperador Juan Carlos V.  We slept like princesas for just one night.... before I came to Jarandilla, it was the only thing I saw online about the town. I thought that's where the schools would put me up for the year... I couldn't have been more wrong! haha 
Parador by night.
Parador by day.
Day three of our trip was full of more egg dying in the primary school and site-seeing Jarandilla. By night, mom helped me pack and switch out my winter clothes for spring/summer clothes and I worked at the academy. Nothing too exciting. Yet, exciting as my mom was here... of course it was different than any other week. My mom, Maria, Andres, and I went for Spanish Chinese food (yes, it's different than in the States and Scotland.) and then out for drinks in Canterville. It was a calm, early night.
Woooo! First time egg dyers!
Dying eggs with the first graders!
An Easter worksheet I made for them... of course, the eggs were nearly all red and yellow. Viva Espana!
Day four, Thursday. We went to the high school and had just one class... we went to a 4th level class, which is equivalent to sophomore level in high school in the States. We just talked about basic things, the class was quite participative - which was unusual for this class.  However, because they knew my mom knew NO Spanish, they were more apt to talk and try to explain Easter traditions to her, etc.  My mom told me later on that she noted I was talking very loud and clear - not slow - but that I was very precise in my word choices and making the stories easy to follow. This is exactly why they had difficulties understanding her - American vocabulary vs. British vocabulary... it's safe to say I speak with many British terms now. HA (trashcan/bin; holiday/vacation; trousers/pants; flat/apartment; etc) The class was very happy my mom came.  They were the lucky ones; their friends and siblings were asking me when my mom was coming to visit their classes still two weeks later....I had to break the news that she was back in the USA. haha

Thursday night is social Thursday in Navalmoral and having my mom here made it an even more special Thursday night out. We went for dinner at La Mar Sala with most of my group of friends from Navalmoral (minus Mamen) and shared many stories in Spanglish as we ate bacalo dorado, un sarten con chistorra, and more yummy things. Unfortunately, she didn't get to try pig ears and I'm sure she is still sad about this. (Not!) 


Friday, we had everything packed up and ready to go for our 11 days of  traveling that were still ahead.  My friend, Jose Miguel, took us to Caceres where we caught the bus to Salamanca. We had a few hours to site see the old town in Caceres and have lunch in it's newly restored Plaza Mayor. 
Paella & Migas
Caceres, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
First stop in Salamanca? Chido's Bar. We had wonderful nachos and tingas de pollo. (Free promotion for Rafa: Eat at Chido's! It's a really great place to have a drink and a taco! Mom raves that they are the best nachos. I prefer their tinga de pollo burrito! Anyway, you can't go wrong here.) Saturday, we sat in the Plaza Mayor and wrote post cards to what felt like everyone in Missouri as we ate torrijas, a traditional Easter dessert similar (but not as good) to French Toast. 
Nachos at Elektrotaco/Chido's Bar. (I spy Rafa in green!)
Salamanca. We were here.
Follow the yellow brick road.... ;)
Breakfast in the Plaza

Torrijas, our delicious (daily) afternoon snack.
We went walking down la Rua, to visit my friends at work, do some shopping, and enjoy Salamanca. I got my haircut by the same lady Gina got hers cut by in 2008.... (I need to go again!) We bought lunch at my old host mom, Lourdes' restaurant, El Fogon, and ate it in the park near our hostel. After a short siesta, we went out again that night, for a nice dinner of tostadas in the restaurant under my old house on C/ Iscar Peyra 18. I had never been because Lourdes' food was too good to pass up, so it was a nice treat.  Later in the night, we went to Irish Rover to watch the Madrid/Barcelona game and then visited Medievo for drinks with my friend, Tasos.
My favorite street in Salamanca.
(RED!) Free drinks at Irish for the Madrid/Barcelona game thanks to Manny.
Universidad de Salamanca, during a paseo by night.
The 17th, we headed to Valladolid. I had mixed feelings about going here, as it is where I will be living this next year. I was happy, anxious, nervous, excited, scared... all at the same time. It felt like the bus was taking forever to get there, but it was just under and hour and a half! (Salamanca and I are neighbors for the next year! Woo!) The hotel was so close to the bus station that we had trouble finding it as the back of the hotel is the first thing you see when you step out of the station. Anyway, we checked in and immediately went exploring.  My first thoughts were "I can live here," and I was happy... it's a city; so many new things at my fingertips! We found my high school on the 18th and looked for areas where I could live.  It was good to explore the city with my mom, as she can now picture and sense where I'm living and working! the school is in a great location, just about a half hour walking from the Plaza Mayor and just about ten minutes to the bus and train stations. It seems like I can be sufficient just living on one side of Valladolid! It will be much, much bigger than Navalmoral, similar to Salamanca, and completely do-able in every sense!
Plaza Mayor
Main pedestrian street.
Parque Campo Grande
Peacock en Campo Grande.
Because of Semana Santa, there were processions throughout the day and we were able to enjoy several of them.  Easter processions are quite different in Spain than a normal parade.  For starters, the people are wearing colorful robes and pointy hats with only eye slits. This is for privacy to the people walking in the procession, as some do it as a personal reflection or as a type of pilgrimage. There is no relation to the KKK, even though this is what their outfits resemble. 
Parade in front of the Cathedral

 Pasos in the Plaza Mayor (which is absolutely beautiful by night, no?!)
Each group wears their own colors.
I think there are 14 groups that walk in Valladolid.
We went by overnight train on the 18th to Malaga. Boy. was. this. an. experience. I guess I'd never expected what the conditions would be, I was just thankful there was such a train that existed to go from the North to the South.  So, the sleeping quarters were tinnny. Do-able, but tiny. Mom says she will never go on another overnight train... so take that for what it's worth.
Tiny spaces can be fun!
While we took the train to Malaga, we bypassed Malaga to go to Fuengirola, Costa del Sol, to go to our hotel for the next three nights. While there was nothing interesting in Fuengirola (ok, there is a castle that we didn't visit) we managed to eat some good seafood on the beach, eat some good Indian food while being bombarded with people trying to see things, and eat more torrijas.  It's safe to say we ate our way through Fuengirola - because we had good reason to do so - Fuengirola was our base city for day trips to Tangier, Morocco, and Gibraltar, UK.  
Sardines being cooked on the boat - typical along the beach in Fuengirola.
Most streets en at the beach. How nice!
I was taken by Morocco in 2009 when I went with my study abroad group for a week. I wanted to show my mom the country that nearly made me join the Peace Corps... I remember Morocco as the first time I couldn't understand the local language in any sense - as they don't use Latin letters and they read backward. This sense of being in a foreign world was very cool to me, and I wanted to let my mom experience how different it was from Spain; while it is so close to Spain just across the Straight of Gibraltar, it couldn't be more different... it's a whole different continent!  

Latin vs. Arabic
While it wasn't so interior like 2009, but screaming "TOURIST" at every turn, Wednesday was spent in Tangier, Morocco! We went in a group tour so we could both enjoy ourselves and leave the planning to JuliaTravels (wonderful company by the way.) We took the fast ferry to Tangier that only lasted 45 minutes.  The day was split into two parts: morning tour of the upper town, seeing mansions, riding camels, visiting the Northern-most point of Africa... the afternoon was a walking tour through the kasba, center, of Tangier, seeing the market, pharmacy, getting hounded by children selling things in the streets (No shukrannnnn!!!!!), snake charmers (I got a snake put around my shoulders!) and having a traditional lunch complete with live traditional music and belly-dancing.  Not bad for a day trip, right
Northern most point in Africa!!!!
Camel rides!
Hercules Caves, shaped like Africa!
Being brave. (AHHHHHH!)
Kasba (Center)
Tangier, Morocco
Prayer tower.
Arabic Coca-Cola!
The day was full of interesting bits: In the rug store, mom was offered rugs in trade for me to stay there with the rug owner's son -- Mom said no! He said he had another son in Valencia, Spain, if she preferred I lived in Spain and not Morocco.... As bad as she wanted a rug, she kindly turned down both offers. Another funny time was when we were leaving on the bus to go to the ferry: mom upset young little boys because she bought camels from their friends after telling them two hours earlier she would buy from them. Well, these boys followed us to the bus and one boy was so angry that he threw the leather camels at the window and yelled "puta!" Well, thanks for the lasting memory, Morocco. 
Beautiful Moroccan Rugs
"I'll give you whatever rugs you want...."
Camel? Camel? Shoe? Camel? Jewelry? Camel? Camel? Camel? NO SHUKRAN!
Because two countries wasn't enough, we spent Thursday in Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is on the Iberian Peninsula, but it is a British territory and it controls one side of the Straight of Gibraltar. The town is built into the Rock of Gibraltar, something I thought only existed in History books. Well, it's real - really cool - and overtaken by monkeys. 

Monkeys. After you make the journey up the rock, you are greeted by over 300 monkeys that live in complete freedom at the top of the rock. They are the owners of the rock. They go wherever they want. On top of the tour vans. In the gift-shop. On top of tourists. You cannot touch them, so what do you do when one (or two!) jump on your back? Bend over and let them sit on you as your mom takes pictures. Yeah, I'm talking from experience. I think the monkeys really like my mom and I as I had two on my back at one point and mom had a little guy (ok, not so little!) try taking her candy bar she was buying in the gift-shop. I thought it was a small little kid passing in front of me...I think my mom thought it was me taking the candy...the clerk said "NO!!! You can't come in here. Get out! Mam, put that candy bar in your purse and don't open it until you're in the bus!" Let me tell you, scary, funny memories with those monkeys. 
the "mono" monkey that likes chocolate bars...
Too bad you can't see the lady in the back seat's facial expression. ha
Sure, you can sit on my back.
Besides a torrential downpour and some cold fish and chips in the afternoon, we had a great day in Gibraltar. We saw double decker buses and red telephone booths - really made you feel like you were in England! 
Who are you calling, mom?
Fish & Chips and a Jacket Potato
Main Plaza
The. Rock.
The Straight of Gibraltar!
The 22nd, 23rd, and 24th were spent in Malaga. Mom finally met Maribel, my wonderful host mom from August 2009, as she welcomed us to her house two days and the third day we went and talked.  It was just like 2009 (minus Melissa my roommate!) sitting around eating for hours, drinking everything alcoholic, and talking about everything under the sun. She had two girls living with her at the time and we really enjoyed each others company. Maribel said it was a pity that either she or my mom were left out of the conversation, depending on what language we were speaking. This was a pity because things really can be lost in translation... put on a big smile and laugh along, it's the only thing you can do in situations like these. 

Maribel, la reina de la casita y yo, su princesa!
Some of the best paella in the world
We visited the Malagueta Beach, walked in the park along the port, visited old favorite places of mine from 2009 (that either were or weren't there still!), ate churros, visited the Alcazaba (Castle), had dinner and drinks at El Pimpi (my favorite!) and had more torrijas since it was Easter.  
View from the Alcazaba of Malaga's port
Mom at la Playa - la Malagueta
Mediterranean Sea
Calle Larios, main pedestrian street
El Pimpi
We bought seats to sit on Calle Larios to watch the Easter processions, that were nearly all rained out. The ones we were fortunate to see were incredible, as the pasos (large things men carry on their backs) were unreal.  There were lines of 40 men packed together like sardines, carrying these massive things. They took a long time to go a short distance due to their size. Other people, in robes and hats, carried candles before and after the pasos. Small children would stand on the streets in front of the chairs with balls of wax to catch the wax that fell from the candles. Some kids had huge balls of wax, others were just starting with balls of tin-foil. This was a cool thing to see, as you don't see this on tv. However, it wasn't as solemn as I thought it would be.  We ended up watching from our hotel room that was just off C/Larios and we had a neat view of the pasos from up top and on the tv at the same time! On Sunday, we went to Church and were able to see some of the pasos up close.
Paso leaving the Cathedral
Pasos on Calle Larios
Pasos from our hotel room, look how many men are underneath!!
Sunday afternoon, before we took the AVE to Madrid, we were able to catch a bullfight in Malaga's Plaza de Toros (Bullring). We saw the bullfighters riding in old convertibles from the hotel to the Plaza which was a cool photo opportunity.  We bought the cheapest seats in the shade and ended up being able to sit even closer in expensive seats because we played the "dumb blonde tourist (and American!) card" - it was perfect. We only stayed to watch 4 of the 6 bulls so we could make it to the train; I think this was enough for my mom anyway. Since it was my fourth bull fight, I think it tends to look the same after awhile too, so I was ready to go as well. My first bullfight in Salamanca was one I'll never forget (girlfriends from 2008, you know!)... so all the others have just been so-so. 
Toreros on the way to the Plaza de Toros!
Because one poster isn't enough.
The red and pink cape to see how the bull moves.
The red cape and sword.
Plaza de Toros de Malaga

We stayed near the Madrid airport the night before my mom left.  We had a nice breakfast and then we said goodbyes.  It was sad saying bye, knowing I wouldn't see her or anyone else from my family until the end of July.  Well, I'll be back in less than a month. Can't believe how the time has flown by! So much has happened here in Navalmoral... I wonder if I'll ever catch up on my blog. 

So, it's not hard to see why my Semana Santa was Egg-tra special this year. I made it to nearly every town in La Vera, Extremadura, Castilla Leon, Andalucia, Morocco, Gibraltar, Madrid... and the best part? I planned it all myself. Super proud of myself for getting us everywhere on our grand tour of Espain. I wonder what Semana Santa 2012 will bring? Whatever it is and wherever it is, I'm already "egg-cited"!!!!