Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Songs

One of my biggest passions is music. I love listening to it, playing it, watching others play it, and I especially  love exploring music; finding new songs and artists. Currently my new favorite singer is Ben Rector (he isn't new, but he's new to me) who I now listen to all the time, and I also have fallen in love with these two Spanish songs. Take a listen (I couldn't find any music videos for the Ben Rector songs, sorry). I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

       When a Heart Breaks            

White Dress

                                          Camila - Mientes                                        
Carlos Baute - Quien te quiere como yo

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Semana Santa

Happy Easter!

Today is the final day of the huge celebration Semana Santa (Holy Week) that's been going on here in Sevilla. Semana Santa is one of the most important and traditional events in the city. It occurs all over Spain, but no city does as grand a celebration as Sevilla.

Semana Santa begins on Palm Sunday and continues all week until Easter Sunday. Certain churches out of the hundreds of different ones in Sevilla participate, which means they have have beautiful floats called pasos that have lifelike wooden sculptures of individual scenes of the events that lead up to Jesus dying on the cross, or images of the Virgin Mary showing her grief for the torture and killing of her Son. Some of these pasos are hundreds of years old and are considered artistic masterpieces.

The paso is richly carved out of wood and decorated with fabric, flowers (real and white delicate and very detailed ones that are made out of candle wax), and candles. Many of the structures carrying the scenes of Christ are gilded with gold, and those carrying the Mary are usually silver-plated. As a result, the pasos all weigh at least one ton or more, and some weigh three tons! This is important because unlike our parades where floats are driven by cars, these floats are carried by men. They are called costaleros and there are anywhere between 20-50 men underneath the pasos carrying them. They practice all year round to be in shape for this one week, because some of these pasos are carried for 10-14 hrs one day throughout the whole city. 

There is also a band that plays and marches behind the pasos, and depending on what song and rhythm they are playing, the costaleros underneath will march differently, sway, make the paso "dance", or move it up and down. Since they are all inside the structure and hidden from the external view by a curtain, the paso seems to move by itself. However, some processions are silent, with no musical accompaniment. When these pasos walk by, the audience must remain silent as well. Everyone is very respectful of these pasos.

The sculptures themselves are carved and painted, and often lifesize or larger. The oldest surviving ones were carved in the 16th century!

There are a number of people who walk before the pasos and are dressed in robes and wear the distinctive pointed hood, hold long wax candles (only lit at night), marching in silence, and are sometimes barefoot as a sign of penitence. These are the Nazarenos. Colors of the robe are distinctive for each brotherhood (church). Usually the Nazarenos march in pairs. And no, even though they might resemble people of the KKK they are in no way affiliated with them. The Nazarenos and Semana Santa originated long before the KKK ever came to be. Also, there are a number of penitentes, carrying wooden crosses, making public penance. They wear the robe and the hood of the brotherhood, but the hood is not pointed like the Nazarenos.

A procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 Nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours, depending on how far the home church is from the Cathedral (each paso leaves from their church and walks through whatever streets they want, but they all must go down the main route that leads to the Cathedral. Then, after passing the Cathedral, they will walk back to their home church). The largest processions can take over an hour and a half to cross one particular spot.

This week of different processions is very culturally and spiritually important to Catholics and tourists all over the world. The city is PACKED full of people! It's difficult getting anywhere in less than an hour (for the shortest distances). Bus routes have been changed, parking lots are full, some of the streets are closed off to bikers and cars. Whew! It has been a tough week to figure out how to get around. Most stores, markets, and all schools are closed for the week (I'm almost out of food in my house because no stores are open!), and many of my Spanish friends left to other cities and countries for a spring break, and to stay away from the crowds that were here in Sevilla.

I loved watching all the different processions. It was so fascinating to me! In some churches, people are able to go in and kiss the feet or hands of Jesus on his paso before the brotherhood leaves, and there are some Virigin Mary pasos where the people in the audience will yell things to her, like how pretty she looks.

However, this week as a whole has been a huge disappointment due to the rain. It has rained almost every day except for two or three, and as a result hardly any of the processions have been able to go out (since they are all made out of wood and are very old). People are seen crying in the streets out of sadness and disappointment that their favorite paso couldn't go out, or if they were a Nazareno or penitente then they are also hugely disappointed. I'm glad I got to see the 9 or 10 pasos that I saw earlier in the week.

It has been such a unique and amazing experience for me. I hope to come back another year and see more of it (now the pasos are in the churches so you can see them there, since most of them couldn't actually go outside), but for now I am thrilled by what I got to see. And the rest of this week was also so much fun! I spent a lot of time with my different Spanish friends here, dancing, eating, talking (in Spanish of course), and just having a blast. It has been a very relaxing week (no work and lots of sleep!), but now it's back to teaching bright and early tomorrow morning.

If you want to learn more about Semana Santa, check out the Wikipedia webpage (lots of good information). I've also included a video so you can see some of the pasos and processions, as well as part of Sevilla! I wish I could post some of the videos that I took, but my internet is too slow to upload them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring is in the Air!

Spring has finally arrived (ok, it arrived a few weeks ago, but I didn’t write then, so now I am)! The trees and plants are blossoming all around me. The new spring fragrances are so strong they surprise me every time I pass by an orange tree. I went to the Alcazar (a palace) and its gardens with my sister, my parents, and Adam when they were all here visiting me, and everything was so beautiful. I loved seeing the fresh buds and flowers that are starting to grow.

Now this week it's been cool and rainy almost the whole week, but in the weeks that my parents and Adam were here it was hot hot hot! Almost too hot for me, since all of you know I am a cold-and-snowy kind of gal. However, the hot weather made me miss a few things from back home. One of the biggest things is driving my own car. I miss being in the driver's seat and singing at the top of my lungs, being alone, long relaxing drives, driving fast, and having the windows open! I can't wait to have my car again (though I LOVE not paying for gas or insurance, and being able to walk everywhere)!

I also really miss going to Grand Haven with friends and family. Eating ProntoPups, walking to the lighthouse, swimming in the waves. I have of course gone to the beach numerous times here, and it has always been hot and fun and with good friends, but sometimes it's just not the same as home.

And one more things: bonfires and s'mores. Mmm I can't wait to have a fire on the beach and roast hotdogs and s'mores!

I've included some pictures of the beautiful spring in Sevilla. You can all bask in the gloriousness that is Sevilla. Yes, I absolutely love living here.

Blossoming trees like these are all over Sevilla! Some are plain 
white, but they all smell great and are beautiful!

I came across newlyweds taking their wedding pictures on 
my way to the city center one day! I love her wrap haha

Oranges away!! In the spring the orange trees are harvested. Spain is COVERED in orange trees. They are seriously EVERYWHERE. The downside is though that you can't eat any of the oranges. I tried it once when I was a sophomore in college and it was my first time in Europe. Some friends and I thought it would be amazing to be homeless or poor in a country that has millions of oranges growing everywhere that you could take for free. So we picked some and tried to eat them. Yuck! They are even more sour/bitter than a lemon!! They are terrible!
But they don't go to waste. They're harvested and sent off to be used in lotions, 
makeup, and other things. Good to know that nothing in God's creation is wasted. :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let's Catch Up

Hello all!

I am finally getting back into the swing-of-things with my blog. There will be many posts to come as I have so much I want to share with all of you.

These last two or three months have been a whirlwind of visitors, trips, and exciting new experiences. I will start with the most recent and work backwards in following posts (to try to keep them shorter haha). 

Adam came to visit me! I was so excited! We had been apart for three and a half months (ever since New Year's), so his visit had been long-anticipated. He arrived three hours late due to having to transfer airports in New York, but thankfully arrived safe and sound. We spent the first couple of days together being lazy and watching movies (though he was still active in running every day. He's training for the Cleveland Marathon!).

He came with me to school one day and my favorite class threw him a huge party! There was so much food, especially Easter treats. It was so fun. After school that day we toured the Cathedral and had lunch down in the city center. Then we packed and hopped on a plane to the Canary Islands!

We went to Tenerife for four days. Our hostel was 5 minutes away from the beach, and right by the boardwalk. Every night we went to a different restaurant and tried new foods. Our first night there we went to a nice Italian restaurant right on the beach, and instead of ordering a full meal we ended up with a delicious cheese platter and the best red wine we've ever had....and most expensive, but that's beside the point. :P

We also went to a big water park and spent the day riding rides and diving into waves in the wave pool. We had perfect weather during our whole trip, and it was fun to explore the island together. We drank some fun island drinks, worked on our tans, and just over all had a really nice, relaxing time.

When we arrived back to Sevilla we only had a few days left to cram everything in that I wanted to show Adam. We went to Isla Magica, an amusement park here in Sevilla, the Real Alcazar (royal palace with beautiful gardens), city center, Triana (we ran out of time for my old neighborhood, Los Remedios though *sigh*), ate at many different tapas restaurants, had gelato every day (of course!), ate chocolate con churros, went through the Torre de Oro (Golden Tower), a flamenco show, my favorite place in all of Sevilla - the Plaza de España, the Parque de Maria Luisa (a park), and everything else you can possibly do in Sevilla. He got to meet some of my friends out here too! It was such a fun trip, and so wonderful to be together again. Thankfully now we only have two more months apart until we're back in the same country!

Here are some pictures of yet another glorious adventure of Adam and Rachel. :) The rest of the pictures are on my facebook if you would like to view more. Enjoy!

Meeting Adam at the airport in my new dress (I had to try and look nice for him!) 
and us on top of the Cathedral

In Tenerife, and with our cheese platter and wine

We got a "pedicure" by fishing eating the dead skin off of our legs and feet. They LOVED Adam's feet haha. We also put another love-lock on a bridge - this time on Triana's Bridge (our first love-lock is on the Alexander Bridge in Paris)

On top of the Torre de Oro and at the Plaza de España

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Visitor!

Well I have wanted to write a million blog posts in the past couple of weeks, but I just haven't had enough time to sit down and write them. This whole past week I have been busy grocery shopping, cleaning, and buying the most perfect outift to wear when I pick Adam up at the airport :) He gets here TOMORROW MORNING!!! Already he is on his way! Only 14 more hours until I get to see him!!!!! He is flying from Chicago to New York, where he has to transfer AIRPORTS and only has three hours to do it in, and apparently NY is supposed to get a snow storm....awesome....to Madrid, and then finally to ME!! :)

I promise to write more as soon as I can. I have lots of exciting adventures to tell you all about, as well as my many visitors, and soon two weeks worth of stories once Adam arrives.

Have a wonderful weekend and I'll write soon!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Never-Ending Birthday Surprises

24. It's weird to think that's how old I am now. But it's true; another year has come and gone.

What's also weird is that this may have been the best birthday I've ever had! Despite the fact that I'm so far away from friends and family, my Spanish friends here made my birthday so special.

It started with a wonderful surprise party thrown by Ana Bello the day before my birthday (Thursday)! Apparently I arrived a little early to my own party, so Kike came to the rescue! We "had to go buy the drinks" because he, Ana and I were going to have dinner together. Ok I thought, nothing strange here. We walked around foreverrrrr, and went to a grocery store way out of our way (in fact we passed two others on on our way there!). We were chatting about this and that, superhero movies, Megan Fox and Zac Effron (and yes, all of this was in Spanish!), and FINALLY, what was probably 30 or 40 minutes later, we walked back to Ana's apartment. The whole house was filled with a great aroma, and by this point I was wondering if she had planned something, but all I could think of was just a special dinner.

Than seven of my friends pop out and yell "SURPRISE!!!"! There was a banner wishing me a happy birthday, and a delicious Spanish meal cooked just for me. There was even cake and a candle for me to make a wish (which I did in Spanish. Booya)! I was further surprised by presents given to me by Ana and Mercedes - a ring, a purse, and a wallet! The whole night was so thoughtful and so amazing. It made me feel so loved, knowing that my friends here wanted to help celebrate my birthday with me.

The night was capped off with an impromptu skype chat with the boyfriend. And I was able to open my present from him because it was officially my birthday in my part of the world (it was already 2am). He gave me super warm pajamas to help stave off the cold while I shiver in my apartment. And the thing that makes the pajamas even more perfect - they are covered in SNOWFLAKES!

Friday I received cards from my parents, grandparents, the Horos', and Adam. It was such a good feeling being remembered by so many people. And of course with the barrage of facebook wallposts. :) Then on Friday night I was supposed to meet with my friend Marta and her colleagues for tapas and drinks, but the plans got canceled and new and better plans were made. Adam wanted us to spend my actual birthday together, so we hung out on skype! We talked for 5 hours! I didn't go to bed until 5:30am. We played games, watched episodes of TV shows, and just talked and spent time with each other. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday.

On Saturday I went with two of my American friends, Emma and Sarah, to our church for a "Change Your Look" party where we got hair and makeup tips with the rest of the women in our church. Afterward we met up with Sarah's and Emma's husbands, and Kike and Martin for Domino's pizza and dancing at a club!

Needless to say, the weekend wore me out. But the birthday celebrations weren't complete just yet! I walked into my favorite class on Monday (the fourth years), who also threw me a surprise party! They made Spanish food to share with all of us, and also gave me presents! But the thing that touched me the most was the T-shirt they made that said "We Love Rachel", and a video with all of them talking in English to me! It was so sweet.

On Tuesday, a class that I have basically no relationship with because I only have them once a week, burst into a broken rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" and "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow" when I walked in. And they too had presents! I don't even know how they knew it was my birthday.

And last but not least, I went for tapas with Marta on Thursday night. I love going out with her. I am so blessed to have made a friend like her here in Spain. She completed the "birthday week" with a new bracelet and scarf, and especially her time (she's always so busy, it's hard to get together sometimes!).

All-in-all it was an incredible birthday. My friends and family back home still kept me in their thoughts, and my friends here helped me to celebrate and keep on celebrating. I'm so thankful for my friends here, and amazed at how each of them tried to make my birthday special and memorable. It is definitely one I will never forget.

Mercedes and Ana and me with the wonderful tortilla

The DELICIOUS dinner!
 Mmm, chocolate cake

Sarah and I

Me and my presents!
 A purse and a ring!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sevilla Through the Internet

Want to see where I live? I came across this really cool website that took photos of Sevilla from one of it's tallest points. You can read more about it (don't worry, you can change the language into English!) too. It's really interesting, but most importantly you can see my city! Now you can experience my apartment AND the actual city! It's like you're all here with me. :)

It's amazing that even though we are thousands of miles apart, we can still be seeing the same things at the same time! Enjoy my beloved city!