Thursday, April 02, 2015

Off to Spain

This makes our fourth spring trip to Spain and while I suppose one could argue that we should be seeing the rest of the world, we take the viewpoint that it’s better to get some depth in a place before moving on to the next one. Quality might very well trump quantity when it comes to visiting a place, or at least that’s how we prefer to think. And I suppose that our feelings are somewhat influenced by the fact that we just plain love Sevilla, and no amount of diversity is going to lessen that feeling. So we go again, this time with the added benefit of Semana Santa, Holy Week, in what is arguably the best place to see it in Spain. We had the pleasure of being in Valencia for it once before, but the Sevillanos chuckle when you tell them that the competition thinks that theirs is better.
We had an early departure from Albuquerque due to the vagaries of airline ticket pricing. It was literally $1000 cheaper to leave at 8AM vs. 10:30AM and for that kind of discount, I’ll gladly spend an extra two hours sitting around the airport in Dallas. This route really is pretty easy because the first and last legs are so short. It’s very nice not to have a long haul between home and your US departure point - I’d rather put the time into the longer leg. It’s just plain nice to make that auxiliary leg as short as possible. Our arrival in Dallas was on time, we had lunch and settled in for a few hours of people watching and listening to our fellow travelers speak too loudly in the lounge. That is one thing that never seems to change regardless of where you’re waiting in the world.
I always like to spend some time observing one of the people sitting near me on the plane, and this time I chose an older couple sitting across from us. Probably late seventies or early eighties and moderately well-heeled, he wore jeans with a navy sport coat and a crisp button-down shirt. She was dressed in travel comfort black. There wasn’t much unusual about them until the drink cart came along and he started to polish off little bottles of scotch. Dinner came and went and much like my dad (his compatriot in liking scotch), he picked at his food until desert came along. When the attendant arrived with his mint chocolate chip ice cream, the man made a swirling motion over his bowl and the attendant left, returning with yet another bottle of scotch which the fellow poured on his ice cream. A new one on me.
That was the last of the in-flight entertainment of note .I spent the remainder of my time trying to sleep and looking out the window for any evidence of the sunrise which ultimately came quite late ( 6:30 am ). A short hour later we were on the ground in Madrid and heading to Atocha station for our train.


Now I had a decent idea that it was going to be busy here for this particular holiday, popular not only for Americans but for many Europeans too. When they announced our departure, I’ll admit to being more than a bit stunned – three long lines of hundreds of people, far more than what we’ve seen taking this train before. It took us a long while to get through the doors and down the escalator and on to Car 11, which was shockingly in the middle (!) of the train. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 10 cars, let alone 20+ and each of them filled. Due to our unfortunate timing, the luggage bins were all full and so I had to spend a few testy moments rearranging everyone else’s bags over our seats before I could get ours squeezed it. It took a bit of work but in the end we carved out the last 4 square feet in our car and we settled in for the ride.
This part of the trip is always the hardest because we’ve been up for so long and it’s not easy to find a way to doze off in what are somewhat less than comfortable seats. But the scenery is nice, lots and lots of olive trees, the occasional castle and even a small flock of migrating Buzzards. It seems to go faster than the 2.5 hours it takes and when you see the first of the palm trees, you know that Sevilla is not far off.
We arrived at 1:30PM and since we were not meeting Macarena, our rental agent, until 2:30 we decided to let the throngs get their taxis while we sat in the station for a bit. The place was busier than I’ve ever seen it and when we finally decided to head outside at 2:15, our taxi strategy was shown to be misguided – there were still at least 100 people in line in front of us. We got in and started waiting, actually moving faster than we might have expected, perhaps 15 minutes until it was our turn. We told the driver where we wanted to go, he said “not likely” due to the processions associated with Semana Santa. Now I had checked on the timing of these before we’d left and I’d estimated that we’d be okay. But I was wrong. I suggested a place near to where we were going, and he said he’d try but two blocks out of the station he pulled over and kicked us out of the cab. Collecting his 5 euros for the 10 minute drive, he told us to “walk down there and turn right” and bid us adieu. So there we were, up for 28 hours, lugging two roller suitcases and three shoulder bags, dressed all in black on an 81 degree afternoon, heading out for a walk. I texted Macarena and said we’d be there when we got there. To her credit she offered to help but it was clear there was nothing she could do so off we went, trying to stick to the shady patches as much as we could.
It was a good thing we’d done this walk before and so we had a sense of where we were going, recognizing many of the shops along the way. It really wasn’t as far as it could have been, maybe 20 minutes, and we were glad when we saw Calle Santa Maria Blanca, a street that we knew led into our neighborhood. The cause of the problem became apparent right then – the street had been closed for the procession of the San Benardo Hermandades, a long line of them in dark purple gowns, each carrying a matte black cross. Hermandades are lay religious service associations associated with the various parishes in town. Each has its own special focus of social work, and each their own unique livery. This order was established in 1748 and was originally associated with the military. Encountering them in that place was interesting for me, as one of my main reasons for coming here at this time was to get some photographs of the various orders. But at this moment and in this place getting a camera out was the last thing I was interested in so we gingerly cut their line and made our way to our apartment where we met Macarena.
After getting situated and before heading out to explore we stopped for a fortifying meal – roast pork in tomato sauce, cold potatoes with chunks of fresh tuna and a plate of deep fried battered cod, instantly reminding ourselves that besides the sights and culture, food is what truly makes Spain a worthy destination. We spent the rest of the evening getting an introduction to what it’s like dealing with hundreds of thousands of people in streets from the 1300’s. More of that story later.


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