This is something the guidebooks don’t tell you: Andalusia goes absolutely ga-ga for Holy Week, the week preceding Easter. Unless you are enthusiastically religious AND love standing in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and breathing someone else’s cigarette smoke, DO NOT come to Seville during Holy Week. If you DO like that, then Seville on Easter Week is just right for you.
We came out of the Alcazar (al-cats-ah, the royal palace started by the Moors, enlarged and made even more beautiful by Pedro the Just, called “the Cruel” by the Church and the other nobles who were his enemies), sat down at a cafe and saw streams of people, all heading toward the cathedral. We wondered what it was all about. “It can’t be for Easter yet — it’s only Wednesday!” we thought.
But as we walked toward the bridge to our hotel in the Triana section, we encountered bigger and thicker crowds. At times, we could barely move. A parade of young men and boys in robes and high, pointed hoods wound through the main streets and squares. Police blocked close access to those streets, and prevented anyone from crossing the parade. All the shops and cafes on those streets were shuttered.
It seemed that every man, woman and child had put on their best clothes and headed for the parade. There were young families, many taking their grandparents; older people; groups of teenaged boys and girls, all in their Sunday best. People hustled down the thoroughfares, then stopped suddenly to greet their friends. Teenage girls swayed unsteadily, still not used to their high heels, and smoked when out of sight of their parents.
Several times, we started down one small street only to meet a blockade of people watching the parade. Down one tiny alley, we saw a float carrying a statue from a church, of Jesus in the crown of thorns, clutching a column; we watched it go by along the main street, then changed direction down a cross-street, found another alley and ran into a different part of the parade, which had also changed direction. We saw another float, this one carrying a glorious praying Mary — not a statue this time, but a young woman in full costume.
It was difficult to see much detail, though, among the crowds. There was just no way to get to the front of the crowd to see much. We could glimpse the floats between buildings at the ends of the alleys; of the marchers, all we could see over the heads of the Sevillians was their pointed hoods.
Eventually, we found our way around the end of the parade, past the bull-ring. The Paseo de Cristobal Colon, which runs along the Guadalcivir River, was choked with small cars. Police directed traffic at the Puerta da Isabelle II. We crossed and I slumped against the railing when we reached the far bank.
“Do you think any restaurants will be open on this side, today?” Roxanne asked. It was a rhetorical question. Neither of us had a clue.
A look at our guidebook showed that a supposedly interesting restaurant was close by, and it turned out to be a three-minute walk from the bridge. Triana is a very working-class neighbourhood. There is nothing quaint, old-fashioned or even charming about it. The buildings look like they were erected in the 1950s, but they could be older. On the other hand, the area still seems to have an almost medieval urban plan. Well, not quite medieval, but the streets are far too narrow for the number of cars. Several streets are barely wide enough for a car to pass a pedestrian, but that does not prevent the Trianians from barreling along at top speed.
The restaurant is La Cuena Cuesta. Frommers claims its biggest table is rough-hewn and surrounds a tree trunk that supports a massive ceiling. There’s nothing like that in either its restaurant or its bar section.
By the way, food service in most of Europe IS that specialized. Cafes serve coffee, bars serve wine and beer and other spirits, restaurants serve meals. You can get tapas at a tapas bar, but not a full meal, and you usually cannot get tapas at a restaurant, except at certain hours. We arrived at around 7:00 p.m., when no self-respecting Spaniard would be caught dead eating, and were told there was no food available until 8:00. And we were too late for tapas, too. So we sat down for a drink to wait until suppertime. The restaurant and bar were quite pleasant — but there were no massive ceiling, no tree, no rough-hewn table.
Sometimes we wonder whether Frommer’s authors ever actually visit the places the write about, or just collect tourist information.
Next: Jerez and Africa.