Monday, June 20, 2011

More adventures

With only 5 days left of my program before my parents come I'm definitely trying to fit as much into every day as possible (as well as study for my final exams). We went to a political rally yesterday and on Wednesday we're going to an Arab bath - there will be tea, baklava, hot/cold baths, a steam room and my first massage yay! We're also going to celebrate La Noche de San Juan on Wednesday, a festival in honor of John the Baptist that happens every year the night before Corpus Christi. For Corpus Christi we're going to go to the parade down by the river and then the festival after that, it should be very interesting!

Two weekends ago my friends and I went to Cadiz, a small beach town on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the oldest city in all of Spain that was founded by the Phoenicians in 1104 B.C.We saw some gorgeous old buildings as well and their famous gold-domed cathedral. We spent pretty much all day at the beach and just walked through the city buying souvenirs in the evening. We tried the local food - tons of fried fish. We had squid, dogfish, and a few other types of fish that I had no clue what they were - we told the waiter to bring us his favorite dishes and it was all really good. Our hostel was really nice too, we shared the room with 3 other people that we didn't know, but they were very friendly. It was a really cool building - four stories with a roof-top terrace that had a ton of super comfortable hammocks and the entire place was decorated with beautiful Spanish tile. It was a very relaxing weekend and it was nice to have time at the beach to work on my tan and get away from the stress of schoolwork! We took the AVE (high-speed train) back to Sevilla Sunday evening and it was a quick 1:30 much nicer than the buses we've been traveling on lately!

This past weekend a group of my friends from the program and I went to Gibraltar (a British colony in the very south of Spain) for a day trip. We went with a planned tour group so it was nice not to have to worry about planning anything for once and to just be along for the ride. It was a 2 hour bus ride but our tour guide illegally downloaded the new movie Hangover 2 for us to watch so that made the time go by much faster. When we got there we had to get our passports checked and go through customs since we were technically in the UK and had left Spain (unfortunately no passport stamp, just like in Portugal!).

It was definitely one of the most interesting places I've been - it was so strange to see everything in English, use the Pound, and have the typical red phone booths, fish and chips, pubs, and British flags everywhere. The population of Gibraltar is pretty mixed - there are a lot of British people that live there but there are also Spaniards who moved there. I wasn't expecting it to be so beautiful - Gibraltar is the southernmost point in Europe meaning that its the place where the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans collide (Europa Point), the water was gorgeous. You could also see Africa from there (Morocco) - it was so close! We started out the trip with a bus ride up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar (its huge!) where we toured St. Michael's Cave, a huge cave with tons of stalactite formed by dripping water. We hiked through it for almost an hour, there was so much to see and we got lost several times. The coolest part was the auditorium at the very bottom of the cave - apparently the acoustics are amazing and they hold concerts there a lot during the summer. After the hike through the cave I saw what I had been waiting for - the monkeys. They were EVERYWHERE, and so adorable yet sneaky. The first monkey experience we had was a tiny monkey clapping his hands and dancing around us to distract us while his friend stole Erin's apple! Such tricksters. We took the bus down to a part of the Rock where a bunch of monkey families live/hang out during the day and we took tons of pictures - one monkey even climbed on my back and started eating my hair.

After this we had 3 hours of free time in the city where we got some amazing Indian food - I hadn't had it in forever and it was just what I needed, something very different from Spanish food. We then walked around the old city to do some shopping and sight-seeing. We saw a lot of the old British buildings like the governor's mansion and the royal chapel, all of the houses and buildings were very colorful and had tons of flowers all over. It was so strange to still be in the Iberian Peninsula but not be in Spain or Portugal, I literally felt like I had hopped on a plane to the UK without realizing it. It was such a great experience, its one of those places you'll probably only go once in your life and it was definitely worth the trip.

Sadly, Gibraltar was my last trip before the program ends. But I am SO excited for my parents to get here on Friday and I can't wait for the amazing trips we have in store for us - a few days in Sevilla then Granada, Ronda, Malaga, Barcelona, and Madrid! It is going to be a great two weeks :) Its supposed to be an average of 102 degrees this week, so hopefully that cools down by the time they get here! Hasta pronto

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

All Around Andalucía

Yet another amazing weekend traveling throughout the Iberian Peninsula - this time it was a planned UNC trip through Cordoba and Granada, the other two major cities in Andalucía (the southern region of Spain) besides Sevilla. We went to Cordoba Saturday morning, came back to Sevilla that night, then left for Granada early Sunday morning and just returned Monday evening (meaning we got to miss class, yay!)

It started out with another 2 hour bus ride (I'm so over buses right now) to Cordoba at 8:30 am - and our first stop was an ancient 1st century Roman bridge leading to the Mezquita de Cordoba. Its a 10th century mosque that was later converted into a cathedral when the Christians took over Spain. It was a little bit creepy walking on a bridge that old, but apparently the Romans knew what they were doing if its worked this long! The mosque (its technically a cathedral now but everyone still calls it a mosque) was absolutely huge - the 3rd largest in the world. It was pretty funny to see how the Christians tried to cover up the fact that its a mosque with religious elements such as crosses and statues - that building definitely had an identity crisis. It was really cool to learn about all of the different styles of architecture in class then be able to see it first hand.

Muslim - style arches in the mosque

We then went to Calle de los Flores, pretty much just a tiny little side street with a bunch of nice flowers. After that we wandered through the old city and through the Jewish quarter in order to get to the oldest synagogue in Andalucia, and one of the 3 remaining synagogues from the Medieval period in Spain. It was really small and had been converted into a Christian hospital in the 1600s, but there was still very beautiful carvings in Hebrew all along the walls. It was dedicated to Maimonides, a Jewish doctor and philosopher who was born in Cordoba before the Jews were driven out of the country. After our tour we had some free time in the city before heading back to the bus, so of course I went shopping. Later we got on our bus yet again to head back to Sevilla for the night (don't ask me why, Cordoba and Granada are only an hour apart, and Granada is 3 hours from Sevilla). We got some good Turkish food for dinner then watched USA get killed by Spain in soccer. 

The next morning bright and early yet again we set off for Granada, a beautiful mountain town. The cooler weather was much appreciated - there was still snow on the tops of the mountains! When we got there we checked into the Hotel Los Angeles - it was very nice with a pool and yummy food. After we got settled in we went on a tour of La Alhambra - the palace complex of Ferdinand & Isabella, and later their son Carlos V the Holy Roman Emperor. Needless to say, it was gorgeous. It was also built by the Muslims, so there were tons of colorful mosaics and intricate gardens surrounding the different buildings. 
Then we climbed to the top of one of the old look out towers used by the army in order to protect the city - this tower was called Torre de la Vela and it has the best view in all of Granada - the climb up those steep stairs was totally worth it!
View from the top of the tower
After our tour of La Alhambra, we had time to explore the city - I'm in love. Its like the Asheville/Carrboro of Spain, so many hippies everywhere and an absolutely gorgeous landscape. We went to a Recycling Fair where everything being sold was made out of recycled goods - there was also a bike-powered carousel and a huge life-size chess board. We kept wandering and found another open air market that had so many different kinds of food - olives, peppers, dried fruit, nuts, cheese, chocolate, crepes, EVERYTHING. We got a lot of samples and it was all amazing. 

After more wandering and shopping we went back to the hotel for a huge dinner, then it was time to hike up to the Mirador (the overlook) at the top of one of the biggest mountains in Granada. Lets just say flip-flops were a bad choice for this trip. But, as always, the view in the end is always worth the hike, and this time we were able to see La Alhambra all lit up at night. After this we walked through the Muslim neighborhood where there were tons of traditional shops, cafes, and restaurants. We ended up going to a Teteria (an Arab tea cafe) where we all sat around a table and drank a bunch of different kinds of amazing herbal teas. Being there was like a total escape from Spain - it felt like we were in a small town in the Middle East, it was very relaxing. By the time that was over it was time to head back to the hotel for the night. The next morning we got a REAL breakfast! Eggs and everything! The first time I've had something besides a plain slice of toast in a nice. Then we went on a tour of La Capilla Real where Ferdinand & Isabella are buried, along with their daughter Juana la Loca and her husband Felipe el Hermoso. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures in there, but trust me, it was really pretty! The next stop was the Catedral de Granada, another beautiful Renaissance style cathedral - the 4th largest in Spain behind those of Sevilla, Madrid, and Toledo. 
After the tour we decided to stick with the Middle East theme and got some falafel for lunch, and of course we had to get ice cream after. This place was AMAZING - all of the flavors were so unique and it was much cheaper than the ice cream in Sevilla. I got roche and chocolate orange flavor...yum :)
After a little bit more exploring and shopping it was time to get back on the bus and head home (it was perfect timing because it had just started thunder storming). I was very sad to leave - I could have easily spent another week there (good thing my parents are coming soon so we can go back!) We got back to Sevilla right around dinner time and I had tons of homework to do...back to the reality of why I'm actually here. If I had it my way I would just travel around Spain forever, I can't believe theres only 2 weeks left of my program then 2 more weeks of traveling with my parents! Next weekend we're heading to Cadiz (the oldest city in Spain), and I just booked at day trip to Gibraltar for the weekend after that! Hasta pronto :)