Around Spain!


Welcome to Sunny Florida Málaga! When we stepped off the plane, that’s what it felt like. Mlike”: 1) 1 in every 4 people actually IMG_20140507_110948_563lives there 2) most tourists and inhabitants are over the age of 60  3) palm trees and gorgeous weather. OK, folks, we have a winner. We got off the plane and magically ended up in Florida! As we looked for the exit signs, we saw that they were in Spanish, English and German. German?!Yes, German. The most tropical tourist destinations in Spain [Málaga, Canary Islands & Balearic Islands] are actually most frequented by Germans, Brits and Americans. Once again, not a lot of people we met actually live there.

So let’s see. What did we do in Málaga?! We lived the LIFE! There isn’t a whole lot to do in the city center, except see the Alcazaba. Which, of course, we did. At night. And it was beautiful. Without Paco though, there was no tour inside. But it was still pretty. We also went to a mall and shopped. Well, Miso shopped and I ate candy. This mall could have been its own town though because it had everything inside – a movie theater, a supermarket/Wal-Mart-esque facility and so many stores. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on snacks and water. Miso will never let me live it down but I bought a 5 Liter jug of water for the 3 days. But it was only 75 eurocents, how could I not have!? [Water is super cheap here! See my post about Cultural Differences]

For the next 2 days, we paid €3 to lie on the beach with beach chairs and a tiki umbrella for 10 hours per day. That is literally all we did. We laid out and tanned, reading, talking, playing games on our phones, sleeping etc. I mean we really needed a vacation from our vacation. Chips for lunch, sandwiches for dinner. What a life.

I know, it’s not an exciting post but that’s all we did. We laid on the beach and got our tan on. And thank God because I am not cute when I’m pale.  IMG_20140507_111041_433

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Northern Spain – Salamanca

Day 6! Woohoo! Final leg on this trip! We once again crossed the border and drove into Salamanca, one of the 9 provinces of Castilla-Leon, to the northwest of Madrid. And I loved it. It was one of my favorite places I’ve visited in Spain because of a few things but mostly because there were young people everywhere! Salamanca is a “college town” because the oldest Spanish university is la Universidad de Salamanca. [Everyone on the trip bought the T-Shirt; mine is bubble gum pink. Obviously]. But in general, I just loved the feel of Salamanca and its sand colored buildings. Literally, every single building is uniform in color, giving that old Spanish look that I love so much.

If you can guess the first thing we did, I’ll give you a euro. Did you think hard?  Because if you guessed that we saw the cathedral, you’d be correct. However, because some of the more irritating kids on our program complained about having to always see cathedrals so our professor let us off the hook. I was honestly looking forward to the cathedral because its absolutely beautiful [as most of the cathedrals are. I just really found an interest in architecture this semester ok? Don’t hate.]

After we saw the façade of the cathedral, we went to the university. Legend has it that if you find the frog on the building, you will have good luck in your studies at the university. News Flash: no one must have luck at that university because it is IMPOSSIBLE to Picture1find that stupid frog. First of all, this building is so intricate with all sorts of carvings, from the Spanish Kings, to patterns, to skulls, and of course, a frog. After 10 minutes of us standing in the hot sun, staring at the building, my professor made fun of us and showed us where the frog is. Well, I would have absolutely failed out of Salamanca because without Paco’s help, I would still be standing there. The frog is situated ON TOP of one of the skulls heads. I was not a happy camper because the frog is about the size of a miniature stapler….talk about finding a needle in the haystack, amirite?

After frog hunting, we got free time to roam around, eat and explore and what we found was the writing on the wall. No really, writing on the wall. All around Salamanca is a very specific font with the names and dates of people who have completed their PhD at the university back in the day when that was not a common goal to achieve. The random hodgepodge of letters to the left of the declaration actually spells out “Victor” to further proclaim the awesomeness of achieving the rarest and most difficult degree in higher education. Then we got back on the bus and drove back to Madrid. The End!


“The Writing on the Wall”

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Northern Spain – Galicia

The second half of Day 3 we spent travelling to Galicia. If you haven’t figured it out yet, folks, we spent a lot of time in the bus, which isn’t good for our restless young heroine.

Day 4! We spent all day in Santiago del Compostela, which contains one of the most famous and significant monuments in all of Spain: the Cathedral of Santiago del Compostela. It’s so famous, in fact, that it is the engraving on the back of the Spanish 1, 2 and 5 eurocent coins. One of the most unique things about this Cathedral is that it is the final destination of a religious pilgrimage where people from all around the world start out at least 100 km (approximately 62 miles) from Santiago del Compostela and walk or bike the trail until they reach the Cathedral, collecting stamps from hostels and other checkpoints as proof of their journey. This adventure has now gone on my bucket list to one day do with my parents and my brothers when we are all a little bit older but not yet married [gulp…that could be in a few years for me…yikes] And we saw some pilgrims complete their journey as they proudly strolled in to the cathedral to endure the last ritual — the swinging incense and the burning of the clothes. Fun Fact: the original IMG_20140428_100004_306reason the gigantic incense was swung throughout the cathedral was to mask the disgusting smell of all the travelers, but is now part of the tradition [and maybe to still mask the smell]. We got to see this famous ceremony from the roof which was SO COOL. We climbed to the top and got to walk along the roof all the way around and look out onto the city. We learned about the architecture and then peered through the window to see the huge swinging incense. We also saw from the window the tomb of St. James. History Lesson: The name “James” translates into a few different names in Spanish: Diego, Jaime [like my cousin] and of course, Santiago. In the legend of St. James, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and said that he would have great success in spreading the word of Christ throughout the Iberian Peninsula. When he was executed, his executors put his bones in a little boat and pushed it into the ocean. The boat found its way to Galicia and when those who found his bones crossed a field, stars began to fall from the sky, signaling they should bury him there. Santiago del Compostela, translated from Gallego [the language spoken in Galicia], literally means “James of the Field of Stars”. When we got into cathedral, we of course explored, and got to visit the tomb of St. James from the inside. We also got to participate in a tradition in the cathedral called “El Abrazo”. In Spanish, “Abrazo” means hug. There is a g9lden bust statue of St. James that each person hugs and makes a wish and St. James will help make your wish come true. It was a cute tradition and I loved the Cathedral. If you’ve been counting on my adventures, we have seen about 10 cathedrals. This one is, by far, my favorite.

After our visit to the Cathedral, we got back on the bus and went to the Bodega Mar de Frades for wine tasting and a winery tour. This is good wine, like expensive stuff, as opposed to the stuff my friends and I have drank in Spain. The wine we tasted was from the Albariño grape and was harvested in the vineyard that stretched for miles. Unlike the Sidra farm, this bodega had very high tech equipment and huge vats to contain and ferment the grape juice. We tasted two types of wine and one champagne; the first wine Facebook-20140510-020217was sweet and almost fruity. It was very light and my favorite. The second wine was an older wine and had a smoky taste to it. Our professor, Elena, loved it but it was too sophisticated a taste for me.

After our wine tasting, we went to the shore in the tiniest little town and had a feast! Fresh tuna empanadas, salads, and homemade paella con arroz with vegetables and shrimp. I conquered a fear that day when I picked up the shrimp THAT STILL HAD EYES AND LEGS ON IT and peeled it to get to the edible meat. I was proud of myself. After that lunch, we all went  stuffed and sleepy back to the bus to cross the border and head to Portugal!

Galicia is easily one of my favorite places in all of Spain and one day, I hope to go back! 🙂
Shout out to my Aunt Jackie who is Galician and was 100% right about how much I would love Galicia!

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Northern Spain – Asturias

Did you miss me? I am so sorry for all of my loyal readers but I have been travelling and experiencing for 12 days straight and only now am I getting a chance to write about my adventures!

Directly after spring break, we had final exams [boo hiss] but were rewarded with a 6 day trip to the North of Spain [and Portugal!] to celebrate the program coming to an end. So on Day 1 [April 25] we geared up and headed from Madrid to Cantabria. It took everything I had not to jump out of the bus while it was moving — the drive was 9 hours. Yeah, I don’t do well sitting still for that amount of time. We got to Cantabria and pulled into a little village and had lunch by a marina. It was chilly but still pretty and Picture1there was a beautiful mountain view, but we only spent a few hours there. Then we got back on the bus and drove an hour more into Asturias where our big red bus drove into a very, very narrow dirt road and pulled up to an isolated hotel with its own private beach that we stayed in for two nights. The beach had a grotto and walking in the sand and among the rocks gave me the first taste of summer 🙂

Asturias is farmland and on this particular day, rainy farmland. There is nothing around for miles, which is what makes it pretty and quaint. But me personally, I could never live there. To start off Day 2, we left the hotel that morning and drove into the mountains to Covadonga. History Lesson: In 711, Don Pelayo was the first king to fight against the Muslims and his victory in the Batalla de Covadonga was the first step in the Spanish Reconquest. In Covadonga, we climbed into a rock tunnel and up to a small church built into the side of the cliff, where there was mass going on. Could you imagine if your home parish was in the side of a cliff?! It was beautiful. Then we went down to the Lagos, or IMG_20140426_111034_281Lakes, of Covadonga. The Lagos is one of the prettiest natural sites I’ve seen during my time in Spain and there was a fountain with Holy Water, as the lakes are flowing with blessed water. After that, we saw a big statue of Don  Pelayo and a small church. This church was unlike ones we have seen on previous trips — this one was austere and dimly lit but still beautiful and reverent in its own way.

After that, we got back on the bus and drove out to the countryside to a Sidra factory. Sidra is a special type of fermented apple juice that is famous in Asturias for the way they pour it. Click here to see a video of how Sidra is poured! We saw the apple orchard where our guide, and the owner of the farm, picks his apples to make sidra. He took us to the troughs where the apples are juiced and barrels where they are fermented and then are bottled. We got to eat a traditional Asturian lunch in their backyard and each got a chance to pour Sidra and drink it, too! Being in that backyard was like being at  a family reunion. I loved the atmosphere and all of us laughing and eating showed me how much of a family our program had become, despite how dysfunctional we are.

Day 3! We packed up our stuff and got on the bus to travel to another province, but not without seeing ancient cave art! We bussed it to a small town called Ribadesella and ventured into the Cueva de Tito Bustillo. IT WAS AWESOME! No pictures allowed because flash could distort the original colors on the rocks. I had never been in a cave before and we walked 15 minutes into the depth of this cave, probably to the center of the earth, with massive stalagmites just like in the movies. Then we got to the drawings and they were very realistic! These caves had been discovered by a bunch of teenaged cave hunters, one of which was Bustillo, who tragically died while cave hunting and had the cave named after him. The cave paintings were determined to be at least 15,000 years old. There was a purple horse, a mammoth and even a reindeer drawn in what looked like charcoal on the side of rocks inside the cave. I wish I could have taken pictures but I did buy a magnet of the horse and postcard of the cave, which is the closest I could get to a picture.

Then we were off on our horses and travelled to the next province…Galicia!
[Did you see what I did there about the horses? I know you smirked, I know you all did]

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Cuenca & Valencia

This past weekend travelled to the east coast of Spain and visited Cuenca and Valencia. In all honesty, this was my least favorite trip around Spain. It was still fun and I still took a million pictures, but there wasn’t a whole lot to like there was in Barcelona and Andalucía.

We spent most of the first day in Cuenca. Cuenca is about the size of my high school and there are only 2 things to see there. The first thing we saw was, of course, you guessed it: a cathedral. This cathedral was much than the ones we have seen before because this cathedral was the first to be built and was the prototype for the other cathedrals to be based off of. Inside, our professor explained that the Cathedral of Cuenca was a mixture of different artistic periods, with pieces of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic art adorning the interior. It was a very pretty church nonetheless and I answered all of the Sainthood questions correctly that Paco asked us.

Then we saw the hanging houses from this awesome bridge suspended over a massive gorge. They were very cool and the signature of Cuenca. We got to go inside one of them that had been converted into an art museum. A modern art museum. Now, as we all know, I’m not a big art person but Paco makes it interesting for me and I feel engaged in the art because he is such a good professor.


Casa Colgada

I could not care less about modern art. Like at all. I have arts and crafts from kindergarten that look like some of this stuff. In my opinion, I just can’t put modern works and masterpieces from El Greco and Picasso on the same level. If you’re into that sort of stuff, go see it! You would love it — I just didn’t.

Then we got back on the bus and headed for Valencia. The first thing we saw in Valencia was my favorite part of the trip! We went to the Fallas museum. Fallas is a festival dedicated to the Patron Saint Day of St. Joseph, which was on March 19. This festival is a festival of lights and illuminations…and fire! The Valencian people spend an entire year making gigantic parade floats out of wood and paper mache. And on the night of Fallas, the floats are burned. All that hard work just to go up in flames — literally! But there is a special competition for the Ninot Indultat. [“Ninot” means “doll” in Valenciano]. This means that one doll/figurine from the best float will be saved and put on display in the Fallas museum. The museum had all of the Ninots since the beginning of the 2o century! Some of the Ninots are huge and overwhelming and others are small and preserved in glasses cases and others are entire scenes with multiple characters. But of all the Ninots are very


Ninot from 2012!

detail orientated and life-like, even the ones from back in the day. The 2014 one wasn’t on display yet but the 2013 one was a little girl sitting with her father in a chair reading a book, with a bookshelf behind them and a rocking horse by the little girl’s feet. It was so realistic! But my favorite is the Ballerina from 2012! Other than the Ninots, there are also paintings of the Falleras. The Falleras are girls who dress up in traditional costumes and put their hair in Princess Lea buns and have a beauty pageant. For little American girls, the goal is to be Miss USA. For Valencian girls, the goal is to be Fallera Mayor. These girls are so pretty and they take a lot of pride in their regional culture and competition. For those of you who are up on your Iberian Peninsula

dama de elche and falleras

Fallera [left]; Dama de Elche [right]

history, the area of Valencia was controlled by the Iberians and they created Dama de Elche. Look at the similarity. It’s just a theory but it could work. I know you all see it.


The next day we started off by going to the Aquarium. I love aquariums and this one reminded me of Sea World. There was a shark tunnel that we got to walk through and tons of different species of fish. There was also a beluga whale and walrus exhibit and they were awesome! Beluga whales were my favorite when I was a kid and would watch the same VHS about whales with my brother over and over again. So I was very happy to see the Belugas. But the best part of the aquarium was the dolphin show! There was an outside arena and the dolphins were wonderful! I want a pet dolphin that does backflips in my pool, don’t you?!

After the aquarium, we went to….the Cathedral. But this Cathedral was no ordinary Cathedral. This Cathedral was a religious experience that I haven’t had since I went to the Vatican in Rome. In the Cathedral of Valencia, in the most sacred chapel of all the chapels, is the Holy Grail. Not like the Jay-Z song, y’all. The Holy Grail is believed by Catholics to be the Chalice that Jesus drank


Holy Grail

out of during the Last Supper. I didn’t experience the Miracle of Tears or anything like that but I was definitely moved that I could be so lucky to stand in front of one of the most important Catholic artifacts in the world. The Chalice was guarded by glass, a velvet rope and two security guards so no one was getting past that but it was still cool to see it.


On the last day of the trip, we went to La Albufera. La Albufera reminded me of Sunken Meadow Park on Long Island, where I used to go on nature field trips in elementary school. La Albufera is a National Park and has many species of ducks inhabiting the area. We even went to a museum about La Albufera that was in a garage. I’m not even kidding. We went on a riverboat cruise in the park and also visited the 4 ecosystems that make up La Albufera — forest, marsh, dunes and beach. It was rainy and cold so we didn’t get to spend time on the beach, which ended up being a good thing because we learned that the beach is actually a nude beach. And we definitely didn’t need that, like at all. La Albufera  is famous for its rice paddies. Valencian rice is the best for making paella and the type of rice harvested in La Albufera is specially marked to be sold only throughout Spain — it does not go outside of the country. How authentic! I had to buy a bag so that my parents can make paella for me when I get back to the states 🙂 Even though the town was a ghost town with only 500 residents, there were 3o restaurants, all dedicated to paella. And we ate some for lunch and it was so good!





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Last weekend we travelled to the northeast of Spain to BARCELONA! I loved it! But let me be clear: I loved the city, not the soccer team. I really hate the soccer team, like a lot. BUT the city was wonderful! We were in Barcelona for 3 days and each day was dedicated to a famous Catalán artist.

The first day we went on a tour of the city and the first place we stopped was the Olympic Stadium and Village from the 1992 Games. There is a massive sculpture outside of the stadium that held the Olympic flame during the time of the games and it can be seen everywhere in the city because it’s so tall. And the view from the stadium overlooking the city is pretty cool but the city itself is a little congested.Then we got back on the bus and drove to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a long street lined with kiosks and buildings with cool architecture. It is very significant to the people of Barcelona because it is a very famous landmark and is big for tourism, but it also has a fountain and the legend is that if you drink the water from this fountain, you will bring Barcelona FC luck. Or something like that. For Barca fans it’s a huge deal. Then we went to the market on Las Ramblas called Mercado de la Boquería and it was the biggest farmers market I have ever seen! They had everything from fresh fruit to cheeses to chocolates to full legs of meat hanging. And fish. You IMG_20140307_132422_448would’ve thought we were at a fish market with how many fish stands there were. And all of the fish had eyes, like full heads, not cut and cleaned yet just looking at me. I don’t really love when my food looks at me but all the fish eyes were watching me as I passed the stands. Everything looked so good I just wanted to sample, and like Brussels, that is exactly what I did. I went in and out of stands sampling hams, chorizos, fruits, salsas and, of course, chocolates! After the market, we kept walking down Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas leads from the Plaza de Catalunya [Catalán spelling] all the way to the port. The Barcelona port is one of the most important in Spain and also in Europe! We went down to the port [and therefore the beach] and it was beautiful. The water was clear blue and the sun was shining. It was so picturesque! After the port, we went to the Barrio Gótico, The Gothic Neighborhood. This is a really cool feature that I would never have really appreciated but after learning a lot about architecture in class, the Gothic arches and flying buttresses I can now notice. The Neighborhood is a preserved time warp from the Gothic age with streets, churches, houses and other structures all in Gothic style, much different from the surrounding areas built in modern and contemporary styles.



Afterwards, we went to the beach! We ate a very typical Catalán meal: fideua, a special type of paella known to the Catalánes, and cava, a bubbly type of champagne-wine. And then we laid on the beach and I was working on my tan! I’m so sick of this pale white look. After lunch, we went to the Picasso Museum. The museum was really interesting because everyone, including myself, associates Picasso with abstract paintings and cubism only. And although, yes, that is what made him famous, he painted normal paintings too! At the age of 13, he was better than his father who was a fine arts professor. Way to go, Picasso!


Sala de Mae West
Weird, right?

Day 2 was my favorite day of this trip. We got on the bus and drove an hour outside of the city of Barcelona and visited the Dalí museum. This museum is by far the coolest and my favorite museum I have ever seen. Dalí’s works are in the style of surrealism. And his museum is created in the working of his mind so it’s a little crazy to get around but it’s altogether awesome. One of the most famous pieces, la Sala de Mae West, is really an amazing work. It is a life sized living room with the different pieces of furniture resembling the different parts of her face. The couch is her lips and the fireplace is her nose! Such a strange concept but so interesting up close. Dali’s other works include the usage of dimensions and imagination but also have deeper meanings, such as the adoration he had for his wife or lessons about society. In my opinion, the museum could also double as a haunted mansion for a scary movie and all the pieces could come to life and come after the protagonist. Patent pending, my idea. None of you can steal it!



After the museum, we drove to Cadaquéz, a small town on the beach where Dali’s family had their summer house. What an adorable town! It was right on the water too and the weather was unbeatable. We had free time to just roam around and explore the town and quaint little shops and eat seafood like kings. We wandered higher up on the mountainside and got a view of the whole town with the blue water beneath. The scene was unreal. Look how blue the water is!

Day 3 was dedicated to Gaudí. We first went to see Sagrada Familia, an enormous church that has been under construction for more than 100 years! It is projected to be finished by 2025. Right, I could have a job and a family by then…weird. Anyway, the church was awesome because the stained glass windows weren’t like any other church with biblical stories in the windows. Just colors with the names of saints engraved in them and when the sun shone through, the walls and main alter were covered in a rainbow of light! Sagrada Familia, or Sacred Family, in Catalán, will have 18 towers upon completion. The tallest one, which will hold the cross, represents Jesus and the next tallest one for la Virgen María. The other 16 are for the 12 apostles and 4 evangelists. The outside of the church is very detailed with stories about the birth of Jesus and Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt after the message from the Angel. And the coolest part is that for every ticket bought, which normally we don’t love, goes to the construction of the building. So when our group paid for the tickets, we contributed to the future of Sagrada Familia!

After that we went to Park Güell which is a literal park designed by Gaudí. There are these awesome benches that are curved so as to mold to the curve of a person’s back. They were so comfortable that most of us fell asleep sitting there all in a row. Once we all awake from our trance, we went to see the houses that look like they’re straight out of Hansel and Gretel. It reminded me of my younger brother because our Parc_Güell_Dragon_Restorednicknames growing up were Hansel and Gretel. And of course we saw the icon of Park Güell and one of the most famous icons in all of Spain: the colored dragon. I have no idea what it represents or why it was important to Gaudí but it was and it’s really cool looking!

Barcelona was such an awesome trip and I loved every second of it. Obviously, I love the beach and the sun so keep on the lookout for more sunny days as the days get warmer in Spain!

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Andalucia – Sevilla

Our third stop on our journey around southern Spain was Sevilla. Sevilla was by far my favorite city. When I first started taking Spanish in sixth grade, I was graced with learning from a teacher who would become one of my all-time favorites. She studied at the University of Sevilla so finally being there made me think of her and her belief in my Spanish skills, even when I was just a little middle schooler.

The weather in Sevilla was beautiful and warm and I loved everything about it from the get-go. Sevilla is how I imagined all of Spain to look: vibrant colored buildings, beautiful weather, traditions and history etc. Sevilla is what the rest of the world sees as Spain and as I’ve seen more and more of the country, not everywhere is the stereotypical look. The first place we visited was La Maestranza. La Maestranza is the bull fighting arena in Sevilla and is the second most important in all of Spain. [The first is Las Ventas, located in Madrid. It’s really close to my house here!] We took a tour of the ring and learned about the traditions of IMG_20140222_134424_290 bullfighting and how the bulls are killed. Spoiler alert: the bulls die in bull fights. If you’re looking at my shirt and panicking a little bit because I wore red in a bull fighting ring, have no fear; there were no bulls there. It’s not toreo season yet.



Then for lunch we trolled around the city center and ate some traditional food of southern Spain. We had Gazpacho. It was at this moment when I re-fell in love with Sevilla. I had never had Gazpacho before but I LOVED it. It was one of the greatest foods I’ve ever had and I’ve already roped my dad into making some for me over the summer. Gazpacho is a cold tomato based soup, traditionally eaten in the summer, but the weather was so nice that it worked. I downed mine and didn’t even flinch. Get at me, bro. Anyway, the weird thing about gazpacho is that you’re not supposed to eat with a spoon. You dunk crackers or bread in it but for the most part, you drink it. It was served to me in a wine glass so that was an interesting cultural experience for me. But really, if you have the opportunity to have gazpacho, I highly recommend it.

After lunch, we saw another Cathedral. For those of you who actually read my blog, I hope you see the pattern of sites we go see. This cathedral was cool because it is the biggest Gothic church in the world. And it has the Giralda. The Giralda is currently the cathedral’s bell tower but it used to be the minaret of the mosque but was transformed into a cathedral and bell tower once Sevilla was reconquered. We got to climb to the top of the tower, like we did in Segovia. The difference between this tower is that there weren’t steps, but ramps instead. So we hiked more than 30 ramps up to the top to overlook all of Sevilla. Fun Fact: the Giralda had ramps instead of stairs because when the Muslims would announce prayer time from the top of the tower, they rode horses.


Reales Alcázares

The last part of Sevilla was actually the next morning when we visited the Reales Alcázares. This castle and garden was beautiful and is still in use today! When the royal family comes to Sevilla, they stay in this castle and then tours are shut down. There was a gigantic hedge maze that we walked through that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. The architecture was once again beautiful and the whole palace looked like it had been taken out of a completely different era and dropped into the 21st century. My favorite part was the little lake with a flume shooting water near the front of the royal building. There were carp in the lake and when we started to feed them bread, schools of them came to the surface. Codfish are single handedly the ugliest fish on the planet and they eat by sucking the bread into their mouths…ew. But our group just had a blast hanging out there and looking at the beautiful surroundings.


Plaza de España is also Naboo!

The last thing we saw in Sevilla was the Plaza de España. This plaza had a huge fountain and was just generally awesome. We walked around and took our pictures and then all of us laid out on the steps, basking in the sun and enjoying the relaxation of the plaza. There was music playing and people going for a casual Sunday stroll and I was working on my tan. Listen, anything to get rid of this winter white, you know what I mean? Something that’s really cool about this plaza is there is a scene from Star Wars II: Clone Wars there as the set of Naboo.  Look at the picture and then click on the hyperlink and you’ll realize they are one and the same!

After we saw the Alcázares and Plaza, myself and a few other girls loaded up our stuff and were on a bus home headed to Madrid. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay with the other kids as they travelled on to Lisbon, Portual because we had our business class on Monday morning.  But all in all, the trip to Andalucia was wonderful! Though I won’t get to revisit these provinces again while I’m here this semester, I am going to Malaga, another Andalucia province, in May. Stay tuned for that!

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Andalucia – Granada

Andalucia Take 2 – Granada!

Where did I leave off? Oh, right! So we leave Córdoba and get on the bus to Granada. By this point, it’s night time and we’re all tired so we got to the hotel, ate the hotel dinner and went to sleep. But when we woke up….we had breakfast. And then started our day! Granada is Paco’s, our professor, favorite city so he was so excited to show us one of the coolest sites we’ve seen to date: La Alhambra.


Patio of 12 Lions

La Alhambra is a Muslim city-palace that was built during the time of the Reconquest. Granada was the last territory of the Muslim influence that was reconquered by the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabel, in 1492. So essentially, La Alhambra was a fortress that the Muslims built to keep the Christians out. The place is gigantic! We started out in the Palacios Nazaries and the floor and parts of the walls were covered in tiles with the emblem of “Plus Ultra”, the words on the current Spanish flag. Tiles and mosaics were big in Muslim architecture and can be seen in many old Muslim buildings and mosques. La Alhambra also has a bunch of reflecting pools and fountains within it [some even have fish!] that represent the paradise but also represent the purification and cleansing of the hands, feet and face before prayer. One of the coolest fountains is the Patio of 12 Lions. This fountain is dedicated to all three major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as the Zodiac signs. The courtyard is divided into 4 parts, representing the 4 parts of the world, with one water channel each that signifies the 4 rivers of the Paradise. The number 12 signifies the 12 zodiacs and the 12 apostles of Christianity. Surrounding the patio are 124 columns and when the numbers are combined and/or separated, they also signify important things about the religions. For example: 1+4 = 5. There are 5 pillars of Islam.

Then we climbed the tower where there is a bell. Each January 2, girls will run to ring the bell and if a girl successfully rings it, the legend is that she will be married within the next year. I did not ring the bell. But the view was AMAZING and you could see a lot of the palace. Then we visited the summer palace with a beautiful fountain and lots of vegetation, even though it was only February. The summer palace had fountains and a bridge that overlooked all of the interior gardens. Similar to how my summer palace will look when I’m older.

Tomb of the Catholic Kings

Later on, we went to the Catedral Real. Just like the rest of the cathedrals, it was beautiful and ornate. But the coolest part about Catedral and Capilla Reales was the crypt. Yes, you read that correctly. In the middle of the chapel is a small stairway that takes you under the church to see the tombs of the Rey Fernando, Reina Isabel, their daughter, Juana la Loca and her husband, Felipe el Hermoso. Unfortunately, I got caught taking pictures in the cathedral so no pictures of the crypt. But this is what it looks like.


La Alhambra at night!

But my favorite part of Granada was our surprise at night. After dinner, we went to a real Flamenco performance. Although I’ve been to Flamenco before, and even participated in a class, Andalucia is the real stuff. And it was awesome! The story was about the life of the gypsies and I had so much fun watching it but cultural flamenco is again so much different from ballroom style so it still throws me off a little bit. Our last part of the night was a “paseo”. We were all really tired from the day but we walked about 10 minutes to see the view of La Alhambra lit up at night. What a beautiful palace, but at night, it’s even more breathtaking!

After touring Granada, we left early the next morning to go to our third stop…Sevilla!

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Andalucia – Consuegra and Córdoba

Finally! A trip around SPAIN! I feel like I have been off exploring Europe but not enough time is being spent in my host country. My trip to Andalucia started the day after the Backstreet Boys concert — what a way to continue the awesomeness! Posting about this trip will be broken into 3 separate blog posts because we visited 3 different cities. Andalucia Part 1 starts now…


The Windmills of Consuegra

We left Madrid early and travelled south towards Andalucia, but we made a stop along the way…to Consuegra! You may be thinking, “what is Consuegra?” But, if you know the story of Don Quixote, Consuegra is where the big windmills are located. And we saw them! It was extremely windy when we got there, but the windmills were awesome! And they are still functioning. When the blades spin, a cog inside the windmill starts to spin and crushes wheat into powder that they refine and…viola! Flour! The windmills are up on a hill and has a breathtaking view of the town of Consuegra below and the acres and acres of farmland. Of course, as time passed, the technology got better so across the way from the traditional windmills are modern windmills used for renewable energy!  

Then we got back on the bus and drove farther south towards Andalucia. Andalucia is one of the 17 autonomous communities and has 8 provinces. We got to see three of them and the first on our list was Córdoba! The first thing we saw in Córdoba was the Guadalquivir river that flows through the provinces of Andalucia. I can’t tell you it was pretty because it wasn’t — the water was brown with mud and silt. But the city of Córdoba was absolutely wonderful! Everything was made of stone and looked very old and fragile. Córdoba [and Jaén, another province in Andalucia] are most famous for olive oil. Fun Fact: Olive trees and therefore, olive oil, were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Greeks in approximately 500 BC. My friends and I went to an authentic olive oil shop with tons of different techniques to obtain the oil, different bottles and even a testing plate with little pieces of bread. And so everyone in my family gets a bottle of olive oil!


Horseshoe Arches
Mezquita de Cordoba

Then we saw the symbol of Córdoba: the Mezquita. Mezquita in Spanish means “Mosque”. This mosque in particular has an amazing historical timeline. In 711, the Muslim invasion from North Africa into the Iberian Peninsula began and they claimed the land to be their own. [The Christian Reconquest starts a few years later and takes approximately 750 years to expel the Muslim influence]. During this time, the most important Muslim area was Al-Andalus, present day Andalucia, and its capital was Córdoba. This mosque was constructed to be the holiest of the Holy in Andalucia and is absolutely GORGEOUS! Upon entering the mosque, the first thing we saw was a sea of archways. The Muslims used the Visigothic horseshoe arch design in many of their buildings as well as brick, so that the building and pattern would last for a very long time. We also saw the other main parts of the mosque, such as the Mihrab and its ornate decoration and learned that the Mezquita de Córdoba is not oriented in the direction of Mecca like most mosques are. There are a few theories on why not but I thought that was a cool fun fact nonetheless. Then, I started to see Christian things on the wall instead of Muslim things. It turns out that when the Christians reconquered the city of Córdoba in the 11th century, the Mezquita was transformed into a Catedral [cathedral].

Córdoba was a very short visit because after we saw the Mosque and spent some more time wandering around the city, we got back on the bus and travelled to….Granada!

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For the second Friday in a row, we went on a day trip. How much better can life be?! We travelled to Segovia, another beautifully quaint town filled with rich history. While on the bus ride there (which I was absolutely not asleep for…), we crossed the mountains which provided for two things that we immediately noticed upon arrival: 1) the backdrop for every picture was amazing and 2) it was FREEZING. Like my ribs were shaking within the first hour. But it was still pretty.

The all-knowledgeable Paco once again led our group to our first attraction: the Roman Aqueduct. The Romans used only stone to build them by calculating the exact pressures needed to keep the stones in place and introduced the Roman arch (half-circle) into the architecture world. The city of Segovia IMG_20140117_110926_102only stopped using the aqueduct as a means of retrieving water only 100 years ago. So basically that structure was used for 1900 years — we have to replace the Brita filters every 40 days. Can we just pause to think about that?


St. Anton – Feast Day: Jan 17
He’s holding a piglet!

After that we went to another incredible cathedral! I thought it was a castle at first until Paco said something about Catholic traditions. Like the other cathedrals we have seen, the architecture and interior artworks are astonishing and commemorate the miracles and Saints of the Catholic beliefs. According to the Spanish calendar, almost every day is dedicated to a saint. On the day we were there, January 17, it was the celebration of St. Anton, the patron saint of animals and one of the guardians of Segovia.] Fun Fact: back in the day, Segovia was famous for their livestock! Therefore, they needed St. Anton’s prayers to keep their animals healthy and safe for breeding and selling purposes. This church had a lot of gold and a lot of statues, even more so than the Cathedral of Toledo. This Cathedral was also different because it had flying buttresses on the outside of the structure, a signature characteristic of Gothic architecture.

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The view from my Kingdom!

Then, of course, it was time for the Princess to return home. To her castle, of course. Yes. We went to a castle. BRB still crying about how amazing it was. The castle was glorious and inside there were replicas of medieval equipment and I even picked up my very own knight in shining armor! He was quite charming 😉  The castle had gorgeous stained glass and amazing views of the surrounding area. But the best part of the castle tour was being able to climb the 153 stairs up the spire to the very top and overlooking the view of the entire city. [I definitely thought I was going to trip and die; the stairs got narrower and steeper as we climbed up but it was so worth it when we got to the top!]  The view reminded me of the scene from the Lion King — “Look Simba, everything the light touches is our Kingdom”.

Our last place we visited in Segovia was “La Granja”. In Spanish, la granja means “farm” but in no way did we visit one of those. La Granja is actually a Spanish palace built in the 16th or 17th centuries by the Spanish King who didn’t really love Madrid so he ruled from Segovia. One of the most interesting things about La Granja is that on sight, you are not actually looking at the palace itself but the huge church that is attached to the palace. It’s beautiful! And of course, there are the gardens in the back which I’m sure are absolutely stunning in the springtime. The gardens at La Granja are very French, which makes sense as the Spanish dynasty [that is still in control today] is from French ancestry. Currently, in Spain, there is a serious water shortage so the fountains, which don’t recycle their water, do not go on every day nor do they go on for long periods of time. I’m thinking about going back during the spring to see La Granja in full bloom so be prepared for those pictures at a later date!

On our trip home, Paco asked us which city we liked better: Toledo or Segovia. My heart goes to Toledo but comment below which one you like better [if you’ve been there or just based on my blog posts]

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