Posts Tagged With: cathedral

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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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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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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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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Me encanta Toledo! What an amazing city. The whole place is carved into the landscape and looks stuck in time with its simple but beautiful architecture that hasn’t been affected by modernity and grey steel. The trip was just an over an hour from Madrid and was the absolute opposite from the hustle and bustle of the capital. It was serene and breathtaking and I think I said that I would be honeymooning there maybe 50 times that day… at least (shout out future husband: we’re going to Spain!!!) IMG_20140111_104251_477This picture is the first thing we saw in Toledo and I mean, what a GORGEOUS view of the city! That’s me standing there with the entire city as the backdrop. Pretty sweet 🙂

The whole city is cobblestone and very steep so my boots took a beating but it was so worth it. Our tour guide for this trip was Patricia, the art history teacher at school, who is just as wonderful and knowledgeable as Paco. Our first stop was  the “Mesquita del Christo de la Luz”, which was built in the eighth century by the Moors who had control of the region in Spain before the Spanish Reconquest. The mosque was just as cool on the inside as the outside. The horseshoe arches designed into the mosque are signatures of the Moorish buildings. But the mosque was not just a mosque; it had been transformed into a church when the Christians regained control of the region so the other half of the mosque was filled with paintings (now faded) of biblical scenes and saints looking down from high up on the walls. When looking at the mosque from the outside, you can see the divide in thru building, with the Moorish side rectangular and the church part extended and rounded. Patricia also led us through the garden next to the mosque. Gardens are  a concept from the Muslims and without mosques, Europe would never have been introduced to the idea of them!

Cathedral de Toledo

This trip was pretty religious but not slanted at all towards one particular religion. In fact, Toledo was famous for being one of the only cities to ever have all 3 religions coexist peacefully. After that, we walked down some winding roads learning more history until we got to the most amazing cathedral I have ever seen. I know I’ve used amazing a bunch of times this post, but I almost cried in this cathedral, it was that beautiful. It too 100 years for the cathedral to be built and it is the most famous attraction in all of Toledo. It is also the tallest building in the city (see picture above for reference) Thor is unbelievable detail within the church from the main alter to where the choir and clergymen sat nd even to the tombs of the bishops. Yes, there are bishops buried in the church and their original red bishop hats are hanging above their tombs. Also, a miracle happened at this cathedral in which the patron saint of Toledo, San Ildefonso, was given the bishop garment by the Virgin Mary. The rock where this happened is available for touching and I really felt spiritually connected after that moment. Other cool things about the cathedral are the back of the alter and the room of bishops in which every bishop since the first one ever for the cathedral  has their portrait painted on the wall. Fun fact: cathra means throne, aka where the bishop sits! So a cathedral is the place where the bishop sits! For all of you who are still reading, look how much history you’re learning!

After that, we went to a synagogue that was built by the  Muslims for the Jews and we learned a lot about Jewish history and the areas in which this religion was predominant. This synagogue was more of a museum than a functioning place of worship but it was still really cool! Though I am not Jewish, I am a member of a historically Jewish sorority and I was proud of how the women who founded my sorority stood by their faith and created their own organization that believed in religious tolerance and really connected with the museum through that channel. (shout out Sigma Delta Tau)


The crest of Isabella and Ferdinand

Finally, after a much needed lunch break and shopping excursion, we arrived at the last place on our itinerary: San Juan de los Reyes. This building is not only a Catholic church but also a monastery and is dedicated to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. You know them right? The ones who allowed Columbus to stumble upon America… yeah they also united Spain and founded Grenada. They’re kind of awesome 😊 Los Reyes was supposed to be their burial ground with the monastery attached in order to pray for their souls (but they were actually buried in Grenada because the founded it). The King and Queen’s crest can be found all over the place and has a lot of significance in terms of equality of power regardless of gender roles. Queen Izzy didn’t take no for an answer and Ferdinand treated her as an equal,  which was basically unheard of them back then. Their crest has 2 lions bowing in submission to their power, a yoke to symbolize Isabella and a Fletcher’s set of arrows to represent Ferdinand. The monastery was equally amazing with huge plants and an open courtyard.

All in all, Toledo was amazing and I could have stayed there forever. Every minute on the bus I missed the city. I may just have to go back…

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