Sorry for the long post, but it’s been a busy few weeks…
Even here in Spain, we get a fall break! I’ve had some pretty memorable fall breaks at Puget Sound, going to visit my sister in Eugene and traveling to Portland, but I feel like my fall break this year beat them all (not only because it was one day longer than the UPS break either). After completing our first month here – with a language intensive class and block one of Spanish culture, covering everything from Prehistory up until the reconquest by el Reino Católico - I was ready for a break…
Before we left for our week abroad, our program went to Córdoba to see the mosque and experience the arab baths. We arrived at 11 am and were given 3 hours of free time to wander about the city and visit some of the more famous monuments. I, like most people in my group, chose to go to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (or the fortress of the Christian Kings). From the top of the tower we were able to see all of the city, lined up along the river and the famous bridge that is often depicted in postcards and travel brochures.
Inside, I was struck by a large mosaic made entirely out of small black and white stones. When I first entered the room I thought for sure it must be a painting or drawing, but I was proven wrong when I got closer.
The gardens of the Alcázar were by far the largest and most elaborate gardens I have seen thus far in Spain. I’d be curious to see if they were kept in such immaculate condition historically, or if it only came about when the fortress was turned into a tourist attraction. Either way they were breathtaking, and we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and taking pictures of the place.
However, the heat eventually got to us and we fled the fortress in search of a bench and shade where we could enjoy our bocadillos. (For those of you who have not had the pleasure of learning what a bocadillo is, I’ll fill you in… It’s a large sandwich which is to be given to anyone who is not going to be returning home for lunch. My bocadillos are generally half a loaf of bread with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and olive oil.)
When we met back up with our group we went to the mosque for our tour. Our tour guide, a lovely woman from Córdoba, much to our delight, had a hard time following our program coordinators directions to speak only in Spanish and would often explain something to us in English. The mosque was amazing. There are not words to describe it and anyone who has the opportunity should definitely go and see it! It was built over four and a half centuries, with construction starting in 784 and ending in 1236. It’s unique for a variety of reasons…
- It is built on top of a church
- There is a church built in it
- It’s huge
- All of the columns are different and come from different places
The columns all came from different places and were reused, which I thought was quite resourceful. They are all also marked with the name of the person who installed them. The church inside the mosque is one of the more controversial parts of this mosque. Both the mosque and the church are beautiful on their own, but by placing the church inside the mosque, they essentially destroyed the majesty that was created by the immense size of the mosque. Carlos V, one of the most famous kings of Spain who ruled in the XVI century said, “You have built here what you, or anyone else, might have built anywhere; to do so you have destroyed what was unique in the world.”
From Córdoba I went straight to Barcelona with two girls from my program, I was only there for a day and a half, but I feel like I was able to see a lot. On Wednesday morning we went on a walking tour with a lovely British tour guide who loved to point out that Barcelona has always been on the wrong side of the fight. We stopped for lunch at a specialty ham shop where I enjoyed the deliciousness of a bocadillo de jamón iberico… yum
We went to the Sagrada Familia that afternoon, which was a change after the mosque. It was huge, and it was strange to be in a Basilica that isn’t at least 5 centuries old, in fact it’s not even finished. We had booked tickets for the nativity towers, so we headed there first. They took us up in an elevator and then from there you walk across and down the tower in a spiral staircase, something I do not recommend if you suffer from vertigo, but which otherwise is a wonderful way to take in beautiful views of Barcelona.
I spent the morning of my last day at the Rambla market in the downtown Barcelona. It was food heaven. It reminded me a lot of Reading Terminal (which I’m told is very similar to Pikes Place Market, although I’ve never been). I walked in and was instantly surrounded by fresh fruit and stacks of candy. As I made my way deeper I passed stands filled with smoothies buried in ice, home made cheeses, fresh fish, and cured meats. It was food paradise, and I would love to simply live there and trade work in the booths for samples of the amazing food. Unfortunately, I had to go to catch a flight, but I’m sure I will return next time I’m in Barcelona.
From Barcelona I headed to Dublin… it was definitely a change from the hot, sunny days I’d been experiencing since my arrival in Spain, and I was happy for it. The cloud cover, greenery, and changing leaves all made me miss being up in the Pacific Northwest during the fall months, but I appreciated the taste of home, and the brief break from speaking Spanish. I spent a day in Howthe, which anyone traveling to Dublin should do. It’s at the northern end of the city and lays on the coast with a beautiful harbor and views of the ocean. I spent the whole day hiking around and finished it off with a delicious meal of fish and chips right in the marina. It was one of the best days I’ve had abroad.
I also took the chance to explore Trinity College campus in the heart of Dublin and it made me want to transfer. It is one of the oldest colleges in the world, sits in the center of the city, is beautiful and green, and the students were all really friendly. But I’ll put off my newfound dream of going to school in Ireland until I finish my semester in Spain.
To finish up my break I met up with a few people from my program during my last day in Dublin and toured the Guinness Storehouse. It was good fun, but I must admit it was quite the tourist trap. You enter at the ground floor and work you way up the floors of a building shaped like a pint glass (that part was cool) on escalators that only go one direction. On the second floor you go to the tasting room where you learn to really appreciate the flavors of Guinness. Then when you arrive at the fourth floor you are taught how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness (this part was also cool). You then travel with your pint up to the sky bar overlooking Dublin to enjoy. Once you’ve finished and they’ve got you feeling good, they spring you with the gift store on your way out where you can purchase just about anything Guinness. All in all it was a good time, but I think I may have preferred the Jameson distillery where you can actually see how it’s made.
Back to Granada
So now we’re back in Granada and we’ve begun our new classes. I’m taking a class on the Political Systems of the EU, Islamic Cultures in Spain, Writing and Speaking, and the culture class with our program. I’ve also signed up for activities through the University of Granada… I’m taking Inline Skating and Salsa.