Monday, October 26, 2009

Andalucia: Cordoba, Granada, Sevilla

This past weekend we had an excursion to Andalucia (the south of Spain, and the region where all Spanish stereotypes are true) and stayed in Cordoba, Granada, and Sevilla. The bus left at 6:45 Thursday morning (lovely for those of us that have a 30 minute walk to the bus station, aka me) and we drove 7 hours to Cordoba to see the Mezquita de Cordoba (ancient mosque-turned-Catholic cathedral). Andalucia occupied by Mores/Arabics for the longest of any area in Spain, so there is a lot of Arabic influences eveywhere.The Mezquita was gorgeous, but it was really a shame to see such awesome Arabic architecture destroyed by gaudy christian memorabilia. As the story goes, the Catholic Kings saw the Mezquita and asked King Carlos if they could change it into a Cathedral. Since he had never seen it he said sure, but then after visiting immediately regretted his decision. I've seen about a thousand cathedrals since I've been here, but the Mezquita was interesting because it was different. In Cordoba we also walked through the Juderia (Jewish neighborhood) and saw one of the oldest Sinogagues left in Spain.

Arabic part of Mezquita

Christian part (note the difference)

Then we got back on the bus to Granada. We just walked around that night in Albaicin (and arabic neighborhood with a great view) and the next day we went to Al Alhambra. Al Alhambra was created as a Muslim paradise on earth, and thats exactly what it looks like now. Basically it is acres and acres of beautiful gardens and palaces. Of course this was taken over by the Catholic Kings too and they couldn't help but put there mark all over it. Also, apparently Napolean tried to have it blown up, but someone difused the bombs before it happened because it was too beautiful to destroy. We spent most of the morning here and it was probably my favorite thing I've seen in Spain.

Part of the Palaces in Al Alhambra

More Al Alhambra

That afternoon we got back on the bus to head to Sevilla. When we got there we had a few minutes to put our stuff in the hotel and then we went for a walk through Sevilla's gigantic ancient Jewish neighborhood and then to a Flamenco show. The flamenco was awesome (and our program director kept poking me and telling me how "guapo" the male dancer was haha) and I didn't realize that it wasn't just dancing, but singing and guitar as well. Also, I don't know how those dancers move their feet so fast, it was crazy.


The next day in Sevilla we did a tour of the Cathedral (a very long tour) and climbed up the Giralda (the giant Cathedral tower, and yes we climbed up all 35 ramps). We also got to see the Plaza de Espana (where they filmed a scene of Star Wars) which was amazing and then went to eat tapas as a group (we at rabo- bull tail, thats what they do with the bulls when they kill them in bull fights!).

Plaza de Espana
Bull tail, it was actually really good

Before we left on Sunday we took a tour of the Plaza de Toros (bull fight ring) in Sevilla which is the oldest working bull ring in Spain. They had a whole museum which was really neat to see. Then we got on the bus for our lovely 7 hour ride home. It was a great we're off to the Canary Islands!

Plaza de Toros

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Don't Speak Portuguese

This past weekend 2 friends and I went on a trip offered by Cursos Internacionales in the University to Lisbon, Portugal (Lisboa in Spanish). It was a lot cheaper than if we had gone on our own, and we had a guide so we figured it would be good. Unfortunately it was a group of 50 people, which doesn't make anything easy, but I'm still glad I went.

It took us around 6 hours to get to Lisbon, and once we got there we had some free time and then we went as a group to see El Castillo de San Jorge, the Cathedral, and the Plaza del Comercio. The Cathedral was really pretty, but I've come to the conclusion that once you've seen a Cathedral in Europe you've seen them all. The Castle was at the top of a mountain (that was a fun walk) and there were some gorgeous views from the top. There wasn't much of a castle left, just some ruins, but it was really cool to see. When we visted the Plaza del Comercio and the Cathedral we learned that most of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755 and therefore most of the architecture is from the 1800s. No wonder it doesn't look quite as old as everything in Spain...
Views from the Castle Ruins

That night we went on a crazy adventure to find a restaurant that our program director had suggested. But after searching for a while and asking a lot of people for directions (p.s. this is hard when you don't speak portuguese), we decided it didn't exist. Luckily a nice guy that worked in some store recommended a different restaurant for us and it was delicious. We had grilled shrimp and a kebab (sp?) of grilled peppers, onions, and pork wrapped in bacon...yeahhh. We also had bacalao (cod) with potatoes because that's what Lisbon is known for.

Yummm pork wrapped in bacon...

The next day we went to the Monasterio de Los Jeronimos, Torre de Belem (used to make sure that boats paid the entrance tax on the river), and the Monumento a los Navegantes (built to honor the explorers who "discovered" India- Vasco de Gama- and other places). After all of this we took a break for lunch and then saw La Boca do Inferno (where the waves crash onto a really rocky cliff) and then on to the beach at Cascais.

Monasterio de los Jeronimos
Monumento a los Navegantes
Torre de Belem
Boca de Inferno
The beach in Cascais

After we got back from all of this we successfully navegated the subway and the boat taxis to get to a restaurant across the river for dinner. We had to walk down a pitch black street with creepy buildings on one side and the river on the other to get to it, but it was really pretty once we got there! Except for the gross cats that wandered around all the tables waiting for good...yuck.

On Sunday on our way back to Salamanca we stopped in Obidos, a cute little medieval town closed in by a fortress wall, and then to the Monasterio de Batalha. The monastery was huge and really really pretty. We also got to see the Monument to Unknown Soldiers and watched the changing of the guards there. Part of the Monastery is the "unfinished chapels" which is where the building of the Monastery was stopped because the King changed and the new King wanted to build something that people would remember as his doing, not the other King's. Oh politics.

Monasterio de Batalha

I wasn't super impressed with the city parts of Lisbon, but all of the areas on the outskirts were gorgeous and I really enjoyed all the monuments and things that we got to see. Maybe I would have liked the city more if we hadn't been with a huge group.

Yes, they sell beer in vending machines. Odd.

P.S. there are a lot more pictures on facebook!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today our classes were canceled for a national holiday so we decided to take advantage of the day and my friend Sabra and I took a bus 45 minutes north to Zamora. It's a city that has a lot of historical things to see and I think is often overlooked by tourists unfortunately. It's about the same size as Salamanca, maybe a little smaller and was easy to navigate (thankfully because Sabra and I are the most directionally challenged people in existence). We started off in the Plaza Mayor which was not nearly as amazing as Salamanca's. We were then planning to go to the Semana Santa museum in order to figure out what the KKK looking guys are supposed to be, but little did we know it was closed on Monday's. Next we headed towards the River Duero (one of the most important river's in Spain; it starts in Portugal). It wasn't flowing quite as strongly as I had expected, but the bridge and the view from the bridge were very pretty.

church in the Plaza Mayor
Bridge Over the Duero

Next we headed up to a small church (one of many) and then towards the city walls (murallas), la Catedral, and the Castle, all of which were very impressive. The Castle was surrounded by a really nice little park (which was convenient because had an hour to kill before it was open for visits) and we sat and had lunch there. The Cathedral was also really pretty, but similar to most of the other cathedrals I've seen in spain so far.

Outside of the Castle
Some of the Castle Ruins
Me with one of the awkward modern statues they put inside the castle (is that supposed to be someone drowning in the moat?)


After all of the site seeing we took our time wandering back to the bus station (and of course got ice cream on the way). It was a really nice day, and affordable! We did it all for under 12 euros. Nice. More to come this weekend, we're going to Portugal!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Los Gordos

Last night we went to the movie theater to see "Gordos". If you can speak/understand spanish I would highly recommend it. On the surface it is about a group of fat people in therapy but really it talks about all of their messed up lives and all the fattening things we have within us (whether it's food or desire or lust or whatever). Anyway, check it out. I liked it a lot. Warning: spanish films show whatever they want, be prepared for fat people nudity!

Oh and we totally ate candy and popcorn while we watched the fat people movie...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Galicia: Tui, Portanova, Santiago de Compestela

This weekend I had a trip through my program to Galicia, which is in the north-west corner of Spain. It's really beautiful, but because of it's location unfortunately it is prone to rain...a lot of rain...all year round. It pretty much looks like Ireland, and because of the strong celtic influence in the area it might as well just be Ireland. It's also bordered by the Atlantic ocean, which means lots of pretty coastline and beaches. Too bad it's cold and rainy most of the time.

Our first stop in our 6 hour journey was in Tui, a small town on a river with nothing too exciting except for some pretty views. We ate lunch by the river and then got back on the bus to go to Portanova. On the way to Portanova we stopped and saw ancient celtic ruins...basically the stone foundations of houses in the forest on top of a mountain. It was pretty amazing that were still so well maintained...and they were everywhere!
View at Tui

Me among the Celtic ruins

Portanova is a small fishing town right on the beach and our hotel was right on the water, it was really nice. In the morning we had an appointment on the fish equivalent of a booze cruise. Explanation: Us, a group of a lot of old people, and plates and plates of fresh shrimp and muscles just pulled out of the water. Yummmmmmy.
Beach near PortanovaEnjoying the muscles on the boat

After we were full of fish we got back on the bus to go to Santiago de Compestela. This is the capital of Galicia and is the site of the famous Cathedral de Santiago. This Cathedral is apparently where the remains of St. James the Apostle are. Because of this it is the end of a pilgramage route that starts in the south of France and cuts all the way across northern spain stopping in specific churches and hostels along the way. Not everyone does it for religious reasons, some just do it to say the walked the full 780km. And hey, people have been doing it for over 1000 years so thats pretty cool. We took a tour of the church and got to see a bunch of people finishing up their journey. Oh and you know those things the priests swing around in church with the inscense? Well they have a gigantic one hanging from the ceiling that they pull with a rope and it swings all the way across the church (for both religious reasons and to combat the stench of the smelly pilgrams who've been walking for 780km).

Catedral de Santiago

I loved Galicia and thought it was really beautiful, but it rained far too much and I was soaked for a good portion of the weekend. I don't know how anyone lives there.