Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Guess I Should Start Unpacking Now

There is a story about the last Moorish king that is told in Granada.  When he came to power, the Catholic king and queen had taken back every other piece of the country except Granada.  Because it is surrounded by mountains the province of Granada was difficult to invade, and fighting within was tricky due to terrain.  Therefore, the Moors were able to hold out for over 200 more years.  They built the Alhambra, and a beautiful city grew up around it.  However, eventually the reconquista made its way to Granada, and the city was taken by the Spanish monarchy in 1492.  In the end, the Moorish king Boabdil decided to surrender, with the condition that he and his family could safely leave and his people would be welcome to stay.  His family left by foot, walking through the mountains to a location outside of the city.  While they were walking, Boabdil kept looking back at the city he had lost.  When they reached the last pass where there is a view of the city, Boabdil stopped and turned back and sighed.  His mother also stopped, and said, “Cry like a woman, because you could not defend your country like a man.”  This pass is now known as “The Moorish Sigh.”

My goodbye to the beautiful city of Granada won’t be talked about for years to come, and it wasn’t as dramatic or emotional.  But, on some level, I like to think I know what that king was feeling on his departure from the city.  It certainly is a hard goodbye to say.  A little over four months ago, when I thought of Spain I would feel terrified, and think that it wasn’t too late to back out of the whole study abroad thing.  I did not think I could handle four months away from everything and everyone I knew and loved.  I was not brave enough, I was not strong enough.  Now when I think of Spain, I feel happy that I got to be there, sad that I had to leave, and a little, tiny aching to go back.  I have been home for over a week, and almost everything is still in my suitcase.  I am so happy to be home, but part of me still is, and probably always will be, in Spain.

In my first blog I wrote about my five goals I had for the semester.  Going back and reading them made me smile, because I truly believe I accomplished each one.  The simplest and easiest to realize was to try new foods.  When you have no choice in what you are eating, you learn to like things very quickly.  I am now a fan of many vegetables, of beans and lentils, of over easy eggs.  The list of things I like now but didn’t before could go on and on, but I’ll end it there.  You get the idea.  Another goal of mine was to not stress.  I have to be honest, it’s hard to stress when you are studying abroad in a place like Spain.  The laid back pace of life, the easy classes, and all the traveling made it hard to get stressed.  Although traveling can be stressful, after a while you learn to relax, and obstacles just become simple changes in your plans. 

Another goal was to see new places, and I certainly did that.  I did not travel every weekend, or see many other countries, but I got to know Granada and many parts of Spain, and I have no regrets about where we did or didn’t travel.  One of my biggest goals was to not be shy, or afraid of meeting new friends.  Most people who study abroad arrive in Spain not knowing anybody, more or less alone.  The benefit of going through a program is that you meet people right away.  The first person I met was Anna, on our bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Madrid.  Anna introduced me to Shelley, who later introduced me to Jennie (Yennie).  Shelley, Yennie and I became fast friends and for four months those girls were my closest allies and greatest friends.  Later on in the program, we became friends with Cristen and Brittni.  We traveled together, celebrated small and big events, and got each other through some really hard stuff.  I could not have asked for better friends.  I will miss Yennie’s infectious laugh, Shelley’s quiet confidence, Cristen’s enthusiasm and Brittni’s funny stories and vast knowledge of Harry Potter, but I know we will be friends for a long, long time. 

The last goal was definitely the biggest.  I wanted to learn a language but within the context of the Spanish culture.  I wanted to be a part of something completely different from what I knew.  And for four months, I was.  I was doubly lucky, because I was able to learn about two cultures.  I lived with a woman from Argentina, named Ana.  I do not know if I could have placed with a more welcoming and loving host mother.  She was always there for me, helped me learn Spanish, and eventually going back to her and the cat Rocio felt a lot like going home.   I also got to learn all about the history, people, and culture of Spain.  I was able to take classes taught in Spanish.  I settled in Granada, had my favorite restaurants, pastry places, and plazas.  I constantly say “vale”, the Spanish “ok”.  I am excited that I now get to bring bits and pieces of a culture I grew to love back home with me.  I love that I can explain why the Spaniards love ham so much, and other quirks and characteristics of the Spanish people.  I feel as though I am now a representative of two cultures and places.  Study abroad taught me so much about learning about other people and places, about me, and about what life can be.  I have every intention of traveling more throughout my life, and becoming a small part of other places.  For now I am staying home.  It is time to get reacquainted with everything back home, a place I appreciate more now that I have been lucky enough to travel for a while.  I loved being abroad, but Dorothy was right when she said there is no place like home.  But now, I have two homes to go back to.  How lucky am I?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Goodbyes Begin

The countdown has begun!  I am five days, one essay, one exam, one bus ride, and two flights away from being back in the United States.  Things started to both wind down and get crazy at some point last week.  The frenzy of studying and writing last minute assignments began, but so did the process of saying goodbye.  Throughout the semester, one or two times a week, I would volunteer for the organization Amigos de Almanjayár.  The organization was an after school program for children who are underserved and need extra help.  I have written about the organization a couple of times in this blog, when I first started and when we celebrated Carneval.  However, now that I have finished my volunteer work with them, I have begun to realize how much I will miss the kids I worked with.  As frustrating and horribly behaved as they were, they became a huge part of my experience here, and saying goodbye to them was very hard to do.

Although the kids were the main part of volunteering, it was a privilege to get to know the other volunteers involved with the organization.  I was able to get to know both American and Spanish students through volunteering I would not have otherwise.  When I first got to Spain my Spanish was definitely not up to par, but the other volunteers always helped me when I needed help communicating.  Amigos de Almanjayár is organized and run by two women, Blanca and Maria.  Blanca and Maria know every child and care about each one, but they also care about their volunteers.  They had so much patience with me when I couldn’t communicate.  Every single time we left after volunteering they thanked us; even the day my kids ran amuck while I sat in a corner and cried.  They respected us, helped us when we needed it, and always made us feel welcome in Almanjayár, even if others didn’t. 

Of course, the main part of volunteering with Amigos of Almanjayár was working with the children.  Children who were hard to control, who were reluctant to learn, and who once made me cry.  I was verbally and physically abused.  Often times, I left Almanjayár swearing I would never return, but I always did, because inevitably something would make the volunteering worth it.  The funny thing was is that it was never, ever something big.  Something little, like teaching them an American hand clapping games and learning Spanish games in return, or helping them understand subtraction, was all I needed to go back the next day.  A lot of times it was something they did for us.  A few times I worked with a child who insisted on teaching me new vocabulary, and I actually learned a lot from her.  Every time we went, we would run into kids while we walked down the street and be greeted with hugs.  And every single session, no matter how bad, they found a way to make us laugh, whether a giggle or uncontrollable laughter. 

I know my reflections on volunteering are corny and even cliché.  Volunteering in Almanjayár taught me so much about the culture and language of Spain, and about myself and what I could do.  In a way, this blog post is my unofficial thanks to the organization.  Blanca and Maria welcomed us into their organization and always made me feel a part of something.  When I first got into Spain I was sure I would never fit in here, that I would never be able to immerse myself completely into the culture here.  I was going to school, living with a host family, traveling and making friends but Amigos of Almanjayár was one of the first places I felt I really belonged to here in Spain.  The kids might have laughed at my accent, called me ugly or weird looking, and misbehaved, but they also made me feel welcome every time they taught me a new word or gave me a huge hug.  They wanted to get to know us, and be our friends.  The organization did for us exactly what it promises to its children.  They took in students, my friends and I from API, who needed to learn, and gave us the tools and environment to do that.  Whenever I think back to my study abroad experience here in Spain, I will always remember my Amigos de Almanjáyar.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rain or Shine

Once again, I apologize for the length of time between the last post and this one.  Things are getting very busy.  Believe it or not (I can’t) but I only have two weeks left here in Granada.  The last two weekends my friends and I did our last trip outside the city, to Sevilla and Cadiz.  Although Sevilla is an amazing city full of things to explore, we only did a day trip there.  Sevilla is the capital of Andulucia and also one of the hottest places in Spain.  I thought that a trip there would be a great break from the constant rain Granada had been experiencing, but we arrived to weather that with only a little exaggeration could be described as a deluge.  Despite the weather, we managed to see everything on our checklist, and have a great time. 

The first stop was the cathedral.  Previously, the Cathedral had been a mosque, but was converted to a church after the reconquista.  The whole thing was rebuilt after earthquakes damaged the original mosque, and the cathedral is now the third largest church in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral.  Needless to say, it was amazing.  Inside the church, you can see the location of Christopher Columbus’ remains.  There had been some confusion as to whether Columbus was actually buried in the Cathedral, but after DNA testing it was confirmed.  Originally Columbus was buried in Cuba, but moved back to Spain in the early 20th century.  His tomb is marked by a monument with four men, representing the kingdoms of Spain, León, Castile, Aragón and Navarra.  Attached to the Cathedral is the Giralda tower.  The tower is really tall, and provides an amazing view of the city, even when it is raining.  Rather than climbing stairs to the top of the Giralda you take ramps.  The Giralda was built with ramps to allow horses to climb to the top. 

After the Cathedral, we walked through Sevilla a bit and got a feel for the city.  We walked by the Plaza de Toros, which looked pretty.  We also hid in a McDonalds for a while in an attempt to avoid the worst of the rain, and enjoyed French fries and McFlurries.  Once the rain lightened up a bit, we headed to the Alcazar.  We took to calling the Alcazar the “Practice Alhambra”.  It served as a royal palace for when the city was the capital of Moorish Spain, or Al-Andulus.  The architecture was very similar to the Alhambra and it was very pretty.  There seemed to be more gardens in the Alcazar, and the flowers and trees were beautiful.  There were also animals, the most interesting of which were the peacocks.  It actually stopped raining for about 20 minutes while we were walking around the gardens, which made them even more enjoyable. 

After the Alcazar, we went to the Plaza de España.  The plaza was built when Sevilla hosted the world fair, and was built in the style of Moorish architecture.  It is surrounded by buildings, mostly government buildings, and has a fountain in the middle.  Along the outskirts of the plaza there are alcoves representing the different regions of Spain, and we made sure to stop and take a picture in Granada.  The sun came out for about an hour and we sat and enjoyed it and watching the people in the plaza.  After the plaza we walked through a park, and enjoyed some more flowers, trees and animals, and then went back to the bus station.  Even though we only spent a day in Sevilla, I definitely got a good feel for the city.  Hopefully I get to go back and explore it more someday, but if not, I saw the most important things. 

The next weekend was our last trip, and happened to be with the whole group.  The program planned a trip to Cadiz, a beach town about four or five hours from Granada.  Even with the pretty scenery, five hours is too much for one bus ride.  The first night there we had our farewell dinner.  It was the last time we were doing something as a group, and they decided that it would be an ideal time for the dinner, since now everything is crazy with exams coming up.  It felt very strange to be having a farewell dinner.  I have come to know many of the people in the program pretty well, and it was sad to think about saying goodbye to everybody.  However, the food was good and everybody had a great time.  After the dinner, my friends and I went out to the beach (which was right across the street from our hotel).  

Cadiz is a very interesting city, with plenty of history.  However, after so many trips and so much planning, we just didn’t feel like being tourist that weekend.  We spent the whole two days on the beach, taking in the ocean and sun.  It was nice not to have to worry about getting to museums before they close, and figuring out the best time to beat the crowds to the historical landmarks.  It was nice to just relax and hang out with friends, before papers and final exams took over our lives.  The whole weekend was great, but I was surprised by how emotional I was.  Being on the beach again made me miss Rhode Island so much more, and I was excited that pretty soon I would be back home and at the beaches I know and love, spending time with people I know and love and have missed.  On the other hand, the weekend made me realize how close I am to leaving.  I have made some great friends here, and have grown to love Spain.  I know the next two weeks will be filled with the same mix of emotions, but I am not going to let that get in my way of enjoying the time I have left here.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

Felices Pascuas!

Happy Easter! It was very strange being away from home on a holiday, especially Easter.  Usually I spend Easter with my family, starting the day with mass, then eating great food, and opening Easter Bunny Baskets.  Throughout the day I would glance at the time and figure out what my family was doing, which was easy since we have done more or less the same thing since I can remember.  Don’t worry; I did not do this all day, just every now and then.  However, Spain has its own traditions that I was lucky enough to experience.  The celebrations of Semana Santa (Holy Week) were so interesting and made being away from family and friends a little easier. 

The people of Andalucía like to say that during Semana Santa everybody who lives in the region leaves, and the rest of the Spanish citizens arrive.  Holy Week and Easter celebrations here are not confined to churches and backyards as they are in the United States.  Because the country is so predominately Catholic, traditions here have developed into spectacles that people from around the world come to see.  The most unique tradition is the processions.  The best way to describe the processions is as religious parades.  The biggest and smallest streets of the city are filled with people watching the processions make their way from church to church. 

Each procession is different, but they all consist of tronos (most comparable to floats), Nazarenos and some sort of music.  The tronos are huge, and are not transported by trucks, but carried by people underneath them concealed by fabric.  Each person can be supporting up to 100 pounds depending on the size of the float, and the longest procession is about twelve hours long.  Therefore, every now and then the procession stops and the people switch out for a break.  Usually this break happens in a church, but  we saw them stop a couple of times on the street and got a chance to watch people run under to replace other people running out.  “Los Nazarenos” or the penitents accompany each trono.   Each Nazareno is part of a brotherhood, some dating back to the 1500s.  They are very recognizable because of their outfits.  The Nazarenos wear long robes, and their head and faces are covered by a cone shaped hat draped in fabric.  The robes of each brotherhood are different colors, but the individual people are never identifiable in order to keep the focus of the procession on the religious aspect.  Unfortunately, many American tourists are offended by this outfit, considering its similarity to the Ku Klux Klan.  It is so sad to me that something so honorable and beautiful in one country has been turned into something so horrible and offensive in another. 

My friends and I were able to see five processions throughout the week.  We had planned on attending many more, but because of rain many were cancelled.  The tronos are very delicate and valuable, and therefore are not brought out if it is raining.  One trono supports a statue of the Virgin Mary crying diamonds and wearing a veil sewn with gold thread.  Each year the tronos are elaborated upon, so they only grow in intricacy and become worth more and more throughout the years.  The first procession we happened upon accidently on Wednesday.  It displayed Jesus in a seated position, waiting to be crucified.  The Nazarenos wore maroon and white robes.  I was surprised to see a marching band accompanying the procession.  The music they played was somber, but filled the whole area.  There was also far more people than I ever expected.  However, everybody was friendly and all were respectful of the processions.  

The next procession we attended was the most popular of the week, and the probably the one Granada is best known for.  The Gitanos (gypsy) procession took place mainly in the old section of town.  It started around 8:00 P.M. on Wednesday, and ended at 7:00 A.M. the following morning.  The amount of people there was absolutely amazing.  My friends and I made our way to Sacromonte around midnight, but the procession did not come until almost three.  One of the tronos displayed Jesus on the cross, the next showed Mary surrounded by candles and crying.  They both were beautiful.  Once the procession comes everybody goes with it.  We walked right behind the first trono.  Along the route the procession would stop, and sometimes somebody in the audience felt moved to sing a hymn; sometimes an acoustic guitar would accompany the song, and other times it wouldn’t.  As beautiful as the marching bands were, the songs sung by the spectators were so much more.  They were filled with emotion, and I was amazed by the fact that every one of the thousands of spectators stopped talking to listen with the utmost respect.  After walking with the procession for almost three hours, we went off to the side and let the procession pass.  At 6 in the morning, we finally went back to our houses to sleep for a few hours before the next procession began. 

Thursday only one procession left the church.  Thankfully the rain stopped long enough for the last procession to make its way from Plaza Nueva at the base of the Albaicin, to the Cathedral in the center of the city.  This procession is probably the second most popular behind the Gitano procession.  It is known as the Procession of Silence.  It is the only one not followed by a marching band.  The only sounds heard during the procession are a single drum, the chains worn by a few of the Nazarenos, and some whispers from the crowd of spectators.  To add to the seriousness of the procession, every light along the route is turned off.  It was absolutely amazing.  Although the Gitano procession was beautiful, it did not feel as religious as the Thursday night procession.  The trono also showed Jesus on the cross, and was similar to the one from the night before.  When the procession stopped in front of us, a man sang a hymn from his balcony.  Every person listened, and it was impossible to ignore the emotion of the man’s song and the procession.  It was absolutely my favorite moment of the week. 

The next two days were pretty disappointing procession wise.  Because of weather, almost every procession was cancelled.  It is a huge deal when they cancel processions.  It was not unusual to walk by people crying shortly after the procession had been official cancelled.  One went out on Friday, but I did not attend because I went to mass instead. I was surprised by the fact that it is the exact same mass I would have attended in America, but in Spanish.  For some reason I expected it to be different.  I was also surprised by how few people were there.  The church was nowhere near full.  Considering the hundreds of people who attend the processions, I expected many more to be at the mass. 

Sunday finally brought blue skies and sun, which meant the processions were on.  The first procession left from the Cathedral, and the Nazarenos wore white and blue.  The trono showed a risen Jesus, and even had a live tree on it.  The music played by the band was much happier, and the attitude and feeling amongst the spectators was very light and joyful.  It was a great atmosphere, and a fun procession.  The second procession of the day was the one for the children.  A smaller trono supported by children is carried through the street.  Then, anyone who wishes to participate can pick up a ceramic bell and go with the procession.  It is mostly young children who ring the bells, announcing to the city of Granada the resurrection.  Although it was fun, it was very chaotic, and more for the children taking part than spectators.  Unfortunately the weather did not hold out and the final procession of Semana Santa was cancelled.  I can’t be disappointed though.  I have studied Semana Santa every year in Spanish classes, and I am happy that I even got the opportunity to experience some of it.  Besides, now I just have another excuse to come back in the future: I have to see the rest of the processions.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Barcelona II!

The third day of our Barcelona trip started out at the beach.  Barcelona has not always been a beach town, and wasn’t actually even that popular with tourists until they hosted the 1992 Olympics.  In preparation of the Olympics they tore down the Industrial area of the city, and made a beach with sand from Egypt and palm trees from Hawaii.  We sat on the beach and enjoyed the people and the scenery.  There were people walking around selling drinks, food, sunglasses, and weirdly enough massages.  It wasn’t especially warm while we were there, so we didn’t swim.  However, apparently the sun was much stronger than we thought, because after just an hour and a half, we were all sun burnt.  I was bright red, and very uncomfortable for the rest of the trip. 

After the beach, we went to Montjuic, or the Jewish Mountain.  The mountain was where the Jewish cemetery was located, and also the location of the Olympic stadium.  We were planning on going to the museum about the Olympics, but found it closed when we got there.  So we just went inside the stadium and walked around.  It was huge!  I can only imagine what it must have been like when the games were happening.  We walked around the rest of the area dedicated to the Olympics.  There were a lot of fountains, and a couple buildings where different events took place.  I had been disappointed because you could not get down to the track that was used.  However, we found an area with a big circular fountain.  I decided it was close enough to a track and challenged one of my friends who is also a runner to a race around the fountain, just so I can say that I have run at an Olympic stadium.  After the Olympic stadium we walked by a big palace at the top of the mountain.  We also saw the Magic Fountain.  It does “performances” with music and lights, however only on Friday and Saturday, so we did not get to see a performance.
Monday we had planned on going to the Picasso Museum and the City History Museum, but when we looked them up to get directions discovered that both are closed on Mondays.  We were feeling a bit defeated, but decided to improvise.  In the lobby of our hostel was a big display of brochures advertising things to do in Barcelona.  After looking through them, we decided to go to the aquarium.  We ended up having a great time.  They had interesting exhibits.  They even had a giant tunnel that goes through a big tank, so when you walk through sharks and other fish are swimming right next to you.  Also, I tried to read all the information in Spanish, not English, so we learned a lot of new vocabulary. 

The aquarium is right by the beach, and at very close to Las Ramblas, so after we left we decided to just walk around and revisit all of our favorite places.  It was our last full day, and it was nice to just take it easy and walk around.  We went back through the Gothic center, and walked up Las Ramblas again.  We also found this great store called Happy Pills.  The whole store was just gummy candies, and you fill up “pill bottles” with them.  Then you get to put a prescription on the bottle.  I chose “Universal Remedy”, but they also had stickers for Mondays, for Sundays without futbol, for Sundays with futbol.  My friends and I got a huge kick out of the store.  After walking around for a few hours we decided to go back to the hostel.  As much as I loved Barcelona, I was pretty thrilled that I only had one more night of sleeping in a dorm with 11 other people. 

Tuesday morning we woke up early.  We were planning on getting to the airport around 1 for our flight at 4, but thought if we got up early enough we would be able to make it to the Picasso Museum.  We checked out of the hostel and got on the metro for the last time.  When we got off the metro, I went into a store and asked the employee if he knew where the museum was.  He told me that I should walk towards the big white building across the street.  I got outside to find about six or seven big white buildings across the street and decided that he probably didn’t know where the museum was.  After stopping in two more stores and one hotel, we were still lost.  Time was running out, and we sat on a bench to try and find the museum on a map.  We made the decision to just give up, and started walking back towards Las Ramblas.  About thirty seconds after getting up, we found the museum.  It was closed.  I thought I was going to die laughing.  Two of my friends also found this very amusing, the third was somewhat mad that we could have gotten two more hours of sleep.  We decided to just go over to the airport a little early, since we didn’t feel like walking through the city with our bags. 

Although I had a lot of fun in Barcelona, I was very ready to head back to Granada.  I am comfortable in Granada, and like that I don’t feel like a tourist there anymore.  I have been here about three months now, and only have one month left.  One month may seem like a lot, but I know it is going to go by so fast.  On the plane to Barcelona, one of my friends was thinking about leaving and started to cry.  It wasn’t long before the rest of us were in tears.  We made quite the spectacle of ourselves.  I am getting excited to go home and see everybody, but it is going to be sad to leave Spain.  However, I am not going to think too much about leaving yet.  I still have quite a bit to do and see here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Spring break here falls during Holy Week, or Semana Santa here, so I have been on break since last Thursday.  My friends and I decided we would do a big trip the first half of Semana Santa, and then head back to Granada to enjoy the processions and traditions that you only find in Andulucia.  So Thursday we took off for Barcelona, in the north of Spain.  Our plane landed in Barcelona around 8:30 P.M. and we had to be at our hostel for 11, so our first taste of Barcelona was a bit chaotic and stressful.  However, even with the running around and stress of not knowing where we were going, I knew I was going to love Barcelona.  The people were very friendly and the city seemed like a beautiful mix of old and new.  We ended up finding the hostel, and realized that for an hour we had been about five minutes from it.  It was my friend Jennie’s birthday and we had been planning on going out to dinner to celebrate, but ending up feasting on cookies and candy bars from the vending machine in the common room of the hostel and heading to bed early.  One of the guys staying at the hostel that night was from RI and we talked to him for a while.  It was fun to talk to somebody with the same accent as me, and not be the only one in the group who knew what Del’s Lemonade was, or to understand how tragic it was to go four months without an Awful Awful.

Friday morning we had a slow start.  Sharing a room with 11 other people isn’t very conducive to a good night’s sleep, so getting up in the morning was tough.  The hostel worker who had checked us in the night before had told us about a free walking tour of the Gothic center of Barcelona.  We met one of the employees of the lobby and she brought us into the city center where we met up with a few other people for the walking tour.  The tour lasted about three hours, and we got a brief history of the city.  Barcelona is in the area of Spain called Catalonia.  The culture there is very distinct and all its own; they even speak a different language, Catalan.  The tour brought us to two different Cathedrals.  One of them was built by the people of the city, and therefore was built over many years when there was funding.  In front of this Cathedral there is a monument with an eternal flame.  The flame represents the spirit of the people of Catalonia.  Many times the people have rebelled and fought for independence.  The monument commemorates the last battle of one of these wars for independence; even though the soldiers knew they were going to be defeated, they came out of the city gates fighting the much larger army waiting on the other side.  The date of the battle is now Catalonian day. 

The tour also brought us to a bar, 4 Gatos, where Picasso, Gaudi and other famous artists and architects would drink.   We also walked by the Palau Musica Catalana, or Music Palace, which was very colorful and decorated with statues and stained glass.  We also walked through many plazas, one of which had many buildings that showed marks from bullets and bombs from the Civil War and Franco’s reign.  The tour was a great introduction to the city.  It gave us the history of the area, and also gave us an idea of where things were.  The three hours flew by and we were very interested the whole time.

After the tour we grabbed some lunch and then headed back towards the Head of Barcelona, a large statue near the beach. We walked around in that area, enjoying all of the boats docked nearby.  There is also a monument in honor of Christopher Columbus.  When it was built, the statue of Columbus at the top of the monument was intended to point towards the Americas.  However, an error was made and he now points proudly in the direction of Libya.  In the same area is a large mall.  The mall was built before the Olympics when the Industrial area of Barcelona was converted into a beach area.  The mall is “floating”, somehow built on the water.  

After walking around the mall we stopped at McDonalds for a quick snack (McFlurries) and then decided to walk Las Ramblas.  We had walked on the street the night before, but in our haste to find the hostel we didn’t get to enjoy it.  Las Ramblas is a very wide street and in the middle is a walkway where hundreds and thousands of people walk and enjoy the newsstands, and stands selling art, souvenirs and other things.  It is colorful and fun, and there is a great blend of cultures there.  People from all over the world were walking up and down Las Ramblas, and it is a very fun place to just hang out and people watch.  Garcia Lorca (an author from Granada) said that Las Ramblas was 'the only street in the world which I wish would never end'.  Off Las Ramblas there is also a huge market, called Mercado Boquería.  We walked around in the market and enjoyed the smell of the fresh fruit, and tried to ignore the stranger items for sale, like the whole pig's head.  

 Saturday we woke up early and took the metro into the city center for a day full of Gaudi.  We went to Sagrada Familia first, a large Cathedral designed by Gaudi.  Construction of the building began in 1882, and continues to this day; they are hoping to complete it by the middle of this century.  The two completed entrances each tell their own story: one portrays the Passion, the other the Nativity scene.  The towers of the cathedral can be viewed from many points in the city, and are overwhelming up close.  The size of the cathedral and “Modernisme” architecture combine for quite the experience.  The inside of the cathedral is just as amazing as the outside.  The stained glass windows and the details are absolutely beautiful.  They also made a room with information regarding Gaudi, and explaining how everything in his architecture drew from elements of nature.  Outside of the cathedral was a school building that Gaudi had designed for the workers and employees of the cathedral’s children.  In the last few years of his life, Gaudi lived on the construction site in a hut, refused to accept a salary, and begged for money to fund the building.  He apparently was a very devout person, and saw the Cathedral as a way for art to give back to religion.

Next we did a walking tour of our own that I found in one of my tourist books.  We saw a few more Gaudi houses, and other architecture by Modernisme architects.  After the walking tour we set off for Parque Güell.  The park had been designed by Gaudi, intended to be a housing developments of sorts.  After his death, the area was turned into a park, full of Gaudi architecture and sculptures.  It was very interesting and really fun to just walk through and take in all the strange elements and details.  My friend Jennie and I were also very excited for another reason.  A few years ago, “America’s Next Top Model” traveled to Barcelona, and the final runway show took place in Parque Güell.  We found the “runway”, and much to our delight and the confusion of other tourists, put on our own fashion show.  After a few hours at the park we were pretty beat, so we headed back to the hostel for an early night.  We were only halfway through the trip, and wanted to make sure we didn’t burn ourselves out too early.  More on Barcelona to come!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mi cantar, hecho de fantasía

The weather in southern Spain is really starting to warm up!  Today it is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and yesterday was mid-eighties.  The temperature really started to spike in the middle of last week, and my host mom told us it is not typical for it to get this warm so early.  We decided that last weekend would be a great time for a beach day, considering the recent change in temperature.  We decided on Salobreña, a small beach town in the Granada province.  Saturday we took a forty five minute bus ride from Granada city, and headed straight for the beach.  I am sure that Salobreña has an interesting history, but the point of this trip was not to learn, it was to relax on the beach and get a taste of the Mediterranean Sea.

The beaches in the Granada province are rock beaches, which is very different from what I am used to.  Also, the water was completely clear.  I did not see one piece of seaweed; my friends told me that from the beach they could see me swimming underwater.  It was beautiful.  The weather was overcast and very windy, but the water was still warm enough to swim in, and I took advantage of it.  There were barely any waves, which are my favorite part of the beaches at home, but it was still a lot of fun.  It was nice to take a day trip where we weren’t rushing around trying to get to tourist points before they closed or got too busy.  There were people jumping off the cliffs into the ocean, and I was tempted to try.  Unfortunately, I could not get my mother and two grandmothers’ voices at of my head telling me I better not think about it.  It was a very fun day, and probably our least expensive excursion yet. 

Tuesday my History of Art in Spain professor took the class on a field trip to Capilla Real, where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried.  The king and queen had originally planned on being buried in Toledo, but after the Reconquista took back Granada and the moors were finally expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, they decided to be buried in Granada.  Capilla Real is behind the Cathedral, and is, of course, very impressive.  The statues of the king and queen are very interesting.  They are lying down, and their heads are on pillows.  Isabel’s is more sunken into her pillow, supposedly to signify that she was the brains of the pair, while Ferdinand was more inclined to war.  You go below to see the actual coffins of the king and queen, which were much simpler than I was expecting.  Our professor tried to tell us tha going down was very scary; then, while one of the girls was climbing back up the stairs, our professor popped out and said “Boo”, causing the girl to scream. 

Wednesday, my program took as to a Flamenco show in Sacromonte.  Flamenco is a type of dance that was born in Al-Andulus, what the Iberian Peninsula was called under Moorish rule.  The dance is often performed by the gitanos, gypsies, and in its purest form is improvised throughout the performance.  When Flamenco first began the dancers did not learn through formal training but through observation of their family members who performed.  The music is provided by a guitar, and a singer, and is enriched by the clapping and footwork of the dancers. 

In Sacromonte you can find many caves, where the gypsies used to live.  However, now they are either ruined or have been “refurbished” in a way and now house Flamenco shows.  The show was amazing.  The chairs lined the walls of the cave, and the floor that the chairs were on is the same floor the dancers use.  There is no stage, and the show is literally right in front of you.  There were 6 or 7 dancers, one of whom was male, and they varied in age from about 20 to 60 or older.  It is hard to describe the actual experience of watching a Flamenco show.  It is extremely loud.  Between the clapping and stomping and the fact that you are in a relatively small cave makes the noise level almost unbearable at some points.  The costumes are amazing.  The women wear tight dresses with big ruffled skirts, which can be very simple, with one color or polka dotted and bright with a scarf thrown over.  The dancers themselves are completely invested in the performance which makes it very emotional, and it is easy to let yourself get caught up in it as well.  I was also very excited, because they sang the song Granada.  I more or less know the song by heart now, thanks to my art history professor making us sing it at the start of each class.  I hope I get to see another performance before I leave; it was such a great experience. 

That is everything I have for this entry! From today, I have 48 days until I get home (not that I am counting), and I know it is going to fly by.  Next Thursday, my friends and I leave for a trip to Barcelona, and then we come back to Granada in the middle of Holy Week, Semana Santa.  This weekend, I am planning on taking it easy and trying to avoid the heat.  I will try and send some of it back towards home!