Saturday, June 22, 2013


Hello readers!

It has been several weeks since I arrived back home from Spain. Sorry it has taken so long to update the blog. Before I flew home, I took a week-long vacation to the South of Spain, or more specifically, the Andalusia region.

I went to Andalusia with my friends Clara and Kenneth. Clara is from Paris, France and Kenneth is from Hong Kong, which as I learned is actually not China. Actually, as he repeated throughout the trip, he's never been to China.

All of our travel plans went off without a hitch. We took a bus from Pamplona to Bilbao, and then flew from Bilbao to Seville. We spent two days in Seville.

The first night we got there, we were wondering around looking for a flamenco show to watch or just somewhere nice to hang out, when I spotted my friend Madison from PC. I knew that there were 5 other students from PC in Seville, but what are the odds of running into one of them? So, we spent the evening with Madison, her boyfriend Seth, who is also from PC, and some of their other friends they met in Seville. I even ran into some of the other people from PC that I didn't know as well. It was one of those really cool things that doesn't happen to me much.

The hostel we stayed in Seville was probably one of our favorites. It was run by an Armenian couple and they were just super nice. What's cool though, is that I have no idea if they spoke any English or not, because we just talked with them in Spanish. There was breakfast included and there was a lovely terrace that looked out onto the street.

While we were in Seville, we went to the Alcazar, which was one of the palaces built by the Moorish royalty in Spain. We also toured the Cathedral of Sevilla which was absolutely gorgeous. It was definitely the biggest cathedral that I've ever been in. There was even a treasure room, which was cool to look at. I wandered around and listened to some of the people's tours if they were in Spanish or English. We even took a tour through Seville's Plaza de Toros, or the bull fighting ring. If we had been in Seville on a Sunday, we'd have been able to actually see a bull fight.

That night, we asked the Armenian guy who owned the hostel where the best place to see a flamenco show is (and that's as cheap as possible) and he told us about a free place. Well, we got a bit of a late start going over there and we got turned around once we got to the area because it was in a section of Seville that looked more like a little pueblo than a city. So by the time we found the place, it was after midnight and the show had ended. We decided that we'd come back on our last night to catch it.

After we'd spent the two days in Sevilla, we went to the train station and bought tickets for Malaga. Malaga is a beach town in Andalusia, and happens to be where Antonio Banderas is from. I had really hoped I could catch a glimpse of him, or one of his relatives, but the odds were not in my favor that time. After the trip, I told Carmen how I had wanted to see Antonio Banderas and she told me that he's always there for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Maybe if I'm feeling stalker-y enough, I'll go to Malaga for Semana Santa.

Anyway. We got to Malaga about midday, so we settled into the hostel and then set off to find somewhere to have lunch. We ended up at a place right by Malaga's Plaza de Toros (hey, it's Spain, remember?). After lunch, we tried to see if there would be a fight there the next day, but it turns out there would be one in a little town outside of Malaga. It was a little too pricey for our college student budget, so we decided to opt out of that trip.

We continued walking towards the central part of Malaga. The area where our hostel was located was absolutely ideal for beach activities. It was right across the street from the beach, but a solid 15-20 minute walk from the central part of the actual city. Not that that was a huge problem, it was a trade-off.

One the way to the center, there was this cool wall/fortress thing. I never found out what exactly it was (it wasn't very well marked), but we climbed it and got this amazing skyline view of the city. We saw the Plaza de Toros and were able to see inside the plaza. It looked a lot like the one in Seville did: a big stadium with sand in the middle. Just like how it's portrayed in the movies. You also had a lovely view of the water and the boats that came into port. Apparently, Malaga is a stopping point on cruises because I saw a couple cruise ships parked.

After we had our fill of looking around, we continued to the center. We found a tourist booth to get a map and found out that we had chosen the perfect weekend to be there. A couple times a year, they have Noches Blancas or something like that where the museums open up for free! I can spend hours in museums, but Clara, living in Paris, has undoubtedly gone to tons and probably the same for Kenneth in Hong Kong. I, however, coming from small town Georgia, think that museums are awesome. But I understand that certain things get old after a while. That's how I feel about zoos. I've gone to tons of zoos, so the novelty has worn off.

My point to that digression, was to say that we ended up going to just one museum. We went to the Picasso museum, because he is also from Malaga so they have a little one in Malaga for him. So I did get to go a Picasso museum after all!

We also found a group of people doing "flamenco," but it wasn't your traditional flamenco. It was the flamenco style, sort of, with the dresses and hand movements, but normally flamenco consists of a singer, a guitar player, and a dancer. This was a group of three women and one man who danced sets along to stereo music. It was cool, but not super authentic.

Before the show started, there was this homeless guy who went around singing really loudly and then asking around for money. It was sad and funny at the same time. Funny because he was singing his heart out and kept reaching at his throat. Now that I describe it, it doesn't sound funny. Maybe it was a you had to be there thing. Another kind of funny thing about him though was that when we were out for a tapas lunch the next day, he came to where we were sitting outside and eating and sang.

I'm now going to take a moment and tell you how our trip came to be. Mom and I had booked my flight back to the states after I had asked a student at the university when exams were over. We had booked it a couple days after exams were supposed to end, to give me time to pack and wrap things up. Well, where I studied, my exams ended almost two weeks before the official end date. Therefore, I had that much time where I had nothing to do. I had been planning for months to go to the South of Spain. A lot of my friends from PC had either studied there or gone there on Maymesters and had told me about it. Then all of the other exchange students and just other people talked about Andalusia. It was definitely a place I had to go before I left. I was kind of planning on going by myself, but then I heard that Clara wanted to go as well so then we decided to go together. Then Kenneth was working on a project with Clara and she told him about the trip and he booked the tickets then and there. I'm not a big planning person, so I let Clara plan the trip. She had been to Andalusia as a kid, you see, so I figured she'd know more about it than I did.

Clara planned to go to Malaga to give us some beach time. The South of Spain is famous for it's hot weather. Normally when people think of Spain, Andalusia is what they think. Hot and sunny. Well, of course, when we were in Malaga, it was cloudy and windy, which is not ideal beach weather. There isn't really anything famous to do in Malaga. It's pretty much an attraction for it's beach. So, we had to get creative. On our full day there, we spent most of the morning just relaxing and recuperating from all the travelling. It's really tiring to be moving places every few days. I ended up finishing a book I'd started on the train ride over and reading a good chunk of the sequel that day. (If you're looking for a good book, look for The Selection series, it's excellent if you're a Hunger Games type fan or just into dystopian novels)

I don't have much more interesting to say about Malaga. We spent a lot of time walking around and exploring the city. It was lovely walking along the harbor and beach at night. It was nice and I'm glad I went, but if I'm going back to Spain, I don't think I'd go back there.

Our next stop was Cordoba. Cordoba is famous for La Mezquita. Carmen told me once that she liked Cordoba much more than Grenada. Grenada is the city that has La Alambra, the biggest and most famous Moorish palace in Spain. You have to book your tickets in advance to go there because of all the tourism. I really tried to figure out a good way to get over to Grenada, but it just didn't work out on this trip. Just an excuse to go back to Spain! Anyway, I can't say what my opinion on which is better would be at the moment, but I can tell you that I fell in love with Cordoba.

I don't see myself ever being a big city person (but who knows?), however I can definitely see myself living in a place like Cordoba which is a small-medium city. When we took the bus to the train station, the bus would go from wide, city-like, streets to tiny little alleys that I would imagine being in villages, not a major city like Cordoba. What I loved about it was the mix of the modern and the old. You could tell that they didn't really plan the city, it just kind of expanded as needed. Seville was like that at times as well, but since it housed Spanish and Moorish royalty for decades it was more organized and much larger.

We were crazy busy in Cordoba. There was so much to do! Our hostel was in a great location, pretty close to everything. Well, we walked a ton, but it was in a scenic location anyway. Another stroke of planning luck hit us and we were actually in Cordoba during the Fiesta de los Patios, which is not a patio party, it's a competition that goes on throughout the city where people decorate their patios and people vote to see who has the best.

We went to see several of the patios. Most of them were decorated with tons of beautiful flowers. I don't know how people could pick. The one I remember most, however, was the one that featured the cat. I'm thinking that this couple who owned the patio either didn't have children or their children had grown up and moved on. Or none of the above. Regardless, this couple obviously loved their cat and as you walked in the first thing you saw was pictures of the cat and even a figurine of a cat. Then once you walked into the patio itself, you saw the cat sitting on a chair. It was an orange Persian cat, but super grumpy looking. We called him "Grumpy Gato" because he reminded us of the Grumpy Cat meme, so we decided that this one is the Spanish version.

Cordoba housed Moorish royalty for a few years as well. They liked to move around. Well, and there were the Emirs who were under the Califs. I don't actually know too much about it, we only studied the Moors for a couple classes in my culture class. Definitely not enough to learn about the whole structure and everything about their influence in Andalusia. There was another Alcazar that Clara and I went to visit (Kenneth did his own thing that day). The main attraction for this Alcazar was the gardens. In Sevilla, the inside of the Alcazar was the cool part because of the Moorish architecture  but here there wasn't much to the inside. It was all about the gardens.

La Mezquita was one of the most interesting buildings that I've ever been in. It was originally built as a mosque, but during the Reconquista (Spanish Inquisition) it was converted back into a cathedral--the official name is The Cathedral of Cordoba, but everyone still calls it La Mezquita (mezquita means mosque). The arches in the Mezquita are extremely famous and are from the original mosque. So as you're walking through, the arches are above you, but then you're surrounded by the little chapels that make up a regular cathedral. Then you walk to the middle, past a wall, and you see this sanctuary randomly in there. As you walk around the walls, you pass the little chapels that honor the certain saints and then you reach the one part that of the wall that is from the original mosque. It has that classic Muslim key-shaped structure. If you're ever in Spain, definitely go. It's fascinating.

After we left Cordoba, we went back to Sevilla for a day because our flight back to Bilbao was the next day. We finally made it to that flamenco show we'd tried to go to last time. It was that traditional show and definitely worth seeing. We ordered some Tinto de Verano and watched as the man sang, the guitarist played, and the middle aged woman transformed as she began dancing into a striking and beautiful figure. Clara had said to us earlier something her dad had told her about flamenco dancers, "once they begin to dance, you can see the fire in their eyes." It was definitely true. It's a passionate dance.

Even though this post is quite long, it's only a very short version of the trip. It was a blast and writing this post has made me very nostalgic. Sometime, I will get around to writing about the trip that Carmen took me on to San Sebastian and my flight home. If you're interested, I might even write one on what I've been up to this summer.

Until next time!

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