Three days, Seven Centuries

As promised, some ravings about Sevilla…

For those of you who don’t know, I was choosing between studying abroad in Sevilla or Granada and it was quite the choice. I got input from just about everyone who had ever been to Spain (seriously), and it was pretty much a 50/50 tie with a few more impassioned voices for Granada. Really, most people replied that I couldn’t go wrong with either.

After spending now two weekends in Sevilla, I am glad that I chose Granada…but probably not for the reasons you think. I will say, I did hear more English in Sevilla than you typically do in Granada, and so that’s a plus. Mostly, I am happy I chose Granada because of how much I immediately loved Sevilla.

Lined with palm trees, colorful buildings, horse-drawn carriages for tourists, and situated on the Guadalquivir river, Sevilla emits a sense of European romanticism with a Spanish flair.  Pretty quickly, I realized that one of the reasons why I liked it so much and felt so comfortable there was because it had a lot of the same ambiance as Charleston.  Much bigger, more Spanish, but otherwise…..

Again, palm trees, colorful buildings, horse-drawn carriages, a river, and the influence that these elements have on the inhabitants. Although a large city, the people moved slowly, but not just the typical Spanish slowly. No, Sevillanos have the relaxed pace people who live in sun-drenched city, where they get to enjoy strolling to the sound of horses clopping down cobblestone and the heavenly fragrance of orange blossoms. It’s the pace of a historically bustling commercial area, turned heavily to tourism, but still maintaining all of the pride and sense of luxury that meant.

Like I said, essentially as much a love letter to Charleston as to Sevilla, and for that reason alone I’m so glad I chose Granada. Somewhere different, slightly rugged, where the locals expect Spanish and the Moorish influence is everywhere.  But it was so lovely to spend time somewhere so…lovely.  The symbol/saying of the city is a clever picture of “No me ha dejado” – meaning, she (Sevilla) never let me go.  Behind all of the romantic history and fantastic stories is the same message: when Sevilla has your heart, it never let’s go.

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The controversial “Las Setas” – the mushroomsImage

That they found very cool Roman ruins under…

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Torre de Oro  – the Tower of Gold (old “customs” of Sevilla)Image

 

 

The Cathedral of Sevilla – 3rd largest in the world

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Halfway up the bell tower 

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Looking over part of Sevilla

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Part of the Royal Palace (in the gardens) of Sevilla – still used by Spanish royals on official business Image

Plaza de España – one of the most famous (and new) sights in Sevilla

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We went rowing =)

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The original and traditional Sevillano flamenco with male and female dancers. Pure magic.

 

Although disappointed to leave behind beautiful Sevilla, I was excited to see La Mezquita, or great Mosque, of Córdoba. We had studied La Mezquita in two of my classes: History of Art in Spain and Islamic Culture in Spain. It was a wonderfully complete picture with the history, architectural technicalities, and cultural significance of la Mezquita and Córdoba, but not even weeks of study could prepare me. Just as Toledo looks like a model plucked out of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Córdoba appears as though it could come right out of Arabian Nights.  I could imagine the splendor of three centuries worth of Moorish royalty in the streets, the giant ancient city (for the 8th century) full of people, markets, and prayers. While much of Europe was in the dark ages, Córdoba shone with gold and unimaginable wealth thanks to the Moors, and La Mezquita was one of the crowning achievements. Expanded by three different caliphs, La Mezquita was one of the most breathtaking buildings I have ever seen. The indescribable size, all wide open with arches stretching the horizon (yes, this building seems to have a horizon) to facilitate the prayer of 40,000 Muslims.  Although they destroyed nearly everything of the Moors’ during the Reconquista, the Catholic Kings even recognized that this was too precious of a space.  Instead of destroying and rebuilding, they actually built a Cathedral inside of the mosque.  Even more remarkably, it was even done rather tastefully. I can securely say, I did not want to leave. I could have wandered that sea of brick and stone pillars for days, until I had discovered every last crevice. 

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Welcome to the old city

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Moorish, Moorish everywhere!

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Outside of La Mezquita

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Patio of Orange Trees – the catholics did convert the minaret to a bell towerImage

See what I mean about the horizon…?ImageImage

Where the La Mezquita and Cathedral meetImage

 

Another cool place transformed, not destroyed.

 

Alas, it was time to head home to our Granada. As we pulled in, I was struck with how cool it was to be three of the most historically important cities in all of Spain in one weekend. We had essentially travelled through seven centuries of Andalusian/Spanish capitals, arriving back in the last stronghold of the Moors. How romantic this country can be….

For now,

Xoxo

Katie

In Like a Lion…

Although most of the way through, it is safe to say that March definitely came in like a lion over here in Spain.  I actually do not mean the weather, as it finally seems to have turned from 50-degree rain to 65-70s and sun (alleluia!!!).  No, I am more referring to the first few weeks of what seemed like very little sleep, lots of travels, and probably too much vino (just kidding, not possible). 

The month really started with a bang when none other than my parents, John and Bertie touched down in Madrid at the end of February! They began their trip with two days in Toledo and a day/night in Córdoba before I met them in Sevilla.  Although there was a slight mis-hap with the bus (namely, me missing it), meeting them was a breeze and we were able to enjoy two fantastic days in a fantastic city.  I was (mostly) able to get them synced on the Spanish schedule of late to eat, late to bed, relaxed during day, which was fun.  We ate well, had a great walking tour of city and Alcazar – the royal palace of Sevilla, that is actually still utilized when the King/Queen stay in Sevilla. We got to see the Catedral and even booked a traditional and exceptional flamenco show.  All in all, Sevilla was enchanting: the mix of orange trees, the river, the imposing Cathedral and the inviting parks all mixed into a city I couldn’t help but love.  I will be traveling back there this weekend so hopefully I’ll save my raving for next time.

After two wonderful days in Sevilla, we decided to take a trip to the UK…by means of Gibraltar.  When we drove up to the border and there were Optis sailing in the bay, I had a good feeling about the day.  Going into Gibraltar you really are entering the UK – everyone speaks English with British accents, pubs with fish and chips are everywhere, and the British flag flies proudly from many balconies.  I definitely took advantage and got some fish and chips and a delicious dark & malty beer, which was one of the better beers I think I’ve ever had.  We took a taxi tour of “the Rock,” and learned a surprising amount of history about Gibraltar and the Strait.  The views simply couldn’t be topped, the monkeys were fun, and overall it was all hard to wrap your head around. The mix of exotic weather, vegetation, and animals mixed with British accents, Spanish slang, and fish and chips is quite the combo! I am so glad we didn’t miss this and highly recommend anyone in southern Spain to take a day trip and check it out.

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Optis in Gibraltar!

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View of the Strait, Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Morocco under the clouds 

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She was much cooler than I….

 

After Gibraltar, we had a few days in Granada, all surrounding my birthday on Tuesday.  Now, I was perfectly pleased to spend my 21st in a different country but J&B wanted to come celebrate too (hide your surprise!).  So, between two delicious dinners, drinks, and tapas with friends, I really couldn’t have imagined a more fun few days.  They got to see all of the cool sights in Granada, including the spectacular Alhambra, meet nearly all of my friends, and even said hello to my host family.  I wasn’t much help getting them out of Spain due to the unfortunate consumption of ____ too many drinks during the celebrations, but they managed.  Apparently they threw a party a few days later….party party party!

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At the Alhambra

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While their party was going on, I was with some friends at “Carnaval de Cádiz.” We took a bus in around 10:00am, and took another out of the city at 4:30am the following morning. Its origins come from the Venetian carnival, and is a big celebration mixed between Mardi Gras and Halloween, but done as only the Spanish could possibly do.  Abi, Saskia, and I took the morning to see their popular museum, which was quite the experience in our costumes.  We wandered through the streets, stopping with the crowds to listen to the myriad performers, singing groups, and spectacles. Finally making it to the beach, we shared a bottle of wine and admired all of the costume-clad folk doing essentially the same thing.  Many hours of walking, talking, eating, and drinking followed, but I must say choosing not to start the “real” party until after sunset was a very good decision, as we were able to enjoy the whole day.  The Carnaval was easily one of the most fun and exhausting 24 hours of my life, and I can’t think two better people to have shared that with!

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Abi and I in the museum with some works we had studied in Historia del Arte

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Conjuring beach spirits on the beach in Cádiz

 

After these first few weeks, we decided we needed a break (and also midterms were coming up), so Abi and I decided to go to the Arab baths last weekend.  They are original baths, obviously renovated, but still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  You step in and are immediately swept back to the 14th century and the reign of Granada Moors.  The luxury, beauty, and completely enveloping Arabic atmosphere was nothing short of magical.  I could easily imagine the discussions of philosophy that once frequented the walls, smell the tea that flowed, and feel like a true princess for a few hours. 

After this wonderful and relaxing evening, a group of us got together for a pancake and mimosa brunch on Saturday morning at Saskia’s house (she lives by herself, not with a host family).  Being Australian, she was blown away by our pancakes and we were definitely the happiest group of ex-pats in Granada and possibly all of Spain that morning/afternoon/almost evening by the time we finished off the champagne and naps.

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I swear we did use orange juice!

It’s been quite the month, and now that midterms are over we have officially reached the only-two-more-months mark (cue mild panic!). Somehow, I doubt it will go out like a lamb….

For now,

xoxo

Katie 

February

WELL, as I (and probably many of you guessed) I completely neglected this blogosphere of mine for a chunk of time. What has made me come back to write this fine evening, you ask? Well, midterms of course! Nothing better than a semi-justified procrastination tool! So, a quick run-down of February:

After Paris, we took a day trip to Ronda, a small town not far from Granada and one of the last pueblos to be reconquered by the Christians. Ernest Hemingway called Ronda the most romantic town in the world, and wrote “if you are to visit one place in Spain, this should be it.” From reading in travel books and pictures I had seen, this was a highly anticipated trip for me. And boy, I was not disappointed. It was probably one of the most bizarre/fascinating/romantic places ever created by man and nature. The town is straddles a stunningly dramatic gorge, with nearly vertical walls. Yet, somewhere in history someone decided it was a strategically good move to build the city right up to the edges.  After seeing it and walking along the bridges and walls, I am highly suspicious of this logic. 

Ronda also has some of the most famous bull-fights in Spain and tickets sell out the year before. The ring is also home to a museum and you are able to take tours and actually walk on the ring. Whatever your opinions on bull fighting, hearing our guide speak with such pride and adoration about Ronda’s importance in the history and development of bullfights, the best toreros, their safety, and even the bulls themselves, it really did allow you to at least appreciate that this isn’t something taken lightly in Spain.

Ronda: a glimpse into the past and heart of Spain.

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After Ronda, I travelled to Geneva, Switzerland. After working in D.C. last semester with the Trade Rep, I really wanted to go see the international hub of trade, policy, and general relations.  I went by myself, and about half-way through the first day realized just how much I needed some alone time. I got to walk through the international sector of the city, peeking into the windows of some of the most influential and well-known international organizations. I took a tour of the U.N. which was surprisingly interesting and enjoyable. I gawked at the WTO and watched the sunset over the lake and mountains while wondering who the countless runners were and what significant role they played on the international stage.

I went into the older section of town and was reminded that Geneva was Calvin’s original Presbyterian experiment, and the charming “Old Town” still remains a tribute to these roots in a quintessential European way.

In such a public forum I will not say how much my dinner for one cost, but as a point of reference: 18 franc pizzas were about the least expensive thing you can find anywhere in town (I didn’t order a pizza).  However, my menu did include a list of “wines you have to try before you die.” Needless to say, it was one of the most incredible meals of my life and I passed an hour and half enjoying every bite/sip/minute. 

 I have to say, Geneva was totally my speed, my kind of place. To me, Geneva is a mix of D.C., Paris, and Annapolis. The high-powered jobs and understanding of their importance definitely gives a D.C. workaholic vibe, and the small waterside charm with a sprinkling of restaurants and marinas made reminded me of Annapolis. Add in the French language and food (with chocolate as its own category), the overwhelming sense of luxury and refinement and you can’t ignore the Parisian influence.  A seemingly strange mixture, all coming together in one of the most fascinating and intoxicating cities I can imagine.

Icing on the cake…there are swans in the lake.

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The UN

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UN disarmament roomImage

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I also got to take a day trip from Geneva to Mont Blanc – the highest peak in Europe. I must say, despite the below-freezing temperatures the Alps are definitely one of the most mind-boggling things I have ever encountered and don’t think I will ever forget. You never really expect to see something like that, even though there are pictures to prove that it’s real. While I don’t think I’ll ever ski the five-hour trail complete with ax picks and harnesses down from the summit, I do hope to go back to the Alps for another adventure or two.

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Just one of the many I have….Image

 

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Beer and hot chocolate to warm up!!

The time between these amazing trips was filled with good times in Granada with some great friends, plenty of cafes, bars, hikes, paintings, and even some classes thrown in the mix!!

Technically my parents arrived in February, but I’m just going to save that for March…

For now,

Xoxo

Katie