Sipping & Sitting in Salamanca

After such a wonderful weekend in Lisbon, I was sad to leave Portugal but I was also looking forward to getting back in Spain. While in Granada, it’s easy to focus on how much farther I have to go with my Spanish, and sometimes feel like the language barrier is a mile wide. However, after spending even a few days in a country where I could pretty much only fumble through ordering in a restaurant, I realize that this is a little bit dramatic because I can’t wait to actually be able to communicate again! It’s a funny little perspective that cheers me up.

After a long drive, I arrived in Salamanca sleepy and hungry. As it was a Monday night after Semana Santa, the hostel was pretty quiet but there were a few leftovers who were happy for some company, so I obliged and went out for some tapas hopping with them until it was socially acceptable to bow out. I actually felt a little bit guilty because the next day I not-so-gracefully blew them off for some peace and quiet as I toured the city solo. However, I can’t even begin to describe what a good choice this was because I had one of the most wonderful days.

The city of Salamanca is pretty small, with its main attraction being the Plaza Mayor, one of the grandest plazas in Spain. A cool cathedral, the oldest Spanish university, and a few pieces of Roman architecture make up the rest of the attractions, and an abundance of jamón and Rioja wine complete a wonderfully Spanish atmosphere.

I spent the morning seeing the sights, and covered most of the city by lunchtime, at which point I wandered up towards the Plaza. After lunch at one restaurant in the Plaza, I skipped to a café a few spots down for coffee and desert. After passing an hour or so there reading, I simply followed the sun around the Plaza. Enjoying the outdoor tables sipping of cañas, munching on tapas, and alternating between reading and people-watching was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Although it may not sound like much, the Plaza is a constant flow of people and life, an outdoor living room for the entire city. Students, old friends, couples, dog-walkers: everyone enjoys through the plaza. Some stop for ice cream, some for a cerveza, many simply plop down in the middle with a group of friends or a sketch pad. I spent hours there, simply enjoying the fact that this is a perfectly acceptable way to spend an afternoon in Spain and the charm of it all.

ImageCathedral (actually two cathedrals, an older and a newer. This is the newer)

 

ImageWith some seriously impressive doors

ImageView of Salamanca from the bell tower

ImageOld Roman bridge

ImagePlaza Mayor

ImageThe Plaza is unique because it is not dedicated to a King/Queen, but rather is “the People’s Plaza” and is lined with reliefs of important and famous Spaniards

ImagePlaza at night

For now,

xoxo

Katie

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On Loving Lisbon

To let you all in on a little secret, when I originally began planning for my study abroad trip, I thought I was going to be able to visit alllll of the countries in Europe, because I could never run out of time or money, right? Well, as the planning got slightly more advanced I realized that this really wasn’t going to happen and I had to narrow down my priorities and what would be easiest. Being right next to Spain, Portugal was always on the list, but at one point while here I though it might have to get cut off, simply because I didn’t have enough weekends. One day, we were sitting in our favorite churros restaurant and I was lamenting over this fact and how hard it was to be me. To my everlasting gratitude, my dear friend Saskia suggested something that had not yet crossed my mind by asking, “if you really want to see something, can’t you skip class to make it happen?”. Why yes, I thought…I can!

So, I decided to extend my Semana Santa/spring break by heading to three of the destinations that were hard for a weekend trip but fit nicely into a week long break: Lisbon, Salamanca, and Santiago. Now, I will say that traveling in Europe as a student (read: cheap and slightly disorganized) is always an adventure, going to a place where you don’t speak the language is always an adventure, and doing so by yourself is always an adventure. Ibso facto, I was in for an adventure!!!

[Sidebar, one of my favorite quotes is: “Attitude makes the difference between an ordeal and an adventure – “ ]

And boy did the adventure start right away!! As I got to my gate at the Sevilla airport and realized that were actually going to be getting on a bus that would take us to the plane. No problem, I’m quite experienced at this exercise thanks to the Charleston airport. I did find it odd, however, that there were only about 12 people on the bus. In fact, I thought, “is this all that’s on the flight? I’m glad they didn’t cancel…” And then we pulled up next to this:

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Please see above quote and here goes an adventure! I’m not going to lie to you, I was a bit nervous. I had never flown in a plane this small, and had definitely never imagined doing so internationally. Our group of twelve consisted of some Brazilians, a couple from Asia, one or two Spanish folk, and a handful of Americans but we all had the same expressions on our faces and nervous laughter going as the pilot climbed into the cockpit right in front of us (he also closed the plane door). I don’t think I’ve ever had such a bond with twelve strangers with whom I never actually exchanged words. But, after takeoff I have to say: HOW COOL. I felt like I was living a movie, watching (and hearing, and feeling) the propellers right next to me, flying into a sunset above the clouds. Not to mention the fact that Portugal has to belong to the top ten aerial views around.

I could see the cliffs, the beaches, the hills, the green expanses of land, the estuaries and peninsulas, and felt my excitement growing every minute. I saw the Lisbon’s twin of the Golden Gate bridge, the burnt-orange roofs, and the famous seven hills and it was all impossible to capture on film…sorry.

I LOVED Lisbon. I LOVED Lisbon. Let me repeat, I LOVED Lisbon. When anyone asks about my favorite cities in Europe/what not miss I will always recommend Paris because I think it is a place that everyone should see. My very next suggestion: Lisbon.

Let me start with something easy: I think that Portuguese is the most beautiful language in the world. I had expected to be able to sort of communicate, because of the roots that Spanish and Portuguese share. Upon the first few interactions I had, I reared back in fright because I realized just how mistaken I was. Now, after my initial shock, I was able to pick up on a few more of the similarities and could get the jist of what was being said. Through a series of events, I learned that Portuguese in Portugal (as compared to Brazil) is much more difficult to understand, even for Brazilians. I would compare it to the difference between American English and Irish or Scottish English. However, it is more beautiful and probably my favorite language. The best way I can describe it is a combination of Italian, French, and Spanish…and the best parts of these languages. Roots of Spanish, sounds of French, and the melody of Italian. *swoon*

Next, the seafood is INCREDIBLE. Granted, I like to treat myself while traveling so I go to some nice restaurants, but there was never a restaurant that didn’t have an impressive offering of fresh cod, prawns, and other freshly-dead seafood prepared in a myriad of ways. In fact, one of the restaurants I ate in had a fresh seafood bar (like you would see in a grocery store) where you actually just pointed to what you wanted. I got some fresh clams paired with a salmon, asparagus, crispy tomatoes, and kingcrab salad. Top ten meals of my life, and the previous dinner is probably also included in that very prestigious list. Here are my shamelessly instagramed foodie pictures:

ImageThe very famous, and very delicious Pasteis de Nata, the national pastry of Portugal. BUT, only in their original neighborhood, Belém they are called “Pasteis de Belém.

ImageCod, cod everywhere!! Here, au gratin…sinfully delicious.

ImageSee your food, pick your food, eat your food

ImageThe clams and salad I had

And, Lisbon itself is one of the more wonderful cities I’ve seen. To borrow the perfect adjective from my good friend Rick Steves, (he’s actually the author of my travel guide books – aka my Holy Bible), Lisbon is best described as “salty.” Not in the new colloquial form meaning bitter, no no no….salty. As in the place where the golden age of discovery began, where the national image is their beloved caravel (ships), old-fashioned port wine flows freely, seafood abounds, and the paint on houses is worn from sun, wind, and salt. Salty.

Obviously, I was a goner. I hope every sailor, every person who has ever fallen in love with the ocean, every person who has ever dreamt of pirates, or felt the slightest lure for adventure to visit this city. Its monuments are impressive yet its people humble, and you can eat, drink, and explore your way through a glorious past.

I happened to take a lot of pictures, so I figured I should just let you see some of those for yourself.

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ImageSt. Jeronimo’s Monastery – inside

ImageMonastery outside

ImageMonastery from the park across the street

ImageView for lunch….not too shabby

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ImageMonument to the Discoveries

ImageTorre de Belém (watch tower/customs stop/welcome home beacon of Lisbon)

 

World’s best Maritime Museum:

(I’m sure) – like a kid in a candy store!!

ImageI bought a replica of this beautiful map

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ImageVasco de Gama figurehead

ImageCoach Museum: filled with old carriages from Popes and Royalty alike

ImageEntrance to the major shopping/eating/people watching (clearly ^) areas

ImageJust some of Lisbon’s charm…

And an afternoon of climbing hills and vistas:Image

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ImagePeacocks wander around the old castle….oh Lisbon.

ImageOldest continuously running book store in the world

ImagePretty good view for a sunset

ImageI was very sad to be leaving, but I got to enjoy a beautiful drive through the country….

For now,

xoxo

Katie

 

Semana Santa

So, I am skipping my review of Morocco for the time being. I found I wanted to say too much and yet never enough but I didn’t want to fall too behind. Regardless, for those of you who don’t know after Morocco I had one day in Granada to experience some of Semana Santa (it was enough) and then I was taking off for a week between Lisbon (Portugal), Salamanca, and Santiago de Compostela (both back in Spain).

However, I am going to break each of these up because I already know I want to talk about each of them separately.

To begin I am actually going to start with a great 24 hours back at home base in Granada. The majority of Spanish holidays stay true to their Christian roots, but probably none more so than Semana Santa – Holy Week. Especially in Andalusia, Semana Santa takes the cake for religiosity and splendor that only a week-long holiday can bring. And they really do take the whole week off, and every day there are three or four processions. These processions involve carrying or rolling large ‘floats’ through the streets, which are actually more along the lines of giant altars with different religious figures telling the very solemn story of Catholic Easter.

If you are already finding this review to be steeped in pagan skepticism, you would be astute. While I really am able to appreciate these spectacles for their cultural value, I did not feel as though I needed to be a part of it, and decided I wanted to appreciate from afar…as in another country.

 Anyway, the altars are all designed in the typical baroque/gothic mixture of Spanish style, which I have always found to be one of the most aesthetically displeasing style of art and architecture. The members of the processions are dressed in costumes that are at best, peculiar, and at worst terrifying. The majority are dressed in long robes and wear tall pointed hats…just like the Klan. Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful aspects of this week in regards to religion, tradition, family, and the general Spanish fiesta spirit.

Luckily, I was there for one of the local favorite processions: Del Silencio. This procession happens Thursday night, and is the procession that mourns Christ’s death. All of the houses and restaurants turn off their lights and go silent as the procession passes, so all that lights the way are the traffic lights (on the major streets). All of the processors are dressed in all black, and carry candles along their vigilant way. I knew all of this ahead of time, so it wasn’t so bad. However, after the altar with Jesus, there came a group of processors who were wearing chains around their ankles. The sound dragging on the street was none too pleasant. But, this is one of the favorites due to the emotion and power, and I can assure you that this was successfully achieved. We were able to have front row seats, making it all the better and at the front of the procession so we didn’t have to wait as long.

To be fair, the mood lightened immediately upon the procession passing, as what one friend described as “the sound of rushing water” began as everyone started to chat again following behind the somber procession, and jumped into line for gelato and another cerveza….what can I say, la vida española!

Like I said, I am very happy it worked out so that I could see the procession because it is a very important piece of Spanish, and particularly Andalusian, culture. And after experiencing it, I am glad I got to hop on a plane to Portugal!!!

 Unfortunately, I only have one picture because the lights were off and using a flash seemed insensitive, but it turned out pretty well:  

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And just to show you what I was talking about (this came from Google):

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More to come soon!!

For now,

xoxo

Katie

Adventures Along the Mediterranean

Well, wordpress was kind enough to remind me that “It’s been a couple of weeks since your last post – We’re sure a lot has happened. Why don’t you write about it.” So thanks WordPress.

To close out the lioness that was March, we took a long weekend trip up to what I will forever refer to as the City of Dreams, Barcelona. I will always call it this because it actually looks like it came out of someone’s dreams (that would be Señor Gaudi). The majority of the city’s main attractions seem as though they belong in a Dr. Suess theme-park, not one of Europe’s major cities. And oh my, what an interesting contrast to the rest of Spain. Now this actually makes quite a bit of sense seeing as how Cataluña does not actually want to be a part of the rest of Spain. With a different language, a different economy, and a much stronger international influence, it’s hard not to see their arguments for wanting independence. And of course, I’m a sucker for any city that rallies around a sports team, and there are few places that do so quite like Barcelona. The politics of the region with this city as the epicenter absolutely fascinate me, but I’ll save Spanish politics for another time…

A city of color, mosaics, beaches, and of course fútbol, I think it’s impossible to have a bad time in Barça.

ImageOf course we went to the beach first

ImagePark Guell……

ImageMore Guadi views

ImageBen, Katie, Danny

ImageBarcelona’s famous open market

ImageTook advantage of the international flair with some Starbucks!!!

The first weekend in April, we had planned to spend the weekend enjoying one of Granada’s best features: its proximity to both the mountains and the beaches. What people fondly call “ski to sea,” you can experience the Sierra Nevada mountain range (2nd tallest in Europe after the Alps) and the Mediterranean Sea in the same weekend or even day. We figured this would be the best weekend for average weather in both places, and we were definitely right. We decided not to go skiing (see: foot with possible stress fracture would not have fit into ski boots), but got to spend the morning on a hiking trail, enjoying the serenity of the mountains and simply not being in the city. It wasn’t too cold but we were wearing gloves and plenty of layers. So, to be sun tanning on the beach a few hours later really was something. And I sure have missed the beach!! Almuñecar, a quick hour bus ride from Granada is actually a pebble beach. You can imagine my skepticism, but my west coast friends assured me I would be fine. As it turns out, they were right and I actually really enjoyed it. The rocks are beautiful – all sorts of colors and shapes from the ocean, and were more comfortable to lay on than I ever could have imagined. It was essentially like getting a hot stone massage for free, so I’d chalk that up to a win.

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A little “padding for our boots” before heading to the beach!

ImageDriving to the Mediterranean

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As the adventure has entered “the countdown” stage, I am about to head off to Morocco, Lisbon, Salamanca, and Santiago, so wordpress might have to remind me to write again…

For now,

xoxo

Katie