10 Things, pt. 2

Well, sitting here in the airport it seems I successfully put this off as long as I could, but with good reason. For the past two weeks, if I have been at home, I have been (sort of) studying, so I really did have my priorities straight.

 However, I have now shipped one bag home, checked one, and am carrying two on my way to Venice, Florence, and Rome. While I have been looking forward to this trip for a very long time, I will admit that it has been slightly overshadowed by the big-goodbye. So after this post, I will be turning my full attention to that.

Before doing so, as promised…

Ten things I’m going to miss about Spain:

 

1. Siesta

I know this is terribly stereotypical, but I am definitely going to miss that afternoon nap. I will say that most of the time, I didn’t actually take full advantage of it by going to sleep, but nevertheless it was always a nice time to relax. Although I have discussed some of displeasure with the siesta system from an economic/social point of view, on a personal level I have to admit it is quite nice. Knowing that you don’t have to run anywhere right after lunch, that you can have a coffee, take a stroll, or simply hang around really is a nice sensation. Lunchtime is a mandatory two-hour break whether you like it or not, so you might as well enjoy it…and that’s what the Spanish are doing: enjoying life and enjoying a little siesta.

 

2. Beer for Breakfast, Wine for lunch, Coffee for dessert

I’m sure we all knew this one was coming: the drinks. The seemingly never-ending pouring of the drinks. What pleases me most is that in most places, a beer, a wine, a coffee, and a coke are all roughly the same price. That’s because they are all treated roughly the same way. It’s not unusual to see someone drinking a beer at 10am on any given day because they aren’t drinking it to get drunk: they simply want a beer. It also isn’t strange to see someone drinking a coffee at any given point during the day, even if surrounded by other beer drinkers. Same idea: they just want a coffee more than a beer…it’s a beautiful concept. As someone who has taken on the personal responsibility of fighting America’s drinking laws and culture, I’m going to miss this. Didn’t Ben Franklin tell us that “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”…? Well, if so, the Spanish are much, much happier than we are.

 

3. Food with your Drink

I’m sure we also all knew that this was coming, seeing as how I wrote an entire post about it. Probably one of my favorite aspects of Spanish culture, and I will go so far as to say one of the most civilized acts in the world: a complementary tapa with your drink. It just really makes sense. Everyone is happy. Everyone is buzzed, and full, and chit chatting over food and drink. What more could you want as a proprietor or a customer?? You have one or two, and hop on down the street to the next bar full of people doing the same thing and grab a spot to join in on the fun. Abi and I recently noted that we rarely went back to the same place more than once, simply because there are just so many. It’s something I miss when I go anywhere else in Europe, so I might have to start looking into this business model.

 

4. The Spanish Language

Now, I know in my previous list I said that I was seriously looking forward to the English language again, but I’m shamelessly contradicting myself here because I am also really going to miss Spanish. It’s just plain old fun to be able to speak another language, and I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to spend five months practicing. I’m going to miss the added challenge of communicating, the progress we all made, and the funny stories from when we failed miserably. I’m also not sure what’s going to happen when I can fully understand every conversation happening around me. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to listen to everyone else. It’s a wonderful problem to have, but I’m definitely predicting a few days of Spanish-movie-and-music binges.

 

5. The Sierra Nevada backdrop

A part of me has always wanted to go be a ski-bum somewhere for a year, and I got to fulfill just a little part of that desire this semester (or just made it worse?). For the first time in my life, I actually lived somewhere where the mountains were the backdrop…and what a good one. I remember the first day we drove into Granada, and knowing we were close when all of a sudden one of the largest mountain ranges in Spain popped up. It was still a tell-tale sign every time I came home from a trip, and one of the last things I saw as I drove out of the city center today. As one of my good friends Taylor pointed out, the snow melting on the mountains was just like our time there: fading quickly. Impressive and beautiful, I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for this semester that quickly became more than just a setting.

 

6. Spanish Friendliness

The Spanish are a funny group of people, and the social interactions are simply fascinating to be a part of. However, one of the most beautiful aspects of their culture is the interest that they take in other people. Everyone they meet on the street matters to them, and they like to show it. In cafés, stores, even the gym, people are genuinely interested to hear all about me. They’ll ask me what I’m studying here in Spain, back home in the U.S., how they compare; they’ll ask me about my family, politics, whatever. They really are conversationalists, and part of every interaction is getting to know a little bit more about the person next to them. It’s warm and genuine in a way that’s rare to find in America, but never fear…I’m bringing it with me.

 

7. The Flamenco Spirit

Although originally a gyspy art, you won’t find an Andalusian who can’t at least fake their way through some flamenco. It’s as natural to them as anything, and when music comes on, everyone’s clapping and stomping and it’s one of the most fantastic spectacles you can ever see (and flamenco performances are always called espectacúlos). From the heart pulsing, ear pounding intensity of the professional performances to the softer romance of the performers on the street, flamenco truly has its own spirit. It’s fiery and passionate and tragic all at the same time, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting art form to come from Spain. I couldn’t let my parents leave Spain without having seen it, and they understood why. I would recommend it to be added to any bucket list out there, because I promise you’ll leave with a feeling that is unique to being here in Spain. It’s a spirit that flows through every Andalucian, and now through me as well.

 

8. The Fiesta

Again, another contradiction. I am SO looking forward to happy hours, cocktail parties, and the like, but again, the Spanish have created something truly unique in their nightlife. They are very famous for it, but there is nothing quite like experiencing it. The first time you return home before 4am and your host family thinks you’re a loser it really starts to sink in. The first time you realize it’s 6am and you’re still dancing and not really ready to leave, the fiesta spirit starts to make a little bit of sense. The Spanish just love the nighttime. They love the late nights and dancing until dawn. The love the easy pattern of tapas, bar, club but simply shifted about 4 hours from what we would normally find (mornings after as well). It’s not about being drunk, it’s not even really about the dancing, it’s simply about the Fiesta. It’s a cultural difference that runs much deeper than it appears, and it’s a beautiful sentiment when you figure it out.

 

9. The Alhambra

In Irving Stone’s the Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo repeatedly shares the common Florentine sentiment that one is truly only home “when in sight of the Duomo”. Reading this made sense to me, because it is also how most Granadinos feel about the Alhambra, and I also understand. Perched high on a hill, the “Red City” sits, watching over all of her Granada. No matter where you are, you are rarely out of sight of the Alhambra. At each passing moment, the Alhambra holds a new form of beauty: in the soft morning light, lit from behind the Sierra Nevadas, as the sun sets across the city, pale in the dusk, or shining at night. It is an ever-changing constant, ever beautiful and ever magical. Surrounded by folklore, songs, and legends, the Alhambra has beckoned everyone from kings to peasants, and always sits, waiting. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes goes, “Give the man a coin, woman, for there is nothing worse than to be blind in Granada.” And oh how true this is….

 

10. My friends

They say that a journey is best measured not in miles, but friends. Well, we sure put on the miles but boy did I also find some great friends. And I don’t mean great as in we had a lot of fun going to clubs, yay!! I mean I happened to find a handful of people in Granada with whom I have shared, celebrated, grieved, laughed, drank, discussed, and above all, loved in a way that I could never have predicted. Every time, I think I have found all of the true, wonderful friends that anyone gets to have, and then something like this happens. I think my heart is as full of love and given to so many people it must be done, and then something like this happens. Sure enough, there are even more people now, and it’s easy to say that it’s because of the study abroad and sharing these experiences bonds you quickly. Yet, when I actually think about it, that’s not really it. A part, yes, but really I loved these people so much because of their spirit, their kindness, their honesty, their loving nature, their thoughtfulness. There were many people with whom I shared many interesting experiences and I don’t think of them in nearly the same way. I got lucky, and found some stellar people. Saying goodbye to them was horrible, but we also already have real plans to see each other and I know it won’t be long. Thanks for the memories, amigos.

 

So, cheers Spain, it has been a semester to remember….

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For now,

xoxo

Katie

 

10 Things, pt. 1

I have 15 days left in Granada. Fifteen. Quince. That is 360 hours. I have 360 hours until I say goodbye to some of the most wonderful people and one of the most wonderful places I have been lucky enough to get to know.

Therefore, I am not going to write about my trips to Morocco or Santiago de Compostela just yet. They were magical and probably life-changing, but I just don’t have it in me. Besides, I will probably be able to do a better job in person with most of you. Everyone else…I’ll probably have some time over the summer and want to wax nostalgic and this gives me the perfect excuse.

So, what am I going to write about? I will start with this very important thank you to Amy Templin, who studied abroad last semester and helped me with everything from picking a program, to (very last minute) packing, language barriers, hostels, and getting this blog going. Some of her best advice (that she didn’t know she gave) was about this very alarming time when you suddenly realize that it is coming to an end. 

What she did was, instead of thinking about all of the things to miss, she made a list of the things to look forward to about being home. I’m happy to say, this wasn’t very hard. In fact, some of these things I have been looking forward to for a very long time. However, I will warn you that this is rather long, a little bit sappy, and contains a few peaks into my psyche (sometimes a scary place to be). So I don’t blame you if you turn back now.  

Without further a-do, 10 things I am looking forward to about being back in the US: here goes….

 

1. Fillet, Asparagus, and Crab Cakes

So many people describe studying abroad as a life-changing, soul-altering experience. I might not go that far, butI will go so far as to say that I was able to come to terms with some parts of myself that all of my friends and family will simply look at me blankly and say “well…duh, Katie.”

One such example is how I have come to terms with my pallet. It’s a magical and super-snobby beast that has decided it likes only delicacies and rich flavors. Of course, my parents figured this out when I ordered Steak Diane at age 10. Ten years later, I’m finally embracing it.

My favorite word to describe Spanish food is “hearty.” I feel like it is just the perfect description for this most peculiar Mediterranean-Medieval mixture that the Spanish have come to define as their unique cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, there are some plates that I absolutely love, and am going to prepare when I get back to the States. But let me just sum it by saying that I nearly start to salivate at the though of red meat, a plate-full of fresh vegetables (NOT drenched in olive oil), and ACTUAL BEER. I’m already planning the meals I would like for the first few weeks of being home, and let me tell you, you should start asking for an invite now.

 

2. English

As someone who has never had a problem with language, and moreover, someone who has always enjoyed expressing whatever I wish to express, I can say that not being able to do so has not been easy.

What’s that old saying about never knowing what you have ‘til it’s gone? OH BOY DO I MISS ENGLISH. I miss English because I miss the power that I have with that language. I can say exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it. I can use as much or as little diplomacy as I want, I can add flowery descriptions, I can tug at emotional heartstrings, I can do ANYTHING. Social situations, scholastic situations, even simply being able to order exactly what I want, will once again be smooootthhh sailing. While I can get myself through essentially any situation in Spanish, the ease and comfort and effectiveness with which I can communicate in English…that I have missed.

 

3. Big dogs

It didn’t take me long to notice this one – Spain is seriously lacking in big, beautiful dogs. This makes sense because the people live in dense cities and small “pisos,” and smaller dogs really are more practical. However, the dogs also just aren’t as beautiful.

As it turns out, Americans have an unusual attachment and fondness for our four-legged friends. The Spanish think we’re quite odd for saying that dogs “are man’s best friend;” to them, dogs are dogs. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t mistreat their dogs, but there certainly is a difference. And I can’t begin to explain the odd looks I have received when I wanted to stop and pet another person’s animal. Needless to say, I’m ready for some quality Dodger time.

 

4. My own room

So one thing that I learned about humanity my freshman year of college is that people are not meant to live together. I think it’s against our nature and is the worst thing you can do to another human…

Now, I have heard testament to the contrary, so I will concede that perhaps some people are designed to share quarters, but let me tell you, I do not fall into this category. After an entire year of sharing a room with someone, I am REALLY READY to be by myself again. I am ready for waking up when I want, without having to be quiet and get ready in the dark. I am ready to go to bed when I want, without having to ask to turn off the light or attempt to stumble quietly (oxymoron?) at 4am from a Spanish fiesta. I am ready to relax as you (I) am completely unable to do when you’re constantly aware of another human’s presence. 

Not to mention, how ready I am for my big, memory foam mattress and for all of my pillows that permanently smell a little bit like chlorine from the hot tub. I am ready for my beautiful bay windows and also the black-out curtains that I can cover them with. I ready to have all of that suburbia-American sized space to myself, and to choose to share it only with the cat.

 

5. Peace and Quiet

While this ties into the previous one in a rather obvious way, it also goes a little bit farther. After a semester in DC I thought I needed some peace and quiet. I think this is the only time I have ever longed EVEN MORE for peace and quiet.

It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of Spanish – and especially Andalucian – culture, but it is also one of the most tiring and leads to a general wearing-down process. The Spanish love to live life in the street, and so you are always surrounded by gibber-gabbering teens and grandmas alike, and don’t forget that there is no personal space here.  Needless to say, this only intensifies as you go inside to a restaurant or bar, which are simply overflowing with tapas-seekers, beer drinkers, story tellers, musicians, and any number of semi-circles being invaded as another group wiggles up to the bar.

Unfortunately, there is actually very little respite at home. The constant music of the city comes from the street sweepers, garbage trucks, motorcycles, and mopeds, all of which echo in the small, cramped streets. The only break from this? The crying babies I live with.

Like I said, I could use some peace and quiet.

 

6. Being in the same time zone as (most of) my people

Although simple, I really do look forward to being able to pick up the phone, send a text or an email, and know that we are in exactly the same place and the same time. I don’t have to calculate and coordinate in order to have a simple conversation, and I look forward to not having a bombardment of emails around 2pm when the U.S. wakes up.

 

7. A Government that works

I am sure that all of you reading this in US scoffed (maybe a chuckle if you’re in a good mood), but I am here and ready to defend this statement. I don’t mean to be too critical, but being in Europe, and particularly Spain, I have come to truly appreciate what our Founding Fathers were able to accomplish. I’m going to be honest, it seems more and more like a miracle with each passing news story I come across here. Our government is by no means perfect, but comparatively, we really are leaps and bounds ahead. I’ll leave it there, but can’t wait to use all of English-language skills to wax profound with you over a nice shrimp cocktail and glass of white wine.  

 

8. Diversity

This one took me a little while to put my finger on, but it’s one of aspects of the US I am looking forward to most. For a few weeks, I couldn’t figure it out but something just didn’t feel right. Walking down the streets, at the gym, in bars and cafés, something was missing. Finally, I figured it out: everyone looked the same. Not in a racist, I can’t tell the difference because they’re all Spanish way, but in a very real, logical way. Spanish people are all Spanish. Americans are German and Irish and African and Chinese and Polish and Italian and Mexican and Japanese and all sorts of combinations and mixtures of these heritages.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I have noticed the difference every day I have been here, and I can’t wait to be surrounded by all sorts of faces, body types, skin colors, hair styles, and the general hodge-podge of beauty that is America.

 

9. Friends, and South Carolina

Alright, here come the doozies. I’m very good at having long-distance friendships and relationships because that was how I grew up. Although it doesn’t feel like it, I have actually been away from Charleston for a year now, and that is too long. I miss my friends there: chatting for hours over coffee instead of doing homework, popping into my roommate’s bedroom to see if she needs a study break, going out for “one” beer at CFB, and all of the wonderful memories I have created with some truly special people.

However, thanks to modern technology, staying in touch with people really isn’t that hard. What remains impossible is coming up with a way to satiate the missing of a place. I have been to a lot of amazing, breathtaking places this semester, and I can still say without a doubt that Charleston is my favorite town in the world. There is simply no place like it, and I do love it so. The surrounding low country filled with marshes and winding rivers, lazy days paddle boarding through the changing tides, the palmettos, the thick air scented with jasmine, the cobblestones and the sound of horses’ hooves clopping as carriages roll past… I could go on forever, but I won’t. I won’t be going back right away, but even being just a little bit closer gives me some comfort.

 

10. Family, and PYC

There’s no place like home, and the people you have at home are your family. For the first time, I am missing some of my favorite moments and days and people up at the lake, and I have to say…it hasn’t been easy. Yet, when all is said and done, it will be okay. It will be okay because it is home, and when I picture myself at my happiest, I am there. I am there with the people I love, gathered around the grill, on a deck, at the picnic table, or out on the water. It’s a windy day, a calm evening, a beautiful sunset, or a lazy August afternoon. I’m barefoot, sun-burnt, or warm in front of the fire. All I need to do is listen to those voices I know and love, tell old stories, make new jokes, compare tan lines and boat stickers. These things are such a part of me that even when I am missing, I am there, in the place that will always be home and the people that will always be family. Although it never seems soon enough, I will in fact, be seeing you soon. 

~~~

I am impressed you stuck with this to the end! I will only be writing one more blog post while here and it will be the other side of the 10 list – the ten things I am going to miss most about Spain as I say goodbye. Thanks for being a part of this with me. 

For now,

xoxo

Katie

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

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……

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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

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