Well folks, after being publically and sarcastically castigated on Facebook about how disappointingly short my last blog post was, I’ll attempt to redeem myself by being slightly more detailed this time. This past week, BYU Universe had a “contest” of sorts asking people to send in pictures of a their days for a spread about the daily life of BYU students. We received emails about it and everyone was pretty excited to do it, but due to the fact that I had no internet to be able to send in a picture, as well as that I forgot my camera battery in my suitcase which is currently a resident in the peaceful dark silence of the bottom of the bus [can I trade places?], participation on my part didn’t end up happening. But it’s okay, because I’ll do my own personalized “day in the life” spread here (4 days squeezed into 1, actually) and then feel good about myself when my mom comments on it about how I’m her favorite daughter [cough cough].
06:00 Early morning rain and cold cereal: Alcalá de Henares
It has been unseasonably rainy here for the past few weeks, and all the Spanish mothers are up in arms. They are confined to their houses, convinced all of us are committing suicide because we get our heads wet, and their laundry schedule is drastically hindered. I swear a pair of my pants has been hanging outside…in the rain… to dry for at least two weeks. I don’t think they’re getting back to me anytime soon. On the bright side though, I love the rain. It’s a little bit dreary every once in a while, but it also makes the dirty streets and run-down apartment buildings of Alcalá feel so much more European for some reason. We woke up early to head down to South Wednesday morning, grateful not to have to go to class, and headed out on our way.
07:45 Mastering the art of averting company
Every weekend, as I’m sure you well know by now, all 18 of us girls crowd into a large bus to go on our next adventure. Some buses are luxurious, some have tables that everyone competes for, some smell like port-o-potties, and some are just too dang small. Call us slightly spoiled [no denial here] but no one really likes to have to share seats for such long rides, and every time you get on the bus, you just hope and pray that you’re not one of the unlucky girls who has to ask to share a seat with someone else because all the rows are already occupied by single inhabitants. Apparently I am either untouchable or I have developed certain methods of discouraging people from sitting with me, because I always end up with a seat to myself. It’s great because I can have the occasional visitor who wants their hair braided or wants to study or simply chat, as well as spread out and take a semi-comfortable and spacious nap.
09:00 Rest stops: no truckers here
The rest stops here in Spain are extremely luxurious. They all have good food and clean bathrooms and never have creepy white trash walking around looking like they just took a dip in an infected cesspool. Most of them have internet too! I always love walking through them and seeing all the different types of foreign snacks and candies and specialties from the current areas we are in.
09:15 Manchego and wine: On The Road
This weekend we drove through an area called “la mancha”, known for its windmills, wine production, and manchego cheese. I sat in the very front of the bus for a fair amount of the drive right next to the bus driver because I was feeling carsick, and I had a pretty good history lesson from him. This was the area where Christopher Colombus rode his “burrito” through in order to speak with Queen Isabella, who was currently dealing with the “Muslim problem”, in order to receive funds to explore the New World. Antonio, the bus driver, also informed me that the people down south are friendlier, more open, and happier. If he could live anywhere, he would live here, but his family is in Madrid so that’s where he stays. He also emailed me a bunch of writings by Jose Luis Borges that he just happened to have on his phone when I told him that I was really interested in philosophy and the human thought process. They are actually incredibly interesting, but deciphering is slow because this Spaniard was extremely eloquent and liked to use archaic words that even confound the dictionary sometimes. Thus proceeded our long journey proceeded to Córdoba, the Muslim capital of Spain for over 900 years, the place where Orlando Bloom filmed the movie Kingdom of Heaven. Yeah, bad contrast of detail, I know.
11:00 A man caught in a Woman’s World: Córdoba
For the second time ever, we had a male tour guide take us around Córdoba, which was a definite change of scenery. He reminded me of a Spanish version of Bill Cosby and Mr. Rogers for some reason, and was a cheery man indeed. Rather than being suffocated by the barbaric and illiterate Dark Ages, Córdoba was known for being a sort of “haven” for enlightened thought, religious tolerance, arts and sciences, and a dedication to philosophy. We only spent a few hours in Córdoba, visiting the famed mosque-turned-cathedral Mezquita, which truly was stunning. It was really one of the first legitimate Arabic mosques that we had seen, and I felt like I was in a forest of stone pillars and brick arches. It’s pretty cool actually, mosques are constructed very differently than cathedrals, in attempts to allow the person praying to get “lost” amongst the pillars, as if they were in a grove, while cathedrals place more emphasis on the priest and the sermon.
Although the mosque was built in the 10th century, the Catholics came in during the 16th and destroyed a large part of it, putting a small cathedral smack in the center in order to Christianize it. Impressively, when the King found out about the destruction of part of the mosque, he was infuriated because he said they had destroyed something unique and beautiful for something so simple, and it could never replaced. That’s a pretty big deal for a Catholic to say, especially during a time when the Arabs weren’t exactly loved in Spain. We also walked through the Jewish Quarter, which was filled with tiny narrow streets, white buildings with blue trim, and so many beautiful flowers! Everything was incredibly colorful and picturesque, even with the constant drizzling rain.
2:00 Lost in the “kissing lanes”: Sevilla
Every Spanish town seems to have a Jewish Quarter of some sort, and recently I learned that often the infamously narrow streets are called “kissing lanes”, because the buildings and walls are so close together that as you pass people going the opposite way, you have to squeeze past them and invade their personal space. Luckily for the Spaniards though, the personal bubble is permeable and almost nonexistent. The hardest part about these streets is maneuvering them in umbrellas, which is quite the art. When you pass, men usually lift their umbrellas up for women to walk with their own underneath, which is a little piece of etiquette that I had never known before. Once again, it rained the entire time while in Sevilla, but it didn’t put much of a damper on anything. I went to scout out a good flamenco show with two other girls and Malcolm (he’s on the BYU Study Abroad board…very nice, but I can’t quite figure him out. I think he’s sort of stuck in an age-identity-crisis and reminds me a lot of that awkward-kid-in-your-chemistry-class. While he’s very interesting to talk to, unfortunately he lacked necessary directional abilities, so we were lost in the narrow maze of streets with saturated boots for a pretty good amount of time. I loved it though. The whole city is enchanting.
13:45 Stamping feet and clapping hands: Sevilla
There is literally no better way to describe Flamenco. Perhaps picturing a scary angry Spanish housewife snapping at her misbehaving children while her husband is sitting on a chair wailing drunkenly might suffice too, but I’m sure you have the general idea. I am overjoyed that I can say I got to watch a traditional flamenco performance in a vine-covered musulman plaza in Sevilla, although I will not claim to be an enthused fanatic of the art – at least the clapping and stomping and singing part. I cannot get enough of Spanish guitar though. It makes me want to go back to the Parc Guell in Barcelona.The dancing is incredibly impressive; I cannot even begin to imagine how many years of practice and control it must take to be able to move so fiercely, sharply, yet gracefully all at the same time.
Feet flying and faces stricken with intense emotion, framing both masculinity and femininity in striking movements, it was stunning. Several of the girls were drooling over the sweaty, long-haired flamenco dancer the whole time (50 Shades of Flamenco, anyone?) but I’ll have you know, he was definitely not my type. I was amazed both at how much noise three people could make, as well as how well they kept beet with such rapid clapping. However, I was less enthused by the locals who took the party outside and sang and danced outside my window all night long and didn’t cease until 6am when I had to wake up.
14:00-Eternity: The longest tour in the history of humanity: Sevilla
Over seven years ago, I walked through the same plaza, through the same towering cathedral doors of the largest Gothic church in the world, with my family. This cathedral is actually the third-largest church in Europe, after St. Peter’s at the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London, but in all honesty, it looks quite similar to every other cathedral that I’ve ever been in. It holds the tomb of Columbus (which, apparently, only carries a little part of his body because rumor has it that he’s actually spread across Europe in different cathedrals. Sick.
I was able to climb the Giralda Tower once again to see a beautiful, although extremely misty, view of Sevilla for the second time in my entire life. The tower, in all its glory of 35 stories, was climbed 5 times a day by the poor guy who had to do the call to prayer. Luckily for him though, he got to ride a horse up there because it was built with ramps rather than stairs. Want to see some nice calves? Check out ours now that they’ve grown two sizes after climbing that dang tower. Afterward, our mercilessly long tour took us through the Alcázar, which was built by the Muslims but still functions as the oldest royal palace in Europe. With peacocks and koi fish everywhere I turned and the amazing smell of oranges coming from all of the trees, I was pretty much in heaven. Except… it felt like I was in a shower, because the downpour was relentless.
16:00 Stuck in the 70’s: Sevilla
Not that this is really important, but I just thought I’d mention that our hotel in Sevilla was legitimately trapped in the tacky 70’s era, featuring that weird rusty orange paint paired with dark wood, funky light fixtures, and even weird flower-patterned bed sheets. To complete the feel, Sarah and I went to an even tackier Chinese restaurant for dinner, which played awkward Chinese love ballads the entire time. The food was fantastic, the ambience, however, was slightly disturbing.
16:30 Visiting Naboo: Sevilla
One of my favorite places in Sevilla is probably the Plaza de España. Aside from being gorgeous, with boats and colored tiles and a gigantic fountain, this was where Anakin, Padme, and R2-D2 arrive in Naboo to pay a visit in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I didn’t recognize it until I went back home and looked up the scene on YouTube (part 8, if anyone was wondering), which made me realize I should probably go back and watch everything again. There were also several horse-drawn carriages lined up waiting to take people around the beautiful plaza, and it made me and the other girls think about how we all want our lovers to take us on dates to ride in carriages to see the lights at the Salt Lake Temple, go get hot chocolate, and then watch a movie on a cold snowy night. Sounds great, right?
18:00 Breaking the curse: Granada
When I visited Granada last time with my family, we made the fatal mistake of attempting to buy tickets to go and tour the Alhambra later in the day, only to find out that they had been sold out. Slightly defeated, we still got to see it from the outside. This time around however, I was able to go in, and I really, truly wish my family had been here with me to see it. The architecture was stunning and every room and garden blew me away. I wished so badly that I could have seen it with all of the tapestries, rugs, incense, pillows, and people actually living in it. Some history: The Alhambra is a Moorish palace and the last standing Moorish stronghold in Europe. It is covered in magnificently crafted stucco, rich colors, tiles, lavish gardens, and filled, let me repeat, absolutely filled with decorations that all utilize water. There are pools, waterfalls, streams, doors, EVERYTHING, wherever you turn. As an old Spanish saying goes, “Give him a coin, woman, for there is nothing worse in this life than to be blind in Granada.” After touring the Alhambra, which was definitely one of the most amazing places I have visited here in Spain, truly the “jewel” of the country, as our director put it, I was allowed the pleasure of watching tourist after tourist being attacked by the gypsies that roam so freely in this area. It honestly appalled me at how many people fell for the tricks of these sneaky women, and I almost felt bad for them. Had they never read any tour book or website at all, warning them of these thieves? The gypsies would target their victim, go up and start sticking sprigs of rosemary in their hands and clothes, and then demand money from them, hooking on like a leach and asking for more and more. If you have ever seen Spirited Away, it sort of reminded me of the scene where the girl is feeding the spirit and he grows larger and larger, becoming greedier and greedier, getting more and more violent. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Go watch it.
18:55 The walk of the sad ones: Granada
Apparently some members in our group have a knack for getting lost, which can often get extremely irritating when you have to backtrack for what seems like hours. In search of an Arab market, known as the Alcaicería (originally a Moorish silk market), we ended up on the complete other side of the city. I was somewhat annoyed at first, because I had been saying it was in the other direction for a good 40 minutes but no one had listened, but it turns out that getting lost wasn’t all that bad. We found ourselves walking along the river below the beautifully lit up Alhambra atop the ridge of the mountain. This route was originally called the “Paseo de los Tristes”, or rather, “The Walk of the Sad Ones”, where funeral processions would travel towards the cemetery on the edge of town. It was gorgeous, even in the pouring rain. Eventually, after further investigation, we made it back to the Albayzín (the Arab market), and several shop owners had the pleasure of helping us out of our money.
19:00 Free hookah!
I ate at a fantastic little Arab restaurant while in the Moorish Quarter, and am now extremely excited to go home and make barenjenas, which are flavorful and spicy fried eggplant(s?) and hummus…flavored with lime! I would have never expected that little addition, but the lime seemed to make all the difference. It could be that this meal was the most flavorful that any of us had eaten during our time here in Spain, and all of us were in heaven. As we were leaving the restaurant, the waiter stopped some of us and handed us his card, making sure to let us know that if we ever wanted it, he would let us smoke free hookah in the back lounges. What a generous offer, right? We thanked him and gladly went on our way.
20:00 An offer we couldn’t refuse… [Granada]
In the South, there are many brotherhoods, or fraternities, if you will, in the universities that are a pretty big deal. Basically, they are groups of men [locals call them "tunas"] from different schools, such as the school of medicine, of law, of literature, etc., etc. that travel around singing songs and partying. [Instead of studying…because getting drunk and walking around in tights and medieval robes carrying guitars is much more productive] These men range anywhere from the age of 20 to over 65, and all have absolutely mastered the art of womanizing. I have mentioned several times about how deprived everyone has been feeling on this group because we are out of the dating scene and so detached from everyone at home, and just as our luck would have it, a whole band of singing med students and professors were staying at our very same hotel. We all got pictures with them and they sang us songs and even let us wear their capes. It got pretty creepy though because there were so many of them, which I guess made them extremely confident, so while going to our rooms they would come out of theirs, saying “Copa! Copa!”, offering us shots. When they found out we didn’t drink [everyone here in Spain has heart attacks when they hear this], they told us that their alcohol was Sprite, so we could drink it. Yeah, I think not. Some cornered us and tried to sing us love songs, some grabbed our hands and wanted to dance, and another told us his room was open all night long. Oh joy. We all thought it was hilarious, but still, it was weird…and a little bit sketchy. One of them couldn’t really seem to keep their hands where they should be while I was taking pictures with them either, but luckily some of the girls caught it on camera so we have some comical proof of my public rejection. Good times, good times.
20:00 They might be giants: the long road home
On our journey back home to Alcalá, we stopped along the way to visit the famous series of windmills in La Mancha that are so celebrated and essential to the grand story and adventures of Don Quixote. We took a pictures and attempted to stay grounded while fighting the relentless wind, then listened to Profe Meredith read the passage where Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho first encountered these windmills and proceeded to attack them since Don Quixote was so convinced that these windmills were, in fact, giants. We also taught one girl what to do when literally zero bathrooms are available and there’s an emergency. Life lessons, right?
22:00 The first of many lasts
And this is it. My very last weekend trip here on this program is officially over, and as I sit in my room attempting to postpone studying for several final exams, I can’t help but think that I am going to miss this place very much. It will be nothing short of a bittersweet goodbye, and I am so grateful that I have had the chance to be here. Five more days, and I will be with my family in this beautiful country. I wish I could just fast forward through my tests and be with them already!
Also, check out the gallery for this post (just by clicking on one of the pictures)…there are a lot that I uploaded that aren’t visible on the blog because I got lazy. I don’t really know why all of the pictures are weird sizes or messed up either. Ugh. Fail.
Oh! The video for this trip is finally finished! Check it out!