Monday, March 30, 2009

For a grand total of 75 hours on the bus. Worth it? Every minute.

Someone calculated the time we spent on our tour bus over the last three months...75+ hours. Something to be proud of? I'd say so. In 3 months we got to see all of the cities that people usually come from around the globe to see PLUS all of the cities that people don't come to see so often.
Last week we made our final excursion. We left on Tuesday, only having to suffer through one day of school that week. How am I ever going to go back to classes every day of every week!
Our first stop was Avila. The wall in the picture below is the oldest standing wall in Spain...and we walked on top of it. We stayed the first night in Salamanca. For those of you who've seen the movie Vantage Point...this is it! We spent a good part of the day in this Plaza. It was here that I had the best meal of the trip with some of my favorite girls! We sat next to a window that looked out over the Plaza, watched the sunset and talked about anything and everything for hours. I'm going to miss these moments of Spain- just soaking up the culture.
The picture below is of the Galician countryside. Green. Rolling hills. It is so beautiful and so completely opposite of Southern Spain! There is a strong Celtic influence in this region, for example bagpipes are a very common instrument.
I now have to explain what a pilgrimage is. For hundreds of years Catholics have been making a pilgrimage to Santiago. They start at various places, some hundreds of kilometers away and hike their way along the French/Spain border. All along the way are villages for these pilgrims to stop and rest and get a stamp on their pilgrim passport (if you will) As we drove through the country we saw several modern day pilgrims with their fancy hiking boots and walking sticks.

We stopped in this teeny tiny village at the top of a hill on our way to Santiago. It was quite the experience. It was just us (24 awkward BYU students), the locals (all 5 of them- just going about their daily tasks- my favorite was the woman peeling the potatoes in the kitchen just have to see the picture for this one), and the pilgrims who were taking a rest along the trail. Celtic music was blaring from somewhere and though we stuck out like a sore thumb, I felt like in the few moments that we were there we got to see the true countryside of Galicia.
Santiago de Compostela. This was probably my favorite stop during the week. This cathedral is the FINISH LINE for the pilgrims! While we were there we witnessed several taking their last few steps on the trail- what a cool sight. (I think a pilgrimage is in the future for me...I'm sure it's ok for a Mormon to make a Catholic pilgramage, right?) While we were there we attended the daily Mass, sitting amongst pilgrims. The whole day there was this guy sitting on the steps around the corner from the cathedral playing the bagpipes. (Another thing I'll miss so badly- everywhere we go whether it's the busy streets of the city, the quiet plazas or the crowded metro tunnels there are always performers playing basically every kind of instrument or singing. It adds so much to life.) We also had an amazing dinner here in Santiago, however the portion sizes lead me to believe that the restaurant was meant for pilgrims who had just finished the trail. Also, one night we went back to the cathedral because profe. had told us about a concert that night. The pews were full and the concert was beautiful, consisting of an orchestra and choir. Though I've been amazed by every cathedral I've seen, so often they are dark and sad. What a nice change it was to see the cathedral full of light and hear beautiful music echoing up to the tall ceilings!
Our last stop was in Leon. The picture below is of a cathedral...naturally...but the cool thing about this one is all of the stained glass. Supposedly there is more stained glass than bricks. Whether this is true I know not, but it's beautiful all the same. You can see the shadow of the flying buttresses through this window- which are necessary to sustain the walls due to all of the stained glass...
Outside of this cathedral was a plaza (of course!) We were there right at the BEST part of the day! School must have just gotten out because it was FULL of kids in their school uniforms and cute little jump suites. Though it was MASS CHAOS and we were constantly doging soccer balls it was so fun to be a part of it all!

Well this is my last post for a while. The next few will be full of new experiences from different countries, with different cultures and very different languages. I have so much to say about my time in Spain but that will have to wait as I am still in denial that it's almost over! So for now...wish me luck. Hasta luego.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A 24 hours unlike any other.

Wow...this was possibly the most exciting 24 hours of my life here in Spain. We left at 7 in the a.m. on Thursday to go to Valencia to witness Las Fallas. This is a celebration that goes on for 2 weeks...and we were going to be there for the very last (and most insane) night.

At 2 in the afternoon EVERYONE crowded in the plaza to watch the fireworks that kind of initiated the day off. We could NOT move! It was just a sea of people in front and behind us- good thing I'm not claustrophobic! (To the right of the picture is a ninot. I'll explain more later...) The fireworks started and what made them incredible wasn't their colors or size...but the NOISE! It was the kind that you can feel in your whole body that literally makes your heart stop! It lasted for what seemed like forever. All day long we heard firecrackers going off. (Really loud firecrackers!) The best way to describe this day was like a mix between Disneyland + the 4th of July... x 10! We had all day to kill before the real show we went to a Bull Fight! Valencia is known for having some pretty incredible fights, so we went for it. It was an experience like none other. The Spaniards eyes were literally glued to the fights- I didn't realize how important (still today) bull fighting is in the Spanish culture. In 2 1/2 hours we saw 6 fights made by 3 different matadors. They were all unique with different styles..but the second one was the most fun to watch. He was very dramatic in his movements, and you could tell that he just knew he was good.

Though it was at times gory and difficult to watch...I am so glad that I got to witness this. It is such a HUGE part of the Spanish culture- not only as a sport but as a form of art. The costuming, movements and processions during the bull fight were so classy (a word one might not associate with a bull fight...but it's true!)

This statue is called a ninot (or falla) All throughout the year organizations and companies work on creating these ninots. There are over 300 of them spread throughout Valencia. Some are small, some get as tall as a 4 story building! Traditionally las fallas was a time for all of the local people to bring out their winter trash and rubble to burn in preparation for Spring. Somehow it has escalated to this. These fallas can cost up to HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of Euros. Only one is chosen as the best...and the rest...become a huge bonfire! The streets were FULL of vendors, performers, food stands selling Churros and Paella and PEOPLE.
We staked out our spot waiting for 1 a.m. to roll around to watch the falla (in the picture above) get put on fire. There were tons of firefighters washing down walls and trees in preparation. To initiate the fire there was a HUGE display of fireworks. We were RIGHT underneath it! The fireworks were not only so bright but once again there was the deafening sound that echoed all around the streets. Then all of the sudden the ninot burst into flames! This fire literally stood 5 stories tall. The heat was so intense! I have definitely NEVER experienced anything like this before. Once the show was over...we were again stuck. We couldn't move 5 inches. Somehow our group managed to stay together through the MASSES of people and back to the bus! We drove through the night and arrived back in Alcala just as the sun was rising- 24 hours after we'd left the morning before. What a night to remember.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

País Vasco

The month of march is nothing but traveling for us! Though at times it is exhausting to travel, the experiences I am having are well worth the hours spent on a bus.

This week we ventured to Bilbao. Along the way we made some pretty amazing stops. Our first stop was Burgos. We only spent the afternoon there but it was a nice break. The architecture was so quaint and it sat next to a river (which was just to the right of the picture below) We visited the Cathedral of Burgos which is a Gothic styled cathedral and the burial place of "El Cid."

Yes I did say this town was cute and quaint...but it was! This was just a small demonstration made by what looked like teenagers and young adults that none of us can quite figure out what it was about. I grabbed a few photos before the police told us to stop.

Our next stop was Pamplona. We were only there for the night but I have to make note that Pamplona is where the "running of the bulls" takes place. For those of you who don't know what that is... well it takes place in the summer and basically they let several bulls run loose through the streets of Pamplona. Anyone who is brave enough will get in the bulls path and try to outrun them! A site to see I'm sure!

Though we were literally less than an hour from the France border we had to keep moving to make it so our next stop...which was my FAVORITE.

San Sebastian! Apparently the weather had been terrible in the days prior...but somehow we got lucky enough to be there on a day that was beautiful! We all sat on the beach (some swam in the still freezing water) for so long just soaking up the sun. Some of us hiked to the top of a small hill to get this view.
I was amazed at how fast the tide came in! All of this sand had been dry literally a half hour before. Unfortunately, some beach goers didn't realize how quickly the water was rising. We watched as the water crept closer and close to one woman who had fallen asleep on top of her sleeping bag. Other people who saw the situation unfolding ran to tell her...but unfortunately it was too late! The water had surrounded her, soaking her sleeping bag, book and clothing. Grumbling she got up and slowly moved her stuff about 20 feet away and continued sun bathing. About 8 minutes later..the same thing happened. You'd think she would have learned her lesson after it happened 3 times!!

Our final stop was Bilbao! I wasn't sure what to expect. First of all, driving through the countryside was so beautiful! The hills were full of green trees, sheep and homes that reminded me more of Germany. We got to Bilbao which was set down in a valley. We came in above it so we got to see the whole city from above. Such a cool view.
The next morning we set out with one thing in find the Guggenheim!! It was just down the street from our hotel so we walked there along the river watching the rowers practicing. The Guggenheim was an incredible structure (it actually reminded me a lot of the EMP in Seattle) Unfortunately the batteries in my camera died..but I was able to get a few good shots!


I'm a little here is an update from about the last 2 weeks.
We spent the majority of the week before last in Barcelona. It was the first time we had really traveled far North of Madrid. It was quite different from the South to say the least. We had entered into the Catalonian region where they speak Catalan (a mix of Spanish and French). Here are a few of my favorite highlights from BARCELONA!
The Mercat - Mercado- Market...
It was similar to the one in Valencia in that it was just a mix of anything and everything. Though the Valencian market was bigger, this one was by far more exciting! The colors were brighter, and there were so many different types of fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables and spices, but most exciting of all was the fish. Everywhere I looked there were eyeballs staring back at me...the worst part of all was that some of the unidentifiable sea creatures were still alive, legs and arms moving all around! (I took plenty of pictures...but I'll spare you the grossness!)

The Sagrada Familia! After spending hours studying this cathedral in Humanities and Interior Design classes I finally got to see it in person! It's indescribable! Gaudi was the man with this dream. All of his inspiration came from nature and as you learn about the different influences, the cathedral becomes that much more amazing. He didn't want it to be "blocky" and linear like so many other churches. He preferred rounded, softer lines. The sad thing is that he was killed in a tragic accident before it could be completed. He hadn't really written down his ideas for the cathedral so the dream was basically lost. Those who have continued his work have had to kind of make it up as they go. I hate when there are cranes in my photos (which are ALL OVER Spain by the way...) but this time it was inevitable as they have been there for literally decades. Who knows when this masterpiece will be finished...or if it ever will! El Parque Güell- Another Gaudi gem. He loved this park so much he built his home in it. I felt like I was in Disneyland/a Dr. Seuss book! Gaudi is famous for his mosaic artwork which was all over the park. It was so fun to just enjoy the sunshine, the people and the musicians serenading us!
Plaza España-Every night the fountains in the Plaza España turn on for an incredible show! We watched it our last night in Barcelona and it was the best way to end our trip. The weather was awesome so we joined with hundreds of other people sitting on the stairs watching the fountain show put to some good tunes.

(It's hard to tell just how big this fountain actually was from this picture)

Sunday, March 1, 2009


After a long week of midterms I was so ready to get away! It was our "free weekend" for the month so a group of 7 of us decided to leave the Iberian Peninsula and head for the Balearic Islands! After a short 50 minute plane ride we landed in Mallorca. We took a short (but eventful) bus ride to Palma and looked around town. We couldn't pass by the opportunity to have some helado (ice cream) and try out the pastry most famous of Mallorca: Ensaimada. We looked around town some more but all we knew was that this weekend was going to be a cathedral/museum free weekend. All we wanted to do was enjoy the sun on the beaches of the Mediterranean.
We left Palma and headed for the Port De Pollenca (where we would be staying) We got there in the evening and first found our accommodations: Hostal Paris. (I'm not sure why it was called Hostal Paris when it was run by British people and it's located on a Spanish speaking island?) Regardless it was 100 meters from the beach! We looked around town a bit and grabbed some Chinese food for dinner. The next day we woke up and headed straight for the ocean! Because it's not the tourist season yet, we quickly realized that we basically had the island ENTIRELY to ourselves...EXCEPT...for our biker friends. Apparently the island of Mallorca is really popular for those training for the Tour d' France, so all day long we saw bikers in their fancy spandex riding around town. We got inspired and found some bikes for ourselves.

We spent all day on our bikes riding along the coast of Port De Pollenca. We picnicked on the beach, checked out all of the little towns and didn't have a care in the world. Our day ended with this beautiful sunset! It couldn't have been better.