Monday, February 23, 2009

A little of this and that

The weather is getting better by the day. When we have a couple hours to kill Lara and I will go out and explore Alcala. Yesterday we went on another 2 hour walk. (it has become a little tradition of ours to just get lost around town every once in a while) On our little journey's we've walked down tons streets lined with quaint Spanish homes, discovered way too many appealing Pastelerias (pastry shops), laughed at all of the little (TINY) dogs dressed in sweaters, and been serenaded by random locals singing their "fight song" for whatever fútbol team (a combination of a little too much to drink and way too much pride for their fútbol team!) The other day we found a game going on in a local park. We took the opportunity to sit in the sun and watch a legit Spanish fútbol game. Though it was no Real-Madrid game...I still loved watching it.

Last Saturday several of us decided to hike around the hills just outside of Alcala. We walked along the river and finally found a trail that headed up to the top. These hills aren't too big so unfortunately after a short hike we were already there, however this is what we saw. The hill overlooked all of Alcala. We tossed around a Frisbee and just enjoyed the long Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect break from the studying that we should have been doing!

On Friday we took a day trip to El Escorial. On our way back we visited El Valle de los Caidos. It is a monument dedicated to Francisco Franco and is also his burial site. This cross can be seen from MILES away...and underneath this rocky hill is actually one of the biggest cathedrals I've ever seen. It was incredibly dark and intimidating but so fascinating and unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Unfortunately (once again) I couldn't take pictures inside!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A weekend close to home.

So this weekend we stuck close to Madrid. We took a day trip to Segovia. We passed through some beautiful countryside (I didn't realize how much snow these little mountains near Madrid can get!) We took a tour through the palace in the picture above...we climbed to the top of the square tower. It was quite the workout going up the tiny, spiral staircase!
The aquaducts! So impressive how many years this has stood standing.
This is where I spent my Dia de San Valentino. Not bad. The day was absolutely GORGEOUS. No jackets needed...the weather was perfect. Several of us spent the entire day in the Parque de Buen Retiro (with about a million other Spaniards!) We sat in the sun eating lunch, tossing around a frisbee, walking through the markets looking at old books, eating Napolitanas (chocolate filled pastries), listening to street performers, people (and dog) watching, and my favorite part- boating in the pond. I saw way too much kissing...but beyond that the day just couldn't have been any better.

How will I ever get any studying done?!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Week in Southern Spain

This week was rough...let me tell you. We only had one day of school then we set off for southern Spain! Here are some highlights:

Our first stop: WINDMILLS! Don Quixote anyone? As we approached them Kami from our group read the passage out of the gave us all a chuckle. The windmills sat on top of this hill, when we stepped off the bus I almost blew off! The wind was SO STRONG! We snapped a few pictures and that was about all that we could handle.
We spent a few more hours on windy roads but the countryside was beautiful- green rolling hills and thousands of olive trees! Andalucia is known for its olive oil. We finally made it to Granada. It quickly made its way to the top of my favorites list. It felt like we had left Spain completely because of the strong Islam influence there. The Alhambra (in the picture above) is a Moorish palace and one of the most famous Islamic historical sites. We were standing in the courtyard of a mosque and just minutes after we took this picture, a man went to the top of the mosques tower and performed the call to prayer. It gave me chills! We were so lucky to be right there when he did it! That night we ate at this INCREDIBLE Arab/Hindu restaurant. We ate hummus, samosas, kebabs, and crepes full of vegetables.
Our next stop was Cordoba! I have to say that other than seeing the Mezquita I didn't enjoy it as much because it rained, well more like POURED, the whole time- I was slightly miserable. However the Mezquita was incredible! It is almost an optical illusion with the hundreds of arches there are. It is interesting though because right in the middle of it is a cathedral (quite the religious statement...)
And finally...Sevilla. I truly LOVED this place. I wouldn't mind living there forever! It is so quaint. There is a river that runs through part of the city, with restaurants lining it and pathways to walk along, the streets were just full of people shopping, sitting outside in the sun eating a pastry and drinking a cafe, or riding bikes. It felt so safe and tranquila. I got to walk through my first bull fighting ring- hopefully I'll get to an actual bullfight when the season starts! The best memory I have from this place is sitting in the Plaza de Espana (picture above) It was built for the World Fair several years ago...and it was the most gorgeous plaza I've seen! Cause I'm sure everyone was wondering...apparently several scenes from one of the Star Wars movies were filmed here? Anyways, one of the days the sun was shining so bright. A bunch of us sat on these porcelain, tile covered benches for hours. The best part was that just a few feet away from us was a man/woman playing and singing flamenco. It was ideal!

Ok! Life in Sevilla really begins at night. It is also famous for its flamenco! One night we found our way through a bunch of winding streets to this tavern with a huge red wooden door. It was totally an old-school tavern with a wood burning fireplace and a bunch of old people hangin out at the bar. In the back we entered into a new part that is a lot more popular with the youth. Here we sat and watched flamenco. I LOVED the singers voice. The show was very low-key and impromptu...but very authentic. The next night we decided to find more of a real flamenco "show." We had gotten a suggestion for this one place so we grabbed some tickets and needless to say it was worth EVERY PENNY. First of all it took place in this small outdoor courtyard with vines running down the walls and birds flying around. There were lanterns with candles and flowers everywhere! It was a much more intimate setting...the audience sat on three sides of the stage. There was a singer and guitarist who played for both a man and woman dancer. Their facial expressions and the control of their footwork were just incredible! Unfortunately we couldn't take videos...but I grabbed a few pictures!