A Travellerspoint blog

So it's been awhile

rain 12 °C

In the past couple weeks I have been to London, gone on a hike to a small town where we were surrounded by a herd of sheep, visited the Alhambra, seen the Capilla Real and the Catedral, been to Cádiz for Carnival, and purchased two trips: one to Barcelona and one to Bilbao. I truly am still in shock that this is my life right now, and I feel so fortunate to be able to say so. I just do not know when everything will sink in. Even though I am in a new country and speaking a new language and living in a place that I never have before, I feel normal and comfortable. I think this is a good thing... I hope it means that I am able to adapt to new environments. This time is flying by as I have been told by countless people, so I have been trying to take every opportunity and absorb all that I can. I am going out of my comfort zone and taking a salsa class, my first one was last night! It was actually really enjoyable, even though I couldn't understand everything the instructor was saying in spanish nor do I know how to dance. :) I think that is important to challenge yourself, and that all too often we get stuck in a routine and never question it or change it. I hope that I can bring this mentality back with me to the United States when I return, and I hope to try and maintain this balance between enjoying every minute but also studying enough to be successful.

First of all, my trip to London:
Definitely a great experience of learning how to use public transportation. I had so much fun visiting Kayla, drinking Guinness (with a Shamrock on top as beer foam art instead of latte art), and exploring a HUGE and international city. It was strange hearing English all the time just walking around, which I think is a good sign that I have become comfortable being surrounded by Spanish. It was also really cool to hear so many other languages too, some which I could not even identify. Since London is such a metropolitan and enormous city it is definitely more of a cultural melting pot. On my last night we went on something called a "London Walk" which was in a cute neighborhood of London called Hamstead (think I'm spelling that right) and we had a somewhat uptight but quirky old man for our tour guide. He was a little snappy at first but soon warmed up as he explained the richness of the neighborhood. Kayla and I talked to these two older ladies at our first pub that we stopped at who were from the states and were just traveling together for the week. It was heartwarming that they were still that close and definitely made me want to continue this habit of traveling throughout my life. We did the touristy things that are necessary of course, fish and chips while watching a rugby game, Big Ben, the London Eye, and who could forget... Platform 9 3/4. Had such a lovely weekend and I cannot wait until Kayla comes to visit in Granada in April and I can show her an equally good time!

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The Alhambra:
So like the Mezquita in Córdoba, I am sorry but my words fail to describe the beauty and technique. It is the most visited building in all of Spain, and it does not disappoint. There is SO much technique and work put into every inch and every corner of this building. The whole thing is a giant book of poetry, now only if I could read it. It is a perfect example of Arte Musulman with ceramic tiles, wood, writing etched into the yeso (cast material) and is constructed out of ladrillos (bricks). I would describe is as being ornate and luxurious. I can absolutely imagine royalty living there. Another magical element about the Alhambra is the view. It sits atop a hill overlooking Granada, and has an aqueduct that is the highest point of flowing water in the city. I stood on the top of the tower overlooking the various neighborhoods such as the Albaycin and Sacromonte with traditional and classic white buildings. I could see the enormous Catedral jutting from the maze of houses, and I for the first time I found the Plaza del Toros and could see exactly how far it is that I walk every day :) Pretty amazing to put everything in perspective. I have never really been big on history until I came to Spain, and it has been such a wonderful experience learning about everything that has happened and realizing how old every building is and what rich stories there are.

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Capilla Real y La Catedral:
Exquisit! The Capilla Real was so detailed. El Gran Retablo Mayor looks like a giant mural almost, I know that is not exactly right, but it is covered with religious scenes colorfully painted or in all gold. It made me painfully aware of my ignorance about religion when some of the students in my program were talking about which story from the Bible each scene represented. Nevertheless, it was impressive. Another part of the Capilla Real was a museum, and it was incredible to be able to see the crown that was worn by Isabel de Castilla and the sword that belonged to Fernando de Aragón. The Catedral was enormous, similar to the cathedral in Córdoba where I just felt incredibly small. I want to return one day for mass because I feel like it would be a very unique experience. We also unfortunately had to leave early in order to make our bus to Cádiz.

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Cádiz:
An adventure for sure. We did not realize how much people dress up for this event. All everyone was wearing in our group were masks with slightly color coordinated clothing to match. However, the Spaniards went ALL OUT! It seems like their version of Halloween maybe, except better than in the United States because no one was dressed sexually (aka lingerie with animal ears as Mean Girls would say), everyone seemed to be trying to have the funniest and most creative costume - quite the breath of fresh air. Usually people were coordinated with the rest of their group as well, in order to find each other easily throughout the night. We saw the Simpsons, the Spice Girls, the Smurfs, the ghosts from pac man, people dressed as the game twister, a bunch of llamas, and so many more. One of my favorite things were the lights, it reminded me of when Lauren and I first got to Madrid and it was still Christmas time. There was an incredible amount of people there. I am glad that I went for the experience, but the amount of trash that that many people produce is pretty repulsive. When we were leaving in the morning we saw huge trash machines coming around to clean everything as well as a whole troop of workers in reflective gear carrying brooms. There are different versions of Carnival around Spain as well as other European countries, but something that is unique to Cádiz is the performers. Cádiz is a very political city historically, and therefore they have singers and comedians performing in all corners of the city who will jokingly criticize aspects of the government. Definitely added a unique element to our time there.

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Well caught up a little bit at least. :) Next week we are going to Madrid with our program and I cannot wait! Keep enjoying every day, and remember to keep your life interesting.

Posted by rae.lloydlever 06:58 Archived in Spain

Córdoba

Los Baños Árabes y La Mezquita

semi-overcast 6 °C

This day deserves a post of its own.

We all scrambled onto the bus to Córdoba with our Bocadillos (basically a sack lunch - usually a meat and bread sandwich for me) in hand. Maria (one of the directors of our program) got on the intercom and said that it was about 2 hours to Córdoba. The drive was beautiful, we left the mountains splashed with the morning sun to discover rolling hills of olives as far as the eye could see. I drifted in and out of consciousness - the swaying of the bus being our own giant crib. The day was stunning in Córdoba, streaks of cotton decorated the starklingly blue sky and everyone promptly removed their jackets. The river was a shade of milk chocolate and flowed smoothly under the Romano style bridge. What has been so amazing to me is learning about styles of art and architecture, seeing a picture of an example, and then going to visit the place in person. It makes studying El Arco del Medio Punto (arch with of the middle point) so mch more relevant to me.

We had a little over two hours of free time to explore the city on our own with only the ability to get lost and hopefully find our way back with our map. We wandered aimlessly for awhile and finally found one of the museums Maria had recommended - Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. I eagerly climbed to the top of the tower and overlooked the impeccably groomed garden. Shrubs sculpted into tall blobs and even into the shape of an urn, they created a maze of beauty. I kept imagining the Queen of Hearts appearing to ask me to play croquet. Lauren whispered to me, "Can you even IMAGINE if this was your life? What do you think they talked about?" I cannot even begin to imagine living in that time period.

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We met up with our group at 2:00pm, half of our program toured La Mezquita (Mosque) de Córdoba; which at the time of its constuction was the second largest in the world. The other half proceeded to Los Baños Árabes (bath houses). They are exactly what you might expect - similar to a spa but with three pools of different temperatures. As soon as I had changed into my swimsuit and walked into the main room, I was greeted and offered a massage. "¿Qué tipo de aceite tú prefieres?" (What type of oil would you like?) The only one I could recognize was Rosas - Roses, but it was not my number one concern. The main pool was the largest and of medium temperature. The room was cloaked in shadows and only lightly illuminated to add to the ambiance. You could enjoy what I think was peppermint and cinnamon teas. They were incredibly sweet like the very bottom of the cup with a tablespoon of sugar added, but left a refreshingly cool glow in your throat afterward. There was also a room with smelling salts; which was as someone described: like sitting in a cough drop. But there was a faint hint of B.O., and I did not stay too long. It was great to move from pool to pool, chatting with new friends and relaxing after finishing our first month of school. Even though I could soak in the pools all day, I was eager to see the Mezquita after learning about it in class.

It is amazing to me how much history can be in one building. It formally was a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian cathedral. Most of the mosque is still there, but the symbolism of constructing a cathedral (in the shape of a cross) in the heart of an Islamic building is incredible. I honestly do not even know how to explain or describe everything, I attempted to capture the beauty through photographs, but it is impossible to encompass its power. The only other time I have felt that way about a building was in Rome at St. Peter's Basilica. I can just say that it was exactly what I wanted and I literally have my jaw hanging open through most of our tour.

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As I sat on the bus while we returned to Granada I could only sit, listen, and reflect. I had an overwhelming feeling of being content and satisfied. Something that I have loved about Spain is actually having time to think. And I mean that in the way that I do not only have to worry about what my professors are going to grade me on, my job, or any other commitments that I usually have during school. I have the time to think and reflect about life, the time to blog, to read, to write. Córdoba was one of my favorite days so far, but I am looking forward to more to come.

Kind of randon but in the same mindset of reflection, I was thinking today about how forturnate I am and how most people are to have all 5 senses. Two men across the aisle from me on the bus were speaking in sign language. Traveling today I feel so lucky that I can see so well to read all of the signs where I need to go, that I can hear and speak with people - whether in a mix of Spanish or English - makes everything manageable. I am grateful that I can taste and smell all of these amazing and new types of food. I am just baffled everyday that this is my life. I woke up yesterday morning on the bus to the sunrise over the Mediterrean Sea in Málaga, and I am ready to enjoy more. :)

Posted by rae.lloydlever 04:31 Archived in England

Vingnettes

overcast 6 °C

Everyday I walk close to the same route, varying the smaller streets when I first leave my house. How the city is laid out I always end up on the same main road eventually: Avienida Constitución. This street is unique because there is a large path in the middle with benches and statues and it has the best view of the Sierra Nevadas above the city. The snow capped peaks look like vanilla ice cream - not french vanilla with that creamy, yellow tint but plain vanilla in startling white. There was one particular day that amazed me though, and it was because of the sky. It was a mostly clear day with a blue bird sky and small pockets of puffy clouds. But that morning as I walked to school the sun peering over the Sierras, must have been hitting the water droplets in the clouds just right because they shone light pink and green. Hints of a rainbow that made the clouds look like homespun metalic thread or whisps of cotton candy floating above the city. I did not have my camera to take a picture, but I hope this gives a taste of what is captured in my head.

Last Saturday we went on a walk around this neighborhood called the Albayzín; which is one of the neighborhoods that Granada is famous for. It was beautiful with rich, colorful shops that contrasted the stark white walls of the homes. We peaked our heads into a lantern shop. It was the commercial, rather than the religious, experience of the vast amount of stained glass in Gothic churches. There were globe shaped lanterns made of tiny beads that twinkled like fat pumpkins. Lamps in the shape of stars reminded me of the ones that I have seen in the states. It is great that our world is becoming more global, but it makes all of the things about traveling more normal. I love it when something really startles and surprises me. We had the opportunity to go to a tea shop and I enjoyed milky looselead tea that came in a tea pot that looked like a silver jeanie's lamp.

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The following day (Sunday) I studied for my two exams on Monday and then we had free tickets to go to El Teatro Isabel la Catolica to see the play La Casa de Bernarda Alba. The building was old and beautiful, and for those of you from Boise it kind of reminded me of the Egyptian. I now have a goal that by the end of this semester I want to be able to go to a play and understand all of it. I got the idea of the play, but it was difficult to comprehend everything because the audience was pretty loud while the actors can only project their voices so much. It was an unique experience and when given the opportunity to see more of the Spanish culture I try to take it.

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Morgan and I went to Parque de las Ciencias on Tuesday and got to nerd out a little bit to keep biology in our brains. It was interesting and a challenge to try and understand all of the scientific words in Spanish, and I can say that I am very happy to not be taking any classes for my major. The craziest things for me were seeing a giant whale heart which was nearly as big as me, and a live birth. Wow I am definitely afraid to have children now and I do not think I could be an obstetrician or a midwife. Wednesday we went to Córdoba - going to write a more detailed blog about that day specifically - and now I'm in LONDON visiting Kayla :). When I was on the plane I was reflecting on how amazing and crazy flying is. We flew out over the ocean which made my stomach drop in fear and awe, and then turned back around to fly over Spain. I looked down on the Sierra Nevadas when I am usually looking up at them, and it took the plane about 5 to 10 minutes to fly about as far as my 3ish hour bus ride from Granada to Málaga.

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Posted by rae.lloydlever 04:29 Archived in England

La Huelga y la Basura

rain 7 °C

La huegla (strike) of the workers who clean up la basura (the trash) has finally ended. The strike began when we arrived in Spain and as the streets became engulfed by partially eaten bits of food and old tissues I at first thought that it was something normal in Granada, and I began to worry. It is amazing what we take for granted sometimes. The workers are required to provide los servicios minimos (minimal services) to maintain smaller mountains of trash, but by no means was it enough.
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A tour guide I talked to was saying how fortunate we are that this did not happen during the summer time, because disease would be rampant. He also told me that he had seen two fat rats rooting around in the mess. Seeing the vast quantities of trash everywhere only reinforced my disgust with littering. We are so lucky to have clean streets in the United States and it is so simple to take the extra time to throw something in the trash can. The strike lasted two weeks and I read in the news paper that 2,400 TONS of trash had accumulated. Anyways, just something that I felt like I should reflect upon since it is definitely unique in comparison to life in the USA.

Posted by rae.lloydlever 06:59 Archived in Spain

Observations

semi-overcast 12 °C
View España on rae.lloydlever's travel map.

Today I went on my first run around the city, down to the river (which is actually only a trickle) and onto a trail. I was surprised at how many people I have seen running in the street and around Granada. I had heard that Spaniards don't wear work out clothes and are always in style - which when they are not working out is totally true - but it is not a rare event to seeing many people running around. Throughout my time so far in Granada I have just recently been writing down observations so that everyone can have an idea of what I think about when I walk (30 minutes one way every morning) and I see all of the people of Spain and things I have noticed in general too.

First of all, I would like to talk about the food - because I'm a huge fan and I have done a lot of eating here.
Tapas... yum! Tapas are little (or big) snacks that come with a drink, FOR FREE! Definitely my favorite since the exchange rate with the euro and dollar isn't so pretty for los extranjeras de los Estados Unidos (like myself). I have had delicious bread, cheese, meat, almonds, and more so far. It is such a smart idea too because then the restaurant doesn't have to deal with people getting as belligerently drunk since they are eating and drinking at the same time.
I have been enjoying tapas, but they are not a part of my everyday schedule.
A typical breakfast for Spaniards is only toast with marmalade, or cream cheese with ham, or a puree of tomatoes and olive oil and café con leche - por supuesto (but of course). All are very tasty, but not incredibly filling so I bring an apple and an orange with me to class. Something interesting about the customs in Spain is that it is very rude to eat or drink anything besides water during class. So I have to eat my snacks when we have a pausa (break).
Lunch is the largest meal of the day here and we usually have lunch around 2:30pm (14:30, military time is another thing to get used to all the time) and it is usually hot. We have had paella! Soooo delicious :) Many different soups, and something different to me that I have noticed is that they never eat eggs for breakfast only for lunch or dinner. We have eaten fried eggs with french fries... interesting combination but it is tasty. I'm not picky when it comes to food so I eat anything mi señora puts on the table. Oh and bread is with every meal, both good and bad. I'm glad I have to walk a lot to say the least.

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Moving from the kitchen to the bathroom, the lights to the bathroom in both my hostel in Madrid and in my house in Granada are outside of the room. Which truly makes no sense to me, especially if there are little kids in the house because I could see that being a very funny prank for a sibling to pull on their brother or sister.
Another thing that is strange about the bathroom, they do not flush toilet paper. There is a little trashcan next to the toilet instead, maybe it's better for the plumbing? I have no idea.
Something that is great about a lot of the lights here though is that they have a timer! Spaniards are much more concerned about electricity and water because it is taxed a lot and very expensive. I'm not used to living in an apartment so I can either take the elevator or the stairs everyday from the 3rd floor, but the lights are timed and I accidentally rang someones doorbell when I was trying to push the light switch -- they look the same in the dark! It is great though for saving money in general and some lights have motion censors too.

Trends or habits I've seen when walking:
Dogs! ¡Perros! There are tons in the streets and on the sidewalks, either with people or even walking by themselves without leashes. They are all quite well behaved too which is really interesting. Lots of little dogs wearing sweaters too :/ I guess it's a little chilly in winter.
All of the little old ladies look the same to me because of the style and what they wear. They all have short curly hair in various shades of red - with tints of purple to orange - and everywhere in between. They also all wear long jackets that are usually made of some type of fur, warm but I can't say I would want to wear an all fur jacket.
Tons of younger women wear los talcones (heels) lots of wedges but I have even seen stilettos as regular attire. I do not understand this because any time I have tried to wear heels and walk as much as the people in Spain my feet have been KILLING ME!
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These women care more about their style than their toes apparently.
As far as going to school, I have seen some backpacks but mostly large purses to carry everything. Also they don't use notebooks, it is a 4 ring binder (not 3 ring) and loose leaf paper or an accordion folder.
Of course, knowing me I have to comment on the use of cigarettes. They're everywhere! Second hand smoke kills too Spain just FYI... I saw a lady the other day having a cigarette while sitting drinking her coffee, I don't know if this is strange or not but it looked so unappealing to me. Could be because I don't smoke cigarettes in general.
I see a lot of teenagers and younger couples full on making out too! It is a normal occurrence to see two kids playing tonsil hockey in the park, little bit different culture than in the States.
I am honestly baffled by this last one: MULLETS! But not even just mullets: half-shaved, dreded mullets - the combination of Bob Marley, Skrillex and Bono.

Well hope this gives everyone more perspective on what is running through my head every day :) ¡Hasta luego!

Posted by rae.lloydlever 09:19 Archived in Spain

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