QUICK SPANISH GEOGRAPHY LESSON!
For those who do not know anything about Spain’s geography (like me before I came abroad), it is divided into 17 autonomous communities. One of those communities is located in the southern part of Spain and is called Andalusia. Andalusia is the second most populated region of Spain and is divided into eight provinces. If you are born and bred in Andalusia, you are considered Andalucian, so it’s a nationality too! But, not all the communities are nationalities, some are, but some are just communities or regions of Spain. For example, Madrid (the name of the province where Madrid is located) is not a nationality, just a community. But Andalusia, Catalonia (where Barcelona is located) and the Basque Country are nationalities.
I took a field study course this semester that consisted of various assignments spread throughout the past few months, all leading up to a field study trip this past week. We (all those in my program who signed up for this course) researched and learned all about the Andalucian culture and lifestyle. Then from April 18-21, we traveled with two of our professors to three cities: Cordoba, Seville and Granada. While the traveling part was fun (obviously), I can confidently say that I learned so much more about Andalusia in those four days that go beyond the textbook. The lifestyle and the vibe of the cities are very different than Madrid and the other cities I have visited thus far.
We had to be up and ready to go by 7:15am (joy). While it sucked having to get up early, I was happy to remember that the ride down to our first stop was going to be a little over three hours, soooo nap time on the bus!
Our first stop was Cordoba. Cordoba, fun fact, used to be the most populous city in Europe in the 10th century. Obviously, times have changed and now Cordoba is a quaint tiny town with a very famous mosque, the Cathedral of Cordoba. The mosque is famous for its colorful and striped columns that align throughout. It is absolutely beautiful on the inside and very interesting to go through. A few people and I later gobbled on a menu del dia meal and gelato and then gathered back on the bus to head to Seville.
Seville was another 2 hours away and by the time we arrived, it was around 7 pm. We checked into the hotel and relaxed until dinner which was at 9 pm. My friend Kirsten and I decided to venture into the city and explore before dinner. We headed to Plaza de Espana which is the main center of the city. Beautiful area with lots of ceramic tiles. The Plaza has also been the filming location for many movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. While Kirsten and I were wandering around, it started to rain a little bit and we headed back to the hotel for dinner with our group. I went to bed after dinner since I was exhausted after a long day of Spanish history.
We woke up to a light rain, ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and started our walking tour for the day. We had a funny and witty tour guide who made learning about the city more enjoyable and I liked that. We made our way to the Jewish quarter, walked around the area and then to the Cathedral of Seville. The Cathedral was HUGE! It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. Our tour guide taught us about the history Christopher Columbus (aka that white guy who “founded” America even though there were already the indigenous people here just chilling. That’s another debatable topic I won’t get into.) had with Seville and why his tomb is in the Cathedral. We later climbed the La Giralda, the bell tower and got a great view of the city from up top. The bell tower, interestingly does not have any stairs and instead there are 35 floors of ramps to walk up. 10/10 to Seville for being handicap accessible! After gathering some great pictures we had free time for the rest of the day to explore the city. Unfortunately, it was a torrential downpour so Kirsten, Taylor, Rachel and I finished our menu del dias and made our way back to the hotel. We dried off, relaxed, charged our phones and waited until the rain died down (which it did hallelujah).
After getting splashed by cars on the street, we made our way to the Alcazar of Seville. Aka the place where a few scenes from season 5 Game of Thrones was filmed. Aka more importantly, the royal palace of Seville designed by Moorish Muslim kings. We wandered around and enjoyed the beautiful architecture and gardens. Apparently, we overstayed our welcome because we were eventually kicked out by security ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Later that night, we ate dinner with our professors and the rest of the kids and then called it a night.
Up and early at it again we were to begin the day. After breakfast at the hotel and checking out, we made our way back on the bus to begin our 2 hour ride to Granada. When we arrived, it was POURING rain (again what else is new). Pouring rain so bad that I had to buy an umbrella because my rain jacket wasn’t doing enough work to keep me dry.
Kirsten, Taylor, Rachel and I ventured off to a tea shop in Granada and enjoyed some tea and crepes. Granada has a big hippie vibe and a large younger crowd. The city was absolutely beautiful and fun fact, in Spanish, Granada means pomegranate :). Luckily, the rain died down and the sun came out so we walked around the downtown center until we had to meet back at the bus. We checked into our hotel, which was conveniently located right down the street from the Alhambra.
After freshening up at the hotel, we walked to the Alhambra to begin our guided tour. Our tour guide was a little long winded and ended up going on for over two hours. The Alhambra of Granada was crowded with tourists because it’s very hard to get tickets (I suggest booking those early if you plan on visiting!). The Alhambra is the old Arabic palace in Granada full of beautiful architecture and gardens. A bit similar to the Alcazar but much larger and more beautiful (in my opinion!). Interestingly enough, from a historical perspective, the Alhambra has not been as appreciated for its architecture as much as it should have. When professional architects visit the Alhambra, they act as tourists and don’t properly look at the buildings from an architectural standpoint. Why? Historians do not know. The Alhambra also is very different than most royal residences throughout Europe. The Alhambra’s rooms are also not aligned properly for you to pass through collectively. Lastly, there is a reflecting pool that is placed in front of the Comares Tower to give off the illusion that the tower is floating on water. It is rumored that this inspired the idea for the reflecting pool in front of the Taj Mahal in India.
After our long tour and many photo opportunities, we ate dinner at the hotel and then made our way to a Flamenco show! Flamenco dancing was originated in Andalusia and has expanded into other parts of Spain. The dance starts out slow and seductive but gradually shifts into a faster paced dance. I was tired just watching the dancers! They put so much soul and passion into their dancing. Basically, it’s tap dancing on steroids but 1000x more intense and entertaining. I was impressed. One thing that’s interesting about Flamenco is the lack of historical evidence on how the dance was originated. Many details that describe the development of flamenco were lost in history. Flamenco came to be before, during and after the Spanish Inquisition era so the styles of dance and music represent desperation, struggle and despair in comparison to what was going on in Spanish history. It wasn’t until the 1970’s and 1980’s when historians started gaining interest in flamenco again. After a tiring day spent in Granada, I was snoozing as soon as my head hit the pillow.
April 21 (the only day where it didn’t rain at all!):
The last day of the field study course was spent on a walking tour led by one of the professors who is also my Spanish teacher. She was born and raised in Andalusia and spent her undergraduate years studying and living in Granada. Who else would be best for a personal tour? We walked along many different streets throughout the old city as well as the center area. We also gathered on top of a big hill that overlooked the entire city and Alhambra.
After our walking tour, we got lunch and ice cream and by mid-afternoon, gathered back on the bus for the four-hour trip back to Madrid.
OVERALL, I learned a lot throughout this trip. I was very happy I signed up for this course which allowed me to travel to a part of Spain which I’m not sure I would’ve done on my own. Spain is such a diverse country, full of culture and life; I had a blast learning all that I’ve taught you through this blog. But, I was also happy to be back in the city I’ve called home for the last four months (Madrid <3).