Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spain! (Part Two)

So, after Sevilla, we basically had two cities left on our educational tour of Spain: Granada and Barcelona. And, let me tell you, we saved the best for last. At least, that's what I thought upon arrival in Barcelona. After some reflection, I realize that the whole trip was AWESOME (and I've already told you how much I enjoyed Toledo,) but some of the sights in Granada and Barcelona were pretty fabulous.

Let me back track a bit. . . We took a bus from Sevilla to Granada, for some sight-seeing. Granada sits at about 2500 ft. elevation at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, only an hour from the Mediterranean coast. One of the most famous buildings of the Islamic historical legacy, The Alhambra, is in Granada. This Moorish citadel and palace, makes the city a hot spot among cultural and tourist cities in Spain.

I really enjoyed our tour of The Alhambra and the history behind it. For a literature teacher, I especially liked hearing the anecdote about esteemed American author, Washington Irving, and his stay in Granada. According to our guide, in 1829, Irving was granted access to Alhambra for inspiration in writing some fictional stories that would introduce Spain, Granada, and The Alhambra to Western audiences. When his book, Tales of the Alhambra was published in the 1830's, it revived tourism in Granada and surrounding areas. There is a plaque that hangs in the room where Irving stayed while he was writing to commemorate his influence.

Anyway, here are a few more pictures from the gardens. It was beautiful and I could have spent the entire day just searching out every little spot in the place.

From Granada, we took the overnight train to Barcelona (I couldn't get Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express out of my mind). It was approximately 12 hours of train-rocking fun/sleep as we traveled north to our destination. The train stopped every now and again for passengers hopping off or boarding. . .even at 2:00am. Quite an interesting experience. In my sleeping car, I had two South Korean girls who were traveling through Europe on a "fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants" adventure. They didn't speak any Spanish and very little English, but they seemed to be having a good time. Here is a picture of my room and the train sign. Good times!

Upon arrival in Barcelona, we checked into our hotel, then took a little walking tour of the central part of the city. Barcelona is one of the coolest cities I've been to in Europe. I'm not sure I can do it justice so, again, I'll try to show you in pictures. (But even then, you're better off to visit for yourself.)

First stop. . .the mercado (marketplace) where you could purchase fresh produce, seafood, candy, wine and other delicacies.

After the stop at the market we took a trip around the gothic part of Barcelona. There always seem to be some beautiful chapels, museums and other structures in the older sections of Spanish cities. However, after a visit to a great park, the most famous landmark in Barcelona was our next destination.

The "Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia" (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) is an incredible cathedral that is still in the process of completion. That's right. . . they're still working on this magnificent structure. The first blocks of stone were put in place in 1882 and famous Spaniard artist/architect/genius Antoni Gaudí took over the project a year later. You can read more about Gaudí here and here. We were lucky enough to spend some time at both Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia.

Not sure who those two are in the background, but I loved Gaudi's rock-work.

Next was La Sagrada Familia. Simply incredible.

I can't do it justice with words, but here's a brief synopsis just about the façades of the cathedral. . . and some of my pics. "The Church will have three grand façades: the Nativity façade to the East, the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed) and the Passion façade to the West. The Nativity façade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears the most direct Gaudí influence. The Passion façade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ being flogged and on the crucifix. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory Façade, which began construction in 2002, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will represent one’s ascension to God. It will also depict various scenes such as Hell, Purgatory, and will include elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Virtues." (Source: Wikipedia)

Here's the ONW part of our group on the Nativity side of the cathedral. You can see that the Sagrada Familia just dwarfs us.

Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger scene. And below you have the three wise men and the flight to Egypt that followed Herod's decree.

And, now here are the pictures of the inside of the cathedral (still under construction) and the Passion façade. Again, it's hard for me to describe everything. If you have the opportunity to travel to Barcelona you must see this site.

Above are depictions of Peter's denial and Judas' betrayal.

Our final excursion before heading home included a trip to the beach and a general free day to roam around Barcelona. It was a relaxing way to end a memorable trip! (Some time I'll tell you about the thief from the beach and our own "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza" who chased the man through the streets.)

Except for the Spanish loss to the Swiss in pool play at the World Cup on our last day in the country, my trip to Spain couldn't have been any better. (And obviously, Espana has recovered to do quite nicely.)

Thanks for reading my ramblings; I leave you with this little saying:

How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.
Spanish Proverb

Friday, June 18, 2010


After eleven days of travel and touring through Spain, I returned to the good ol' USA last night. Although I'm always happy to get back and sleep in my own bed, I can honestly say that I could have stayed a while longer in beautiful ESPAÑA. I don't think I can fully describe all that I saw on this adventure, but I am going to try to tell you a little about what I experienced while visiting Madrid, Segovia,Toledo, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona.

I went with a group of 25 students and 3 adults to visit Spain for 10 days. It was absolutely spectacular. The architecture, the people, the landscape, and the culture were simply amazing. I don't want to try to describe the trip with a bunch of blah, blah, blah, so I'll try to be succinct and show some of the beauty and adventure with some photographs. Let the pictures do the talking I guess.

First stop: Madrid. It's a very nice city with sweet attractions like the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum, which houses the great works of artists like Diego Velazquez (his painting Las Meninas is known as one of the greatest masterpieces in the world) and Francisco Goya. Here are just a few pics from our 3 day stay in Madrid. Here I am in front of the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at the Plaza de España in Madrid. Miguel Cervantes published the story in the early 1600's and it has become one of the most influential pieces of literature in history. We referenced these two characters often throughout our week.

Here is a picture of my friends Annie, Mary, and Pam (with me of course) at the oldest restaurant in the world. Don't believe me? Here's a condensed description from Wikipedia: "Sobrino de Botín is a restaurant established in 1725. It is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest eatery currently in Madrid and the rest of the world. Part of the restaurant's folklore has it that a young Francisco Goya worked there as a waiter whilst he was waiting to get a place at Madrid's "Royal Academy of Fine Art". The restaurant is also mentioned in the book Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós (published 1886-1887). The Sobrino and its speciality of cochinillo asado ("roast suckling pig") are mentioned in the closing pages of Ernest Hemingway's novel, The Sun Also Rises." We had amazing salads and the dish just mentioned. Below is the picture of the oven in the kitchen. It is the oldest oven in the world that is still in working order.

On the day we ate at Botin, we also visited a Chocolateria and had churros with chocolate. Delicious.

And here is Madrid at night with the Royal Palace in lights on the left. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the Royal Palace which is still used on occasion for state dinners and royal weddings etc.

On one of the day trips away from Madrid, we visited Segovia where there is an aqueduct built by the Romans. Here's a picture of the structure along with a photo of the Segovia Cathedral. (We saw a lot of Cathedrals throughout our stay. . . but they were all beautiful and regal.)

After Madrid/Segovia we traveled to Toledo. . . a nice little city in central Spain--in fact, it might be my favorite of the cities we visited because of it's beauty, history, and ambiance. Seriously, it's cool.

It is in Toledo where we saw El Greco's masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which truly is magnificent. And the story behind the painting is awe-inspiring as well. To be brief, the painting was commissioned for the side-chapel of the Virgin of the Church of Santo Tomé, and was painted by El Greco between 1586–1588. However, the date El Greco placed on the painting was 1578. When asked why he painted that date which was eight years prior to his actual commissioning, El Greco remarked that, although people believed the painting to be his masterpiece, his true masterpiece was actually the creation of his son who was born in 1578. (He painted his son as the boy holding the torch in the lower left side of the painting.) I just think that's a fabulous story.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures of/from Toledo:

Obviously, the picture above is the hotel where we stayed, named for the famous painter.

Toledo is also known for it's artisans, specifically in gold work and sword-making.

That's right. . . you better watch yourself. I believe the sword I was wielding in this picture was called Excalibur.

After Toledo, it was on to Cordoba, a beautiful little town where we toured a Mezquita--a former mosque built around the 8th century and converted into a Catholic church around 400 years later.

In this picture you can see the bell tower of the mezquita in between the flower-lined streets of the city.

Next on our journey was Sevilla where we visited the third largest cathedral in the world (behind St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London.) We also did a walking tour of the city's cultural and historical landmarks and took a carriage ride through the streets and saw a flamenco show. If you visit Spain, you must see Sevilla. It's too full of excellent cultural experiences to miss.

This is the bell tower of the cathedral. If you're ever lost in Seville, just find this landmark and you'll be fine. . . or so we were told. :)
I loved this picture with the sky and part of the cathedral. Sort of postcard-esque if I do say so myself.

And you can't go to Spain without seeing a Flamenco show. Another enjoyable cultural moment.

Well, I basically have two more cities to cover. . . but I'll leave Granada and Barcelona for my next post. . . coming soon I hope. "Hasta la vista" readers.

(This is Mary, myself, and Annie at the Alcazar (a castle) in Sevilla. Mary and Annie are sisters, both fluent in Spanish and excellent friends of mine. No, I don't know why I'm the only one with my sunglasses on. . .goofy. And every time we visited an Alcazar in Spain (which was a number of times) I thought of the former villain who bore that name on the soap opera, General Hospital. . . Anyway, I apologize, I'm rambling. . . I'll have another post up as soon as possible.)