I’m falling behind on my blog. I’ve been gone the past few weekends and trying to keep up with everything during the week…thus the lack of blog posts.
Day trip with my program to Cáceres/Trujillo. The towns are in the province of Extremadura, between Madrid and the Portuguese border. It was raining of course which is always a drag but we managed to enjoy it. Cáceres is the bigger of the two. We toured the cathedral of course and made our way through the winding streets. We also toured the Semana Santa Museum and learned about their traditions for Holy Week. It was very similar to what I’m expecting to see in Sevilla in a few weeks. We had tapas in Cáceres (I tried rabbit!!) and then headed for Trujillo. Trujillo was much smaller but very charming. We walked to the highest point in the city and up to the Alcazar ruins. It was an unbelievable view of course. The countryside reminded me of what Ireland looked like when I visited a few years ago. Both cities were relatively small but definitely showcased their Spanish charm. The architecture and views were stunning.
Spanish Roofs, Trujillo
We took another trip with the program to Granada for 2 days. If I could study anywhere else in Spain it would be in that city. It was very similar to Sevilla in size and character but definitely had Spain’s equivalent of a “college town” feel. We visited the Alhambra and the Palacio de l Generalife the first day. The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain…for a reason. Its absolutely incredible. It was originally built as a palace for the Moorish kings during the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. After the Reconquest, it was turned into a Christian palace…much like everything is the southern part of Spain. The walls are covered in colorful tiles and Arabic script. I’m taking Arabic when I get back to Mizzou next semester but I was really wishing I’d already had a semester. I’m not sure how much I could have actually read though. The Generalife was also built by the Moors as a summer palace. Both are one of those “must-see” things while in Spain.
Tiles, La Alhambra
While we were walking around the city, Erin randomly ran into one of her friends from home who is currently studying in Granada. She invited us out that night with some of her friends to a free concert. The band turned out to be Swedish and the venue definitely reminded me of The Blue Note in Columbia. It was a cool experience. Afterwards, we went to the coolest little dive bar. It was pretty relaxed, had a lot of character, and was full of Spanish students. It looked like a speak-easy from the outside and you had to go down a flight of stairs to get in. Great night!
The next morning we walked through the Barrio Albaicín, the old Arab quarter. The streets in the barrio were so complex and completely confusing. We stuck with the group. We went to the Mirador de San Nicolás and took in the views of the Alhambra from across the valley. Also that day, EU and Moroccan representatives were meeting at the Alhambra. Since, it’s the Spanish government’s turn to lead the EU, the Spanish President, Zapatero, and Morocco’s PM were chilling just across the hill from us…pretty cool. We took the bus back down to the city and encountered a protest on the streets. Everyone was sporting Sahara Libre (Free Sahara) flags and marching and yelling. There were A LOT of protestors. I did some research after I got to a computer and found out there is a region in southern Morocco called Western Sahara that is currently controlled by Morocco and somewhat by Algeria. The protests are a movement for autonomy from both countries. It was interesting to learn about it.
View of La Alhambra from Mirador de San Nicolás
Last weekend, I got the chance to go to the northern cities of Morocco. I seriously fell in love with that country in the short 3 days I was there. We decided to go with a tour group out of safety and convenience. Normally, I hate guided tour groups like that because I think you miss out on so much of what there is to see and do in a place. Nevertheless, it was a great trip and I look forward to planning another trip back one day on my own.
We left Friday morning, hopped a bus down to the Strait of Gibraltar, a short ferry ride across the Strait and we were in…SPAIN…still? Yes, we disembarked in Ceuta, a city under Spanish control, took a bus ride up to a beautiful lookout point where we could see the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and the Moroccan city of Tetuan on the other side. It was veeerrrry windy but we managed to get a few pictures without hair in our face. We hopped back on the bus and headed for the border. I was very excited since it was my first border crossing by land. Its technically illegal to take pictures of the border but I snuck a few from the bus. Along the border was so crazy. There were tons of people walking on foot carrying huge packs of things. They buy things in places like Ceuta that they can’t buy on the Moroccan side and then walk it back across the border. It was a parade of people of all ages carrying everything from bed comforters to food. We made it across the border and immediately realized we were in Morocco. There are Moroccan flags ALL OVER the place. It was definitely not something I was expecting. We made it to our hotel in Tetuan in time for sunset which was beautiful.
Saturday we were up bright and early and headed for Chefchaouen. Definitely my favorite city we visited. The guide explained why the walls in the city are painted blue and white (to repel mosquitos & sunlight). It made for a beautiful backdrop. We took a walking tour of the Medina (the old city), saw a carpet weaving-workshop and various other craft shops throughout the city. The carpet workshop was amazing, we were literally in a family’s house, they took us up to their rooftop and showed us their weaving looms and all the yarn they use. The carpets were gorgeous but I was at a loss for a way to get one home so I resisted. We had a bit of free time to walk around and shop. Morocco is a place to bargain with shopkeepers and we were a little apprehensive for our first shot at it. I’m definitely not a pro but I did learn a few things: 1)always bring small bills…you can’t tell a shop keeper you only have 10€ or 100 dirham and then pull out a 50€ bill and expect him to give you change 2)he’ll always give you a ridiculous price to start out with…much more than he expects so you have to go much lower than what you’re willing to pay and eventually you’ll meet somewhere in the middle at a price you’re willing to pay. Hopefully, I’ll be in a place where I can hone my bargaining skills again sometime.
Dyes for Sale, Chefchaouen
We hopped the bus again and headed for Tangier. The countryside along the way was spectacular. We also noticed a ton of guards along the rode and the guide finally explained to us that the King was visiting the area that day. We passed the area he was visiting…it was just what looked like a place along the rode. There were beautiful carpets laid out in the dirt, a lot of guards, and Moroccan people lined up behind barricades waiting for his arrival. We ended up passing his motorcade along the road but I didn’t have time to snap a picture. We made it to Tangier for lunch, ate delicious food in a beautiful restaurant, and then set out for another tour of the markets in the Medina. We went to a Berber pharmacy and the pharmacist showed us the combination of herbs and natural remedies they sell. We rode up into the hills past the King’s Palace and through the various ethnic neighborhoods of the city. A short camel ride followed along with the obligatory photo op. Another ride to the Cave of Hercules at sunset, back into the city for a dinner of cous cous along with belly dancers and Arabian knights (how touristy is that??), and then back to the hotel.
Cave of Hercules
Sunday, bright and early, bus ride back to Tetuan. A short walk through the city followed by more bargain shopping and being followed by men selling things on the street, and then back to the bus for another border crossing.
I’m extremely lucky and happy I got the chance to experience everything for a few short days. I hope one day to hit up the big places in Morocco…Fez, Marrakech, & Rabat. It was such an interesting experience to be outside of Western culture for the first time…so eye opening to see the minarets of mosques dotting the landscape instead of the domes of churches. Obviously, we all know the world is diverse but it’s incredible to see it first-hand. I learned so much about Islam which reinforced my fascination with that type of culture.
As for Sevilla, the rain has FINALLY stopped (knock on wood). The last month or so it has literally rained 4-5 days/week…not so conducive to enjoying the city. I found a lovely park about 5 minutes from my house that I’ve enjoyed exploring and reading books in. I’ve started getting bocadillos (sandwiches) a couple days a week for lunch and eating in the plazas and at the Alcazar for lunch. Hopefully the weather stays this nice. I had one mid-term today and have a few more in the coming weeks. I’m headed to Cádiz & Málaga this weekend with a few friends. Updates again soon.