Sunday, December 5, 2010

Visit to Sevilla

Inside of the Real Alcazar; such beautiful architecture

A view of the Cathedral

In front of the Granada wall in the Plaza de España

Last weekend the entire API group went on our last excursion to Sevilla and I have to admit, the city gives Granada some competition. Although it rained for the entire first full day of our stay, the beautiful weather the following day certainly made up for it. The city is absolutely gorgeous and in certain parts it reminds me of Granada. To me, it has a city feel but not like Barcelona or Madrid but rather must more confined and cozy. We visited the La Catedral on Saturday in the rain and despite the damp cold inside of the building, the amount of talent and time that went into constructing such a place is mind-blowing. It is largest Cathedral in Spain and is the 3rd largest in the world and I definitely understand why now. We climbed to the top of the tower and looked out to rainy Sevilla; the view was fantastic. The next day we toured Los Reales Alcázares, “Royal Alcazars of Seville” which is a royal palace in Seville that was originally a Moorish fort. King Pedro of Castile built over what remained of the palace and the resulting design is an impressive mix of Islamic and Christian influence. After our tour of the interior, we strolled around the gardens and saw beautiful peacocks! I saw over 5 peacocks! Later in the day a group of friends and I went to the Plaza de España which was built for the Spanish- America Exhibition in 1929. The colorful, tiled walls of the Plaza represent different provinces in Spain and my friends and I enjoyed taking pictures in front of every place we have traveled to in Spain and of course we made sure we got a group picture in front of the Granada wall. I would have liked to stay in Sevilla for much longer since the rain on Saturday really hindered our trip; it was so windy and raw so walking around a city we didn’t know in that kind of weather didn't seem like a good idea and we ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the hotel. You can’t control the weather though so I can't complain. I loved the city so much that I can say if I wasn’t studying in Granada I absolutely would be studying in Sevilla!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Las Alpujarras

Last Sunday my friend Sarah and I journeyed to Las Alpujarras where we hiked from the town of Pampaniera to Bubion to Capileira. The towns are built on a mountain and visitors can hike from one town to the next although it is quite a good workout. It is a completely different atmosphere than Granada as it is quiet and secluded from the rest of Spain. It was honestly one of the best experiences I have had since coming to Granada and I am so glad the weather cooperated even though the forcast predicted rain for that day. It ended up being the most perfect autumn day with a crisp blue sky. At some points during our hike up the mountain from one town to the next we actually felt hot which brought us back to our days in Granada in August and September. Lately it has been so chilly and I have learned from talking to Granadinos that this weather is unusually cold for this time of year. Well, here are some pictures from my time in Las Alpujarras!

After doing much thinking and observing...

As I have approached the last month of my study abroad experience, I have started to realize that a couple of things are different now from what I previously thought. First of all, coming to Spain with an American study abroad group is not a complete immersion experience and I have learned that you will only be as immersed in the culture as you want to be. The office for API (Academic Programs International) is almost a safe-haven/hangout for all of the American students in the group and it is an area where you hear mostly English, despite the resident directors’ desire to speak in Spanish. The Center of Modern Languages, where I attend all of my classes, is a separate and isolated part of the University of Granada and that too is safe-haven for all of the international students. The idea of immersion has to be an independent decision and I have tried my best to integrate myself into the native life here. I have made Spanish friends during organized intercambios and have met up with them on separate occasions. Do I still speak English more than I would like to here? Yes, unfortunately I do. This past month I have tried extremely hard to speak in English as infrequently as possible but it is as natural a process as breathing and I find myself slipping into an English world without my conscious recognition. I really felt that I would come to Spain and become completely fluent and sound like a native speaker but I have realized that I had really high intentions. The language skills I have acquired here are undoubtedly recognizable, yet I am not absolutely fluent nor will I be by the time I leave in December. I think fluency is partly a state of mind and my mind is not yet at that stage where I can completely cross into Spanish without some English translations tagging along.
On a different note, I have come to the conclusion that Granada is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. Instead of there being a Dunkin Donuts every 5 minutes down the street (like Cranston, RI) there is a beautiful cathedral, monastery, theater, etc. that illuminates the rich history of this province. I still find myself looking up at the buildings on my walks to school because the architecture is so impressive. I love the views of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, especially now that their peaks are white with snow. I also love the views of the Alhambra from a random side street; I just happened to look up between two buildings and see part of the structure sitting on the hill overlooking the city. It is a magical area really and while that may sound cliché there is really no other word that comes to mind. I am going to miss this city so much.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Parisian Excursion

This past Saturday my API group hesitantly left for Paris; our international excursion through the program. When I say hesitantly I am referring to the French worker’s strike which has been making quite an impact in the country, canceling flights, causing riots, car bombs and the like. With all of this information clearly displayed on our during the week before we supposed to leave, most of us did not even think we were going to be able to get to Paris, never mind enjoy the city and return to Granada without a problem. I must say now, sometimes the news makes situation appear much worse than they are in reality because we did not experience one problem while we were traveling during what the news considered, “the days of the mass strike.” Needless to say, we arrived in Paris Saturday night and were able to fully enjoy our time until we left on Tuesday morning.

When we first arrived to Paris the weather was miserable and for a couple of minutes I wanted the pilot to turn the plane around and go back to Granada. It had to be in the 40’s, raw, and raining. By the time we arrived at the hotel I was ready for bed but instead a large group of people went to get dinner. Since only person in my group of friends speaks any French, we all lucked out that our waitress was fluent in Spanish after studying abroad in the Canary Islands. I have never felt so helpless before because I have never traveled to a country where I couldn’t speak the language at all. It was pretty humorous though because for the whole time we were in Paris we continuously switched around the languages we spoke. When I was asked questions in French I automatically responded in Spanish until I realized that they had no idea what I was saying. Even in some places where they could speak English I found myself answering in Spanish; I have Spanish on the brain.

The next day I went on a bus tour that brought us all around the city including the Eiffel Tower, Arc of Triumph, Concorde Palace, Luxemburg gardens, Notre Dame, Tracadero, Bastille, and the Hospital of the Invalids. The weather was crisp and it only rained briefly when a group of friends and I were taking a lunch break. That day I saw the Eiffel Tower in the daylight and at night and in my opinion it is much more impressive at night. During the day it looks smaller that what I always imagined and it just looks like a huge metal structure; structure being the keyword. I did not have any feeling of true awe looking at it during the day. On the other hand, at night, the lights twinkle every hour on the hour and the mere structure turns into a silent glowing giant. I thought it was majestic. I stood in front of it eating a chocolate filled beignet and it was one of the best moments of my life.

On the following day we went to the Louvre Museum and while it amazing to see all of the famous works like the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, etc, for me seeing these masterpieces up close in person made them seem less mysterious and notable. The Mona Lisa is quite small and it was almost impossible to get a decent view considering the huge line of people wrapping around the center of the room. There is absolutely no way anyone can see everything they want to during one visit and so my friends I left after our guided tour ended. The museum is overwhelming; just being in the museum itself was overwhelming to me. For the rest of the day I ventured around the city, saw Napoleon’s monstrously large tomb, went to the Armory Museum, ate some crepes (my new favorite food) and just took in the sights. I wanted to go back to Shakespeare n’ Company, a bookstore that I went to on the first day but there was not enough time. The store was fantastic, full of new and used books including some that writers produced while living at the bookstore. The store is and has been a haven for aspiring artists and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a hand-bound book that was full of poems of gratitude from the people who sought refuge in the book store. I sat in a little cubby and read all of the poems (in Spanish and English; they were in all different languages). Something as simple as that experience will be one I will not ever forget.

All in all, Paris is a city drenched in history. I feel like almost everything in the city has some sort of historical value regardless of its modern day reputation. If I ever went back I know it would lose some of its magic; the first time, although it is touristy and crowded, it is special and exciting. I feel that if I ever went back, I would be too distracted by all the hustle and bustle that managed to sneak by during my first visit. It is something to cross to off my list of things to do in my life…

Friday, October 15, 2010

A crazy weekend...

This past weekend I had what I would consider the greatest adventure of my life. In September, four friends and I planned a trip to Liverpool and Ireland (this past Tuesday was a holiday in Spain and so we had Monday and Tuesday off). Well it finally came and don’t get me wrong, it was fabulous but it was also a nerve-wracking experience. During the five day extravaganza we took almost every form of transportation that exists including planes, trains, buses, and cars and I felt that we were always on the move. We flew out of Malaga, Spain on Thursday morning and flew into Liverpool. I knew I was going to love Liverpool because the first thing I saw after exiting the airport was a huge yellow submarine statue; Liverpool is one big Beatles tribute which was awesome for me seeing as how I am a big Beatles fan! When we were on the shuttle from the airport to the city centre, we went through many neighborhoods and the houses looked very Dutch to me (my Dutch friend concurred); they were mostly all brick and were closely lined up one next to the other. The neighborhoods were all so quaint and in some places it reminded me of the neighborhoods surrounding Boston College. Although we planned to go to the Beatles museum, there was just not enough time and we were not able to get there although we were able to stop by a pub that the band used to play at which was pretty cool. I don’t think I would go back to Liverpool again, although I did enjoy my one day there. On the plane, a woman heard us talking about Liverpool and she asked us why we picked Liverpool out of all the places to go in England; our only reply was, “the Beatles museum!” The conversation made me determined to get back to England one day and travel through different areas.

On Friday we flew to Dublin and let me just say that I was and still am in love with Ireland. Although I am not Irish, I felt like I fit in there! There were so many red heads; I have never seen so many red heads in the same area at same time! The people were all so kind and helpful and everyone seemed to be smiling everywhere you looked. Is it the luck of the Irish? Maybe it is true. Dublin is such a gorgeous city. We visited Dublin Castle and Trinity College while we were there. The Book of Kells resides at Trinity College which is why the college is so famous. It is a beautiful campus. We all sat in the quad just taking in the sights and the sounds; pretending that we were students at such a prestigious college.

On Saturday afternoon we took a train to Galway and I am so glad we took the train and not the bus because we were had breathtaking views of the Irish countryside during the entire trip!! I saw so many Irish sheep! I proudly admit that I bought an Irish sheep sweater in Galway; I couldn’t resist. It looked so warm and fuzzy and it is green, one of my favorite colors! All but one of us girls bought a sweater so we were looking quite spiffy in the airport coming home wearing our sweaters (since they wouldn’t fit in our backpacks). On Sunday we took a bus tour of the West Coast through Galway Tour Company. We saw the Cliffs of Moher, the Portal Tomb, the Ballyalban Fairy Fort that is believed to be inhabited by leprechauns and fairies, the Burren (limestone landscape that covers 320 sq. kilometers), and the Dunguaire Castle. It was really cloudy the day of the tour but the scenery was astounding never-the-less. The Cliff of Moher are majestic; what was not so majestic was to hear that people fall off the cliffs on a regular basis and as you can probably guess, they do not survive; eerie.

On Friday we found out that our flight from Liverpool to Malaga was canceled to the French air strike so we had to reschedule and ultimately pay for a whole new ticket from Dublin to Malaga that left Monday night. We got into Malaga and then had to stay at a creepy hostel which you could not pay me to go back to. We finally made it back to our home in Granada on Tuesday morning and for the rest of the day I rested and thanked God to not have to catch any other plane, train, bus, or taxi. What an adventure…

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Today I got back from a weekend trip to Barcelona and I am completely exhausted. Me and four friends left on Thursday and we flew out of the Malaga airport to Barcelona. Our intensive month class ended on Wednesday and we had a two day + weekend vacation before our regular semester classes start on Monday. I am officially in level seven Spanish which is considered “upper advanced” so I am proud of myself!

I am definitely happy I had the opportunity to go to Barcelona although when it comes down to it, the city itself is too big for me and all of the commotion makes me anxious. Besides the native language Catalan sounding soooo different than the Castellano I have been speaking and hearing in Granada, Barcelona was tourist central and every other person walking down the street was speaking a different language. I heard everything from Dutch, to Japanese, to English and it was difficult to know whether to speak in Spanish or English; I definitely had some encounters with people who could not speak English or Spanish. Everything was so expensive too! All of the meals, the transportation, everything was so expensive. I guess that is what to expect in tourist-based area like Barcelona. We did get to see some of Gaudi’s houses which were stunning to see in person. His designs are bizarre and ingenious; I can’t think of a better to describe it. We also visited El Parque Guiell which was beautiful. The park consisted of Gaudi’s sculptures and other designs in a garden setting which was lovely to walk through. Yesterday was actually really hot in Barcelona which I did not expect at all considering the days have been cooler here in Granada and so the walk became a bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours but I would recommend that anyone visiting Barecelona go there. Last but not least we visited La Sagrada Familia. Despite the construction cranes and scaffolding which have been and will be part of the fascade for an indefinite amount of time, the building is breathtaking. I found it so neat to walk by one side and see the lighter, more recent construction and then walk 10 feet to the right or left and see the discolored stone that has been probably been there since the beginning of the construction around 100 years ago. The line to buy tickets to tour inside was literally around the block so we gave up on that idea and decided to just enjoy the outside of La Sagrada Familia and take pictures. I wish I knew what everything represented as far as the figurines and the different carvings that are part of the fascade; they must have some kind of symbolic meaning although I can only guess at what it is.

I can’t forget to write about my favorittttttttttte meal that I have had so far in Spain!! Last night I ordered Spinach prepared the “Catalan” way with pinenuts, raisins, and ham. It was so filling and absolutely delicious. It was cooked with olive oil (of course) and it was so great. I plan on making it when I get home to the States.

All in all, Barcelona was a successful trip even though last Wednesday I did not think we were going to make it to the airport in time for our flight. We ended up having to change the time of our bus from Granada to the airport to 3 am in order to have enough time to check-in. Everything was so hectic on Wednesday due to the strike here and we were not even sure if our original 7 am bus was still going to run since they canceled a couple of the later bus routes on Thursday as part of a continued strike action. Although I personally didn’t see any striking or rallying here in Granada I heard about various situations throughout the city which ended up being extremely dangerous. Barcelona was one of the cities with the most intense uprisings and the news coverage on Wednesday was certainly not depicting a fun/safe place to travel to which made us all nervous. Luckily for us, by Thurday afternoon the streets were calm and returned back to normal and our weekend was fabulous.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some pictures...

These are the flowers I was talking about! What are they? They are so beautiful.

The beautiful decorative arches...

A view from one of the outside walkways..