Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dream Come True!

I did something I have wanted to do since 6th grade - I saw the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany!!! In 6th grade we had to do a report on a country and I picked Germany. It was a ridiculously huge project and so much work and I distinctly remember this castle gracing the cover of my report. Ever since then I have wanted to see it in person and when I was in Germany, Dave and I went!
Called Schloß Neuschwanstein (Neuschwanstein Palace/Castle) by the Germans, it is listed as the main tourist attraction in all of Germany! It is located in 'Castle Country', about 2 hours south of Munich just out of a town named Fuessen. We hopped on a train, then a bus that was sitting outside the train station that happened to be going to the castle and ta-da, there is my 12 year old tourist dream come to life!

Construction began in 1868 when crazy King Ludwig II decided he wanted a castle better than his father's (that you can actually see from the windows of Neuschwanstein) that was in the authentic style of a German Knight castle. Growing up in his father's castle - named Hohenschwangau - Ludwig II grew tired of the gothic home and imagined a romantic and medevial castle where he could live. This is where his idea for Neuschwanstein comes in! Originally, the castle was named New Hohenscwangau, but when the King died it was renamed Neuschwanstein - new swan stone, because Ludwig II had loved swans his whole life.

Built in the hills of Bavaria, surrounded by sharp hills and blue lakes, the castle feels like a fairy-tale. It is rumored that the Disney logo and the Cinderella castle were all fashioned after Neuschwanstein, and I can definitley see it! While it was built in the 1800's, King Ludwig II wanted to make the castle appear older than it was, so it was built to look medevial and romantic, but still had indoor plumbing, heating, elevators and the works. The castle wasn't completed as quickly as Ludwig II would have hoped and he actually only lived in it for 11 days after it was finished before his death. Seven weeks later, the public was so interested, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public and now people from all over the world come to see it! We were able to tour the rooms that were completed upon his death and see just how lavish the castle would have been if it would have been finished! Also, we got some great views of the Bavarian landscape as well as a shot of his father's castle across the way.

Once we were finished the clouds started to converge and we decided we should head back to Munich anyways. I felt so satisfied, finally seeing something I had dreamed about for so long ha. I recently found out a 30-minute hike would have given me a spectacular view of the front of the castle, but we didn't know about that and I was wearing ballet flats, so it was probably better we didn't attempt it! It was always on my list of things to-do and I am happy I can finally check this one off!

Kuss! (kiss in German)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

¡Olé España! Part 5 (San Sebastian)

We made it back to San Sebastian in one piece but were pretty disappointed that it was rainy. When Cassie first arrived it was rainy as well and we had held out on doing the sightseeing and beach stuff hoping it would be better weather when we came back from our travels. Sadly, it wasn't.

Luckily, the travel Gods loved us and when we woke up the next morning it was clear, sunny and warm! We put on some of our new clothes that we had bought during the trip and headed for a walk on the water. From my house, along the walkway where the big waves crash, to the old part for an ice cream, to the Concha and past towards Monte Igledo we were headed towards something I have wanted to do since I arrived here! Monte Igledo is the biggest hill in Donosti and at the top of it you can see spectacular views! These are the type of views you see on a post card and if you have received one from me and it was a beach scene, it was probably from this mountain! There is a funicular railway that was built in 1912 and it still running that takes you to the top. I guess you could walk up the hills but we thought sitting in a cute little rail car, going up the hill at a 60% grade to scale the 1000 feet was a great option for 2 €!

Once at the top we were blessed with how beautiful San Sebastian is. I know that I live here every day and I walk the cobblestone streets that are lined with amazing architecture built in the 1800's and past the long stretches of beach or lush parks, but I think I forget how lucky I truly am to live here. Having Cassie in Spain for these two weeks has really given me a chance to explore and be proud of the country I live in. After hopping all over Spain, I was honestly happy to be back to Donosti and the view from the top of Monte Igledo (Mountain Igledo) really put it in perspective. We were super lucky with barely any clouds and a view for miles! We actually even saw in the FAR distance, Biarritz, the French town we went to lunch at two weeks earlier.

We were pretty beat and just really felt like relaxing the rest of the day away, so that's what we did. Cassie taught me how to cook her favorite meatballs and we drank some delicious Spanish wine. We watched our Spanish newscast video that we made in 11th grade and that we always watch when we reunite. It used to be on VHS but we love it so much that we have converted it to DVD. As a tribute to our reunion, we made a newscast reunion. Our Spanish is now much better but it was still fun and we couldn't stop laughing - its like we were 17 again. I had an AMAZING vacation and am so happy came to visit! So many memories, inside jokes and beautiful places we saw - great success!


¡Olé España! Part 4 (Barcelona)

In an attempt to save money, Cassie and I decided that we would take the 8 hour bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona through the night so we didn't have to pay for a hotel. Well we ended up getting a very quick driver and were dropped off at the bus station in Barcelona at about 645am. That kind of ruined our plan ha! Half asleep and bitter that it was sprinkling, we figured out the subway line to get to our hotel. Of course we were not able to check in, seeing as that the people who were probably in our room were still sleeping (which we were very jealous of) we checked our bags at the hotel, freshened up in the bathroom and then headed to the nearest Starbucks with our tour books.

Taking turns, Cassie would sleep and I would pretend to read and then we would switch. Even with delicious, warm carmel macchiatos, we were so tired that we passed out in the comfy chairs of Starbucks (awww how I miss Starbucks!). Once we conserved enough energy we decided we still had 5 hours before we could check-in to the hotel so we might as well get out and see the city since it had stopped raining!

We made our way down Las Ramblas (The Promenades). There are 5 of these ramblas, all connecting which end up making a very long walkway through the center of the city and straight from our hotel to the Mediterrean Sea! From birdcages with singing birds and posing street performers to live music and small flower shops, las Ramblas was always bustling, even as we were walking down it at 10am. Wandering towards the end of Las Ramblas, we saw the popular Christopher Columbus statue. In the 19th century, Catalans (people from the state of Catalona - where Barcelona is located) convinced themselves that Columbus was Spanish not Italian, erected this statue in his honor. Some odd things about it: 1) it is constructed so that Columbus is pointing to the horizon...but Libya, not the Americas. Some people explain this by saying he is pointing to his nearest fueling station ha. 2) Catalans adore Columbus, but it is said that he is the one that destroyed the commerce of Barcelona because of his American discovery, regardless they really like him!

We continued to poke around the Ramblas and then headed to the Barri Gótic (Gothic Neighborhood). This area is the oldest in Barcelona so it holds parts of the old palace, old city walls and the original cathedral! Because it was constructed before Roman times (aka before the idea of a grid layout for a city) the windy streets lead you in all different directions! Also, there are many very narrow streets, all with clothes hanging out the windows and motos speeding through the curves. At one point we found a sidewalk that only had two stripes - thats how small the street was! A my size sidewalk!

After poking in the cathedrals, having a few coffees and getting lost multiple times in the Barri Gótic we decided that it was close enough to check-in time that we could head back to our hotel. We had splurged and got a 4-star hotel that had a roof deck with a pool on the roof, so when we got back we threw on our swimsuits and took naps on the roof! From the top of our hotel we could see the water, the hills, the whole city! We were most excited we were able to see Barcelona's most famous place - The Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). It was a project Antonio Gaudi started before his death and is still a work-in-progess! More on that later!

I don't know if you have picked up on it yet, but when I am translating things in this blog, I am not translating them from Spanish, but actually from Catalan - the language they speak in Barcelona! Like Basque Country, the autonomous community of Cataluña wants to be on thier own. For this, they have thier own special cultural dances, events and a different language! Although it is not as difficult as Euskera (the basque language) it is a bit different than Spanish - more like a French/Spanish mix. We were fine because everyone still speaks Spanish, but I was a little confused at times! At one point, we got Starbucks coupons as a nice gesture (because we ended up going to the same Starbucks every morning) but we had no idea what the coupons offer was for because it was in Catalan haha.

After our tanning nap, we could see on of the Gaudi's famous housing projects from our roof and decided to go check it out! Gaudi, known for his modernism and amazing design and architecture is fully recognized and appreciated in Barcelona. He has multiple housing buildings, parks and of course the Sagrada Familia! We started off with the Casa Milá - a building made to mimic the sea. The walls of the outside are smooth and curvy, made to represent waves, and the balconies have iron all twisted and turned to look like seaweed. The coolest part of the house however was the roof! Supposed to represent soldiers of the sea, multiple chimneys sprout from the ceiling towards the sky. Each different, they are placed all over the multiple-level roof. Some smooth stone, some mosaic, they are all very interesting and really show Gaudi's individual ideas! I have never seen something like it, and I doubt they had when he built it in 1912 either.

Two blocks down is what is called the Manzana de la Discordia (Block of Discord). It is so named because of the 3 modern houses on the block that clash wildley. One by Gaudi and two by other modern architects from the era, we were excited to see another Gaudi creation - Casa Batlló. This one is magnificent and very colorful! The translation for this building is supposed to be the Catalan Saint Jordi (St. George) slaying a dragon. For this the walls of the building are irradescent scales of the dragon. The roof shows the dragon's back as well as the chimney that sticks up from the back is made to represent the sword used to kill it. The balconies, which look like they are made of bones, are supposed to be the remains of the dragon's victims. Elaborate and striking, this house was my favorite in the Block of Discord.

On the walk home we found an Italian buffet for cheap, filled up and headed back to the hotel for a well-needed sleep. We slept about 11 hours and woke up refreshed, excited to see some more Gaudi excitingness! First on our list was Starbucks haha then we headed off to the Sagrada Familia! This over-the-top cathedral was Gaudi's last project and he died while in the middle of it. It is still in process and is slated to be finished 2026. Cassie and I have already decided we will come back for the finishing and reunite in Barcelona again! T minus 17 years ha. Here is a photo of what The Sagrada Familia is supposed to look like. The red part of the photo is what is completed now (work started in 1882) and th ewhite is what is still waiting to be finished. It is a grand project and it is very obvious that Gaudi threw himself into this last project. A very religious man, the church is full of symbolism from top to bottom.

We started at the entrance, which holds the Passion facade. The suffering really shines through as Gaudi intended it. There are no ornamental decorations like flowers or animals but only strong and harsh figures that symbolize the pain and suffering Jesus felt. If you look closely you can see that Jesus is hanging FROM the cross not on it, creating a visual letter I, and above him the word INRI (Latin acronym for Jesus Christ). Little things like that are all over the facade: Jesus' head is actually a book, reminding visitors of the Bible; on the facade next to the statue representing Judas' kiss, there is a grid of 4 rows and 4 columns always add up to 33 - Jesus' age at death; and on one sculpture there are eggs which symbolize holiness and resurrection (Easter eggs make so much more sense now).

From this entrance we entered the musem to understand more about Gaudi, this private-funded church and the contintued construction. Only 4 spires and one facade (the Nativity Facade) were completed in Gaudi's time. The rest has been lead by other architects who have worked with or studied Gaudi. For this, the result is not completely Gaudi, but rather his idea and plan executed by his admirers. The museum winds you under the church, in what will eventually be the crypt of the church and you exit the other side. This is where the Nativity facade is. This is the one that was finished while Gaudi was still alive because he said that it was the most religious and would garner the most donations, and since this church is all privatley-funded, Gaudi needed money to continue the elaborate project. The Nativity facade has many different scenes from the birth of Jesus - the Holy family, the angels proclaiming his birth with thier musical instruments, the 3 wise men, the star of Bethlehem and more. From this photo you can see the 3 wise men on bended knee and two of the many angels carved into the stone. Although there are many scenes going on and all look amazing, they are actually done by many artists who are all masters of the gothic style! This side of the church looks like it is actually dripping because of the undulations of the walls and the smooth curves of the figures.
After gazing up for so long we decided to enter the church. While there is actually no interior, you are able to see the construction that is in process. It was really cool to see the people working, fulfilling the dream of Gaudi from years before. If you were an artist, construction worker or architect, I think it would be a huge honor to say you had any part in finishing this project. It was really neat to learn all about how the chuch will be when it is finished - the Glory facade, the massive cross to top the church, the interior and all the workings! Cassie and I will definitley be there to check it out! A rather dumb language moment on my part came before I actually came to see the Sagrada Familia. I had never researched it or anything before I moved to Spain, and even when I was here I didn't read up on it much until I was coming to Barcelona. I couldn't for the life of me figure out who these Sagradas were that Gaudi would make a whole church for! Did I miss a whole chapter of history of a really important family?? I was so confused until I read my guide book, which kindly informed me that as you read earlier, sagrada means sacred in Catalan haha. I will never forget now!

After the church we headed to Park Guell - another Gaudi project! This was originally set up to be a housing project with luxury homes sprinkled around a lovely modern park, but only one house was built. Only one house was built and was made to be the show-house for the selling of the property but no one bought Gaudi moved in himself. Back then housing developments weren't as popular as they are today in the USA so it was a bust of a project, but thankfully the city bought the rest of the land and made it a public park. Now everyone can come and appreciate the art that would have been great to live with if they had bought a house in Gaudi's complex! When you enter you see two buildings that look a lot like gingerbread houses with gumdrop windows. They are whimsical walls, mosaic window frames and the roofs look like a baker took a frosting bag and made decorative pillows of white sugary goodness! In front of the buildings is a staircase with many mosaic squares on the wall that lead up to an undercover area full of columns and a ceiling of more mosiacs that holds up the best part of the park. Past the columns and up another flight of stairs you make it to the top of the park and see the famous terrace. The focal point of it is the long, winding bench that is made to look like a sea serpant. It curves around the whole edge of the terrace, always offering a gorgeous view of Barcelona from its mosaic and one-of-a-kind seat. The benches were actually designed by Gaudi ergonomically - Gaudi had his construction workers sit naked on the clay as it was molding- which I thought was rather interesting. Also, we wandered on what were going to be the roads of the park and the underneath of them which were set up like colonades with slanted columns. Overall, it might have been my favorite place in Barcelona - great views, mosaic art, peaceful and colorful!

After that we headed back to the waterfront to rent some bikes and check out the Mediterranean Sea on a nice ride. When we arrived at the bike rental place there was a tandem bike and let me tell you something - I have ALWAYS wanted to ride one. I see them all the time at Long Beach in WA and am super jealous but have never found anyone to ride one with. I saw it and immediatley asked Cassie if she would be up for it. She said she has always wanted to ride one too and could never find anyone who wanted to. Match made in heaven. The man sort of chuckled and asked us if we were sure, saying it was kind of a challenge. We definitley wanted it! We made our way onto the street - Cassie in front and me in back - and that's when the problems started. Turns out the bike was in 1st gear so when we coordinated how to get on at the same time we were just pedaling and not moving. Falling off we laughed and probably gave the restaurant we fell in front of a nice laugh as well. Cassie said she would hop on and ride it for a second and change the gear so we could do it together but seeing Cassie ride a tandem bike alone was so hilarious I was dying laughing by time she came back. After a little more struggle and a LOT of laughs we got the hang of it and rode along the boardwalk in style. I ended up riding with no hands, waving to people who gawked at our amazing biking skills, taking photos and basically dancing on the back of a tandem bike. We rode as far as we could, turned around and did it all over it. It was possibly the best 15 € I have ever spent in my life and we were SO estatic!

After our bike ride we were sore and headed back to the buffet to feel better ha. We got our complimentary glass of champagne from the hotel and then wandered around the old part, just shopping and talking. Another early night for us and the next morning we headed to Starbucks yet again and then off to the bus station to head back to San Sebastian. I loved Barcelona but was happy about being home (well, my Spain home). Our bus ride, although our last in our travels was fantastic - they even gave us goody bags with juice, nuts and cookies! We had a fun 7 hour bus ride and were home in time for some tasty Spanish wine and a nice night of sleep.

Sorry this was kind of a long one but we managed to fit so much into Barcelona and we weren't even trying. It was probably the most relaxing part of our trip and we accomplished the most! It was really really fun and I hope you liked hearing about it!

Bes (kiss in Catalan)

Friday, April 24, 2009

¡Olé España! Part 3 (Madrid)

After another long bus ride, we arrived in Madrid around 11pm on Thursday night. David Weiss from high school was meeting us in Madrid with some of his Army friends and were planning to spend the weekend together :D The 4 boys had rented two apartments in the center of Madrid for the weekend and invited us to stay there for free, so we were pretty happy about that!

When we arrived we were a bit tired, but powered through and found some good bars in Madrid but didn't do anything too crazy. Instead, we slept hours and hours and woke up refreshed for Friday. Our whole trip we had been avoiding bad weather by about a day or so, but in Madrid it caught up with us, and as we were sightseeing around the city, it got very windy and sort of drizzly. We managed to get to kilo zero though (the center of Madrid and all of Spain). As a result we headed over to the Museum of Jamon - basically just a bar with a lot of pig legs hanging from the walls - very Spanish ha. What started out as one beer turned into a drinking contest: who can drink a pitcher of sangria the fastest??? Ohhhhh my! Good thing the sangria at the Museum of Jamon didn't have much wine in it, because a pitcher is quite a lot of liquid! It was a pretty funny contest and I ended up getting second - all my sangria drinking practice in Spain paid off I guess ha. After such hard work drinking sangria we decided to hang out in the apartments until the rain left and rest up for the nighttime. We found a few new bars but the best part of the night was when Cassie and I demonstrated the symbol of Madrid together. You might remember from my previous Madrid blog a long time ago that the symbol of Madrid is a bear grabbing onto a tree. After a dispute in the 13th century, it was decided that the church owned the soil (tree) and the people of Madrid owned everything on the land (bear). This coming together is symbolized by the bear touching the tree. Kind of weird, but we were happy to imitate it!

The next day we wanted to check out the famous Prado Museum. Madrid has 3 very popular museums, and last time I was there I visited the modern art one and saw the Guernica by Pablo Picasso and a bunch of Salvador Dali peices, but this time we wanted to check out more classical Spanish art. It was so fun to go with Cassie and Dave because we all were in the same Spanish classes in high school so we learned about the same Spanish art and were all equally excited about finally seeing what had spent so much time studying! While you probably aren't as interested in Spanish art as we were, we were most excited to see: Diego Velazquez and Goya. We studied thier art for a good amount of time in Spanish class and after seeing a poster or an image in a book for so many years it is nice to see it right in front of you!

With our dose of culture we headed off to do what the Spanish do ham! We found a cute restaurant close to our place and got plates and plates of ham appetizers ha. Dave complained that when they went back to Germany they were going to have to go on ham detox. After living here for so long now, I think I will go into ham withdrawls once I get back to the States haha. I love it!

That night we checked out a few bars in the Plaza Mayor area - the best being a bar called Toro del Oro - The Gold Bull. It is a famous bullfighting bar and has a few bulls heads mounted! It also has a huge amount of framed 8x10 photos of well-known bullfighters (matadores) in action. There are even pictures of when things go wrong and you can see up close what it looks like when a bullfighter gets gored and hooked with the horns - gross. It was a nice prelude to the next day because we were going to see a bullfight!

The night ended early and the boys woke up pretty early to head back to Germany. It was sad to see them go, because we had such a fun weekend with all of them! Since we were staying with them, as soon as they left, we were made homeless (we preferred to be called gypsies ha) and spent most of the day trying to find things to keep us occupied. We visisted the Reina Sofia - the modern art museum, had another Starbucks (even got them in the mugs for staying in the Starbucks!!!) and checked out the botanical gardens blooming in Spring! Around 5 o'clock we headed over to the gorgeous bull ring and crossed our fingers that there were still tickets! We got lucky and got amazing seats for only 15€. While I had told Cassie the day before that they kill the bulls in the end, we really weren't prepared for the whole chain of events.

At a bullfight (corrida) there are really 3 stages. The first is where the bull comes out and runs from side to side of the bull ring - running towards multiple bullfighters who use pink capes. When we saw this we were confused because we thought that they were always red, but those come later. After making the bull angry, a horn sounds and a horse with armour comes trots out and a man sitting on him gets the bull's attention, and then as the bull charges the horse the man stabs the bull in the neck to prepare him for the next part of the fight. This part was particularly hard to watch because the bull gets so mad and pushes and rams the horse (who is blindfolded) and it just breaks your heart. After that, the bullfighters and thier pink capes lure him back into the center of the ring for the second part of the fight: the banderillas (decorated darts). At this point, different bullfighters take thier turn running straight at the bull, stabbing him with colored darts into his back and somehow avoid getting horned! After a few sets of darts, the bull is bleeding pretty badly and is getting tired and that is when the horn sounds again and the 3rd part of the fight starts: the matador finishes the bull off. This is when the red cape is brought out and the bullfighter has 10 minutes to kill the bull. He wears an amazingly sparkly jacket, matching spandexs and little ballerina slippers. He flashes the red cape, letting the bull run so closely to him on the side and eventually tires him out and then proceeds to stab the bull in the head. The bull, so stabbed and losing blood rapidly, dies and collapses to the ground. As a way to ensure the bull is dead and spare him any more hurt, they stab him in the head with a little dagger and then hook his hoofs to a line of horses who drag him out of the ring, leaving a trail of blood.

The first fight we saw, the bull was very strong and put up a good fight, and so it was rather shocking when he buckled down to the ground. We were both kind of in awe, but Cassie (a huge animal lover) started crying when everyone stood up to applaud. This photo sort of shows our first reactions to bullfighting - me cheering, pretty excited I am finally seeing a bullfight, and Cassie with the tears running down her face in shock! After getting over the brutality of the inital fight, we became good fans, shouting things like 'yea, here come the big swords!'. The only way we could convince ourself that watching this and cheering was acceptable was that it was CULTURE. After 6 bulls, the fight was over and the stands emptied quickly. Still kind of in shock we followed the crowd and headed to dinner.

After dinner we stopped by the Museum of Jamon for one more sangria and then were on our overnight bus trip to our last destination: Barcelona!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

¡Olé España! Part 2 (Sevilla and Granada)

Back on the road again, we were happy that our bus ride from Cadiz to Sevilla was only one hour! Compared to our other bus rides that was a huge blessing! We shuttled off to our hotel to set our things down and then headed back into town. By now we have mastered public transportation and get everywhere on the bus or metro!

The reason I have wanted to come to Sevilla for so long is that is it is the most well-known place for their Semana Santa processions. You might have heard of them before, because the people in the processions dress up in the same outfits that the KKK wears - robes and pointy hats. While I knew it would be a bit eerie to see this, it is such a huge and historical part of the Spanish culture and I knew it was something I couldn't miss.

Once in town we wandered for a little bit - saw the huge Cathedral but didn't want to wait in the hour-long line to get in, so just gazed at the church and the huge tower. It was built in the place of an old mosque after the reconquista and is one of the largest of Spanish medival and gothic cathedrals and supposedly has tons and tons of gold decorating the inside. We kept walking and stumbled into Plaza España, where most of the city's government buildings are housed. It was originally built for the Spanish-American Exhibition in 1929 and is fantastically decorated with red brick and bright tiles. To pay tribute to Spain, there are little alcoves for each autonomous community (basically like our states)! I of course took a picture in the alcove of the autonomous community that I live in - Guipuzcoa! A fun fact for Star Wars fans - this Plaza was used in Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones and was the set of Naboo in the movie...random but interesting I guess. With all the bridges, tiles and the moat, it was a gorgeous place to wander around.

After our minimal sightseeing and a traditional Spanish lunch, we decided it was time to see what we came for - the proessions! We headed through the winding streets, checking the map constantly as to where we were going. We had no idea where the processions started or ended but wanted to see something on the other side of the city and figured we would run into a procession or two on the way. We were sure right!

The processions of the south started in the 1500s with religious brotherhoods who wanted to take the symbols of the Catholic church to the streets. Back then, the brotherhoods symbolized your class, race and job and by marching from your parish to the main city cathedral, you could basically show where you stood in society and help attain salvation. The parades always consist of the same things: wood floats showing the Passion, a float showing the Virgin, robed and hooded men carrying crosses, a brass band and a huge cross.

The first procession we saw started out of a little baby church. A huge crowd had gathered around and we knew something big was happening. First, the hooded men came out bearing the huge wooden cross that signals the start of the procession. He was flanked by two lantern holders, although they are only lit when it is dark out. Next were large groups of barefoot people, dressed in the capes and hats as well, carrying tall candles, that again, are only lit at night. Following them are the altar boys who don't wear the caps but instead elaborate cloaks and carry laterns and incense (which we got pretty sick of pretty quick!). The last part of the group was a massive float with Jesus that depicts his death. The floats are carried by a bunch of brotherhood members who walk under the float. If you look closely when they walk by, you are able to see thier white shoes peeking out from the side curtains. The float was fantastic, so detailed and really did evoke an emotion in you. They say people who never go to church, weep at the holy week of Seville. There was no weeping from me, but it was pretty amazing to see something so antique and gorgeous paraded down the street. Because it is carried by people, the float sways back and forth and you almost think it is going to fall, but they manage to keep it up and make thier way down the road. I have posted a few photos of the floats (pasos) because to explain them in detail is impossible and you will have a better idea when you just look at them - appreciating the intracacies for yourself. After the Passion float comes a brass band and then the whole order starts again, minus the great cross, and the next float is that of the Virgin Mary mourning the loss of her son. The Mary floats were always my favorites, as they were adorned with lace, flowers, candles and a spectacular Mary!

Although we knew we were going to see the KKK outfits, I don't think we were really too prepared. It was kind of scary and gave us a sick feeling at the bottom of our stomachs, but when you look at the history of the outfits, it makes you even more sick! The outfits of the cape and cloak used to be used so that people of the church could demonstrate thier penance without showing thier faces, therefore, it was a deeply Catholic costume. Sadly, we now have a very bad connotation of these outfits, but here they are worn with pride. They sell items like robed men suckers to robed men postcards. While it was a bit weird for us, we appreciated it for what it was.

In total in 2008 there were 59 of these processions in Seville alone. While we were there for the day we saw 3 - two up close and one from a bar we randomly found that happened to be on a procession route. At the bar we got to witness the final act of the procession...the street cleaners, which we thought was funny! After scouting the city for the entire day, us tired girls headed back to our hotel to get ready for the next day...Granada!

We woke up early, caught another bus, this one was 3 hours which wasn't to bad to Granada. The only reason we were headed to this Spanish city was to see the famed Alhambra. Granada used to be a wealthy Muslim city in the 700s but the Spanish eventually turned in Christian. While there are still little traces of Muslim buildings, most of the city has changed drastically. The Alhambra was originally a military base in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (yea, we have one in Spain too!!). With a massive amount of buildings, bell towers to signal danger and watchtowers, palaces and more! While it was a military base, it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Spain - really showing off Islamic architecture. The Alhambra is famed in all of Spain, and turned out to be extremely popular the day we were there. Once we finally got into the foothills we found out all the tickets had been sold out for the day! Since The Alhambra was the only reason we came to Granada, we were a bit disappointed and upset, as there isn't really much more to see in the city. Since we couldn't get in, we took a massive amount of photos from the outside although you can't see much ha. I even pretended to scale a wall - 'if they won't let me in, i will get in myself haha'. We ended up taking a scenic walk down the foothills and ended at a outside restaurant that had a pretty nice view of the Alhambra. There, we spent the next 4 hours, sipping wine, listening to Spanish guitar and gazing at the Alhambra ha. It is said that 'If you die without seeing the Alhambra, you have not lived.' We figure Jesus will give us some extra-credit for atleast trying!

Ready to leave Granada, we jumped on another bus (two in one day, pretty rough!) for 5 hours to head to Madrid! More to come next!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

¡Olé España! Part 1 (Biarritz, Bus, Fuengirola, Cadiz)

Well, it has been quite some time! I have just finished a whirlwind trip of España with Cassie - one of my best friends from Kelso. She is great and has visited me in every city I have lived in since high school. We have about 1 or 2 reunions a year, wherever we are and just have a blast. This time she came to Spain (later in the summer I will visit her in Reno) and we toured Spain like it has never been toured before! We had a robust schedule and only 15 days in which to do it.

Cassie arrived on Friday the 3rd and as I was sick and she was jet-lagged we stayed in and rested most of the night. Saturday was a rainy day in San Sebastian, so not much sight-seeing happened, but we still managed to shop! Figuring we were going to run into warmer weather in the rest of the country we bought some cute summer dresses and just relaxed the day away. I did manage to get her out on the town that night and we partied, San Sebastian style, with all of my friends!

Since it was Cassie's first time to Europe, I figured that since we are so close, we might as well do a lunch trip to France! We jumped on a train Sunday morning and had a nice lunch in Biarritz, a fancy little coastal town. While it was windy and cloudy, we still enjoyed ourselves. Although I have visited France a few times before, my French has not improved, no suprise! We had probably the worst lunch with a very rude waiter, but figured ohhhh well, its France! We walked along the coast and out onto rocks that jut out into the ocean, checked out some shops and mostly just strolled around. We actually saw some Basque dancing in front of the casino, which is always entertaining. Since it was Sunday a lot of things were closed, but I was happy we made it to France. It still amazes me sometimes that another country is just a hop across the river.

After our little French excursion we headed back to my place to pack for our tour of Spain! That evening we were catching a 15-hour (amazzzzzzzzzingly long bus ride, I know) to the south of Spain to kick it off. My Danish friend, Peni, came along with us, as her family friends have a house in a town in the south that they said we could use! The bus was the longest bus ride of my entire life. Peni and I took a bus to Lisbon before and it was almost as long, but this one just seemed to drag. We managed to have fun though...singing, playing games and being giggly girls. At one point, a man told us to stop talking, we just laughed and said we will see. It was a tiring but actually pretty fun bus ride. No eye infections this time, so that was a plus!

We arrived in Fuengirola, a small touristy town in the south of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. Peni's family had printed out a map and everything for us, so we found the apartment quite easily. It was above a Sex Shop, which we happened to think was the weirdest but funny thing ever. The best part is that all over town there were signs about how to get to the shop, so if we ever just got lost, we just followed signs to the Sex Shop. Classy. While we were pretty excited to have a place to stay, we were super disappointed to find out the family hadn't turned on the electricity or water. This makes staying somewhere quite a challenge, as you can imagine. When we needed to go to the bathroom we had to leave and go to McDonald's or to a bar or something...not so desirable, so we spent most of the sunny day outside exploring the city and sitting on the beach. We also treated Cassie to her first paella, a very famous Spanish dish. It's basically just rice, meat and veggies, but the Spainards put a special twist on it that makes it delicious. After some sweet sangria we called it an early night (sleeping on a bus just doesn't cut it) and all 3 cuddled into one bed since you recall there was no heat ha. Fun first travel day!

We had planned to use the house as a home base and take day trips but since the bus schedules didn't look like they were going to accomodate that and our house didn't have electricity or water, we decided to suck it up and buy some cheap hotels in the three cities we wanted to visit in the south - Cadiz, Seville and Granada. Tuesday morning we caught an early bus, yes more buses, to Cadiz. Cadiz is a city on the Atlantic and was actually a place Cassie considered studying during college. She ended up picking Rio de Janiero in Brazil, but she wanted to check out Cadiz to see what she missed.

We got there in the morning and found our hotel...RIGHT on the beach! Honestly, you walked out of our hotel and ta-da there was the beach. Although it was windy, we weren't going to let that stop us and immediatley put on our swimsuits and ran to the water. Turns out it was a little too windy for us and we felt the water and rushed to put back on our clothes ha. But atleast we can saw we did it. After freezing on the beach we headed into town to check out the city. Turns out Cadiz is quite small and we managed to see the whole city in the one day. The city is one of the oldest inhabitated city on the Iberian Pennisula and possibly all of Europe. We walked along the coast and out to an old castle which gave us a great view of the city. The Castillo de San Sebastian (castle of saint sebastian) used to be one of the 3 lookout points for protecting the city. This particular one was built in 1706. Cadiz, in the original Phoenician language means 'walled stronghold' which seems to be true since the little pennisula is protected by a lot of these fortresses.

We explored the city more and actually ran into a Semana Santa (holy week) procession. It was the first one that I had seen, and really the reason I had wanted to come to the South of Spain for Easter. I will explain all about the processions when I talk about the city of Seville, because they are famous for thiers, but we were pretty excited to see one in Cadiz. We had a rather relaxing day, checking out the Cathedral of Cadiz, built in 1635, the monuments to the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and check into little shops and try some wine and tapas. The most odd part of the trip was when we had dinner and were sitting at our table. Three guys sat down next to us and said, 'oh you speak English, where are you from?'. We kindly said 'The States. What about you?'. Thier answers were: Pakistan, Lebanon and another country...needless to say, we finished up our dinner real quick and left!

Happy with a hotel that had running water and electricity, as opposed to the house we were going to stay in, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Very romantically, Cassie and I watched the sunset and as we were watching the sun drop into the horizon a nice old man approached us and said in Spanish - can I tell you something? Of course we say he could and he then explained that when you see the sun set in Cadiz, it is the farthest West point in Europe and when it reaches the horizon that means it is at the Canary Islands and then past that point its over the America. It sounded so fanastic and lovely until I started to think about it and Portugal and the UK are definitley more West than Spain so either I completely didn't understand his Spanish (which is possible because southern spanish is the most lispy Spanish I have ever heard) or he was just an old crazy man! Regardless, nice thought.

We headed to bed early, preparing for our next day trip - SEVILLA (Seville) - which was the city I most wanted to see in the check for it next blog.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

It's finally my Spring Break!

Hooray! I am off for two weeks!!! It's basically like Spring Break all over again :D

Cassie arrived right on time yesterday and hopefully loves Europe! Starting Sunday we are taking a whirlwind tour of Spain - Malaga, Seville, Granada, Madrid, Barcelona and of course Basque Country. I won't be writing for the next two weeks just because we will be busy travelling and having fun, but you can bet when I get back there will be stories and cities along with pictures to share with you.

I hope you have a great few weeks, a fantastic Easter and that you don't miss my blogs too much for the next few days.