Sunday, November 21, 2010

Córdoba and Granada

Once again after returning from another excursion in Spain, I am left speechless.  Not because I am tired after two very jam packed days or that I have had minimal amounts of sleep lately.  No, I’m speechless because of the very sights I saw and things I experienced while in Córdoba and Granada.  Every place I go just keeps getting better and better.  It’s like they save the best for last or something like that.  As our trip has been winding down, already into the last few weekends left, I was sure these two cities would be impressive…little did I know that not only would these two cities impress the hell out of me, but that I would leave a different person.  I know I’ve mentioned change throughout my study abroad experience, however I feel like these two cities have shown me sights and histories I never thought possible.  I have experienced beauty beyond words where only my memory holds the true image.  Through photos I’ve tried to capture everything I possibly could with a little lens and a slightly old camera, but I fear they will never be good enough.  It’s ironic to think that something so beautiful can never be described in a still image, whether it be in a picture, a painting or even in writing for that matter.  But I suppose it’s meant to be that way. 

We left bright and early Friday morning as usual and headed out for Córdoba.  Didn’t get to see many sights on the way to Córdoba, since I slept most the way, but when we arrived it was gorgeous.  We walked over an old bridge into the city and into one of the coolest “cathedrals” ever.  Why the “” for many reasons…one because it does not have the design of a normal cathedral and two because originally it wasn’t even a cathedral!  Way back in the olden days it was  a Christian church called San Vicente, then in 785 the Muslims tore it all down (except for the foundation) and started to build a mosque.  It was finally finished around the 10th century.  200 years to build a mosque…that’s some serious dedication!  And it definitely shows!  Interesting little fact about the mosque/cathedral thing is that a lot of the material used to build it is even older than the year 1. Yep…that’s right.  700 YEARS BEFORE YEAR ONE THAT IS!  We’re talkin Roman pillars.  Instead of wasting their time making new pillars for the mosque, the Muslims used ancient Roman ones that were already there in the city!  They took them from Roman buildings and used them in the mosque to create the amazing archways.  Needless to say there are no more Roman ruins in Cordoba, but every column in the mosque is unique because of this little borrowing of materials.  No pillar is exactly the same style or size so to make up for that they made different size crownings?? (I guess you would call them) so that they would all make the same size archway.  Go look at the pictures…you’ll see what I’m talking about. 
They enjoyed the mosque for a few more centuries until the year 1236 when the city was conquered by the king, later saint, Fernando III.  Not wanting anything to do with the Muslims they kicked them out and turned the mosque into a cathedral by knocking down some pillars, adding some stained glass, adding capillas (chapels), and overall adding crosses and catholic things all over the place.  But because of this little rearranging of the architecture, the used to be mosque was saved from the Spanish Inquisition.  Now for those of you who don’t know what that is…shame on you.  For those that do, let’s recap.  Only Catholicism was allowed in Spain during the 15th century so every mosque or non catholic church was destroyed.  But since the mosque was “converted” they didn’t tear it down and to this day we can still enjoy the ancient Islamic art. 

Our Spanish tour guide was amazing and he kept calling us his “little family.”  I love when Spanish people try and pronounce English words.  THEY ARE JUST SO DANG CUTE!  Not sure if I sound the same way or not in Spanish, although I’ve been told I don’t have the typical “American” accent and some even think I’m from Spain.  :’)  So proud of myself.  :)  ANYWAYS…on to the rest of the day.

A group of us headed out for lunch and then it was back on the bus for the next city Granada.  Another 2 hours away, but for this ride I stayed up more.  And I’m so glad I did.  As we were climbing up into the mountains which hide Granada, I saw the most beautiful colors I’ve ever seen.  The colors didn’t come from cars or flashing neon lights, but the trees and mountains.  I’ve never seen such colors in my life.  I guess growing up in Arizona, you miss out on things like fall.  Come to think of it, this might be one of my first falls ever where I have seen trees turn colors.  I’ve been to the East Coast, Midwest, and even California where trees do change, but never in the fall.  I’ve always been in school studyin my a** off like usual :) and never had a chance to travel.  Well I got my chance and was amazed by it.  Half of my pictures of Granada are not of me, or friends, or building..they’re of trees!  Orange, yellow, red, and green in a balanced mix no human mind could ever possibly imagine.  I’ve decided when I grow up and actually have a house and job…or even no house and no job, I’m moving somewhere where the leaves change colors.

We got to Granada around 7:30 P.M., checked-in to the EXTREMELY NICE hotel, and then took off for the flamenco show.  Of course our meeting point for the ISA group had to be outside in the fricken cold.  We huddled together outside all bundled up for what looked like an Antarctic adventure instead of the cold weather of Granada.  We looked like a group of penguins all trying to keep warm.  Luckily I was one of the firsts in the huddle so I was in the middle and kept very warm for a while until we finally started moving on our way to our destination. 

We stopped at a view point in Granada and got to look down at the city at night.  Simply amazing.  We took so many photos and just enjoyed the stunning views.  You just can’t find this stuff in the US.  It just doesn’t exist in my opinion.  Nothing will ever come close to the things I’ve seen here in Spain.  :)  We headed down the hill to the flamenco show and got up close and personal to the dancers and musicians.  There was no real stage per say, just a wooden area with seats all around.  The show was sooo cool!!  It’s so passionate and strong.  Flamenco has become my new favorite dance.  :) 

After the show was over we went out for drinks and tapas.  Best part about Granada, FREE TAPAS!!!! Ahhh!!!  You order any drink, free tapas!  And they are good sized ones too!  They don’t rip you off by giving you something you could finish in one bite, it’s a really well sized amount I’d say.  Good thing I decided not to study in Granada or I’d come back with another 59 pounds of body weight.  All in all a fun night with good food, good drinks, and good friends. 
The next morning I walked downstairs into the lobby for the hotel breakfast and was amazed at the sight in front of me.  HUGE BREAKFAST.  You know how long it’s been since I’ve even seen a box of cereal???!!! AND. THEY. HAD. PANCAKES.  I almost died of joy.  And there were eggs, meat, fruit, yogurt, granola, muffins…name it they had it.  I had two huge helpings of random food and about 12 pancakes.  My breakfast here in Sevilla consists of a piece of toast with jam and a glass of milk.  That’s it.  I’ve always been a large breakfast type of girl and not having that here has been a huge loss for me.  One of the first things I want to do when I get home, at least within the first 48 hours of my arrival in the states is eat an IHOP breakfast.  Endless pancakes here I come…Most people in Spain don’t even eat breakfast!  That’s the most important meal of the day people!!!  I ate till I seriously couldn’t shove anymore food into my mouth for fear it would just come right back up.  Perfect start to a perfect day.  :) 

After breakfast, we loaded back onto the bus and headed out to La Alhambra.  As always I find myself at a loss of words for how this place looked and the impact it has had on my life.  The place is just gorgeous.  The architecture is beautiful and just the way the building is…it defies every rule of gravity.  I really don’t know how people managed to build these things without cranes and machinery!!  And the patience they must have had in order to make every single thing by hand?!  Ridiculous.  They made all the millions of tiles one by one, all the wooden cut outs and designs one by one, and just the thought that every inch of marble floor you step on was made thousands of years ago blows my mind.  I found myself in complete awe at this magnificent structure the size of 12 football fields.

Not only was the building itself breath taking, but the nature surrounding it was even better.  This place/castle thing is situated in a mountain overlooking the city of Granada.  You walk outside into these huge gardens and breathe in cool mountain air.  It was cool up in the mountains, but I hardly noticed at the time.  I was too busy looking at all the views and scenery that surrounded me.  I debated if I should even take any pictures just because I know I wouldn’t be able to get everything I wanted into one shot.  Nor (like I’ve mentioned many times) would it do any justice to the ambiance I found myself in.  Why take picture of something when you will never see it the same way through a lens?  Despite my internal battle with myself, I decided to take pictures.  If it wasn’t for all you people who aren’t here with me, I would have no photos of this place.  But since I want you to see the things I see, I suppose I have to try and capture the memories in my mind.

As we were standing outside the Alhambra I felt a rush of emotion that I’ve never felt before.  I’m not sure if any of the other kids feel this way or not, but just staring down at this city made me really think…. “Wow.  I’m in Spain.  I’m in Granada.  I’m standing here in one of the most visited sites in the world right now.  This place is so old it makes me dizzy just thinking about it.  Some people will never get to see this in their lifetime and here I am right now, right in this very moment in time.”  I stared at the vast landscape for what seemed like hours.  It’s funny how beauty can take you away from the world for just a few minutes, yet within those few minutes your whole life has been changed.  All my thoughts in those moments revolved around my life and my experiences as a human being.  How could I have lived my life without seeing this?  How could I have thought my world was complete just staying in one place?  Time stopped and my world consisted of a happiness I have never felt.  My physical and emotional states became one and nothing else mattered.  I wasn’t cold.  I wasn’t thinking of home.  I wasn’t thinking about food like I usually am.  What was I thinking then?  To be honest, nothing..absolutely nothing.  I saw how minuscule I am to the world and how there is more to this trip than “studying.”  I’m not studying for school, I’m studying the world.  My way of thinking, of looking at the world, at history, at cultures, has all been changed.  I have a deeper understanding of myself now.  I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted with my life, but now…now I see that the world is more than just getting a job and growing up.  It’s about the experience.  It really is all about the journey and not the destination.  All those little sayings about how life is a journey and blah blah…man…they are beyond true.  For me, I suppose it was one of those finding yourself moments.  Some people have it through religious experiences, but not me.  Travel is my religion.  If I could have stayed there forever, that moment in time, I might just have taken that opportunity.                                         

We continued with our tour until the unwanted end.  I would pay whatever entrance fee again and again just to see it one more time.  We then broke off into groups and went for lunch and to explore the city of Granada.  After 2 short hours of free time, it was back on the bus to Sevilla.  I think it’s very obvious that this city made a lasting impression on me and I hope everyone gets to experience it someday.  I hope everyone can feel this passionate about something during their lifetime.  It’s truly an amazing feeling that forms you into a new person. 

I feel like I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of this very personal experience, even with the excessive 4 pages I’ve just written.  :)  I suppose it’s the way of the world saying, “If you wanna see this, you gotta come see it yourself.”  Well world, I have seen it myself, and yes…yes, I will come back.

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