My friends studying abroad in England (the ones I met up with in Barcelona) planned a separate trip to Madrid at the end of November. Unfortunately for them, and myself, it was pouring rain the entire time so it wasn’t quite as picturesque as usual but I brought Austin’s umbrella and took them to all the best places to eat and see in the rain. They saved the more picture perfect spots for the following day when it would be sunnier. When we made our way over to the Temple of Debod the sun had already set. I sent them to go explore inside while I waited to take their picture from the outside. While I waited I took about a bajillion shots of the temple trying to see if I could make the lighting work to my advantage.
Austin decided to skip out on the day trip to Madrid so it was my first time traveling sola since arriving in Spain. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time traveling by myself so I wasn’t too concerned about the trip, as a precaution I took the bus so I wouldn’t be traveling alone with strangers. Turns out I might have been better off with strangers. The way to Madrid was fine, mostly, I was sitting up near the front and the guy sitting next to me was eager to chat with me and for the most part he really did just want to talk. He worked for the bus company so he’d met all sorts of foreign travelers making their way around Spain so he told me about all the different people he’d met, and when I left he said “Adios reina!” Which was fine, mostly; don’t we all want to be queens? The way back however I got stuck among a group of Columbian policemen who were doing some sort of special training in Merida and the one sitting next to me spent the first hour of the bus ride totally sexually harassing me — it was not fine when he called me a queen.
So in the future I’ll choose seats near the front of the bus and settle for sitting in the aisle where I can make an easy escape.
But that all happened at the end of November. The first week of December Austin and I finally got paid; one (or two depending on how you look at it) months late, but just in time for our epic Andalusia trip. December is full of school holidays, so full that you might as well just not have school. December 5, 6, and 8th are all holidays. Austin and I don’t teach on Fridays so the only day we’d have to be at school that week was Wednesday. Austin and I only teach two classes on Wednesdays so we asked our respective schools if we could skip that Wednesday and make up the day the following week. They were happy to let us take the break which gave Austin and I ten days to play with. It seemed like the ideal time to visit Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. We thought about going to Morocco but we didn’t quite get ourselves pulled together on time. Plus we’ve been dreaming of doing Andalusia for a long time, I mean the Alhambra has been on my bucket list for as long as it’s been in the Civilization games.
In an attempt to not make this blog overwhelmingly long (even though it still is) I’ve divided it into two sections. The title of this blog, therefore, doesn’t get explained until the next blog — now you’ll have to read them both.
We began the trip in Seville, if you glance at a map you can see the route we took from Seville to Granada to Cordoba; it seemed to make the most sense to go that way and follow the triangle. We were also aiming to be in Cordoba near the end of the trip when one of Austin’s friends would be available to hang out with us.
Austin and I knew pretty much nothing about Seville, I found us a hostel in a pretty central location and we took our blablacar down the first day with a man who worked for an NGO that brought therapy dogs to retirement homes and hospitals and such. He told us he usually travels from Seville to Madrid and back every week and that this was one of the few times he didn’t have a dog with him. Just our luck, right?
We checked in to our hostel and hit the streets. And then we got rained on. We accepted it and went out to find a bite to eat. Near our hostel we found a place that sold all sorts of seafood and I noticed cuttlefish on the menu and insisted that we go in. I know, I know, Antonia wanted to try a weird food, what is this madness? But you have to understand, cuttlefish has been my favorite fish since I was about 13. I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to go scuba diving anytime soon so I had to try it. Besides, how often do you see cuttlefish on the menu? (It’s actually quite common in Spain but I didn’t know that).
So a tiny bit of fried cuttlefish for me, it actually tasted alright. Pretty bland, a little chewy, not too fishy. All in all not the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. I got some croquetas to go with it and those were surprisingly bad.
Traveling around Spain near Christmas time is fun because all the towns are decorated with lights, there’re big trees in the main plazas and Christmas markets everywhere! The markets take two forms: religious/nativity scene markets and present markets. I find the present markets to be more fun since I don’t have a nativity scene but for folks who like building the little Christmas villages at home you can imagine that the nativity scene markets have equivalent figurines. All sorts of houses, caves, figures, rivers everything you need to create the world’s most intricate nativity scene. This one also had a stall selling cloths with Mary or Jesus on them that you could drape over your balcony and the sign in Spanish said “Dress your balcony for Christmas!” which is the literal translation, and Austin and I giggled at that for a bit.
Seville is a lovely city. It totally competes with Madrid for the most romantic and if it hadn’t been raining it might have won outright. Madrid is much larger and has that going for it, but Seville has some very competitive gardens and a riverside walk so it’s a close race. The old part of Seville is full of windy alleyways and cobblestones, or, in some areas, tiled floors that make you feel as though you’re walking down the hallway in someone’s house.
We stopped for breakfast somewhere and I got hot chocolate with churros and it was amazing. So amazing that I had to take a picture of it; Austin was judging me a little bit for taking food pictures.
One of the main attractions in Seville is the Royal Alcazar (read “Palace”) The outer walls of the palace were built in the 10th century by the Arabs and over the years more and more buildings were added by the moors and the spaniards, it’s quite obvious which parts were created by the moors due to their distinctive architectural style. Here you can see the central courtyard with the patterned archways and the pond in the center. You’re going to keep seeing that in the next blog.
Entering the palace, you have to make two ninety degree turns down hallways which the sign said was to give privacy to those in the palace, turns out the Arabs favored a very open design so the majority of rooms don’t have doors that open and close and would have only been closed off by curtains. Therefore, the added turns gave a little bit more privacy to those inside.
This was taken inside the Alcazar and if it wasn’t bothering you that the doors aren’t perfectly lined up before, it’s bothering you now since I’ve mentioned it. I took this picture about five times before I realized that they didn’t actually line up in real life, and that there wasn’t an angle that would line them up. Talk about frustrating. Surrounding all of the doors you can see the arabic writing and the tile patterns that are so characteristic of that era; though the paint has faded a little bit.
The Alcazar was surrounded by some amazing gardens, but before we fully explore those, there’s a smaller garden in a small courtyard right next to the alcazar. In it, there was a huge fish pond, lots of orange trees, and this lovely alcove where you could sit with a friend and watch the fish. Or read a book.
I just liked this room.
I took a ton more photos of the inside but there are way too many for me to post them all here, ask me next time you see me or something.
Back out in the gardens we continued our trek through the gardens nearest the palace and found the underground baths.
This was added in the 17th century and is called the Baños de Maria Padilla. They added this so folks could escape the heat of the summer and come hang out in the water down here instead. I can’t even begin to tell you how long it took me to get the lighting right in this picture.
This was probably my favorite part of the gardens. This giant fountain (Austin for scale) is a Hydraulic Organ, every hour it turns on and the water uses hydraulic pressure to play music. Austin and I got there three minutes past the hour and were disappointed to have missed it, but then it started playing so I guess it runs a little late. It was really, really cool to hear, but it’s hard to believe you’re listening to an organ and not a recording. I spent all of lunch googling how hydraulic organs work and I still don’t really understand it. More information on the organ in the second picture.
The gardens are also home to a giant labyrinth which Austin and I enjoyed getting lost in. It was amusing for us to try and find each other again, thinking we were close, only to have one path suddenly make a u-turn and we’d be walking away from each other again.
Behind the Hydraulic Organ you can see a wall with some balconies on it. This runs into the center of the garden and provides views of both sides of the garden which was full of plants, peacocks, and ponds.
Our final stop in the Alcazar was the Gothic Palace. This was built in 1252, when Alfonso X was on the throne, right next to the rest of the alcazar. The sign in the room said that it was built as a sort of Ha-ha! to the Arabs after Seville was taken during the Reconquista. The internet doesn’t corroborate that, but it is a stark contrast between the Spanish design of this building and the moorish design of the rest of the alcazar. The walls are covered in 18th century tapestries that depict Christopher Columbus sailing off to the Americas.
While Madrid is super sassy with its street signs, Seville takes a slightly different approach. “A clean street without excrement is the best example of neighborhood culture.” *wink wink nudge nudge* Come on Sevillanos, you don’t want them to think you’re uncultured do you? Austin and I laughed.
Next to the river is the Gold Tower which is a lovely vista point of the city and houses a small naval museum inside. All of the ships that went to the Americas returned to Spain by coming upriver to Seville (hence the name of the tower, they brought all the gold here). It was then taken by road up to Madrid. Our blablacar driver told us it was taken to Madrid on the road we took to Seville which is also called the Silver Road.
Looking out across rainy Seville you can see the white buildings that characterize much of Andalusia and then there’s that giant gothic church just chilling in the middle of the city. We’ll come back to that. From this picture you can somewhat appreciate the size and you can see the bell tower on the far right which Austin and I bravely climbed the 20 floors or so to the top.
As I mentioned before, Seville has a lovely walkway along the river. about halfway between the north and south ends of Seville is this awesome monument which is a monument to tolerance. The inscription below describes the monument and to the left of the sculpture was a piece written by Elie Wiesel when they unveiled the sculpture. It’s so well written in Spanish that I don’t want to attempt to translate what he said to english, but a rough translation of the first inscription is below.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Seville, admiring its architecture and visiting the Macarena district in the northern part of the city. While wandering we stumbled upon the Plaza Mayor with this giant sculpture. For us, it was a relief to get a break from the drizzle, we didn’t have an umbrella, but it was also a pretty cool place to hang out. When we’d walked up to it I had seen people standing on top of the platform. Austin and I immediately spent twenty minutes trying to find the door to the stairs inside of the columns so we could get to the top too but were foiled in our attempts.
I didn’t know anything about Flamenco when I came to Spain. I knew it was a dance, I knew it involved people clapping their hands and lots of hands in the air motions. But I really didn’t know anything else. I’d looked up taking classes in Trujillo but they’d conflicted with my soccer practices so I was left bereft. I hadn’t even looked up youtube videos of Flamenco dancers, but Seville is famous for its Flamenco dancing so Austin and I felt like we had to see a show in Seville even though he’d been told to see Flamenco in Granada. Why not, we figured, we’ll see a show in both places.
In some ways it was almost better that I didn’t know anything about Flamenco. Flamenco shows generally only have four or five people in them, two dancers, one guitarist, one singer, and maybe one person tapping out a beat on one of those cool drums that you sit on (we have one of those in my music class that I always sit on and it’s a feat of will power to not idly tap away on it the entire class).
The best way to describe Flamenco, I’ve decided, is to say that it’s all the passion and seriousness of the tango, combined with the skill, beat, and speed of tap dancing.
We were allowed to take photos without flash and though they said the lighting was fine for photos, the lighting was actually terrible for photos.
So I wasn’t planning on taking any photos, but then they started dancing, and I knew I would need just one photo so I could try and explain to you what was going on in that room. I put my camera on sport mode, snapped two seconds of rapid photos and looked at what I got later. I can’t say I’m surprised they all came out blurry.
The dancers came out for three songs, in between the guitarist and the singer would sing us a very long song while the female dancer changed dresses. For the second song, the woman danced alone in what they told us was a happy, upbeat style. I would have said it would have been better described as just upbeat. She came out on stage and it was as if she were a storm. She tapped away at the floor, starting with a small patter of rain and building up to a full force hailstorm. You stopped hearing the singing in the background, then you stopped hearing the guitar, and all you heard were the thousands of beats coming from her feet as she tapped faster than you could see.
Her dress had the kind of tail you might find on a wedding gown and she had a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and as she tapped she started spinning. That’s what you see in the photo above, the lights were dimmed, she was spinning, not tripping over her dress, flinging her shawl in wide arcs as she spun, she practically became a hurricane; and the whole time she was tapping out a beat loud and fast enough to drown out all the other sounds in the room.
You could feel everyone in the audience tensing up as she tapped and spun faster and faster. It felt as though at any point she could make a mistake, she’d trip and break her ankle, the whole thing would come falling apart at any moment. But somehow she made it through and unceremoniously marched off stage. That was how the flamenco dances always ended, the dancers would just leave, they’d come back a second later to accept their applause, but first they’d march of stage while the music (that you suddenly became aware of again) was still playing.
To put it lightly, watching flamenco was a little stressful. Even more so when you had both the male and female dancers up there because now they had to coordinate all of their movements and their separate beats with each other. It was incredible. And stressful.
The next day we decided to enjoy the more park-like area of Seville. Just as Madrid has el Retiro, Seville has a huge park near the southern edge of town. Walking towards it, we walked along the outside of the Alcazar’s gardens where there was a huge monument to Christopher Columbus, they’re really, really fond of him.
Coming upon the park we found a huge plaza where many of Seville’s government buildings were housed in a huge arc. Along the edge of the arc were small seating areas with tiled artwork and maps devoted to every province in Spain. Austin and I walked along each one, waiting for our province of Caceres to appear. Because it was in alphabetical order and we started in the T’s, we walked past the majority of provinces before arriving at Caceres.
And look! There’s Trujillo where we live!
I didn’t read the inscription on this one so I don’t remember what the artwork is of. Most had to do with the Reconquista, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true for Caceres as well.
Here’s a view of all the little seating areas going down the plaza, it continues like this along the entirety of the arch. Created in 1929, you can see the distinctive archways here show the building was created mixing in moorish architecture with Spanish.
Back into the park we found this charming stone bridge, which led to a charming little gazebo, with lots of less-than-charming graffiti.
As we strolled through the park it began to pour on us, so we took shelter in the archaeological museum which was fascinating. It had objects dating back to before the bronze age all the way up through the visigoths in the sixth and seventh centuries. There were all sorts of huge roman sculptures, thousands year old tools and idols like the one below.
The placard said that the idols came in many shapes and sizes and that they weren’t sure of the purpose or what any of them were supposed to be. I’m pretty sure this one is supposed to be an owl, but maybe that’s just because someone else agreed with me and then created the whole fashion movement around owls that’s taken off the past few years.
We ended our visit in the cathedral that I mentioned earlier. It’s the largest gothic cathedral in the world, and the third largest church in the world. It took ninetyish years to build and was completed in 1507. It’s 443 ft long by 330 feet wide. The ceiling height at its highest is 138 ft and the top of the spire is 344 feet up. Essentially, it’s so big that you can’t actually fathom how big it is even when you’re standing inside of it.
I’m not all that religious so the most interesting part of the churches we tour for me is the organ. This church had 40 different talking points on its audioguide tour so I was disappointed when we went up to the organ and then it talked about the chapel underneath the organ and not the organ itself. But then I realized that it skipped the organ because this is the back of the organ.
This is the front of the organ.
No little Arab faces on this organ, in fact it’s not very decorated at all compared to others that we’ve seen. The audioguide, once we had gotten around to the front of the organs, explained that this was because they didn’t want the organ to outshine the area where they did the service, which had a huge gold plated carving going from floor to ceiling showing all sorts of different stories from the bible. This was also why they didn’t gold plate the organ despite the fact that that was the original intention.
Seville’s cathedral is also home to Christopher Columbus’s remains which, the audioguide told us, were almost as widely traveled as he was.
The church also had a ton of different treasures and alters in other room and a whole area for the chamber men (I think that’s what they were called?). Anyways, in one of the back room they had this altar that was mostly gold plated with little porcelain statues and cherubs on it, and it was supposed to be really, really impressive, but I guess it just didn’t match my tastes because to me it just looked kind of tacky. Sorry, God.
So then Austin and I climbed up the tower.
It was not a climb for the faint hearted as the warning sign at the bottom told us we would have to scale 34 ramps and seventeen steps to get to the top. That many circles can make a person dizzy, let me tell you. The view from the top was incredible, you can see the orange tree courtyard at the bottom as well as the outside of the church.
The top also affords and excellent view out over Seville. I can only imagine how amazing (and blinding) this view is on a clear day.
A couple weeks ago some young men from the government came to give a presentation to my fifth graders about recycling. They taught them about the different bins and then had them do the activity where they sort “trash” into the different recycling bins and the trash can. To keep it simple they had just printed pictures of various things for the kids to use. Austin and I both grew up recycling so it was pretty natural for us to save our recyclables out of the trash can so we could recycle them instead, but that meant that we would first have to sort out exactly how the recycling system works in Trujillo. It’s similar to the system at home, but a bit more complicated and far more inconvenient.
They don’t have single stream recycling in Trujillo, so everything gets divided into Trash, Glass, Newspaper/Cardboard, Plastics/Cans, Clothes, and, in some cities (but not Trujillo), Oil. The are big bins out around the city for you to toss everything in but it’s not necessarily uniform. Trash bins are far more common, there’s a big trash bin right outside our front door which is super convenient. The nearest cluster of recycling bins is about two blocks away. The tough part is that the recycling bins aren’t always right next to each other. So in the little park near us is a clothes dumpster, paper, and glass, but you have to cross the roundabout to get to the plastics/cans bin. Up the street, two blocks from there, is another set of bins but these ones are only paper/cardboard and plastics/cans. Austin and I both pass every form of the bins one way or another on our walks to school so in an ideal world we bag up our recycling and toss it in on the way to school. But usually we forget, so sometimes on Fridays when we have more time we’ll take it all out at once while running errands. The other hard part is knowing which bins to use. Paper/Cardboard is still blue so that was easy. The yellow bins we knew were for plastic, but we didn’t see that they were also for cans until about a month and a half after we arrived; we had quite the stockpile of cans going. The trash bins are green rectangular bins which shouldn’t be confused with the glass bins, which are green, granary-shaped bins. I never use the clothes recycling bins so I can’t actually bring to mind what color that one is. But I know where it is!
The city government comes and empties all the cans every once in awhile and takes it all off to be recycled. I have no idea how they avoid cutting their hands on glass because I swear every time I drop something into the glass bin it shatters on impact.
A quick note on urgent care in Spain. At soccer practice one day we’d been practicing corner kicks and on one particularly hard kick I headed the ball and it hurt a lot. It didn’t stop me from playing so I figured it wasn’t anything critical so I ignored it and finished practice. Before I was going to sleep, however, I noticed that I had a headache and was feeling super nauseated, the two symptoms I had last time I had a minor concussion. I assumed it was fine but after chatting with a nurse on the emergency line from the states she encouraged me to drop by the ER just so that someone with a degree could confirm that it was fine. They offered to help me find the nearest urgent care to which I laughed a little and said no need, I know where it is. She responded that she thought that I might know better since I was in a small town. Austin and I found the hospital weeks ago on our wandering around Trujillo, it’s actually one of the most modern buildings in town. So I bundled up in my sweats, sent a text to Austin to tell him I was taking a quick field trip to the ER and that he should only be concerned if I wasn’t back in the morning when he woke up, and wandered over to the ER. Because it was 12:30 at night, the ER was totally empty. I rang the doorbell to get let in and they quickly created a file for me then sent me on back to Box 1. I have no idea why they call them boxes, like I’m not translating that, it literally said Box 1.
Once there I had team of three doctors come take care of me. I assume one or two of the others were shadowing the main guy, he was super chill. One of those people who just has like a cloud of calmness around them, the type of person you want in an emergency because you know they’ll keep their cool. So they asked me what happened, I explained it to them, they asked if I’d had a concussion before, I said yes and tried to mime hitting myself in the head with a table because it was hard to explain in Spanish. Then they checked all my vitals, even taking some blood to get my glucose levels before doing every possible concussion test that I’ve seen. Lots of different balancing exercises, they looked in my ears, behind my eye (no idea how that works but they shined a light and said that’s what they were doing), asked about other symptoms. It didn’t take that long and after twenty minutes they said it was probably a minor concussion and that I should take ibuprofen every eight hours for a couple days and look for any other symptoms. Well, really they gave me a paper with a list of symptoms and told me to tell Austin to watch for them since I hadn’t brought him with me. They seemed a little confused as to why I had come in, I expect this seemed pretty minor to them. So I explained that in the US we have a fear of going to sleep after a concussion so I just wanted them to tell me if it was alright for me to go to sleep since it was the middle of the night and all. They told me I was good to go. I don’t expect it’s always that easy since it’s bound to be empty in the middle of the night but all in all it was a nice experience and way easier than I expected since they didn’t speak any english.
I forgot to text Austin that I’d made it back home so I felt bad when he walked out of his bedroom the next morning while I was eating breakfast and said “I take it you’re alive then?” Oops!
As I mentioned it rained the entire time we were in Seville. Because the climate is like California, it was mostly in 30 minute to 1 hour increments. And during that time you might get ten minutes of a total downpour. People on the street were taking advantage of the rain by selling umbrellas everywhere we went. Austin and I didn’t have much against the rain so even though my jacket is not equipped to handle rain, I didn’t bother getting an umbrella until our last night in Seville. While we waited in line outside the church we were caught in one of those ten minute downpours, where the rain is loud and everyone gets soaked. Austin and I were standing in line underneath a giant palm tree so I was reasonably well protected from the rain and Austin had a raincoat so we were actually just fine. The people around us didn’t think we were fine, and Austin and I enjoyed the looks of shock and amazement on everyones’ faces around us as they looked at me, brazenly letting my hair get wet, seemingly fine to be getting rained on. The umbrella people could not believe that I wouldn’t want an umbrella. One young man came up to sell Austin and I an umbrella and asked me first and I said no thanks. Then he turned to Austin and Austin also said no thanks. So the guy tried a new line of argument.
Completely ignoring me, he began to try and persuade Austin to buy an umbrella for me. And Austin said it was my decision, and I should have known better than to think that would be the end of it. Because then his argument started getting utterly ridiculous (to Austin and I anyways). He told Austin that he needed to buy me an umbrella because I was getting wet, because my hair was getting wet, because Austin had to be a gentleman and buy his “girlfriend” an umbrella. Austin still wasn’t swayed. So then he told Austin that he needed to buy me an umbrella because my hair would get ruined and it was either an umbrella now or Austin would have to pay for me to get my hair done in a salon later. He gave up on us eventually and Austin and I laughed at the ridiculousness of what had just happened. Then we went over all the things that were wrong with what he’d just said. For starters, I’m capable of paying for my own salon dates, thanks, I’m not his girlfriend, I can speak for myself, and short hair like mine doesn’t actually require much upkeep, nor does it get ruined by the rain. Austin then jokingly asked why no one was concerned about the rain ruining his hair, or why they weren’t concerned that he was standing out in the rain. Sometimes it’s better to laugh than to get angry.