The One With the Cities Where I Didn’t Study Abroad

We spent three wonderful, albeit wet, days in Seville before catching our next blablacar to Granada. I sat in the front seat this time to give Austin a break. He’s much better at small talk than I am, but he’d had to sit in the front of the majority of our blablacars so I felt bad. Our driver was a principal at a school in Granada, but lived with his wife in Seville, so he made the drive quite often and appreciated having the company of folks using blablacar to get around. It’s about a two and a half hour drive and he told us that he’d had to do it alone last week and he’d gotten incredibly bored. For me that’s definitely a big change from California where I drive sola seven hours from NorCal to SoCal and back and get kind of disappointed when the car ride ends because I was enjoying my music. Not that the 5 doesn’t have its moments of being extremely boring, but overall I don’t mind driving alone.

From what I’ve picked up from our blablacar drivers, that sentiment is not shared. Much like Yelp or HostelWorld we leave comments on the drivers and one of the most common comments for people to leave will be whether or not the person they drove with was a good conversationalist. In sharing stories with other backpackers in Seville, they told Austin and I that they had had rides turned down because they didn’t speak Spanish. The spaniards view blablacar as much more than just a transaction so if they can’t have a nice conversation with you while driving, they aren’t particularly interested in taking you with them.

Our hostel in Granada was absolutely amazing, one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in since Austin and I went to Bariloche in Argentina.

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As you can see it has the very common open courtyard design, and what you can’t see is that there actually isn’t a roof covering this area. They have a huge tarp they use to cover it when it rains, otherwise it’s open to the elements. We were up on the third floor in an 8 person room which worked out very well, it had comfy beds and provided us with warm blankets and clean sheets. All the rooms were painted wild colors and being on the third floor made it really feel as if we were perched at the top in an eagle’s nest.

Granada’s most famous tourist destination is the Alhambra, an Arab palace left intact by Isabella and Ferdinand who completed the Reconquista in 1492 after finally capturing Granada. Granada was the final stronghold of the arabs and they fled the city through tunnels after it was captured. Ferdinand and Isabella moved into the Alhambra, but didn’t tear it down.

Granada is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, the original Sierra Nevadas I should say, and the Alhambra is located at the top of a high hill with the city spread out around it on every side. This meant that all of Granada was essentially on a hill, so Austin and I had our work cut out for us. During our three days in Granada, we climbed an average of 65 floors a day, according to my phone’s activity tracker.

The Alhambra is one of Spain biggest tourist attractions, the internet warns you to get your tickets at least six weeks in advance because there’s never a slow tourist season. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, Austin and I might have gotten really lucky, or both. Despite knowing this, we put off buying our tickets until we had the other details of our trip in place so that we could get the tickets for the correct day. So the first time I tried to buy tickets, they were available but the website was broken. The second time I tried to buy tickets they didn’t have any more left; searching around I found there was a second type of ticket you could buy that would also get you into a bunch of the other old, Arab tourist places in Granada, as I tried to buy it the website broke again. I kept trying, on different browsers, until I finally bought it, but it was the last one available. Austin and I were annoyed but thought maybe it would be possible to go early and get a second ticket, even if it wasn’t for the same time (the tickets into the main Nasrid Palaces were timed entry tickets for every half hour throughout the day).

To make matters worse, the website never sent me a receipt or proof of purchase for my ticket, so all I had was the note on my bank statement saying that ticketmaster had taken the money. We mentioned our predicament to the folks at our hostel and they explained where I could go to print out the ticket I had paid for and then they said that they could also look to see if they could buy us a ticket since they had access to extra tickets. We asked them to check and they had over a hundred tickets left that they could buy for the same time/day that we already had on my “ticket.” So we asked them to hold that thought while we went to go and figure out whether or not we needed two tickets or one, and headed up to the Alhambra. Luckily I just needed my credit card to print my ticket, so we were directed to the ticket machines where I printed mine out and then we returned to the hostel and bought a second ticket for Austin. With that crisis averted we started to explore the city by walking up to a vista point on the edge of the city.

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The sun was setting so I expected most of my pictures from up here to look terrible, but this is actually a pretty good picture of Alhambra. This vista was up at a church high on the hill looking over Granada, the most popular vista point is the Mirador de San Nicolas which we visited afterwards and in my opinion it was not nearly as good of a vista. The biggest problem with this vista was that it was west facing, so unless you were up here early in the day, the lighting was poor for pictures. And I guess it’s a long, hard, walk up the hill.

Granada also has a gigantic cathedral, with construction on it beginning just after the cathedral in Seville was finished. It doesn’t have any of the fancy size titles that Seville’s cathedral holds, but it stands out in the city in its own right. This picture was taken from the top of the lookout tower in the Alhambra and shows well how big the cathedral is compared to its neighbors.

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While the inside of the cathedral was impressive, Austin and I were getting tired of audio guides that all said similar things at this point so we couldn’t help but laughing at some of the strange phrasing in the audio guides as we listened to it tell us about the “charming” cathedral we were standing in.

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Not needing to worry about outshining the main alter, the organs in this cathedral were fully finished with gold, making them quite impressive to look at. The audioguide said that the two organs in this church were created in 1744 and have around 4000 pipes in them (if I remember correctly, the internet doesn’t seem to have much information on them).

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The next day Austin and I headed up to the mountains to see the caves where the gypsies had lived. If our walk up to the church was anything to judge by, the gypsies still live in cave and small huts built into the mountainside. Next to the caves museum there was another museum on the Gypsy Woman which looked like it could have been very cool but we, unfortunately, didn’t have time to see it. Despite the appearance of love that this museum gives them, they are pushed to the boundaries of society in Granada and most of the spaniards we’ve talked to about the gypsies have very negative opinions of them.  Such is the burden of nomadic folk. Austin and I spent a good half hour postulating as to why settled societies don’t like nomadic people while we walked through the caves museum. If I get bored one day I might look into what the people who study that question have to say.

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So here’s Austin looking fabulous inside of one of the gypsy caves that taught about how gypsies care for their horses.

We also learned about weaving techniques in a separate cave that housed this gigantic weaving machine. You could move the thing in the center back and forth but it was complicated enough that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it worked in the ten minutes I spent staring intently at all of its moving parts.

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Up on the hillside we had a great view of the Alhambra, because we could see it from the back the lighting was slightly better. For the ecologists out there, and myself, this was an incredibly interesting part of the caves museum. From up here on the hill, with the sun almost at the highest point in the sky, you could see that the north facing side of the hill in the left half of this picture doesn’t get any direct sunlight in the winter and very likely only gets a little direct sunlight in the summer, whereas the south facing half of the hill gets full sunlight for most of the year. I was excitedly explaining to Austin how this would affect the ecosystems of the two hillsides, to the point that I would guess they would host extremely different plants despite being right next to each other, when we found the informational signs that confirmed everything I was saying.

From that vantage point you can not only see the Alhambra, but you can see how different the two hillsides look, with one sporting succulent plants and grasses and the other with big bushes and trees.

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As I mentioned, Granada has a whole host of Arab remnants in the downtown area where those who didn’t live in Alhambra would have frequented. Since we had the afternoon free and I could get into them with my ticket, we spent the afternoon seeing if we could get to all of them in the space of a few hours, it wasn’t too difficult since they were small and close together.

We started with the baths, which were located a couple blocks down from our hostel. We walked through, admiring the arches before catching up with a tour. The tour guide explained the function of each of the rooms as we passed through and told us that the windows in the roof normally would have had colored glass in them. Austin and I thought it was a shame they didn’t still as it would have been cool to see the colors shining through, it also would have been cool to see the place fully restored with the original tiling and painting too. One fun fact the tour guide told us about the baths was that they had originally been free. Anyone in the town could come in and clean themselves off/purify themselves in the steam rooms. If they wanted other services, special salts I think, then they would pay for that.

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Alright so I’ve already explained that the name Antonia is an outdated name here in Spain. But I was told that kiddos and young women who were named Antonia this day and age shortened their name so that they wouldn’t feel like their name was so outdated. It amuses me to have everyone pronouncing my name close to correctly so I stick with Antonia; but I was told that I could by Toñi if I wanted to, which is the shortened version of Antonia. To which I quickly asked, but won’t everyone just assume that it’s a boys name? To which they responded that the boy name was Tony, not to be confused with Toñi. Interesting. So anyways, Austin and I found this poem on the wall of Granada and since it was about me, I had to save it.

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She’s very intense/impassioned, she’s like a drop of dew with an aphrodisiac flavor, she’s a paradigm, a myth(?), an appearance of an absence. She looks to the after life/beyond/to the unknown, it is a call/shout/cry/yell of her dedication. She’s the mystery that one harbors, she’s the silence that speaks.She, she, she is Toñi. Felicidades, Hugo

That’s about as good of a translation as I can give you, all of those phrases make a tiny bit more sense in Spanish where it’s okay for the meaning to be a little muddier. But anyways, Austin and I found it when we were walking through Granada and I was busy taking a picture of something else and he said, “Antonia, you’ve got to see this.”

Two of the other arab buildings on our tour were palaces belonging to gentry before the Reconquista and were turned over to trusted friends and advisors to Isabella and Ferdinand after the Reconquista. As you can see, the style of our hostel was quite common in Granada. Much like the other arab buildings we’d seen in Seville, these ones didn’t have many doors, favoring instead ninety degree turns to give folks privacy.

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The top of the second house provided us with the amazing view below. It was at the top of the tower in the house giving a three hundred and sixty degree view through 12 giant windows that, when opened, made the tower feel as if it had no walls. Austin and I agreed that all it needed was a table and some chairs, maybe a hammock, and it would be the perfect place to hang out and just never leave.

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After enjoying the view from there we had about an hour and a half until sunset, I was waiting until sunset to go to the San Nicolas Mirador because it was supposed to be the best one but, because it faced south, the sun had been at the wrong spot earlier for good Alhambra pictures so I was waiting patiently.

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The sun wasn’t ideal for this mirador either, unless you were taking pictures looking away from the view, so I asked Austin to go stand with his back to the view and take a picture of me. I was studiously looking at our map trying to figure out the best path to the next mirador. Despite having google maps, Austin and I generally used the tourist maps to get around Granada, at first it was because they had all the best tourist sites labeled clearly. Later we used papers maps just to spite google maps.

As Austin had been advised, we also went to a flamenco show in Granada.

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This one was just as thunderous as the show in Seville but I didn’t like it nearly as much. With the exception of this picture, the dancers danced separately for the majority of the show. In addition the style of dancing was different, which was why we’d been told to watch flamenco in Granada. This style had a far bigger emphasis on the hands, in a similar manner to belly dancing. There was a lot more gesturing and clapping than wild spinning, likewise, the female dancer was wearing a far more muted dress without the long tail nor the shawl.  So while she tapped up a storm, she didn’t become the hurricane at the center of it as had the dancer in Seville. However, and this was kind of fun, this group talked to each other much more, cheering each other on. The male dancer told the guitarist to “Toca bien!” Play well! And the singer at one point called out to the female dancer, “Toma, Antonia!” Take it away Antonia! It amused Austin and I to no end that I shared the bailarina’s name. And she certainly did take it away, there was one point while she was dancing that you could see how fast she was tapping only because her entire body was vibrating. Literally vibrating.

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Finally we made it to Alhambra, we decided to go in the morning so we could view the complex before heading into the Nasrid Palaces at two o’clock. We timed it just right, taking about two and a half hours to view the complex beginning with the Generalife, which was lots of gardens and a palace where the royal family “could get away from their duties.” It made Austin and I laugh to imagine Isabella and Ferdinand strolling through the gardens, thumbing their noses at the Nasrid Palaces where their “duties” lay waiting for them.

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The palace gave us a good idea of what we were going to see inside the Nasrid Palaces and had quite a few amazing views of the rest of the Alhambra. At the top right of the bottom photo you can see the church on the top of the hill that we visited on our first evening. On the hill just below the church, sprawling to the left, you can see some of the dwellings where Austin and I guessed gypsies were living, far above the rest of the city.

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This was the inner courtyard to the garden next to the palace, running all through the gardens were different small runners full of water connecting all of the various fountains scattered throughout.

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The plaque next to this tree, which is quite famous, says: According to legend, this cypress from the Sultan (Sultan’s Cypress?) was witness to the affair between one of the Abencerrajes (a family acquainted with the royal family) and Boabdil’s wife.

While wandering through the complex Austin and I saw this little car. I’m pretty sure this is my next car.

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It’s like a little bug! It’s the Renault Twizy. It seats two people, one sitting behind the other like on the Matterhorn at Disneyland and is an all electric vehicle. It has a range of a little over 60 miles. It’s seven inches shorter than a smart car and about a foot skinnier. It’s technically classified as a quadricycle, which I guess makes sense. Anyways, this one belongs to the Red Cross of Spain and I assume was stationed there in case there were any emergencies.

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Next to the Nasrid Palaces is the Palace of Carlos V which was built to put a stamp of Catholicism and Spain on the Alhambra after the Reconquista. There are a few small museums inside the palace which we didn’t feel like wandering through since one was a fine arts museum and the other was filled with small children on a school trip. So we explored the outside of it.

Finally we headed into the Alcazaba which was the fortress near the front of the mountain. From there you can look over all of Granada and even see out to Santa Fe, where Isabella and Ferdinand set up camp over the years it took them to lay siege to Granada.

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Heading back down we found the mosque that had been fully renovated into a church with the arab baths right next door. The arab baths had been an artists home until the city of Granada took it back as a piece of culture heritage and somewhat restored the baths inside. It looked almost exactly like the baths at the base of the hill, if a little bigger.

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And finally we entered the Nasrid Palaces. This is where most of the fuss about the Alhambra lies. The palace is huge and the majority of it has been restored so you can see the carvings, the archways, the writing all intricately sculpted into the walls and columns in the building.

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There were tourists everywhere so it was kind of hard to get amazing pictures, plus the place was being renovated so the famed Patio of the Lions was not nearly as impressive as it might have been. Austin and I snapped pictures of ourselves in this archway which I later photoshopped into one picture for kicks.

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Because of the renovations we could only see half the courtyard and we couldn’t really walk in any of it which was a huge bummer. Hopefully the renovations will be completed sometime next year and Austin and I will be able to go back.

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Nonetheless, the Nasrid Palaces were amazing, I kept almost stepping into the little fountains built into the floors because I was so busy staring at the walls and the ceilings.

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Leaving the palaces we found this building and pond out in the gardens.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the entirety of the gardens either due to the renovations.

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No problem, the inconveniences. We’ll just have to come back.

Down in the less touristy part of Granada, which looked astonishingly like Buenos Aires, there was a huge science museum that Austin and I visited on our final morning. Our blablacar ended up coming to Granada earlier than expected so it cut our visit far shorter than we wanted but we were still glad we had gone. This science museum was much like the exploratorium in San Francisco but whereas the exploratorium has a huge focus on physics, psychology, and chemistry, with a little bit of biological science, this science museum was mostly dedicated to the biological sciences. Austin and I spent lots of time in the human body room, comparing human bones to bird bones, looking at our body heat through a heat camera, pedaling bicycles and watching the screen that showed how our bones moved while we pedaled, and all sorts of other fun experiments. We even tried our hand at putting all of the organs in the stomach and chest in their correct location. I don’t recommend trusting either of us to do surgery anytime soon.

The real treasure in the science museum, however, was the biodome. They had different exhibits with all sorts of amphibians and fish that we could walk through. They even had a huge interactive sand tray that was colored like a topographical map by a projector above it. Then, when you moved the sand around, it would change colors depending on the altitude of the hills you were creating, if you dug deep enough you could create little lakes or an ocean around the edge.

Passing through that area, we walked up to the main room which housed slightly larger animals and some really strange little creatures.

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Such as this fish. Its fins have evolved to allow it to drag itself over land like a sea lion. It’s the weirdest looking thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s called a mudskipper and you can see it in action here.

Across from the mudskippers were some adorable little mouse deer and a ton of wallabies that Austin and I were delighted to watch as they hopped around. We continued into the next room through a door and then heavy curtains, heavier than the ones used in butterfly gardens to keep the butterflies in. At first, Austin and I were confused and then we realized that the reason they were there was to keep the birds and lemurs, who lived there with full access to the room, from leaving the room. It also had smaller enclosures in the side with other animals like these adorable little armadillos.

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We were the first visitors of the day to go into that room and because we were good about being quiet, they decided we might be worth examining. Do you see this toucan? Do you see the look on its face? That is the look of a toucan that is up to absolutely no good. And he knew it too! Austin and I were shocked that he came so close to us, so we weren’t moving at all.

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And then he decided that Austin’s boots were worth pecking.

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Because Austin’s boots are shiny. Eventually he noticed that my boots also were shiny and I received the same treatment of having a toucan pecking at my boots. It was probably the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me. Eventually more folks came in and our toucan friend decided they might be more interesting so Austin and I turned our attention to the lemurs that were running freely throughout the room.

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They had no problem walking right up next to us. At one point, one walked along the ledge so close to us that Austin actually felt its fur as it walked past (we were both appropriately frozen, trying not to scare them). But wow, what an experience, eventually we pulled ourselves away from the lemurs and went to explore other areas of the museum. They had a beautiful grand piano upstairs that I spent a few minutes fiddling with trying to remember how to play the duet part to Greensleeves. They also had a room full of taxonomy that not only showed the animals (I like to think that when the designers of the puppets in the Lion King worked on the gazelle outfit this is what they were going for) but also where the animals were from, so you could be assured that every animal in that room died in a zoo. None were taken from the wild.

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Without spending nearly enough time in the Science Museum, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away to meet our blablacar and enthusiastically told them how cool the science museum was so that they would know to visit it next time they were in Granada. This time we drove with two young people so Austin and I were able to sit in the back, only chatting every once in awhile as we sped up to Cordoba.

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This huge gate marks the entrance to Cordoba and stands at one edge of the Roman Bridge, I expect it’s also roman gate. Cordoba’s old city has all sorts of interesting little places to visit because while the city isn’t all that important today, it was the Arab capital of Al-Andalus (most of Spain and Portugal). It also has lots of relics from the Roman times so it certainly makes the US feel very young as you walk through the city looking at buildings that are older than the country.

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During this trip Austin and I perfected the art of taking pictures while looking into the sun, and while a few came out a little bit squinty they’re much better than they might have been. This was taken during sunset as we walked across the Roman Bridge on our first day in Cordoba. At the other end was a tall tower that acted as a mirador where you could look out across the city.

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It also housed a mini Cordoba museum that acts as an excellent introduction to the city. It goes over much of the history of Cordoba and introduces you to the main tourist sites within the city through dioramas. It also has a room dedicated to the Alhambra in Granada where Austin and I learned more about the Alhambra and saw what it looks like without scaffolding.

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The river that splits Cordoba is the site of a lot of old waterwheels built in the tenth century by the arabs. You can tell based on the architecture of this one, the leftmost door has the characteristic keystone archway. A couple of cute little siamese cats were living on the wheel, enjoying the last rays of sunlight.

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This little alleyway was called Flower Alley and both sides of it were lined by flowers all the way to the entrance. Through it you can see the minaret of the Mosque-Cathedral in the background.

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The biggest tourist attraction in Cordoba undoubtedly is the Mosque-Cathedral near the river. Because Cordoba was the capital of Al-Andalus, it had to have the most impressive mosque. Before the Arab conquest, there was a small catholic church built here, allegedly, it’s hard to find evidence for such things in 700 CE. Anyways, so after the Arabs took over the city, they took out the church and built the mosque in its place. It has a huge footprint both inside and outside where there is an orange tree patio, just like in Seville. The inside has hundreds of these columns, each one slightly different, the idea being that the grandeur inside would make you feel small. In the Catholic world this effect is achieved by the open space under the high arches in the cathedrals, here the effect is achieved through the columns and elegance in the main minbar and mihrab.

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The image below shows the mihrab which, in mosques, points toward Mecca so Muslims know which direction to face while praying.

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During the Reconquista, when Spain gained control over Cordoba, they decided that they needed to put a cathedral back in place. As with Granada, they need to put a stamp of Catholicism on the mosque. Unlike in Seville, where they tore down the mosque, or in Granada, where they built right next to the palace, here in Cordoba, they renovated parts of the inside of the mosque to put in the stamp of Catholicism. This creates a very interesting combination of the two religions as you walk through. For me it was very weird and disconcerting, I’ve heard Spaniards describe it as beautiful, not understanding why someone would think it strange, it was beautiful too.

In the above photo you could see part of the mosque-cathedral that felt very much like it was just the mosque, you couldn’t see any obvious catholic influence. The below picture was taken in the center of the mosque-cathedral where it had been completely renovated to look like a Catholic church.

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Complete with the giant organs that I’m so fond of. I’m not sure why this church sports two very different organs, the pamphlet wasn’t as interested in the organs as I was. One interesting difference between the organs is that of the design on the air holes in the pipes. The above organ has little Arab faces around the pipes, similar to those seen on the pipe organs in Extremadura, the pipe organ below has erased the Arab faces in favor of gold plated leaves. I’ve also noticed in our tour of the cathedrals in Andalusia that between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries Jesus stopped being portrayed as dark skinned on the cross and started having a much lighter skin color.

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So those photos were clear examples of what happened when the mosque was left alone, or when the church covered every bit of evidence of the mosque. But much of the mosque became a combination of the two religions and that can be seen in the next couple photos.

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The above photo shows a small chapel off the side of the main room where the columns that were seen before have now been painted over with renaissance style paintings, in fact, every surface in this room has been covered in renaissance style paintings depicting biblical scenes and figures. But the architecture of the room looks like the mosque outside.

The photo below shows Jesus on the cross centered on the wall underneath the Arab styled arches and carvings that were typical of the style at the time.

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The final picture of the mosque cathedral I’m rather proud of, as it shows a clear divide between the two sides right next to each other. The right half of the photo shows the main alter with all the pomp and circumstance that we saw in other cathedrals. The pulpit where the priest might preach from is attached to the wall near the center. The left side of the photo looks just like you’re standing in the mosque (with a bunch of chairs but you can’t win ’em all). The two exist side by side within the mosque-cathedral and for me it was a strange combination.

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I expect you can draw all sorts of interesting symbolism from the mosque-cathedral. The possibility of the two religions coexisting in the same space, the possibility of peace and maybe even harmony between the two religions and even those who follow said religions. However one thing should be pointed out; the call to prayer was said from the minaret for the last time in the 13th century and has not been said since. The Muslim community has petitioned to be allowed to pray inside the mosque-cathedral and has been rejected by both Spain and the Vatican.

Continuing on our tour of Cordoba, we met up with Austin’s friend in the area and went to see the bathhouse. Like the bath houses in Granada, this one had the characteristic arches, the star shaped skylights and spaces for water to run under and across the floor. This one was a public bath house near what would have been the center of the city and was much larger than both of the other bath houses we’d been to due to continued additions throughout the time the Arabs controlled Cordoba. It was also house to a massacre at some point in history.

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Afterwards, Austin’s friend brought us to the University of Cordoba, where she was studying for the semester. It was a very small university, but the building had a much longer history. It was used as a smallpox hospital in the past and many tourists would come through on the weekends to take tours.

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Finally we headed to the summer home of Ferdinand and Isabella. From the top of the tower in their castle there was a great view out over the city and the gardens.

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The inside of the home was pretty basic, they had a private chapel which was the most interesting room as the walls were covered with Roman mosaic tapestries that were dug up in Cordoba in the 1950s from the second and third centuries. The tapestry below is far more recent and has the coats of arms for Ferdinand and Isabella on the left and a symbolic drawing of Cordoba on the right, the tower in the center is supposed to be the tower of the mosque-cathedral.

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We ended our time in Cordoba at the Miraflores Park across the river. We admired this statue which is called “El Salam,” I assume they’re going for salaam which means peace in Arabic.

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Surrounded by Arab influences and the leftover echoes of Islam in the cities we visited, I spent much of my time wondering what the general sentiment toward Islam and the Arab world was in those parts. Growing up in these cities where the Arab influence comes in the form of beautiful architecture I wondered if there was far less of a link between Islam and terrorism as they have other associations with the Arab world and Islam. Then again, they’re also just across the ocean from North Africa where there are plenty of arabic-c speaking countries so I expect the lack of distance also affects their perception of the Arab world.

Overall we had an amazing trip through Andalusia and we’re excited to return when our other Argentina friend joins us here in Spain in January. As far as the clash of cultures goes it’s a fascinating place to be. All three cities tried to convince us that they also had large Jewish populations in the past by recognizing and labeling their Jewish Quarters and advertising Andalusia as the convergence of three cultures: Jewish, Arab and Spanish. While Austin’s friend was unimpressed with the efforts taken by the city, she had expected to find more Jewish people but was convinced she was the only one in the city, I was impressed. After having been in the Middle East where each country seems to be doing it’s best to prove that they were the only ones there, at least Spain is acknowledging the presence of the Jews in the past and their part in expelling the Jews and the Moors from Spain. I think they still shy away from the atrocities in their more recent past (recent being Christopher Columbus) but I was glad to see that, at least in Seville, Granada and Cordoba, the history of the Jews and the Gypsies – who didn’t necessarily have the buildings to mark their presence – was still acknowledged.

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Getting back to Trujillo from Cordoba on a Saturday proved to be quite the struggle. Busses don’t run often on Saturdays and there were no blablacars going directly from Cordoba to Trujillo. Finally we ended up taking on blablacar to Merida and from there catching a different blablacar to Trujillo. While in Merida Austin and I had some time to walk around and we found an exercise park along the river bank. If you remember from Argentina, Austin and I are really, really fond of these exercise machines. So it made us laugh to find the exact same machine we’d played on in Argentina here in Spain.

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Merida also has its own set of Roman ruins which are supposed to be incredibly impressive. I expect Austin and I will come back here to investigate more fully after the New Year. But for that night we contented ourselves with walking across the Roman Bridge, discussing our trip and admiring the more modern bridge (below) across the way in the sunset.

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The other very important stop we made in Merida was to the Carrefour grocery store which was like a huge department store, think target, but maybe a little smaller. This is the type of place we expected to find all sorts of goodies that we can’t find Trujillo and sure enough we discovered peanut butter, real maple syrup, cream cheese and chocolate chips. After knowing what to look for, it turns out our little grocery store does actually have cream cheese, and apparently our big grocery store just started carrying peanut butter but the maple syrup and chocolate chips were good finds. I took advantage of all of the ingredients and made waffles with a not-waffle iron, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and an oreo cheesecake which Austin and I are eating at an alarmingly fast rate.

All in all, our eight day trek through Andalusia saw us walking a total of 82.9 miles, an average of just over ten miles a day. It’s no surprise that when we made it back to the apartment we went to our separate rooms, sat on our beds, and didn’t move until we had to.


As I mentioned, one of our blablacar drivers was a principal at his school. His school also had an auxiliar working at it so he told us about his experiences working with auxiliares. Apparently they had a nice young person from Australia this year but they had ended up getting too homesick and had left after a couple months. It doesn’t really surprise me that folks leave, there’s not much of a community support system here so it can be really lonely. If I wasn’t here with Austin there’s a good chance I would have decided to leave as well. We were surprised that the aussie hadn’t been able to find a community in Granada though.

The more important question that I was able to ask our driver was about how principals were chosen in schools. Unlike in the United States, the administrative positions in schools here (secretary, principal) aren’t necessarily entirely administrative. The secretary at my elementary school also teaches english to the sixth graders with me while the principal also teaches math. Our driver explained to me that it was an elections system. So every four years the teachers would vote on who the next principal should be. I think he said that was also true for secretaries but I’m not one hundred percent sure since those can be purely administrative positions (which they are at the high school I work at).

Driving through Andalusia we also saw lots of solar fields which peaked my interest and I asked our driver about solar power in Spain and how common it was. He told me that most of the solar fields we were seeing were privately owned and that putting solar on houses wasn’t actually very common because a couple years ago the government had put a “sun tax” on home solar installations. So if you installed solar panels you had to pay an extra tax. I couldn’t believe I was actually understanding him correctly so I questioned him to check I wasn’t mistranslating anything and then googled it later. I understood correctly. There’s a solar tax on home generation which has dissuaded many Spaniards from even thinking about adding solar panels. Many of the liberal government elected officials have signed a pledge to repeal the sun tax and now that the new government has pulled itself together they’re working on a bill to do exactly that.

On our blabalcar ride on the way home Austin and I were with a Spaniard near our age. We were super excited to finally get to speak to a Spaniard our age because they are so rare to find in Spain. They’ve all fled Spain, seeking out more education and greener pastures, we’re pretty convinced that we’re the only twenty-somethings in Trujillo. This young man was a musician, he worked as a DJ in a club and occasionally did gigs with his friend. He was driving up to Caceres for one such gig and let me play music on the ride. I switched between music in Spanish and music in English and gave huge props to Austin who was managing to hold up a decent conversation while there was music in English in the background. Anyways, at one point Austin mentioned to our driver how much he loved that the sales tax was included in purchases here in Spain. Neither of us figured sales tax was that much here because everything is so cheap — I mean we live in a poor part of Spain but even in Madrid it’s not wildly expensive. The Spaniard asked us how much sales tax was in the US and Austin told him it was 6.35% in Connecticut which surprised me, I thought that was pretty low since California’s sales tax is well above 8%, though I didn’t remember the exact number. Then our friend revealed that Spain’s sales tax was 21% and Austin and my’s eyes bugged out. So our friend thought that what we paid as a sales tax was incredibly low since it was so much higher in Spain. He told us that the tax was lower on restaurants, only 10% but that I knew since some of the restaurants write on the menu that the 10% tax is included.

One last note before I go: Austin and I tend to have the most interesting conversations with our blablacar drivers. Where in Argentina we could ask our teachers whatever questions we had about the country or things we’ve noticed, we now do that to our blablacar drivers and they’ve always been happy to explain to us the finer points of Spanish culture that we don’t understand (and with the help of our American friends in Trujillo we know which subjects to avoid). This is actually one of the reasons we love blablacar so much, we get to talk to Spaniards from all different parts of Spain who work all sorts of jobs.

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