Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Santiago de Compostela--Avila, Salamanca, Santiago, Leon

(March 4-8)

This trip was to the north west of Spain. That area is the wettest part of the entire peninusla and gets a ton of rain. But, amazingly enough for us, we were there an entire week and didn't even see a drop. We really luck out on the weather.

Our first stop was in Avila to see the cathedral and outer walls. Avila has the best example of medieval walls in Spain. It was pretty amazing too. There were around 88 of the turret-type things. And it was extremely fun because we could climb ontop of the wall and into the towers. Needless to say we loved it--myself included. We never pass up an opportunity to climb things and be adventurous. The wind here was incredibly strong and cold, so climbing up between the crevices was even more adventurous than normal. But that definitely didn't stop us.

We then moved on to Salamanca which is a university town. They have one of the five oldest universities in the world. And they definitely have stories to go along with it.

The facade of the cathedral there had been restored and someone thought they were extremely clever and put in some rather modern adjustments. Look familiar?

And then in the facade of the university there's a hidden frog. It's said (well at least the BYU version) that if you find it without help, you will get married within a year. I think the general one is just luck in marriage. Appropriately so, the engaged girl in our group found it first. I was probably the fifth or sixth. Who knows what that means. Can you find it?
At night we strolled throughout what felt like the entire city. We found the old Roman bridge and took some pictures. But it was freezing here as well, so before long we headed back to the hotel where we packed as many people as possible in a room to watch a movie or Scrubs.

Next was a stop at a little coastal town where Fernando, our bus driver for almost all our trips, thought we'd enjoy ourselves. And he was right. It was along the Atlantic coast and was beautiful. Jumpy pictures have become extremely popular in our group and this was a perfect opportunity. Plus it was really nice to get out of the bus. And I found an amazing shell. It's the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago. There were shells similar to this all over Santiago--including the cathedral.

It took all day to get to Santiago, and by then we were starving for dinner so we went out for Chinese food. Yep, Chinese food in Santiago. It was absolutely delicious.
The cathedral in Santiago has my favorite exterior out of all the cathedrals we've seen. Because it's so humid and wet in this area there's moss growing all over the building. Normally cathedrals seem so intimidating and slightly menacing. But this one was different. There were signs of life on the cathedral. It made it more realistic and . . . real to me. Well, that doesn't really make any sense, but there it is anyway.
So, that night we decided to watch the sunset. We saw a distant hill/mountain and decided to climb it. I'm proud to say that we did. Through a lot of guess work and climbing, we made it to the perfect location to watch the sunset on Santiago. It must have been funny to watch us because there were around 16 people just walking through town and then hiking up a rather steep hill. But the hike was worth it. It was incredibly beautiful.
Our last stop was in Leon. This city was incredible. The cathedral was relatively normal from the outside but when you walked in, your were immediately surrounded by stained glass. It's said that there is more glass than stone in the top half of the building. It must be true because every thing was beautiful glass. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed.
We then explored Leon. We went in search of a park and found an amazing playground. This is the type of equipment the US has banned as being too "dangerous". Needless to say, we had an absolute blast climbing all over this rope spider-web aparatus. It was great fun.
We also found the open market in a massive plaza. This place was packed with food stands and people. There was so much going on at once. There were so many colors, noises and smells that it was definitely an experience just to walk around.


So I know that I'm falling way behind on this whole blog thing, but I really can't just pick up from the present and move on. I must tell y'all about Andorra. (Feb. 28-Mar 1)
(Oh, and sorry about all the picture in random places, I wanted to get them on here, but once they are they don't cooperate very well. You'll just have to mix and match.)

It's this little principality between France and Spain, and seeing how it's still on the Iberian Peninsula, we're still allowed to visit it.

So we finally arrive in Andorra and we head out to enjoy ourselves. We went to the postal museum. Now, that may sound pretty dumb, but it wasn't. Andorra has the weirdest postal service alive. Every post drop on the street has two separate boxes--one for France and one for Spain. I sent postcards through France. And then mail within Andorra is completely free! Seriously, how sweet is that?!

Our next stop was the miniatures museums. Ya know how the saying goes "I'll do that when a camel passes through the eye of a needle" or something along those lines. Well, you'll have to do whatever it is you were trying to avoid, because I've seen it. Actually, there were three camels, a pyramid and a palm tree all within the eye of a needle. And that was just one exhibit. It was absolutely incredible.

But my favorite thing in Andorra was ice-go-karting. It was the funnest thing ever! I absolutely loved it. Plus, I've come to realize that I really do have a need for speed and that I really do like to go fast. The skidding on the ice was a blast too. You could either try to go around seriously, or you could just skid around. I did a little of both and it was an absolute blast! Oh, and it was pretty funny too, because they give you jumpsuits and helmets, then when you're turn comes you get on the ice and then without any further instructions or rules they let you go. You've got 7 go-karts just racing around the ice. And it was great because out of the seven of us, there were three different languages: English, French, and Portuguese.
We then took leapy picture because we were here on leap day. Seriously, you have to have some sort of jumpy-leapy picture on leap day. It only comes once every four years--you've got to take advantage of that!
The following day consisted of random walks and blowing bubbles. For some truly random reason, Andorra has the highest consumption of bubble gum in the world. I don't know why, but it does. Ergo, we blew bubbles--we had to. Oh, and we saw this statue outside the church. Check out his right hand.
We drove back to Barcelona (there are no airports or trains in Andorra. The only way to get there is to drive in through Spain or France) and enjoyed our 5 hours until our flight left back to Madrid. We saw the Arc de Triumpf as well as a beautiful park and the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, that's right I have now been in the Mediterranean! It was beautiful and cold and provided amazing polished rocks.
Well, overall I think it is extremely safe to say that I had a blast that weekend.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday fun

So today was Sunday--stake conference to be exact. Everyone was spread out throughout the entire building watching the broadcast. It was pretty fun.

We had a fireside tonight as well from President and Sister Farnsworth (Madrid Mission President) and it was really good. Afterwards Missy (who had been the pianist) was playing the closing, please leave music and I went up and sang softly with her. We'd been doing that all afternoon at home, so we just continued it after the fireside. Before long we had about six people singing all the parts, at full volume. It was awesome. I love how you can just grab practically any BYU students and you've got a full harmony choir. It's so cool!

Well, I've got school in the morning and family calling at 6:30 in the morning, so hasta luego!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Segovia and Pedraza

15 de febrero

This day trip was definitely full and tiring. We started in Segovia and as soon as we arrived headed straight to the Alcazar. This castle is pretty amazing. It’s said to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in Disney World. And seeing how I am such a Disney fan, I was especially excited to see it.

The cathedral was stunning. It’s called the Lady of all Cathedrals because of it’s fair coloring. And it really is beautiful. It has 20 chapels inside and absolutely amazing acoustics. I was really tempted to sing in it (softly of course), but my stupid congested nose didn’t really allow it. I think it would have been ok in this cathedral. They had music going in the background. I haven’t seen (or heard) that before. Normally it’s deadly silent in there. They had a really pretty little courtyard in this cathedral as well. There was a well in the middle and we occupied ourselves for awhile pretending to be Snow White.

We had free time next, but it didn’t really matter because we all headed to the same place anyway—the Roman aqueducts. I was really excited to see these. These are the original Roman aqueducts, and they are the only surviving aqueducts in the world. And to top it all off, they still work! Plus, they are so massive it’s incredible. I still can’t imagine how you could make something this. . .big without modern technology.

We then all piled back on the bus and headed for Pedraza. It’s a little town that still maintains it’s Medieval atmosphere. All the buildings, roads, and food are similar to what it would have been hundreds of years ago. We found the castle and immediately started exploring all over it. It was closed, so this exploring was more climbing all around it. We climbed down into the moat—it was dry, but had an awesome lawn/weed patch—and played down there. Next I climbed around one side of the castle to lookout over the valley. It was incredibly fun. It was only a 25 foot drop to grass, and rather wide ledges, so I didn’t worry too much about it—plus it provided some fun pictures.

And I must say climbing was the highpoint of this town. We made this stop particularly to go to dinner. We had cuchinillo (roast suckling piglet) and cordero (roast lamb) which a specialty of the region. I took the lamb, and I must say I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t that they brought it out whole—practically half of an entire lamb was on your plate—I just didn’t like the taste. Actually, I felt sick the whole bus ride home. I’m really kinda sad I wasted euros on it. Oh well, it was a cultural experience and now I know, I don’t really like lamb. Plus other people had a great time with it. The pig came out as the whole leg, hoof and skin attached. People definitely had fun with the hooves, and there was even a fearfactor going on—some girls ate the lamb testicals—yech.

But overall, the trip was fun. I was definitely ready to get home though, and that didn’t happen until late. Next we’re going to El Escorial and I am super excited!

Andalucía—Los Molinos a la Mancha

Our last stop was the windmills made famous by Don Quixote. It was incredibly windy (no kidding, there are windmills here!) and cold and we were all exhausted. But that definitely did not stop us from running around playing and taking pictures. We only had a half hour, and in retrospect we probably would have frozen if we’d stayed much longer, and it was incredibly fun to run around from windmill to windmill and take pictures. They really take good pictures too!


As we drove to Granada, I realized how many olives Spaniards actually consume. I knew it was a lot, but this was crazy. We drove for about two and a half hours. It was straight olive groves, on both sides, the entire time. And this was just one section of olive trees, there were other groves in other places. But almost all the trees were smaller than the one at my Dad’s. That was kinda weird.

Granada’s visit was focused around the Alhambra. We went there first, so we could enjoy the last few hours of daylight. This was basically a palace complex. We normally spend about an hour and a half exploring a new place. We had two hours, and I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even go in some buildings! This place was absolutely massive! But my favorite portions were the Muslim palace and (surprise, surprise) the gardens.

The palace was incredible. Almost every ceiling was tiered—it’s not like Christian/Catholic palaces, Muslims generally don’t depict humans in their artwork, so everything was geometric designs. It was really cool.

After exploring the palace buildings for an hour and a half, we made our way over to the gardens. They even had their own name in this palace, Generalife. I really wish I could see them in spring. They were beautiful—in winter. Seeing all these places in winter, and seeing that they’re still this beautiful when everything should be dead, really makes me want to see them in spring. They would be absolutely gorgeous then. But there were fountains, of course, sculpted shrubbery and trees, and flowers galore. My absolute favorite thing about the gardens was Las Escaleras de Agua. It was a staircase with a stream where the handrails would be. I’m not really sure why, but I absolutely loved this! It was really fun to walk along and run your fingers through—plus the water was freezing, which is somehow a good thing. Unfortunately, we were being herded out of the Alhambra at this point (closing time) so I didn’t get a picture.

After the Alhambra, we went up to a lookout to watch the sunset. It was incredible. The Alhambra was all lit up, and the city lights were on, there were gypsies (yes, they were actual gypsies) playing guitar in the background. It was absolutely beautiful—plus, it was really nice to just sit and relax after walking around.

Dinner was Kebabs. Now, these are not the kebabs we think of back home. No stick involved—it’s a sandwich! It was more like a pita than a kebab. But this thing tasted oh so good! I definitely need to track down kebabs in Alcalá.

Next morning we tracked down the gypsy market. It took a while to find, but it was pretty cool once we did. It was a bunch of little alleyways with stores and merchandise flooding the street. People were talking to ya, trying to get you to come into their store, and trying to convince you that you really did want to buy their skewers, or jewelry, or purses, or fabric. They had a bunch of random stuff.

And then our five day journey came to a close. We ended our tour of Andalucia and headed back home. I was incredibly glad to sleep in my own bed and get over the cold I had acquired. Overall though, I loved it, and definitely recommend Sevilla to any and all.


Cordoba was a lot smaller than Sevilla, not to mention a lot quieter. We threw our stuff in our hotel—which was amazingly cute—and then headed straight to the Mezquita, which was 20 yards away from our front door.

We were welcomed by yet more orange groves in the courtyard and a beautiful sun. I just stood around a while so I could enjoy it. As soon as I entered the building I was frozen. I’ve decided all old buildings are freezing. I am so glad I didn’t live then—I’m a wuss when it come to cold. But the mosque/cathedral was awesome. I definitely enjoyed the Moorish part more than the Christian.

This building was originally a Muslim Mosque. They had created something unique in the world with the forest of candy-cane arches—which are famous around the world. It was absolutely incredible. The mosque itself is huge. It really is an incredibly massive building. And I think in Moorish times, the entire thing was filled with these arches—that would have been absolutely incredible to see. But then, the Christians conquered everything and built a cathedral in the middle of the mosque. It is really weird. It’s a complete clash of architectural styles and not in a good way. Sometimes things can clash and it will look good. This is not the case. You can see a very precise line where Muslim ends and Christian begins. It was just bizarre, and I liked the Moorish portion better.

After the mosque/cathedral we went exploring around Cordoba. We found the “old” Roman bridge, which had just finished a renovation. We talked to a native there and he told us that a lot of people were really mad when they finished the bridge. They had changed it completely and taken away everything ancient about it. I agree with them. It was a cool bridge, but it was a new bridge, over a rather pathetic river (Spain is in a drought).

We then spent the next four hours wandering around looking for something to do. We had several ideas, but each one was closed or not there anymore. So we just walked around the city. When we got back, everyone was planning a movie night. So, about 25 girls were piled into a room and they watched a chick flick. By this point, I was definitely not feeling so well, so I just went to bed.

Next day brought La Calle de Flores. It’s a little picturesque street lined with flowers with a view of the bell tower. It was really rather pretty, but there were so many people trying to get to it that you couldn’t get a clear shot. Oh, well, the pictures are still pretty cool.

Next was the Alcazar. The gardens were my favorite part. Even in winter, they were absolutely gorgeous. The fountains and trees were beautiful and I loved being there. For some reason (I think it’s a BYU thing) people in our group have decided to take mock engagement pictures on several of our trips. We only have four boys, so they just get recycled. This spot was no exception. And I really can’t blame them here, it was really beautiful. We didn’t fully explore the castle. We went up to the towers and walked along the walls—that was fun. We even found the Inquisition tower where they would execute the “guilty”.

Then we had to rush back so we didn’t miss our bus to our next stop. . . Granada.