Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tetouan and Granada

As I write this, Spain has just beat Germany 1-0 in the World Cup...what an exciting time to be here! The streets are flooded with people, and the kids are all wrapped up in Spanish flags and Torres soccer jerseys - Torres is apparently the new Spanish hero of 2008.

Yesterday morning I got up early (too early for a run, sadly), and we boarded a bus for Algeciras (well, the Spanish town adjacent-Gibraltar is actually British) and hopped on a ferry to Puerta del Ceuta, which is a Spanish colony in Africa, next to Morocco. It was quite a process - we had to fax passports and numbers over to the border days ago in preparation, and have multiple copies of temporary immigration forms filled out. The ferry ride was beautiful, albiet a bit cloudy, and we arrived in Ceuta, a resort city of 85,000, full of Christians, Muslims and Jews. When Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand united Spain, all non-Christians were forced to either convert, leave or be killed; many Jews and Muslims fled to Ceuta and the present-day Moroccan city of Tetouan. We made it through the border incident-free, although it was a lengthy process with no pictures allowed. We traveled another 25 minutes into Morocco, where I exited the bus and rode a camel. Yes, a camel! It was unbelievable, and I was quite certain I would fall right off it! We headed a few more miles down the road to the city of Tetouan, which is a quite diverse Moroccan city which possesses religious toleration. Across the street from each other is a mosque, Catholic church and synagogue. We parked the bus and the gypsies immediately came in for the kill, offering us braclets and jewelry and all sorts of wacky stuff - some for cheap, others not. We entered the medina, meaning ´´old city,´´ which was the old wall created in 1492 when all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. The streets are narrow and filled with all sorts of treasures and treats - dead chickens hanging from their feet, spices, meats and fish (both the bodies and the heads...mmm...). All the buildings were pasted with a white chalk/plaster, which made the medina incredibly cool - probably 10 degrees celsius cooler. With it being almost 44 degrees celcius, this was a huge relief!

We continued through the medina to a rug factory, where they sold us rugs and carpets and blankets. I inquired about a shirt, and the guy harassed me - a lot. He went for the sale bigtime...but in the end I backed out, because he was going to charge me waaaay too much - idiot American I will not be! We finished up in a typical Moroccan restaurant, where we enjoyed some Moroccan soup (similar to our idea of a minestrone), cous cous, chicken and mint tea. Afterwards, we went to an herbalist who pitched us (pretty successfully!) to puchase all sorts of herbal remedies - from stress to cracked lips to snoring.

We left the medina and headed back to Cueta, but stopped at the beach resort village of Smir for a coca-cola and some pictures. Here, the Muslim women wore their entire hijab while going swimming, as showing any part of the female body is considered sinful and temptation. After the ferry ride back and the drive back to Puert del Sol village of Marbella, we had a quick dinner and headed to the beach for some ice cream and I got on line for the bungee jumping on the trampoline on the beach. I was doing flips in the air (front AND backwards!) on the Playa de la Venus...amazing stuff!

This morning, during my six mile run along the board walk (to the Playa de la Casablanca and back), I viewed all the partiers going to sleep - Spain´s 6:30am is the equivalent of our 1:30am in the US. I ate breakfast and we hopped a bus to Granada, where we shopped around the little stores, and I saw the tomb and mosoleum of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Here in Spain, they are known as los Católicos, or simply, ´´The Catholic Monarchs.´´ Queen Isabella´s pillow is purposefully built two centimeters higher as a symbol of her power and importance in uniting Spain. We had a delicious lunch full of tapas sandwiches, gazpacho and tortilla, and headed up to Alhambra (meaning ´´the red fortress´´).

Alhambra was the Moors´ city that was built before the invasion of the Christians in the thirteenth century and was taken over in 1492. Eventually, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire built a chapel in the Alhambra, and is a spectacular example of the blending of Christian and Muslim cultures. The beautiful Palace of the Lions was actually donated by Jews to Mulsims (before the Christian invasion) as a gift and sign of peace, representing the 12 tribes of Jerusalem.

That´s it for now, as I am tired and old (chipped my stupid tooth at dinner tonight. Ugh!) and need to go to bed so I can run in the morning, before taking our seven hour drive to Valencia (the namesake of The Decemberists´ song ´´Oh! Valencia!´´). Signing off for now!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Costa del Sol and Sevilla

Here I (we) are on the beach in Costa del Sol, the southern part of Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea. I mean we, because my newly adopted students from West Palm Beach, Florida are crowded in around me in an unairconditioned internet café watching me type. We can see the beach from the internet café here, and after a swim earlier in the Mediterranean and some delicious buffet dinner at the Hotel de Rodeo involving some fried local fish and tortilla (our idea of a quiche or potato pie), we all walked around on the boardwalk. We are in the village of Marbella, and it is a summer getaway for much of Spain. It is 7 hours south of Madrid, which seems like a lot for a weekend - imagine having a summer condo on the beach in Maryland, which would be the equivalent. With bullet trains the trip is much shorter, and Spaniards´ vacations are usually three or four weeks, not one like ours.

Yesterday, we spent the day in Cordoba, where we saw the gorgeous Mezquita-Cathedral there, which was originally built as a mosque in 750, after many Muslims were killed in Damascus and fled to Andalusia in southern Spain. There, religious tolerance was allowed for Muslims (obviously), Christians and Jews; but in 1250 when the Christians invaded, as a kick in the face to the Muslims, the Christians there built a chapel literally in the middle of the mosque. In the red and white arches (typically Muslim architecture), small monuments were built to different saints; and right in the middle of the mosque, where Muslim worship would occur five times a day, a gigantic chapel, complete with stained glass windows was built. It was incredible, moving and historical to see, for sure. This example of blending of culture was seen over and over again as we traveled through souther Spain.

In Seville, after seeing a Flemenco Dancing show (incredible!), and after a 6:30am run along the Guadalaquivir River watching all the party-goers going home after a night of celebrating Spain´s 3-0 victory over Russia in the World Cup semi-finals, we headed to the Sevilla Cathedral, where we saw Christopher Columbus´ grave (a history teacher´s dream come true!) and climbed the tower of the church. The interesting thing - this belfry tower was originally built as a minaret when the building was a mosque years before. The original waiting area for the mosque (I forget the word now) has become an orange-grove reception area. The view from the top - about 25 stories up - was magnificent. Afterwards, we saw the Royal Palace in Sevilla, where the King and Queen stays when visiting Sevilla. It is simply gorgeous, and again an example of the melding of culture and relgion. It was administered to be built by Christians, so there is clearly Christian influence in the art and architecture, but Muslim Moors were hired to build the palace. Therefore, it has influences from both religions, and is absolutely beautiful. Truly, Sevilla is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen in the world.

Tomorrow, we head to the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco for a day of fun and adventure - and I will blog about it asap! Until then...thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Madrid Day #2

Last night, I slept harder than I have slept in a long time. Until 3:37am local time, that is. At that point, about 50 screaming tourists got onto their bus heading who-knows-where. All I know is that woke me up...but I fell quickly back asleep again and walked into our morning buffet breakfast: holy cow. This was nothing like we consider breakfast to be - proscuitto ham, spicy ham, sausage, cheese, toast, olive oil, olives, fresh fruit, croissants with honey, poached eggs, apricot and peach was truly amazing. There was, in the corner, a small bit of Fruit Loops for the unadventurous-eating American. I needed, of course, my cup of coffee, which I discovered is not what we think of as a good old cup of Dunkin´ Donuts, but instead a cup of very, very concentrated espresso with some warm milk. Knowing me, this made me immediately very hyper, which psyched me up for the long day ahead (it is 11:10pm local time as I write this, and falling asleep!).

We headed to the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, which is the heart of the city of Madrid. It reminded me a lot of Downtown Crossing in Boston or Times Square in New York City. It was quite sleepy at 10:00am, which is when we arrived. We walked and browsed around, I bought a few souvenirs, and stopped for a café at an outdoor café. This time, however, I knew what to expect (in terms of caffeine, anyway). Our meeting place was the statue of the bear in the Puerta del Sol, which is the symbol of Madrid. If you click on that past link, you can see a picture of the bear, as well as the café where I had my café, just beyond the bear on the right, by the white umbrella.

We proceeded to lunch, where we had again, paella (but still with no fish - only chicken and some veggies), which is standard fare for groups in Spanish restaurants. It is probably the equivalent of taking a trip with a big group in America and being given trays of pizza or chicken fingers or hamburgers. Paella is everywhere in Spain - in every restaurant, from fancy to basic.

From here, we picked up Ana, our tourguide, who gave us a driving tour of the various neighborhoods of Madrid; we saw all the government center buildings, such as the Department of Agriculture and the national Library, we passed the monument to the Madrid train bombings, which took place on 3-11-04. We ended up at the Palacio Real, which is the Royal Palace of the King and Queen of Spain. We didn´t see Juan Carlos, but we got beautiful views of the valleys heading south, which was built on the given hill so that the Spaniards could see the invading Muslims from the south. We also got to see their Medieval Armory, which was full of amazing armors, for adult knights, horses, and even small children! Imagine that - baby knighthood!

OK, to bed for me! Tomorrow, we head to Cordoba and Sevilla in the south on the Mediterranean, and then afterwards, I believe to Morocco! More to come asap...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Madrid Day 1

The flight from Boston to Frankfurt was interesting...half the people on the flight spoke English and half spoke German. For the first time in my life, I wasn´t able to communicate using words, which was, quite honestly, quite a challenge for me. I watched Dan in Real Life on the flight, took a long, long nap, and arrived in Frankfurt at 6am local time, or midnight EST. Dinner was decent - some chicken, veggies and rice. I ate a croissant for breakfast (midnight snack?) and some OJ - the total was €6 (six Euros) or about 10 dollars! Wow.

I met up with the group after transferring to Madrid, and having the experience of attempting to speak with people who didn´t know English. This was difficult, and really gave me a sense of what it must be like for others who don´t speak the native language, as well as the understanding of how essential it is to learn the native language of one´s country. We met up with Luis, our tourguide, who is fluent in both English and Spanish (thank goodness), and had some
paella and headed to the Prado Museum, where we saw classic paintings from El Bosco, Goya, El Greco and Velasquez.

Finally, we headed to Guadalajaro, where we are staying in a hotel for two days. This is quite a distance northwest of downtown Madrid. We are staying in a very nice hotel, but something interesting stuck me about Guadalajaro: it is a city with high-rise buildings surrounded by fields and orchards. We did not have time to venture into the city itself, but instead went to an adjacent mall for dinner at the food court. We had small sandwiches, kind of like tapas, that we shared. We had shrimp, cured ham, chicken, salmon and cream cheese, bacon and cheese and plain cheese. Delicious! It is 9:40pm in Guadalajaro and the sun still has not different than Boston. Due to, of course, the higher latitude on the globe - more hours of daylight and fewer of nighttime during the summer so north on the globe.

Tomorrow, we head back into Madrid and then head south to the coast of the Mediterranean. Until are not uploading tonight, so I´ll try again tomorrow or at the next hotel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Summer!

Happy Summer to all!  I am doing my last-minute packing now and am heading to the airport in a few - with plenty of time to spare.  The weather in Boston is 70 degrees and humid...according to The Extended 10 Day Forecast, Spain should be mid-eighties and and sunny for the next 10 days or so - what luck!  I fly to Hamburg and then on to Madrid, where I arrive on Tuesday morning.  We hit the road flying, tour the southern part of the country and then finish our trip in Barcelona, home of the 1992 Olympics.  I'm very, excited!  I have my money pouch ready to go with passport, money and my journal ready to go.  Drop me an email hello!  I will try my best to find internet cafes and use our hotel as best I can to post pictures and stories of my travels.  Adiós!