Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

South of Spain

Unfortunately my program doesn’t give us that much time off. We have no fall break and every other Friday I have class so that makes traveling kind of tricky. I decided to take the last week of from classes, my internship, and all other responsibilities to travel to Córdoba and Granada and get a taste of the South! Boy was that one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was so great to get some time to myself; living with a host family gives me basically no privacy. It was also my first time traveling alone and I really enjoyed the freedom to do whatever I wanted without having to run it by someone else or make compromises. So here’s what I’ve been up to for the past week of ‘vacation’.

Córdoba

I got to Córdoba Thursday night, and my new friend Paul was nice enough to meet me at the train station. I met him in Paris and knew he was studying in Córdoba so when I told him I would be in town he insisted on letting me crash at his place, what a great guy. He lives in an apartment building with the rest of his studying abroad program, they were a crazy bunch but all very friendly. After I dropped off my stuff Paul and I walked around the city for bit. I was surprised by how small yet busy it was. We walked through many courtyards with fountains, a few Roman ruins here and there covered with cats (yes cats! There were stray cats everywhere in the south…) and lots and lots of churches. We ended up on this tiny street filled with tapas restaurants and tons of people. A great thing about the southern cities in Spain are the prices, a beer is less than a euro and the tapas weren’t much more! In Barcelona you would never see those prices with that quality of food. I got my usual patatas alioli, and man they were yummy. That was pretty much it for night one in Córdoba, I had the best night sleep that I’ve had in a long time because all my stress was gone and I was officially on vacation!

The next morning we were up super early and off to see the Muslim mosque, la Mezquita. This is what I was most excited to see in Córdoba, we learned all about the construction of the mosque and the effects that the Muslims had on Spain in my cultures class. I was excited to see what I’ve been learning about in class in real life. I only wish I got to see it before my test that was the week prior; it would have helped me visualize everything. Anyways, the mosque definitely lived up to my high expectations! It was stunning. Construction began in 785 after the Muslims invaded Córdoba, but in 1236 Córdoba was conquered by the Christians who build a massive cathedral in the center of the mosque. So picture this, a Muslim mosque with symmetrical repeating arches, geometric carvings, mosaics; and then smack in the center a cathedral with a huge alter, paintings of Jesus on the cross, a section for the choir, the two images don’t really go together. I actually found it kind of silly that it was all under one roof, but the two structures do serve the same purpose, to allow people the space to connect with God. No matter how beautiful the cathedral was, I enjoyed walking around the mosque more. The cathedral was bright and light up, but when you walked out it became dark and mysterious, I also just really liked walking through the endless rows of red and white striped arches.

La Mezquita was definitely the highlight of my time in Córdoba, we spent the majority of our afternoon exploring and listening to our audio guides, it was great. Afterwards we had a picnic lunch and then headed to a free flamenco show that Paul knew about. The show was fantastic! I swear the guitarist had four hands because he was playing so quickly, the female vocalist and male dancer were also incredibly talented and passionate. By the end of the 45 minute show all three performers were soaked in sweat. It was a blast! The last time I saw flamenco was in Sevilla last summer with my best friend Caroline. Both shows had the same traditional dancing and singing, but I love how each performance adds its own personality to it. You can’t get flamenco like that in the North, that’s for sure.

After siestas, I borrowed one of Paul’s friends bike and we headed out to see different parts of the city. That’s another thing about these smaller cities in the South, no metro system. I’m so used to things being far away and having to use some sort of public transportation to get there, but in Córdoba you have to walk or bike to get anyplace. It was a nice change in pace. After seeing his school, some cool parks and a killer sunset, we met up with his friends for paella and bar hopping. It was an awesome day.

Saturday we went to a super tiny town, I’m going to go ahead and call it a village, named Almodóvar. I woke up after the 30 minute bus ride to find myself in basically the middle of nowhere. Okay, I’m over exaggerating a bit. To my left was a tiny village filed with cute white houses, in front of me up a crazy hill was a caste, and to my right were endless green fields. Once we made it to the top of the steep hill we walked around the castle to get a 360 view, it was spectacular. We finally headed into el Castillo de Almodóvar and were excited to see that we basically had the whole place to ourselves!

My favorite part of our self-guided tour (other than the breathtaking views at every turn) was that the castell was set up to make you feel as if it were still the 14th century. Renaissance like music was playing and old flags were blowing, they even had mannequins in the dungeon to make it look like people were still kept down there. It was the freakiest thing ever; we were walking down into the pitch black when lights shot on and there was a ‘person’ hanging in the middle of the room, it was so realistic and terrifying. I think Paul would agree with me since we snapped a picture for proof and then sprinted out of there. The single greatest part of the castle was in one tower they had metal steps in the center to get you even higher up and give you the absolute best view of the surroundings. Our castle adventure took up the majority of my second day in Cordóba, and it was another great one. That night we coked a delicious dinner and checked out the chill nightlife in the city again. Don’t get me wrong I totally love Barcelona, but I think I would have fit in in a smaller city like Cordóba or Sevilla better, more relaxing and less party central. The next day I was up early and back on a train to continue my vacation in Granada! Paul was the best tour guide ever, and hopefully I can do the same for him when he visits Barcelona in a week.

Granada

By Sunday afternoon I was finally in Granada, and this time I was really really traveling alone. No one was there to meet me at the train station and guide me to my destination; it was all up to me. And of course I didn’t put much thought into that until it was already too late, luckily I had the name, address, and phone number of the hostel written down. So after a few hours of getting lost and talking to some very friendly strangers, I finally arrived! My hostel was so cute, I loved it. It was in the middle of a tiny neighborhood unmarked, from the outside you couldn’t even tell that it was a hostel. The people who worked there could not have been more helpful and kind. And the best part was the rooftop kitchen and patio had the sickest view of Granada! Travelling and getting lost completely drained me, so the rest of my Sunday was getting groceries, cooking a simple meal, planning my next few days, and hanging out on this kick ass rooftop. I was in heaven.

The only teeny tiny complain that I had about my hostel was that I didn’t get a chance to meet many people. That’s my favorite part about traveling and staying in hostels, however this place was relatively empty with the exception of a few couples. It wasn’t all bad though, because I had tons of time to myself and I became pretty close to the owner, this cool chick named Helena who spends all of her time keeping the hostel going, playing guitar on the rooftop, and drinking weird teas….she was great.

After a killer night sleep in my cozy private room, I headed out to La Alhambra where I planned on spending my entire day. Side note: if any of you are planning on visiting Granada and La Alhambra buy your tickets like a month in advance. I almost didn’t get to go which would have been devastating, but the travel gods were on my side and I magically got a ticket last minute. Anyhow, I left for the Alhambra about 4 hours before my tour for a few reasons. One I wanted to figure out how the get their without a map, which isn’t too difficult to do in a small town like Granada but you need to set extra time aside for this. Two I wanted to stop in all of the cute shops along the way. And three, I packed a picnic to eat at the top of the hill before I started my tour.

So after all of that it was finally 2:30 and time for me to enter los Palacios Nazaríes. At first it was difficult to appreciate what I was looking at with the insane number of tour groups pushing by me, but eventually I found my flow. I would listening to the information from the audio guide in the corner and then weave through the groups and take my time soaking in all the beauty. I guess I should probably explain what La Alhambra is first….it’s another structure that I’m learning about in my cultures class, so again I was super pumped to see it in person. It was originally a small fortress in 889 but then converted into a Moorish empire in the 11th century, and finally it was converted into a royal palace in 1333. It has been described as “out of this world” or “paradise on earth”. There are three major sections to tour, los Palacios Nazaríes, la Alcazba, and Generalife.

Los Palacios Nazaríes is where I started my tour. This palace was for the Moorish rulers. It was spectacular. Arches and domes completely covered in detailed carvings. Every inch of space was decorated with a colorful tile, geometric caring, or shimmering paint. So royal and extravagant. Water played an important role to the Muslims. Around every corner there was a different fountain or reflective pool. The pools reflected the image of the palace making it even more overwhelming. La Alcazba is the oldest part of the layout. This structure was much less over-the-top, but from the tops of the towers you got an awesome view of the rest of the grounds and of the city of Granada. Lastly, Generalife was connected to the rest of the area with beautiful sprawling gardens. The building was used as a summer palace for the kings. La Generalife was very similar to los Palacios Nazaríes with its extreme decoration and multiple fountains, but it was much smaller.

It’s really hard to describe the beauty of la Alhambra, I learned about it in class and saw pictures and videos, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I saw it in person. After my time at la Alhambra, I cooked, saw the most beautiful sunset from my hostel roof, and went to bed. It was a thrilling and tiring day.

Wow I just realized that this is going to be my longest post ever. Props to you if you’ve made it this far! I’ll try to summarize my last few days.

Day two in Granada, I accidentally slept through my alarm and woke up at 12. Woops! I switched some of my plans over to the next day and had the most relaxing Tuesday. I spent my day getting lost in Granada, shopping, writing postcards, meeting people, and basically killing time until an hour before the sunset. I listened to one of Rick Steve’s suggestions and went to San Nicolas Viewpoint, Mirador de San Nicolas. Again, this place was completely packed with people. I found a spot on the ledge in the corner and soaked up the view. In front of me was la Alhambra in all its glory and to my right was the sun starting to set behind the mountain. It wasn’t until now that I realized how big la Alhabra really is. The sunset was nice (not as beautiful as the one from my rooftop!) but after it got dark was when the magic really happened. Lights light up all of the palaces from the bottom. It was seriously the coolest thing. People were buzzing trying to get the best picture possible. I hung out here for an hour or two until most of the crowds were gone and called it a night.

For my last day in Granada, I was up and out the door early. I spent the morning finishing my souvenir shopping and bought a ton. The prices were cheap to begin with and I love bartering so I got everything crazy cheap and even got a few free things thrown in for my ‘good Spanish’, whatever that means. I spent the early afternoon wandering the streets and stumbling across awesome street performers including a flamenco show! That was some unexpected fun. Finally I made it to my destination which was the Royal Chapel of Granada and the Cathedral. Both amazing and beautiful churches. I especially enjoyed the royal chapel, because that is where Ferdinand’s and Isabella’s bodies rest. Again, I’m learning about them in my cultures class so seeing their final resting place really meant something to me. The cathedral was also awesome to walk through; it is the second largest cathedral in Spain behind the one in Sevilla. No pictures are allowed in either structure, so it was nice to walk around, enjoy the art, and not worry about getting ‘the perfect shot’.

Well that sums up my week of exploring the South of Spain. My last few hours were spent watching my last sunset on the roof, hanging out with Elena while she played the guitar, and catching my 11 hour long train ride back to Barcelona. It was so nice to ditch the craziness of this big city for a week and experience a different part of this amazing and diverse country. Although, like always, it feels so good to be back in Barcelona.

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