Madrid: Retiro Park

This park is compared to Central Park in New York City. It is massive and one can wander the park all day and still not see everything in the park. The day we visited, there was a memorial in the park for a bombing that had happened at the Train Station, Atocha, in Madrid in 2004. Although we were in the park we did not see the memorial. We stopped at the park after taking the metro to Plaza del Sol to do some shopping.

So many people were in the park. People were picnicking, spending time with friends, spending time with family or just enjoying the park. As previously mentioned most people in Spain own their own apartments in the city. There are not as many houses as there are here in the United States. So going to the park is normal as they do not have as much living space in their apartments.

I would definitely want to come back to Madrid and spend more time in the park and maybe rent a boat and go to the glass castle in the park.

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Madrid: Royal Palace and Prado

We left Toledo and checked into our hotel in Madrid. Madrid I would compare to New York City with all of the shops and so many people. However, it is not as large as New York City. The next day we were once again on tours of Madrid.

The Royal Palace was our first stop. It had a beautiful courtyard and entry way which we were allowed to take photos of. However, due to the nature of flash photography, there were no other areas of the palace in which photos were permitted in attempt to preserve the artifacts and art work housed in the palace.

Unlike the Royal Palace in Seville. The Royal Palace of Madrid does not house the Royal Family at any point of the year. Rather, they have a residence outside of the city.

It was interesting to see palaces that once housed the rulers of the country. I guessed it could be compared to the White House, but the White House is so small and so young in comparison to these palaces.

We were allowed to explore an area and eat lunch. I enjoyed getting take out from a chain restaurant in Spain that had delicious salads, sandwiches and pastries. I would compare it to a Panera Bread here in the states.

After lunch, we went off to the Prado. The Prado is a world famous art museum that house the work of Velazquez and Grecco. We did not see all of the artwork in the museum but we saw some of the major paintings. Both the inside and the outside of the Prado was beautiful.

Toledo

After Granada we left for Toledo which was a stop on our way to Madrid. Toledo was another area where multiple religions lived together. We had a group lunch which the options were steak and fish, which was the first time I saw steak offered on the menu in Spain, it has been predominately fish, seafood, chicken and pork or ham. I had the fish which was delicious and light before touring the city. The synagogue of Toledo was transformed into a Church after 1492 when the Christians took over.

Toledo had a section of the city called the Jewish Quarter where mostly Jewish people lived at one point.

After leaving the Jewish Quarter we entered the main square. In the square there was the Cathedral of Toledo and the government buildings. The Cathedral was beautiful. There were Spanish organs and multiple chapels. One was reserved specifically for marriages.

One of the many cultural differences between the US and Spain is the dominant religion in Spain. Under Franco, until 1975, Catholicism was the only religion permitted. They were given a choice to convert or to move. This was around the start of the second world war so Europe was torn by warring powers.

Granada at Night

We had a lot of free time at night. We were out after dinner trying to find something to do when we ended up in a mall. It seemed pretty cool but nothing was open because the stores were moving out of the mall or it was late. Across the street we saw a gym and fitness studio and people were going to a fitness class at 10:30 at night which I thought was different from our culture because most people are heading home or are at home getting ready for bed.

We ended up going back to a restaurant where there was dancing. So we enjoyed a little bit to eat and watched as the local started to show up and started dancing as couples. They saw our group and invited us onto the dance floor and they put on a line dance. A few line dances later we were getting ready to leave when one of the guys asked me to dance with him. It was an amazing experience getting right into the culture of the area.

The Albayzin, Granada

The Albayzin is a unique part of the city of Granada. It is situated on another hill overlooking the downtown area of Granada and the Alhambra on a neighboring hill. This part of the city is very tight knit. Many of the apartments here have been passed down through the family. I found this unique because houses usually do not pass from one family member to another typically in the US. Our tour guide Maria told us that the residents of the area do not consider themselves to live in Granada rather they live in the Albayzin.

While visiting we passed a school and a library. There were kids playing in the courtyard of the school. While some little girls made crafts and had a blanket set out and were trying to sell them to people passing by. We stopped on this overlook where there were more people selling their goods. The overlook overlooked the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range which were still snow covered at the top.

All the street names involved Carmen in the Albayzin which referred to the type of houses in the Albaycin. Carmen which mean vine or the lattice work that held the vine. Many of the houses had these on the second story overlooking the garden area at the front of the house.

While leaving the Albaycin part of the city we went down a street which was like Morocco, all crammed on the street with goods and services like Henna. It was so unique to see all this Moorish culture all in one place. One of our professors said it reminded her of Morocco if she were to close her eyes.

I think it would be fun to spend a longer period of time in Spain and stay with friends in their apartments.

The Alhambra

The Alhambra is a city-fortress on the hills overlooking the city of Granada. It was the last Muslim strong hold in Spain when the Christian Kingdoms started to unite the areas. It can be broken into three sections, the palace, the gardens and the city life.

To think that this site was almost left to ruins. Washington Irving was the man who brought attention back to the Alhambra in the 19th century in attempt to preserve this historical site.

Upon entering, the first thing that caught our attention was the cats who were allowed to roam the grounds.

We first toured the royal palace, which once conquered Queen Isabella did live in for a time, she also had the chapel built on the grounds of the Alhambra. But while under Muslim rule Ibn Nasar lived there as one of the last Moorish Kings.

Once conquered in 1492, it became the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. This is where Christopher Columbus got permission and funding to sail to the new world.

This is unique because we do not have any structures this grand, old and have such a cultural influence like the Alhambra represents here in America.

The gardens are directly linked to the Moorish idea of the natural piece. No where in the Alhambra are there humans depicted in the artwork, rather there is natural images, like flowers, fruits and vines or geometric patterns in tile work.

There was not much in the city portion as most of the buildings were just foundations of what originally had been there.

On Our Way to Granada

After Cordoba, we went back on the bus to go to Granada. We drove through the olive groves in the hill sides of the Andalusia region. Our bus driver informed us that the olives grown here are the ones that are in our olive oil back home and that Italy mainly does the marketing of the products.  I thought it was interesting that there was not a major highway connecting these cities, like there are here in America, rather there was just country roads through the olive groves.

We did make a stop at a side of the road stop. Everyone picked up a snack of some sort. There was fresh olive oil, different candies, fresh fruit, chocolate, and water. What was interesting was that there were a limited number of bathrooms inside with the store and restaurant. Rather there was a larger amount in another building outside that was just bathrooms and it was not a outhouse.

When we drove into the city we noticed that the city was different from the others as the hills were more noticeable. It definitely reminded me of Pittsburgh in that way.

Cordoba: The City

We finished with our tour guide by touring the main parts of the old city, this part of the city has existed since Roman time. The city was maze like its not like our major cities that have the grid like pattern. Instead the streets were diagonal. Some only led to little court yard where balconies of apartments looked down. My favorite part was seeing the street of flowers that you see in books and postcards of Spain. To see it in real life was amazing.

With the streets how they were we were afraid of getting lost on our way back from exploring during our free time. We had wandered down a main street and now were trying to find a way back to the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. We were also warned of gypsies and pickpockets that roamed the streets since this was a heavy tourism area.

While eating lunch I did notice something very different from our own culture. Not only did they serve the water and pop in glass bottles, which is cool and better for the environment than plastic, but that the glass for the pop had the lemon and ice. The water was served with an empty glass. I thought this was different but that it added a different flavor to the pop which was delicious.

I do wish to go back one day and be able to see the new part of the city which is connected by a bridge that dates back to ancient Rome.

Cordoba Day 3: The Mosque-Cathedral

We left Seville and drove to Cordoba. Cordoba is one of the cities where all three Semitic religions lived together here. The main place we visited was the Great Mosque of Cordoba. This was once a mosque but is now used as a Cathedral once the Christians took over. The construction of  the Mosque dates back to Roman time. This surprised me as it is still standing after all these years and through earthquakes.

Cordoba used to be the capital of the Islamic world.

The Mosque used to be completely open and have a minaret, the tower where someone goes up to call the city to prayer at specific times. There is also an orange grove with irrigation and fountains as a nature and water feature. When the Christians took over and converted the mosque into a cathedral, the minaret was covered by a bell tower and the openness of the mosque was closed off. In the center they built a cathedral. They left the Mihrab and dome alone and instead built more towards the center of the mosque.

The Mosque is a great example of how the different religions came together. The worker who helped worked on the pillars of the Mosque inscribed their names into the pillar in order to get their pay and the names were written in Arabic and Hebrew.20170307_11491520170307_11420320170307_11162320170307_111153(0)20170307_105014The minaret can be seen behind the bell tower by the red brick

Eating Lunch Day Two of Seville

The first full day in Seville we toured the Royal Palace in Seville. After touring the palace and the gardens we went to the Cathedral. Once we were finished with our guide for the day we went to get lunch. That day we stuck in a fairly large group and occupied multiple tables at a single restaurant. I sat with the largest table and  as the only person who could effectively communicate in Spanish I was in charge of communications with the table and the waitress. This restaurant had menus in English which was helpful. Whenever the waitress came over she would speak to me first and then I would translate she only spoke to the other students at the table when taking their orders. Although the waitress was nice about the service, it was frustrating on my part because my Spanish is out of practice. I know I knew the words I was looking for at one point but it was not coming to me.

While we were eating lunch, it was about 2 p.m. I saw many children in school uniforms walking home with their backpacks. It was interesting as some were walking with older siblings or friends while some were walking with parents, while others were walking by themselves. Now the culture there is different. Lunch is the main meal there, while here in America it is dinner. But there is a cultural stop around 2 where everyone goes home for siesta. Businesses and shops will close down, except those directly related to tourism, ex. tourist shops or big name stores like Zara. Some carried their backpacks as backpacks while other had a cart attachment to their backpacks. One difference in the school was transportation. They do not have school buses in the cities in Spain. Rather most people walk or take the metro or city bus.