This is now my third attempt at sitting down and trying to write this blog post. Words are evading me. Maybe they can just no longer do Spain justice. Maybe you all should just come and experience life here for yourselves. I’d like that! But your window of opportunity is shrinking… so maybe I should just get on with the writing. I had every intention of posting this blog about 6 days ago, around 1 am on Monday to be exact. I started making notes of what I was going to say in the McDonald’s next to the Granada bus station at 11:30 Sunday night. You see how far that got me since it’s now Sunday night my time, no big deal. And I still have those notes from last Sunday, all slightly out of date now maybe but pure reflections just the same. So jump back with me to how I was feeling Sunday night – tired, cold, anxious for the arrival of my 3 am bus back to Sevilla, contemplating sleeping on the floor (all a story within itself) and here we go…
I spent last weekend in what my host mom (a former resident of this lovely autonomous community) refers to as the heart of Spain, regardless of its non-central location. Any guesses?? Yes? And time’s up: Andalusia – Seville and Granada to be more exact. And while my personal jury is still out on whether I agree with Carmen’s possibly biased perception of these grand cities, I must admit that southern Spain did seem to possess a little extra Spanish magic. Home of Flamenco, tapas, white washed or brightly colored casitas, bull fights, and pretty much every other Spanish stereotype you can think of, upon arriving in Andalusia I felt liked I’d finally found the Spain that everyone talks about, the only part of Spain that has ever received Hollywood’s attention. My response to finally finding this paradise surprised me. I found myself defending (silently of course) Bilbao and its non-traditional Spanish customs. In my head I was having a hypothetical debate with those stereotype setters about how the world needed to get with the times and realize the diversity of Spain and how much the other 16 communities have to offer. And then I quickly hopped off my soap box to settle in to enjoy the weekend.
We arrived in Seville Thursday night and got a bit of a “preview” of its beautiful sights while we crawled along several calles, unfortunately still weighted down by our equipaje, trying to find our hostel – ummm what else is new, you ask? I know, I know, but on the bright side, I think our aimlessly searching time split is improving (patting self on the back : P ). After figuring out hostel cositas we hit the streets for our first tapas experience. Being that it was already 11:45 pm, we were all quite hungry, but the Sevillians didn’t seem to care. While every bar we walked into was more than happy to recite a long list of drink specials they had available, when we requested a food menu, we were given quizzical glances and informed that food was not served after 11pm. Oh. Thankfully the McDonald’s on the corner was more than happy to provide us with an authentic American experience even at the “non-food” hours of the night. Parfait Perfection?
Fortunately, Friday started off on a much more successful foot. After breakfasting in the hostel, the girls and I joined the very corny Italian tour guide Felipo in a plaza only a short distance from our hostel for a walking tour of Seville. We were only going to be in this city for one full day and I was determined to see as much as possible in our short time. This tour did the trick. In just under 3 hours we covered Seville’s city center, seeing the cathedral, the old ship yard, el torre del oro (an old storage tower from when Seville was the exchange port with the Americas), San Telmo’s Palace (home of the current President of Seville), several pabellones of Latin American countries left from the 1929 Seville Exhibition, María Luisa park, the Plaza España, Seville’s University – which used to be a tabacco warehouse… interesting progression – and ended in the Murillo gardens, where we were told an interesting rendition of Christopher Columbus’ departure for India. Felipo’s accent may have made it a tad difficult to keep up at times with all the history he shared along the way but that’s all part of the experience, right? No pasa nada.
Post-tour we rested our feet for a bit at the first street-side restaurant that
presented us shoved in our faces an appealing and reasonably priced daily menu. When we were thoroughly stuffed, we returned to the Plaza España for a closer look. As Felipo had mentioned, the symbolism there is pretty impressive. There are 4 bridges around the plaza and each one represents one of Spain’s original “kingdoms”: Aragón, Navarra, León, and Castilla. There are also mosaic maps and pictures of each of Spain’s 38 provinces. After a few failed attempts, we finally found País Vasco under one of its several other names - Viscaya – and promptly took pictures with what we now refer to as our home town. We then had one more stop on our Seville wish-list: la Alcázar – an architecturally spectacular Arabic fortress, which turned out to be a lovely preview of what Granada’s Alhambra had in store for us. Upon returning to our hostel that evening, we promptly dropped of the maps and postcards we had acquired throughout the day and prepared for what I like to think of as a prefect ending to a great day – a roof top paella lesson. Regardless of the fact that all I really got out of the lesson was the spanish terms for the huge paella skillet, the paella seasoning, and the different types of seafood going into it, the paella lesson/dinner turned into a three hour conversation with new friends: 3 girls who are studying at another university in Bilbao, a guy studying abroad in Barcelona, and an Aussie traveling around Europe by himself just for funsies. Although I’m pretty sure I will never run into any of them again, I thoroughly enjoyed swapping stories with a new audience : ) Maybe I could get used to this hostel thing after all.
Saturday we made it to Granada – none too easily! After waking up at 6:15 am to check out of the hostel and walk the mile and a half to the bus station and arriving at said bus station at 7 am to purchase tickets for the 7:45 am bus, we were met with a closed ticket window that wasn’t opening until 7:30 am. We quickly realized that we’d be cutting it close with our transactions but also knew there was nothing we could do about it now. Happy to see only two people already in line, Maria and I staked out our spots and sleepily watched the seconds tick by. Somehow time moved quickly (maybe I’ve perfected the art of napping while standing ??) and before long we saw a shadow moving behind the screen of the window. Ticket time! Quite unfortunately we also saw a little old lady pushing herself full steam ahead to the front of our line and sticking her face right up to that window. Not eager to practice my spanish fighting words, I was prepared to brush this little setback off and accept the fact that I was now forth in line. However, the woman in front of me did not keep the same calm demeanor. A full fledge argument about the meaning of lines and fairness and yadayadayada quickly ensued and, in my opinion, took up way more time than just letting her go would have but principles principles. At what had to be at least 7:40 we were finally running, tickets in hand, to parking space 18 where our long awaited bus was supposed to be waiting for us. Supposed to be… Did you catch that? Of course the bus in spot 18 would be pitch dark, shades drawn, with no driver in sight. 7:43 we frantically asked the people around us if they are waiting for the bus to Granada. They all assured us that they were. 7:44 we were not convinced so Molly asked a security guard if we were in the right place and he nonchalantly pointed to parking space 28. Since when do you automatically just add 10 to things huh?? 7:45 we squeezed past the bus driver as he tried to get behind the wheel to start the bus and fell into the first seats we could find, a row or two behind the oh so lovely lady we’d met a few minutes early – of course she didn’t almost miss the bus. 7:46 I’d almost passed out from the “excitement” of the morning. Thank goodness it was 3 and a half hour siesta time. Granada bound.
I feel like I must mention that by this point in the study abroad experience I should be over forming expectations of places before I actually visit them because my track record is not good – I always build them up in a completely erroneous fashion. I’ve never seen pictures of any part of Granada and actually can’t say that I’ve really ever even heard stories about Granada so I can’t explain to you why, for some strange reason, I was convinced that Granada was some sort of Mecca. And I can’t even tell you what sort of Mecca I was expecting, most likely because I hardly know what the world Mecca means…. shhhh. Up until Saturday I guess it meant Granada. Now, I’m not actually being fair… Granada was pretty but it was tiny. It was unique and definitely had some arabic influences going on but its main streets also looked really normal. I liked it but I didn’t feel like I was in a fairy tale land. And quite honestly none of this was Granada’s fault. What had I been thinking and why had I been thinking it?? Water under the bridge I guess cause it was ’round the white stone road I went until we checked into our hostel, grabbed coffee (have I mentioned I never used to like that stuff??), dropped of our bags, and ran out the door headed in the direction of THE reason to go to Granada – La Alhambra.
The world famous Alhambra is a preserved muslim fortress complete with look-out towers, palaces, Mosque baths, and gardens. It is built at the top of a rather large hill (or possibly small mountain) and, consequently, lends itself nicely for seeing the entirety of the city of Granada splayed out before you with a side of the Sierra Nevada. Yes, the views were absolutely gorgeous. What I regret from my Alhambra experience though is not having splurged for the always classy audio guided tour headset. With the added commentary, I think I probably would have gotten a lot more out of the visit. Buttttt no pasa nada? After about 3 hours of wandering around the fortress, we declared the sight completely visited and went on our way. Cue some wandering through the arabic markets, which were very cool !!, before heading back to the hostel to pick up rain coats, sign up for the 10pm hot springs tour, and get some dining suggestions.
Dinner was pretty unspectacular (I’m kind of over spanish food. All of it. Sorry Spain) but I grinned and bore it. Come 10pm the hot springs were pretty unspectacular as well. Cause we didn’t end up going. Cause it was raining. They didn’t want us to… get wet?? I still don’t really understand what fell through with the planning of that excursion but, regardless, instead of finding myself submersed in mud and hot water in the middle of Granada’s caves, I found myself trekking through its puddle covered streets to get some cheesecake. Winning? Sureeee. Then came Sunday, funny how that always works out, and half of the girls I’d been traveling with caught a bus back to Seville at noon to catch their plane back to Bilbao around 6pm. Being the adventurous and bang-for-your-buck kind of girl that I am, I had convinced Maria to book a return flight with me on Monday instead. Cue day two in Granada. Although there really wasn’t that much more of Granada to see, we found plenty to do with our extra time including a trip up to Sacromonte – the gypsy quarter of Granada where people have built their “houses” literally into the side of the mountain simply by excavating caves and moving in. This area provided a wonderful view of the outside of the Alhambra. We got a kick out of how impressed we were by having the exact opposite view point of what we had just had the day before. Other sources of excitement included dinning at a local cafeteria and being pleasantly surprised that the inside was decorated in a totally Moroccan theme, circling the arabic markets once again and finally deciding I needed some hand made earrings, having my first “chocolate con churros” experience (it’s literally a cup of melted super strong chocolate and some fried dough – maybe not my favorite thing ever), grabbing some tapas and chilling in an Irish bar, and finally heading to the bus station where we would unsuccessful try for 2 and a half hours to get some sleep while waiting for our 3am bus back to Seville. Why were you so cold bus station? WHY??? I’m pretty sure the cafe workers did not appreciate me sprawling out on their floor but I really had no choice, it was the only place with heat, and I’m never going to see any of those gawkers again so I’m no worse for the wear : P
By noon on Monday I was back in Bilbao and back to reality… well, it’s all relative I guess. This past week flew by! Thanksgiving came and went without too much excitement and come Friday I was all too ready to pick back up with what seems to have become my weekend Bilbao routine – Friday run and hang with friends all day, Saturday run and do homework and see friends in the evening, and Sunday climb some mountains before returning to skype with Kelly or another lovely family member. These weekends I like. These weekends I will miss… but shhhh we’re not talking about it yet. Leaving is something that I may be ready to have happen but at the same time have yet to accept. I refuse to count down. I’m here, Bilbao. No worries.