Friday, March 18 – Salamanca
Today is the first day of our cultural trip. I was very excited when we arrived in Salamanca. It’s because my Art professor talks a lot about the architecture and history of Salamanca, so I was waiting to apply what I learned in class, in Oviedo. Salamanca is famous for the skull that has a frog on top on the façade of Salamanca University. I was the first student that found the frog. You can’t imagine how excited I was at that moment. I was interested in the façade of the New Cathedral, because I knew that there was an astronaut and a dragon that is eating a three-ball ice cream. And indeed, there they were. Original, without doubt.
Xinru (Penny) Sun
We began our journey in Salamanca in the Plaza Mayor. We had some free time so Laurie Jacob and went exploring together. We walked through the streets we saw the Cathedral and various buildings of the University of Salamanca, which is one of the largest in all of Spain. As we wandered, I noticed that Salamanca was a young city with many people around my age or slightly older and that there was a large mix of different ethnicities of people from around the world due to the University population. This was one of my favorite aspects of the city. Later, we found the statue of Lazarillo and his blind master from the book Lazarillo de Tormes. I thought it was neat to see the statue and the river I had read and written about in prior semester in my Spanish 351 literature class. We also saw the statue of the bull that is also in the story, except I didn’t hit my head on it like Lazarillo.
While we were there, we bumped into an elderly man who noticed our American accents when we were speaking in Spanish and told us about several sights he thought we should see. Following his directions we found a pretty garden with a fountain in the middle alongside one of the University buildings. Laurie and I took advantage of the picturesque scenery and the wonderful weather and took several fotos and enjoyed the sun. Our free time ended and we began our group tour around the city. Our guide pointed out many of the miniscule details of the city’s architecture and history, and at times I struggled to pay attention. She showed us the old and new halves of the Cathedral, all of the university, and La Casa de las Conchas and we concluded our day in the bus.
Saturday, March 19. Cáceres and Mérida.
After we went to Cáceres, we continued on to Mérida to see the Roman Theater and Amphitheater. I really enjoyed this part of the trip because I took a class on Roman Civilization in my second year at Miami University. It was so nice to finally be able to see what I learned about.
In the theater, I recorded Kelsey and Raeanne singing in front of everyone to see. Milites gloriosi nos saludabant. They did a wonderful job!
Plato would have been pleased with their performance.
Caceres: I liked when the tour guide mentioned that the coat of arms on shields provided people with more information than written words. I hadn’t really thought of how during the time of the middle ages very few people could read and write. This was why I found it interesting to learn that coat of arms used symbols that could communicate to the public in a more effective way than written words. I was also impressed by how almost the entire city is still intact; that the city´s structure continues to be the same as it was 500 or 600 years ago.
Merida: I loved the visit to the amphitheatre and the theatre in Merida. I haven’t seen the movie ¨Gladiator¨so I didn’t know that gladiators were poor people or slaves that would participate in flights to entertain spectators. I also didn’t know that the people of the town (the public) were the ones who determined the final destiny of a gladiator is he asked for mercy.
Sunday, March 20. Sevilla
In Sevilla, we went into El Alcázar. Due to its history, this palace exemplifies the christianization of the Arabic style. We spent a while in the garden and then walked around the city center. We stopped for a drink in the Hostelería del Laurel, where the first scene of Don Juan Tenorio takes place. I also tried a pestiño, a typical pastry in Sevilla during Holy Week. Afterwards we went to the cathedral, perhaps the most interesting building that we saw and my favorite of all those we saw. We took a look around it, went up the Giralda, and then some of us went to mass in the Royal Chapel.
Sevilla is a beautiful city and I would like to visit it again in the future. The weather was perfect and I liked that I could wear shorts and a tshirt, something very different that what I could wear in Oviedo right now! I loved the Alcazar and its gardens. The architectures was fantastic. The Arabic and Christian influences formed a very elegant palace, and it was very different than anything that we could encounter in Asturias.
The funniest parts of my day were when the boys of our group ate oranges(which are very bitter) out of the trees in the garden against my advice (they didn’t believe me!) and when Tyler received a gift from a bird.
Monday, March 21. Córdoba
We spent the fourth day in Cordoba. We visited the Mosque, which I had learned about in my Spanish 351 class. It was interesting because I could personally see what I had learned last semester. (…)
We then went to Granada at 3:30 and had free time in which I went shopping and ate dinner in an awesome restaurant. They served a lot of delicious food and it didn’t cost very much money. Maybe we will go back tomorrow.
Córdoba was just as beautiful as Sevilla. We crossed a Roman bridge to arrive in the old part of the city. There, the streets are very narrow and the buildings are all tall and white. The guide told us that the city was constructed that way to fight against the heat, something that I didn’t know. The guide took us around the city; moreover, we went to Córdoba’s Mosque-Cathedral, which was really beautiful. I loved it. It was very interesting to learn how the Christians partially reconstructed the mosque (a “small detail,” according to the guide) in order to make it a cathedral. I saw the famous horseshoe arches and the mihrab that still remains from the mosque. In my free time, I walked down the tranquil streets of the city and tried the salmorejo, a typical food in Córdoba.
Tuesday, March 22. Granada
Today we drove from Granada to Toledo – but we stopped during the journey on bus to see the birthplace of Federico García Lorca. Garcia Lorca was a famous intellectual and artist in the Spanish art world, and we talked about him in class when we studied “Un perro andaluz” by Luis Buñuel. There was a museum inside of the house that conserved a large part of the original furniture of his home. There was an exposition in the second floor of the house, where they showed works by modern artists related to the poet in New York. I very much liked the movie that the guide showed us, where we saw images of García Lorca while he directed “La barraca”.
Today the main thing we did was our visit to the Alhambra. The Alhambra is a palace built by the Muslims living in Granada that was rediscovered by Washington Irving and other writers in the 1800′s. The thing that I liked most about the Alhambra was its mix of architecture and gardens, the coexistence of the artificial and the natural. There is also a beautiful view of the city of Granada from the palace. After the visit, we walked to a part of town which offers a great view of the Alhambra and which apparently has a certain connection to the life of former president Bill Clinton. We took a short break there, and then we split up to eat lunch. During the meal, I had a glass of “fino” wine, a drink that’s typical of the region. After lunch we walked back to the hotel, passing through a series of streets where people were selling Arabic-style products and where there a lot of tea houses.
Wednesday, March 23. Toledo
After a large and delicious breakfast, we took the bus to the city of Toledo from our hotel in the mountains. The first part of the trip was by bus. The guide had to describe the city from the outside before we entered on foot. In Toledo, we went to many places, but the most impressive for me was a painting by El Greco which is entitled “El entierro del Conde de Orgaz. ” The painting was simply overwhelming, but just only a small portion compared to what lay ahead the next day at the Prado in Madrid.
In the excellent Parador of Toledo hotel, around a beautiful view of the city surrounded by the river, I tasted probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had. There were many choices and I loved them all and ate it all until the crumbs. In our visit I got distracted a lot because Max was drawing the guide and the drawing looked just like him. I liked the aspects of Jewish culture that were found in many of the buildings in Toledo. We finally traveled to Madrid after walking around Toledo all day. I was really excited because it is the capital of Spain and one of my best friends from high school lived there, Pablo.
Thursday-Friday, March 24-25. Madrid
In Madrid I spent all my free time in the art museums, mostly in the Prado Museum. I love making art and going to art museums so this day was absolutely phenomenal. I saw the majority of the most famous Spanish paintings including works by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. I saw most of these on the guided tour, and later when I had time to explore on my own I discovered a treasure trove of new artists like, Antionio Fabres y Costa, Jose Villegas Corder and Mariano Fortuny. I will never forget the experiences I had today!
Today we explored the Prado. The Prado is enormous and has about 8,600 paintings! We began our tour with the works of art by El Greco. He was the first painter to paint feelings. He is also famous for his paintings of Jesus Christ. Later we saw paints by Diego Velázquez, Goya and Van der Weyden. I had a great time at El Prado and I hope that I can go back to see the other 8,400 paintings I didn’t get to see. After El Prado Laurie, Penny and I explored the Royal Palace. It was incredible! It has giant rooms just for the King to get dressed in. If the King has a huge room to dress himself I can’t imagine the size of his closet.
Saturday, March 26. Ávila
The thing that interested me most in Avila was its famous wall, which was built to protect the city from Moorish attacks. From the top of the wall there is a great view of the Zapatero Mountains in the distance. Another interesting thing about the city that our guide pointed out were the “verracos”: stone statues that are found throughout the city. No one knows exactly why the statues are built, or why there are so many. Our guide told us that they may have simply been landmarks or points of reference, or perhaps they had some magical or religious significance. There are even some verracos built into the wall that surrounds the city.
“The last day of the trip arrived too soon, and although I am excited to get back to my host mother in Oviedo, I already miss our adventures from the trip. I was so sad when I realized that today was my last breakfast with the group in our hotel. It has been the perfect way to start the day each morning! I really enjoyed our guide in Ávila and also sampled the local specialty of the city: las yemas. I didn’t like them as much as the marzapan from Toledo, but they were still delicious! When I went through all my photos from the trip on our way back to Oviedo, I thought back on all the sights we visited during the past week. Without a doubt, it has been the best week since I arrived in Spain. My only regret is that we do not have another nine days to continue the adventure!”