Spain: Cafe con leche, olives, and art


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April 17th 2010
Published: April 17th 2010
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Bear!Bear!Bear!

Puerta del Sol
Again, the perks of being a teacher come in handy! A few of my friends from work and I decided at our holiday party back in December, that a trip to Spain for break might be just what we needed in the middle of the spring semester! A very good decision I must say! So, a fellow special education teacher, Amy, a Global History teacher, Lena, a Spanish teacher, Melissa, the dean, Emilio, and I all put our heads together and came up with an itinerary for our 10 day vacation. We tried hard to get Barcelona into our schedule, but it just refused to fit in comfortably. All the same, what we came up with was extraordinary, and now there is someplace to visit another year!

It felt like the trip was going to be a good one when we were all five upgraded to business class as we boarded the plane for our trans-Atlantic flight! We landed in Madrid in the late afternoon, set down our bags, changed into warm weather clothes, and headed out for some wine and food. Here began my obsession with olives! From that meal forward, olives were a staple for each of our lunches and dinners. After eating, we took advantage of the sunshine to walk to the enormous Parc Retiro where we caught a little bit of a soccer game and stumbled upon the lake with paddleboats.

What struck me as we spent a few hours ambling through the park was the lack of technology. People were unplugged! I didn’t see white earphones protruding from every other person’s ears the way I do in New York, I saw only 6 people talking on their cell phone, and I did not see one person hunched over texting! Instead, people seemed to be with the people they wanted to talk to. Families were together buying churros or balloon swords, friends were lounging on the grass, and couples were draped over each other oblivious to the world. While this happens in NYC, the lack of technology gave me the sense that people were more in the moment or enjoying the present in a way that was appealing to me.

Leaving the park, I remembered that when I was in Madrid 9 years before that there was a great plaza with a bear statue. No one else in the group believed me! Well, not long after my reminiscing about the bear statue we stumbled upon Puerta del Sol and the bear statue! The plaza was not the one I was thinking of, but the statue was there all the same! We plotted out what we wanted to make sure to do when we returned to Madrid after our traveling to the south over a beer and then tucked into our tiny hostel room for the night.

A lovely ride on the fast train brought us to Seville. Melissa’s friends who live in Spain met us here for an afternoon where they played tour guide- a great thing because the windy little streets were a little confusing in my jetlagged state! Our tour began at the gigantic and completely overwhelming cathedral. The history of this cathedral being a familiar story in that it was the site of a mosque during Moors reign which was converted to a cathedral upon the their defeat. When the mosque fell into disrepair, the cathedral was constructed, but the minaret of the mosque was kept and converted into a bell tower. After poking around in the cathedral where we saw the most ostentatious altar, valuable jewels and relics, and the supposed remains of Christopher Columbus, we climbed up to the top of the bell tower for a view of Seville. What a treat that was! It was fun to poke out into small nooks along the way to catch a different view of the cathedral or city. From the top, we could see the beautiful orange grove, tiled rooves, and the bullring we planned to visit. Before our siesta, we devoured our first pallela, which cemented the fact that we were in Spain!

A trip to a new part of town for a tapas dinner brought us to one of the processional routes. Because we were in Spain for Holy Week, we saw many religious ceremonies, and Seville is the epicenter for this it seemed. It was unnerving to see some brotherhoods in their hoods looking very similar to the KKK. The processionals were each unique, but had some similarities. Different brotherhoods wear different garb and have different traditions. Some men walked carrying heavy wooden crosses while being hooded and barefoot, while some carried huge... I don’t know what to call them. They are analogous to floats at a parade, but that seems like an irreverent thing to say. But they are heavy representations of various holy figures. The group processes quietly and slowly through the streets and back to the cathedral. These happened late into the night, meaning that those participating had bruised shoulders from carrying their “prop” and I can only imagine sore feet! Because of these processions, the streets and the floor of the cathedral were slippery with wax from the candles making for unsteady walking and screeching car tires!

Perhaps my favorite part of Seville, and of the entire trip, was the late night flamenco we experienced! We had tried to book a show when we arrived in Seville, but they were sold out for the nights we were there, which turned out to be a great thing! Instead of paying money, we following Rick Steves’ advice and found a bar off the beaten track full of locals and savvy tourists alike. Inside there was a single guitarist, singer, and dancer. The three of them sat on stage for the first few numbers, playing music that really tugged at my heartstrings even though I was oblivious to the lyrics’ meaning. Eventually the dancer, in her bright polka dotted dress and chunky shoes, stood up and danced and clapped the night away!

After a spotty night of sleep thanks to two young women being obnoxious in our hostel room, we made out way out into the sun to tour the bullring and eat some yummy food. That day also brought a visit to the Alcazar, the Islamic palace and gardens. In many ways I felt like I was back in Morocco because of the tiles and arches. While the palace was incredible for what it was, we all agreed that it would have been nice to see what might have been in those rooms as far as furniture or rugs because it was hard to imagine how all of that space might have been used.

Early the next morning after another dramatic night with a new roommate, who had a loud bangle-y charm bracelet, we left our hostel and Seville to make our way to Gibraltar. Emilio was kind enough to drive us which let us see the countryside and have more flexibility in Gibraltar which we appreciated! It was wonderful to see all of the wind turbines and to be out of the city, a funny thing to say since I was just seeing rolling hills from the car window, not actually walking in them!

Gibraltar was a bizarre place. We had to show our passports since we were entering into British territory. I sort of had the feeling that I was at Disneyland when we were there. That feeling was reinforced when we visited an incredible cave in which music was eerily playing. I kept waiting for the monkeys I knew lived on the rock to jump out and snatch me because the place had a spooky vibe to it! I am not sure that I would recommend a visit to Gibraltar just because it was expensive and a rather contrived. But, it was neat to gaze across at Morocco and to see the only wild monkeys in Europe!

After a brief stop in Marbella where we lounged on the beach, we drove to Granada. Ever since taking art history in high school, I had wanted to visit the Alhambra in Granada, so this was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. We arrived late and relished in our lodgings, a hotel instead of a hostel!

The following morning, we made our way to the Alhambra for our tour. For being teachers, we were not terribly organized on the front end of planning our trip, so we booked the only tickets we could, a four-hour tour on water in the Alhambra. The website promised that we would be able to tour the gardens and the palace in addition to our tour. Lies! We were not granted access to the palace with our tickets, but instead were “only” able to walk around the Alhambra and gardens. All the same, it was wonderful! I leaned about aqueducts and hydraulics, the types of vegetation that was indigenous, and so much about the Alhambra’s general history. It was a treat to be there. We learned that the Lion Fountain in the palace was not working due to renovations, so I felt less frustrated about our missing out on seeing the palace. Perhaps another time.

Day two in Granada brought long walks around the city, which was beautiful, and a trip to a hamam. This was a far cry from my hamam experience in Morocco! Instead of being scrubbed down and sitting on a cold stone floor, we alternated among different temperature baths and enjoyed massages! I
Little girl with her ball of waxLittle girl with her ball of waxLittle girl with her ball of wax

I guess it is a game to pick the wax up off the street!
think that work was far from our minds as we treated ourselves to this experience! Granada and Seville were both enchanting places in their accessible size and mellow pace, I hope someday I am able to spend more time in each city.

An evening train ride brought us back north to Madrid. The next morning we found a place with delicious churros and chocolate for breakfast, yum! From there we took in some art at the Prado and strolled and shopped the afternoon away. As it was Melissa’s birthday, we made our way to Plaza Mayor for that night’s celebrations! Sangria and pallela seemed a great way to celebrate the occasion! Easter Sunday we admired many well-dressed families making their way to mass. Street performers were out taking advantage of the sun. We too profited form the weather, and walked to the palace, the Temple of Debod, and back to our favorite park, the Retiro, before searching for one final pallela.

Coming back to New York and work was a tough transition, eased by the lovely change in weather. Spain was incredible, but it is fabulous to be able to be in New York in the springtime! As always, I feel very fortunate for the safe travels and the opportunity to have experienced a new place, different people, and beautiful art.



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Lunch serenadeLunch serenade
Lunch serenade

These two were having some serious fun


18th April 2010

Looks like a great trip! I especially enjoyed the bit about following Rick Steve's advice- he's a fine travel guide! Hope your spring in NY is as lovely as it is up here. xo

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