A Travellerspoint blog

Off to (what WOULD be) a great weekend.......

just the beginning...

sunny 19 °C

If the weekend starts on Friday mornings, then my weekend was off to a horrible start…. This Friday there was no excursion for us, instead they filled the morning with another of my favourite activities: exams. On top of having to take an exam, they (being the ever-so-thoughtful UCO staff) decided to have just MY class arrive a half an hour earlier than the rest of the students, (I know, I was excited too). Two hours later it was over, and I was free to enjoy the rest of the day, and weekend.

After class, I decided to play tourist in Córdoba…you sometimes forget to do all the tourist stuff in your own town cause you either forget its there, or just assume it will always be there and you could technically go whenever so it gets put off. Since, I cant exactly say that either of those are true for me, I didn’t really have any reason not too enjoy the rest of the morning visiting the Sinagoga (synagogue) and Alcázar (castle and gardens). Lucky for me, lots of sights in Córdoba are free to the public on Fridays, which also meant battling the hoards of tourists that visit Córdoba. Although to us here, Córdoba seems pretty remote and far away from the rest of Europe, that distance doesn’t seem to divert the masses that arrive every weekend.

SYNAGOGA: The synagogue is the old synagogue in the Judería that is not in use anymore, if fact there is no active synagogue in Córdoba at all. It is one rectangular room with some ornate designs carved into the walls and around the few windows near the ceiling that provide the only light in the room. Its disappointingly not much to look at, and although there was a significant Jewish population in Cordoba over 1000 years ago, their culture and religion has been pushed aside for the richer and more grandiose Christian and Islamic influences.

ALCÁZAR: was actually the 3rd site on my list, but the museum about the history of bullfights was closed for `obras´ (renovations) and I found my way out of the labyrinth of streets, and popped out just north of the river and west of the Mezquita at Alcázar. The Alcázar de los Reyes Cátolicos, is the castle Isabel and Ferdinand built for themselves in Córdoba (although they never lived there together). The castle itself is only slightly imposing with two towers, which you can walk up, around and between. The more impressive part of the castle is found in the chapel where there are huge mosaics (not part of the original castle) that have been placed there and cover almost the entire wall of the Chapel. The sheer mass of a huge mosaic of black,white, and red tiles is pretty impressive. Still, the best part of the day was yet to come. I headed out to the courtyard and gardens and was greeted first by the large marble baths surrounded by flowers and flowing water (the Arabic influence) before walking past a roman column (remnants from some of the first developers of the area) into the gardens of los Reyes. Essentially a miniature version of the gardens at the Palace of Versaille, the ponds, flowers, trees, statues, and paths extend out from the terrace behind the castle. Mom, you would have loved this! It was so nice to see so many flowers in Cordoba, which are few and far between during the hot summer months. After taking a few pictures, establishing myself yet again as a tourist, I reluctantly left the gardens to browse the crowded streets before heading back for lunch.

FRIDAY NIGHT: This was the first night I would have considered myself to have acted like a true Spaniard. And by that I mean staying out until 6am. We headed to the Botellón en Jardín Victoria, the long narrow park running up the middle of the main drag in the Jardín district (where I live). Its here that I got to hang out with my American friends, but also meet more Spaniards and speak in Spanish....slowly but surely i WILL get better!!! (Si se puede, Si se puede: I think I can, I think I can!). After that, the discoteca was calling our name, so Cody and Chris and I, headed to Cortuva, one of the clubs in Córdoba. We danced the night away and before I knew it, the numbers were dwindling, exhaustion set it, and I was ready to go home!

SATURDAY: wasnt much of a day actually due to the fact that I slept all of the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon away before lounging around for the rest of the day....a complete lack of productivity: I love weekends!

SUNDAY: Sunday was great, and Ill tell you all about it....in the next entry!

Posted by tuffchix 00:14 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

"Port"ugal again...

...Lisbon

sunny 23 °C

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(That would be Lisbon's largest bottle of Port)

On Monday we drove up the coast from Lagos north towards Lisbon, or Lisboa as it is called here. The drive up let us pass through the all types of terrain, for example. Imagine that you are heading out towards Bodega Bay and winding you way through the hills, curves, sand and rocks that punctuate the coastline. Then all of a sudden the rocks turn into the "tundra" setting and some trees start to show up. Next, you look out the window and now you are basically heading south on the 5 towards San Luis Obispo past the huge wind turbines on the hills. Then the winding road pops you into a little town, much like the the one just before Doran beach where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the birds. Upon exiting the town (where you will see a white sign with black letters with the name of the town in it and a huge red slash through it denoting you are now leaving the town), you get back on the roads and wind through some more hills with the beach and cliffs on one side and the hills with really nice houses on the other (aka PCH in Malibu) and before you know it, actually about 297km later, you are crossing one of the most beautiful suspension bridges and battling traffic down the main drag in Lisboa, Portugal, the country´s capital.

Most of our sightseeing was done from the car while trying to find the hostels in the guidebook. We passed by no less than 10 different statues of all the Portugese explorers and their respective plazas and parks before parking under the Plaza de Don Pedro(I or II) and booking a room at one of the (slightly shady, but pretty standard) cheap, big city hostels.

Because we had to leave early the next day we used the rest of the afternoon to walk around and made it to the Castelo do Sao Jorge (The Castle of Saint George) where we got to walk around inside, and up around the edge of the castle and in the towers. The views of Lisbon from the castle were amazing, as are the pictures that my semi-functioning camera allowed me to take. The experience in the castle was made complete by the guitarrist playing in the courtyard providing a kind of antique and relaxing Portugese soundtrack to the visit.

We headed back towards our hostel passing by some plazas and statues along the waterfront of the Tejo River and back up another hill to try to figure out what the gothic arches above the buildings were. They turned out to be the remnants of a destroyed roof of the cathedral the now houses the Architecture Museum of Lisboa, but we were too late and didnt get a chance to go inside.

Porto, the famous wine of Portugal and Spain seemed to be calling our name as we walked by a bodega (wine shop) with a free tasting sign in front. Not knowing much about wine as is, Porto was a much bigger mystery. We sampled a White, Ruby, Tawny, Vintage 2000, and a more expensive 1998 Vintage porto (in that order).

PORTO: the deal with porto is that it is a sweet wine (used as an aperative if white and a dessert wine as a red) and is between 19-22% alcohol, made that way by the combination of brandy with the special grapes growm all over, but most famously in the northeastern part of Portugal. The white is the only one served cold, and the others are served at room temperature. The white, ruby, and tawny are all ready to drink when shipped to the stores. They have matured first in oak oak barrels (of varying size) and then in the bottle ranging from 2-5 years depending on the type of wines. Whites usually the least, Tawny the most of the three. The dates are not printed on these bottles because the wines are usually a combination of years all put together and therefore not dated. The vintage wines are different in that they are from only one year, and age most of thier life in the bottle. There you could buy 10, 20, and 40 year vintages (for a pretty penny). The longer you wait the more brown the wine becomes, and the better it tastes. The 2000 Vintage we tried was the better of the two, and once opened has to be finished in about 2 weeks, while the 1998 vintage, of higher quality had to be finished within 2 days of opening the bottle. The experience was very educational and surprisingly yummy. I, not being one for red wines, enjoyed them all and,lucky for all of you, I bought a bottle of the 2000 Vintage to bring back...so its Porto tasting for all!!

After the cultural immersion (aka wine tasting) we stopped at the grocery store and tried to understand portugese (haha). Portugese sounds like Spanish words mingled with Russian ones, spoken with a French accent. They can pretty mucn understand anything you say in Spanish, but try to understand them and you walk away feeling pretty dumb. Hunger soon set in so we set off, after getting dolled up for our last night in Portugal, and headed off to find some traditional Portugese intertainment/food.

Walking down from the Castle along the windy cobblestone streets of the Alfama area, we had passed some restaurants which advertised Fado performances that night. Fado is a typical Portugese style of singing, usually to a guitar or two. The music is very somber (def not cheesy pop song somber) but kind sorrowful and very passionate, at least for the singer. We enjoyed our dinner, sorry no linguisa (typical Portugese sausage) to the beautiful sounds (and untranslatable lyrics...sorry ill work on Portugese next) of the music in a restaurant of 6 (very intimate) tables, in what appeared to be a bathroom. It was about that big with floor to ceiling tiles and everything. Needless to say it was memorable.

Another successful trip through another country on my list. I definitely did not get to see enough of Lisboa and could really spend another weekend seeing the sights, and probably another shopping at the amazing stores and eating yummy food, but I guess that will have to wait.

Posted by tuffchix 10:22 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Portugal (Sept 23-26)

Faro and Lagos

sunny 25 °C

Friday Sept 23: The mezquita was amazing, but Portual is a must see on a trip to the Iberian Peninsula. Chris, Cody, Marissa, and I, after our plans to go up north to Basque country miserably failed, rented a car and decided to head out the the southern and western coasts of Portugal for the extended weekend. The drive there and throughout Portugal was nothing less than gorgeous. As you drive into Portugal you pass through lots of colinas (hills) and past castles and other arcitectural gems that are, of course, not titled, so you have no idea what you are actually looking at.

Our first stop was just over the border of Portugal into the Algarve region in a city called Faro. It is the biggest and capital city of the region although we managed to not stray too far from the waters edge. When we arrived, we settled into our (5€/night) hostal, and wandered around the Cidade Vehla (portugese for old city). We passes the famous Arco de Vila, the entrance to the old city, and enjoyed the rest of the evening on the patio people watching.

The next day we headed out toward Lagos, but not before stopping for some tasty Portuguese pasteries (they have those down pat!) and taking a look at the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) inside the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Church of our lady Carmen). The chapel was one of the most unique and creepy things i have ever seen in my life. It is made of bones and more than 1245 skulls of monks burried in the church´s former cemetary. Creepy, yes, and reminicent of the scenery inside the pirates of the caribbean ride at Disneyland, skulls and bones and all, but really neat at the same time.

Saturday Sept 24: On to Lagos. Just a few hours away was the gorgeous town of Lagos. One of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, Lagos is a windy city almost to the very southwestern tip of Portugal. While the tourbooks rant and rave about the crazy party scene, we kept a lower profile, renting an apartment and spending the 2 days there on the Meia Praia and Praia de Pinhao the two amazing beaches. The first is like most southern cali beaches, a longs stretch of sand but littered with tons of shells, really fine sand and much clearer water. The second was one of my favorite beaches in all the world. Its the trademark of the Algarve region with its cliffs, caves, and crazy rock formations littering the coast. You can see all the layers, created over time, which make the already brightly colored rocks that much prettier. We spent our second day lounging on the beach there. Swimming out, in, and around the cliffs, slithering through the small passages created between the rocks and the sand, and trying not to slice skin while climbing over the jagged rocks.

As the sun went down, we called it a day, and after brushing the more course sand off, said goodbye to the crystal clear (and surprisingly cold) water and headed back up to our apt.

Other adventures in Lagos included a night out to dinner where we tasted the local cuising, seafood, and wine and this small restaurant in town. I also made everyone stop at this little bar for drinks simply because the tv in the background was showing rugby!!! How i miss rugby, and since this was the closest I had been in a long time, I couldnt pass it up. Our last night in Lagos, we made dinner. I finally got some chicken (Carmen doesnt like it so we dont really eat too much of it), and to actually cook!!! (another thing i dont get to do ofter here).

Woke up early on Monday to head to Lisbon...(oops off to class, check the next entry for Lisbon details)

Posted by tuffchix 00:07 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

La Mezquita

Córdoba´s jewel

sunny 20 °C

The reason you should visit Córdoba isnt for the great location or the vivid night life but the Mezquita and the surrounding old Jewish quarter called the Judería.

Fridays here are rarely for class, they are for excursions, projects, the occasional exam or a day off. This last friday (Sept 23) was the 2nd of our excursions, and we didnt even leave Córdoba. We walked through the Puerta de Almodovar which was the entrance into the center of the Caliph´s city before he built himself a new palace at Medina Azahara.

We wandered through the old cobblestone streets lined on either side by old stucco buildings forming a literal labyrinth through an area of Córdoba just north of the Guadalquivir river. Winding through the narrow streets, our guide, Antonio, also our history teacher, led us through the archway into the Patio de los Naranjos (orange patio) in the middle of the Mezquita (pictures at http://images.google.es/images?q=cordoba+mezquita&hl=es&btnG=B%C3%BAsqueda+en+Google).

The Patio is enclosed on all sides by the walls of the Mezquita. On one side is the Mezquita itself, and the other the Torre do Campañas (bell tower). The patio is raised in the middle and has tons of orange trees planted between all the small channels that the muslims used to collect water (they had a huge obsession with water). They neither the orange trees or the patios cobblestones are part of the origninal 10th century architecture, although the mezquita and bell tower are. The gorgeous patio, with a fountain in the middle and all the ambiance of a garden in bloom was formerly the place used for worship when the muslims came to the mezquita for services.

Next we headed into the mezquita. Built in 784 A.D. it is the only mezquita left intact in Spain. Inside the mosque, there are 850 granite and marble columns supporting hundreds of striped arches made of rock and brick that create the red and white striped look. At one end is the prayer niche, Mihrab, covered in inscriptions in Kufic of the 99 names of Allah. The Capilla Villaviciosa lies in the same end and is where the Calipha (muslim king) worshipped, apart from the rest of the Muslim community. The muslim architecture, art, inscriptions and influence still remain in the former mosque, although during the Crusades, in 1236, Córdoba was conquered by the christians and a cathedral was build directly in the middle of the mosque. As you walk through the muslim mosque, you are all of a sudden thrown into the Cathedral which has all the same features as any other medieval church in europe including the ornate metalwork, carvings, and statues. On sunday mornings the sacerdotes (priest) even use the coro (choir dome) to sing.

The place is absolutely amazing. The architecture is different than anything else I have ever seen, and although coming to Córdoba i knew that there was influence from many different religions who had occupied the area, the Mezquita is the proof the the coexistence of the religions in the city.

After gauking at the beauty like a regular tourist or "giddies" as we foreigners are called here, we left the Mezquita and crossed one of the tiny streets to a place called Bar Santos, famous for its Spanish tortilla. Different from mexican tortillas, Spanish ones are made of egg and potato and are thicker. This one is so thick that they serve it in slices, like a pie. Santos lived up to its reputation, and I would call friday a successful (and educational) day in the life of Córdoba.

After that, it was back home for me to pack, because in a few short hours, I would be on the road to Portugal!!

Posted by tuffchix 10:34 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

New things....

...little by little

semi-overcast 25 °C

A week of new things has been the story of my life (and probably will be for the following months here in Europe).

The week started like any other one at school, I had spent the weekend here and headed back to school on Monday. School is starting to pick up pace a little in terms of the amount of material they shove into one day, but I also feel my understanding is getting better, even through the thick Andalus (pronounced An-dah-loo here) accent.

My comprehension and speaking will get even better now that my Intercambia is back in town. Intercambios are people studying English her in Spain that get set up with American students here and both can work on the language they are studying. My intercambia´s name is Carmen, actually Maria de Carmen or Mayca for short.

On Wednesday Mayca and I 'dimos un paseo' (took a walk) around the streets of the Jardín (the area where I live) and into el Centro (the downtown of Córdoba). We got to Plaza de las Tendillas and headed to an heladería (ice cream shop) where i finally figure out what the hell 'Túrron' ice cream is: Nougat flavor, and everywhere in Spain, and not my favorite. I think ill stick to Coco (coconut), Pistachio, or Merengada, which is the ice cream version of leche canela limón.

KEEPING BUSY: Other activities keeping me busy include: Shopping (surprise, surprise), tasting new foods (lots of seafood and other fried treats...you wont ever recognize me when i get back. Just look for the fat one wearing cute spainsh clothes in the airport. And by spanish clothes i mean lots of crazy mis-matched prints and a color we now call Córdoba orange). Tuesday we got a group of people, along with Marissa´s (very persistent) intercambio, Rafa, and a couple of the other students´"siblings" to come play a pick up game on one of the outdoor courts here. Although there are a few grass "pistas" (fields) the majority are cement with lines and a goal frame in the ground. After a few games, its was almost dark, and time for dinner. As I was leaving I talked to one of the host-brothers who is 16 and plays rugby! He said he would talk to the coach to see if i could come out and play with them.....and i am waiting (as patiently as I can) for info...I MISS RUGBY!!! and the concept of women´s rugby hasn´t quite made it to Andalucía yet. In fact, very few sports are available to women here, and going to inquire about gym memberships definitely gets you some interesting looks when you are checking out the weight rooms.

FRIDAY: Tomorrow is an excursion to the Mezquita, the mosque constructed in the 10th century during the Muslim rule of Spain. When the Christians conquered the Muslims at the beginning of the 11th century, instead of destroying the Mezquita which was the usual habit, they left the original building and built thier church inside of it. More details after the visit.

WEEKEND PLANS: After the Mezquita, Marissa, Chris, Cody and I, after much debate and switching back and forth between destinations for our extended weekend, we decided to screw the (expensive and quasi inefficient) public transportation, and rent a car to drive to PORTUGAL. The fun part about that is we can decide where exactly we want to go when we see it instead of being in just one or 2 places.

I think thats all for now. For all you inquiring about any spanish romances, none to report...yet. There are a couple hotties in the program, which gives me something to stare at while in class when i forget to pay attention. But, since half of the group that I usually hang out with is made up of guys, which here generally means "novios" (boyfriends), my game is kinda shot. Thus, tonight is girls-night-out. Marissa and I are heading out to take in the Spanish scene "soltera" (unattached). Basically, its our excuse to convince spanish guys that American women are super fun and really fun to hang out with, even if they do slaughter the language a bit.

¡Hasta Luego, ten un buen fin de semana!

Posted by tuffchix 12:14 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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