El albergue

El albergue

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'd rather go here, there, anywhere....

Oye.  I really don’t feel like doing my homework.  Or studying.  I’m in the middle of an 8-pager that’s due…now, with other assignments waiting on the sidelines.  Massive amounts of studying are looming ahead of me as we barrel down on finals.  And here I sit, without the desire to attend to any of it.  I’d rather be out and about, traveling and exploring new places, like Córdoba and Granada, where we went this past weekend.

Get your bum out of bed at 8 am,
 and maybe you'll get to see a sky as beautiful as this one.
It was a whirlwind trip, with about 100 California kids from two universities in Madrid running amuck for three full days.  Well, there wasn’t much mucking about when we packed out two tour buses at 8 am on Friday morning – everyone was too tired to do much more than crash on the bus, bodies twisted into odd positions of comfort for about 6 straight hours.  Then we arrived…Córdoba!  It was a beautiful day, perfect for wandering the streets a little before taking the group tour of the mosque/cathedral/whatever you feel like calling it.  (Don’t worry, it’s not normally called that, most people referring to it as the Mosque of Córdoba.)

Not exactly your typical cathedral...
It was the largest mosque in all of civilization during the time that the Muslims ruled in Spain, forming an integral part this city that was home to some of the greatest cultural developments of the world.  Then when the Catholics “reconquered” Córdoba in the 13th century, it was converted into a cathedral, retaining pretty much all the same architecture.  This recycling if you will of a place of worship has as its result one of the most fascinating buildings you have ever seen.  You walk through the courtyard filled with orange trees and through a magnificent arched door into a forest of pillars connected by graceful double arches.  It’s extremely simple, the floors plain marble and little decoration besides that provided by the nearly 1,000 pillars.  Then you visit the main chapel, the most prominent Catholic addition, and you wonder, how in the world can this be in the same building as what I just saw?  It’s completely Renaissance and Baroque in style, with ornamentation everywhere you look, vivid colors, gold plating, and a vaulted ceiling. 

The inner courtyard of Carlos V's unfinished palace - it's got some of
the best acoustics you've ever heard.
The tour ended with a stroll through the old Jewish Quarter, then after some tapas, churros con chocolate, and a wonderful tango performance, it was off to bed to catch a few winks before that 7:45 wake-up call.  (The breakfast buffet was amazing – it was nice to eat something besides cereal in the morning, and that’s a lot coming from one of the world’s biggest cereal fans)  The big event of the day came after we arrived in Granada…La Alhambra!  Basically a small, luxurious city on a high hill overlooking Granada, it was built by the Muslim kings when they ruled the area and was turned over to Ferdinand and Isabel when they conquered this last Muslim stronghold in Spain in 1492.  Most of the complex of fortress towers and palaces is Arabic in origin, with evidence everywhere of their deep appreciation for beauty and delicacy, but one building that was particularly interesting was a palace that Carlos V started constructing in the 1520s.  He spent a 6-month honeymoon with his bride Isabel de Portugal here in this royal city, and they liked it so much that he decided to build a palace there for them to stay in whenever they went back (the court was itinerary at this time).  However, when his beloved Isabel died in childbirth in 1539, construction was halted and the project abandoned, as La Alhambra held too many painful memories for Carlos and he never wanted to see it again.  In more recent years, since tourism has become so important, a roof and doors and windows have been put in, and a museum as taken up residence, but it is still lacking the third and final floor and the huge vaulted ceiling that was to have covered the circular inner courtyard.  Despite its unfinished touch, the palace is still quite impressive (and the courtyard has amazing acoustics!).

Did you know about 10 people fall into this pool in the
Alhambra every year as they try to take pictures?
For the rest of the tour, we trailed around after our guide, listening to interesting anecdotes and tidbits of information as we gazed at the beautiful palaces and gardens and tried to recreate in our minds what it might have been like when ancient kings held sway there.

The next day held another beautiful sight in store for us – we trekked up to another high spot in the city, a popular lookout point that commanded a sweeping view from up the valley, across La Alhambra, and down the city towards the coast (although the actual sea was just beyond the line of the horizon).  Then it was back down through the maze of tiny streets to see the Capilla Real, the chapel where THE Ferdinand and Isabel are buried, along with their daughter and her husband, before a couple hours of wandering about, browsing crunched alleys full of tourist shops and warming up in a small café with churros con chocolate (of course!). 

And that was it.  Two cities in three days, and we were back on the bus, consigning ourselves to our seats for another six hours.  Just like that, we were back in Madrid.  It went by so fast.  We saw so much, and yet we saw so little – a whirlwind trip, un viaje relámpago…And now here I am sitting at my desk in my little room, still with the desire to run around the country and excitedly explore all the random little places that I can find.  True, we only have one more week left of studying and applying ourselves to the tasks before us, but I’m still avoiding the long list of things I need to do to finish off this semester.

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