Over the course of my nine day trip to Spain (11 counting travel), I blogged about the adventures (and misadventures). I was with a group of eight from my school, including a parent and spanish teacher. Overall, it was an incredible trip filled with copious amounts of food, friendly people, and lots of fun. (To give you an idea of the food, one meal consisted of about 8 different tapas, each served on its own piece of french bread. Additionally, every meal had three courses, sometimes with two entrees and a dessert.)
As a writer (and a human), it is important to gain new experiences and learn about other cultures. Here are some of the experiences I had.
We landed in France after an 8 hour plane ride, complete with the wonderful ambiance of two shrieking babies throughout. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much. In the Barcelona airport, we met up with the thirty or so Michiganers (or whatever those hailing from Michigan are called) in our tour group in addition to Javier, our tour guide.
Our hotel was helpfully labeled “hotel” on the outside and had individual beds for each of us in addition to a rainfall shower. (Although we made the mistake of taking the stairs up to our room with suitcases, as floor two is actually four full flights of stairs up and floor three six flights.)
We went to the little mall behind the hotel to have Tortilla de Patatas and Coca Cola (which had become important for us due to its caffeine content as we fought jet lag). All 43 of us then boarded the subway into Barcelona and went on a walking tour of the city. We walked along the people-choked street, Las Ramblas, and saw incredibly curved Gaudi buildings like the Building of Bones.
For dinner, we walked along the coast, the salty air blowing across our faces. Noodle paella was served and was received with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Then, the fun began in the train station.
An intercom kindly announced the latest train strike and we began to wait. And wait. And wait.
After about a half an hour, we began to walk to another platform. We went up stairs, then down some, then up, then down, then up again. Then, we realized it was the wrong station and do the process all over again to get to another station. We waited for a train for some time, over a half an hour. One came, heading for the airport, and our group of eight makes a quick decision and jump on. After four stops, we got to the end of the line and got off, just as the station is shutting down. Over a skyway and down the entire length of the airport we walked to the taxi stand, get in, and went the 25 euro distance back to the airport just as the other group arrived on the train that finally came. It was midnight and later once we’d showered. Then, we got to get up at 7 the next morning.
After breakfast, we went on a bus to the city. We picked up our tour guide, a twenty-something year old girl with perfect English (using words like sketchy, for which there is no direct Spanish translation. We asked.)
We saw the two tallest building in the city and everything from the old city to the extended new side of town. Then, the best part of the tour. La Sangrada Familia, which has only been open to go in recently. It’s so tall, we practically have to lie on our backs to see the top of it. Every inch of the white stone is carved- biblical figures and animals and designs.
The inside is incredible. The pillars branch into trees so the entire, vast inside looks like a canopy when you look up. The details make it even more incredible. Each pillar starts as a polygon and slowly morphs into a circle at the top. Each wall has a different color of stained glass, to represent the seasons and circle of life, in addition to following the path of the sun and the story of Jesus told throughout the church. The pillars leading up to the alter are all of different materials, getting stronger as you get closer, and each representing a surrounding church. There are too many other great things to describe, none of which can be captured except by being there.
We got croquettes and ice cream before going back to Las Ramblas to go into shops and to get churros con chocolate. After a flamenco show, which was well done although quite loud and hard to sit through while tired, we got tapas for dinner.
Luckily, tonight we got home before 9.
We woke up early and took a four hour bus ride to Valencia. On the way there, the police stopped the bus on the side of the highway to make sure the driver was following the rules for the number of hours they can drive at a time (this involved going through every print out of the bus’s machine for thirty minutes, which was surprisingly and reassuringly thorough).
In the city we saw the outside of a bull fighting ring covered in arches and patterns and blue and white. We also saw the gates to the city. They were the ones used for (or replicated for) the movie version of El Cid, the famous Spanish legend about an idyllic knight (although the situations in the story are not what I would call ideal, given the medieval time period). There was also a Cathedral where we walked around the outside.
We next went to the Aquarium, one of the unique, modern buildings in a cluster of unique, modern buildings. They were all white, with beautiful curves, and simple shapes (but the designs were not simple as they looked more like sculptures than buildings). The aquarium looked like waves, the aviary like a latticed ball, another building like a whale, and a fourth like a fish skeleton. After seeing the animals in the aquarium, we saw a dolphin show. They were adorable and impressive.
Dinner was three courses, again- pasta and chicken and ice cream (as if we hadn’t had enough food already). Afterwards, we walked to the local mall where I bought a book in Spanish (which has been quite enjoyable so far). Oddly, one of the stores we went into made us seal the bags we brought into the store in plastic (although I’m not sure what would stop someone from ripping it and putting stuff in anyways), but made us pay for bags at checkout.
We woke up early (again) and drove in the bus (again, but this time for about six hours), stopping three times. The first two were mundane rest stops whose finer qualities included the fact that they contained bathrooms and bottled water. The third stop, however, was really cool. We toured three cave homes. While the outside temperature was over 100 degrees, the cave stayed at about room temperature.
In Granada, we walked around the city including to see a cathedral, barely able to be nestled between tall apartment buildings. The cobblestones, in addition to the heat, posed a challenge in walking, especially for the questionably coordinated. Each street had a trough to direct water downhill, which also posed as a tripping hazard. The rocks were smooth, providing little help on steep inclines and declines. And yet, we all made it without incident, to get ice cream (which would end up being a total of twice, I confess) and through the middle-eastern looking markets that made us unsure as to where we were. After dinner, we saw a Gypsy flamenco show, complete with a cave wherein we sat, castanets, which they used, and plenty of entertainment. We took pictures of Alhambra at night, all lit up and glowing golden in the darkness, before walking back down the cobblestone roads (where we saw a lot of adorable dogs).
Granada and Costa Del Sol:
We woke up this morning, ate, and packed our stuff on the bus. Then, we went to the city square to do a scavenger hunt, where we had to answer questions about the city and take pictures of us in certain places (asking someone else in Spanish, of course). Our group won (yay!).
We saw la Alhambra next, each with an earpiece that connected to the guide’s microphone so we all could hear. The carvings and calligraphy and tiles were incredible as were the gardens, ponds, and general architecture. On our way back to Costa del Sol the bus broke down (from overheating since it was over 100 degrees) so we sat in a restaurant until another one came (an unusually bright pink one). After dinner we took a cab and played frisbee on a Mediterranean beach. There was no one else there and the sand was cool, as was the air. The only thing that could have been better was our frisbee-playing abilities
Rock of Gibraltar:
We passed through customs to Britain (Gibraltar) and got on mini buses for a tour. At one stop we could see Spain, Africa, and Britain at the exact same time. We went through a cave with club-like lights that were flashing periodically in various colors. Outside, there were families of monkeys along the road, climbing on the buses, and digging in the trash. They were adorable, especially the newborns clinging to their mothers. We got fish and chips (that were delicious) before crossing back over to Spain (although we almost missed catching back up with our tour group as we had to run to meet them).
Afterwards, we went back to the beach (now packed with people and filled with burning sand) before taking a public bus to the hotel. I slept while others swam or played mini golf before dinner. (While I have always greatly enjoyed sleeping, I especially enjoyed it after all the walking and jet lag and lack of sleep.) Afterwords, some of us walked around the hotel were we saw a giant cat, a horse, and three dogs. (Some of our group swore the cat was not really a cat due to its size, but we didn’t stick around to make sure, just in case they were right.)
Our bus broke down on the way to Seville, leaving us stuck at a gas station for four hours to wait for another one (yay!). When we finally made it, it was over 105 degrees. We saw a palace where part of Star Wars was filmed. It was beautiful, with bridges over a river around the outside and benches for every major city in Spain. While we didn’t have time to see the inside of the Seville cathedral because of our delay, we walked around it and around the gardens. There were lots of adorable horses pulling carts all over in addition to copious orange trees.
When we finally got home, hot and sweaty, we jumped in the pool which was cool and refreshing. After dinner, Javier, our tour guide, gave us a surprise. Since we’d missed the cathedral, we took a boat ride around the city. It was dark, but the monuments were lit up. There was a light breeze and the boat rocked slightly back and forth. We also passed a group of rowers racing in single boats. All in all, it was a good way to end the day.
Córdoba and Madrid:
We rode to Córdoba in the morning, to the mesquita. Our tour guide was hilarious. The arches inside were incredible, the red and white stripes, made of brick and limestone to be able to flex in earthquakes, continuing throughout like an arch forest. Although the view was obstructed by the church constructed in the middle, it probably saved the building as it’s the only mosque still standing from the inquisition. After the tour, we went up the bell tower to see over the city (which was quite high up with lots of uneven stairs).
Then, we rode to Madrid where we (thankfully) didn’t have a bus break down. We stopped in La Mancha, famous in Don Quixote, and saw the windmills and statues. In Madrid we took the subway to the center, Puerta Del Sol, where we also didn’t have anything go wrong. (Impressive, I know.) We saw a lot of monuments at night, including the palacio real, the opera house, and a second of a fashion show going on outside.
First thing in the morning we took a bus tour of the city, including a stop in the main gardens filled with sculptures of all the Spanish kings. Then, we walked through the inside of the palacio real. Although the royal family no longer lives there, it’s hard to tell by the elaborate decoration that it still contains. Every wall is covered in either intricate plaster, gold embroidery or hand-painted designs. Even the ceilings and floors are works of art, coordinating with the style and color of each room. The set of orchestra instruments in one room alone was nearly a billion dollars.
Along the path to the Prado, we saw a fountain with a Don Quixote statue (in addition to the hundred or more other statues and fountains). The entire group had lunch together after the Prado but before we split up to go shopping, visit the plaza mayor, and see the oldest restaurant in the world. Then, churros. The chocolate was rich and the churros fresh. When they came to bring us the chocolate, however, the server dropped the tray with all 43 cups. Needless to say it was a mess, but no one was hurt. At the end we went to an Egyptian temple, with a reflecting pool lit up by light and stars, and Javier the tour guide said goodbye to us.
Have you had a memorable vacation (possibly to Spain)? If so, comment below.
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