Ashley in Madrid

Ashley is a junior majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College and an SMU Distinguished Scholar. During 2011-12 she is participating in SMU-in-Spain. She is eager to improve her Spanish, to get to know other students in the program and to explore Madrid and the rest of Europe.

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Exploring the south of Spain


The entire group at Los Reales Alcázares

Last week our whole group took a school trip to Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost autonomous community, a few hours from Madrid. It was a great week of learning outside of the classroom, with lots of tours and free time for exploring on our own.

On Tuesday morning we loaded onto our charter bus (quite spacious for the 13 of us) with two professors and headed off for Córdoba. Once there we were dismissed to roam around and eat lunch for a couple of hours, and when we all met back up again we toured the Mezquita-Catedral, which was constructed in the 8th to 11th centuries by all the different Moorish rulers of Spain. After Spain was reconquered by Christians in the 13th century, it was turned into a church. It was really interesting to see all of the Muslim architecture mixed in with crosses and portraits of Jesus and saints.

That same evening we got back on the bus and left for Sevilla. Once we got to our hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the school was putting us up in really nice four-star hotels! Our hotels in Sevilla and Granada were both great, and we had access to their delicious breakfast and dinner buffets. A nice contrast to the hostels that I’m getting accustomed to.

We had our first night in Sevilla free, so our group got dinner and then went out together, which was a blast. One of my favorite things about the trip was hanging out with the whole group because I have so much fun when we’re all together, and that doesn’t happen in Madrid (outside of class) very frequently.

On Wednesday morning we started a long day of tours with Los Reales Alcázares de Sevilla, a royal palace.

We also walked through el Barrio de Santa Cruz, Sevilla’s old Jewish neighborhood, and toured the Cathedral of Sevilla, which is the third-largest church in the world. Our professor told us that the people building it said, “Let a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad.” I didn’t take any good pictures of it, but here’s the website if you’re curious.

Christopher Columbus has a tomb inside this cathedral, which we saw, but there’s some controversy as to whether Columbus is actually in there. According to Spaniards, he is, but according to Dominicans, Columbus is buried in the Dominican Republic. Mystery. The tomb is impressive regardless. While at the cathedral, we climbed to the top of its tower, the Giralda, for a view of Sevilla.

After four tiring hours of walking around the city, we went to a restaurant for a typical meal organized by our school. It was delicious, but so much food! We started with salmorejo, a really yummy soup, followed by a salad with tuna, another course that I don’t really remember (something pork-y), and then calamari. By that point we were all painfully full, and the main course hadn’t even arrived! For the main course we could choose between swordfish or pork loin, and I had the pork. And after that, we had a choice of desserts. Tons of food. Delicious, though, and best of all, paid for by school!

Riding bikes in Sevilla

We had a free afternoon in Sevilla after lunch so a few friends and I rented bikes and rode around the city! It was only 3€ for an hour and it was one of the most fun things I’ve done in Spain so far. Sevilla has a great bike path that goes all through the city, so we just followed it aimlessly and encountered lots of pretty sights along the way, including the river that the city is on.

Wednesday night the group got back together and our professors took us to a flamenco performance, which was unlike anything I have ever seen. Overall, I definitely liked it. It’s not the kind of music that I would listen to in my car or anything, but I can absolutely appreciate it, and the dancing was just intense. The dancers contributed to the music with their bodies, with the sounds of their feet and by hitting their legs. It was very interesting, and I was captivated during the whole performance.

The view of Granada from La Alhambra

Thursday morning we loaded back into the bus and drove a few hours to Granada. That afternoon we walked through la Alcaicería, which used to be an important market area but is now mostly full of souvenir shops, although it was still interesting because you could imagine how it used to be. After that we went to la Capilla Real, which is where Queen Isabel I and King Ferdinand II, the Catholic Monarchs who completed the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, are buried. I saw their coffins! Creepy and cool.

During our free time that evening, a friend and I walked up a massive hill to La Alhambra to see the sunset over Granada, which was gorgeous.

During this entire week, I had been developing a cold, and Friday was my worst day as far as that went. I was pretty miserable during our tours that day. First we went to La Alhambra, which is a 14th century Moorish palace/fortress. We toured all around and inside the different buildings, and of course climbed a tower for a view of Granada since we seem to do that in every city.

We also saw el Generalife, one of the buildings connected to la Alhambra, and we walked through gorgeous gardens to get to it, so that was nice.

By around 1 p.m. our official school trip was over. The return to Madrid on the bus was optional, so two of my friends and I had planned a trip to nearby Almería for yet another weekend on the beach. Six of our other friends were planning on going to Morocco, so we all parted ways. As the three of us were waiting for our bus to Almería we received a phone call from the Morocco group saying that their train was sold out, so they spontaneously decided to join us instead! They called and made reservations at our same hostel and hopped on a train to Almería. After our very scenic bus ride through southern Spain, the nine of us conveniently all arrived at the bus/train station at the same time and headed to the hostel.

We were all really sad that their Morocco trip didn’t work out because they had really been looking forward to it, but we were also really excited because, like I said, I love it when we’re together as a group. On our way to the hostel I picked up some cold medicine at a pharmacy. It was absolutely disgusting. It was a powder that I had to mix into water and it was so bitter. I had to take nine packets of it over the weekend, and it left a bad taste in my mouth for the entire weekend. I’m very glad to be done with that and feeling better!

On Saturday morning we loaded up on provisions at Dia and then took a bus to a small fishing town about an hour away called Cabo de Gata, which we had read had the best beach. We weren’t disappointed – it was gorgeous, and not crowded!

Sunset at Cabo de Gata

The return bus wasn’t until 8 p.m. so we spent all day at the beach, and it was probably my favorite day that I’ve had in Spain so far. For lunch I tried my first-ever paella at a restaurant on the beach, and it was delicious. We also got to see a lovely sunset.

Then we packed everything up and walked to the bus stop to go back to Almería, significantly sandier, more burnt, and more tired than we had been eight hours earlier.
On Sunday we took a seven-hour train ride back to Madrid, and the fun week of explorations came to an end. Now I’m home for a couple of weeks without any trips, which is very nice. Time to get ready for midterms next week!

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