Laura in Spain

Laura is a sophomore majoring in political science and Spanish in Dedman College. In Spring 2009, she will be taking courses toward her Spanish major in Spain at the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset, while being immersed in Spanish culture.

Exploring Valencia, Spain

We took our last school trip for the spring semester in the first week of March.

Valencia is on the eastern side of Spain and has been added to my list of wonderful parts of this incredible country. They speak Valenciano there, so it was interesting to hear and read a different dialect of Spanish.

laura-Oceonografico-group-pic-sm.jpgMy favorite visit in Valencia was to the L’Oceanografic, which is their aquarium. It is a majestic white building that made me feel as if I had walked into the future. I loved the L’Oceanografic so much that I decided that the same architect will have to design my future house! Interestingly enough, it was designed by the same Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, who designed “The Wave” outside our Meadows Museum at SMU.

laura-Tribunal-de-las-Aguas-sm.jpgAnother interesting sight while in Valencia was when we got to see a medieval court hearing outside the town square. It is called the Tribunal de Las Aguas, and it is held every Thursday of the year for people who have water or irrigation complaints. It is done orally in Valenciano, and no one is taking down what is being said. It is not your typical court with court reporters and an appeals process. Nevertheless whatever the eight judges conclude is valid, and it becomes law.

laura-fallas-2-sm.jpgLast but not least I must mention that we had so much fun while in Valencia because we were there one week before their great Fallas festival.

A Falla is a huge carton monument or figure that reminds me of a Mexican pinata. They are figures that deal with current world occurrences as well as major events in history, which make them all the more interesting. The Fallas are elaborately designed and take about a year to create.

On March 19 all the Fallas are burned, and Valencia becomes an illuminated city. It is said that some people cry after seeing them being burned because it was a year’s worth of labor, and a week later they begin the Falla for the upcoming year. Also, it is tradition that the best and most creative Falla be saved every year and it is placed in the Falla Museum.

All in all I have really enjoyed the trips that we taken with school because they are able to show us the differences between many parts of Spain. We have had the opportunity to learn about them in our culture class, and a week later we have the places right before our eyes. The fact that our hotels and entrances to museums are paid for is also a plus.

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Bullfights: Not for the faint of heart

L-Bullfight%20pic.jpgIndeed, I was a bit apprehensive before making the decision to go to a bullfight. But I figured I couldn’t leave Spain without going to an authentic bullfight.

The fight was approximately 3 hours with 6 bulls and 3 matadors. Three hours sounds like a long time, but I felt like they flew by so quickly. This might sound a bit cold-hearted, but I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

L-bullfight%208.jpgI went with a friend, and as she cringed at the bull’s last breathing moments, I had my mouth open in awe of the spectacle. It might seem like an evil sport, but there is more to it than the bull’s death. The matadors go through an intense training beforehand so that the bulls may have a decent death.

L-bullfight8.jpg I felt like I was at a soccer game throughout the entire bullfight because the whole crowd was in an uproar at certain times. For example, there was one time when the matador didn’t stab the bull properly and the sword was poking out of the bull’s body and the entire crowd was yelling at him.

We also saw one of the bulls get pardoned, (a rare occurrence) because he was too weak too soon into the fight and it wouldn’t have been a fair fight. I also saw one of the matadors be turned into a rag doll as he made the wrong move. To my surprise, he got up as if nothing had happened and continued the match. According to one of my friends who has been to other bullfights, this was one of the goriest she has ever seen.

Lastly, I have talked to many Spaniards in regards to their feelings about these bullfights. I have gotten a wide range of responses because half say that they don’t consider it part of their culture and that they wish they weren’t know for bullfights, and the other half has told me they enjoy it as much as a good real Madrid soccer game.

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Final resting places

We took a day trip to visit two important places in Spanish history.

lb-El-Escorial-300.jpgEl Escorial

First, we visited El Escorial (left), which was ordered to be built by Phillip II. His underlying purpose was to have a building where he could have a house for God, a palace for a king, and a burial place for his father. As a result, El Escorial has served many of his wishes and continues to be in use today. It contains a monastery, basilica, palace, burial ground, and a library.

My favorite sight was the burial place of all the recent kings and queens of Spain because it is not your typical form of burial. It was a bit eerie at first but it was a magnificent sight as their coffins were lavishly adorned with gold and marble. The rest of the graveyard with other people who were of the Spanish royal family also had very luxurious tomb stones.

lb-Valle-de-los-Caidos-400.jpg
Valle de los Caidos

Our second stop was Valle de los Caidos, which is an important part of Spain’s recent history and can be seen from a very far distance through a tall cross. Franco ordered this monument to be built in memory of all of those who had died during the Spanish civil war in 1939. This monument is considered controversial to some Spanish citizens because it was built by prisoners of war of Franco’s opposing side. It is also Franco’s burial ground.

As you enter the church and walk toward the altar, Franco’s tomb stone might seem modest because if there weren’t any cords around it, one would easily walk over it. We must remember, though, that in fact the entire monument is considered his resting place and a magnificent one at that.

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The fruits of Granada

Granada was the last city occupied by Muslims and re-conquered by Isabel and Ferdinand, resulting in the home of their tombs.

We made a visit to the Capilla Real, which is their burial ground where a monument lays above their tombs. Most important, in remembrance of the great defeat, the Crown placed the symbol of a Granada at the bottom of the shield, which can be seen on Spain’s flag.

La%20alahmbra%20en%20Granada.JPG The place that made me fall in love with Muslim architecture was the Alhambra (left), which means palace. It had beautifully crafted gardens that made me feel like I was living in nature’s Eden.

We had a loooooong bus ride back to Madrid. After settling back into my Senora’s house I realized how comfortable I am getting here and how much I missed my new home.

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Sevilla and the world’s biggest cathedral

Sevilla was the second stop in our tour of Andalucia.

palacio-real-en-sevilla-sm.jpgIt was one of the most important cities during the discovery of America because the Sevillan port was the only trading connection that Europe had with the new world. The sailors even had a prayer room with a huge painting where they asked the saint to provide them with a successful trip.

palacio-o-alcazar-sm.jpgWe visited a Muslim palace, or Alcazar (left), which looked quite modest on the outside but was truly magnificent on the inside.

We also got to see the house of the original “Don Juan,” who was known as a womanizer and has provoked many tales.

catedral-en-sevilla-sm.jpg My favorite visit in Sevilla was the Gothic cathedral. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is considered to be the biggest cathedral in the world! It was an amazing sight to see. I felt even shorter with its ceilings being so high.

Lastly, our professors treated us to a flamenco performance. It was a new experience but reminded me of the Folklorico dances from Mexico. I plan to go to more flamenco performances upon my return to Madrid! It rained a lot during our stay so we were unable to explore Sevilla as much as we would have liked.

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Andalucia nos espera!

mesquita-de-cordoba-sm.jpgDuring the first week of February we took a trip down to the southern provinces of Spain: Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada. I will mention many things about the history not only because it fascinates me, but also because I think it is important to know a little about what you are seeing to be able to appreciate it in a different light. I hope you enjoy it!

First stop: La Mesquita de Cordoba

We headed to Cordoba on Tuesday to see an edifice that began as a Visigothic church, later turned into a Muslim mosque, and finally transformed into a Catholic cathedral. It was very interesting to see the way the interior designs of a mosque and a cathedral could actually mesh well together.

cordoba-sm.jpgThe picture (left) clearly shows a glimpse of the two different designs. Since the Muslims’ Empire lasted approximately 800 years, the further we went into the mosque, the more complex and interesting the architecture became as it evolved through time. It was truly magnificent!

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CowParade in Madrid

l-Espana-III-sm.jpg While in Spain, I have grown a mild obsession for cows, and I do not mean real live cows.

l-VACA-Veronica-sm.jpgCowParade has come to Madrid! It is a public art show where different organizations decorate a cow sculpture. The best thing about this art show is that the cows are auctioned off and the money raised is used for local charities.

The cows that I have seen have been very creative and interesting. I have around 30 pictures but there are a lot more cows to see in Madrid! You can run into them while coming out of the metro, crossing a big intersection, or even at the local flea market.

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Day trip to Segovia

l-Segovia-Palacio-Real-and-Granja-sm.jpg We took a day trip to Segovia, where we visited two palaces, Royal Palace of la Granja de San Ildefonso (in photo) and Alcazar. Palacio Real was built for King Phillip V for his use upon retirement. It has beautiful gardens and fountains that surround the palace and make you feel as if you are one with nature. The Alcazar was a palace used for the royal families and where Queen Isabel lived at the time of being crowned Queen of Castilla.

The first palace was very different on many levels to the second palace. For example, Palacio Alcazar was a lot more simple in terms of decorations, and its furnishings were not embellished with gold like in the Granja. In the Granja everything was elaborate because the king wanted it to look similar to the French palace of Versailles.

For lunch we had a typical Segovian dish: a cochinillo, which is a baby pig. Some people thought it was disgusting and cruel, but I chose not to look at the pig’s face and enjoyed it very much. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards!

l-Segovia-aqueduct-sm.jpg We were also able to see an ancient Roman aqueduct that still stands today. It was an amazing sight as it towered over the city! Our professor illustrated the way that they were able to use the aqueduct to get water from the mountains to the highest parts of the city.

Both of these trips have not only been fun, but also rewarding and educational. I cannot wait for our trips to come! I can remember reading about these particular sites in text books, but actually seeing them in person has made a great impression.

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Toledo and the Three Cultures

l-Toledo_Pic.jpg I have been in Spain for exactly two weeks and have absolutely loved every minute of it! We have made two class trips with the Fundacion – Toledo and Segovia; both of which are rich in Spanish history.

Our first experience in Spain was a trip and orientation in Toledo. We arrived on Thursday, January 8, where we met students from two other universities who will also be studying abroad this semester. The director and various professors held several sessions about our new life in Spain. They also gave us a lot of free time, in which my friends and I took advantage and explored Toledo!

l-Toledo-Museum-of-Torture-weapons-sm.jpg We walked around the narrow streets and got lost a couple thousand times. We came across a Spanish Inquisition weapon’s museum. It was interesting and gruesome at the same time. As we exited the exhibition, a Spanish passer-by told us that we shouldn’t have gone in there because it was a horrible sight. In my opinion we need to know all the history so that we may not repeat it.

Lunch was a Spanish lentil soup (similar to my mom’s Mexican lenteja soup) with pork, salad, and a glass of water. As I was having my meal, the director, Maria, taught us that the number one rule in Spain is that you never place your bread on the same plate as your main course. We all had to move it onto the table. There is so much to learn about living in Spain!

l-Toledo-Cathedral-at-night-sm.jpgThat afternoon, we took a trip to the Cathedral, which was by far my favorite place during the entire trip. It is an amazing structure where you can vividly see the reason behind Toledo’s nickname: a ciudad de las Tres Culturas. We were able to note the Gothic structures built in the 13th century, as well as some mosque-like structures that the church has decided to keep as a part of history.

One of the Cathedral’s treasures is the custodia, which is used for a processional walk that is done once a year around Toledo, and it weighs over 850 pounds. Most importantly, it was made from the first gold brought back to Spain from the Americas! I was not able to get a picture, but encourage everyone to look it up because it is an intricate and amazing figure.

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