Monday, January 21, 2013

Bullfighting and Scenic Walks in Rrrrronda

As a group, the GRIIS program recently went on our first excursion outside of Granada. The trip to Rondo was originally scheduled for Saturday, January 19 but because of ridiculously high wind and rain warnings, the trip was postponed until Sunday. Because just about everything in Granada closes on Sundays, I was okay with heading out of town.

The bus ride was through the gorgeous countryside of southern Spain. Even though we were driving on the highway for over two hours, it was genuinely stunning (as is almost everything in Spain). 

Ronda is, without question, the most scenic place we have been to thus far in our travels. Although the Alhambra has not been dethroned as my favorite place in Granada, the lush, green mountains of Ronda offered a view that cannot be found in our bustling city (although the Sierra Nevadas offer a nice alternative!). 

Rather than put words to a view that cannot be explained, here are some photos of our travels!

These views were incredible! Everywhere you looked was green hills, flowing rivers, and luckily, sunshine! 

In addition to all of the wonderful views that Ronda had to offer, we actually got to go inside a Bull Fighting arena, one of the first in Southern Spain! 

Hasta Luego! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tales of the Alhambra by Jenelle McNeill


I have been counting down the days until our excursion to the Alhambra since I arrived in Granada, (to be exact, I was waiting for 10 days). This past semester, 7 out of 8 of the BC students in Granada took a class that studied the geographical, architectural and literary history of Southern Spain. In this class we took a virtual tour of the Alhambra as a way to focus on the architectural features; including Koranic inscriptions, vegetal and florid designs, and symmetric ceramic patterns.
(Here is the link to the virtual tour! )

Since taking this class, I have dying to see all these ancient monuments up close, and this past Wednesday, I finally did!

The Alhambra was built during the Nasrid Dynasty in the 13th century to serve as a Muslim Palace for the first Nasrid King, Alhamar. The palace served as a home to every Nasrid King until Boabdil capitulated to los reyes catolicos, Isabel y Ferdinando, in 1492.

When the Christian Monarchs reclaimed Granada, they altered some of the structure and design of the Alhambra palace as a way to architecturally conquer the Muslim rulers that had previously inhabited the palace. These changes including shutting down the Arab Baths that had not only served as social space for Muslim rulers but also functioned to produce a natural heating system throughout the castle. The Christians viewed this Islamic tradition as contrary to their pure Catholic beliefs, but did not account for the tremendous cold that would set in without the baths.

These photos show the beautifully recreated Arab gardens and baths where inhabitants of  the Alhambra during the reign of Muslim Al-andalus would bathe, discuss politics, socialize, etc. These baths also served to circulate hot air throughout the Alhambra, especially warming the marble floors to  comfortable temperature somewhat higher than their current below freezing status! 

This is a photo of the facade of the Palacio of Carlos V (the grandson of Isabel and Ferdinand). The palace that he had built on site next to the Alhambra was meant as a statement of Christianity's continued dominance over Islam. In fact, shortly after commissioning the building, Carlos left Granada and never even saw the completed palace. 

Despite the Alhambra's rich political history, it experienced a period of misuse and illtreatment in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, it was officially "uninhabited" for much of those two centuries, with the exception of the occassional nomad that sought its shelter. However, when Washington Irving, a renowned Romanticism author, visiting Granada, he took up residence within the ancient palace. In fact, he was so inspired by the beauty and history of the building that he wrote The Tales of the Alhambra about its intricate past.

Throughout the Alhambra, from the first door we entered to the private living quarters at the end of our tour, there are remnants of Irving's stay and his memory. Above is a picture of myself and my roommate, Bridget, posing in front of Irving's private fireplace, right across from the desk at which he wrote The Tales of the Alhambra. 

For me, visiting the Alhambra was the culmination of a semester of studying medieval Islamic architecture and Islamic-Christian relations from 711 AD onward. I was amazed by the views from the top of the Alhambra defensive towers and so impressed by how detailed almost every inch of the interior walls were. I was also touched by the Islamic tradition of not expressing outwardly the riches God has granted - this means that the exterior walls of the Alhambra palace are simple and plain, but the inner areas are covered with beautiful inscriptions, carvings, ceramics, paintings, and plaster work. It is an incredible piece of history.

These photos show the impressive craftsmanship of the 13th century Muslims that toiled day and night to erect the massive palace for King Alhamar. The ability to construct such ceramic tile patterns, nevermind such serene and breathtaking reflecting pools, speaks volumes to the culture and lifestyle during Muslim reign in al-andalus! 

So far, the Alhambra has been the most incredible monument I have seen since arriving in Spain, yet, everyday this country is amazing me still.

Hasta luego! 

A Collection of Funny Moments

This post has been a while in the making, as I wanted to wait to post it until I had accumulated enough awkward, hilarious, or uncomfortable anecdotes to warrant an entire entry.

Here is my collection of funny things - edition 1!

1. On my very first day in Granada I arrived before my roommate Bridget so I had dinner with the family without her. Naturally on the first day I was exhausted and my Spanish was painfully rusty. As I sat through our first meal trying to muster enough vocabulary to piece together a statement, I muttered "Gracias Ana, este sabe a rayos!" For those of you that speak Spanish you may know that this means, "Thank you Ana, this tastes terrible!" In my attempt to compliment my host mother's cooking, I managed to insult her and demonstrate my less than perfect speaking abilities. I quickly apologized for my bluff and it has now become a lively joke around meals, but was one heck of a first impression. 

2. Another comical memory from my first week here includes free mojitos, a 40+ crowd, discounted skin care and laser hair removal, and a less than friendly bouncer. Yes, you guessed right, my friends and I somehow acquired coupons for free mojitos at a skin care spa promo party down the street! Without knowing the reason behind the mojitos, we spent one of our first nights here mingling with a large amount of older men and women seeking discounted drinks and hair removal deals. This experience made for a funny first week story to share with the rest of the group the next morning!

3. A bunch of students in our GRIIS program recently decided to join the gym down the road and it has  without a doubt been filled with funny moments. Our guide Teresa promised that joining the gym would not only be a good way to burn off some delicious tapas, but also a funny way to mingle with Spaniards. My roommate Bridget, our friend Diane and I experienced this first hand when we tried to go to a Spinning class. Fun Fact: European Cycling Bikes are different than American bikes and the perceived exertion scale that most US spin classes run on, is non-existant. Instead, there is a very precise scale that measures which level you are on, your RPM, distance, and calories burned. All of this information I'm sure is useful if you speak enough Spanish to understand the instructor over the music; however, we did not and this resulted in a very confused and tiring 60 minutes.

4. Not to be discouraged by our experience in the cycling class, Bridget, Diane and I returned to the gym for a Cross Fit training session. This time, in our broken spanish and with our lack of athletic/gym vocabulary, we spent 45 minutes guessing which exercises we were expected to perform and providing all Spaniards nearby with a hysterical show by the Americans.

This is only a brief summary of the ridiculous things our broken Spanish have gotten us into, more to come in the next few months!

Hasta Luego

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Granada - La Ciudad Católica

The GRIIS program in Granada is incredible and has been really helpful in getting to know the city. Every night we go on a paseo (walk) in a different section of the city and our wonderful guide, Teresa, points out tourist attractions, monuments, historical buildings, and most importantly, the best tapas places in town! In addition to the paseos, our program has almost weekly activities where we visit points of interest throughout Granada and all of Andalusia (Southern Spain). This week our stops included La Catedral y La Capilla Real in Granada, as well as a walk through the beautiful Albaicin, the oldest barrio in Granada.

Although Granada was occupied by Muslims for over 700 years (711-1492), it has an incredibly rich Catholic history, beginning with Isabel y Ferdinand, los reyes católicos. The cities amazing Cathedral was built over the course of 2-3 centuries and is made up of architectural styles ranging from the Baroque era to the Renaissance and on. The building is so detailed, every inch is covered in intricate designs with deep Christian meaning. 

In addition to the beautiful cathedral, los reyes católicos commissioned a smaller chapel, la Capilla Real, to house their graves and as a testament the mark they left on the city. Although the chapel is considerably smaller in size, it is just as intricate and meaningful - a wonderful testament to the religiosity of Isabel and Ferdinand.  

Below I've included some pictures of the beautiful churches we've seen this week, and some incredibly scenic pictures from the Albaicin. This city is constantly taking my breath away and although I know these pictures don't do it justice, I hope they help explain the beauty that is surrounding me here. 

This is part of the beautifully detailed facade of the Cathedral 

These two photos are in the interior of the Cathedral and show the painstakingly detailed architecture and sculpture of the building.

This is a panarama of the most impressive Belen I've seen so far. A tradition in Granada during the Christmas season is to set up enormous Nativity scenes, known as Belens, around town and within Churches and homes instead of putting up Christmas trees. 

It was impossible to pick just one photo of the Alhambra that I took last night in the Albaicin because they were all so beautiful. Here is one of my favorites, but there will definitely be plenty more where this came from over the course of the semester!

Hasta Luego!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

And Now I Know (Ahora, yo lo sé)

After living in Spain for the past few days, my roommate and I have developed a bit of a motto -- and now I know. There are so many times that we try, and fail, to communicate what we are trying to say that our first few days here have been some of the most informative in my life.

Here's a quick sample of our "Ahora, yo lo sé" moments ...

  1. Shoes must be worn inside and every family needs a pair of zapatillos de casa, aka slippers.
  2. When eating dinner, both hands must be visible above the table (I challenge everyone to try this, its very hard).
  3. Justin Beiber es un loser according to my hermanito, Jaime
  4. Spaniards don't order their coffee para llevar (to-go) and us Americans stick out like sore thumbs when we are walking around with coffee cups.
  5. Cars and motorcycles DO NOT yield to pedestrians.
  6. If you need to buy a hairdryer and an air conditioner, you only need to go to one store. 
  7. Graphing paper is more common than regular lined paper and all notebooks in España are at least two inches taller than in the US. 
If you are ever living and traveling in Spain, heed these words of wisdom and be sure to bring your slippers and keep an eye out for speeding motos.

In addition to being an incredible informative few days, my first week here has been full of new friends and tapas adventures. Here are a few photos of the wonderful BC students I will be spending the next 5 months with! (Alex, Titi, Diane, Kate, Jonny, y Bridget) 

During our first "paseo" or walk through Granada we stopped in front of the City Hall. 

 This is a photo of Titi, Alex, Jonny, and Diane in front of the Cathedral. 

This is a photo of Kate, me and Diane ordering our first "copas de vino" en Granada. 

I promise we do more than order tapas and walk around, though. Tomorrow we are going to the Capilla Real and the Cathedral and I promise to post our beautiful site seeing pictures after that! 

Hasta luego! 

Me Encanta Mi Familia

Hola! Ahora estoy en Granada, una cuidad muy antigua en el sur de España, una cuidad tan guapa y histórica. Butttt, don't worry, my blog is in english, I swear.

I arrived here in Granada after a long two days of traveling and was immediately welcomed by my wonderful host mom, Ana, and my three host siblings, Carlos, Anita, y Jaime. After attempting to unpack 5 months worth of clothes, shoes, and everything else in a way that wouldn't make my host family think I was a slob, I settled in for my first night in Granada.

Before I begin the tales of the Alhambra (Shout out to Bridget Miller) and the tales of my time in Spain, I want to say thanks and I love you to the wonderful family that has supported so much of this journey. I would not be here if my parents, grandparents, aunt, brother, and incredible friends hadn't encouraged me to do so. I love you all.