It was early in the morning. Fun. It was raining. Even better. Yet it is here where our nine day journey across the Atlantic begins.
We met at the Memorial Union bus station to catch our shuttle bus to the Chicago International airport at 8:30 in the morning on June 21st. In turn, we waved goodbye to those who drove us and stood in line to take a picture. At the airport we took advantage of our last truly American meal before liftoff, McDonald’s. There were rows of seats pointed toward windows that watched our plane land gracefully. We were Spain-bound.
On the first day in Spain the seven hour time change threw most of us for a loop when we arrived at 7:00 in the morning in Madrid. With only enough time to put away our luggage in the hotel and turn back around, we began our walk to the Prado museum, one of the most visited sites in the world. The building used to be a palace for the royal family but was converted into a home for many of the most famous and revolutionary paintings and sculptures in history. My personal favorites were many by Diego Velázquez, a royal painter who took advantage of his long standing reputation in the palace by painting the king in the back of a portrait while he stood in the front. Back then, it meant something, I swear.
By the end of the day we had taken a bus to Ávila to stay with our host families. We ate. Then we ate some more. We finished a whole course of food and then second course emerged from the kitchen. We ate some more. In Spain, the way others offer their hospitality is through food, so we were offered truckloads. Never before have I gone to bed on such a full stomach that I still felt full the next morning.
We only got to see Ávila for part of the day so we made sure to soak it all in and relish the lowest temperatures for the whole trip. We used La Muralla – the city wall – to view Ávila from above. Everything from the rooves to the desert landscape was dusted in an auburn glow. When the church bells rang you could hear them for miles, they echoed off of the narrow alleyways rhythmically. It was nothing less than beautiful.
The second half of the day was filled by Segovia where our tour guide acted us through 100 years of Spanish history in the forgiving shade of the Roman Aqueduct. She told a tale of a royal family with more power and fame than the Kardashians and of legends of Devil fingerprints still visible in each stone that built the massive irrigation system. Segovia had an abundance of Islamic influence in architecture. Patterns similar to lace tracings adorned every other house, the ones in between were simple and clean, much more Christian. The city was a cross between the two cultures and represented both the conflict and cooperation throughout history.
Our day came to a magnificent close while standing in a proud palace known as the Alcazar. Details filled every crevice and stories had left their fingerprints on the walls. It was grand, regal, gallant, but the view from the top was copied from a painting found on Etsy. The sight managed to bring one of us to tears.
Next, we visited Salamanca for a whole day. Two cathedrals, the old and the new, sat wall to wall separated only by style and a line through the floor. A stone frog on the outside of a university withheld secret powers to bring you luck. All you had to do was say hello. On any flat surface of stone there were red signatures from a time when killing a bull was an appropriate final exam. You may have to write an essay, graduates at the University of Salamanca had to fight a bull, kill it, then use its blood to sign their name on the walls of the school forever. Jaws dropped at that story. Many wondered if their ears needed cleaning or their Spanish fine tuning. One thing is for sure, the day we spent in Salamanca was a day of mystery and intrigue.
The next morning was our last in our host families home, so we packed our bags to board the bus for Sevilla. There is much we did in the city of Sevilla, and I can tell you the streets gave me nostalgia for a place I’d never even dreamt of calling home. My group can tell you all about my excitement for certain photo opportunities, leading lines through narrow roads, brick, bright colors, artsy sun glares, striped awnings and grafiti.
I can say we saw cathedrals, the Alcazar of Sevilla, other beautiful monuments with fascinating history. I can say all this, but the image I see when I think of Sevilla is a rooftop pool that overlooks everything as the sun melts into the horizon. Sevilla was a place of immense grace.
If I thought Spain was hot before, even just a drop, I was wrong. Where the rest of Spain was a calm bubbling of my blood, a faint tickle, Granada caused my skin to sublimate. My nervous system screamed until it became a ringing in my ears. A gentle scream against the hissing of steam on the pavement.
In other news, Granada was also one of the most intricately designed cities we visited. The Islamic influence that caused Segovia to have a few delicate looking walls, flooded the streets so that I could look for years and still find new patterns and colors.
Nowhere was a greater example of this labyrinthine grandiosity as the Alhambra. The place was a palace, it was a garden, but also a forest, a plaza, a historic monument, a place where water ran through the desert. It was the Alhambra. Covered in designs that had faded over the years but still showed the whispers of what once was an assortment of bright reds, blues, and golds. So yes, Granada was hot, but it was truly astounding so I can forgive the injustice.
Barcelona came next. We arrived after a flight from Madrid, at the pickpocket capital of the world. I hid my belongings under my shirt despite the obvious weirdness of having a oblong bulge on your stomach.
After eating lunch in the town of Montjuic, we visited the Park Güell. Or as I like to call it, candy land. There were houses made of brick the color of fresh graham crackers adorned with mosaics that resembled gumdrops. Benches were covered in the same pastel colored tile. Round footsteps through gardens of mystery. Vines that fell through the air and flowers in every color you could find in a crayon box. A small cave with curved edges. A giant ceramic lizard that watched the little hansels and gretels gawk and the attraction. They all had the same energy, this was a place where time and space was warped slightly to allow for oddities and candy houses.
We also saw the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that is still in construction designed by Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí was an architect who believed that nature existed to show us how things should be built, our very own idea boards. You can see this clearly reflected in the columns that stretch to the ceiling like giant trees reaching for the sky or the river-like bends in the balconies. Even down to the small etchings of grass and leaves that coats the outside of the building. Somehow the entire thing looks like a drip castle made from wet sand on the beach. I hope to go back and see it at completion.
Believe it or not, our nine days are coming to a fast close. We spend our last day in Costa Brava, the beach. Costa Brava is very different from the other places we visited. It’s not a place where people stay, it’s a place people run to. Very few people spoke English, but even fewer spoke Spanish. The streets were filled with tourist shops, clothing stores, and restaurants. The Mediterranean Sea glinted a clear blue in the sunlight.
It was a day of relaxing on the sand, dipping your feet into the water only to squeal and sprint clumsily away when the wave nipped too far up your ankles. Numerous comments expressed in disbelief, I’ve just been splashed in the Mediterranean Sea, We’re playing frisbee in the Mediterranean Sea, I’m eating ramen noodles in the Mediterranean Sea. The perfect last day to a fiercely breathtaking adventure.
To all who joined me on this spectacular endangerment of my small horizon, until next time.
– By Zoe Crooks