Now, off to the ever so multifaceted somewhat bizarre city of Amsterdam. On one hand, it is quant and beautiful with its canals and charming buildings all lined up full of history and art. Naturally, the other aesthetic involves prostitutes and sex-shops, which I suppose has an interesting cultural contribution as well.
When we arrived, it was raining-which seems to be the theme of my last few trips. Although, it seemed oddly appropriate. Katherine, Margo, and I marveled in the rows of houses and shops and canals, all I can say is it is absolutely adorable. That is, until we made our way to our Hostel which was smack dab in the middle of the Red Light district. For whatever reason, I don’t find adorable to be the appropriate word for that. Bizarre even seems to fall short, but I will say it was extremely interesting, weird, funny, sad and basically any other adjective I can think of. Something I can’t really begin to understand, but I do see the justifications for legalization to an extent…but I’ll reserve that discussion for another time.
Katherine and I have actually had an interesting opportunity to get a little more incite on the Dutch people. We have two roommates, both our age, from the Netherlands. As they are, according to wikipedia, not only some of the tallest in the world, but also the happiest-we chose to pick their brains a bit and get a few tips. For one, despite the novelty of legalized marijuana and other such things for tourists alike (Amsterdam basically consisted of tourists, from what I saw), it doesn’t seem to have the same appeal for the Dutch. I actually just read an article that they are one of the or the European country with the lowest percentage of smokers, which I suppose is one of the main objectives of legalization. Neither of my roommates smoke, and I think it is safe to say they have never taken advantage of the legal prostitution either.
Despite the liberal label stamped on Holland, they obviously don’t all adhere to that. Actually, interestingly enough our roommates are relatively conservative in how they dress. They say they are shocked at how revealing a lot of American and Spanish girl’s clothes are when they go out.
One of the most striking differences we got to talking about is in regards to schooling. In all honesty I don’t actually understand how it works, but it is something like from a young age they are placed in certain levels based on a test and general ability and it kind of dictates what you can do for an occupation and what type of schooling you can ultimately do. The biggest feature that contrasts with academics of the United States is that you ultimately only try to pass. They were explaining to us that even if you do not pass, you have a few more opportunities to do so, so it is not a big deal. This may have something to do with the fact that their schooling costs significantly less than ours, but regardless, no wonder they are the happiest people (or the 3rd). There is little competitiveness and they did not even know the english world “prestige”. It is actually kind of refreshing, and Katherine and I are rather jealous. They thought it pretty humorous I complained about getting a B in something. We are all, after all, just products of our culture.
Now that we have all been filled in on some fun facts, I did actually do things in Amsterdam other than frequent coffee shops and the red light district.
The first day, we wandered through the city, which is quite manageable to navigate…and that is coming from me. The most difficult aspect was knowing where to stand as to not get mauled by bikers-another thing that makes it a wonderful city. Although, we didn’t get the opportunity to ride any bikes it just added to the appeal.
Our biggest priority was to see the Anne Frank House, and the wait in the cold was well worth it. After having learned about it for so many years it was kind of surreal to actually see it in person. When they were betrayed, all of the furniture was removed, and upon returning and granting permission to turn it into a museum Otto Frank wanted it to remain that way, but through out there are portions of Anne’s diary and explanations of the story and video interviews of Miep Geis. No matter how many times you hear the story, it is always so devastating, and I think for anyone visiting Amsterdam, it is really important to see this…
What was especially struck was learning about the efforts of Otto Frank. After having lost his entire family, I was in awe by how much he accomplished. Not only in publishing his daughters diary and defending it through the years, but also in his support for the thousands of people that wrote to him and his work in promoting culture understanding. I just don’t know if I could ever have the heart or endurance after having experience everything he has. …his character is so amazing. I thought this was a really interesting story/ interview: http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?PID=802&LID=2
The next day, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. The art in itself is cool to see, but my favorite part was seeing how it evolved with his state of mind, as there are so many speculations on his mental healthy. It is also really interesting to see how varied his pieces are. I know so little about art, so I lack any intellectual commentary, but I think I liked his landscapes the most..I guess he really enjoyed painting workers in fields and such. I would have liked to see Starry Night, as that is one of the few that I am really familiar with, but that is apparently in New York. Regardless, definitely an interesting museum to see, and it is huge-like 4 stories, he was pretty busy throughout his life time I suppose.
Our final little cultural destination (with maybe not quite the same educational value as the other two) was the Heineken Factory. As I don’t particularly like beer, and this is the only type I even remotely like, I was kind of excited. It wasn’t quite as intense as the Guinness Factory in Dublin but still pretty cool. Highlights involved Dutch music videos we were able to make as well as a digital experience of being brewed-this involved being splashed by water and moving stairs, and of course Heineken beer. We enjoyed our status of being girls, and received quite a few glasses, so we enjoyed ourselves.
Overall, it was a really good trip. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy the touristy aspect of Amsterdam, it had so many redeeming qualities that made up for it. I think thus far, my favorite parts of Europe have been in Northern Europe. This also may be contributed by the fact that my blonde hair doesn’t glaringly stand out, but regardless it made me really want to see the rest of Holland and its neighboring countries. It appears I have much more traveling ahead of me, guess I should start saving now.
The last two weekends have provided a wide variety of traveling experiences, to say the least -Morocco and Amsterdam are quite a juxtaposition. My first destination, Morocco, is still very much a conservative, predominately Muslim society struggling with the tension between tradition and the influences of western culture. This is in contrast with Holland, one of the most liberal countries in Europe, distinguishable by its legal prostitution, canals, and streets fragrant with mary-jane. Of course, I’m going to talk about them separately, but there is nothing like witnessing such stark cultural differences in one week. Took a bit to wrap my head around all of it.
I’ll go ahead and say Morocco was one of the best things I have ever done-Kind of one of those things you know will stay with you forever…
A group of about 25 kids from my school went to Morocco through a group called “Morocco Exchange.” Our leaders were former members of the Peace Corps who had volunteered in Morocco and so they were fluent in Arabic (or the local dialect of it, anyway). The trip’s purpose was to increase cultural awareness and communication. We were able to stay in home-stays and were really exposed to the culture, so you can imagine I was very excited, but it far exceeded my expectations. This will inevitably be a long post because the trip was packed, but in a good way.
After an 8 hour bus ride over night, we took a ferry over to Tangier. After the long journey, we were excited to finally step onto African soil. yes, in AFRICA. so crazy.
We immediately delved into the culture. Upon arrival, we went to a DARNA a Women’s center, where women who are either homeless or have been marginalized by society (such as women who became pregnant out of wedlock) go to learn skills that will help them support themselves and their children. There, we had the opportunity to talk to three students who were our age and volunteered there.
As this was our first contact with Moroccans, we were kind of tip toeing around issues at first, but they were very open and overall did not hold back much. The girl was clearly a little more conservative, as she described why she wore her hijab, or head scarf, and how wearing a flashy or bright colored one defeats the purpose. Many women in Morrocco don’t wear them, but of course it depends on where you are. The more rural areas haven’t been as exposed to western ideals or cultures and tend to stick to this tradition. She said it was completely her choice, and from a young age she knew she wanted to wear one, so she could always represent her religion.
One of the most interesting conversations we had with them involved the practice of dating. Technically, dating is frowned upon and is not permitted by parents, but it still goes on behind there backs fairly readily. There is a double standard, though, as the boys explained. They both date, but they said that they want to marry a woman who has not dated. Pretty interesting…I can’t help but wonder what they would think of the hook up culture within college students in the States. They were very curious about what we were anticipating in terms of Moroccan culture and Moroccan people in general. It was actually kind of embarrassing to admit how little we did know. They know so much about us, and our culture, and well everything. I would say a majority of Moroccans know Arabic (or a dialect), French, and a little English or Spanish. To be honest, all this traveling has just furthered how ignorant I feel as an American.
During the meeting, this was also our first exposure to Moroccan Tea. Once you’ve tried it, you will never be the same. It is basically a staple of their daily rituals and is absolutely delicious. It is just green tea with mint and entirely too much sugar, and I can even begin to talk about how much everyone raved about it.
We had a delicious lunch, and I can’t actually remember what it entailed, but all I know is Moroccan food is splendid, and I want to cook it as soon as I return…or have my parents cook it anyway.
Next, we drove to the little town of Asilah which is along the Atlantic Coast. On the way we caught a glimpse of the Shantytowns. Which are even more sobering then you would expect, even from a distance. Despite the relative wealthiness we would soon witness in our homestays-poverty is a huge issue in morocco, inevitably leading to these shanty towns, as almost 9% of the capital cities inhabitance are in them. We were told that these are the social conditions that often lead to Islamic extremism. The article we read said Morocco has not had a huge problem with this, but it could be right on the brink as it told of a suicide bomber who had lived in a single room with 8 others in his family. It was really all pretty eye-opening. The most recent King is making efforts to end these living conditions and thwart poverty, but I am not sure how successful he has been.
Along our drive we also got a pleasant surprise. Camel Rides! Ok, to be honest, riding a camel is a little anti-climatic, but we were still all very excited regardless. One of those things where our trip would have not felt complete with out it. They are pretty funny creatures.
We later arrived to the beautiful town of Asilah. It still blows my mind how such beauty coexists so closely with such poverty and suffering. The town itself was basically closed down for the season, so it was vacant, which only added to the effect. Everything was blue and white and there were art murals all over. We wandered through the Medina (the old city) and made our way to the edge that looked over the coast. The crashing waves on the rocks next to the white buildings made for some not too shabby scenery.
Finally, we made our way to our homestays. We were quickly briefed on a few key words to know. First was the greeting: “Salam uaalikum” which means, hello, peace be upon you, and the answer “WaalikumSalam”, which means hello, and also on you peace. I feel this common phrase embodies what I came to understand as Moroccan Hospitality and warmth (Southern Hospitality has nothing on them). Every single person I met there was truly welcoming and loving.
Honestly, the only thing I came into Morocco thinking was that there would inevitably be anti-Western sentiments maybe because of our ideals, but also because how our Government and media has treated the Islamic world. Instead, we found people were very curious about us and were above all eager to reverse and stereotypes we had of them. When I mentioned during one conversation about what I expected, he told me, of course they do not necessarily support our governments actions, but people understand that they do not reflect the beliefs or wishes of all the people in the United States. This is an obvious statement, but it is sad to think how often in the States this mentality is not quite the case. It is so often that we see people only associate Muslims with terrorism because of the acts of a few, so having him say this was so refreshing and only made me appreciate the Moroccan people even more.
I’d say the other most crucial word we learned was”shbaat,” which means “enough.” I’d say a main attraction of the trip was the abundance of Moroccan food, and they loved feeding us (I know, right up my alley) . Me and the two other girls I stayed with all agreed we have quite literally never eaten that much in our lives. As a sign of hospitality they feed you, so our house Mom kept insisting “kool! kool!” “eat! eat!”. One of the girls was vegetarian, so we were served cooked veggies and soups and cous-cous, and my new found love: pomegranates, for dessert. All of this talk is making me want to go back, immediately.
Interesting side note, they often all eat out of one bowl, and you just stick to your part. They also only use their right hand for eating and touching food. This would be because they use their left one as a substitute for toilet paper, for a lack of a better phrase. Although, for a part of the trip they had toilet paper. I wasn’t sure if it was for our sack or theirs. I wasn’t about to ask.
The family was very nice, although they did not speak a lot of English, so we were a bit limited. They are also hosting an American boy, who showed us around the Medina. He tried to convince us to have snail soup, which literally consists of a bowl of snails you suck out. We passed. He told us that our family is actually a very political family. The daughter’s husband was a diplomat who had greeted Hilary Clinton when she came. This explains why their house was pretty nice and spacious. They are really into decorating, so everything was very ornate and the walls had sparkles on it. Much as you would expect it.
Moroccan families are very close-knit, and families usually stay together. Where as my family is spewed across the United States in Colorado, Georgia, and Ohio, from what I grasped that is not common. As the students mentioned the day before, even for those who travel or move to make money, there is a constant need to be back with their mothers. One of the them said after a few days of not seeing her, he had to go back, it is an obligation. They said they did not really know how to explain it.
That night we were so exhausted from the traveling busy day we went to bed at 930, the screaming 2 year old made it up past us.
We woke to a breakfast of about every variation of bread you could as for. They enjoy their bread. At the risk of being repetitive, it was delicious and so very filling. That morning we got to roam around some ancient Roman ruins. It is insane how much influence from other cultures there are in Morocco. From the Romans to an Islamic Regime and in recent centuries both France and Spain had from my understanding basically colonized it, and it was an International state. Amazingly enough it did not get its independence but just over 50 years ago, so these European influences are very apparent, particularly the Spanish because of its proximity-It is only 14 km from Morocco!
The ruins were very cool to see, pictures of course will be provided. You can see additions from the Muslims as well. There was also a little pool with eels. It was said if a woman threw an egg in and an eel ate it she would get pregnant (The symbolism is pretty obvious). There were also cats everywhere, which provided much entertainment as there was a girl who was deathly (or dramatically) scared of cats.
We then we finally got some quality Moroccan shopping in with three other girls, accompanied by a couple of Moroccan students. Everything is so cheap, naturally, it was a big trip, but as there are many gifts involved I can not divulge. It was really cool to spend some one-on-one time with the students. The girl was really spunky and hilarious. She was extremely disappointed when we told her Ashton Kutcher was married, and the guy and I shared some of our favorite music. He knew more American music than I did (and not just the radio stuff that is unfortunately so popular in the discotecas. He also told me about all the great surfing spots in Morocco. After we had spent so much time focusing on our cultural differences the first day, it was cool to see our similarities. We all were, after all, just college students.
The evening proved to be a particularly interesting one. We all went to the Hammam, which for those who don’t know is a public bath. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t this. Armed with buckets, special olive soap, and scrubbers, we stripped down to just our bottoms, and went into a room with about 30 other women. What an experience, to say the least. I’ll spare you all of our bathing details but I did also receive the most interesting massage of my life. Quite a peek into a common practice within their society. Not too bad either. Because of the sandpaper like scrubber, I can say my skin has ever been quite that soft. The evening culminated with yet another delicious meal and a very tired Sarah from another packed but equally as enlightening day.
Our final day, we left our home-stays with much a full belly and many a shukuran (thank you!). We voyaged out to a much more remote, rural town in the Rif Mountains. As we drove through the country side it was an entirely different perspective. There was obviously a deep contrast between their lives and those of the families we had been staying with. I almost became nostalgic for Ohio scenery after seeing all of the rolling farm hills.
We drove a few hours out and then hiked about 20 minutes up to a house amongst the mountains. The surroundings were unreal, and hopefully I have some good pictures to relay how truly beautiful it was. As it was a rural area, the family did not know English, so we had a translator. The translator was actually one of the sons who had left the area for education, and is now currently getting his Phd. This was one of the most worth while experiences of the trip.
Although the family had seen hundreds of students like us in the past 5 years, they treated us like we were our first. Through the translator, they asked us question after question, wanting to know where we were going to school what we were studying. It was really interesting to see all generations from a 2-year-old to the Grandmother in one room interacting. They themselves had just gotten electricity a few years back and so had not been exposed to as much Western culture. The women’s clothing was very traditional, and of course they did not know English. Their livelihood is based on farming, and I may be wrong on this, but I think it is mainly olive trees.
The translator at one point became very embarrassed, as the men kept speaking over his sister. He said he did not want us to see aspect of their patriarchal society, he was very ashamed of it. Although, to be honest I found everyone likes to talk over everyone no matter what. Our leader told us this is common and not necessarily considered rude.
As for the translator, although he is very educated it will be difficult for him to both find a job and acquire a visa because it has become nearly impossible after 9/11. But he seemed adamant that he could never return to the lifestyle of his family after having been exposed to so much education and possibilities-it was really kind of sad.
They fed a huge bowl of cous-cous and pomegranates, and it got to the point to where I decided I might have eaten enough for the rest of my life. Except, apparently not, because as I write this I am eating a pomegranate right now-something I will definitely miss. During said food-coma, we had the opportunity to watch them perform some typical Moroccan music with singing and drums. It was awesome to hear, and they unfortunately had to ruin it by trying to teach our over-stuffed, uncoordinated American selves how to dance. We failed miserably, but it was still fun.
We walked back through the small village they were closest too, and everyone looked at us pretty curiously. The kids would run out of their doors staring. Some even dared to say, “hi!” It was pretty cute. The little red-headed (I was surprised too) Moroccan children are especially adorable.
After additional bussing along, we made it to our final destination: Chefchaouen (not as intimidating of a name as it looks). This city is known for being the safe haven for both Jews and Moors during the Spanish Reconquista. It was seized by Spain in 1920, but, of course, Morocco got it back when it gained Independence. It is a beautiful city amongst mountains with narrow alley-ways painted and blues and whites. It is also, unfortunately, very touristy. This came to our benefit, though, when it came to bargaining because not only did they speak French and Arabic, but Spanish too! Never have I ever been so happy to hear Spanish. We wandered the streets checking out all of the scarfs, rugs, bowls, and whatever other trinkets they tried to convince us to buy.
After delighting in all our new Moroccan goodies, we had our final celebration dinner. The dinner was delicious, and once again I wish I could remember what it was called, but it was like this sweet chicken dish. I’ve just come to learn that when it comes to Moroccan food you can’t go wrong. I haven’t at least. We then huddled up on the rooftop of our hostel and just reflected on our trip. It was truly amazing, and I don’t think any of what I said did it justice. The Moroccan people were some of the most heart-warming I have ever come across, and I would love to go back someday and meet more people as well as learn more about their culture.
The final morning, we said our farewell to Morocco with a final brisk hike up to a Spanish Cathedral that overlooked over all of Chefechaouen. I feel like anything I say at this point is going to be inevitably cheesy, but it was a perfect way to end things. I have never felt so fortunate. There is so much beauty that Morocco has to offer, but also so much sadness. I think it also reinforced my thoughts that I want to spend time in a developing country be it teaching English or volunteering in some way. With that I’ll leave you with a quote because this is entirely too long-it may be corny, but Alisha, our guide from the Peace Corps gave it to us, and I liked it, so here it is.
"Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
I’m a bit behind, but I have kind of come to the conclusion I will never catch up considering I haven’t even posted anything about Spain, and that is where I’m living…oops, sorry Mom.
Anyway, I went to Greece two weekends ago, hence the title. The weather provided a bit of a deterrent for any excessive site seeing, so I can’t say it was my most productive trip, but we enjoyed ourselves regardless. My friends, Katherine and Margo, and I arrived in Athens later in the day Friday, so we immediately sought after some Greek cuisine.
(Note: this is your chance to skip this next paragraph, more about my ravenous eating habits, my apologies.)
I’ll just go ahead and sum up my food experience ahead of time. As soon as we ventured out into the streets we were coerced into eating at a restaurant by an especially aggressive waiter. It must have been fate that brought us to him because we immediately became chummy and ate there the rest of the weekend. In short we had stuffed peppers, asparagus soup, chicken kebabs, gyros, a plethora of fetta cheese, and our at our most glutenous hour a waffle with three scoops of ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a brownie, because we couldn’t say no-oh and more fetta. I’d like to say I describe all of this because these delectable meals added to the authenticity of our trip and my blog would not be complete without it. This could be true. But the reality is that I want to prepare everyone for the over-sized Sarah that will be turning in just five short weeks. I fear the shock.
Now to the important stuff. As I mentioned, the ferocious winds slowed us down a bit (Margot weights about 100 pounds, so it was a bit of a hazard), but we were able to make it to the Acropolis pre-rain, and the clouds actually provided a stellar backdrop for the ruins. Acropolis literally means “high city,” and usually provides a save-haven to the inhabitance around it. There are obviously other acropolises in the world, but only the one in Athens is known as “The Acropolis”. It is a flat rock 490 feet above sea level and the rest of Athens, and it of course provides a rather spectacular view.
At the Acropolis were able to see the theater of Herod Atticus, the Parthenon, the Nike Athena temple, the Erecthion, and probably more things I don’t know the names of. From what I gathered, since their erection in the 5th century BC (crazy, I know) they have been destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed and rebuilt, etc. Of course, in my utmost laziness I’m going to direct anyone with further interest in the actual history and background to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_acropolis.
One little fun fact, though. There is “entasis” in the columns or small “bulge” meaning none of them are completely straight up and down. Apparently there are arguments as to why there are no straight lines, but it may have been for a reverse optical illusion effect. Parallel lines give an optical illusion of a bow when intersected by converging lines, so they may have been counteracting that. Those ancient Greeks were really thinkers.
They were truly amazing though. The only disappointment was that there was scaffolding all over the place for a little refurbishing to fix the last attempt at redecorating-apparently it did not go so well. It did not stop us though. We tried to to maintain some degree of normalcy while we scampered around the ruins, but we honestly had too much fun. Definitely worth a visit for anyone in Greece!
As the storm rolled in, we made our way to the brand new Acropolis museum. The set-up was really cool. It was actually built over ruins, and the floors were clear so you could see them underneath you. Perrty neat. You also got a glimpse at what the reconstructed statues and details of the parthenon and other structures would look like. It is a little empty, because apparently the rest of the artifacts are found in the British museum, which seems rather silly.
The rest of the day involved some temperamental weather, so we went to a movie, which involved a nice little jaunt through Athens. I’ll go ahead and say it is an ugly city with a plethora of sex stores, but I wasn’t really expecting much, and I’m sure someone out there may appreciate what it has to offer in that respect.
Moving on to Sunday. It was a bit struggle, but a successful one at that. If we didn’t get lost, I wouldn’t consider it traveling. We basically went on a scavenger hunt across Athens to find the bus to take us to Sounion where the Temple of Poseidon is. Naturally this took us 3 hours because we missed the first one, but it allowed for some excessive eating, and the wait was worth it.
The bus trip may have actually been the best part, partially because it shielded us from the wrath of the clouds, but we also caught a glimpse of some unreal scenery. We drove along the coast for about 2 hours. The sun began to peak out from the brooding clouds, and I swear it looked like the heavens were opening up. There were sharp rays hitting the bright blue of the Mediterranean-well, you’ll just have to look at the pictures.
The actual Temple was pretty impressive as well. It was up on a cliff looking over the Mediterranean, so you can’t go wrong with that. We were wimps and could only handle the smacking winds for 25 minutes, but it was still quite an experience. Of course, pictures will be provided.
The rest of the evening involved hanging out at our hostel’s bar and reminiscing about our time. Overall it was a good experience, and we even made some 27-year-old Aussie friends along the way, so you cannot go wrong with that. I’m already pondering the next time I’ll go back- and after catching a glimpse of the god-like qualities of the coast, I might have to check out the islands.
I fully intend to write more posts, but last week was midterms, so I think that is a valid excuse. Last Weekend I was able to go to Seville, in Southern Spain. It is the capital of Andalucia (One of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions), and is quite possibly one of my favorite places in Spain so far-granted I my experience is limited.
I left Friday at eight in the morning with four others friends from school to enjoy a six hour bus ride. I took this opportunity to sleep, as, to be honest, Spain’s landscape is not exactly pleasing to the eye. It basically consists of a desolate, desert like terrain littered with the occasional gas station and if you are lucky a quant little town or olive winery. Our Arrival, most obviously, consisted of getting lost in the winding, slightly nerve racking cobblestone streets of Seville. Nerve racking in the sense that there appears to be an epic battle between cars and pedestrians. The streets are a little built in thrill. Their narrowness, blind corners, and lack of side walks means you inevitably find yourself quite intimate with the walls in attempt to avoid having your feet run over by impatient drivers. This is actually a pretty consistent theme in Spain, as I have had similar experiences in both Valencia and Toledo. But of course, it is all part of the appeal.. Hopefully the SUVs us Americans are so fond of never catch on in Spain-I can only imagine disastrous results.
After extensive wandering, we finally stumbled upon their hostel (I was waiting for another group to arrive later in the day to find my hostel). The hostel turned out to be more of a little apartment. It was adorable, and hard to explain, but is what I think of as a quintessential Spanish home. This was refreshing, because of course despite Madrid’s historical aspect, it is very much a city and often lacks this charm. After settling we set out for food, which is always quite a process. Just a peculiar little side note, we found that Seville has a massive amount of wedding dress shops. Anyways, after exploring we ended up eating at a buffet and consuming massive quantities of food. This is only worthy of mentioning because my friends and I all agreed that this was the first time we had legitimately been full from a meal at a Spanish restaurant. As you can imagine, the Spanish portion size does not quite measure up to that of the United States.
During the evening we were determined to find Flamenco, as Seville is known for it. We ended up finding a really cool place not 3 minutes away from the apartment. Unfortunately, we adhered to typical Spanish time, which means we assumed things always start late, and to our dismay only caught the last five minutes. Despite this, the location was really cool. There was a large outside patio area with lights hanging in trees-much more relaxing in comparison to the discotecas we frequent in Madrid. We were celebrating a friends 21st birthday, and just talked and enjoyed ourselves. One of the best aspects of our school is that although it is 40% American students the rest of them are from all over the world, so there was a girl from Brazil and a girl from Venezuela with us. We got some incite on their current governments and politics, which is always interesting to hear about. Overall, Seville offered a very pleasant first night.
The next day was tourist day galore. My friend Megan and I got up pretty early to start the day when it was still cooler-it was about 85 at its peak during the day. After dabbling in some Seville shopping we made our way over to the Guadalquivir river that runs through Seville. It is the second largest river in Spain and was strewn with little paddle boats and rowers-pretty picturesque. We climbed up the Torre del Oro (“Gold Tower”), what used to be a watch tower, then a prison, and is now a naval museum. We got a nice view of all of the river and a bit of Seville and the Cathedral.
After further directionally-impaired roaming, we finally found our way to the foot of the Cathedral. Which once you are close, is difficult to miss. The sheer size of it is astounding in itself, but the intricate detail is just unreal. It is the largest Gothic cathedral, and the third largest church in Europe (only behind the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica and Brazil’s Basilica.) Not surprisingly, the intentions of the men who proposed it was to create “a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad.” Beginning in 1401, the cathedral was built on the site of the ancient Mosque after the Christians captured Seville from the Moors during the “Reconquista.” The construction was finished in 1506, just 105 years after it began. I say “just” because it is truly amazing. I often can hardly fathom how any of the brilliant structures and architecture came from the hands of men, without computers or intense machinery.
Inside the Cathedral was equally astounding. They by no means held back. It is lavished with gold everywhere and massive stain glass windows. The central nave is huge (42 meters to be exact) and has really detailed biblical pictures…in gold, of course. We climbed up the Giralda, which is the Cathedral’s bell tower. This substantial climb was well worth it. The view was amazing (I really need to expand my vocabulary) , and the tower itself is also spectacular. The bottom 2/3s is Moorish architecture from the previous Mosque and the top has Christian religious features. Really, I am not even going to attempt to really describe these, so hopefully the pictures help out a bit.
Despite my awe of the Cathedral, I have to say my favorite place in Seville was the Alcazar. It is the royal palace in Seville and was originally a Moorish fort. It has been added to by the different rulers and monarchies through the centuries, and I LOVED it. We went at a perfect time-about 45 minutes before it closed, so it was basically empty. There were gardens, fountains, and pools, which with the contrast of the blue, yellow, and gold tiles were striking. I’ll put better descriptions on the pictures, but it was absolutely stunning. The Islamic architecture and influence is definitely on of my favorite parts of Spain. No wonder the royal family uses it as their official Seville residency. I literally could have stayed in there all day.
The day proved to be exhausting, as we probably walked 8 or so miles, so we were more than excited for our Morroccan meal at our hostel. Yes, our hostel. The hostel its self was more than expected, to say the least. On the roof was a terrace with a view of the city and a pool and eating areas. They served us cous cous and chicken, and I don’t know what else was involved in the deliciousness, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (of course it was the Spanish version, so there was no Spice, as it has come to my attention that they do not enjoy excessive flavor in Spain). It was much needed sustenance or the further journeying of our night.
We were determined to go to Flamenco, and luckily we proved to be much more successful than the night before. After walking for about 30 minutes we arrived at the Flamenco place our Hostel had recommended. Things were not looking promising as there was a winding line out of the packed room. Thankfully we eventually walked in through the doors-or more accurately were shoved in- by some aggressive middle aged Spanish women. I had an entirely different idea of Flamenco, as I of course knew a huge aspect was the music, but I also thought it always included the dancing. Instead this was about 5 men sitting down playing guitar clapping and singing. The crowd was rather packed and quite boisterous. There was an abundance of Spanish yelling, which I did not quite comprehend, but they apparently take their Flamenco very seriously. This did exceed my expectations in the sense that I figured we would be going to a really touristy destination, but it appeared to be entirely locals, and is considered one of the better performances.
After an additional hour of walking, the evening ceased, and we were exhausted. I left early the next day, and it was hard to leave. Possibly because I had an exam I was planning on studying for while on the bus, but also probably because I really felt comfortable in Seville. The city had so much to offer culturally, aesthetically, and entertainment wise. Definitely a destination for anyone who wants to go to Spain!
Also, as an irrelevant comment, I was finally was able to give someone directions in Spanish. That’s a little personal victory for me, so I thought I would document it.
As “Prost!” was undoubtedly the most common phrase of the weekend, I thought it would make an appropriate title. It is the German “cheers”, and thus it was brought up quite a few times as we enjoyed German beverages at one of the biggest beer festivals in the world. Short for Prosit, it is derived from the Latin word prodesse, meaning “may it be good for you.”
And wow was this weekend good to us.
My two friends, Brandon and Kyle, and I were fortunate enough to have an amazing family to stay with for the weekend. We stayed with Becky’s (my roommate from UGA) family, who moved there this year, and we could not have asked for better hosts. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you the initial allure of Germany was the abundance of beer and Bratwursts that Volksfest boasts, but I think it is safe to say we would all return just to hang out with the Andrews family in the beautiful parks of Stuttgart.
We arrived at at the Andrews abode on Thursday night, and we were welcomed with a feast. In addition to cheese and sausage we were served one particular American delicacy I am quite fond of: rice crispy treats. Right then and there I already knew it was going to be a good trip.
(A little side note, you will notice I will discuss food quite a bit. If you have ever met my Dad, he is moderately compulsive with his food, and so I have enjoyed amazing meals quite frequently at home thanks to both my parents. Therefore, I can admit that food is one of the main focuses in life, and it will inevitably be a priority in this blog-especially desserts.)
After said delectable meal we went to explore the downtown of Stuttgart. That in itself was an adventure because Thursday nights are not big in Germany. This being said, the night did not prove to be a very German experience as we ended up being accompanied by some rather belligerent Irishmen. Really the point of this story is that Irish people, or these particular ones anyway, are crazy. I kind of just sat back and watched them. We did end up at a really cool looking bar with bunk beds you could sit in. The only really downfall was when the Irishmen, much to the dismay of the Germans trying to enjoy a couple of drinks, began chanting “USA, USA.” That was embarrassing. Otherwise, it was a good evening.
Moving on to the actual German experience (like I said-this is for me to remember as well, sorry for the irrelevant tales). The next morning, we immediately experienced some German hospitality. After hearing that they were having guests, one of the Andrews’ neighbors made us some amazing homemade German doughnuts. If that wasn’t enough, Mrs Andrews had gone to the local market so we had an abundance of other German pastries. I really could go on and on about this food, but I am going to restrain my self.
This great morning quickly turned into a great afternoon as we went with Sean and Colin, Becky’s brothers, and explored both the schlossplatz (the main square) and the schlossgarten (the park right next to it). We were lucky enough to be there on a beautiful crisp fall day. I have been craving some sweatshirt weather, so it was perfect. Naturally, the little kids inside of us took over as we practically skipped through the parks in bliss (quite literally). We climbed some fountains and were even introduced to “the most dangerous playground in the world,” which we of course had to play on.
After pretty much inhaling some tasty kebaps, we finally headed over to Volksfest. For those of you not well versed in your German festivals, Volksfest is the second biggest beer festival in the world (behind Oktobeerfest) and includes both a carnival and seven huge beer tents. To the locals it is more commonly known as “Wasen”, basin in German, because Stuttgart is literally shaped like a bowl.
Eventually, we found ourselves in the Hofbrau tent, which according to wikipedia held 5,000 of our closest German friends. Many of our new friends were dressed in traditional German clothing: girls in dirndles-very much so the stereotypical German dresses you are thinking of-and boys in were in Lederhosen-these leather overall, capri things. The pictures will better depict this, as Colin sported one for the weekend. It was fantastic.
The entertainment was in the form of a German band singing English music in German. Although, there were some peculiar songs in English. One that particularly stuck out in my head was about cowboys and Indians and lassos and was accompanied by hand motions-can’t say I knew that one. Of course, the main focus of the event were the German beers. We got to try the Stuttgart Hofbrau, Radler (which is a combination of beer and lemonade, or something like that), and Heferweizen, some cloudy looking beer. I’m not a big beer drinker, so I probably did not appreciate all of this as much as Brandon and Kyle, but it was still a cool experience.
The tent is set up with rows and rows of tables/benches, which people are inevitably standing on by about 6 or 7. Thanks, to Mrs. Andrews after quite a bit of time wandering, she was able to make some German friends for us. We ended up hopping up on a table with some men who were about 60+ years old. Despite the language barrier, actually probably because of the language barrier, it was hilarious. We all enjoyed some quality dancing, German chants, and of course, multiple Prosts. I believe Mrs Andrews even received a marriage proposal. We did eventually meander over to a table that was more age appropriate. There were a bunch of girls about our age, and I must say, in comparison to Spanish girls, they were so friendly! We sang and danced, and Brandon and Kyle fell multiple times much to everyone’s amusement.
When we decided we had finally had enough, we left the tent only to find there was so much more it had to offer. By this I mean roller coasters. After scarfing down a bratwurst (debatably a bad idea, but totally necessary) Mr. Andrews, Brandon, and I took on the rides. I don’t exactly know how to describe them, but they involved extreme heights, amazing views, and intense speed. I’m not sure which was better, the thrill of the ride, the spectacular scene of the Wasen from above, or hearing Brandon scream the whole time. Regardless, it was a very successful endeavor.
Finally, we took the U-bahn (the train) back to the Andrews’, all the while back basically laughing at Brandon and Kyle, who may have enjoyed Volkfest a little too much. Although, I think it is safe to say we all experienced what the Wasen had to offer to the fullest. Honestly, I think that was the best I’ve slept since I’ve been Europe. Probably because I was so exhausted from the excessive dancing and singing but also because I was just so utterly happy with the day we had.
The following morning(ish) we were actually surprisingly active. We rented a couple of bikes and Colin led us on a brilliant tour of the park and the little ponds sprinkled within it. After a couple of hours, we worked up an appetite for some schnitzels (breaded pork) in the “beer garden,” where I was able to observe the entire punk population of Stuttgart congregate. That was pretty interesting in itself.
That evening we went to “Kart-O-Mania”. Why yes, that is a go-cart place, but it is not an American go-cart place. It is a German go-cart place. Therefore, I was informed, there are really no safety regulations. Just to put into perspective how intense that 10 minute ride was, my arms were sore the next day from controlling the steering wheel. This may or may not be a reflection of my fitness level, but regardless it was very exciting.
We concluded the evening the way every night should end: watching UGA football and drinking beers. The game may not have ended well, but it was once again, a spectacular day. (Also noteworthy: I had pancakes and a fluffer-nutter! I may move in with Andrews.)
The next morning it was hard to leave, Mr. Andrews practically had to drag us away from the ping pong tables in the park. After a meal of Maltoschen, (German ravioli like things which Monks used to hide meat in during lent. Because God couldn’t see it?) we said our farewells. I believe, “best weekend of my life” was mentioned quite a few times. I would recommend Stuttgart and the Wasen to everyone, especially if you get to stay with the Andrews Family! They made it truly unforgettable.
Prost! to new friends, experiences, perspectives, and memories!
Tickytacktickytacky. oi oi oi! (The only other chant from Volksfest I can remember)
Well, due to popular demand (my mother) I will actually start writing a blog, rather than periodically thinking about writing a blog. For all who are not aware, I am in Madrid, the capital of Spain, and of course the city of tapas, bullfights, discotecas, flamenco, siestas, and also seemingly the city of 3 million people that never want to sleep (except for our neighbors, but I’ll get to that later.) It quite literally has something new to offer everyday, and at all hours. This can be exhausting, but despite a bit of sensory overload in the beginning, I am really starting to embrace it.
This is probably the perfect time to be starting the blog because I have had exactly a month’s time to absorb much of what this city has to offer, so I can more accurately describe the idiosyncrasies of life in Madrid-as I perceive them anyway. In addition, my first out of Spain rendezvous begins tomorrow!! We are going to Stuttgart, Germany for the weekend for Volksfest and to visit a friend’s family-and I can’t begin to explain how excited I am!
This is hardly a sufficient opening post, but I have reading to do before class, and it is nearly impossible to concentrate when I have so many things to look forward to and think about. As I begin to think about all the things I need to write about on here it’s becoming apparent that I’m rather behind, so bear with me if there is some excessive, boring posting on my part-I just need to catch up! Also, I have a very unorganized, moderatley sporatic thought process, so my apologies if this blog is a bit scattered. In all honesty this blog will be as much of an instrument for me to remember my time here as it is to inform you all what I am up to.
Anywho, I have yet to come up with a good closing blog line..until then AMOR Y PAZ.