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.
Just a few pictures to give you a taste of Stuttgart, I will post the rest on flickr for anyone interested.
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.
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