The past two weekends I’ve spent traveling to two completely different regions of Spain. Two weekends ago I went with three other girls from my program to Barcelona, the biggest city in Cataluña, a region located right next to France on the Mediterranean Sea. This past weekend I went with all of the Tufts in Madrid/Alcalá program to Baeza, Úbeda and Córdoba, three cities in Andalucía, the southern-most region of Spain. Here’s a recap of my two trips:
Barcelona is an absolutely beautiful city, and it was a lot of fun to have the freedom to explore it for ourselves and choose what we wanted to see. We took an overnight bus from Madrid, arriving in Barcelona early in the morning on Thursday. We left on Sunday morning, so we had three days in the city. After a little mix-up with our hostel, we ended up renting our own little apartment for the three nights. It worked out perfectly because we had our own kitchen and bathroom and could leave our stuff there without having to worry about it getting stolen. Since it was pouring the day we got there, we decided to hit up the Picasso Museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona when he was younger, so the museum has a lot of his early works. It also had a bunch of paintings from his Blue Period and Cubist period. My favorite part of the museum was a room dedicated to a technical study Picasso had done of Valazquez’s Las Meninas. There were about 40 paintings in the room, most of which were interpretations Picasso had done of the individual characters in Las Meninas. At the end, there were 4 or 5 interpretations he had done of the complete work, of course in his own abstract/cubist style. Since I had just seen the real Las Meninas in the Prado a few weeks ago, it was amazing to see it interpreted in such a different way. Needless to say, I love Picasso even more after going to that museum. Friday was dedicated completely to Gaudi, the Catalan architect who led the modernist architectural movement in Cataluña during the late 1800s/early 1900s. His style is completely different from anything I’ve seen anywhere (not just in Spain). I think the word “wacky” would best describe it. He used a lot of different materials (glass, tiles, mosaics, metal, etc.) and lots of curvy lines and shapes. Instead of using straight lines, Gaudi liked to imitate the lines that exist in nature: the curves of waves, the slant of tree trunks, etc. to create a more organic art. My favorite building we saw was the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral that Gaudi designed and was working on building when he died. It’s still being worked on to this day (a lot of people call it “the world’s most visited construction site”) and it probably won’t be finished until the middle of the century. I think the Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen…it’s absolutely HUGE and the outside is so incredibly detailed and covered with wacky touches that you could look at it for hours. The inside was not as memorable because it was covered in construction equipment, but I was in love with the outside. It was very cool to see a Catholic church built in such a crazy, progressive style – not something you see every day. The other Gaudi buildings we went to that day were La Pedrera (a former apartment building that looks like a huge rock on the outside) and La Casa Battló, which were as equally wacky and modern as La Sagrada Familia. That night we explored La Rambla, a street in the middle of the city that leads down to the ocean and has a huge pedestrian walkway in the middle and tons of markets and shops, and went down to the Port Vell to get our first glimpse of the Mediterranean. On Saturday, we went to the Parc Guell, a Gaudi-designed park with amazing views of the city. The front entrance is filled with Gaudi creations: a huge winding park bench covered in mosaics (the longest park bench in the world!), little houses that looked like sand castles, mosaic-covered lizards that served as fountains, and wave-like walkways made out of leaning columns. After exploring the park for a while, we headed to the beach (yes, the beach in the middle of October). Since Barcelona is right on the water, there are a bunch of gorgeous beaches at the bottom of the city. It was a hot day so we got to lay out on the sand in our bathing suits and wade into the gorgeous blue Mediterranean Sea (my first time!). It was a perfect ending to our weekend. Even though I LOVED Barcelona and would go back there in a heartbeat, I'm glad that I'm not studying abroad there. Not only do many people speak Catalán there instead of Castellano Spanish, but it seemed like everywhere we went there were Americans or British people speaking English. I heard way more English there than I've ever heard in Madrid.
Even though it was pouring when we were driving to Andalucia, it was still gorgeous. Andalucia is where Spanish olives are grown, so we were driving through these fields with miles and miles of olive trees and little towns filled with whitewashed houses with red clay roofs. The first day of the trip we went to Baeza, a small town in Andalucía and looked at some churches and the old university building there. Frankly, it was a little too gross out to appreciate Baeza, but I’m sure it's beautiful during nice days. The next day we headed to Úbeda, another small town, and visited a few old churches, walked around the palm-tree lined plazas, and had a long lunch. That afternoon, we headed to Córdoba, which is one of the big three cities in Andalucía (along with Granada and Sevilla). Our first stop in Córdoba was Medina Azahar, the ruins of an old Arab city used back in the day of the 10th century when the Arabs ruled Spain from Andalucía. We got to see a lot of examples of Muslim architecture there, especially their trademark arches and incredibly ornate wall decorations. The next day, we went to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a castle built after the Christians had re-conquered Córdoba and driven the Arabs out. The best part of the castle was the gardens in the back, which were actually built in a very Islamic style (lots of paths, trees, fountains, etc.). An interesting fact about the Alcázar was that it was one of the big headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. After touring the Alcázar, we headed to La Mezquita, the most famous building in Córdoba. The Mezquita was built in the 10th century by the Arabs as an Islamic house of prayer. At one point the Mezquita was the second largest mosque in the world (after the mosque at Mecca). During the 13th century, a Catholic cathedral was built right in the middle of the Mezquita after the Christians had re-conquered Córdoba. So what you have now is a functioning cathedral in the middle of an ancient mosque. The Mezquita was my favorite part of Córdoba…the mosque part is filled with rows and rows of columns supporting yellow and red striped arches that seem to go on forever and the Muslim art is so incredibly detailed and ornate. It was gorgeous.
Even though traveling these past two weekends was a lot of fun, I'm looking forward to having this weekend to explore Madrid some more and get a lot of work done (I know, sadly there is schoolwork in Spain).