Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Las Cruces de Mayo in Andalucía

At the beginning of May, Spain has a “Puente”, meaning bridge where the last or first days of the week are holidays for extended weekend travel. My roommate, Caitlin, our friend, Melissa and I decided to take a spin around the south of Spain in the hopes of finding good weather. Strangely enough, Madrid is still pretty chilly this time of year. Taking advantage of the train system, we mapped out our route through some of the major cities in Andalucía: Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, and Malaga.  Unknownst to us, this was a very good week to travel in the southern region because of the cultural festival of “Las Cruces de Mayo”. The Red Crosses of May is exactly that; crosses of red flowers set up in the city squares with green and white tents serving beer and other beverages while playing what can only be assumed as traditional flamenco music. So basically, like so many other festivities it is an outdoor drinking party, aka  “Botellón” (but with long historical and cultural significance. I don't want to downplay these events. I just describe what I see...) It all feels very local, and plenty of people were out in Cordoba the first night we arrived, voting as to which cross was the best display (or maybe the best party). We spent the next day seeing the cathedral that was built on top of a Muslim mosque. The Christians built a Catholic cathedral right in the middle of the mosque, which they left standing, creating an interesting mix of cultures and religions inside. The walls are lined with row after row of red and white striped arches that are truly amazing. I will show you the pictures.

The Cordoba Mezquita
The Catholic part of the church inside the mosque
Cruces de Mayo in Cordoba
 Alcázar and Gardens, looks sort of like Eden, right?

From Cordoba, we continued on to Sevilla, the considered capital city of Andalucía. Sevilla has a very unique vibe, and it feels nothing at all like Madrid. The architecture and the vegetation are distinct. In Sevilla we could see the incredible gothic Cathedral (the 3rd largest church in the world) where Christopher Columbus is buried. We took a paseo by the bullfighting ring that runs along the river, spent the afternoon in the mindblowing royal gardens, and then stumbled upon what we mutually agreed might be the most impressive building in Spain: the Plaza de Espana. To describe this set-up?? Well have you seen the second of the new Star Wars movie? Remember that scene where Natalie Portman and Anakin were battling strange alien creatures in an arena? That arena was filmed at Sevilla’s Plaza de Espana. A semi-circle of connected buildings surrounds a mini-river where people can rent paddle boats to cruise under little bridges. On the buildings are tile murals of every major city in Spain. Definitely a must-see in Spain. One night we went to a flamenco show in some underground theatre. Lots of stomping and wrist-flicking. We’re so cultural.

View of the Cathedral from inside the The Giralda, the bell tower where we climbed 34 ramps to the top.

Sevilla's Royal GardensPlaza de España

   Malaga was rainy and mostly a disappointment. Having no beach days, we tried to see what there was so see, which was not much. But hey, I’m always up for checking out new Spanish cities, so no biggie.

Only pics I could find of Malaga...

But the most fun we had this trip was our stay in Granada. Not only did this city surprise me (I’d been twice before), but we met some super fun locals. Granada is intriguing because of its Moorish feel. We stayed near this cool part of town that was full of spice markets and tea shops. Then of course there’s the Alhambra, the massive Islamic fortress and palace. I’m assuming most people are somewhat familiar with this so I won’t go into detail, but see for yourself from the pictures. One memorable night we went to a happening Cruz de Mayo gathering and met some funny characters. Being in Spain long enough, we knew to buy wine and sprite on the way there, to mix our own spritzers at the party. With one cup between us, we were ready. Not long after arriving, 3 university guys approached us in typical fashion; asking us the time or where we were from or something like that. We struck up a conversation with them that lasted several hours wherein they told us the rich history of Granada and taught us how to “properly” flamenco dance (Ha. Ha.) They were quite entertaining and showed us foreigners a good time. Half the night I found myself thinking, “is this really my life right now? How lucky are we to have these kinds of experiences”. And it’s the truth. By being here a year, we get to see the sides of the country most people don’t and that is exactly why I moved abroad in the first place. J

The Alhambra

Making botellón with our new friends at The Cruces de Mayo in Granada.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa
  Around the week before Easter, we had our so “Spring Break”. Actually it is called “Semana Santa” = the Holy Week. Much more appropriate, but I couldn’t shake the Spring Break Americanism in me, so Spring Break it is. Let’s see… most people in the US spend their Spring Break lying on the beach, but I had the grand idea to go to even further north into the freezing European continent to Brussels and Amsterdam. Well I really wanted to see these places and time was running out, therefore we sucked it up and flew north. Besides the fact that I was completely underdressed (what was I thinking not bringing my normal winter coat??), I was really impressed with these cities. We ate chocolate and waffles in Brussels and toured the EU headquarters. We saw the  “Manneken Pis” statue and the “Atomium” futuristic complex. We had no problem walking around the city and plenty of nice strangers helped us get around. Of course, my favorite thing was all the chocolate stores with Easter eggs in so many flavors! We stocked up. We went to a local beer hall to try some of Belgian's well-loved beer, but I’m pretty sure I ended up giving mine away. Still after living in the land of cerveza, I have not grown to love beer! After hitting the highlights, we took the short train ride to Amsterdam.
  Amsterdam was unlike any city I’d been to before. I loved the canals, the bikes, the buildings built along the water. We took plenty of silly pictures in the Vondel Park before renting little bicycles to ride around town. It’s incredible how much faster you can cover a place on a bike! And the whole world uses them there so they have their own lanes and stop lights. We tried some delicious fries with sauces and pancakes at Amsterdam Pancakes! So good. We rode to the Flower Market and entered every cheese shop we found. We proceeded to sample every type on display (which is enough for a light dinner). The restaurants there were really diverse and it was fun to park your bike outside for a while to escape the cold and then speed away home. I was a little sad to leave such a lively place, but really enjoyed my non-traditional Spring Break in Belgium and the Netherlands!
 Easter Chocolate

 The Grand-Place

 Here he is in all his glory
 Even chocolate Manneken Pis
 The modern EU city inside of Brussels
 Last night in Brussels, cheers!
 Vondel Park, Amsterdam


 Outdoor market- somehow I didn't see these bejazzled men's jeans making it in the US.... 

 Eating fresh Dutch cookies. Even the maker posed. Nice.
our transportation

How many people can you size into the I amsterdam sign??? 

Lisbon, Portugal

How could I forget about my trip to Lisbon in early March? As I don’t know too many people who have traveled to Portugal, I can vouch that Lisbon is a really interesting city. Something I didn't expect was to find it completely covered in graffiti. Even more surprising- I liked it. It was more like art really, and it gave the city a kind of hip, funky vibe. We did not miss the chance to use it as a photoshop background. From Lisbon, you can also take a train to the nearby city of Sintra to see a colorful castle on top a mountain. Here are the pictures from our trip. If you do ever find yourself in this city, try the macaroons and pastries! 

A good place to get Lost- in the hilltop district of Bairro Alto. Great views!

Lisbon's urban art

Sintra Pena Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

sweet stop