Archive | March, 2011

¡Cómo vuela el tiempo!

27 Mar

After spending a week traveling in Italy, I returned to Spain and turned on my cell phone again (got to be careful with those international roaming fees!) only to find myself in March 27. How could it possibly be the end of March already? I’ve decided to blame Carnaval.

Naturally, my first thought was my blog (heh.. yea right) and how I need to get this thing caught up to date. So, rewind with me – if you will – back to the beginning of the month. Due to the Día de Andalucia, I was traveling through Toledo and Salamanca, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Central Spain.

TOLEDO:

Our first destination out of Madrid was about an hour’s bus ride south to Toledo, the capital of the autonomous community of Castilla La Mancha (think Don Quijote).

After trying unsuccessfully to book a hotel room (I kept getting results for Toledo, Ohio of all places!) and spending countless hours riding the Madrid metro trying to get a train or bus, we finally made it to Madrid and on our third try, we found a pension — a very cheap hotel.

We quickly set out through the steep, narrow, cobblestone streets in search of the main monuments – the Alcazar, the gothic Cathedral, and Zocodover square, among many others. One of main attractions of Toledo is it’s unique cultural history, where Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures coexisted – each leaving its own impact on the city.

After eating some sweet Mazapan, taking a tour of the nightlife and spending the following day inside the Cathedral and the Alcazar, we were back to Madrid for the next night and off again to:

SALAMANCA:

Located to the north-west of Madrid in the autonomous community of Castilla y León, Salamanca is home to the oldest and most important university in Spain. The city itself is nicknamed La Ciudad Dorada (“the Golden City”), due to it’s sandstone  buildings, which mostly date back to the renaissance period.

There are many things to see in Salamanca and as we wound our way through the streets we found The Plaza Mayor, La Casa de Las Conchas, the Old and New Cathedral, along with some souvenir shops where we bought University of Salamanca t-shirts and I proceeded to break about 5 shot glasses and a plate. whoops!

Then it was out to see what the infamous night life of Salamanca had to offer us. Being a university town, Salamanca is known for its college bar scenes, but as we happened to be there on a Monday night, I didn’t expect too much to be happening.

After finding stumbling upon a 100-team peer pong tournament, several chupiterías, and making new friends who showed us to the best discotecca, I was thoroughly convinced that all rumors about the nightlife were true.

The next day, we headed out to wander the old streets of The University of Salamanca, which was opened in 1218. The intricately detailed facades are covered in red script, looking like something out of Harry Potter. And we were determined to find the lucky frog, which is located on the facade of the main building atop the head of a skull. The legend has it that those students who spot the frog (which is much smaller than you would think) are supposed to have good luck on their exams. Spotting the frog brought us good luck too and we easily traveled back to Jaén.

My Lesson of the Day: It’s a lot easier to fall behind than it is to get caught back up!

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¡Feliz día de Andalucía!

6 Mar

Happy Andalucía Day, among many other things! This past Monday — February 28th — marked the annual holiday selected to honor the most populous (and best!) autonomous community of Spain: Andalucía!

Located in the very south of Spain, Andalucía runs along the coast of the Mediterranean, dipping down to Morocco to form the straight of Gibraltar and curving up along the Atlantic Ocean to touch the southern boarder of Portugal. It is the second largest autonomous community in Spain and is made up of eight provinces: Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba, Cádiz, Malaga, Huelva, Almeria and my own Jaén.

Together they form a landscape that is as diverse as it is beautiful — including many mountain ranges, the river valley of the Guadalquivir, the tranquil coastline along the Medditeranean, the windy waters of the Atlantic, the deserts of Almeria and finally the sweeping hills dotted in olive and citrus trees.

Historians believe that Andalucia was the spot of the first inhabitants in Europe and the autonomous community got its name from the Arabic name Al-Andalus, which is what the territory was called during Muslim rule from 711-1492. The Muslim influence can still be seen in much of the architecture in Andalucia – especially in Granada, which was the last Muslim stronghold to fall to the Christian reconquest.

The area has a lot to offer and I have only just barely begun to explore all the cities and countrysides. But ironically, to celebrate the Día de Andalucía, we headed away from the region to do some longer trips in central Spain. What else is one to do with a 4-day weekend?

My Lesson of the Day: The Andalucían town of Cádiz is believed to be the oldest city in Western Europe that has been continually inhabited. It was officially founded in 1104 B.C. but the Greeks believe it was founded by Hercules himself.