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Tag: Granada

Halfway done??? What???

Halfway done??? What???

This weekend I took my first solo trip. I spent the weekend in a hostel in Granada where I explored the city and built relationships with the others in my hostel. As I wrote this, I was on the bus home from Granada; I went first to Madrid and then I had a shorter ride back to Salamanca. I am exhausted from this weekend, but it was so wonderful and will absolutely be a trip I remember for a long time.

I began traveling at about 8:30 on Thursday evening, and I arrived in Granada at 6:30 AM on Friday. Overnight but travel wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable way to do this weekend, but I was able to spend the full day on Friday exploring Granada because of it. My hostel was about a 35 minute walk away from the bus station, so after a cup of cafe con leche I hauled myself and my backpack towards my home for the weekend. Throughout the semester I have been collecting photos of graffiti that has caught my eye, and the graffiti in Granada did not disappoint.

It was pretty early and I technically wasn’t supposed to check in to my hostel yet, so on my way I just wandered, took my time, and took in the sights of the city. I lived in the neighborhood Albaicín, which is located above the city center which means that it has some of the most amazing views you can find in Granada. I stumbled upon a beautiful view on the way to my hostel and decided to sit and journal for a little bit. I wanted to spend a weekend by myself in part because I wanted to relax and recharge, but also to reflect on the semester as it has gone thus far.

In the past few years I have realized how introverted I am, so even though I am very social and love spending time around others, it drains me of energy. I anticipated a weekend where I didn’t really talk to other people and would just be spending time with myself, but what I did not anticipate was how wonderful my hostel would be. I spent the weekend in Makuto’s backpackers hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I have stayed in. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. It still wasn’t technically time to check in, but one of the employees got me set up with a shower and breakfast. In all other hostels I have stayed in the people living there keep to themselves, but at Makuto there were multiple rooms designed just for people to hang out and be in community with one another.

After I got showered and changed, I went back out into the city to explore. I walked around the city center, ate some lunch, stumbled upon a beautiful garden, and wandered. The beautiful thing about traveling alone is that I was able to wander without a destination without having to be mindful of what others are wanting to do. I just walked without any intentions, and experienced the sights of the city. After checking in later, I took a siesta (because I am now adjusting to the relaxed Spanish lifestyle and get a little cranky if I don’t get my daily nap oops), and began to talk to some of the people in my hostel. I ended up going for tapas with a group of 5 people– it felt like a group of friends though, rather than people I had just met. We went to a few different tapas bars, and spent the night enjoying each others company.

The next day, rather than going out by myself, I went on a journey to the Alhambra with a few new friends from the hostel. We didn’t have tickets, but there are a lot of places you can visit for free! We spent a few hours there, but we could have spent the entire day because it is so huge. Afterwords, we got chocolate con churros and pizza for lunch which was exactliy what I needed at that moment. We then relaxed at the hostel for a bit, before it was time for the guided walking tour!! Every night at about 6, the hostel provides a free walking tour of the neighborhood, which takes you to all the beautiful viewpoints. The last viewpoint was on a MOUNTAIN!! We climed a mountain for one of the most beautiful views I have ever experienced. We came home, and it was time for dinner. The hostel has a family dinner every night, and last night we had paella. We didn’t do much for the rest of the night, besides spend time with each other, and it was so wonderful.

I miss my mom. A lot. I miss my friends and family, I miss Chicago, I miss the kids I work with, I miss my apartment, I miss my dog– I miss home. A few days ago, I talked to my mom over facetime and I told her how much I missed her and how hard it is to be thousands of miles away from her. She asked me, “do you regret going to Spain?” because she said it worries her, how much I miss home. I was actually talking about this with a friend a few days before my mom and I talked, but I didn’t come to Spain to have an easy time, I came here to learn and grow. I’m not in Spain to feel comfortable, because if everything were comfortable I wouldn’t be growing. I have been in Spain for two months now, and these months have been incredible but they have also been so difficult. Despite the hardships, though, I have grown so much in both my Spanish but also as a person. I just spent the weekend in Granada by myself without having second thoughts. Two months ago, I would not have been able to just up and go to a city I didn’t know for the weekend without another person, but here I am.

This upcoming week marks the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, but it also marks the beginning of me walking the Camino de Santiago. For about ten days I will be walking a section of the ancient pilgrimage trail by myself. I won’t be fully alone because there are going to be many other pilgrims walking the trail, especially since it will be semana santa. I have gotten all my gear, bus tickets, know where I will be sleeping each night, and now it just needs to be time. This is something that I never would have been able to do prior to being here.

I may miss my family endlessly, and I may want nothing more than to be in my apartment surrounded by my best friends, but if I were to have spent this semester in Chicago I would have had a regular semester and wouldn’t have gone so far out of my comfort zone and wouldn’t have grown as much as I have. I miss the comfort of my life in Chicago, I miss the monotony of every day life: walking to class, taking the train to work, being at the IC all night; however, I am so thankful for the experiences I have had, because without them I would be stagnant rather than growing. 

Ancient History

Ancient History

Take any Islamic Civilization or Islamic Art class and you will inevitably study Granada. Granada and Córdoba have some of the best conserved buildings from before the Catholic Kings took over Spain, the best examples of which are the Gran Mezquita de Córdoba (in Córdoba) and the Alhambra (in Granada). Walking through some of the neighborhoods here puts you in touch with buildings and streets older than the idea of exploring the Americas. In the U.S., if something’s really really old it might have been built in the 1800s. Here, that’s new and shiny.

Last week we took a trip to Córdoba for our Art and Architecture class so that we could see Madinat Al-Zahra, the city built exclusively for the Caliphate of Córdoba by Abd Al-Rahman III, and the Gran Mezquita de Córdoba.

In 929,  the emir Abd Al-Rahman III decided that since he was so rich, he didn’t have to be ruling a measly emirate, still linked to Damascus, so he declared himself the caliph and established the Caliphate of Córdoba. After doing this, he decided to build a city for himself. This city is Madinat Al-Zahra, outside of Córdoba. It was built with the finest materials and adorned with the finest decoration, because it was meant to be a city of brilliance, the symbol of the caliphate’s power. As time wore on and the caliphate was divided into the Taifas, then defeated by the Almorávides, and then the Almorhades, and then the Catholic Kings, Madinat Al-Zahra was abandoned and buried in the sands of time. Until some farmers outside of Córdoba happened upon some stones too perfectly arched to be natural, and caused an archeological uproar. The mythical city of Madinat Al-Zahra had been found. Now the city is a museum, and you can visit it and walk on the very floors that the former kings of Andalucía laid. It’s unreal. I’ve never felt so much like I was in a history book. In my classes we study the Independent Emirate, the Caliphate, the Reigns of the Taifa and their art, but it is something very different to be able to stand there and run your fingers across the deeply carved capitals of the red marble columns.

Being in the mosque was another experience. I’ve seen iconic pictures of the forest of red-and-white striped arches printed on the glossy pages of books, and to stand looking up at them gave me chills. Not only is the mosque still largely intact from when it was finished during the Caliphate, but parts of the Christian church it was built on top of still exist as well. The grandeur and the detail are unlike anything else, but the part that really blew my mind was that it was still standing. Through the years of Andalusian turmoil, it is still standing, and around us swirled the whispers of the worshippers who had come through the ages, the whispers of the architects and kings who shaped Spanish history.

There is something magical about being one of millions to have laid your feet down in the same place, and to have stood in awe. There is something beautiful about stopping to gaze and reflect in a building that has held thousands of years of human beauty and suffering and discovery and questions.


Portico and arches at Madinat Al-Zahra outside of Córdoba, Spain


8 + 8 + 8

8 + 8 + 8

There are 24 hours in a day. Those 24 hours can be divided into three sets of eight hours. The Spanish day essentially follows the structure of 8 + 8 + 8. Eight hours of rest, eight hours of work, and eight hours of free time.

We’re thinking that we are not going to possibly have enough time to get all our schoolwork done and explore the city and absorb the culture and travel, but eight hours a day for free time is a lot. And that’s just the five-day work week.
It’s interesting that Spaniards think of the day this way, with free time and time to enjoy oneself built into the routine. In the U.S. it seems like we know that we need to be at work or school for eight hours a day, but then we have to come home and do more work and more things and if we don’t totally get eight hours of sleep then that’s the way it goes. We enjoy life so much less than we should.

Here, things are more relaxed. Whenever we leave to go on a walk or to go out for food, our host señora says “se disfrute mucho”, which means “enjoy yourself to a great extent”. Here, the meals are slower. They are meant to be cooked with love and shared with friends over good conversation. Life is lived in the street so that it can be shared, so that experiences can be had and friendships can be made. Life here is about enjoyment and living in the moment.

If nothing else, this is what I want to bring home with me. To remember to let myself enjoy life, and to remember to divide my time so that I can equally feed my body and my soul, as well as my obligations to society.

First Impressions

First Impressions

¡Hola! Finalmente estoy en Granada.

First of all, Spain is beautiful. When we first landed in Madrid, we got to see this beautiful sunrise made up of layers of orange and gold and yellow with the silhouettes of the mountains in front of it. From Madrid we went to Málaga, which is a coastal town with a lot of palm trees. We didn’t see a whole lot of it because we were all basically vegetables from jet lag and travel, but we did get to go to el centro and see a really beautiful cathedral and a building from when Málaga was a port for this region.

From Málaga we drove to Granada. It’s probably one of the only hour and a half road trips in the world where you see a beach at the beginning and snow-capped mountains at the end. Granada. Is. Beautiful. It’s in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and almost every home and building has views of the mountains and the Alhambra. Granada is a medieval city, so many of the buildings are extremely old, and much of the city retains a lot of its history from when it was home to los arabes, los judios, y los católicos. A lot of the buildings are white with red tile roofs, and it actually looks like paradise. Much of the city was constructed before cars, so the streets are very narrow and change direction a lot. The streets also don’t have prominent signs, and nothing’s on a grid, so it’s somewhat difficult to navigate. I do not envy the drivers around here at all.

There are a few things I’ve noticed so far. Spaniards are all about second breakfast: you eat a small breakfast, then halfway through the morning everyone has another cup of coffee and a snack. Siesta is also serious business. Everything shuts down and everyone goes home to eat lunch and take a rest. Right now it’s siesta time, and it’s practically silent outside. Lunch is the biggest meal here, and it’s very important that everyone gets to eat with their families (not unlike dinner in the States). Dinner is a lot more casual, and people often go out for drinks and tapas for the evening meal. Vegetarians are uncommon here, and if you say that you want something vegetarian, it usually ends up including ham. However, my host mom is an excellent vegetarian cook, which works out well because my roommate and I are both vegetarians.

Spaniards have a very odd relationship with their floor. You can’t put things like bags on the floor because it’s bad luck, and you can’t put clothes on the floor because the floor is considered to be dirty. No one goes barefoot in the house for the same reason, but people clean their floors all the time. It’s very rude if you walk around without slippers or shoes on in the house, but my roommate and I keep forgetting that. Whoops.

Let’s hope I remember to wear my slippers and be very clear about not wanting ham on anything I eat. ¡Hasta luego!

Counting Down

Counting Down

The rest of Loyola is back on their grind, and I’m at home in the frozen Midwest for the next two weeks until I can finally land in sunny Spain. Thank goodness for Netflix.

Somewhere in that period of time I should probably find a suitcase and maybe pack and brush up on my Spanish and find a gift for my host mom. Also, Netflix.

I’ve been planning on going to Spain since before I even got to college, and I’ve been stalking Granada on Wikipedia, lonely planet, Google Maps, architecture websites, etc… I’ve been excited about going before I even applied. But now that I have all this free time to think, I’m starting to get a little nervous. Will the moon look the same from across the Atlantic? Will my Spanish be good enough? Will my host mom and I get along? Will I miss my cat too much?

I expressed these feelings to one of my friends who studied abroad last semester and he told me that yeah, I’m going to be nervous because I’m about to go live in a country that I’ve never been to for an extended period of time. But he also said that I absolutely need to do it and I’m going to have the experience of a lifetime. I don’t think that we can grow as people unless we do things that make us nervous and uncomfortable, and I know that right now it’s time for me to grow some. I believe Eve Ensler when she says that we should take trains (in this case, planes) by ourselves to places we have never been, and I believe Shiloh when they say that if I have a heart, I have a home.

Despite the fact that I’m freaking out a little (a lot), I’m reminding myself that I’m going to be in the same city as my favorite building, I’m going to be speaking a language that I love, and I’m going to be surrounded by so much beauty and knowledge I don’t know how I’ll handle it. It’s also warm there (score!). The fact that I feel nervous never ends up eclipsing the fact that I feel so lucky.