On Wednesday evening, after having spent part of the day in Gibraltar, we took a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. While we were in Morocco we toured the Kasbah in Tangier (a kasbah is a fortress), where we went to some of the shops and places like a spice shop, a bakery, and a place where Moroccan rugs are made. We went to the tip of Morocco where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. And on our tour of Tangier we went to the cave of the mythical hero Hercules that opens out to the Atlantic Ocean.
On Friday we drove from Tangier to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. While we were in Rabat we went to a mosque, witnessed one of the calls to prayer, and toured the Kasbah where we saw some of the shops and buildings and courtyards. Friday night, our last night in Morocco and on the trip, we went to Casablanca, Morocco’s richest and most contemporary city. We drove through the streets of Casablanca, including the Boulevard de Paris in the French quarter (Casablanca was once occupied by the French until Morocco gained its independence in 1956). We went to the Mosque of Hassan II, one of Morocco’s princes who died thirty years ago and was very popular. The Mosque is a beautiful place with a large tower that is the tallest structure in the city. It is located right on the Atlantic ocean.
During our brief stay in Morocco we experienced some wonderful meals. Our first day in Tangier we experienced some authentic Moroccan food – they use a lot of spices and vegetables in their food. And when we arrived in Morocco on Wednesday evening we went to a restaurant and had chicken tagine (a tagine is basically a type of bowl that Moroccans serve a lot of their food in). We also got to have some mint tea at lunch on Thursday (it is good for digestion).
Wednesday we went to the world famous Prado museum. We saw multiple pieces of famous art that has been around for hundereds of years. In preparation for our trip, we spent one of our Jbip classes studying some of the most famous pieces of art. One of the best pieces that we saw was The Three Graces by Ruben. An interesting fact that we learned that two of the graces in the painting are actually his first and second wife. You are able to see their faces but the third grace has her back to the audience. She was his mistress. This was just one of the great pieces of art we saw at the museum.
Wednesday we went to Gibraltar. This was completely different from Spain. The people here spoke English and used pounds sterling as currency. After having lunch on our own, we rode a cable car to the top of the rock of Gibraltar to see the famous Barbary apes. Gibraltar is the only place in all of Europe where monkey live in the wild. These apes are not actually apes but monkeys. They have evolved over hundreds of years to lose their tale as a means of survival. We encountered many of these monkey while in Gibraltar. After seeing the panoramic views from the top of the rock we explored a cave and saw the rest of the country. Gibraltar was are last excursion before heading to Africa!
We went to the valley of the fallen on Thursday. This monument was very impressive. It is dedicated to all who died in the Spanish civil war. The most famous person allegedly buried here was Franco. There is a controversy on whether the remains are actually Franco’s. The remains are in a basilica that was carved into the side of the mountain. There is a giant cross that is at the top of the mountain that can be see from very far away. What we all found interesting was that we have always been taught that Franco was such a terrible person and yet he had such a spectacular tomb. We found out that half of Spain viewed Franco as a hero. This was a fact that i found hard to comprehend. Nevertheless the Valley of the Fallen was an amazing place.
During our stay in Spain we have visited a small bullring in Granada and the bullfighting museum and large bullring in Sevilla. The bullfighting museum consisted of authentic bullfighting attire, many bulls´ heads on the walls, bullfighting capes, and other paintings and artifacts that explained the history of bullfighting in Spain. We saw a large bullring in Sevilla, and our tour guide, Paloma, told us a lot about bullfighting – for example, she explained that the bulls are killed after the bullfights and are then eaten (many people eat the bulls´ tails). Bullfighting is a national pastime in Spain, although some people do not like it because the bulls are killed after the fights.
Flamenco is Spain´s national dance. On Wednesday, our second full day in Madrid, we had dinner and saw a flamenco show at a restaurant in Madrid called Villa Rosa. It was like dinner theatre. After our dinner three dancers, a singer, and a musician came out and performed. The dancers were two women and a man. They danced with great intensity and passion (like the Furia Hispania or Spanish fury that our book on soccer, La Roja, talked about). Many of us concur that the flamenco show has been our favorite part of the trip so far. We hoped that after the show the dancers would be willing to dance with us and maybe teach us flamenco dancing, but they were getting ready to do their next show. But it was a great way to experience authentic Spanish culture through the art of flamenco dancing.
On Sunday we visited the Alhambra, Granada´s most famous site. It sits atop a hill looking over the city of Granada. We toured all of the rooms, the courtyards, and the gardens and went to the Generalife (the summer house), which is near the Alhambra. The Alhambra is significant because it represents a time in Spain´s history when the Muslims conquered Spain and remained in power for more than seven hundred years. The walls of the Alhambra are covered in inscriptions from the Koran (Qu´ran), the holy book of the Muslim faith. (The Muslim conquest of Spain began in 711 A.D. and ended in 1492 with the beginning of the Reconquista or Reconquest by Christians.) The Alhambra has many beautiful features, including courtyards with reflecting pools. A notable theme throughout the Alhambra is the use of geometrical lines and shapes in its construction.
Today we had a really great experience! We went to the Escuala de Hosteleria y Turismo- We started out our trip by going on a scavenger hunt in the city to learn about some of the important buildings. We were given brief explanation of the site and then had to act out what historical event had happened. For example the town plaza had a statue of Don Quixote and we had to be pretend to be him and fight a windmill. One of the best parts about this was that our tour guides were students from the school and were practing giving tours in English with us. It was a lot of fun especially getting to interact with college students from Madrid.
The day got even better when we had cooking lesson and were taught how to make paella by one of the best chefs. We all gathered into the kitchen and watched as he made the dish. The paella was cooked in a specially designed pan that was the size of about four large pizza pans. By the time each of us had are plates served,there was still over half a pan left. In addition to the paella we had croquettes, gazpacho, flan, and sangria. We were given a three course meal and served. Just like the tour guides, our servers were practicing both their English and serving. There couldn’t have been a better way to have paella.
After ten hours of traveling we have finally made it to Madrid! We got in around 11 o´clock in the morning and had the entire day to ourselves to explore the city. We broke up into separate groups and went on a couple of mini adventures. Some of us tried churros and hot chocolate while other tried tapas, both of which are some of the local specialties. In addition to trying the new food we walked through some of the different plazas and went shopping for souvenir. Some of us have even been trying to practice our Spanish. It was an exciting first day in this new city.
Our trip to Spain and Morocco has started this week in Madrid and included stops in Segovia, Escorial, and a trip to Alcala de Henares for a cooking demonstration and lunch at the cooking school. On Friday we began the really cold day with a tour of the town where Miguel de Cervantes (who wrote Don Quixote) lived. We did a game in which we were divided into 2 teams – orange and blue – and were asked to recreate various scenes from Spanish culture and history. Our guides were students from the university who were studying tourism. They showed us the various sites of the city, including the home of Cervantes and churches. The blue team ended up winning the game. Following the game and the tour, we were shown around the cooking school and watched chefs prepare our paella that we ate during our lunch at the school. The paella was delicious! It is truly an authentic Spanish dish, with saffron, fish, and other ingredients. We were served gazpacho, a cold Spanish soup, and flan.
Prior to our trip to Alcala de Henares today, yesterday we went to the Alcazar in Segovia. The Alcazar is a fairytale castle that is set atop the hill. Inside there are knights´ uniforms, paintings, and beautiful stained-glass windows. Outside the castle you can look down into the lush greenery and see the surrounding countryside. You can also see peacocks walking around. The Alcazar is probably Segovia´s most famous tourist attraction, as it resembles a scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Wizard of Oz, and many other depictions of storybook castles.
The weather here has been very cold, and we have done a lot of walking through the streets of Madrid and the other places we have visited. But we are enjoying our stay here in Spain. On Saturday we will be off to Granada, where we will tour the Alhambra on Sunday.