Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Barcelona, Sagunto, and the kickoff to Fallas

After hearing so much about the city, I can finally say that I’ve seen Barcelona. I have several friends who have studied abroad there and they had nothing but great things to say about it. For me the city was full of pros and cons.
            Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain (the first being Madrid and the third being my city, Valencia). I was only there overnight and I saw the highlights but I will definitely be making a return trip in April to dance and to make sure I get the full Barcelona experience. Barcelona is huge. They say it’s the least Spanish city in Spain and the most European. They speak mostly Catalan followed by English and even though my friends and I insisted we spoke Spanish, we were normally spoken to in English. This was pretty frustrating but confirmed what I already knew; that I made the right choice in choosing Valencia. The city was also too big for me to have considered it a home for four months like I do Valencia.
            I toured the gothic neighborhood which was the seat of the Crown of Aragon prior to its union with Castilla. I had a great tour guide and enjoyed learning about all of the history. I saw the Gothic Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Sea as well as the seat of the government.

I also went on a modernism tour where we looked at a few of the works of Antoní Gaudí including La Sagrada Familia (which is under construction until 2026). I was blown away by Gaudí’s works. He was incredibly innovative and truly thought of everything. 

I felt really nerdy during this weekend as I soaked in everything. I also spent some time wandering down Las Ramblas (an open street market) and enjoying the port. Then I bid farewell to Barcelona for the time being.

            With my Spanish culture class I went on a field trip to the town of Sagunto. Sagunto was the most important port city on the Mediterranean during the time of the Romans. It is still well known for its remnants of the Roman way of life and fortunately for me, it sits just 20 minutes north of Valencia by train.
            There is an amphitheater which is still in use today, a museum that showed the daily lives of the Romans, and castle ruins up on the hill that dominate the landscape. On our walk up the hill I saw my first Spanish squirrel. It was a big moment for me.
Once at the top, my adventurous side took over and I climbed to the top of the castle. It was very peaceful and the sprawling views did not disappoint. On one side I could see the mountains and the quaint town and on the other side, the industry of the port. It was definitely worth the trek and the trip to the town.

The Fallas Museum and La Crida
            Valencia has the third biggest party in the world after Carnaval in Brazil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This party is called Fallas and it is the first thing people talk about when you mention Valencia. No seriously, it’s the first thing I’m normally asked when I say I’m new to Valencia. “Are you excited for Fallas?” Yes, I am super excited but I get the feeling that it’s one of those things where you truly don’t know until you experience it.
            This week I went to the Fallas museum. A Falla is a huge sculpture (made of wood, paper-mache, textiles, etc.) that serves as a criticism important for that year and one is made by each neighborhood. At the end of the week of Fallas they are all burned but one. A piece (called a Ninot) of that one goes to the museum. It is interesting to see the evolution of the Fallas and I can’t wait to see this year’s in person.
            This weekend was also La Crida or the kickoff to the Fallas month. They had the first mascleta, a big firecracker exhibition in the town square, and a ceremony at the Towers (Torres de Serrano) to welcome in the season. This was also followed by fireworks. That is going to be a common theme this month. There will definitely be a big post to come once the craziness of Fallas begins.

Friday, February 13, 2015

To Córdoba, Sevilla, and back

Time continues to fly by here in Spain. This past week I went on my first adventure without the whole study abroad group. Four friends joined me as I travelled to Córdoba and Sevilla.
La Mezquita in Córdoba takes the title for my favorite site I’ve seen so far. The red and white striped arches seem endless and like they are something out of wonderland.

Then all of a sudden there is a massive, bright, cathedral. The mix of old and slightly-less-old was amazing and, though it was chilly in there, I could have stayed inside for hours more. I can’t imagine attending church there every week, I doubt it would ever get old. Córdoba also offered a roman bridge (beautifully lit at night) and delicious tapas.

Sevilla was also riddled with history. I only wish I had had more time there. We stayed in a great hostel across the river from the historic center. We visited a bustling market, the Torre del Oro, the bullfighting ring, the Cathedral, the Real Alcazar palace, and the Plaza de España. Inside the cathedral we accidentally found the tomb of Christopher Columbus. I say accidentally because I hadn’t done much research before hopping on a train. I think it makes the surprises all the better. We climbed la Giralda, a bell tower from the original mosque, and saw the sprawling views of the city, I could have walked around the palace gardens all day, and I could see myself taking a picnic to the Plaza de España every weekend. 

As I said, my only regret of this trip is that I didn’t have more time. And yet, at the end I was so ready to go back to Valencia. During the many legs of the journey back, I kept thinking how ready I was to be home. Valencia has already become another home to me and travel makes going back all the sweeter.