Gibraltar Rocked! (Sevilla & Cordoba too)
No worries if you don’t get my title. Allow me to explain my witty pun. This past weekend, all of AIFS loaded the coach bus yet again for another excursion. I have to be honest and say I was partially dreading this trip solely because I had just returned from Switzerland and had less than two full days to catch up on life. However it didn’t take long to do a complete 180, and now I can easily say this was one of my favorite weekends yet!
Around 1 pm on Friday afternoon, the bus dropped us off in Gibraltar under a sky that was seconds from opening up. It did in fact rain a good portion of the time we were there, but none of us let the weather affect our moods. Turns out Gibraltar is actually owned by the U.K. therefore we needed to show our passports at border control upon walking into the city. Once we ventured over the runway (not kidding, you literally walk through the exterior of Gibraltar’s airport) everything was in English-SUCCESS! Also, everything was in pounds-FAIL. Luckily we had brought a lunch from home and didn’t really need to buy anything. Or so we thought. A few of us found a milkshake kiosk that could not be resisted, however the women who owned it were extremely friendly and accepted our euro, which we later found out that most places would. I’ll never forget you, Toblerone milkshake. Over two hours of free time is a dangerous thing. It allows enough time to wander far, far away, or to get extremely frustrated attempting to find cover from the rain. I obviously did the latter for quite some time until we stumbled upon a glass blowing exhibit/showroom. Everything was so pretty and I even took mental note of all the pieces I want as wedding gifts! (a girl can dream,right?) (I mean the wedding, not the gifts). What the hell were we supposed to do now? It seemed like the only thing in Gibraltar was the plaza we were stranded in, and we still had an hour to kill. After venturing to the opposite side of the plaza, we realized there was indeed an exit which lead to an abundance of cobblestone streets and places to windowshop. I suppose it would have been nice if we had realized this earlier but so be it, at least I got a milkshake. We met back up with the group and were divided into two groups while boarding a hybrid of a minivan and a bus; finally time to do something cool.
Our tour guide/minivanbus driver, whose name is long gone from my memory was about to take us to the rock of Gibraltar, AKA, the reason we were there in the first place. The rock is about 14,000 feet high, and consists of the most amazing caves I’ve ever seen. Granted I haven’t been to a surplus of caves, but these were legitimately awesome. The drive up the rock was about 3 miles but we made a slight pitstop at the halfway mark for a photo op. Believe me when I say I’m a sucker for geography, so when it was made clear that we were at the southwestern most point in Europe I nearly freaked. We could legitimately see Africa from where we were standing at “Europa Point.” Only ten minutes to look around didn’t seem long enough, but time was a wastin’ and there were monkeys to be seen.
DID I SAY MONKEYS?! YES, YES I DID. 300 Wild monkeys, living in the caves of the rock of Gibraltar and entertaining thousands of daily visitors including myself. Before the van even stopped to let us encounter the monkeys firsthand, one had hoisted its way into the open window on the driver’s side. You can bet your last dollar that I was the first one out of the van the second it came to a full stop. And there they were in all their glory-running around like….well,monkeys. Because the monkeys travel in packs, there were only about 10 in our immediate vicinity. We were warned that they are known to jump and to just keep an eye out. Clearly I was not fully aware of their capabilities, and crouching three feet in front of one to take a picture was all it took for one to grab hold of my hood, and maneuver its way up my back and head. I think I pulled my neck with my initial reaction to jerk my head around to fling it off, but that lil fella had quite the grip, and decided to work all the way up my head by clawing at my scalp. Yum, hepatitis and herpes B! This all happened so fast, but I vaguely remember and was told later on that I managed to yell “it’s killing me!” which then cued our tour guide to pry the monkey off me. Highlight of my life right there.
That ordeal will go down as one of my fondest memories ever, and I wasn’t sure if the weekend could get any better at this point, but alas, Seville was incredible. If I hadn’t chosen Granada for study abroad, I would have gone to Seville. Not to mention it was finally starting to feel like springtime here in Spain, and everything is that much better when there is no need for a winter jacket. At 7:30 p.m. we arrived to our wonderful hotel, and got ready for dinner. So.Many.Vegetables. I literally went buckwild piling on the veggies as if I had never seen/nor will I see them again. When I say I had vegetables at my dinner at the residencia, I hope you know I mean french fries or potatoes, so please understand how exciting this was. A small group of us decided to go to a bar for the evening. Finally got a much anticipated (and overpriced) mojito. The bar felt very Barcleona-esque, and of course I got to see every bit of it because of the lack of people. I will never adjust to the time in which people go out in this country. Grandma just can’t handle the European lifestyle at all. Plus, I didn’t mind having a good night’s sleep before a three hour walking tour the next morning.
The tour took us to Plaza de España which is a plaza located in Parque de María Luisa and now used as government buildings. The grey skies did not make for ideal photos but it was still gorgeous and a bit overwhelming in regards to the size. The buildings are lined with tiled alcoves of each province of Spain and decorated to the specific characteristics of the region. The park also extends beyond the walls of the buildings to incorporate plenty of orange trees, flowers, park benches and fountains. Muy bonita! After, it was off to the Alcázar, an old Moorish palace that was similar, yet not as breathtaking as the Alhambra. We learned that many of the materials were recycled from the Romans, which was a good explanation as to why the pillars were made of different marbles, and were different sizes. The palace also focused on the acceptance of all religions, and Christian and Jewish symbols could be seen in many of the rooms. And lastly, a view of the Cathedral of Sevilla. You know what they say, “if you’ve seen one gothic church, you’ve seen ’em all.” Or maybe that’s just what I say. I’ll give it credit for being magnificent, plus the Gothic period is one of my favorites, but If I see one more church I will throw a tantrum. Also, If you are reading my blog to gain accurate historical information, I apologize in advance because that’s as much as you’re gunna get out of me. I’m not here to teach, I’m here to entertain!
Of course no tour is complete without nearly sending me into cardiac arrest, so to go out with a bang we climbed up 33 flights of
stairs ramp (still difficult) to make it to the bell tower of the Cathedral and get a view of the city. I stayed up there about 10 minutes to soak it all in, and to allow my heartbeat to return to a normal pace before descending and anticipating the buckling of my knees. Free at last, free at last! Time to explore the city at my own pace and enjoy the sun that finally decided to peek its head out. Soon it was 75 degrees as me, Allie and Ruth perused Seville. We got lost, got yelled at for sampling ice cream without making a purchase, made up an incredible rap song and returned to Plaza de España. Once we finally found our way, we were dead set on renting a paddle boat which allowed us to row around the interior of the buildings for only 5 euro. It didn’t take long for me to cross professional rower off my list. I was 100% incapable of moving the boat in the right direction and was sick and tired of strangers yelling at me in Spanish, so I handed the oars and my pride over to Allie who had clearly had some practice. For 35 minutes we (semi) circled around the moat-like thingamajig with the sun beating down. A perfect way to end the day if you ask me.
Tired and achey we walked back to the hotel, only to immediately venture back out for a well known gelato shop. My feet may have been in agony, but I make sacrifices for things and people I love and this was no exception. It was as delicious as the reviews said, and these people (unlike the evil lip-linered troll from before) allowed us to try as many of their 40+ flavors as we wanted. And thus concludes a marvelous afternoon. I swear my intention to go out later that night was there. I was dressed and everything, but then..someone turned on the T.V. Slowly, our group of party-goes was morphing into the “I’m gunna stay in and watch some National Geographic” crowd. It didn’t take much convincing before I was one of those people, in pajamas, watching a special on heroin addiction.
Before I knew it I was back on the bus, wishing I had a few more days in Seville. Our last stop of the weekend was Cordóba, settled on the Guadalquivir river. Yet another city where the Jews and Muslims once were thriving communities only to be kicked out. Surprise? Cordóba which at one time was the most populated city in the world, is also the birthplace of Socrates and Maimonides. That’s a pretty big deal! Almost immediately we were taken on a tour through the “Juderia” or Jewish quarter, that today holds one of only two synagogues preserved in Spain. The difference between this synagogue and the one seen in Toledo was that this one actually resembled a synagogue, you know, sans crucifix and patrolling nuns. Our tour guide really knew her stuff and it was nice to finally see some Jewish signs of life. These were some of the narrowest streets I had ever walked through. Seeing as this city was one the capital of the Islamic caliphate in Al Andalus (Andalusia) it seemed pertinent to visit the Cathedral that was once the mosque of the city. This mosque was ginormous I tell you, literally never ending. Similar to the Alcázar, the mosque incorporated many leftover materials. The red and white arches repeated for what felt like miles. Although when first built in the year 600 it was a Visigoth church, it was quickly changed into a mosque before ultimately winding up as a Roman Catholic church post-reconquista. Soon after, our journey back to Granada was in effect, and I was beyond satisfied with my weekend.
Planning a visit to Spain? These cities are a must see. Want to go but don’t want to travel alone? Take me with you! I promise these places won’t disappoint. And now that I’ve made you jealous, my work here is done! Until next time.