Friday, July 29, 2016

Week 7: The Belly of Gaea and Creatures of Stone

Dear readers,

This post is dedicated to my seventh week in Alicante, though I am concluding my eighth as I write this! To keep it short and sweet, I want to talk about my favorite experience of the week. My program, Spanish Studies Abroad, went on another excursion to some nearby caves. They are called "Las Cuevas de Canelobre," or the Caves of Canelobre. Although this was the least materially extravagant excursion both in terms of money and time spent, it was probably the most breathtaking in its glorious natural splendour, its arcane beauty nestled away below the surface for few to view and enjoy. If you are wondering what "the belly of Gaea is" it is simply that which is below the surface of the earth--Gaea, of course, being the Earth goddess in Greek mythology.
      Now, to arrive at the caves, we had to take a bus up a mountain. This was our view from the top of the mountain (and yes, as you have probably observed if you've been reading this blog, I cherish an ardent love for panorama photos, sorry, not sorry):
Not too shabby, huh? 

After treating our eyes to this wondrous landscape and our stomachs to some traditional Spanish fruit juice (zumo de mango, higo, o piña), we set our sails inwards--by which, I mean we descended into the belly of the Earth. My unaccustomed-to-any-bumps-on-the-earth-Nebraskan self almost felt like it was Lidenbrock in Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Maybe the experience was a little less dramatic than that, but nevertheless, I indulge the imagination. ;) 

      Our guide told us about the different names of the stalactites and stalagmites, which form over the span of hundreds of years. As in, about 1 centimeter per 100 years! That in mind, take a peek at the photos of some colossal cave artistry. For example, the left photo displays chandelier stalagmites, which are fairly obviously named. Actually, this stalagmite formation is considered the most notable and unique of all, and is the reason the caves were dubbed Las Cuevas de Canelobre. They were probably my favorite type of stalagmite/tite, because they're very obviously rock, but I can so easily envision them as teetering, glistening, yellow candles, which appear ever on the verge of collapsing under the incommodious burden of their own accumulated wax buildup.  

Now, the photo below displays a giant stalagmite, which is named after a certain sea creature. Try and guess what its name is by looking closely! If your rock perception fails you, I will put the name at the end of this post. I can't make it TOO easy for you. ;)

This photo displays a beautiful accumulation of rock crystal, which if I understood correctly is built up over time by the chemicals in the water.

      Though the cave itself is amazing, its rugged, natural glory is enhanced by skillful lighting techniques throughout, which give it a mysterious, enchanting aura. As they wander up, down, and around on a narrow, winding pathway, tourists can gaze up at giant rock formations looming over their heads, illuminated with an almost eery beauty by the multicolored lighting throughout.

      Well, that is about it for the Caves of Canelobre. If you've made it this far, you deserve a reward! Consequently, I'll tell you the name of the stalagmite, which looks like a sea creature: El Tiburone. If you don't speak Spanish, I'm sorry, I must insist on tormenting you by forcing you to look up the definition of the word. Again, no apologies, here.
      As I conclude this post, I am a little under an hour away from leaving Alicante! After the plane ride, during which I hope to thoroughly process all that has occurred and analyze my emotions about leaving, I will certainly write a final post on this blog. It's strange to think that this blog will end! I've really enjoyed watching it grow. Perhaps I should take up the hobby. :) Regarding leaving, however, I know I'm excited to see my family, friends from home, and to go to my own church again, but I also feel a dull, aching sadness that this wonderful adventure need come to a close. I suppose it would be better to view it optimistically, though, so instead I will remember and continue to recall to mind how very blessed I was to study in this beautiful country and cherish all of the fond memories I made in a wonderful culture, brimming with wonderful people, whom I will never, ever forget.



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Week 6: Nature and History on Hill and in Valley

Dear readers,

      By the time I finish this post, I will have completed the second-to-last Wednesday of my time here in Spain. Thinking about it in these terms certainly enhances the poignancy of the reality that I will soon be home in the United States! While I am excited to see my family, boyfriend, and friends again, I cannot help but feel that I will leave a part of me behind. Like it or not, a sliver of this lovely culture has surreptitiously and gradually embedded itself in my heart. But, rather than dwell on departures, I would prefer to give you an account of my adventures this past week. Week six of my time here in Spain was marked by several especially wonderful adventures, which I will not soon forget.
      The first of these adventures was an expedition to Granada! I went with some friends from Spanish Studies Abroad, though it was not an officially program sponsored trip, and it was absolutely amazing! We saw La Alhambra, the Cathedral of Granada, the Park of Science, and a jaw-flooring flamenco exhibition. Here are a few pictures of the sites, and along with the pictures I will give a bit of information about each place.

El Parque de las Ciencias

Left: I found a laurel plant! Center: one of many species of butterflies at the Science Park (El Parque de Las Ciencias). Right: A Snow Owl that I was able to see up close during the birds of prey exhibition!

Naturally, more butterflies, because one picture is never enough.
(haha, see what I did there?)

We also saw the Cathedral of Granada! A few facts about the structure are:
- Work was begun on the Cathedral in the 16th century by architects Egas and Siloam at the instruction of Charles V.
- The Cathedral was built over the ruins of an ancient muslim mosque. 
- The structural style of the Cathedral is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance, though was built to be strictly Catholic. 
- It remains unfinished to this day, though the first stone was laid in 1523.
- The Royal Chapel (a separate building, but related to the Cathedral) contains the tombs of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (Los Reyes Católicos) and their children. 

Entrance to the Cathedral 

The chapels are simply breathtaking in their artistic splendor and brilliance. Pictures simply cannot do them justice. 

We also visited La Alhambra, which was by far my favorite site to see in the city. And yes, in case you were wondering because the name sounds familiar, the Alhambra is indeed also the title of Washington Irving's book. Where did he get the title, you ask? Look no further than Granada, Spain!
Guess who this statue is? 
If you can't guess, you have my permission to cheat and peek at the photo below.

Some information (very, very basic) about the Alhambra is as follows:
- The name "Alhambra" comes from the Arabic word "ga'lat al-Hamra," which means red castle.  
- The Alhambra first made its appearance in history in the 9th century, but was not inhabited by royalty until the 13th century.
- The structure was abandoned as a residence in the 18th century
- The castle rests on a steep hill, which was a perfect strategic location for battles. 
- Even back in the 9th century, the Alhambra was equipped with an advanced water canal system, which ran from the river Darro. This is impressive for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, because water is so scarce in the desert-like climate of Granada. But also, because of the lack of tools and technology during that time. Apparently, the architects modeled the waterways after those of the Romans. 
-The building boasts incredible designs of arabic make, which is understandable because Muslim monarchs resided there up until the 16th century. 


Entrance to the building of the Baths 

In the middle is one of the many artificial ponds, which are connected to pipes, which formed part of the advanced canal system of that time. 

On the left is a hallway in the building of the Baths. Center is El Patio de los Leones, in which you can observe the canal system in the ground. On the right is an incredibly intricate star-shaped design on the ceiling in one of the bath rooms. The star shape is a very popular one throughout the Alhambra, though this particular star serves the double purposes of decoration and ventilation.

Above left: A blessing or prayer written in poem form in Arabic. These inscriptions can be found throughout the entire palace.

I know I've only barely begun to brush the surface of the history and beauty of the Alhambra and the Cathedral, but these are a summation of my experiences, observations, thoughts, and findings. I truly hope you enjoyed them and are intrigued enough to explore more for yourself! Perhaps you may even eke out the time to pick up Irving's The Alhambra and discover more about the castle's incredible architectural genius through the portal of a sister art.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Week Five: Cascades of Emerald and Whispers of Old

Dear readers,

      As I write this post, the first day of my sixth week here in Spain is coming to a close. Week five offered a trove of new beginnings and adventures, and also of quiet, steady enrichment of friendship and language ability.
     After finals on the last Friday of June, I had two weekend days of respite before I began two completely new language courses, which in one month cover the equivalent of one 3 credit and one 1 credit course in a semester at normal American universities. The wonderful thing is, though, that the learning I experience is not confined to the four hours per day in the classroom, but rather is an all day, every day affair. Spanish inundates the world I live right now. I must use it to order coffee, to communicate with my madre, to read signs, and to talk to bus drivers, to name a few examples. I even use Spanish to communicate with two of my closest friends here! Learning simply is not measured by credit hour or by exam. Learning is taking, meditating, breathing, and living everyday life and everyday opportunities.
      Speaking of meditating—and I mean thinking deeply, not that yin-yang, trance-y, or witchy stuff, mind you—I was doing just that about the phrase "dar a luz" in Spanish, which translates as to give birth. But delving a bit deeper, the phrase is simply breathtaking in its poetic beauty. Now, I'm going to ask you to break away from the simple, non-literal translation "to give birth" and dissect this phrase word by word with me. The verb "dar" means to give. The word "luz" is the indirect object of this phrase. So, this phrase literally means to give to light. How stunningly exquisite is that? In the context of the literal translation, to give birth, we understand that mothers give their babies to light for the very first time. The result of nine months of waiting and an excruciating labor is the baby's first basking in the light. Light, which symbolizes warmth and life and love is waiting to receive the child once it is given. Really, it gives me chills. How simply AMAZING are languages?!
      Aside from learning and thinking about random words and phrases to bore you readers with (sorry, not sorry), I also partook in a few adventures this past week! My program, Spanish Studies Abroad, took us all on a trip to Guadalest and Los Fuentes de Algar. Guadalest is a small town (by small, I mean 200 habitants) about an hour away from Alicante, which is famous for its castle and breathtaking landscape. Oh, you don't believe me? Well, here.
Now you see why a town of 200 is tourist central. ;)
      We toured the castle of Guadalest as well, which was amazing to see. It was built by the Orduña family, a family comprised of lawyers and soldiers, in the 17th century, and was sacked and conquered during the War of Succession in the 18th century. Later, it was repaired for accommodation, but is now a museum. Below is a photo of the library, the most interesting room in my opinion, and within the library, a photo of the family coat of arms. 
Here are a few other pictures from outside the castle: 

Yes, this is what you suspected, a cemetery. Bodies (or what's left of them) do indeed reside in those walls.

Later, our taste-buds were delighted with some amazing paella at a local restaurant (if you don't know what paella is, please see my post "When Heaven Meets Kitchen," because paella is important, folks), and then trekked our way up to Los Fuentes de Algar, or the Fountains of Algar.  Besides a deliciously exquisite scenery, the mountain water was simply an emerald-crystal, piercingly pure, cool revitalization to my system. After bathing in ocean water for a month, submersion in this water was beyond words. I felt as though the chilling touch of the pools and cascades were flooding and wracking my entire being, cleansing and refreshing my soul in a dancing, sparkling tide. Here is a picture to aid my description.

     Unfortunately for you all, I was in the water so much that I only took one picture. Hopefully, however, I can find some that were taken for me by friends. If so, I will add them, never fear!

     On a last note, I want to mention the unexpected joy I've discovered in my classmates here in Spain. In the past month I have gotten to know a girl from Japan and in the past week, a girl from England. The three of us have spent a great deal of time hanging out together. But you know what really intrigues me? The entire time we speak together in Spanish, because the Japanese girl cannot understand English, but we all know Spanish. Isn't that wonderful? Spanish is a bridge that connects minds from diverse cultures and builds pathways to friendships. Here is a photo of myself and my new friends! What better place to warm a new friendship than a sunny day at the beach?! :)

      Well, having thoroughly, and unapologetically, I might add, dulled you with the intricacies of a fascinating phrase in Spanish, emerald waterfalls, and ancient castles, I suppose I must be kind and conclude my account of week five here in Spain. Thank you again for checking out my blog!



Sunday, July 3, 2016

Gazing Behind and Leaping Ahead: June-ward and Forward

Dear readers,

     My post yesterday was solely related to Las Hogueras, but I think it's important to share a bit more about my month here in Spain. Why? Because I am simply in shock that it is already over and that my time here is over half completed. This realization, besides once more overwhelming me with gratitude for the blessing it is to be here, calls for reflection on what I have experienced and learned thus far.
     My first week in Spain, I met a wonderful group of people, visited the enchanting castle of Santa Barbara as well as the lovely city of Valencia, and experienced the cool embrace of the Mediterranean for the first time. Week two, I enjoyed a traditional Spanish culinary class and visited Barcelona. The third week, I experienced the crazy excitement that is Las Hogueras. The final week in June was dedicated to preparing for final exams. 
      Now, all of these activities were so exciting and wonderful to experience, but I have discovered something about Spain that I never supposed I would. Perhaps this discovery does not just relate to Spain, but to every place where people and cultures are. I have found that what makes Spain special, unique, and cherished forever in my heart is the small things. Waking up to a hearty "¡Buenos dias, cariño!" from my madre, enjoying tapas, crêpes, or coffee at quaint little cafeterías with friends, meeting random strangers on the street and surprising--even delighting them by being able to speak Spanish to them, and falling asleep to the gentle lapping of the ocean against the sandy face of the earth is what makes this place so dear to me. Sure, it's exciting to visit new places and travel, but what I will remember the most are the little things, which are ingrained into the people and culture. 
    Since we've broached the subject of little things, my friend and I experienced just that this Friday at a secluded little beach nestled in north-eastern Alicante. Always on the hunt for adventure, we set out to explore a new beach and discovered a truly enchanting little paradise. Though sparsely populated with beach-goers, the little inlet we discovered was literally pulsing with marine life! Without even trying, we found snails of all sorts, crab families (colonies?), and a gorgeous red sea anemone that really stumped me for awhile. I kept trying to pick it up to figure out what it was, but every time I did, it squirted me with some sticky residue! Although it may not seem flashy or adventurous, that afternoon in our secret beach was one of my favorites. We simply enjoyed being in the beauty that is nature unharnessed. Here are a few pictures of the marine life I saw: 
If I researched correctly, the red sea anemone is called an "actinia equina," and is commonly known as a beadlet anemone. Yes, it is sitting on the crab. Or the crab is burrowing under it. Whichever you prefer.

These are pictures and videos of our crab friend eating! I just thought it was amazing to watch so of course you would too! ;) 

      Crabs and critters aside, I suppose if I had to encapsulate all of my learning and experiences here in Spain thus far, I would say that I have learned to take time to enjoy the small and simple even more. Though I don't think of it now, I really will miss the conversations with my madre in Spanish when I'm gone, I really will miss the cafeterías with their miniscule cups of frothy espresso, I really will miss hearing rapid Spanish everywhere I go, and I really will miss the slow, leisurely way of life here in Spain. Spaniards do not hurry for anyone (which is why meals often take around two hours at a restaurant). So, like the natives of this country, I will endeavor to slowly savor each minute and make the most of every opportunity during this month I have remaining.