Monday, September 29, 2008

A trip to the Pueblos Blancos

Hey everyone! I finally have a moment to breathe and tell you about my adventures a week ago travelling around Spain in a rented van with six friends! Get ready for some good stories :)
As a bit of context, myself and six others were planning a roadtrip through the south of Spain from a Friday to a Monday to see what are called Pueblos Blancos, or little villages of all white buildings built into the Spanish countryside. All have either a castle or a church around which they were built, and which serve as the cornerstone of the pueblo.

My travelling buddies!

It took us about an hour to drive the van out of the parking lot (getting it into reverse was not intuitive…we eventually had to ask the desk how to do it). After picking everyone up, we were off to a small pueblo named Cartajima, just outside a famous (and very big) pueblo named Ronda. Our plan was to stay the night in Cartajima and then go to Ronda in the day. Well, long story short, it took 4 hours to drive what should have been 2 hours. We missed a turnoff and drove north to almost SEVILLA (that’s a good hour north of Cadiz) before figuring out we needed to go west from Cádiz. Eventually we arrived in Ronda to an English hostal owner who cooked us dinner (for a cost, of course). This guy was quite the character – long hair, very sociable, alcoholic, and pot-growing. About that last trait? He invited all of us up onto his roof what what he called "talking, drinking and smoking a doobie". No, I did not smoke, but he wasn’t lying when he said he grew his own stuff up there.

The next day we visited Ronda, which was beautiful but rather unimpressive after everything we had heard from host families. The picture I’ve attached is probably the best place we went in the city – this bridge is absolutely beautiful. We hiked down here to take a picture from below. After visiting Ronda, we went on a cave tour of this amazing place a little ways out of Ronda. It had been used by people for over 40,000 years, with drawings dating back to that time. No, I couldn’t take any pictures while in there. Yes, I did take pictures anyway. Below is the photo of the "castle" as they call it, and this is the picture where the tour guide saw my flash, stopped the group and told me either he or the police would delete my photo for me. He didn’t follow through with this threat – I think in large part because I was joking and talking with him in Spanish the entire tour - but did pull me aside after and tell me that taking photos of national monuments in Spain is a big deal and that I should never do it again or I really would get in trouble with the police.

Anyway, we spent that next night "camping", which in Spain means have a grassy field, plant some trees, put up some posts with numbers and have a dirt circle for cars. This wasn’t "camping" by any American standard. We slept on a tarp on the ground, with nothing covering us…and wouldn’t you know, it rains at 6am. So we dashed into the van and slept (7 of us!) in a van for 4 more hours. Sleep wasn’t too good for those hours, needless to say.

The next day we visited a couple more beautiful pueblos – Zahara and Grazalema – which had absolutely amazing views. The photo below is from the top of a castle in Zahara – the vista was breathtaking. Sleeping yet again involved sleeping on a tarp in essentially a "camping field", but this time we put a tarp over our heads so when it rained we didn’t have many issues with rain.
As a side note, I did finally get to drive a car in Europe – the stick shift was different in this van, but I got used to it. I also almost got pulled over (gulp), but thankfully the guy driving in front of me got pulled over, not myself. We weren’t going too much over the speed limit, but the cop tailgated me for a while which was quite unnerving before finally going to pull over the guy in front of me. I was a little more careful driving after that little incident.

The view from the castle in Zahara

The pueblo of Grazalema

I’ll be posting in the next couple days about an (attempt) at seeing a bullfight in Sevilla, along with a couple pics from that trip…and then I am off to ITALY on Thursday! Yes! I’ll be gone until Tuesday on that trip to Pisa and Florence. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos, don’t worry :)

Hasta más tarde!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Off for the weekend - update and pictures to come after!

So, I am off on a roadtrip adventure this weekend within Andalucia (the area of Spain where Cadiz is located), and will be gone until Monday afternoon. I am travelling with 6 friends in a minivan to various towns called Pueblos Blancos (White Villages). They are all within the forests and hillsides of Spain and are very beautiful. We have no school on Monday and are taking advantage of this for a 4 day trip! I shall put up pictures and an update about the trip when I get back, along with a little bit about what my daily life in Cadiz entails...including the whole "study" part of study abroad (boooooo). But really the classes aren't that bad.

Adios until Monday!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A (long) overdue post about Spain!

Hey everyone! I REALLY apologize for the long amount of time between my posts, I had shaky internet service until my arrival here in Cadiz, and plus I did so much that I didn’t take time to write a blog about everything! So, prepare yourselves, this is going to be a blitz of the most interesting things to happen to me while in Spain so far.

After sightseeing in Barcelona, which was amazing, my friends and I travelled down to Valencia (via one night in a small town called Terragona), where we were in an AMAZING hotel, which was also very cheap. Cheaper than our hostal in Barcelona, and yet so very fancy, with its own kitchen and 3 balconies, everything. Our main goal of being in Valencia: The Tomatina in Buñol! This is the famous tomato fight, which is the largest in the world – 40,000 people, 113 TONS of tomatoes and 2 hours of fighting mayhem. I can tell you all more about it later on if you wish – the photo you see here is of the aftermath of our adventure at the Tomatina. And, yes, I wore my basketball mask because I didn’t want to get my nose smashed by a tomato and yes, it paid off for I was hit several times right in the nose part. I think people liked aiming at me since I was taller than everyone AND wore a mask. But hey, that’s part of the fun! I had an absolute blast. I think I was taking tomatoes out of my ears and hair for several days following, as were all my friends.

An interesting story out of Valencia – I almost had essentially all my important possessions on this trip stolen in one swoop. I was sitting in the train station with Molly, waiting for our train to our next city, while the other 4 members of the group went off into the city for an hour. It was around midnight at this time. A man approached me and asked me to help him out with the coke machine to my left (strange), although I didn’t think much of it at the time because Molly was there and I felt like, since the place was empty, there wasn’t much risk of anything happening. As I’m helping this guy out, about 30 seconds later, I hear Molly ask behind me, "Nate, is that guy walking off with your laptop bag?" And, sure enough, after turning around and staring at where my bag used to be, someone had it in their hand. Contained in the laptop bag:

Wallet (Credit cards, cash, drivers license)
Camera with all my photos from the trip so far
Essentially, if I lose this bag I lose a heck of a lot. So, therefore, I absolutely book it towards the entryway where the man went, which is to the left about 10 meters or so. This man must have heard me running at him (my flip flops were kind of loud…), and dropped my laptop bag, because it was sitting right in the entry way. Nothing was broken or stolen (thankfully!), although the guy did try to get the computer – the zipper was about half open. Anyway, I’m a little more wary of people after that experience and more careful with my stuff.
So, I finally arrived in Cádiz, a city on the southwestern corner of Spain (the Atlantic side), and it is an absolutely beautiful, beautiful city. The beaches are gigantic (kilometers of beach), it is sunny and 85-90 every day, little to no humidity, and warm water. It is absolutely wonderful.
I live with a family of 4, mother father and 2 sons who are 21 and 17. They are all very nice people and take good care of me. I’ll let you all know in a later post a bit more (really, I’ll post in the next couple days!) about the life in general here. For now, below are a couple pictures from the city, one of the sunset on my first night here, and the other from the top of a tower from which you can see all the city. In that photo you can see the big cathedral here, along with the beaches stretching out of the photo to the left. From those beaches we watched an airshow yesterday, and in the final photo you can see the planes making a Spanish flag in the sky with smoke, the finale of the show. 230,000 (!) people attended the airshow on the beach.
I’ll finish off with this picture of some delicious octopus (pulpo) which I ate in Barcelona one day. Take my word for it: It was good. Try it sometime :)
That’s all for now, sorry again for a long post and such a delay between posts, and I'll post again soon!