Monday, January 20, 2014

Escaping the Cold in Granada [Part 2]

For some reason, and I'm not really sure where this came from, I went into Granada with the idea that I would enjoy seeing La Alhambra but that there wasn't really anything else in the city to interest me.

I was certainly proven wrong on that count.


Is amazing, of course. We spent 6 hours inside and still didn't manage to see everything.

The Alhambra palaces.
One of the best parts - our Welsh BFF that we met while waiting in the line to get into the palaces. My mom was reading something from her Rick Steves travel guide [by the end of the trip, we were teasing her about her attachment to "Rick"] about one of the Muslim rulers of the city who was driven out by Christians in the 1100s or something. He was lamenting its loss, and his mom told him, "If you had defended the city like a man, then you wouldn't be crying like a woman now."

The man in front of us turned around laughing at that, and we talked with him and his daughter-in-law until we got into the palace. This guy was the quintessential Welshman, with his ruddy cheeks and round belly and brilliant accent. [Really he would make a perfect Santa Claus.] Apparently, my sister's middle name, which is a Welsh family name, is spelled differently than it would be in Wales. Somewhere or another, someone stuck an extra "n" on it. Although, it could also have been abbreviated from something else when the family emigrated. Who knows?

Gardens everywhere.
Later, we caught up with them again in the baths section of the palace. I can't for the life of me remember what sparked this question, but our Welsh friend was trying to think of a name for some famous quote or something. So he asked, "Who's that famous American satirist? From the 19th Century?"

My thought: Johnathan Swift wrote satire, but he wasn't American, was he?

My dad's answer: Jon Stewart [he missed the 19th Century bit]

My sister's answer: Me!

Actual answer: Mark Twain

We lagged behind them after that, since we were listening to the audio guides, and didn't manage to run into them again. Really, it was surprising that we were in the same part of the complex at the same time twice. It's obviously super famous but no one ever told me it was so big. We started in the palaces, because you have to reserve the time slot to enter them [hence the line], then wandered through the palace gardens. After that, we took a hot chocolate break and said hello to some cats.

Camera shy. To be fair, there were several of us taking pictures.
Then there's a second palace built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles with a lovely little art museum inside. And then we toured the original fortress part of the complex which was probably my favorite part. There were some great views of the city from the tops of the towers. [Which, according to the audio guide, were rounded to better defend against cannons.]
The new palace.
By the time we got back towards the entrance, passing the public baths, a church, the ruins of the medina and the monastery where Isabel I and husband were originally buried, we were too exhausted to walk through the rest of the gardens. Also it was 3:00 and we hadn't eaten lunch. So we went to an Italian place called Bacchus Romano and my baby sister had her first [non-alcoholic] shot.


I find it difficult to put into words exactly why I enjoyed Granada so much. The architecture and the warmth and the food were delicious, but I could say that about the other places I visited too. We didn't really even spend a lot of time there; even leaving Soria early in the morning, we didn't arrive until around 5 in the afternoon. And then it probably took another 30 minutes of being led through tiny alleys by our GPS, narrowly avoiding hitting buildings, to make it to our hotel.

The next day was entirely devoted to the Alhambra. After seeing it, we went to an overlook to look at it again. And then the last morning - and only because I begged - we delayed leaving until we had gone to see the Cathedral, which had closed by the time we left the overlook the night before. It was incredible. I unfortunately didn't get any good pictures of the exterior because it was a bit rainy that morning.

I suppose it could have been the realization of all the history that happened in Granada that makes me remember it so fondly. For someone as obsessed with the subject as myself, there's really a lot of Spanish history that I'm lacking on. And of course, I'm going to be relying on TV to help me fix that. [I also plan on going to the library to find some Spanish historical fiction. Assuming that I ever make it over there.]

Like, for instance, Isabel and Ferdinand are now buried in the Royal Chapel next to the Granada Cathedral, after their grandson Emperor Charles moved them there. And their daughter Juana and her husband are buried there too. Isabel is extra popular in Spain at the moment thanks to a little TV show about her, which is why I said we had to go to the Cathedral before we left.

I find it truly amazing to visit the same places that she would have, to visit these places who have so many important "ghosts" who walked inside their walls hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christmas in Spain [Part 1]

As luck would have it, Soria picked the worst day of the year to be rainy and gross: Christmas Eve, also known as the day my parents and sisters arrived in Spain.

I checked the weather report constantly in the days leading up to Christmas, hoping that the forecast would magically change and it would be beautiful and warm, but alas. I managed to give them a quick tour of downtown before lunch when it was only slightly drizzling [mostly because I failed to make it to the grocery store before they got in and dragged them along with me, but still].

That evening, however, I made the ultimately poor decision to take them on a walk along the river to see the monastery and hermitage. When we set out [after my dad and I woke everyone else up from their naps], it was still pretty light outside and just drizzling. We walked up to San Juan de Duero...and it was closed.

Ah, hindsight. It should have immediately been clear to me that if the monastery were closed, the hermitage would be also. But I suppose I was too excited by my family's arrival and the prospect of showing them around "my" city to consider such things. And so we started the trek to San Saturio.

This is normally a nice walk along the river. However, we weren't even halfway there when the rain intensified. A sign to turn back? If so, I ignored it. I had on the new boots I bought myself on Cyber Monday, so my feet were cozy and dry, and my coat kept me plenty warm. It took a little longer for me to notice how bedraggled my poor family looked, with the rain pelting their faces and the wind blowing back their umbrellas.

We ended up getting so soaked that we had to pull out the drying rack when we got back.
I guess I'm more accustomed to the cold than I thought.

We finally stopped when they could at least see the hermitage, which pretty obviously had no lights on, so that our long walk wouldn't have been completely in vain. And then we walked home, I made a big pot of soup and several hot chocolates, and introduced my little sister to my favorite telenovela.

The next day, in my opinion at least, made up for the poor weather on the first. We had a late breakfast and opened presents. We saw some snow flurries outside while eating our Christmas lunch, probably the first time I have actually seen snow on Christmas Day. And then we had a wonderful, clear afternoon to take a long walk in the park, visit a couple of churches, and buy a dozen churros [my sister's go-to dessert on the trip].

Goofing off in the park, because that's what family is for.
Oh, and the thing I'm most proud of? Besides finding Christmas gifts for everyone without the help of gift cards and wish lists, I was really proud that I managed to find places for us to park the rental car without getting it towed or ticketed.

Stayed tuned for the day I eventually write about the rest of our/my trip: Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Valencia, and a hint of Zaragoza.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Today concluded a whirlwind 11 days of traveling through Spain, the first half with my wonderful family and the second by myself. I've accumulated a lot of pictures [definitely ran out of memory on my camera] and stories and receipts, some of which I'll share with the Internet soon. [Not the receipts. That would be boring.]

But I'm a wee bit tired at the moment. Unfortunately for me, I rarely manage to sleep in buses or cars or trains so I missed out on several prime napping opportunities. So the actual this-is-what-I-did-on-vacation posts will be written...later.

As much as I lovelovelove traveling, it was verrrrry nice to walk down familiar streets and through the door of my apartment. I'm actually glad to be getting back into my routine of work and relaxation. Don't get me wrong - in two weeks I will be eagerly anticipating our next long weekend and the possibility of going somewhere new. But now I just want to be home.

And not just "home" in Spain. Walking through my apartment, I saw the shampoo bottle one of my sisters left in the bathroom. I saw the Christmas presents that my family brought me [they brought the most perfect gifts]. I saw the homemade paper Christmas tree that I had set on the table as a centerpiece for our family meals.

Feeling sentimental, I grabbed my computer and my hymnal - that my family brought for me from home because it didn't fit in my suitcase in September - and settled down on the couch to check email, upload pictures, etc.

I was doing all right with all my emotions until I decided to open my hymnal.

Number 280
[Gosh, even just writing about it an hour later makes me tear up...]

I have just a few hymn numbers memorized after years of hymn sings and church services. Amazing Grace is one of them, and one of maybe two songs that I have entirely memorized.

So naturally, when I saw which page I had randomly turned to, I started bawling.

[I'm glad that I came back a day early so my roommate isn't here to witness my crying because I would have a bit of trouble right now explaining it in Spanish.]

I have wanted to leave home for years. I cannot even pinpoint when exactly this urge to travel and live somewhere else began. I never, ever felt homesick at camps or church trips; I didn't really miss home during the six weeks that I was in Peru.

But now that I've been gone for over 3 months, and just had a fabulous visit from my family, I can't stop thinking about all the things I do love about home - all the things I'm missing.
  • Christmas carols and hymns
  • Spending time with my grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles
  • Being at my church, where I know the structure and the people and the songs
  • King Cake [I'm not even joking. I've been craving a legit New Orleans style King Cake for a whole month, since I hear/see stuff about the Three Kings everywhere.]
  • Driving my car
  • Petting my cat
  • Seeing friends at our 5 year high school reunion [And oh my goodness I can't believe we graduated four and a half years ago.]
I will finally admit to it. I am homesick. I'm glad to be back in Soria - I absolutely love it here - but I desperately want to be home as well. I feel like I've been cut in half, and I can only keep one half satisfied at a time. No matter where I am, no matter what I do, I'm going to be missing out on something. I'm going to be wishing I were somewhere else.

And when I'm not boo-hooing about it, I'm really annoyed. Annoyed that I have to pick between two things I love, annoyed that I'm sad right after a fantastic trip, and mostly annoyed that teleportation hasn't been invented yet because that would solve all my problems.

So if someone wants to go ahead and make me a teleportation device, I would be super grateful. I might even share my Poptarts, because I have two whole boxes of them now :)

Feliz 2014! Happy New Year, everyone.