Monday, May 2, 2011

Trekking Through Andalucia

Spain loves their holidays and I love Spain for it. Ten days off for everyone right smack dab in the middle of the spring. Today is yet another Monday off so I'm taking advantage to finally update the blog on the wonders of AndalucĂ­a, discovered by way of driving through the country side and taking it all in during one of Spain's most famous celebrations, Semana Santa.

We started off our adventure in Grenada on a mission to see one of the world's wonders, the ancient Moorish Mosque, the Alhambra. Before going, all I really knew was that people that have been gush over its beauty and grand scale. I am now one of those people. The day began with late breakfast in the sun and a long stroll through the city. The old town of Grenada was buzzing with people in the little markets and unique plazas. We gradually made our way through the crowds, stopping to take in the atmosphere, buy fruit off the streets, and enjoy the fantastic weather. Eventually we made it to the entrance of the Alhambra's grounds and began our ascent through the vast wooded hills surrounding the musk. As we inched closer, the sounds of the chirping birds and babbling stream and sight of all the lush greenery took over our senses. We finally arrived at the top and my breath was taken. The mosque itself was amazingly preserved and had an incredible effect over all of its guests. Typically when I am surrounded by tourists, they detract from the goodness of the actual site. But this was different. As we strolled through the interior rooms and out into the colorful gardens, people all seemed almost mesmerized by the tranquility of their surroundings. Everything, from the detailed design and scripture on the walls to the still, glistening ponds and breathtaking views put me in a state of pure peacefulness and transcendence.

This peaceful easy feeling didn't exactly last as we made our way back to the city to catch the first of several match ups of rivals Barcelona and Madrid. After a day in the sun with very little food or water, the beers went down just a little too easy and that peaceful feeling transformed into a hazy blur and over enthusiasm for Madrid's victory. The next day, as we nursed our pounding headaches over breakfast in a street side cafe, the church processions were underway for Palm Sunday, congregations carrying their symbolic palm leaves and singing in unison. We took it in and watched the scene for a while until it was time to hit the road again and head south for some much needed R&R beachside on the Costa del Sol.

We arrived in Torremolinos, a touristic beach town outside of Malaga, ready for a peaceful lie on the sand. It wasn't quite in the cards for us with the clouds beginning to roll in and the beaches littered with souvenir shops and fish and chips shops everywhere. Even though we were looking forward to a quite hide away, our massive flat with an up close beach view and enormous terrace was a fair trade. The rain rolled in all day the next day, robbing us from the beach experience, but we still managed to tour the spectacle that was, for me, the boardwalk from hell, covered in cheesy shops, hotels as far as the eye can see, and even an American themed steak house with a electric bull. All we could do was laugh and try to shut out the fact that we were still in Spain- it was too depressing to see what tourism has done to the southern coast of Spain. From up in the hills of the city, the red clay shingles and white buildings gave the illusion that we were in a quaint Spanish beach village, but this scene completely robbed us of that.

The next day we said goodbye to the best part of our stay, our great apartment, and made our way to our last stop- Cordoba. Before heading off, we stopped in a little slice of heaven, Marbella. It completely reenergized me and renewed my impression of the Costa del Sol. The adorable winding streets of the old town were perfectly quaint and exactly what I imagined a Spanish beach city to look like. We stumbled over a charming cafe, tucked away in a flowery back street and took five over a tinto de verano before heading back on the road, stopping at artsy shops and a classic old Spanish church on the way out.
We pulled into Cordoba around five and were quickly reminded of what Semana Santa truly is to the people of Spain. Every attempt to drive in to the city was a fail with streets closed off for the slew of processions making their way through the city. We gave up, parked the car, and decided to explore. We were not prepared for the spectacle that ensued. We followed a crowd of people and the sound of horn marching band to find our first paso, a large float with the life sized Virgin Mary and hundreds of candles adorn it, being carried by a slew of young guys slowly through the town. Accompanying the paso was a priest swaying the traditional incense barrel and filling the air with a musky, potent aroma. The most initially shocking site was the army of robed and hooded people walking with the parade of people. To Americans especially, it is a shocking sight, looking remarkably similar to the infamous Ku Klux Klan uniform.

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Later that night after settling in and enjoying a superb dinner of tapas and wine by the river for a ridiculously cheap price, we stumbled upon yet another procession, this time even larger and more intense. We were over loaded on the religious parades and sought refuge in a plaza, adequately named Plaza de Canas. When the one bar still open shut down, we called it a night and geared up for our final day of seeing the peculiar Mosquito Mosque. This was once an Arabic mosque, but was transformed over the centuries as Spain shifted rule. Now it is an odd hodge podge of Moorish architecture and Christian symbols and art. Very odd, but still quite beautiful. We had our final meal of our trip and hit the road at last, making our way back to Madrid.

Exhausted and over stimulated from all we saw, I spent the next half of the long break slugging around the city, simply eating and drinking away the time and the rainy weather. Stepping back into the swing of things proved to be quite a challenge for many the following week, but after a close to perfect long weekend back home and another day off today, I am back to normal and finally got the chance to recall the goodness of one of many treks through this amazing country.

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