¡Me gusta España!

November 12th, 2010

Wow, have I gotten terrible at updating this blog.  I just find it really weird that I technically have a lot of free time, more free time than I’ve had in a while (ok, since I’ve been to college) and I can’t find 30 minutes to sit down and write about Morocco.  Actually, this post will be a little different because I’m going to write about Spain.  Cordoba and Grenada to be specific.  Yes, the long awaited, and much needed trip to Spain took place last weekend over a span of four fun-filled, action-packed days.  We left Rabat at 7am, heading for Tangier where we would take a ferry across the Mediterranean Ocean to Tarifa, Spain.  Our program director surprised us by informing us that his visa had expired just days ago, and therefore he would be unable to come with us.  Fortunately, IES Abroad has a program in Grenada, so we just had the IES Grenada staff meet us in Tarifa, and then take us around Cordoba and Grenada over the next four days.  The IES Grenada staff were amazing.  They were so nice and cool, and extremely flexible with us.  I think they were surprised at how small our program was.  There are only 19 of us studying in Morocco, and there are 120ish students with IES Grenada.  That’s a big difference.  I know the full name and several childhood anecdotes of many of the people in my group, whereas some of the Grenada kids aren’t sure of each others names.

Anyway, we got to Tangier, filled out the little Customs paper that you fill out when entering or exiting Morocco, passed through “security” and boarded the ferry.  Yes, security was a little comical.  There was an x-ray machine, that had nobody watching the images as they came through, and metal detectors, with nobody monitoring those either.  You could literally just walk right onto the ferry if you wanted.  The ferry was really quite nice.  There was a bar, a snack bar, comfy seats, and two levels.  It was really really big too.  I’m not quite sure how to describe it because the only ferries I generally travel on are the ferries that cross Lake Champlain between New York and Vermont, and they are by no means luxurious.  Our amazement at the grandeur of the ferry was short lived though, because it only takes about 30 minutes to get from Tangier to Tarifa.  That’s right, Morocco is only 30 minutes away from Europe.  It takes me 30 minutes to drive from my house to the other end of my hometown.  There’s perspective for you.

When we first got to Spain, we were immediately hit by reverse culture shock.  I was amazed at how fast it hit me.  I think it started with the garbage free streets.  Soon we were all pointing out all the differences between Morocco and Spain.  “Where are all the cats?” “Why don’t I hear any car horns?” “The cat calls, what happened to the cat calls!” Things of this nature.  We also kept mixing up languages.  I remember distinctly struggling to thank a waiter at the hotel restaurant.  I stuttered between Arabic, French, and English before I could spit out the Spanish “¡Gracias!” but by then he’d been gone a while.

Our first day was spend in Cordoba.  We spent the day touring the city, wandering through the old Jewish quarter, snapping pictures of the oldest synagogue in Cordoba, and rubbing the shoes of the statue of Maimonides, one of the most famous Jewish philosophers ever, who lived in Cordoba, and is coincidentally buried in Fez.  We also got to see one of the most famous sites in Cordoba, the Mezquita.  When the Muslims controlled Cordoba they built an amazing mosque, capable of holding over 40,000 people.  When the Christians reconquered Cordoba instead of destroying the mosque, they built a Catholic cathedral right in the middle of it, and even today it is still being used as a church.  The Mezquita was absolutely beautiful, it very clearly used to be a mosque.  It was built with an exterior courtyard, beautiful arches, and tessellating geometric designs, but then as your eyes wandered along the walls, there would be little shrines to Christian saints, and other altars that were clearly Christian.  There was also no mistaking the cathedral in the middle of the mosque for a catholic one either.  It looked just as beautiful as the churches and cathedrals I’d already seen in Europe, and in some cases, much more ornate.  It was so interesting to see how much of an influence the Muslims had in this part of Spain.  I swear, when Morocco becomes a developed country I think it will look very much like Cordoba.

After visiting the mezquita, we had a delicious lunch of tapas and sangria.  I’m so glad I discovered how much I like tapas.  I didn’t have to sit and debate which dish I wanted, I could just get two or three tapas.  I also discovered that it’s actually easier to be a vegetarian in Morocco than it is in Spain.  In Spain they like to sprinkle your food with bits of ham, which is fine, if they tell you they’re going to do it before you actually get it.  I swear, I ordered a tapas plate that was very traditional to Cordoba, a sort of tomato paste; it reminded me of  Campbell’s tomato soup in color, but it tasted better, and I got the tomato paste, and the ham they had sprinkled on top of it.  Wasn’t expecting that.  Fortunately, I could pick it off.  Later on, I found that fried eggplants in molasses is a particularly delicious vegetarian option.   Also, churros dipped in chocolate while sipping Irish coffee in the middle of the afternoon is probably one of the best things ever.  For those of you who are wondering, churros are long strips of fried doughnut.  Yes, fried doughnut, and you can get a cup of melted chocolate to dip them in.  Can someone say WONDERFUL?  I know I can.

So, after Cordoba we made our way to Grenada, another wonderful city in southern Spain.  Nestled right in the mountains, Grenada is actually really cold at this time of year.  Our group spent a lot of time in between exclamations of wonder and amazement complaining about the cold weather.  I personally don’t know what they were talking about, I thought the weather was great.  So in Grenada, there’s this old city called the Alhambra that was built by the Muslims when they still controlled southern Spain in the middle ages.  Like the Mezquita, the Alhambra is absolutely beautiful.  I felt that each room of the Alhambra we went into the more ornate and beautiful it got.  Quranic versus were carved into the walls of these rooms in beautiful calligraphy, and the roofs were painted with beautiful designs and motifs.  One of the roofs was painted to represent the seven levels of Heaven the Prophet Mohamed traveled through the night of his ascension.

Oh fun story, when I was at the Alhambra this elderly couple started talked to some of us, I assume because they heard us speaking English.  Anyway, I found out they are from Vermont!  When they found out I was from Vermont too I got a big hug from the wife.  They were retired, on a nice little vacation; the husband was a chemical engineer and the wife was in the advertising business, or may it was professional fund raising.  Something like that.

Another way Spain is different from Morocco is that Spain has a much bigger night life.  It was kind of funny, we were all really set to experience this hoppin’ night life, but the first night we were all ready to go to bed by 10:30.  In Morocco, most of us go to bed by 11:00pm because we have to get up before 7am to get to school on time.  This makes us an extremely well-rested group of college students, a rarity, and a feeling I’ve been savoring because I know that sleep will soon become a coveted commodity next semester when I’ll have to balance two Junior Independent Studies, two other classes, a campus job, and chorus rehearsal four times a week.  So anyway, the first night was a bit of a dud, but the next night we all manned up and went out, and most of us didn’t go home until the wee hours of the morning.  I believe my bedtime that night was actually technically a “morning time” since I didn’t go back to the hotel until 5am, and didn’t actually go to bed until 6am.  At 8:30am I was back up and all set to go walk around the Alhambra.  It was a little rough, but ultimately, I didn’t really feel the two hours of sleep until the day after, when we were heading back to Morocco.  That was fine since our day was filled with bus and ferry rides, so I got in plenty of nap time.

Okay, that was pretty much my Spain adventure.  I thoroughly enjoyed the few short days I was in Spain.  The cities and countrysides were beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was great, I would definitely go back in the future.  Still, I’m glad I didn’t study abroad in Europe.  For one, it’s really expensive.  Europe is not gentle on your wallet like Morocco.  Another thing is that I don’t know if I could have kept up with the Spanish nightlife, which as far as I can tell, is a huge part of youth culture.  I mean, I can stay out until 5 or 6am once, but multiple times a week?  My body might not like that too much.  Additionally, living in a country where the culture is so different from the United States gives you so many new experiences and so many new perspectives and insights that I’m not sure can be attained as fully in Europe.  I mean, I’ve stayed in towns where the cows live in the houses with the people, and here in Rabat when it rains, it literally rains inside my house.  Can you have those experiences in Europe?  I’m not sure, maybe, but it would be difficult.

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