Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cena de Despedida (Farewell Dinner)

In the morning on Monday, May 20, we had two speakers come in to class to speak to us about the economic crisis in Europe, specifically in Spain.  The speakers gave us two different perspectives on the crisis.  The first speaker was from the political party Izquierda Unida (United Left) and he discussed the economic crisis from a political perspective.  Our second speaker was spoke about the crisis from a business perspective.  The different views on the economic crisis helped us to better understand the situation here in Spain. 

Monday afternoon we had some free time.  Many of us spent it studying for our final the following day on Tuesday, as well as spending time with our host families since we do not have much time left!

Monday evening we all headed to Candido with one member of our host families for our cena de despedida (farewell dinner).  This restaurant is one of the best in Segovia to try the Spanish delicacy cochinillo (baby pig) - many of us took advantage of the opportunity!  While it was sad to think of our trip coming to a close, we all had a great time enjoying the company of our host families and delicious food!

Cochinillo being prepared!

Our group, with our professor Ricardo in the middle

First Day of Our Mountain Trek!

On Friday, May 17, we gathered our trekking gear and headed to class in the morning.  Having covered a large part of the history of Spain, we had a discussion on the economic crisis in Europe, particularly here in Spain.  It has been really interesting to work our way through Spain’s history right up to the current economic crisis – we have covered so much material and learned a lot!!

Instead of heading home after class to have comida (lunch) with our families, we gathered at the aqueduct to meet our mountain guides for the weekend, Gabriel and Vincente.  We piled into a couple of vehicles and were off to where we would start our trek!  We stopped along the way to eat our lunch, but then it was down to business!

We hiked for about four hours as we worked our way up and over the mountain.  We reached heights of 2,100 meters – that is almost 7,000 feet above sea level!  The hike was a challenge, but was it ever worth it!  We saw incredible views that we could never see any other way, and we all grew a little closer as we sang and laughed to pass the time on our trek into the mountains.

This is where we parked the cars and started our trek up the mountain!

The view from partway up the mountain - it was incredible to turn around and see this!

Beautiful Views!

Our first view of our shelter - way down on the other side of the lake!

More Titirimundi!

On Tuesday, May 14th, we had class in the morning covering the Law of Historical Memory, a controversial piece of Spain’s recent history having to do with the Spanish Civil War and the recovery necessary after Franco’s dictatorship.

After comida (lunch) with our families, the rest of the day was for us to enjoy more of the many live performances of Titirimundi around Segovia.  There were scheduled performances at stages set up around the city, as well as little performances happening on the streets and plazas.

One of the many little shows happening on the streets of Segovia – this one is a dog marionette!

A man juggling swords and a chainsaw in the Plaza Mayor during Titirimundi

El Escorial and El Valle de Los Caídos

Saturday, May 11 turned out to be bright and sunny for us as we traveled to El Escorial and El Valle de Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen). 

Having won a battle against the French on August 10, 1557, the day of Saint Lorenzo, King Felipe II had el Escorial constructed in honor of the Saint, as well as a projection of royal power.  The building is 207 meters long and 161 meters wide.  It has 9 towers, 88 fountains, 16 patios, 2,673 windows, and 1,200 doors.  El Escorial serves as a monastery, basilica, palace, library, school, museum, and pantheon.  I think you can begin to imagine how immense this building is!!  In fact, El Escorial is so impressive that it was considered the 8th wonder of the world during the 16th and 17th centuries!

El Escorial is also the resting place of all of the Spanish Monarchs from Carlos I through Alfonso XIII (with the exception of Felipe V and Fernando VI).  The Mausoleum is located beneath el Escorial and is an incredible sight to see.  There are numerous rooms serving as the resting areas of not only the Spanish Monarchs, but for their families as well that did not serve as King or Queen, including a special area for infants.  

El Escorial - this is only part of the masssive building!

Patio de los Reyes

The gardens of El Escorial

The basilica of El Escorial

After our time visiting El Escorial, we climbed back on our bus to head to el Valle de los Caidos.  El Valle de los Caidos was built at the end of the Spanish Civil War, during Franco's dictatorship.  At the end of the Civil War, Franco wanted to build a monument to commemorate the victory of the nationalists over the republicans, as well as in memory of the nationalists that lost their lives during the war.  He used republican slaves to build el Valle de los Caidos, forcing them to partake in creating a monument to honor those that they had spent the entire Civil War fighting against.

El Valle de los Caidos is also the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish fascist party, and Francisco Franco, the dictator of Spain from the end of the Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975.  Originally, there were only soldiers from the nationalist (Franco's) army buried here along with Franco and Primo de Rivera, but after plenty of controversy regarding how the horrific period of time under Franco's rule should be remembered (which still continues today), soldiers from the republican party were buried here as well.  It certainly was an eerie experience visiting a place with such a strong connection to a horrible time in Spain's history, but it was very relevant to what we have been learning about Franco and his dictatorship.

El Valle de los Caidos

Inside Valle do los Caidos

The view from Valle de los Caidos

The group!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Final Day of our Mountain Adventure!

Sunday was the final day of our visit to the Sierra de los Gredos Mountains. After two adventurous days in the snowy mountains, we set out in the morning from the hostel to Fuenfría in the Peñalara National Park in the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains. This hike was substantially easier than the previous two days. We took a leisurely trip through a section of the park that had many trees, rocks, and streams. The scenery was gorgeous with a mix of vivid greenery and snow--so many perfect photo opts! After a couple hours we stopped by the park's museum to learn more about the mountains and their wildlife. We watched a short documentary that brought us closer to the park's natural wonders. We all enjoyed this relaxing morning after a very physical trek in the previous days.

Vincente giving us some extra information in the Park!

From the park, we traveled to a town called Miraflores, which holds the campground Colladito, where we had our final meal--a barbecue!--with our trek-guides (Vincente and Gabriel). At this point, the weather had become a bit chilly and rainy, but we were able to stay warm near the grill under a small pavilion in the camp. The was so much food at the barbecue including chips and snacks, soup, salad, bread, and all types of meat grilled by Vincente! It was a delicious barbecue to fill us up for the rest of the day.

Outside of the Monastery
For our final stop of the day, we visited the Real Monastery of Saint Maria of the Paular (Real Monasterio de Santa María de El Paular) which is encased by the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains in the Lozoya River Valley. It was constructed in the late 14th century, inciated by King Juan I. Today, only eight monks live in the Monastery. We were able to tour the majority of the large building (guided by a monk) which consists of an abundance of breathtaking architecture. The entire tour was very calming and beautiful. Even though we've already seen so many different historical pieces of architecture, it was equally as exciting to experience this unique place. I really enjoyed the serene environment.

The Custodiana
--an impressive structure where the body and blood of Christ are kept

We left the Monastery in very rainy weather to return back home to Segovia to reunite with our host-families for dinner. Overall, today was a perfect day to conclude our trip to the mountains. This weekend was an amazing experience  for the entire group and it turned out better than we could have ever imagined. 

Our Adventurous Weekend!

These next few posts may be out of order because we have been in the mountains all weekend and are now trying to catch you all up!

Day 2 of our Trek:

We all woke up at around 8am, cuddled together in our giant communal beds in our rustic 'shelter' building. We had breakfast downstairs with all the other hikers that were staying there too. (these hikers were going even farther up the mountain, while we were heading back to civilization). Then after packing up our bags, and suiting up once again in our gear, we headed out into the cold. (30 degrees Farenheit) It had snowed so much overnight, probably six inches of fresh fluff to navigate through, thank god for our guides, Gabriel and Vincente!
The incredible view that we walked out and witnessed that morning! (A lake and huge mountain)

How can I begin to explain this experience? Incredible and majestic are a couple words that come to mind. Where we went, no cars can go. There are no roads that lead there! How crazy is that feeling?! You are so removed from everything in life that is insignificant, distracting, and unimportant. While it was a challenge nearly every minute, the snow never ceasing and the wind blowing in our faces as we climbed up the mountain through the snow, it was rewarding. The feeling that you get when you reach the top of the climb and you stop and look out over the valley, cannot be explained. You feel empowered, and in awe, like you're on top of the world. It makes you feel like you should reflect over your life and really organize your thoughts and feelings. It removes you from life and all the worries and gives you time to just think: Am I where I want to be in my life? Am I happy? For me the answer was yes, so I smiled.

Despite some tired legs and wet pants, we made it back to civilization and piled into the van to warm up. At that point we headed to Ávila, a small town up near these mountains. We had the chance to change into dry clothes and enjoy thick hot chocolate by a fireplace in a nearby lodge! Then we toured the town.

We first visited the Church, which is a mix of Romantic and Gothic architecture. This church actually has two functions: religious and protection. The church was built in as part of the wall that surrounds the entire town. The church is amazing because in the main section, used for worship, a special stone indigenous to the area was used. It is called Piedra Sangrante (bloody stone). It is almost a tie-dye effect of red and grey.

Next we walked to another church, this one dedicated to Santa Teresa de Jesus. The room in which she was born was turned into a beautiful chapel (capilla). 

This plaque is in the capilla, and says that Pope Juan Pablo II visited this chapel.

After our visit to Avila, we checked into our hotel to get a good, hot meal and rest up for another day of hiking!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Visit to the Jewish Quarter and a Guest Speaker!

Instead of having our normal morning class with Ricardo, today we all met at the Plaza de la Merced to begin our tour of the Jewish Quarter (Judería in spanish). While there, Ricardo talked to us about the history of the Jewish Population in Spain, which may have existed since the first century! He told us many interesting facts, stories, and myths. We also learned that throughout Spanish history, Jews have been discriminated against, persecuted, and repressed. After our discussion, we strolled through the old Jewish neighborhoods (most of which have been restored). From there we walked through the Alameda park to explore the Jewish tombs on the hillside. The tombs were extremely rare to see - they consist of large groupings of rocks that have a body-shaped frame chiseled out of them to fit a dead body. There were also many different caves which consisted of even more tombs. Today there are no bodies left in these tombs. They were all supposedly removed many years ago, but it was still cool to see how they took care of their deceased! The view of Segovia and the Alcazar castle was also quite impressive from the hillside.

Plaza de la Merced

Old Jewish House

Small winding street in the Jewish Quarter 
View of Segovia from the Jewish-tomb hillside 
Jewish Tomb Cave

Stone tombs shaped like the body of a person

Afterward, we walked back into town to see the old Jewish Synagogue, Corpus Christi, which is very close to the Plaza Mayor. From the inside, it looks like a typical synagogue with unique horseshoe arches and upper balconies where the women can pray and worship. It actually looked very similar to the synagogue we visited in Toledo! This one was a little less ornate, but we enjoyed being able to compare the two. Oddly enough, this synagogue was confiscated by the Catholic Church and the Crown in 1419 (shortly before the Spanish Inquisition) and was converted into a church where it received its current name, Corpus Christi (its original name as a synagogue was simply, Sinagoga Mayor. Anyway, The church burned down in 1899, but was reconstructed afterwards and is now open to the public, while also serving as a monastery.

Door to Corpus Christi

Inside the Church of Corpis Christi

Columns and arches inside the church

News Article of the fire that burned down Corpus Christi 
Ricardo has the Key to the Church!! It's huge!

We ended our tour of the Jewish Quarter by visiting the Didactic Center of the Jewish Quarter, which is a small museum. This center used to be the house of one of the most renown Jews in the 15th century, Abraham Senneor. He was a very important figure in assisting the Jewish integration into Segovia. He had great political and economic influence in the Segovian community and even served as a faithful servant to the Catholic Royalty during his time. Eventually Abraham converted to Christianity, receiving a new name, Fernán, Pérez Coronel. His house in Segovia seemed extremely large. It contained many different exhibits which helped us better understand Judaism. My favorite exhibit was the virtual synagogue which lit up on the wall and displayed a typical religious service. Overall, the Judería tour was extremely interesting, and an adventurous way to start off our day!

The Virtual Synagogue

After the Judería, we returned home for lunch and siesta, or other activities before meeting back up at the school for our daily classtime. Today was a little different though because we had guest speaker, Julio de Olmo, who helped us better understand the current situation with the Law of Historic Memory in Spain. Julio serves as a volunteer who helps family members of those who were killed during the Spanish Civil War or during the Franco Dictatorship to find their bodies, which are mostly buried in mass graves throughout Spain. Julio gave us an abundance of information on the Civil War and the Franco Dictatorship, as well as information on what was occurring in the international community at the same time. It was interesting to hear his opinions about the Law of Historic Memory and Spain's contemporary history in general. This lecture certainly helped our class improve knowledge by providing us with an inside perspective on the extremely definitive events in Spain's history as well as its current situation. Yay!