Cuevas de Altamira

Yesterday we spent all day at the beach in Santander, in northern Spain, where we will be staying for two more days. Today we did something incredible.  A bus with a guide picked us up from our little hotel in the morning. We were going to see the Altamira Caves, seventeen caves filled with drawings and paintings from the Stone Age. Last night I read a bit about this magical place, and just couldn’t wait to get there! I was so excited I could hardly wait. (I think I was driving Mack crazy during the entire bus ride!). The guide told us that we were very lucky because the caves had been closed to the public for several years, but now they are open to the public again.

When we got to the site, the guide took us to the museum, where we learned all kinds of cool things about the caves and the people who lived there. He told us that a hunter discovered the caves in 1868, but the person who made these caves’ well known to the world was a man named Marcelino (I can’t remember his last name!). Actually, his 8 year old daughter, María, was the one who saw the drawings first and alerted her father. From then on, these caves have been famous everywhere, and it changed what archeologists and anthropologists thought of humans during the Paleolithic period (aka Stone Age).

There were signs everywhere saying “NO TOMAR FOTOS EN LAS CUEVAS” (no picture taking in the caves), so I bought every post card I could find at the museum store to show my family and friends back home. (Maybe I can scan them at the hotel. That would be cool).

Altamira cave

After a few minutes we were told to get together in front of the main cave where the local guide was standing. WOW! There were drawings, carvings, and paintings everywhere…on the walls, on the ceiling…everywhere! Most of them were of animals like bison, horses, boars, and deer. There were also hand drawings of hands and of mysterious signs painted and engraved on the rock. The colors were red, brown, yellow, tan, and black. It was amazing to realize that I was looking at the artistic expression of the caves’ habitants 15,000 years ago! Our guide told us that this was one of the most important sites with prehistoric art in the world and that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Altamira cave painting

After our visit, we had lunch in Santillana del Mar, the cutest little town near to the caves. We were all so excited about what we had seen that we talked about it during lunch and our ride back to Santander. I think we drove our guide crazy with so many questions!

I LOVE all kinds of art, but this experience was beyond anything I could have imagined!

Read More...

La Tomatina

I met a nice girl from New Orleans today while we were all checking into the hotel. Her name is Michelle and we are both soooooo excited to be in Spain. It seemed we had a lot in common, so I asked if she wanted to be my roomie for our time in Spain. People say that Spain is one of the happiest countries and has the most festivals in the world. It makes my happy just to be here, and I was hoping we could catch some of the festivals.

After we got settled in and unpacked our extremely over packed suitcases (I saw Michelle’s was mostly shoes and purses), we wanted to find out if anything special was going on today. Michelle suggested we ask the front desk clerk for some advice. She gave us tons of information and pamphlets, but the most interesting information she gave us was about this HUGE festival that would be happening TODAY in a town near Valencia, which was just a bus ride away from where were staying! The festival is called La Tomatina and people from all over Spain and all over the world come to participate in a tomato fight they will surely never forget. That sounded like so much fun! The hotel clerk explained that there are many stories about how it all started back in the 1940s. She told us that most people say the festival got its start because one day during a parade a couple of kids were bored and threw tomatoes at the people that were participating in the parade and then everyone at the parade started throwing tomatoes at each other. I asked Michelle if she wanted to go and she said “Are you kidding me? Let’s roll!” So we both ran upstairs to change clothes.

The clerk told us we only had 10 minutes to change, but I swear we were back downstairs in five. The bus to Valencia was very punctual and we were the first ones on it. It was 9:30 am, when we got to Valencia and then we took another bus to Buñol, were the “guerra de los tomates” (tomato war) takes place.  We were told that the festival would start at the plaza as soon as the trucks filled with massive amounts of tomatoes arrived. The streets were filled with tons and tons of people; people playing music, people dancing, children running and playing, and people selling things. Who would have thought so many people would show up for a tomato fight? Then, before I knew it, the fight began. Luckily, Michelle and I wore t-shirts and jeans. After 10 minutes or so, we were covered from head to toe in tomato juice! I admit: it was more fun to throw the tomatoes than being hit by them! Michelle and I looked at each other and, at the same time said, “this is so AMAZING!”

When we got back to the hotel we took the longest showers ever! We also threw our clothes into the dry cleaning bags hanging in our closets, and now we are both writing about the good times and uploading pictures. We had never imagined that there was a tomato fight tradition in Spain. That’s why the little town of Buñol is famous all over the world and I’ll be picking tomato seeds out of my hair for a while!

Read More...

Danza de los Zancos

Today I went to Logroño, a beautiful city in northwestern Spain. Janet went with me and drove all the way to Logroño (about 5 hours). When we got there, we were both starving, so we stopped at a little restaurant. The waiter, Miguel, served us tortilla (Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions), chorizo (Spanish sausage), manchego cheese (a strong cheese from La Mancha made out of sheep milk), and olives. That’s not our typical breakfast, but it all tasted really good. It was a “stick to your ribs” type of meal. A guy could get used to this.

After eating we got a burst of energy, so we got back in the car and drove to a little town called Anguiano, about an hour from Logroño. The town was tiny and it looked frozen in time! I felt like I had just stepped into the Middle Ages! It was unreal! People were gathered around a little church in the town square. There were a lot people and they looked like they were waiting for something. I asked a guy standing close to us, ¿Qué pasa? Then he told us that we were about to see something that takes place every 22nd of July in that town for centuries. I was more confused than I was before. I tried to get Janet to explain it to me, but Janet was in another world taking pictures.

We were apart of the crowd that surrounded the church. Then the man said, “Stand here and don’t move.” My eyes weren’t ready for what I was about to see! All of a sudden, four old men came out of the church playing drums, bagpipes and a dulzaina (double reed pipe). After a few minutes, eight young men came out of the church and began to dance around the square while the first four men cheered. Some guys were wearing colorful dresses and others were wearing bright yellow skirts. Some of the guys were dancing on stilts and others were playing castanets. But everyone danced around the little plaza to the rhythm of the music.

It was kind of hard to keep up with everything that was going on because there was so much going on at once. From what I did gather, the dancers would collect an icon and carry it off in a spinning dance down the steps of the church, down the hill, through the streets to the square, before proceeding to a shrine, where the icon is gently placed. It was unreal to see these guys, one by one, whirling around to the sound of the beat of the tamboril. Then one by one each man twirled down about 200 more feet of a steep cobblestone slope; falling onto the ‘cushion’ of the crowd waiting in the square below to crowd surf. Then each man returned up the steps again to repeat the process – again and again – as the icon slowly makes its way down into the main square. The most difficult part of the route, the a steep cobblestone street, a tricky path to walk on even in normal footwear. I could not believe my eyes!  That was defensively one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

On the way back to Logroño, Janet heard that this dance is a tradition, passed on from generation to generation, which is known to date back to at least the early 17th century.  Some say it owes its origins to the stilts, which were once used to cross the area’s flooded and snowy terrain. The stilt dance is held each morning and evening over three day. It was definitely cool. I want to see it one more time before we head back to Madrid tomorrow.

Read More...

Valencia

Our really hot guide, Señor Alcoz, met us outside the hotel at 8:00am this morning. Soon after, the tour bus arrived. Some of my classmates were still half-asleep! “¡Buenos días! ¡Su atención, por favor!” –our really hot guide said on the bus’ microphone. (Yes, I’m going to keep referring to him as our really hot guide, because he was really hot!) Half the people on the bus jumped from their seat because his mic was turned up really loud. Then he said that we were going to one of the most amazing places in Europe, and perhaps the world: The Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias de Valencia (Valencia’s City of Arts and Science).

Architecture Museum

We were looking around this otherworldly place in complete awe. The really hot guide stopped us in a place from where we could see the three buildings that make up this “city within a city,” as he called it. He said that “the city” was built to welcome the millennium. Its purpose is to educate through entertainment; “edutainment,” as he called it. The events and exhibits that take place there are related to the arts, the sciences, nature, and technology. Each building and structure was more mind-blowing that the next: The Prince Felipe Science Museum (an interactive science museum that looks just like the skeleton of a whale!) and the Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts(dedicated to the performing arts, like theater, dance, sing, etc), the Hemispheric, and the Oceanographic.

Palacio de las artes

The shape of these three futuristic buildings was unreal! It was like nothing we had seen before. The whole thing looked as if it had been created in another planet, and then beamed into existence here in Valencia! Truly breathtaking! You can just walk around the complex (for free) and you can also buy tickets to the performances and exhibits. We went in two buildings the Hemesferic, and visited the Planetarium (absolutely amazing!). It also has an Imax theater, and a laserium.  This building looks like a huge eyeball floating above a pool of water. The eye even blinks!!!

Planetarium

After lunch our really hot guide took us to the Oceanarium, an unbelievably cool building and Europe’s biggest marine park.  He told us that it is home to 500 species of fish and other sea creatures from every ocean of the world! It also has underwater an auditorium with a Red Sea aquarium as its backdrop: an amazing, super funky underwater city!

I am sure I will be back. This has been an experience beyond anything I could have imagined: I just spent a day in the future!! What an incredible way to end our stay in Valencia. Guess who I sat next to on the bus ride back to the hotel???? None other than our really hot guide J

Read More...

El Rastro

I woke up early this morning and had hot chocolate and churros for breakfast.  Churros are fried-dough pastry-based snacks in the shape of sticks that Spaniards usually have with hot chocolate. I loved them! I had to eat a lot to get full, but it was well worth the calories.

I got a little sleepy right after I ate and fell into a food coma. When I woke up, I was reenergized and wanted to find something to get into. I asked around and a sweet lady asked me if I wanted to go El Rastro with her and her daughter Andrea. I asked what El Rastro was and she explained to me that it’s the largest flea market in Europe that takes place every Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm in the old part of Madrid. I absolutely LOVE flea markets! Every time I go to one I feel as if I’m hunting for treasures, and I sure like to find them! Who knows, I might really find some since this flea market had been around since medieval times.

The three of us took the metro and arrived at the Barrio de la Latina where the market takes place. It runs down a hill and venders set up tables and booths early in the morning. It was around 10am when we got there, and I could not believe how packed it was already!  We all picked a place and a time to meet up in case we got separated from each other (somehow we knew that was bound to happen!). Sure enough, after 15 minutes or so, I realized that the two were not with me. I just kept on walking around in the crowd looking for bargains.

Aereal View of El Rastro market

El Rastro was the perfect place to buy a gift for everyone back home. They sold jewelry, paintings, pottery, bags, shoes, books, antiques, clothes, flowers, fruits, collector’s items and an endless amount of new and used goods! There were all sorts of funky stuff…old records, tools, car parts, and even animals!  After about a couple of hours, I had so many bags full of stuff that I could hardly walk. I went to the meeting place and Andrea was there waiting. As soon I got there, Andrea’s mom arrive with just as many bags as I had. Andrea made fun of us because we had to carry all of our heavy bags up the hill and all she had was one small bag. After she had a good laugh, she finally took one bag from each of us.

On the metro back to the hotel, there were two very young boys sitting across from us giggling. I kind of figured they were laughing at our overstuffed bags, but they wouldn’t stop laughing. As we approached a stop one of them jumped up, walked over to us and yelled “¡Habéis comprado el mundo entero!” (You guys bought the whole world!), and both ran off the train as the doors opened. We laughed and then showed each other everything we bought. I was proud of all my great finds. I know my family and friends back home will love their gifts.

Traditional spanish fan in El Rastro

Read More...

My encounter with one of the most famous paintings in the world

Before arriving in Madrid, I had set in my mind to go see a painting that I have loved ever since I saw it in my art history book. The name of the piece is El Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Guernica is the name of a town in Spain that was destroyed during the Spanish civil war in mid-20th century. Yes, I know it sounds brainy, but the reason why I remember all this is because I love the painting and I really admire the artist.

A group of us got up extra early this morning and rushed out to take the metro to the Museo de la Reina Sofia where El Guernica is. We were all excited to be in Madrid, but I just couldn’t wait to finally see the painting in front of me. The train ride seemed endless! When we finally arrived, I went straight to the painting and the group followed. The first thing I noticed was how HUGE it was! I also noticed that it has three colors: black, grey, and white. I seriously thought that the picture in my art history book was only black and white!

It was unreal to be standing in front of this painting and to know so much about it, thanks to the art class I had just taken. I wanted to show off to the group all I had learned about Pablo Picasso and how he is Spanish, from Cataluña to be precise, and how his style is called Cubism. I also explained how cubists believed that the realism of objects could be represented through art only when art shows all the sides of the object at the same time! The group was super impressed. A little old lady was listening to me ramble about the painting, so she stopped to ask me questions. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was laughing, until I realized she thought I was a tour director. I guess I was babbling on about all the facts I knew about El Guernica, I did kind of sound tour directorish. I did answer her questions, but when she walked away we all had a good laugh.

I saw a sign when we walked in saying that day a famous art history specialist was going to help us understand this cool painting. How lucky! According to the specialist, the focus of the painting is to express the destruction and devastation that the civil war brought to the Spaniards. Everything in the painting has a lot of importance and each person, animal, and object represents something related to the war. The horse that is in the middle of the painting represents the innocent victims of the war. The only man in the painting is a soldier lying dead, and he represents all the soldiers who supported the war’s ideals. The lantern, and the light that comes from it, represents the need to inform the world what was happening in Spain. Everything else has a symbolism as well. WOW…I was mesmerized as the specialist explained the meaning of every object and person in the painting.

The lecture lasted for about an hour and a half, but I was so interested in what the specialist was saying that the time flew. I found this is all to be so, so, very fascinating! Of course the group did not share my same enthusiasm, but they later admitted to being grateful for me dragging them to the Museo.

Read More...