So this past weekend was my first weekend that I traveled outside of Alcala and Madrid. We didn’t have school Monday because it was Festividad de Sto Tomas de Aquino, which gave us a five day weekend instead of the usual four days. I’m not really sure what exactly this holiday was for, except for the fact that it gave me an extra day to travel. My friends and I took advantage of our long week and decided to go to Granada and Cordoba. On Thursday night my group took a bus from Madrid to Granada. We left Alcala at 11pm and arrived in Madrid at around 11:45pm, then hung out in the Atocha train station until it was time for our bus to leave, which was 1:30am. When we arrived in Granada, we were sleep deprived and groggy. In order to get ready for our long day ahead of us, we stayed at the station for a bit eating breakfast and gulping down cafe con leches, while we planned our upcoming day. At around 8am we all took taxis to Oasis Backpacker’s Hostel. This was my first hostel experience and I was very impressed. In Granada, we rented a 10-bed room, which we all shared. There were five sets of bunk beds and one bathroom. Needless to say it was interesting when we were all trying to get ready that night. Luckily there was a shower downstairs which Ian, our only guy, used to give the girls space as we all frantically tried to get ready; all trying to blow-dry our hair, apply make, and shower in a very small space at the same time.
When we first arrived at our hostel, we weren’t able to check in, so we put our luggage in a storage room and hiked to the top of Granada to check our the scenery. I traveled to Granada three years ago with my parents and I was surprised at how much of the city I actually remembered. The hike up to the top of Granada was great. There was a bunch of graffiti along the walls and we stopped many times to take pictures.
Photo break during our hike!
Wofford Takes Granada!
After our hike to the top of the mountain, we walked back down to the center of town. We stopped at a little café where we all got more café con leche and either pan con tomate (my favorite) or pan con marmalade. After this we walked around Granada some more. Jess, Nancy, Laura, Ashley and I found this awesome little shop that sold different kinds of herbs, spices and dried fruit. We were all hungry, so we bought big bags of dried fruit. I had dried coconut (my favorite), papaya, pineapple, kiwi (not so good), and banana chips. It was great. I spent 7 euros on my bag, but it lasted all weekend, so it was worth every euro.
Colorful spices in a booth on the street of Granada!
After we walked around some we were able to go back to our hostel and check in. I was surprised with how much I liked our room. Yes, the sheets were kind of sketchy and I slept with my pea coat on top of my pillow, but the condition of the hostel was much higher than I had been expecting. Once we checked into to the hostel, some of us decided to go the center in Granada and find a tapas place for lunch. For 20 euros, we were able to get 15 different types of tapas and a free pitcher of sangria. It was a fabulous deal. We had different types of bocadillas (sandwiches), a beef stew, gazpacho, a strange type of hamburger, and meatballs. It was a great lunch and we sat out in the sun, which was a major bonus. It’s usually freezing in Spain so it was great to be able to sit out in the warm sun. After lunch, we went to a café and split churos y chocolate. In Spain, their version of hot chocolate is very different from the United States. Rather than being a drink, their hot chocolate is very thick, almost like melting a chocolate bar. You can’t really drink the chocolate because it is so thick and sweet; typically you either eat it with a spoon or use for dipping, like with the churros.
Churos y chocolate
After lunch, we met up with some of Laura’s friends who are studying in Granada for the semester. They took us to the very top of Granada, even higher than we’d walked that morning, to see the sunset. The hike was miserable; it was straight up hill and after only a few hours of sleep, we were all struggling. My boots also paid a major price for the hike. All the streets in Granada are cobblestone, which wore holes into the bottoms of my boots. Good thing the rebajas/sales are still going on in Alcala!
After trekking to the top of Alcala, we realized how worth that hike was. We saw one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was amazing. We had a great aerial view of Alcala, even better than the one we’d seen that morning and the sunset was beautiful.
I’m on top of the world! Jk, it’s only Granada.
After the sunset, we walked back down to the center of Granada to go to our hostel. We showered and put on clean clothes, which was pretty great since we’d been traveling in the same clothes for 24 hours. We met up with the other part of our group and went down to the lobby of the hostel for welcome drinks and met some guys from France and women traveling from Germany. Hostels really are a good place to meet new, interesting people. There was definitely an eclectic mix of people staying at our hostel. Young backpackers, old hippies, even a group of Muslim women from Asia.
That night we went out to get paella and we met up with Laura’s friends again for a night on the town. It’s really interesting being in a town with lots of foreign students because the bars and discotecas have a lot of items that cater to Americans. For example, we went to a chupiteria, which is a bar that had a menu of 300 different kinds of shots for 1 euro each. One of the shots was called the USA, which they used three different types of liquor so that it was a layered shot and was red, white, and blue.
It’s so weird how so many stores market American products. In Madrid, there’s a TGI Fridays that my sister’s boyfriend was telling me about. In the states, you could probably buy a burger, fries, and a drink for less than $10, but in Madrid, a small burger and a fry are 15 euros, which is almost $20. That’s crazy! TGI Friday’s is able to increase their prices because not only do they sell American food but they create an “American atmosphere,” which is definitely included in the price. I find that so crazy!
The next day we all woke up early to go visit the Alhambra, which is an old Moorish palace on the top of the hill in Granada. This is one of the biggest historic sites in Spain and brings in many tourists. Since the Alhambra is such a popular tourist site, you have a to buy tickets in advance to visit it. In addition to a general admission ticket, you select a time in which you want to visit the Palacio Nazarie, which was the main house of the royals. In order to see this palace, you must be at the entrance spot for the palace at your assigned time. If you’re late, the guards may not let you in. Like typical students, my entire group woke up late and had a miscommunication in meeting time. This caused some of us to literally run up the mountain and through the Alhambra in order to make it on time. The first half of our group was 20 minutes late. After talking to the guards, we learned that if you’re within an hour of your meeting time, they still let you in. I guess they just tell people they’re very strict with times in order to scare people into being on time. The other half of our group was over an hour late to their meeting time so they had to repurchase tickets in order to tour the palace. The reason they were so late is because when we purchased our tickets, we had to put our first, middle, and last name on the form. Jess doesn’t have a middle name because that’s not typical in Indonesia, so when she had to put down her middle name on the form, she made up a fake name. This caused her passport and ticket to not match up, which must have caused a red flag, so when she tried to get into the Alhambra, they made her go talk to some people who work there in order to explain that she wasn’t an impersonator, she just didn’t have a middle name. Even though she explained the situation, they still made her buy a new ticket. Que raro.
I visited the Alhambra a few years ago when I visited Spain with my parents, but this experience was completely different. There are many gardens throughout the Alhambra, which is one of the biggest attractions due to the large variety of gorgeous flowers. When I visited with my parents, it was summer so all of the flowers were in full blooms and it was warm outside.
This time, there were no flowers and it was freezing within the Alhambra since it is the middle of winter. Regardless, it was still gorgeous to tour the palace again.
Chillin’ at the Alhambra.
There were so many rooms with decorated tiles and many interior courtyards with pools and fountains. When we left the palace we walked outside in the many different gardens and it was actually warm outside because the sun had finally come out. Since it’s freezing in Spain this time of year, we take advantage of being outside when the sun is out. We just sat in the courtyard of the garden in the sun for an hour people watching and taking in the beautiful Alhambra. It’s so crazy to think that this palace was built 1333, almost 100 years before the Americas were even discovered and almost 400 years before the formation of the United States. Spain has so much history that you cant find in the United States. Our country really is a baby in comparison.
Beautiful interior courtyards and open air hallways.
When we finished touring the Alhambra we walked back down to the center of town and looked for a place to eat. For some reason, I’ve been craving falafel on this trip, which all my friends knew about, so we searched for a place that had it on the menu. We found a cheap restaurant that had un menu del dia, which consists of bread, a drink, an appetizer, main course, and dessert for a cheap price. This place also had falafel on one of its menus del dias and had open tables outside in the sun. It was perfect. We ordered and while we were eating our first courses, the waitress came out to tell me that they had run out of falafel… Que mala suerte. The one food I wanted! She told me a popular choice on the menu was a chicken and vegetable kabob that came with salad and French fries. I’d seen them bringing out that dish earlier and it looked good so I ordered it. When they brought out my food, it looked and smelled amazing, but the only problem was that instead of French fries, they gave me mushrooms, a food I’m not crazy about.
After they brought out my plate, they brought the same plate to other tables and they all were served French fries. If you can’t tell, I’m still slightly bitter. Even though the kabob was great, I really wanted falafel, or at least the fries my meal was supposed to come with.
After lunch we split up again and walked around the town. Earlier in the day, I’d seen a shop that sold lots of colorful tapestries. I found one that was teal with a hand woven pattern of a big tree with different types of animals underneath. For a large, hand-woven tapestry, it was pretty cheap so I bought it to hang up in my cube at Wofford next year. I also bought a pretty turquoise fashion ring! We shopped around a bit and each bought a bunch of post cards. If you gave me your address, be on the look out for a postcard in the next few weeks! After we shopped for a bit, we went back to the hostel to collect all of our luggage and head to the bus station.
Once we got to the bus station, we had a 2.5 hour drive to Cordoba. One great thing about Spanish transportation is how prompt they are. Our tickets said that we were leaving at 7:00pm and that we’d arrive in Cordoba at 9:30pm. We left the station at exactly 7:00pm and arrived in Cordoba at exactly 9:30pm. After we arrived in Cordoba we all got taxis and headed to our hostel, Funky Cordoba. Whereas the hostel in Granada exceeded my expectations for hostels, Funky Cordoba was the exact opposite. While they had a nice little restaurant attached to the hostel and a hookah room, the actual bedrooms were awful. In Granada, our room had 10 beds for 10 people and we still felt like we had a good amount of space. In Cordoba, we were in a four-person room and we felt like we were on top of each other the entire time. We were packed in like sardines. Also, in the bathroom, the toilet was inside of the shower. I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of the bathroom, but imagine a very small shower, which is then cut in half because the toilet takes up the other half of the floor. The toilet seat was constantly wet and if you tried to use the toilet, your feet would get wet because the toilet was on the shower floor. Also, there was only hot water at night. If you tried to take a shower in the morning, you were out of luck. The water was freezing. Even though I showered twice in Cordoba, I still felt so gross when I got back to Alcala because our room in general was just dirty.
Once we checked into the hostel, most of us were famished so we set out in search of a restaurant. There was a large bridge close to our hostel that connects to the other side of the river. We saw a bunch of tents and lights on the other side of the river so we crossed over to see what was going on. We stumbled across an old Roman festival. It was so cool! They had tons of food stands with smoke chorizo, whole hogs, sausages, and crepes.
Home of the best chorizo sandwiches. Ever.
The festival probably stretched over a half mile at least. I found a stand that sold falafel, and hey guess what? They were out. I don’t think I’m meant to get falafel while I’m over here. We found a cute little food stand that sold pinchas de pollo (chicken skewers) and chorizo sandwiches. I order a red chorizo sandwich and it was amazing. I think there was about three pieces of chorizo on a big baguette. Even though I’d been craving falafel, this was amazing!
So. Much. Meat.
After the festival, we went to a club on the other side of the river close to our hostel that the consierge told us about. It was called Soho and was on the terrace of a tall building. The club itself was super cool and would have been perfect during the summer, but was definitely meant for an older crowd. First, drinks were around 7 euros. No way college students can afford this to be a regular party location. Second, the median age of the club was about 35-40 years old. I saw women my mom’s age wearing dresses tighter and shorter than anything I own. It’s one thing to see a 21 year old dress in skimpy clothes, but for a much older women who seriously needs to go to the gym is completely different.
After Soho we wandered around the city and checked out a few local places. A lot of my friends were tired so they went home early, but Nancy and I both stayed out late. On our walk home, we really wanted churos y chocolate, so we stopped a few guys to ask where we could buy them. It was 6am, so the guys laughed at us and told us nothing was open. We started talking to them and they asked us if were Yankees. Nancy told them she was, but I told them I most definitely wasn’t; I’m from South Carolina. After I told them this, they asked me if I own slaves and if I’m in favor of slavery. Do people actually still think that about people in the South???? I was definitely taken aback by these questions.
The next morning, we all slept in late. The room with six people slept until 10am and then began exploring the city. My room slept until 12 and we all took our time getting ready. It was super nice having free time and not rushing to be anywhere. At around 1pm we left our hostel in search of lunch. We found a place close by to our hostel that seemed promising. Yeah, we were wrong. While the food was mediocre, we were totally ripped off price wise. Jess and I split a mixed salad because we were in need of vegetables. We didn’t look at the price because we figured a mixed salad would be super cheap, boy were we wrong. It was 9 euros!
This cursed salad!
That was more expensive than the pasta she split with Victoria and almost as expensive as the paella I split with Nancy! The salad itself wasn’t even that good! End of rant.
After lunch, we started our search for ice cream. It’s been over three weeks since any of us have had ice cream so we were in desperate search to find a heladeria. It was Sunday so a lot of places were closed, so it made it difficult to find any. After searching for a while we found a pasteleria (pastry shop). They didn’t have ice cream but they had a large variety of pastries, which we all bought. I had a Spanish version of a chocolate éclair, which was delicious.
That night, we all went out to dinner to one of the most fun meals I’ve had so far. So earlier, I talked about the European obsession with American culture and this night was a perfect example. We had wanted to go back to a square that we’d seen earlier in the day to find a tapas place for dinner, but since Cordoba is such a small town many places were closed. When we were walking back to the hostel, we came across a comic book themed American diner.
Awesome American diner!
The walls were filled with comic book strips and they their menu was filled with classic American diner food: hamburgers, chicken fingers, French fries, onion rings, Caesar salad, and chicken wings. I know, we’re not supposed to be going to these places because it screams that we’re lame American tourists, but I think it’s okay to once in a while (emphasis on the once) to seek the familiar.
Fingers de Pollo y patatas fritas
Unlike the jacked up prices at TGI Friday’s in Madrid that Carlos told me about, this diner was reasonably priced, delicious, and very generous with portions. We played charades on Ian’s iPhone.
I wonder if anyone knows we’re Americans?
While I’m slightly embarrassed to have caved so soon, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally seeking the familiar while studying abroad. Although we’re in Spain to learn about the country and culture and immerse ourselves into the Spanish way of life, at the end of the day, we’re still tourists. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally going to an American dinner to eat foods you miss from home or getting excited when you hear an American song playing in a discoteca, as long as it doesn’t prevent you from opening yourself to new experiences. In the same way that a Japanese student studying in America may occasionally go to a sushi place because it reminds them of home, as Americans, we like to occasionally find something that reminds us of home, which in our case was a diner. We’ve spent the last three weeks immersing ourselves into our new lives and it’s hard at times, so sometimes something as simple as a cheeseburger and onion rings or watching the Simpsons with your family can be a great comfort.
The next day we wandered around Cordoba and toured the Mezquita, one of the biggest tourist spots in Cordoba. It was an old Mosque that after the Spanish inquisition was turned into a Catholic Church.
It’s so interesting being in there because it’s designed like a typical mosque, with the Moorish arches, but the decorations are obviously Catholic. It’s like you’re in a religiously confused building: half Islamic, half Christian. After we toured La Mezquita, we asked the guard when the next mass was and if we could go to it. He told us that one was about to start and that we were welcome to attend. I’d wanted to attend a church service in Spain at some point in my semester, so this was a perfect opportunity. I’ve never been to Mass so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was really interesting. I think that part of the service was in Latin and the other part was in Spanish. I’m not really sure, they were really hard to understand. This was definitely an experience. Some of my friends are Catholic so it was a really big deal for them to attend this service, especially due to the importance of La Mezquita.
Interior courtyard of La Mezquita
After wandering around Cordoba for a while, it was finally time for us to go to the bus station and head home. It’s so weird calling my house in Alcala my home and being excited to return here. At the end of our day, I was so tired and felt gross from the hostel and all I wanted was to return home. At first, my idea of home was my home in Blythewood, but now my house in Alcala is also my home. It has all my clothes, my books, and my new family. While I loved my trip this weekend, it was refreshing to know that I would soon be heading to my Spanish home. My first few days I thought my house was going to be a place a slept in and kept my stuff, just a place to stay at, but now, it’s truly my new home away from home. My host mom was excited to see me when I got home and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Also, during the weekend she made me text her when I got to a new city and before I took my train home to Madrid. She really is my Spanish mother. In the same way my mom gets me to check up with her so she’ll know I’m safe, my host mom does the same. It’s comforting knowing I have a family who looks out for me and cares about me. I don’t think my transition to my new Spanish life would have been the same if I didn’t have my family here.
So for those of you who’ve never stayed in a hostel, let me just say, it’s an experience. I was a hostel virgin before this weekend so I didn’t know what all I should bring, but now after my two different hostel experiences, I thought I’d share a list of must haves to make future hostel experiences enjoyable.
- Bring shower shoes. You don’t know how well these showers have been cleaned. Also, whether you’re sharing a room with all people you know or it’s a mix of people you don’t know, that’s a lot of feet sharing one shower. So bring shower shoes. Our shower in the Funky Cordoba was gross so there’s no way I would have gone in barefoot. Also, not all hostels provide bathmats, so it’s not super pleasant walking around your room on a dirty floor with wet feet.
- Bring a towel. Most hostels don’t provide towels. You usually have to pay to use them, and even though it’s only 1 or 2 euros per towel, the overall cleanliness of hostels isn’t the same as when you stay at a Marriott or Hampton Inn. One of the towels in Granada had an odd brownish stain on it. Oh, and European towels are more the size of bathmats than the typical towel size that we’re accustomed to in the US. So if you want full coverage, definitely bring your own towel.
- Bring your own pillow or pillowcase. The same way you’re not sure about how clean your towel actually is, the same can be said for your pillowcase. While not all hostels are disgusting, I wouldn’t want to risk getting bed bugs in my hair. I would suggest bringing a pillowcase rather than an entire pillow because it takes up less space. I didn’t have a pillowcase so I slept with my pea coat on top of my pillow. While the sheets were probably fine since they’re washed after check out, I didn’t want to risk it.
- Talk to the people in your hostel! Really cool people stay in hostels, so take advantage of it! Most hostels have age limits, usually 18-30, so you don’t have to worry about any super old creepy men, or even women being there. Yes, you have to be careful when you’re traveling, but the people in hostels usually have pretty cool stories. If I hadn’t been traveling with such a large group, bonding with my fellow residents would have been a great way to find out about cool things to do in the city and to find potential friends to go out with. But again, be smart about it! We don’t want Taken 3 to occur. Just kidding about that part, just keep your wits about you!
My trip was a lot of fun. While I was happy to get home and shower and sleep in my own bed, I loved my experience. After hearing about my dad’s many stories about his time abroad, it’s cool to be able to share by stories with him. While staying at a four star would have been more ideal, I would have never had the same experience as a I did in the hostel, which definitely makes a person more appreciative of nicer travels.
Today marks my third week in Spain, and so far, I’m absolutely loving it! I went grocery shopping the other day and bought the Spanish equivalent of Twix and peanut butter, which is very difficult to find and very expensive.
It’s funny how Spaniards strongly dislike peanut butter! They actually really hate it. My host mom and I talked about peanut butter for probably 20 minutes last night. The don’t like it’s smell or texture and the concept of a peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and nutella sandwich is so foreign and strange to them. I guess it’s the same way I find putting ketchup on rice to be weird.
Well, it’s postcard and Netflix time, so until next time, ¡salud y besos!
- sunflower seeds- pipas
- cranberry- arándano
- omen- augurio
- chaos- caos
- anxiety- ansiedades
- flip-flop – las chanclas
- sunset- la puesta del sol
- bacon- el tocino