Sunday, October 14, 2012

Barcelona - Dos

Day two in Barcelona has been fantastic!

Jose gave us lots of information on the artist Gaudi - not born here but arrived in 1852 to attend the university.  His artistic style and influence can be seen across the city.

We stopped at Park Guell which was an amazing outdoor area Gaudi designed near the home he lived in.  Inspired by nature, fairy tales and classical legends the park is beautiful.  With its kissing benches, 'candy house', salamander and plaza with the longest bench in the world it is a work of art in itself.

Some of us made the walk up to the top where the three crosses are - and found even more breathtaking views of the city.

From there we headed back downtown for a short walk to La Sagrada Familia cathedral.  Design by Gaudi and still not yet finished, it is very unique and ornate.  Just walking around the outside, Jose had enough informatiion to share about its intricacies that it took some time.  The line for entrance was nearly wrapped around the church.  Jose said that a tour inclduing the inside would need hours more time - and we wanted a bit of extended free time on our last day in Spain.  So the bus brought us back to the city center for lunch and more exploration of this great city!

So hard to believe that tomorrow will be the last day we wake up in Espana - we head home to the states bringing fond memories of our journey together!

Barcelona Uno

We arrived in Barcelona to find a beautiful city rich in history.  Our local guide Jose tells us that the city has an Art Nouveau style.  Early on we noticed the Catalan flags and the 'free Catalonia' signs, as there is increasing interest in having this area sucede from Spain.

We drive by Palaza Espana Barcelona with a statue in the center and beautiful buildings around the perimeter.  We also see the old bull ring which has been converted into a shopping mall with restaurants and services as well.  We saw the Congress of Barcelona's building and stopped for photos at the Olympic Stadium from 1992.

There are lots of museums throughout the city, but a cluster of them along the hillside of the Montserrat Mountain.

Outside the Cathedral we saw the Saladana dancers.  We peeked into the cathedral while Mass was starting.  We saw the Gothic District, the busiest area of the city and we went to the harbor where some of us dipped our toes into the Sea!

We saw the pop art installations and the Olympic village area, which housed 15,000 athletes.  We also stopped at the old Roman Forum, which still has three columns.  We then headed down the busy street Las Ramblas - lined with shops and thousands of people.  We also saw the Market briefly (trying not to get lost!) which was so impressive!

After our tour we had dinner on our own - many went to the top of the renovated bull ring for impressive views.  Some were able to catch one of the water fountain shows at Plaza Espana.


We had a long drive to Valencia but made good time with Paco behind the wheel.

The city was founded in 158BC by the Romans.  The Visigoths ruled next, followed by the Muslims.  Today the city is beautiful and full of history, blended with modern additions.

We were joined on our tour by Stonehill graduate Jason Lampke '92 who has lived here since 2000.  I was able to meet his lovely wife Maria and three children before Jason joined the group for our tour.

Ophelia was our local guide - not short on words, she talked a mile a minute and provided us with some new catch phrases:  6,000 potatoes, flip the omelette, bubs and more!

We drove to the harbor which hosted the 32nd America's Cup in 2007 - providing opportunity for complete restructuring which brought about a boom in tourism.  There is a beach right next to the harbor and a Formula One track there as well - with views of the track from yachts in the harbor.  We then drove to another new development area that boasts an aquarium, dolphin center, science and research center, an iMax and a spectacular opera house.

We drove by the bull ring which was constructed in the 1850s and is modeled after the Coliseum.  Lots of churches - on most every corner in fact!  "One to the right, another on the left..."

We concluded our tour at a cafe to enjoy a local drink Orchata.  We then said goodbye to Jason (thanks so much for joining us!) and had dinner on our own.

Today was the only bad weather we experienced - light rain until the very end of our walking tour, which brought us rain like cats and dogs - "not just puppies."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Granada - Dos

We next drove to downtown Granada where we checked into our hotel and had some free time.  Several of us met up with some special guests later while others explored the city on their own and enjoyed some of its finer offerings.

Our special guests were from the University of Granada's GRIIS Program - the one Stonehill has a partnership with for our students to spend a semester.  Amalia and Teresa work for GRIIS and they coordinated a lovely walk down the Avenido de Constitucion with Jessica '14 and Elyse '14 as well as Sara '12 (who has returned to Granada for a year after graduation to get post-graduate work done).  All five of them were welcoming and informative.  We saw some of the university and heard some history of the city, and some current facts as well:  300,000 people live in the city but 100,000 are students!!  This was apparent as the whole city has a college-town feel to it.

Check out more about the program:  GRIIS Program

We all gathered for dinner and were joined by Elyse, Sara, and Jessica.

Granada - Uno

We departed early for Granada and arrived at the world-famous Alhambra - amazing series of buildings and gardens.

The first structure hosts a traditional festival of music and dance, seating 850 people.  It is very representative of the architecture of this area - with a square outside and a round courtyard inside.

Walls and ceilings of all the rooms throughout the Alhambra are covered with carvings - 9,000 individual patterns are used throughout, many using three types of Arabic calligraphy.

We proceeded to the first of three palaces - the Administration Palace - where the tax collectors were.  The second is the Political Palace and the third is the Private Palace - each more impressive than the previous.

Water is clearly a huge part of the architectural design - fountains with connecting waterways are everywhere and water is a theme in some of the carved patterns with blue being one of the predominate colors.

We then moved through the public gardens and into the private gardens, which house the summer house.  The summer house is where the royals would spend summer afternoons in an open air structure at a higher altitude.  After sunset, they would return to the Private Palace through the private gardens.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Seville Free Time

Free time - and lots of it!

We left our local guide around noon.  Some of us roamed around the squares and grabbed lunch before meeting up with Antonio to have a relaxing afternoon back at the hotel.  Others stayed out downtown for the full afternoon.

Some sites explored were the Seville bull ring (Plaza del Toros), the spectacular Royal Alcazar, some of the public gardens and, yes, probably some shops.

The city is difficult to navigate (we'll see who got lost!).  Many will return downtown tonight to check out one of the two rooftop lounges Antonio recommends to see the city by star light.  FYI - sunny skies today again - with temps nearing 100 degrees!!!

Tomorrow we have an early morning departure to reach Granada where we visit Alhambra and then spend time with some students and staff at the university there.

Seville Tour II

Following our stop at Plaza Espana in Seville we headed out on foot through the Santa Cruz area and then made our way to the Seville Cathedral.

Its Main Mosque and minaret were built using bricks from 1184-1198.  In 1248 the building was consecrated as Catholic with construction from 1434-1517 on the Gothic Cathedral.  It is the most extensive Gothic cathedral all over the world.  It houses the Tomb of Christopher Columbus.

Following the guided tour some of us made our way up the 36 ramps to the top of the tower to see panoramic views of this great city!

Seville Tour I

This morning we met our local guide in Seville, Elena, for a city tour.  There are tons of gardens and the city is very green.  The old city is also surrounded by not one, but two walls - one Roman and one Arab which served as defense ages ago.  Seville was once the richest city in the world and held the title for nearly three centuries.  This is due to its river, port and ease of delivering goods to other regions.

Many of the cities' buildings were built for the 1929 Expo, including the Square of America.  Christopher Columbus is a source of huge pride throughout the country but especially in this region (where his remains are).

Our first stop was Plaza Espana - a magnificent plaza that took 12 years to build.  The plaza is surrounded by structures which feature detailed ceramics - including 50 benches, decorated in honor of each province.  And there is a fountain in the center.


For our first night in Seville we were treated to a Flamenco Show downtown.

From our balcony we enjoyed some sangria and watched the performers dance the flamenco as well as traditional Spanish classical dances.  FYI - they used castanets for just one of the two....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The coolest building ever? Could be!

The Cathedral in Cordoba just may be the coolest building ever!
Words can't fully describe - and it would take pages of blog posts to share just a hint of its history, so we're sharing the link to the site so you can read all about it.  (Our own photos will be added here as well - but technical difficulties (and a lost suitcase) prevail.

The Cathedral of Cordoba


First our morning started with an alarm - or a lack of one; as Mary Jane and Pat's room never received a wakeup call.  So everyone else was on the bus ready to go when they finally got a knock on the door.  What troopers they were, though!  In 15 minutes they were on the bus with everyone and not long after they were able to laugh at the 'chaos' of it all.

Our local guide Isabel was just delightful - and clearly has a love for her city.  She tells us that filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is from here as we begin our walk.

First we go through the old Jewish center.  Nearly all of the city's buildings are white-washed (originally by the women we hear).

We stop at an old Jewish synagogue and learn some history of the area.  Then we stop at the statue of a famous rabbi (can you name him?) which legend is that by rubbing his foot and then touching your own head you will get taller and wiser.  most of us did that - some hoping for extra height, others for a bit of wisdom!

Esther wore her Stonehill shirt - so she makes it into the blog!  Seen above with Jocelyn and Peter.

The streets, again, are very narrow and look more like stone paths.  Amazing how everyone gets around here - the cars, scooters, horses and all the pedestrians...

Isabel talked to us about bullfighting in the area - a topic difficult to discuss in her line of work as many have strong feelings about it.  She then took us to a courtyard at the university for some photos.  And she gave us a short break so folks could grab a coffee (in particular poor Pat and Mary Jane!).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Toledo (not Ohio)

Hola Amigos!!!!

Yet another wonderful day in Espana....

This morning we departed Madrid and drove south about an hour to Toledo.  What a cool city!  Tiny streets that weaved in maze-like patterns (apparently done on purpose to confuse would-be attackers).

We also learned that Toledo is the former capital of Spain.  Going back eras, it was the capital for the Visigoths (5th century) who were then conquered by the Arabs, who were then conquered by the Christians.  It is also the most important Spanish city in Jewish history.  This has earned it the nickname 'city of three cultures' as the merging of Muslim, Jewish and Christian peoples is apparent in most everything.

It is a former metal works center and also features jewelry (we saw a demonstration of how this is made by hand - and will be bringing some home with us), ceramics, furniture and mascarpone treats (made by the cloistered nuns who sell it through a window at the convent).

We toured around and learned about this city from our guide Jose (same guide as yesterday in Madrid).  A highlight was seeing one of the most famous paintings in the world.  Painted by El Greco, it remains in the church where he painted it.  Trivia:  can anyone name it?

We enjoyed lunch and free time to roam the city before heading further south to Cordoba - about 4.5 hours' drive, which gave everyone a chance to chat some more and catch up on sleep.

Amazing views of the olive 'groves' which spanned miles and miles....

Everyone says hello to family and friends back home.  And special greetings to our friends who have traveled with us in the past but did not make the journey to Spain wth us - you are missed but we can't wait to share our stories with you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Following lunch we boarded the bus and drove about 45 minutes to see El Escorial, a 16th century palace - the most important palace in Europe from that era.

It is enormous - and was built in just 21 years.  Today it serves as a school, monastery, offices, etc.  Originally it also served as a major scientific research center.  The hand drawn maps of all areas of the globe were most impressive.  Seeing the rendering of what they created as a map of the Americas (just 60-70 years after Columbus sailed) was incredible -so much accurate detail!

The style here is in stark contrast to the Royal Palace of this morning - but equally impressive.  Some features include:  16 courtyards, the traveling chair room (and yes, the chair is still there!), the room showcasing the rice paper maps, tombs of Spanish royalty and then areas where their families are entombed, and a spectacular basilica.  The church here is at the highest level of the grounds, except the king's room which is 11 steps higher (and has a view of the main altar) - showing his importance in relation to God --- God being the highest, then the king, then the church, then everything else......  very self-important kings here. :)

We then boarded our bus and returned to downtown Madrid for a sightseeing tour by bus.  Our local guide Jose (who returns with us tomorrow) was great - very knowledgeable and a fun sense of humor.

Don't worry -- even with all this touring many found time for shopping. :)

Tonight we head out on our own for dinner in Madrid.  Thanks to the research of Esther and Cindy - several of us plan to watch the Patriots game tonight (perhaps not all of it - the start time is 10:30pm here).

We then have an early start tomorrow as we depart Madrid for Cordoba, with a stop in Toledo.

PS - Last night we were joined by Madrid native Fatima Velez '90.  She was wonderful!!!!!  She shared so many insights and fun stories over dinner.  She even typed up a list of tips for us in Madrid!  Several of us then headed out for a walk with her after dinner.  As the night went on some of us called it a night and others stayed out late.  We wondered into an outdoor wine tasting event - and Fatima got us in for free!  Then she took us to the area she termed 'the jungle' where the young people hang out.  What a great way to spend out first night in Spain!  Thanks Fatima - we thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and look forward to catching up when you are on the Cape this summer!!!!

Royal Palace

Day 2 in Madrid was terrific!

We had a 7:30 wake up call, grabbed our 'whispers' and headed out for a full day....

Started with the beautiful Royal Palace, which is a working palace even today.  Charles III was the first king to live in residence.  At its height, 6,000 people lived at the Palace.  The place was grand and featured lots of interesting things:  more than 2,000 working clocks from Phillip's collection, a hall of columns adorned with tapestries made in Brussels, a throne room (with thrones; but the king and queen do not sit on them today), antique china, silver and crystal, a chapel, the 'royal quartet of musical instruments' and magnificent statues, paintings and murals.

From there we walked through old town Madrid and grabbed lunch near Plaza Mayor - very European, reminding us of Venice and Prague plazas.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hola Espana!

We have arrived!  Although not without a few bumps in the road...

When we arrived at Logan for our departure we learned of our 3+ hour delay.  But, they gave us a voucher and many of us shared our first meals/snacks/drinks in Terminal E.

A wonderful group of 25 - everyone hit it off well and we're sure to have a great time!

We finally departed around 11pm and arrived in Madrid just before noon.  (Everyone's luggage also made it safely.)  We met our tour manager Antonio, a native of Madrid who will lead us through our entire Spanish journey.  He is very nice and seems very knowledgable.  Our bus driver Oscar loaded our luggage and then off we headed for downtown Madrid.

Spain's capital city - named the capital by Philip II - it is also the country's most populous city - approximately 3 million residents.  We drove by one of the five gates (and many noted the main shopping areas of the city!).  Our hotel is located in an area of the city adorned with 18th century architecture.  We also learned that Spain has 51 provinces and each has its own capital as well.

Preparations are already underway for next week's national hoilday - risers to view parades and blockades for added security.  Now we can't wait to see what the 12th brings us in terms of a Spanish celebration!

Everyone had about 90 minutes of free time in the heart of the city to grab a snack or lunch - and definitely some caffeine.  Some already have begun their shopping too!

Then we took a short stroll to the Prado Museum.  A wonderful way to start the trip!!!  A vast collection of art by some of the greats.... the Royal collection features hundreds of Italian works.  El Grecco's work is featured in several rooms, as is Velasquez (who was born in Seville) and Goya.  So many pieces we have seen in artbooks on display in one place.  So impressive to see.

We then strolled back to the bus - in a day that saw perfect weather - bright sunshine and 80-85 degree temperatures!

We arrived at hotel to find our second glitch... their computers were down, which slowed the process - but more importantly, they gave away most of our reserved rooms with two twin beds - forcing some field work by Antonio and some compromise by some of us - but everyone has a bed and a pillow for the night.  While very disappointing that the hotel would not honor our reservations; it is reassuring to see our travelers handle the situation well and try their best to make the best of unexpected conditions.

Now that we have a few bumps down - we expect nothing but smooth travels for the duration of the trip!!

Tonight we gather for welcome cocktails and dinner.  And we will hopefully be joined by Fatima Velez '90, who lives in Madrid.  We look forward to hearing her stories and learning some insider tips!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Spain 2012

About 30 alumni and friends will depart for the 6th installment of the Alumni Travel Program on October 5th.

"The Splendors of Spain" will take travelers to the magnificent cities of Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia and Barcelon.  They will experience first-hand the beauty of the Pado Museum, el Alhambra, the Royal Palace, and the Cathedral of Seville.  Particiopants will enjoy experiencing the Spanish culture, enjoying their delicious food and witnessing the beautiful country.

We invite you to follow our journey!

Check out our full itinerary here!