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El Retiro August 12, 2012

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August 13, 2012

It was our last day in Spain when I realized I’d yet to visit the acclaimed�Retiro.�Once, twice, a dozen times over the course of the month I’d been told that I�had�to visit the park; for sites of beauty in the city of Madrid, they said, it could not be surpassed. With Google directions in hand, we set off to sightsee–and oh, how worth the trip it was!�

Upon walking unto the entrance of the Retiro, the impression that hit me was of enormous, arching columns and colorful flowers all in bloom. Inside the park, however, lay the true jewel of the park, and this was the canal. This lake, blue and green by turns, was so wide you couldn’t shout across to the other side. Along its sides, crowds teemed to watch the rowboats that, for just a dozen euro, anyone could rent for an hour. It was gorgeous.�


And there was so much to do! We watched a woman create from start to finish a beautiful sunset jungle painting using nothing more than spray paint and sponges. A bit away from her, puppet shows drew a delighted audience. My favorite exhibition, however, were the vendors who blew bean-bag chair size bubbles for children to pop.


More than that though, were the people:�El Retiro�seemed to represent the social tradition of Spanish plazas to the nth degree. There were young families with laughing children, grandfathers milling the plaza with canes, students and couples lounged in the shade over picnics. We ended the visit by photographing ourselves in that little haven–two girls, on the Retiro.�Image


via El Retiro.


The Alhambra: the Summer Palace and Gardens August 12, 2012

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Just past the main palace of the Alhambra sits a smaller but equally gorgeous Moorish construct, and this is the Summer Palace. The emirs and their wives escaped to the sparkling fountains and lush gardens of this frescoed-retreat during the hottest summer months, which no doubt explains the beauty of the outdoor living spaces!

Even walking from the Alhambra to the palace, I was struck by the wealth and color of blooms lining the path. Everywhere I looked I saw roses: pink, yellow and bright red. On a background of bushy green foliage and cobble-stoned walks, the flowers drew my eye like butterflies.�


Inside the palace, one of my favorite terraces had to be the multi-headed fountain right in front of the stone living quarters. When I was little, I owned a fairy tale book that talked about the ‘Fountain of Singing Waters’–and when I walked into this courtyard, the scene there transported me straight back to that story.�


Beyond that, the Courtyard of the Crepe Myrtles was one of the most beautiful outdoor rooms I’ve ever seen. Fluffy, lavender blooms climbed one side of the courtyard walls while a multi-headed fountain shot arcs of water into the green-watered reflection pool to form a truly beautiful picture. With such lovely views, it’s no wonder the Moorish royalty flocked to their summer home here!


via The Alhambra: the Summer Palace and Gardens.

The Alhambra: Architecutre August 12, 2012

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August 8, 2012

Our trip to Granada couldn’t have been complete without a visit to that most famous of all Moorish dwellings, the Alhambra. Originally built by a Spanish emir to serve as a palace and fortress, this building showcases the height of Moorish power during the Muslim reign in Spain during the fourteenth century. Although it ultimately fell to the Spanish monarchs during the period known as the Reconquest, the Alhambra remains a site renowned for its beauty.

One of the most incredible features of the Alhambra is surely its architecture. Muslim tradition prohibits builders from portraying live figures, humans and animals alike. The theology behind this practice dictates that since only Allah holds the divine power of creation, for mortals to reproduce images of the living beings would be blasphemous. This ideology has resulted in the Moorish/Muslim tradition of breathtaking geometric mosaics and art, like the one shown below. I found this particular panel of tiles is part of the doorway leading from an outer courtyard of gardens into the first of a series of entryways in the Alhambra. I love it so much!

Another incredible feature of the Alhambra’s architecture is definitely the patterns of stilted arches, rhombuses and stalactite-like structures that characterize their doorways and ceilings. Like you can see below, this style of architecture results in sweeping, dramatic archways that draw the eye upward. Even more incredible than the detail and loveliness of this style is the fact that it’s common to�nearly every single room in the Alhambra.�With the level of precision and workmanship this style requires, it’s not at all hard to believe this building was home to one of the most famous Moorish princes of Spain!

via The Alhambra: Architecutre.

El Plaza de España y Flamenco August 12, 2012

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Last weekend, our group took a trip to the gorgeous cities of Sevilla and Granada, located in the heart of southern Andalusian Spain. Within the first couple hours of arriving to Sevilla, we managed to walk the whole city as part of a guided tour. Our route took us by famous parks and towers of the city, but the most magical of our destinations was hands down the Plaza de España. With gorgeous reflection pools and tiled mosaic-style benches of blues and yellows honoring at least a dozen Spanish provinces, the multi-tiered and -towered structure looked more like a palace of old. And for those of us obsessed with modern day culture, did I mention that they filmed Star Wars here?


Two nights later in Granada, we traveled to one of the most famous flamenco-sites in all of Spain to ooh and�ahh over a traditional flamenco shown performed by Andalusian gypsies.�Incredible.�For the whole of the hour that the show lasted, none of us could tear our eyes away from the whirling, stomping, mantilla-draped dancers. At the same time, the myriad of emotions tangible in the�canciones�performed by�the flamenco singers tugged at our heartstrings–by the end, it was hard to stop myself from begging for more! Especially after learning about both the culture of�la gente roma�en our first LBAT class, to sample a bit of their culture first hand was a truly incredible experience–the height of what is Spanish!

via El Plaza de España y Flamenco.

All This Time’s Been ‘Ocio’ August 12, 2012

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July 14, 2012

How can two weeks in such a place as España fly by so quickly? Or maybe it’s no wonder really–after all, there’s nowhere else on earth quite like this beautiful country. Vale, so what have I been up to? In the past couple of weeks, I have. . .

Searched out one of the best heladerías in all of Madrid; the Romana, on Hortaleza. I have to confess, I’m there almost everyday. . .but when a girl can enjoy flavors like panna cotta and fresa and menta all for a song, well, it;s no wonder I’m on a first name basis with the wonderful Italians who own the store!

Visited one of Madrid’s best flea markets, El Rastro, where not only the one-of-a-kind dresses were to die for, so were the artists. They earn their keep by acting as living tableaus of statues and traditional Spanish folk-tale figures; it was such a shock to see one move!

Delighted in two of Europe’s foremost homages to art and all its creators: as a class, we visited both the Prado and the Reina Sofia. Although I could;t take a picture of it, to se Picasso’s Guernica absolutely humbled me. After learning about not just the painting but the stark and tragic history that inspired it, to see it in real life definitely took my breath away.

Witnessed first-hand one of Spain’s most incredible and legendary celebrations–San Fermín and the Running of the Bulls. I have never even seen any type of revelry to equal it, nor any bravery like that shown by both runners and bull fighters! Truly, truly amazing.

Now, two weeks in, we’ve finished our first class, and while the work was definitely tough at times, everything that’s come with it–the sightseeing of palaces and famous villas, the conversations about la época frqnquistawith madrileños, the tapas and rebajas and generosity of the people when my grammar´s not quite right–have made España a place I never want to leave. ¡Viva España!