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Monday, October 11, 2010

Hola España

So I guess the first major sign that you have been out of the States too long is the fact that you get excited to see a Burger King that has free refills.

With the first of the last two countries upon us, Spain is definitely a sign that the travel program is winding down. For the second part of independent travel, we chose Madrid as our place of study and it worked out since it was close to where the program would resume in several days. The travel here was long and involved several cabs and two plane trips before we got to our hotel late in the evening. The hotel was rather nice and we were staying on the top floor of a busy plaza in the city. Of course this was one of the more interesting parts of the city as well, as we found out that night when each person in my group was grabbed by a different “lady”, trying to get us to buy into their business. I guess a hotel with a McDonalds and hookers right outside would be ideal for some, but when you get grabbed by one looking like an older Snookie, it’s not so fun.

Madrid is one of those cities that is really starting to get big and develop into something more. Architecturally, it has some big plans in mind, but with recent recessions, some of the work that was due to be completed was put on hold. That’s not to say that there is nothing to see, there are still some pretty prominent architects here such as Herzog and de Meuron and the Caixa Forum, a revitalization of an older building into a community center. Herzog and de Meuron are obsessed with the skin of the building and this one is no exception, retrofitting bronze plating on an old brick facade with perforations that can be seen from the ground, playing with the light.. The old window placements are then disregarded and bricked up, allowing voids to be creating and creating light in the areas that now need it within the new floor plan. The building is accessed from underneath the older building that is now lifted on steel and concrete, creating a cool gathering spot out of the sun. The inside still has a very modern theme with a grand staircase and views of the bronze screen where you can really study the pattern.

Caixa Forum, Madrid
Seville was where the travel program started back up and it didn’t have the best start and by far the worst ending of anywhere on the trip. Waiting on the public transportation system here takes awhile and the first time we used it happened to be at night, trying to look at some bridges in the area. Our instructor basically took us to one of the darker areas of the city. We had homeless people shouting at us and skater kids making passes at the girls most of the time we were there. The next day wasn't much better because we only had one place to go and it didn’t really catch any of our interest, but the city itself is nice during the day and there were a lot of nice shops in the more expensive parts of the city. The final day, the bus trip out of Seville, had to be one of the worst days of my life in terms of how I physically felt. I woke up sick and was in the bathroom most of the morning. Getting ready to go seemed almost impossible and when finally making it down the stairs, I realized I wasn’t the only one that was feeling ill. About half of the group had contracted food poisoning from the hotel food the day before. The total time on the bus this day was about four hours in total and involved me holding on to a trash bag for a good part of it.

Our first stop on this wonderful day was at Cordoba, to see the much talked aboutGreat Mosque of the city. This is a really interesting place and beautiful, but it was not a good day for me. Taking pictures proved a difficult task and looking at them afterwards showed how out of it I really was. More bad than good pictures is never a welcoming thing. The Mosque itself is a bit controversial in name as the Spanish Reconquista led to the take over of the Moor build building and converted it to a Catholic Church by inserting a cathedral inside. It's interesting to see the two styles mix and even clash in some areas, really telling the story of the times. The Moors saw saw Architecture as more in tune with nature and really letting the patterns and structure do the talking, while the Gothic influence infuses it with sculpture. The lead up to the area is a treat within itself as you cross the river and into the small town that surrounds it before you find the gates to the courtyard.

Great Mosque, Cordoba
Our final stop on this day was to Granada, a city I have no idea what it actually looks like because I was stuck in the hotel the whole other day we were there. Some other students also got hit with it after, bringing the final count to over half the class getting food poisoning. That is an experience I hope to never have again and far from my best experience in Europe thus far.

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