Friday, May 5, 2017

Saved the Best for Last - Manresa, Catalonia

My curiosity in Manresa began long before I started planning out my big world tour which landed me in the heart of Catalonia.  More than ten years prior to me setting foot on the Iberian Peninsula, I crossed the threshold of a mission church back in my home-state of Montana.  The teenage me was struck with awe of what beauty this structure gave the world.  Not only is the mission set in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the state, but the grace and artistry within this late 19th century brick church.  For me, most of the elegance came in the form of the 58 hand-painted murals that adorned the walls and vaulted ceiling of the Saint Ignatius Mission Church.  More impressively, those paintings were done all by one man and not just any man but the mission's cook at the time in the late 1890s!  That led me to learn more about the mission and it's history once I got home.  At the time, we were using dial-up internet which is a lesson in patience in itself.  Opening up the search with the mission church, I followed the path back to the man that is the namesake of a small church on the other side of the world from his native Spain.  The founder of the Jesuit Order, tolerant theologian and spiritual leader during the Spanish Inquisition, and true to the definition of being a saint all came from a young Basque soldier by the name of Íñigo López de Loyola.  After tracing all the history over a few days of research and waiting for images to load painfully slow on our household computer, I was fascinated by the ideals of the Jesuits and also their craftsmanship in their structures across the world.  From that point on, I have made pilgrimages to the works of the Jesuits across the world from Saint Joseph's in the heart of Georgia to magnificent Church of Sant'Ignacio just down the street from the Pantheon in Rome.  But where does Manresa play into my journey across the world and Saint Ignatius?


Reflecting back on all of those internet searches I had made as a teenager in our basement rather than doing my chores gave me more than enough reasons to want to see Manresa with my own eyes.  Not only is this city surrounded by the incredible Montserrat massif and rich with culture, this is where young Íñigo transformed himself from a soldier recovering from the wounds of war to an internationally known spiritual leader and philanthropist.  As he healed from his wounds and the primitive medical operations that followed,  Íñigo made a lengthy journey for a man that would bear a limp from severely broken legs to the mountainside monastery of Santa Maria of Montserrat from the shores of the Basque region.  After experiences within the monastery, the soldier found his calling in the life of different service.  Descending from the mountain,  Íñigo took service for a local hospital in Manresa in trade for food and lodging.  When not tending to the ill,  Íñigo would meditate in a small cave at the between the hilltop town and the river.  There, these meditations would deliver Ignatius to write the founding documents of the Jesuit Order - the Spiritual Exercises. 

All of this history is what drew me to want to visit Manresa for three days.  I had it penciled out where I would arrive in the city in the afternoon of one day.  The following to visit the Montserrat monastery, and the third to check out the cave and then continue on my way to Andorra.  I ended up staying in Manresa for five wonderful and life-changing days.  I will never be able to thank my host Geraldine for all that she did for me.  I have always been an advocate for travel for everyone to discover what is beyond the horizon.  Although, here in this picturesque city of Catalunya, my take on travel has forever changed.  Travel is more than seeing wonders of nature, beautiful buildings created by the works of mankind, or getting an adrenaline rush from adventure.  Travel is about people and the experience of meeting a new culture, a new family, and a new idea of yourself.  The memories that this curly-haired, beautiful soul gave me will be timeless treasures and some of the happiest moments in life as I have discovered more about the simple truths of a happy life.  When I arrived, her bright smile and warm spirit gave me a regal welcome to a place I have been waiting to explore for years.  Even though I was anxious to get out and explore, I was more than happy to sit at her table and share stories over the quiche we had made together that afternoon.  Then, as if we had been life-long friends, ventured out to go watch the opening ceremony to the multiple day of festivities celebrating Catalonia.  


In all of my travels, I have stayed with many great people from Virginia to Malaysia through CouchSurfing, but of all of them, my stay with Geraldine was the most impacting on me.  I felt as if I became a brother and an uncle in her family.  During my five days in Manresa, I never felt like I was a tourist being I was taking part in adventures that were spontaneous as if I lived there.  I find it hard to rate, but one of the best evenings we had was the afternoon we went to rock climb.  While Geraldine and her brother were setting the lines, Ethan and I attempted to play soccer while the pup herded the ball around the field from us.  After we all made our scramble up to the top of the wall, we set out to watch the firework show after the sun had set on the cool grass of one of the city's parks.  After they had shared their passion of climbing with me, I as able to share one of mine with them and that was photography.  Ethan watched with excitement in his eyes for when the LCD screen on my camera would show the image of the firework that had just burst in the air with a longer exposure.  In these moments, I saw the same curiosity in his face about photography as I did years before when I stepped under the vaulted ceiling of a mission church on the other side of the world from that park under the starry sky in northern Spain.  That, I feel is the power and the beauty of travel and hope all get to understand the feeling in their lifetime.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

MSU Fly Over - Bozeman, Montana, USA


For the past academic year, I have met countless courageous souls taking on the challenge of bettering themselves, their minds, and their world.  All that is being accomplished in the heart of the Gallatin Valley in beautiful Bozeman, Montana.  As a double major student of Industrial Engineering and Photography, I stay quite book-busy but on a beautiful day such as today, I find a little fresh air goes a long way.  As the sun set in the west over the Tobacco Root Mountains, I sent my Phantom up in the air to show you my campus.  As a new flyer of my drone and a youthful photography student, I have leaps and bounds to go still but I hope you enjoy my video (link above) and my home of under the Big Sky Country!

Monday, March 13, 2017

L'ascensió al cor de Catalunya - Cap de Bou, Catalonia

My AWOL with the Santa Maria de
Montserrat Monastery tucked high on
the mountainside
The last leg of my bicycling adventure in Spain was filled to the brim with excitement, frustration, and as I look back at that day, gratification.   To make time, I cheated by taking the bus from Madrid to Barcelona being I had a timetable to follow and Oktoberfest was coming faster than I had expected.  Going back to Barcelona, I arrived in the heat of rush hour on a Friday.  To add to that, I had not done my usual planning ahead and decided to run the risk of finding a hostel off-hand and going from there.  Once the bus pulled into the Barcelona-Sants station, I nervously found a coffee shop with wi-fi to see what was nearby for a hostel for the night.  A little to the west of the bus station was a deal at the Yellow Nest that I could not pass up.  After a breathe of relief that I knew I would have a roof over my head amid what seemed to be a city of chaos was much welcomed as was the cup of coffee!  Setting out to find this hostel was another ordeal.  While making the initial booking, I thought to myself "Ah, it's quite close!  Shouldn't be a problem."  Two words: Murphy's Law.  The simple left-right-left guide that I made myself over this two click bike ride was significantly more complicated than it should have been.  However, there was a success after I realized I passed by the Passatge Regent Mendieta was the "street" that I was looking for and was nothing more than a breezeway.  The hostel was unmistakable with the bright yellow paint that signaled travelers to their temporary home.  I think it was the fact that Barcelona was so busy was one reason why I felt nervous but also that I was now accustomed to staying in people's homes that I had a sense of foreignness when staying at a hostel again.  That all washed away with the softness of an English accent.  When I passed through the doorway into a land of more yellow, a warm welcome of a girl about my age gave me comfort.  After getting all checked in, she told me I picked a good night to stay as they were hosting a seafood feast up on the rooftop that evening for a price that I could not pass up!  Once I settled in and washed off the day's stress by a long shower, I headed up to the rooftop to find a spot at the community table.  Here is where I learned why Barcelona was in a state of chaos.  Soccer.  That weekend was the match between one of Barcelona's longest standing rivals - Seville.  Not only that, Camp Nou, the home stadium to FC Barcelona, was literally 350 meters away.  Most of the table talk was naturally about soccer and the predominant accents this matter was conducted in were English, Scottish, and the handful of Aussies.  Equally quiet in the soccer conversation was a Canadian brother and sister travelling duo.  I first inquired about their travels which started in Iceland then skipped over to Amsterdam with Barcelona being the last stop of their quick adventure.  Then came the question to me about my travels.  Somehow, I became the center of attention at the table of about 20 people.  I told a few of my tales of struggle as I biked across Andalusia and of my anticipation for my trek to Everest and my upcoming adventures across the world.
 The world seemed to go quiet as we sat up on this rooftop and I laid out my life for these once-strangers but as the night went on - my family.  I felt like a true story-teller as they all sat focused in on my hand gestures and somewhat dramatic recreations of events that had happened on the road to the point where we all met at that very table.  As the sun set, the seats began to empty and I had my own version of nightlife to go live while on my one night stay in one of the world's most interesting cities.  Objective número uno was to see the Sagrada Familia with my own eyes.  I have that bucket list item half-way checked off for I already have my return trip penciled in for 2027 to see the completed work of art!  Once I took in the sky-reaching spires mixed with the cranes that are bringing this masterpiece to life, I decided to call it a night earlier than planned.  But only after getting more xurros (Catalan spelling of churros) to celebrate my time in Barcelona from one of the many street markets filled with patrons proudly sporting their home colors of blue and maroon with the occasional chants of "Barça" filling the air.  

I woke up the next day recharged and ready to hit the road!  I had my breakfast with a few of the travelers I had dinner with the night before and they gave me a hearty farewell as I wheeled my bike through the hostel with my cart in tow.  Stepping out into the cool morning, this day felt great to the point where nothing could go wrong!  Once again, Murphy's Law.  Weaving my way out of the Mediterranean metropolis, I acquired a flat tire just as I was getting this ride started.  On the very outskirts of the city in Molins de Rei, a sharp pop came from beneath me.  Following a heavy sigh, I unhitched my cart and dug out my repair kit.  Quietly cursing my predicament, I flipped my bike to start removing my back wheel to make the necessary fixes.  Luckily, I had the morning shade and a closed shop door to work on my AWOL as a few passing citizens curiously looked onto my doings.  Once the puncture had been sealed, I began the dozens of muscle straining hand pumps to get air back into my tire.  To this down was an up just down the road.  Cautiously crossing over the Llobregat river with my fresh fix from Molins de Rei on the crowding N-340, I safely made the exit onto the quieter N-II.  Still nervous about my fix, I began my uphill ride for a few clicks and to my left as I was passing through the next town of Pallejà was a quaint bicycle shop Bici Cross Shop.  I knew I did not put enough air in my tire and I also felt that there was no such thing as too many patches, so I hoped and prayed that the shop was open and sure enough it was!  I wish I could remember his name (or find the business card I grabbed), but nonetheless I would like to honor this man!  As a speaker of limited Spanish and him being a proud Catalan speaker, we fumbled a bit until one of his good friends stopped by the shop and helped us understand one another.  The shop owner did more than help me out.  He inspired me and has fueled my love for bicycling even more with the pictures of him and his adventures on two wheels.  More so, was the inspiration that I gained when he very proudly showed my the pictures of his brother racing in the some of the world's greatest bike races and to my greatest surprise the Tour de France!  When the stories came to an end and the time came for me to pay my bill, I do not know if it was due to me being American and stopping in HIS SHOP or if it was the fact that I was so happy and enthralled to listen to his stories that he tried sending me out the door free of charge.  I refused to not pay so he threw in a few bonus items and a big hug with a smile from ear to ear.  I was officially ready to take on my last leg of my bicycling tour in Spain!  As I pushed northward, the modernness of Barcelona was rapidly transforming into a romantic rural simplicity that I found to be remarkably captivating.  Looking at the map, I can not quite recall where I was exactly, but I stopped alongside the road to simply appreciate what was before me.  Surprisingly, I did not take pictures of that moment but the view is forever etched into my memory of the green trees among the dry hills with humble farmhouses dotting the landscape.  Continuing on my way, those hills began to grow taller and taller.  With anticipation building and my heart racing not only from the uphill struggle, but the first glimpses of the monastery of Montserrat finally coming into my sight, one of my biggest Spanish dreams was becoming a reality with each revolution of my pedals!



Sunday, March 12, 2017

City of Victory - Segovia, Spain

Segovia.  One city that I had dreamed of getting lost within but did not have penciled into my travel plans for #WorldTour2015.  But, at the recommendation of my Madrid host, Pierre, I took one day from exploring the capital city and hopped on a bus for a two hour ride to one of the most fascinating cities I have ever explored.  Stepping off the bus into the hot, dry inland air under the bright Spanish sun and beginning my trek with no certain destination in mind I set out with my camera ready to go.  Willingly being lost, the thought crossed my mind of who else found this place.  Even before coming to the city, I was well aware of the impact Rome left within the city.  My friendly reminder of their contributions was the massive aqueduct stretching across the city but also the avenue that I took to begin my adventure - Avenida Acueducto.  
Once I overcame the awe factor of the aqueduct, I noticed the tourism office in the shadows of the high arches and decided getting a map might be a wise decision.  Enjoying the air conditioning, I began to read the informative posters and history of Segovia.  Here is where I learned where the seed that laid root in this valley came from and I was more than surprised!  Seeing the term celtíberos peaked my interest all the while changing my understanding of her history.   These streets are the same paths that people from what is today Austria settled thousands of years earlier, paved by the Romans, expanded by Moors from Africa, and now visitors from every corner of the world to include a small-town boy from Montana.  The origins of the name of Segovia are Celtic which at first seems out of place for central Spain.  The reasoning behind why the celtíberos gave their home this name has many tales but the name has undergone transformation after transformation as new victor's flags have flown over the rolling hills that make the city.  The first given by the Celts comes from segobriga directly translating as the 'city of victory'.  Today, sego can easily be seen with the German word for victory - Sieg (pronounced ZEEG)  and briga is a bit more of a stretch with the modern 'burg', but use a dash of imagination or just a few thousand years of "changing hands" of control of this magnificent city.  From Segobriga to today's Segovia can be described by the phrase "the more things change the more they stay the same."



Now, that whole thought did not just happen in the tourism office.  That idea was on simmer on the back burner in my mind as I wound up the bell tower of the crowning cathedral of the city or the grand halls of the magnificent fortress commonly known as Alcázar (for more about the influence of Arabic in Spain, check out my posts from Granada)  The thoughts raced through my head.  Knowing how large our world is, I felt the smooth stones that rose above making the arches the Romans constructed to build an aqueduct system that went unmatched for centuries to follow.  As I strolled through the gardens of the Alcazar with olives planted by Muslim hands in a predominately Catholic Christian country today.  Taking in the peaks of the Guadarrama (from the Arabic wadi ar-rama meaning 'valley of sand') and thinking how different these mountains are from the Alps that the Celts left behind.  Yet, all of that culture has merged in this one spot and grown into a mystical but magical place on Earth.  With out a single doubt, as I look back on the day spent in Segovia I smile with nostalgia despite how hot and sweaty I got by the end of the rushed day of exploring.  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Midnight in Madrid - Madrid, Spain


In my planning of #WorldTour2015, I had penciled out that I would hop on a train in Granada and comfortably cross inland Iberia bypassing the scorching summer sun.  Looking back on that last sentence, the keyword is penciled.  When I looked at train tickets months prior to arriving in Spain, the trains were active and running without an issue.  However, a few weeks before my arrival in Granada, Renfe embarked on replacing most of the rails surrounding Granada.  A memo that I missed largely.  So, as I casually left my temporary but lofty perch in the Albaicin for the main station at the bottom of the "hill", I was in for a surprise.  I started to gain suspicion as the entry to the station was quite vacant and the heavy presence of construction cones.  Cautiously, I entered the station being I had already purchased my train tickets in advance to the service counter to find out what my travel fate.  After bantering back and forth in between Spanish and English about getting my refund and then what to do being the train was not in operation.  His blunt response was to take the bus and then leave his booth.  Feeling a bit on the helpless side and rapidly showing the distress on my face, the older gentleman in the office at one of the back desks shuffled over to where I was standing with my bag at my side.  He softly asked if I was in need of help to which I gratefully responded to with a yes.  He pulled out a half sheet of paper and began to draw a quick map for me to get to the bus terminal.  Graciously taking his advice, I grabbed my belongings and threw them on my bike trailer and began pedaling as if to qualify for the Tour de France toward the terminal.  Arriving with ease due to my hand-drawn map, I fought the queue with a few minutes to spare!  So I thought.  Once I made it down to the bus stall to go to Jaén, the driver informed me I needed to get a ticket for my bicycle too!  So, I ran through the station to the ticket counter to get a €4 ticket for my AWOL to go along with me.  Luckily, that driver held the departure by two minutes which I felt terrible about!  Then the bus was set for Jaén where I could catch a train to the capital city.  In all of this time, I did not have wifi to tell my host, Pierre, that I was going to be a few hours later than I had anticipated.  Luckily, he was very understanding of my predicament!


After a few hours of traversing the northern reaches of Andalusia, I began the northward journey to the heart of Spain.  Once I landed myself in the massive train station of Atocha, I hurriedly set off to Pierre's place.  What the map showed me was a simple "go down this street, make a left here, go until this plaza and down this street".  First off, the "go down this street" was actually uphill and during horrible traffic.  "This plaza" was more like three plazas somewhat interconnected but I finally found the narrow passage that would lead me to the right door!  After all of that, a shower was much welcomed!  Following some rest, the adventure continued as Pierre and I took a super-tourist tour around the central part of the city, learning "facts" that him and I equally questioned as the group meandered throughout the majestic metropolis.  After having the best steak during my Spanish stay, we set off for a night on the town!  For Madrid being the third largest city within Europe, we vitrually walked through the entire city - well, the central and main part.  Furthermore, we avoided doing too many illegal things surprisingly.  There was a moment where we almost hopped over the fence to explore Parque de El Retiro and we sort of crossed traffic where we should not have to get a better shot of the Fuente de Cibeles fountain.  Needless to say, Pierre made my Madrid experience an unforgettable one and I look forward to my return trip to check off the remainder of must-see's!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nasrid Masterpiece - Granada, Spain

Earlier in my years of studying the Spanish language, I encountered the name "Alhambra".  After learning the fundamentals such as hola and huevos (because huevos rancheros are a wonderful blessing to any breakfast table) I omitted the 'h' from the word.  My teacher, Señora Porter, stopped me and subtly tipped her head side to side and told me that I needed to say the 'h' in this one.  I am curious by nature, but tell me something is different and that curiosity spikes to a whole new level.  I feel old saying this, but the internet was still a fairly new thing, therefore I cracked open a few books to learn more about this anomaly of that day's lesson.  One of the first pictures I saw inspired me to take the image to the right and also started a whole new question for me.  Why is there Arabic written on the walls of a building in Spain?  That explanation is a five pound book in itself but I will give you short and sweet of the history and how this palace helped my love for architecture, linguistics, and of course, travel.  
Today, Alhambra stands upon a lofty hill in Granada which is a major city in Andalusia.  Now, let us take those three words of Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia.  In our world now, they are familiar within the Spanish language.  They, however have been tossed around, bruised and beaten by the linguistic blender.  "Alhambra" is derived from the Arabic الحمراء and transliterates to al-Hamra'  (I put the capital 'h' there being it is what students of Arabic would call the big h with a good push of air in the intonation).  That name comes from "حمر" and those three characters combined have a long list of translations into English but we are going to focus on the contextually correct one for this palace which is red.  Although, you may ask why is there a 'b' in Alhambra.  Remember that blender I mentioned?  As the Arabic language traveled across northern Africa with Islam, the language was adopted but with a handful of eccentricities of the native Berber, Coptic, Egyptian, and other groups of northern Africa up to the Strait of Gibraltar (also a derivation of Arabic!)  That 'b' is just something we have to exception as "linguistic bastardization".  Moving onto Granada. A prime example of eternal etymological disagreement.  The Romans of Iberia cultivated pomegranates in the area and one could say that Granada grew out from the Latin granatum, the word pomegranate.  Turning to the other side of the argument is from the Moorish standpoint.  Granada in Arabic is written as غرناطة.  One issue with dialects of Arabic is how each views the alphabet.  The letters of غ and ق are seemingly used interchangeably within the African takes on Arabic.  Taking that into consideration with borrowing of a Berber word, we can form قرناطة.  Throw that in front of a Moroccan today and they will say it as "Granata".  
Moving this along, that roughly translates to 'hill of strangers' in Moorish Arabic which is understandable being the population of the area at the time of the Moors' arrival would have been strange indeed.  Last but not least is Andalusia.  Keeping this explanation as short as I can, when the Moors arrived to Iberia the remnants of the Gothic peoples from Germania were lingering in what is Spain today.  Those people were of the Vandal tribe.  This is where this gets fun linguistically!  Vandal is believed to come from wandeln (w's sound like v's in German) which is an archaic way of saying 'wanderers'.  Bring that over to the Latin world, we got Vandal.  Now, there are two sounds that Arabic speakers have a hard time grasping are the letters 'p' and 'v'.  Instead of struggling with that, the incoming Moors just threw away the 'v' and tacked on their definite article "ال" meaning "the" and gave us الاندلس or al-Andalus.  All that said, the history of Alhambra has been clearly marked by cross-cultures being fused together in one of the world's most beautiful pieces of human creation.  


Now, that we all know a brief history behind how Alhambra came to be, I would like to share my excitement from my visit to this incredible monument of art, culture, and architecture.  I began my biking adventure on the western side of Andalusia I pedaled with anticipation for twenty days of this visit.  What kind of anticipation?  Let us just say I had a picture of this very palace in my childhood bedroom for years alongside Neuschwanstein and the Acropolis of Athens.   When I had my tangible tickets in my hand early in the morning, the wait until my 1330 time slot for my entry into the palaces had my nerves on end.  Side note, if you are planning a visit here, buy your tickets in advance!  I ordered my tickets a few days in advance and even then the availability was slim!  Although, for me the afternoon was perfect for photography and lunch - because food is muy importante.   


These rooms and gardens of the Nasir sons were crafted over more than two centuries.  They have survived wars ranging from the Reconquista of Isabel in 1492 to the last civil war of Spain in the 20th century.  That in mind, the beauty of the plaster craftsmanship is all the more impressive!  As I stood under one of the vaulted ceilings looking up into the geometric maze of shapes and textures the thought of the artisans did all of this work by hand and without computer based design!  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Alhambra Ardor - Granada, Spain

As I was hashing out the route for my 2015 World Tour, I tried to steer away from the traditional tourist attractions in my travels.  But how could I leave off Alhambra the list?!  As a lover of history, architecture, art, and I will even include the Arabic language to the list although to say 'love' in the same sentence as it makes me cringe slightly.  I am glad I made that sacrifice!

I knew I was going to dedicate a few days to the city so I made my accommodation plans more in advance than usual.  I scouted out the options on AirBNB and CouchSurfing for a place close to it all and friendly to the budget.  My golden ticket stay was with Alessandro in his awesome apartment in the Albaicín area which was founded more than 1,000 years ago.  But with all those awesome features there has to be balance somewhere, right?  As I was chatting before my arrival with Alessandro I mentioned that I was travelling by bicycle and had a small cart in tow.  That is where he warned me.  The Albaicín is an wonderful place... unless you have a bicycle.  He sent me a message of the "easiest" route to make to his apartment and that route had a measly 72 steps where steps were warranted and precipitous 'streets' up to the quiet placeta on top a knoll in this historic quarter.  Sadly, I did not get to meet Alessandro in person being he was called out of the city for work, but Diego, one of his best friends was around to let me in and then gave me a world class tour of the neighborhood!  After I got settled in and showered after the bike ride from Loja, I got the tour of the apartment from the main floor to the top where I had the most spectacular view of Granada!  The image above testifies to that!  Which also makes for a great way to enjoy a bottle of vino garandino as the sun sets.  I ought to know being that is how I ended each of my days during my three day stay!  Day Two I had set aside strictly for touring the Alhambra and her grounds, which I highly recommend spending the entire day being there is almost too much to take in at once!  (Plus, get tickets in advance and for the morning time if at all possible!)

Freshly charged with a few cups of Andalusian coffee racing through my veins and a great night's sleep in an actual bed, I was ready to take on the marvel of the Nasrid legacy!  My journey to the palace and fortress begin as passed in the cool shadows under the Puerta de las Granadas (shown below) with a few other early bird visitors.  When I kicked off this adventure, the morning was quite cool and fresh, but by the time I scaled the cobblestone way upward to the entry I was warmed up and ready for explorations!   Once I had my hard-copy tickets in hand, made my way westward through the gardens to alcazaba which is the latinization of the Arabic القصبة (al-qasba) to take in the higher viewpoint over the city.  While on that walk, I noticed a small diversion over to the baths that most people were overlooking this small feature.  As I entered into the the vaulted rooms of the bathhouse, there were more than one fascinating engineering feature that I spotted.  The one that stood out the most were the skylights that also served as vents in each of the rooms.  To get the image on the left I speed up my shutter and closed the aperture to capture the outline of them.  For the image on the right I did the opposite with my camera to demonstrate how the light pours into the rooms of the bath-goers.  Once I passed through the maze of the baths, I meandered my way to the city overlook and standing upon the walls of the oldest remaining parts of the fortress.


Throughout my day of explorations, I was in awe of the span of architectural styles that are present atop the Sabika Hill ranging from early Peninsular Islamic to Classical Roman with touches of Castilian Baroque and Isabelline Gothic.  Filling the voids between each of these elements are gardens of plants from the reaches of Iberia, Africa, and the Orient all surrounded by fountains of spring fresh water.  Looking back at that day, I am able to say I saw so much of the world all in one place with centuries of history quite literally written on the walls of this magnificent complex of stucco and the red clay that gives Alhambra her name. 


Monday, January 2, 2017

El Órgano Granadino - Granada, Spain

Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada is not like any of the other Spanish cathedrals and not just because of its long name either!  The beginnings of this cathedral rose up out of the fall of the Nasrid Dynasty, the last of the Moorish rulers in Spain, and from a mosque that once stood in the cathedral's place.  The dozens of trumpets of the two organ bodies still herald the victory of the reconquista resulting in a reunification of the Spanish kingdoms under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.  Not only is the cathedral a dedication to this victory, but the Royal Chapel, one of the first and defining pieces of Isabelline Gothic architecture, is the final resting place for the royal monarchs.  After passing through the three high arches dominating the plaza before the cathedral, all are welcomed by the 181 years of architectural fashions spanning from Castilian Gothic to Spanish Renaissance with Baroque influences.  
Resting high up in the lofty, argent naves are two Iberian twins.  Commanding from the heights of the central nave are two "fraternal twins" have been given the names by the naves in which the sing into.  The first of these to be finished was the romantic style evangelio or Gospel bears more romantic features in comparison to the epístola or Epistle of baroque character.  The Gospel was built over a twenty year period until the pipes finally sang in 1764.  While the Gospel took two decades until completion, the Epistle was built and installed in three years starting in 1764 and giving definition to dozens of Spanish organs from Almeria to Sevilla for the years to come.  The organs are the masterwork of Leonardo Avila who is one of Spain's most highly regarded organ builders and the creator of the instruments that have come to define the following centuries' pipe organs across the Iberian peninsula. 


As I spent the afternoon walking from one chapel to the next, I always found myself being pulled back into sight of these kingly instruments!  The craftsmanship in the casework rivaled the paintings adorning the side chapels.  The pipes were like any other that I had ever witnessed.  There were numerous times that I hoped to find a little sign saying "Want to play them? Ask!" but I had no such luck!  The shear beauty of these two had me captivated.  I do not think I could have brought myself to leave Granada if I were afforded the opportunity to sit at the manuals and have the pipes sing in the immense halls.  But there may come a day when the dream of playing on Europe's great organs may come true!   Until then, I have appreciated this monumental piece of art, engineering, and cultural from below in one of Spain's grandest cathedrals and look forward to my return one day again.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Into the Heart of Andalusia - Antequera, Spain


After returning to the city of Malaga from my quick train trip over to the beautiful city of Ronda, I was back at my adventures by bicycle!  But with a few surprises upon my return naturally.  I had left my bicycle in the care of my incredible host family while I was away for a few days and little did I know that there was a tiny pin-hole leak in one of the tires for my bike cart.  Following that quick fix, I set out to explore the last few spots in the city I wanted to check off before leaving.  That night, I camped out on the beach because I knew this would be the last time for awhile for some coastal exposure!  Waking up with the cool air of the sea breeze, I was charged to take on the road to Antequera... or so I thought.  I had chosen the route along A-7075 for I was hoping to spend a few hours in the mysterious El Torcal de Antequera which is a fascinating sight to behold even from the road!  El Torcal is a natural landform made up of crazy rock formations with an equally unique set of fauna living in the area.  Knowing that the natural reserve was located at the divide of the Sierra del Torcal mountain range, I knew there was going to be an uphill factor.  Come to find out, there was quite a bit of uphill factor along with not a cloud in the sky making for a toasty ride.  Slowly and steadily, I crossed an incredible landscape of fanciful imagination.  As midday passed by me, I decided to take a break in the lovely little village of Villanueva de la Concepción.  I am quite positive that they are not frequented by travelers, especially American ones, as I was watched with admiration and curiosity as I ventured about the cobbled streets looking for a market.  Once I found a small vendería, I bought a few fruits and makings for a Spanish styled sandwich that the owner gladly helped me with as I believe he felt greatly honored to have me step into his little store.  I let him pick out the apples and oranges for me.  Needless to say, I went back and stocked up because they were delicious!  


After refueling my body, I set back onto the climb to the ridge which seemed to grow significantly taller while I was taking my break.  Winding my way up the serpentine road, I had to pause my progress a few times while local farmers were moving their herds of sheep across the road.  A few gave me a quick wave of their hand gesturing I could go through the flock, but I didn't want to pass up the photo opportunities!  After what felt like the 700th switchback, the road finally leveled out for there was the rock wall that is El Torcal.  The shade from the Spanish sun was much welcomed and the view over the golden hills of grain below made the struggle worth the ride!  Even more welcomed was rounding a wide corner to see the sun reaching into the west over the valley of Antequera.  But, the best part of that was everything was downhill!  Making a mad dash to the bottom with extreme ease, I was in awe of the city.  Truly a well kept secret from outsiders, this city is overflowing with beauty, history, wonderful people and my favorite - great food!  Set between other major cities of Andalusia, Antequera is truly the heart of life in southern Spain and has been since Roman times due to the areas production of olive oil.  Despite only having about one day to spend in the city, it will forever be in my heart as one of my most memorable stops in all of Andalusia and warrants a return trip - sooner the better!