Seeing Spain: To Cordoba!

Cordoba, Spain — Study abroad tip number two: travel like a crazy person when you’re abroad because it is much easier and much cheaper to do than when you are in the states.

I can’t speak for all of the programs Puget Sound has to offer, but the ILACA Spain program includes travel time within the group and more free time to travel on your own.

Travel, travel, travel. I can’t say it enough because this opportunity can lead to amazing experiences and it doesn’t last for long. The final week of January we finished our month-long grammar-intensive class and had almost a week of free time to ourselves. However, before we travelled to our own destinations, the entire group spent the day in nearby Cordoba, home of its famous Great Mosque.

What can I say about the trip to Cordoba? 1) fantastic, and 2) a spa day.  First, we had a little free time to walk around the city and visit some of its museums or dawdle until our guided tour of the Mosque.

Once inside the Mosque, the day really began. Thousands of multicolored, double arched columns awaited us inside its somewhat freezing halls. With each step we entered further into the forest of two-toned arches, gradually making our way to the Mihrab pointing the way to Mecca.

Not only is the size of the Mosque immense, but the décor is incredible on a monumental scale. Once you pass through the forest of marble and granite pillars, the Mihrab, constructed of plaster and precious stones, is a site to behold. Evoking decorations similar to the Alhambra palace, poetry and geometry are woven together in a symmetrical dance demonstrating the beauty of the natural world and of Allah.

The truly surprising, and somewhat awkward, aspect of the Mosque is the fact that there is an entire cathedral smack dab in the heart of the building. One minute you are in a forest of pillars and the next you are in a full-fledged church complete with pulpit and organ.

This fusion of cultures within the Mosque creates a bizarre mix of architectural styles from different eras and beliefs. Some may say that the presence of the cathedral in the Mosque, or vice versa, takes away from the aesthetic beauty of each individual building. However, if the cathedral had not been constructed within the Great Mosque of Cordoba, this architectural marvel would have met the fate of the once hundreds of mosques in Cordoba-demolition.

After the visit to the Mosque, we were all in a daze combining wonder and frozen fingers into a sort of semiconscious stupor. However, when our program coordinator announced that it was time to go to the Arab baths, we became intrigued and a little perkier.

What can I say about the Arab bath…go find one immediately! It is an incredibly relaxing experience. Not only do you have a choice of three temperature pools ranging from quite cold to toasty, you also receive tea and your own personal massage. All of this takes place in a building imitating the Arab baths of old, similar to the style of baths used in the Roman Empire. The effect is blissfully relaxing and intriguing.

What a wonderful start to a week of free time travelling across Spain to arrive in yet another historically amazing site, Santiago de Compostela. The city of Santiago itself is a mix of modern and medieval with a huge proportion of the population being university-aged youths. I recommend visiting Santiago just to get a feel for its maze of winding streets and hidden shops and bars, such as Casa das Crechas (house of the witches in Gallego) which invokes a cheery Celtic atmosphere mixed with Spanish traditions of witchcraft and enology.

However, the real goal of the trip to Santiago is the namesake of the city, the Cathedral of Santiago or Saint James. Each year, thousands of pilgrims make their way across continents to visit the burial site of James the Apostle in order to seek spiritual enlightenment, a cure for ailments or just to gain the experience of backpacking across Europe and an awesome t-shirt from Santiago. Recently restored, the cathedral is worth the travel by foot or by plane. When I learned that I could go up into the gallery of the cathedral and the roof, I signed up immediately for a guided tour.

Another free bit of advice for all of you planning on travelling abroad to study or just for a vacation- hostels are the way to go. It’s true that you need to do your homework in order to find a hostel that is hospitable, but there are many wonderful and cheap temporary residences available for the travelling student. Don’t forget to travel like a rock star and get the firsthand experience of seeing Europe.