Roundtrip: Israel

I finished my 4.5-month vacation from life with a bang. And by bang, I mean Israel. My parents were waiting for me at Ben Gurion, and took me straight to my great aunt’s house, at which she proceeded to baby me by feeding me all sorts of goodies. Nothing brings her more pleasure than to see people eat her food..so I ate..and ate..and ate.

The next morning, we drove to Jerusalem. We went to see the apartment of family friends first – they have this ridiculous penthouse view of the entrance to the old city from the Yafo Gate (the south-west entrance). Their beautifully decorated Moroccan-style apartment was largely the topic of discussion, but we caught up a bit, and headed to my uncle’s for Shabbat dinner. On our way out of Jerusalem, I asked my dad to stop on the side of the road so I could finally properly document Santiago Calatrava’s controversial Chords Bridge (Gesher HaMeitarim), his 40th. The cable-stayed bridge was inaugurated in June of 2008 in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary, and strike a resemblance to Calatrava’s Puente del Alamillo in Sevilla, which uses an enormous cantilever tower to absorb the loads. It is meant to symbolize David’s Harp, but has received much criticism even before its date of completion. Many believe it sticks out as an eye sore and has nothing to do with the history of the ancient city. On top of that, it cost $70 million, or (220 million NIS) to construct, over 2x the original cost. I had seen this bridge before many times, even before it’s completion during my birthright trip to Israel after freshman year, but didn’t have any decent pictures yet. Here are a few:

Shabbat dinner at my uncle’s in Mevasseret was amazing as usual – my aunt prepared loads of tasty food. In the morning, we headed to the north to visit my mom’s long-lost 2nd cousin, and my dad’s childhood best friend since birth in Alon Hagalil. Here’s Shon, their border-collie:

Luckily, Jason had a free weekend from the army, so on our way back to Jerusalem, we picked him up at a bus station in the north. We didn’t have too much time to hang out because we were scheduled to fly down to Eilat in the morning (so we thought). So we dropped him off early the next morning so he could catch the bus in to Jerusalem, and headed back to the old terminal at the airport to fly down with Arkia. The weather was horrendous, and Arkia’s pilots are not well-trained enough to take off in such bad conditions, so we were grounded..for several hours. Nobody could tell us when we’d be leaving, or if we could retrieve our luggage so we could simply drive down. After lots of arguing and tons of Israeli temper, we re-rented the car we had just returned and drove down. I passed out until we arrived in Yotvata, a historical kibbutz famous for producing some of the best dairy in Israel. Everyone I know is obsessed with shoko be’sakit, which is chocolate milk in a bag. Pretty amazing.

So we ate some food and continued onward. Eilat is about another half-hour drive south. The reason we were headed to Eilat was because my father was invited to a conference, so we decided to make a small trip out of it. We checked into the Isrotel Royal Beach, got all our passes for the meals, and passed out. Here’s the morning sunrise from our room, overlooking the Red Sea:

I had previously scheduled an advanced SCUBA diver’s certification course for myself, so the instructor picked me up and since it was the middle of the week, I got my own private lesson for 2 days. Before leaving for Barcelona, my brother and I received our open water diver’s certification in Eilat and the Mediterranean. The advanced course taught me how to use a dive computer, compass, underwater digital camera, flashlight for the night dive, how to inspect a shipwreck on a wreck dive, and to dive to a depth of 30m, or about 100ft (the open water caps you at 18m-20m, or about 60ft). Here are some some pictures of me at the wreck dive and some pictures I took of the coral and fish:

On the first wreck dive, we went to see the Satil. After the 6-day war in 1969, France put an embargo on Israel and prevented the arrival of 5 war ships. In the dead of night, during Bastille day, while the French were celebrating, Israeli Mossad stole the boats. They were decommissioned and sunken 25 years afterward, one of which is found on the ocean floor of Eilat. It literally felt like Titanic, approaching the boat form the distance. All of a sudden, you’re in range and out of the blue mist, you can start to make out the ship. Here’s some more information on the Satil: http://en.deepdivers.co.il/(S(4ihvyd45ukuxan55gmjaui55))/article.aspx?id=220. We didn’t bring the camera down with us until the deep dive, which was set at the Yatush wreck, a 15m long boat that was purposely sunken in August of 1987:

Lionfish:

Moray Eel:

Grey Moray:

Doing flips…

Blue-spotted Stingray:

Cornetfish:

Back at the hotel, I enjoyed all-you-can-eat kosher meat…

My uncle and aunt came down to Eilat about a day after we did, and on our last night there we went across the street to the Isrotel Royal Gardens to see WOW, a Vegas-like acrobatics show. Pretty impressive stuff.

The morning after the show, we left Eilat and began the drive back up north. We stopped again at Yotvata but this time I bought some chocolate milk:

After we returned to my great aunt’s we packed up my bags, dispersed some weight to my parents’, and headed to my cousin’s to see his baby, Rom in Be’er Ya’akov. He is the cutest thing in the world

We left for the airport straight from my cousin’s but when we finally got there, I realized that I had given my mom my Israeli passport at the old terminal before we drove down to Eilat, and only had my American with me. This was a problem because if you possess an Israeli passport, you absolutely must show it on your way out of the country. Luckily the ministry of interior understood the situation and granted me permission to leave the country just that once. The next issue was that it did not exempt me from army service should border control have anything to say about it..but its safe to assume that they let me slide because I’m finally safe and sound, back home in Los Angeles. After what seemed like the longest flight in the world (most of which was spent watching 5 movies on the airplane – Salt, Grown-Ups, Wall Street, Date Night, The Social Network), I was greeted by gloomy weather and rain. At least Stefenie was there to surprise me and take me home! My travels were finished…until a few days later when the Weiss family reunited on the big island in Hawaii.

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Last 2 Nights in Barcelona

After returning from our week-long trip in southern Spain, we all shared one last night at the apartments together. A few of us extended our stay in Barcelona 1 extra night for good measure over the summer in order to give us enough time to organize our belongings, and some extended their travels throughout Europe. As we packed, we realized we never photographed our apartment, so here are some (messy) pictures on our last day:

As you walk in, you enter the entry foyer which is essentially just a simple hallway. On your left, you’d find Michael and Ian‘s room:

Continuing down the hallway…on the left was my and Ben’s room, in the center – the bathroom (with a full tub..some apartments had shower stalls and others had step up showers as large as the tub..just without..the tub), and on the right, the entrance to the kitchen / living room.

Ben was first into the apartment on August 25th, so he snagged the larger room for us. We each had our own closet space and then some. The huge glass window opened up to the courtyard below in which we served Thanksgiving dinner. It was equipped with blackout shades, which came in very handy on weekends. You’ll have to excuse the appearance of my bed on the right..it was our last day, c’mon. Housekeeping came twice a week to clean the apartment.

Here’s the kitchen/dining/living room. That brown looking flat bed under the window is in fact a foldable futon.

Lastly, from the corner:

Can you believe we spent most of our time on the glass table? Granted it was expanded during use, but every day we had 4 laptops set up, and we all huddled and cramped around it to do all our studio work, blog, listen to music, look up recipes, make mashups, and talk with our friends and family back home. We would have split up and moved to the couch but there was no wireless reception in that part of the room. So there you have it..our apartment in a nutshell. It was a great place to live and I definitely learned a lot, but we did have several frustrations over the few months we lived there. Here are my top 10, in no particular order:

1 ) The building used solar panels for heating water. Each unit had it’s own collector, but they must have been ridiculously small because we only managed to take 1.5 hot showers before the water went cold. If you waited about an hour, it recharged. Thankfully, Michael likes taking his showers at night, so we only had to accommodate 3 people in the mornings, and Ian likes to wake up super early, so it was really just a race between me and Ben as to who’d end up getting the half-cold shower. He won most of the time, banking off my own alarm.

2 ) Everything was IKEA. And I’m not exaggerating. I wouldn’t be surprised if IKEA built the whole building (joke, but seriously, it was all IKEA). Their stuff looks good, but it’s all made up of cheap material, cheap electronics, and particle board.

3 ) The beds were awful. They must have been the worst you could get at IKEA. They were thinner than normal twins..must be a European thing. They were ridiculous squeeky, moved off the frame easily, and caused many back-aches.

4 ) The HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning) was pretty much shot. When it was too hot, the AC broke. We kept it permanently set on 18º C (64º F), but after each housekeeping cleaning, the machine seemed to have turned off and we could never understand how to get it up and running again. That and it actually broke once for a few days, so we lived in sweat and had the windows open at all times. Towards the end of the semester, there were a few cold nights..I think there was a leak in the large window, and since I was right by it, I felt the cold the strongest, so I layered up on extra blankets from the closet.

5 ) The front door had a pretend knob. If it closed, it was locked, and required a key to open each time. This meant that if we wanted to hang out in other peoples’ rooms, or for them to come over to ours, we had to leave our doors ajar. That didn’t sit well with management because they complained multiple times that we were too loud or that we enticed people with the smell of our excellent cooking. Nonsense if you ask me.

6 ) The washing machine doubled as a dryer. But not really. Drying the clothes never, well, dried the clothes. We bought a rack to hang up our stuff, and when we had more laundry than enough space on the rack, clothes found themselves hung on lamps, the TV, the china cabinet, the coffee table, and the chairs. Then housekeeping complained that we left the room too messy to clean. Also ridiculous.

7 ) The kitchen was decently sized for 1 person. But we all somehow managed to shove our way in each night during what I call cooking time (when we got back from studio and decided to cook some BOMB food). Too cramped for 4 people, especially when you have to continuously wash dishes because we were provided with 4 of everything. We lost a few items to our neighbors during cook-offs or shared meals, so we were constantly knocking on other friends’ apartments asking to borrow dishes, utensils, and sometimes even food.

8 ) The lighting was pretty bad, which made for a not-so-good working environment. And since we were mostly working while in the apartment, this was simply no bueno.

9 ) The T.V. was permanently stuck in Spanish. With Spanish subtitles. With no way of changing it.

10 ) Worst of all, the speed of the wi-fi internet was absolutely horrendous. It is my belief that everyone in the building shared 1 connection and 1 wireless router. And with everyone skyping, video-chatting, downloading movies, streaming content, uploading photos to facebook and blogging, there was hardly enough bandwidth to do anything at all. At times we were just locked out because we had a weaker signal strength in our unit. I’m not claiming to have never done any of those things..in fact I did those on a regular basis, I just wish we had a faster connection. I don’t think anyone would have minded paying a few euros extra each month to help with the matter, but that never happened.

If it seems like I was miserable from these complications, I wasn’t. Everybody is picky, but we were thankful to at least have every one of these commodities, working or not.

On the second-to-last night, we all went out to Sotavento (night club) for one last hoorah. Luckily for myself and my roommates, our apartment was chosen as the storage apartment, so we didn’t have the pressure of packing up all of our stuff before leaving to southern Spain, especially after we returned from Portugal. This meant, however, that we had to pack up all of our stuff and head out to Toyo Ito’s Hotel Porta Fira. After weighing our baggage dozens of times to make sure we’d split the weight evenly, we took ALL of our stuff to Plaça de Sants, travelled on the metro to Espanya, transferred to the L8 train to Europa / Fira.

This hotel is just about 10 months old, so everything about it was new. It’s sort of in an awkward and distant location, and I’m not sure if it contributed to the hotel being virtually vacant, but that would be my best guess because tourism in Barcelona is year-round..Las Ramblas was never empty. And neither were the clubs. The room was for 2 but they didn’t seem to care much at all, so we rode up to the 17th floor, and entered our room which was right by the gym and spa. After scoping them both out, we decided we’d give it a go, especially the raining shower stalls, but we waited too long and didn’t get the chance. The room was pretty spacious and modern, with a very open bathroom that, depending on how you opened/closed the doors, became very closed and private. Ian‘s description is probably more helpful:

“The bathroom was probably the coolest part. It was basically two fritted glass volumes (one for the shower and one for the toilet) on either side of the vanity in the middle. The doors to the shower and toilet swung 180 degrees, so you could either use them as separate rooms, or fold them all the way back and conceal the vanity, making the shower, toilet and vanity all part of the same private bathroom.”

Here are his pictures:

EXTREMELY early the following morning, the three of us all took a cab to the airport to save money. We thought it’d be relatively inexpensive due to the proximity to the airport, but I guess we were a few minutes late downstairs, and the meter was already running. The total reached €22 by the time we arrived at the terminal, but what we hadn’t taken into account were baggage fees. We were each carrying 3 bags, so the total hit €35. We scrambled to put together enough money…down to the very last euro-cent. He cleaned us out completely, so I have but 1 euro-cent left, kept as a memory. My McDonalds breakfast had to be charged to the card. Many hours later (I joined the early cab ride to save money), and complications at the El-Al check-in counter for overweight baggage, and a trip to the Iberian airlines counter to pay for extra weight, I finally border my flight to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

*Thanks Ian, for all the pictures

Southern Spain Part 4: Sevilla

A few hours later, we arrived in Sevilla. The weather wasn’t much better, so we waited it out in our hostel, Hotel Pension Nuevo Suizo, for about 2 hours before heading out to explore the city during the night. Our hostel in Sevilla was probably the worst accommodations we encountered abroad (2 people even left to a hotel a block away because it was so bad). A few of us were placed on the ground floor, right around the atrium by the lobby, so we could hear everything going on, especially at night when trying to fall asleep. The lady at the front desk was smacking her keyboard and probably facebooking all night for the two nights we were there, so I didn’t get much sleep.

A brief walking tour with Sophia gave us a clue as to what we’d see the following day: we walked by the cathedral, the Giralda, the Alcazar and other various buildings.

The Giralda:

In the old part of the city, horse-drawn carriages are very popular:

After meandering through many winding narrow streets, we found ourselves at the Iglesia de El Salvador and its beautiful courtyard:

We were free to find a place to eat, so we decided to try to find a Jewish restaurant to eat some Hannukah food. This proved to be impossible, and we wandered in the rain for a good hour trying to find places that ended up being closed because of a holiday that was being celebrated in Sevilla that weekend. So we settled on Chinese at a place near our hostel.

The next morning we headed straight to Real Alcázar de Seville, an Alcazar much larger than that of Córdoba.

The Jardines de los Reales Alcázares:

The Jardines de los Reales Alcázares even have a Labyrinth!

After the Alcazar, we headed to the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede de Sevilla, the largest Gothic cathedral and third-largest church in the world. It was built during the 16th Century on the site of a former Mosque. The minaret tower known as La Giralda still stands.

The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede de Sevilla also happens to be the site of the tomb of Christopher Columbus:

From within the cathedral, we walked to the Giralda tower, and walked up 34 stories made of perimeter ramps. It stands as the tallest monument in Sevilla and from the top, a 360º panorama makes the climb well worth it.

Sparky in front of the Giralda:

Afterwards, we had the rest of the afternoon and evening off, save for those who did not meet with Sophia and discuss all their sketchbook drawings on the bus rides. Luckily I did, so we took the time to explore the city a little more before heading back to the hostel to take a nap.

Torre de Oro, a famous military watchtower:

Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (Bullfighting Ring):

After our nap, we headed over to the hotel 2 of us were staying at to take showers (nobody took showers at the hostel). Here’s the view of the El Corte Inglés holiday light show from their room:

Famous to Sevilla are flamenco dance bars, so by recommendation, we ended up at La Carboneria for our first-ever flamenco dance experience. It was free, so the place was packed. Pretty interesting..I’d recommend seeing a show, but perhaps at a more intimate or upscale place.

Here are 2 videos:

After the show, we grabbed a few pints and reminisced over the semester and shared many stories and laughs. It was our last night in southern Spain. In 2 days we would all part ways, some continued traveling in Europe, some went home, but Michael, Ian and I stayed one more night in Barcelona at the Toyo Ito hotel by the airport.

Southern Spain Part 3: Mérida

We arrived at Hotel Velada in Mérida in the afternoon, and after settling into our rooms, headed out to see some of the old Roman Ruins. First we stopped by the Roman Forum, built in the 1st Century AD by Claudius. The forum, along with a temple and the famous Arch of Trajan archway which served as an entry point were a part of the Roman city, Emerita Augusta, established in 25 BC.

Temple for Diana:

Arch of Trajan:

We arrived at Los Milagros Aqueduct by nighttime, which was both very cool, but somewhat of a shame (because of my camera). It was beautifully lit and the color of the sky was unreal..it just sucks that my camera doesn’t do night shots all too well.

Last stop was Puente de Lusitania, designed by (you guessed it) Santiago Calatrava. We didn’t walk all the way across, but enough to see the arched truss.

We ended our night in the main plaza of the city, and ordered a modified rendition of a hot schnacolate (schnapps + hot chocolate) from a street vendor who simply added rum into our hot chocolates. Best €1.50 spent in Mérida. After, a few of us went to dinner for Arielle‘s birthday before heading back to the hotel.

In the morning, we made our way over to the old Roman Bridge, constructed in the 1st Century BC:

We had some time before heading over to Rafael Moneo’s Museo de Arte Romano, so we sketched:

Moneo’s museum was very interesting. He chose bricks for the outer composition that overtime would deteriorate to give a more rustic feel that would eventually blend into the historical context of the ancient Roman city. On the inside, tall arches with cutaways for walkways merged the idea of old and new, historical and modern styles. Friday’s are free, so in we went to avoid the freezing cold (and eventual pouring rain).

The exhibit displayed many ancient artifacts such as currency, sculptures, mosaic works, glass, and a giant Roman column:

During construction in the 1980’s, an old Roman street was discovered and incorporated into the design where visitors can walk along it as they pass to the underground crypt.

Although our entrance was free, it was a shame we visited on that particular day. During normal visiting days, you can pass underground to the Roman Amphitheater which is located adjacent to the museum. Here’s a very rough section without the underground crypt:

When it was time to leave, it was already pouring outside. We had noticed hundreds more visitors inside trying to escape the rain. We walked all the way back to our hotel, got on the bus, let our socks dry, and headed for Sevilla.

Southern Spain Part 2: Cordoba

After a 2.5 hour train ride, most of which was spent playing Rummy, we arrived at the Córdoba train station. We ended up walking to our hotel, which Sophia had reassured us, was “very close!”. I have never met anyone who enjoyed walking running at as fast a pace as she does. But I can’t complain, I’m sure my body is better for it. So we hauled our luggage across Córdoba and arrived at Hotel Macia Alfaros a short while afterwards.

Time in Córdoba was limited, so we headed for Plaza de la Corredera to grab a bite to eat before moving on with the plans for the day.

It was a beautiful day to sit out in the plaza..you can see Van and Ian sitting at the right-most table, but the service was pretty awful. The waiter acknowledged our presence but gave preference to the locals. And with Sophia breathing on our backs about rushing and finishing, we could not stay relaxed. We swallowed the food whole, and chased after the rest of the group, seeing some old Roman columns along the way.

The main attraction was the Mezquita-Catedral. Originally a Pagan temple, La Mezquita was constructed from 784 AD to 987 AD. It later became a Visigoth Church, and subsequently a Mosque during the Ummayad Moorish rule. They rebuilt the building as it stands today, however, after the Spanish Reconquista, it once again transformed into a Roman-Catholic church, with a plateresque cathedral sitting at the center of the building. There is a lot of controversy over what the building is considered to be – a Church or a Mosque, but its main function today is most definitely a Church. It just happens to sit inside an old Mosque.

Inside the courtyard exists a beautiful garden and orange grove:

The minaret was added during the Moorish expansion of the Mosque:

Inside, the column grid seems endless..the Church is hardly recognizable from the entrance, but as you make your way through, it becomes very clear..almost as if this was how the building was originally structured. It’s absolutely stunning inside.

This took forever:

Once I arrived at the main nave/altar, I almost completely forgot that I entered a Mosque:

After La Mezquita-Catedral, we went to see the Sinagoga de Córdoba. Right outside, there’s a statue of The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), in Plaza De Maimonides of the Juderia Quarter. Growing up in a Jewish Day School, I am all too-familiar with Maimonides, and it was pretty unbelievable to see a statue of him.

The Sinagoga is very small. I can’t imagine an enormous congregation attending services here, but it was pretty cool to see. We visited during Hannukah, but there were no references to the holiday once inside. A sole Menorah was standing in the alter, but that was about it. A Menorah is different from a Hannukiah, which is used during Hannukah. The difference is that a Menorah has 7 branches, and a Hannukia has 9: 8 for the 8 days of Hannukah, and 1 for the Shamash, which is used to light each candle on each night of the holiday. Entrance to the Synagogue was an inconvenient €0.35. They would. I would have gladly dropped €1..what gives for the random eurocents?

In traditional and Orthodox Synagogues, the men are separated from the women. There are several explanations for the separation, but I’ll explain just 2. When entering the holy sanctuary, we should not be trying to impress anyone besides G-d, so the focus is on the prayers, not the opposite gender. Additionally, many single people feel uncomfortable at functions or events which seem to be partner-oriented. By separating the genders, there is no exclusivity or discrimination between couples and singles. Here are the stairs that lead up to the upper floor, dedicated to the women’s section:

After the Sinagoga, we made our way over to the Alcazar, a Christian fortress with many beautiful gardens:

Sophia had booked reservations for 12 of us to go to the Baños Árabes Medina Califal (Hammams de Al Andalus) to dip in the Arab Baths. After the Alcazar, we headed back to the hotel to change, and backtracked over to the baths. The baths were one of the highlights of my semester. We walked in, got keys to the lockers, a towel, and a number. After changing into our bathing suits, we made the procession through the shower, then the cold bath, then the warm bath, then the scorching hot bath, the steam room, back to the hot bath, back to the big warm bath, drank amazing tea, and were called for our massages. I chose an orange massage oil, and fell asleep the second the lady started touching my back. After such a ridiculously action-packed semester, this is exactly what I needed..I don’t know why the other 8 didn’t join us, because for €33, it really wasn’t that expensive at all. Those 2 hours were extremely relaxing, and if you ever make it out to Córdoba, I highly recommend paying a visit. I didn’t bring my phone with me past the locker room, so I don’t have any pictures of the baths themselves, but you can check out their website here: http://www.hammamspain.com/cordoba/ .

After the massage, we dipped in the baths for a few more minutes, changed, and returned to the hotel, to see everyone passed out.

The next morning, we walked once more past the Mezquita and crossed the old Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), where our bus driver was waiting to pick us up to drive us to Merida.

The bus driver wasn’t there yet so we had a (very) short time to sketch the bridge. And off we went to Merida, but first we stopped at the Madinat Al-Zahra Museum, by Nieto Sobejano Architects in Cordova. We agreed that we didn’t have time to go up to the Medina, the old city, so we paid a small entrance fee of €2 or €2.50 and walked around the museum.

Southern Spain Part 1: Granada

As mentioned in the previous post, our return flight from Portugal landed at around midnight Barcelona time (the two countries have a time difference of 1 hour). Since we bought several bottles of wine, we had to check our carry-on luggage, which contributed to us missing the last train back to Sants, so we split up into 3 cabs and went home to quickly unpack and repack for southern Spain.

We met Sophia back at the airport the following morning, received our boarding passes, and flew in to Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport. After checking into the Juan Migel Hotel, we packed up our murses with pens, pencils and sketchbooks galore, and set out to climb the hill opposite La Alhambra for a nighttime vantage point of the historic Moorish palace from the 14th Century.

The journey through the Albaicín was really interesting. The district is separated from the rest of the city by the Darro river, and is composed of many narrow winding streets that will surely disorient you.

We arrived at Mirador de San Miguel Teterias, and stopped to watch the nightfall and La Alhambra light up. We whipped out out sketchbooks to draw what we saw..but we couldn’t see much at night.

I was trying to snap a few night shots of the palace, but before I knew it, Michael and I were the only ones on the plateau. We made our way back down the winding Albaicín, and somehow retraced our way back down the way we came, which was truly amazing (to us at least). But when we arrived at the Darro river, nobody was waiting for us. It was then that we received a text from Ian saying that the group huddled into a café called Casablanca midway down the mountain towards a different direction. A little disappointed that we were left behind, and that Sophia still hadn’t realized our absence, I took advantage of this time to return to the Jewelry district we had passed on our way to the Albaicín to look for a birthday present for my mom. No more than 15 minutes later, I found the perfect gift. Being born in October, my mom’s birthstone happens to be Opal. And boy do the Andalucians love Opal! I found a hamsa necklace with a blue Opal stone in the center, and matched it with blue Opal earrings. Turns out the artist was even Israeli. Since we accomplished what I thought was going to be impossible (a gift for the mother) in such a short time, we decided we’d give finding Casablanca a chance, so we asked the Jewelers and headed up to meet up with the rest of the group in a Turkish Café, and ate some baklava and drank some tea.

The next morning, we had reservations to enter La Alhambra, courtesy of USC (who finally decided to begin paying for our entrance fees). I say reservation because they limit the amount of people who can wander through the palace at any given moment, so this had to be planned ahead..we spent roughly 3 hours there.

We stopped by a statue of Washington Irving so Sophia could enlighten us as to who this man was and why he was so important. Irving was an American author, essayist, and historian who wrote many books and served as the Minister to Spain as well as the Secretary to the American Legation in London. While living in Spain, he took up residence in La Alhambra and spearheaded an effort to rededicate the palace as a national park and open it to the public with efforts to restore many of the structures. This statue on the way up to the palaces serves as a commemoration for his efforts.

As I mentioned earlier, La Alhambra began construction in the 14th Century to serve as a palace for the Moors who were in control of Andalucia at the time. Part of the Darro river was diverted so the palace would receive a consistent flow of water, eventually turning La Alhambra into a small city. The water helped farming and irrigation purposes and developed an area called the Generalife.

In the 15th Century, when the Catholics took control of the region, they built many more buildings within the walls of the city, including the Palace of Charles V within the Nasrid fortifications.

Not only is La Alhambra one of the main reasons people visit Granada in the autonomous region of Andalucia, but it is also one of the main reasons people journey to Spain. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts over 2 million visitors each year.

Looking back to where we stood the previous night:

The picture above doesn’t quite capture the weather at the time of this sketch, but I retreated into the colonnade to sketch this courtyard (from the left side). I used some of the rain to turn this pen sketch into a half water-color sketch.

Islamic Architecture revolves around geometric shapes and mathematics. As Sophia explained it, most everything is based off the square. The √2 hypotenuse, if rotated upwards, will form the √2 rectangle. Repeating this process will create the √3 rectangle and so on to √5. These shapes inform many Moorish designs and are prominent in La Alhambra.

Palace of the Lions (even though they look nothing like lions):

Then we headed to the gardens and Generalife:

After our morning exploration, we headed back down the hill towards the city to explore old courtyards and get a feel for the urban fabric:

The following morning, we walked to the city’s edge to visit a museum dedicated to the history and culture of southern Spain, but were side-tracked by the Macroscopio in Parque de las Ciencias by Carlos Ferrater. Seems to be an educational science museum geared for the younger generation:

Then we crossed the street to see what we came to see, the Centro Cultural CajaGRANADA Memoria de Andalucía, designed by Alberto Campo Baeza. It is enormously massive and overbearing, composed of mostly concrete. The museum inside is very modern and interactive, with tvs hooked up to devices that resemble Microsoft’s Kinect for XBOX. We didn’t have much time because we had an appointment with architect and professor Antonio Gamiz Gordo, so we rushed through the exhibits.

Double spiraling walkways inside the center courtyard, which were closed of course due to the weather.

We climbed the concrete tower (which is a library, or at least just on the floor we stepped out onto):

After a short lunch break, we walked over to Casa del Chapiz, a combination of 2 Arab mansions built in the 16th Century. It is said to be a prime example of Moorish architecture and is covered by mudejar motifs throughout the property. It is currently the location of the School of Arabic studies and contains an extensive library on Islamic Architecture.

After the tour of Casa del Chapiz, Antonio Gamiz Gordo gave a lecture on his research and analysis of historical buildings in Andalucia. Unfortunately, very few of us understood his lecture, so it was supplemented by English translations every several sentences. The presentation was pretty interesting, but difficult to stay attentive due to the language barrier. We returned to the hotel room, where Ian and Michael taught me how to play the card game Rummy (which we proceeded to play every waking hour we had free for the rest of the trip in southern Spain..I got pretty good).

Granada is a gorgeous old city, and I highly recommend visiting there. I was told there was a rather large Jewish community there before it was destroyed. After the exile of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, many of them settled in Granada. They prospered under the Ummayad caliphate from 755-1013. Samuel HaNagid, a Jewish refugee from Cordoba became the King’s vizier in Granada, and the city became an important center for Jewish learning and culture. After his death in 1055, however, Jewry in Granada took a twist turn. His son, Joseph, lacked his fathers humility, and alienated the ruling Berbers. On one Shabbat in 1066, his palace was stormed and he was murdered by crucification. The entire Jewish community came under a riotous siege, which resulted in 4,000 deaths. The community quickly recovered but fell again in 1090, and under the Almohads regime from 1148-1212, during which only those who converted to Christianity were permitted to stay in Granada. Jews returned to the city under the Naserite dynasty from 1232-1492, but the saga concluded when, on March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella signed the edict of expulsion in the “City of the Jews.” (Read more here http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Granada.html). That’s why I was surprised to see a relatively fair amount of Jewish Jewelry in the city.

The next morning, we set out to the train station by cabs to catch our ride to Cordoba. Unfortunately we only spent 1 night there, so we had to pack in a lot of attractions in a little over 24 hours.

Porto + Lisboa

I landed in L.A. this past Friday, and let me tell you…it’s good to be home. It’s taken me a few days to get used to being back in Los Angeles, especially having been greeted by a 5-day monsoon with rolling blackouts on my block. In any case, over the next few days I’m going to post about Portugal, our final week in southern Spain, and my week in Israel.

After Thanksgiving, a small group of us headed to Portugal for the weekend. Michael had a friend visiting from back home, so we were 9 in total. This was a bit of a squeeze because all the rooms we booked were for 4 people..but luckily none of the hotel / hostel staff mentioned anything to us. We planned to stay 1 night in Porto and then 1 night in Lisbon so we could get back in time to pack for our week in the south.

We flew into Porto’s Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro:

We checked into the Residencial São Jorge, dropped off our luggage, and set out to explore Porto.

The view from the girls’ room:

Porto sits on the Duoro River, with some parts built up onto the hill. We made our way down the stairs of the city towards the Dom Luís Bridge (Ponte Luís I), the oldest bridge in Porto.

The Funicular dos Guindais – a funicular tramway that scales the hill bridging the docks with the main part of the city:

In 1881, construction began on the competition bridge, designed by Téophile Seyrig, a partner at Eiffel at the time. It was opened to the public in 1886. On the upper level, there are pedestrian walkways on either side of Line D of Metro do Porto, while the lower level serves vehicular traffic as well as pedestrian walkways. The bridge spans the river, bridging the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

The funicular from the bottom and the reflection of the bridge:

We walked along the old port docks in search of some Portuguese food…

Since we were 9, they didn’t have any room for us outside, so they took us upstairs:

After lunch, we slowly made our way back to the hostel so we could change and get ready for the show at Casa da Musica.

Catedral (Sé) da cidade do Porto (Cathedral in the city of Porto):

Casa da Musica was several stops away, but it involved a decent walk to the nearest metro station, so we opted for 3 taxis to take us there.

Casa da Musica is a new (2005) concert hall designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA. We practically came to Porto to see the building, so we ended up buying tickets to the Gulbenkian Orchestra who were visiting from Lisbon. The classical concert featured violinist Christian Tetzlaff. We dressed up. We felt pretty cultured.

Thank you, Ian, for these interior shots:

The end of the show:

We found a restaurant nearby the concert hall which was perfect because we were in no mood to walk far in the freezing cold.

The following morning, we walked back to the Dom Luís Bridge, this time approaching it from the upper level. We were headed to the docks on the opposite side of the river to grab breakfast and get some quick wine tasting in before heading back to the top of the hill to catch the 4 hour bus ride to Lisbon. It was extremely foggy on the side of Vila Nova de Gaia which made these pictures turn out really nicely.

We stopped by a café on the river to eat breakfast/lunch/brunch..food was meh. They tried to sneak a piece of ham into my burger..They were also fascinated by us for some reason and took pictures and posted it on their Facebook page for the café..they called us the united nations group because of our various ethnic backgrounds. A famous dish is the chorizo..the perfect anti-Jew food. It’s essentially this fat sausage thats sliced up onto a skewer, served in a flaming pot for you to cook on your own..at least it warmed us up.

Michael and I also wanted to try out their fish croquettes:

We then headed to see 2 wineries, both of which were offering free wine tasting. Porto is famous for its Port wine, a recipe of several hundred years. On this side of the Duoro, there are over a dozen wineries each offering a unique blend. Within about 2 minutes of entering Dalva, the floor salesman was ringing up 7 bottles of Port wine. I joked with him that that was the easiest buck he’d ever made in his life.

Croft not only offered free wine tasting, but a tour of the winery as well. The family is one of the earliest shippers of Port wine, having been established in 1678.

Here are a few shots from Ian:

I ended up walking away from both wineries with a bottle from each. We made our way back to the hostel to gather our bags and catch the bus to Lisbon. This time, we crossed the Ponte Luís I on the lower level and rode the funicular up the hill.

The bus was only €18, which wasn’t bad at all. To make things even sweeter, they offered free wifi internet by satellite. We arrived pretty late, but found a restaurant by recommendation of 2 girls from our class who had travelled to Portugal the weekend after we returned from our Eurotrip.

We woke up early to ride the bus to the edge of the city to see the Jerónimos Monastery. Unknowingly, it was a somewhat waste of time because they are closed on Mondays.

So we walked down the street to the famous bakery, Casa Pastéis de Belém and tried the Pastel de Nata, a Lisbon egg tart. I was pretty hungry so I got a mushroom quiche as well:

Next, we headed to Monumento aos Descobrimentos, a monument dedicated to those who participated in the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries:

Afterwards, we hiked up the mountain to see Castelo de São Jorge, a moorish castle overlooking the city of Lisbon and the Tagus River. The hill upon which the citadel lies has been occupied since the 6th century, dating suggests, and is located at the highest point in the center of the historic area.

After exploring the old castle, it was time to head to the airport. We walked back to the residencia to collect our bags and took public transportation to the airport, which was a mistake. The bus took forever and we feared that we’d miss our flight. Luckily, it all worked out in the end, and we made it safely back to our apartment in Barcelona with just 8 hours to unpack, re-pack for the week-long trip in the south as well as the whole apartment because we needed to put everything in storage for the week.

The trip to Portugal, although short, was very much worth it. Being so close, it would have been silly to pass the opportunity up. That and everything was way cheaper, including flights.

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