Happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of universities and higher education! I honestly cannot think of a better reason to call off school. Just in case having permanent three-day weekends wasn’t good enough, we also had Monday off this past week to honor good old San Tomás de Aquino.
Four-day weekend? ROAD TRIP.
Preparing for a weekend excursion was the most complicated thing I have ever done. It really shouldn’t be that hard. Buy a bus ticket, book a hostel, tell your family you will see them on Monday night, the end. First problem: buying the bus tickets. With four of our six bus tickets already purchased, the ticket machine conveniently broke, leaving two of us ticketless. “Not a problem, we’ll just buy them online.” Except it is a problem when the bus company only accepts European credit cards as a form of payment. We tried everything: going back to the machine, calling the bus company, using our parents’ credit cards; nothing worked. We spent three days trying to buy these tickets. On Wednesday night, we gave up. The two of us were devastated to have to miss out on this adventure, but there was just no way for us to get bus tickets.
I was waiting for Literature class to start on Thursday morning when my amiga comes in and says, “Kelly has your bus ticket.” I thought she was trying to be funny, and needless to say, I wasn’t really in the mood for jokes. But she wasn’t kidding! It turns out Kelly’s host mom’s niece was able to use her credit card to buy the bus tickets online, so all we had to do was pay her back when we had a chance. With less than 24 hours until departure, we made it work. We booked a room at the hostel and bought tickets to the Alhambra during our break between classes. WE WERE GOING TO GRANADA!
You can’t really go on vacation without going shopping first, so we hit a few stores on Thursday night to prep for our journey. Here comes problem #2. I was buying a new bag for the trip and when it came time to pay, I pulled out my trusty debit card. My card came up as denied when it ran through the machine, which didn’t shock me too much. I had already had quite a week with attempted purchases of bus tickets and it was a really small store, so I figured it was just a fluke and paid with cash. Then I realized that I hadn’t actually used my debit card in Europe yet because I hadn’t needed to. (My grandparents had some euros leftover from their last trip to Europe and had been very generous with their favorite fourth granddaughter.) But it had been almost three weeks and I definitely needed an ATM prior to visiting Granada, so I moved that errand to the top of my priority list. DENIED. DENIED. NOT ACCESSIBLE. CANNOT PERFORM THIS FUNCTION. Three withdrawal attempts later, my card was still not functioning and I still had no cash. Commence panicking.
I immediately took the bus home, started my computer, and logged onto Skype. It was the middle of the afternoon in Wisconsin, so of course, no one was online or available to talk. I sent my mother numerous text messages and emails saying, “EMERGENCY” and “I NEED HELP” and “911 CALL ME”. (Poor Mary Alice—she probably thought I was dead.) I emailed my sister and asked her to get in touch with my mom, but like I said, it was the middle of the day, so she was in class and didn’t get my message. When neither of them responded, I opened my Facebook to try to contact someone else. Proof that I have the worst luck in the world: I clicked on Facebook chat and my only friends that were online were people that were also abroad in Europe. People in Italy and Spain weren’t exactly going to be much help to me. As soon as someone on U.S. soil came online, I messaged him and asked him to call my mom. (Shout-out to Sam Rall for giving Mary Alice a phone call for me!) He called my mom and left her message, telling her to call me as soon as possible, which she did. It turns out my bank forgot to mark my account as international, despite the fact that I had a ninety-minute meeting with my banker prior to my departure. When I booked the hostel with my card earlier that morning, identity theft and fraud prevention measures immediately went into effect, preventing me from using my card. After a few phone calls to the bank and the Wells Fargo Fraud Helpline, my mother and I were able to eliminate all the confusion and adjust my account settings. RELIEF. On the bright side, it is reassuring to know that those identity theft prevention measures actually work!
With a working ATM card, bus ticket, and duffel bag in hand, I was finally ready to board the 5:31 A.M. train to Granada. Cons of taking a 7:00 A.M. bus from Madrid? You have to take a train to Madrid at 5:30, then another train to the bus station at 6:30. And of course, the buses in Alcalá don’t run that early, so you also have to walk to the train station. Kelly and I met outside her house at 4:45 A.M. The walk and the train rides went fairly smoothly and two hours later we boarded the bus to Granada.
The five-hour bus ride to Granada flies by when you sleep the whole time. I put in my headphones and didn’t wake up until we were 20 minutes outside Granada. But I did wake up for few minutes to see this out my window.
We arrived in Granada at about noon and made it to our hostel in the Albayzín district by two o’clock. We spent most of Friday trying to stay dry while exploring Granada, eating tapas, sipping wine, and taking in the views—which were still phenomenal despite the rain.
While Friday’s weather was not particularly pleasant, Saturday was a gift from God. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and it was a balmy 62 degrees: a perfect day for our visit to the Alhambra.
The Alhambra, a major tourist attraction, is a fortress-turned-palace in Granada, built by the last of the Moorish rulers of Spain. This place is old. As in Pre-Reconquista/Reyes Catolicos old. As in built more than one thousand years ago old.
From the top of Torre de la Vela, you can see for miles and miles. If feels like you are sitting on top of the whole world.
After several hours of appreciating the beauty of Granada, we headed back to the hostel to siesta for a bit before the next event of the day: dinner and a show. A flamenco show, that is. Thirty-five euros for a three course meal, drinks, bread, and a totally kickin’ flamenco performance. The show was crazy. I had never seen a flamenco show before, but I’ve been tap dancing since before I could walk, so I have a little experience in the making-noise-with-feet category. When I say this girl could dance like a boss, it is the understatement of the century. She inspired me to look up the University of Alcalá’s flamenco class schedule and I have already penciled the dates into my calendar. Get ready, Optima Dance, I’m bringing flamenco to Madtown for Fall Showcase 2013.
On Sunday morning, Kelly and I went to Cuatro Gatos, a small cafetería just down the road from our hostel. Simple and delicious, we started the day with toast, granola, and coffee. It was fantastic.
Two of my good friends are studying in Granada this semester and I was lucky enough to be able to meet up with them for Mass on Sunday. We went to Mass at the Catedral de Granada, a beautiful cathedral in the center of the city. Challenging and difficult to understand, we struggled through Spanish Mass said by the Archbishop of Granada. Just before the end of Mass, Arzobispo Javier Martínez Fernández looked right at us and asked us (in English!) if we spoke English. We nodded, shocked that he had called us out in front of everyone. He continued to speak to us in English, saying, “It is so wonderful that you are still coming to Mass, even if you aren’t understanding every single word. Because we are all one Body of Christ. Listen to the reading: the body does not consist of one part but of many. There are many parts, yet one body. And so, it doesn’t matter what country you are in or what language you speak, we are still all one Body of Christ. And your faith is strong despite the barriers of travel.” (Sunday’s reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30) This was by far the coolest thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life. We got a shout-out. In English. From the Archbishop of Granada. During Mass. In Spain. It was completely unreal.
But the unbelievable events didn’t stop there. On Sunday afternoon, a staff member from our hostel led us up the hills behind the Albayzín. The view from the top was breathtaking. I thought it was beautiful seeing the entire city from the top of the Alhambra. But that beauty is increased tenfold when the Alhambra is included in the view.
We spent the rest of our time in Granada eating doner kebabs (think Chipotle, except better), enjoying sangria, and trying not to think about the fact that Monday means back to the real world. Well, as real as studying abroad in Spain can be.
There is a saying etched into the wall of the Alhambra: “…no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego in Granada.” Translated: there is no pain in life like being blind in Granada. I am so thankful to have had the privilege to spend the weekend in such a beautiful city. Being here has been so crazy so far that I have not taken enough time to step back and appreciate all of the awesomeness in front of me. This experience is so incredible!
Three weeks down, many more adventures to go!