Monday, March 26, 2012

We Are Home!

Wow...10 days has flown. We had a wonderful time visiting the beautiful country of Spain.  We learned a lot about the country's history and landscape. As an added bonus, we were able to meet some amazing people from all around the world that joined us on our tour.

Travel Group preparing for a group photo in Seville



We are very excited about the number of people who have taken time to travel with us to Spain and we look forward to you traveling with us on our next Edgecombe Community College Travel Abroad Trip.

Please stay tuned to our website for additional photos from this trip and information on our upcoming trip- Take Care.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday, March 24

Our journey of Spain has come to an end.  Edgecombe Community College's twelve travelers have learned from each other and from our international friends.  This morning we left Seville, stopped in Cordoba to tour the Mosque of the Caliphs (famous for its 850 pillars of porphyr, marble, and jasper),and then returned to Spain, thereby closing the loop.  We returned to the city where it all began 7 days ago.
Sunday as we fly out of the Madrid airport, we'll say good-bye to a rich heritage that started around 1100 B.C., when the earliest colonies were formed.  As the tour guides emphasized, the story of Spain is complex but well worth the study.
I don't know about the others, but my study has just begun.
Hasta Luego...until we meet again.
Deborah Lamm

Recuerdo

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli
The ending of any journey is bittersweet. Reflections of exotic sights and experiences are balanced by anticipation of home, which, whatever it holds, is still home.
This has been my 5th trip to Spain.  Each time has felt like a first visit.  Over fifteen years, currencies have changed, recessions have come and gone, restorations have been started and completed.
What endures:  the multi-faceted culture, the spirit of the people, the diversity of their histories, and the mosaic that is their heritage.  Moors, Muslims, Jews, Christians – a rich texture of religions laid and overlaid and existing side by side and often within each other, as history has melded their differences into a rich patina.
It all began in 500-600 BC with the Celts and marched forward past Carthage, Rome, the Barbarians, Muslims, Jews, the Catholic Kings.  Spain would not be Spain without the influence of all of these cultures – not assimilated but still in distinct harmonies. Mosques became synagogues became cathedrals.  Arabic prayers accompany Stars of David beside Christian crosses. They remain religious symbols, of course, but they exist without those associations as great art.  And of our culture and icons, what will remain?  As religion. As culture.  As art?
What will endure?
The Iberian Peninsula has been, at different times, isolated, joined and protected by the Pyrenees.
In Madrid, the most recent capital of Spain, we immersed ourselves in the art of the country, learning of the people and their cultures through centuries of paint.  Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velasquez, Murillo, De Goya, among many, grace the Prado.  Picasso, renegade of the 20th c., is down the street.  Madrid seems a relatively modern city.
Toledo hides behind a wall, a fortress appropriately adorned with weapons, swords.  Even the damascene jewelry is “forged” and has the look and feel of armor.
In the shadow of the Alhambra, artisans inlay hundreds of tiny pieces of wood to create individual objects of art.  Never mind that they are also the souvenir de rigueur of Granada; they are still elegantly beautiful.
White washed hill towns of Andalucia, once self-contained agrarian villages, now rely on the kindness of visiting tourists, who cannot resist the colorful ceramics that accent the white walls.  When the tourists have gone, one hopes there is still an underlying economy that will feed a village.
Sevilla, in all her infinite grace and beauty, has created a kind of peace and harmony of old and new.  Every half-century or so, she recycles her buildings for more current purposes.  The buildings remain, are restored and given new function and life, and a promise of a future.  From her huge cathedral and Alcazar to her Flamenco dancers, Seville is the heart of Andalucia.  Go to a Flamenco show prepared to remain above it and you will find tapping heels, perspiration, and castanets entering your skin by osmosis.
Begin or end your time in Spain in Cordoba.  The visit gives perspective. Wander through the cathedral, born mosque. Walk under the Moorish arches.  Face Mecca and the wall of mosaics from 950 AD.  Observe Lent in the Chapel.
 A thousand years pass as you walk.  A millennium -- as if it were an hour.

                                                             SCENES OF CORDOBA



Cordoba -- Cathedral and Roman Bridge



Cordoba -- Cathedral arches



Cordoba Cathedral -- Christian Chapel 



Cordoba Cathedral -- Mosque wall facing Mecca -- 950 AD



Cordoba Cathedral -- Arches within arches



Cordoba -- Cathedral entrance

March 23, 2012

Flamenco Performance in Seville, Spain.

The travelers spent the day in Seville, touring the city and the Alcazar, founded in the 11th century as a Moorish fortress. Tonight we enjoyed Andalusian Flamenco Dancers. The music is Arabic for the most part but has hints of Greek and Jewish chants. Overall, flamenco is a combination of music, singing, and dance. Hand-clapping was the flamenco's original instrument until the guitar entered the picture. Castanets are also used; the castanet is usually fastened on the hand by the thumb or any combination of fingers so that the wrist can snap it quickly and make the sound. Red, black, and white are dominant colors used in the distinct costuming worn by the performers.

Another very full day has come to an end. We're off tomorrow on our return journey to Madrid. The ECC travelers head home on Sunday morning.

Adios.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sevilla

"Travelers never think that they are the foreigners." -- Mason Cooley

The Alcazar grounds



The Alcazar -- Star of David


Mujehar -- The Alcazar



The Alcazar patio



Alcazar window


Alcazar tiles








The Alcazar

The Alcazar courtyard


Resident of The Alcazar


Flamenco



Flamenco


Flamenco


Good-bye, Sevilla!







Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday, March 22

Leaving Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol, we traveled to historic Ronda. The origins of the city of Ronda go back to the Bastulo Celts who called it Arunda.  In the 2nd century B.C., the Romans entered the peninsula and the town was converted into a fortress. After 711, Ronda took its place as one of the most important towns and fortresses in the south of Spain. In the afternoon, we traveled to Jerez and toured the Sherry Bodega Winery, where we tasted wine and sampled tapas.

Fast facts about Spain:

  • average wage is $1500-$1600 euros/ month
  • employee and employer taxes total about 33.75% of the earnings
  • citizens have free medical care
  • employees paid for 14 months/year (one extra month for vacation and one extra month for holidays
  • employees receive full pension at 65 years old
  • 85% of Spaniards belong to middle class
  • unemployment is at 20%
  • population slightly increasing due to immigrants entering Spain from South America, Africa, Asia, Russia, and Ukraine

Tomorrow--facts about Seville.

Deborah Lamm

Andalusia

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." -- Mark Twain

Some scenes from today in Andalusia.



Good-bye, Costa del Sol.



Ronda -- a hill town of Andalucia


Whitewashed walls of Ronda



View from the old city







Bougainvilla


Jerez -- Two signed casks



Old vines




The end of the tour!




Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A delicious dinner of sea bass, seafood pizza, spaghetti, homemade cheesecake, and Spanish Cava at Restaurante Pizzeria-Marie in Costa del Sol! From left to right: Ben Mayo, Laura Ashley Lamm, Carnell Lamm, Deborah Lamm, Catherine Powers-Moseley, Anne Mayo, Freida Wright, and Retha Deaton.

Gibraltar, a small British colony, was the excursion for today! Gibraltar shares Moorish, Spanish, and British influences and is considered the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  The colony is actually reclaimed land from the sea. Though Gibraltar is an expensive place to live and most people live in Spain and commute to Gibraltar to work, King Fahad from Saudi Arabia actually constructed a White House on the land, which is considered to be a replica of the White House in Washington, DC.
One of the highlights of the colony is the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock has 150 caves or 30 miles of tunnels inside the rock, built during WWII.  The largest is St. Michael's cave, with a series of underground chambers made up of stalactites and stalagmites.  The Barbary Apes, the most well known novelty, are tailless monkeys native to Morocco.  According to legend, as long as the monkeys remain in Gibraltar, the British will maintain ownership of the Rock;  to insure the legend's continuation, Winston Churchill ordered the preservation of the monkeys when their numbers began to dwindle during WWII.  The monkeys are fed daily at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Regular feedings help keep the monkeys from grabbing food, cameras, and pocketbooks--though they will grab them if the opportunity exists.  Tourists are asked not to feed the monkeys or to pet them, as the monkeys walk among the tourists quite freely.
Seeing both Africa and Spain standing on the Rock of Gibraltar reinforces the notion of just how small the world really is.
Deborah Lamm

What an amazing journey!

On Monday, our merry group of travelers journeyed by motorcoach from Madrid to the ancient city of Toledo.  Our tour guide, Rui, explained the history of the beautiful city, and we stopped to take a group photo at a scenic point overlooking the entire city.  The influence of the Moors who inhabited Toledo is seen everywhere in the architecture of the city.   After a tour of the city, we visited a Damascene steel workshop, where the artisans continue to practice their art making beautiful jewelry and elegant swords.  We stayed in Granada overnight and had an early appointment to tour the Alhambra, built in the 13th century by a Moorish ruler.  After the Spanish re-conquered Grenada from the Moors, Spanish rulers used the grounds as a royal retreat.  Within the complex, we were able to visit the room within which Queen Isabella granted Christopher Columbus the bill of credit to finance his journey to the New World.  We were also able to view the beautiful Water Gardens of the Generalife, which featured reflective pools and incredible gardens.  After leaving Grenada, we traveled to the Costa del Sol to rest before heading to Gibraltar, also known as “the Rock.”  Our local guide drove us to a vantage point from which we could see three countries  (Morocco, Gibraltar – a territory of the United Kingdom, and Spain) on two continents (Africa and Europe).  What an amazing journey!  After such a long day, we are just as tired as our ape friend! But no rest for the weary- on to Seville!
Travel Group overlooking Toledo
Damascene steel worker
Alhambra



View of Gibraltar Strait( View of Africa{far left}, Spain{straight ahead}, Gibraltar{below})
Barbary Ape


Monkeys!

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind." -- Seneca

Before Columbus "discovered" the Americas, maps of the world bore the Latin inscription, "Ne plus ultra," meaning there was nothing more beyond the boundaries of the map.  Everything changed, of course, when ships failed to drop off the edge of the world. into an abyss of sea monsters.  As this Mosaic tile in the Alhambra reminds us:  There is always more beyond. . .Something  to remember in this age when we think we have thought and done it all.

Sunlight has filled the Court of Lions for centuries. They stand guard and the Alhambra is at peace.




On the road from Granada to Torremolinos, we found Centurylink a la Espana.





Today, we stood on the edge of a rock and gazed at two continents and three countries.  Although Spain has tried to retrieve it over 200 times (according to our guide), Gibraltar remains resolutely British. Right down to the fish 'n chips.

Caves and monkeys.  Don't feed the monkeys, but it's okay if they feed you.


St. Michael's Cave  -- Gibraltar

Tonight is our last night on the Costa del Sol.  Outside our window, the sound of waves crashing lulls us to sleep.

Rockin' Around Europe!

We've taken a dip in the Mediterranean Sea on the Costa del Sol of Spain!

Greetings from the Costa del Sol! It's a beautiful, picturesque city on the Mediterranean Sea. It has been seasonally warm and sunny, which made for a great walk on the beach and wading in the Sea. The seafood is scrumptious and definitely the best I've ever had. We dined on clams, fried artichokes, grouper, squid, and salted baked sea bass. For all you golfers out there, there are 45 courses here and it's known as the home of the Number One Golf Course in Europe. 

Today was spent visiting the Last Colony, otherwise known as Gibraltar, a territory of the United Kingdom. Yes, we traveled to a second country on this voyage! As we stood on the Southern most tip of Spain, we could view Spain on our right and Africa on our left! How amazing to stand in one country and see two others across the sea. Gibraltar is 12 miles from both Africa and Spain.

As I love a history lesson, here is yours for today: In 1940, Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany and Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain met in the South of France to discuss Spain entering World War II. If Spain joined WWII, Hitler offered in exchange the conquering and passing of Gibraltar from the United Kingdom to Spain. Franco and Spain had just ended their Civil War. Wanting to decline, Franco asked for the French Morocco, instead, knowing Hitler had already offered it to France. Hitler declined the negotiation and Spain remained the only nation not to enter WWII. 

We visited the Rock of Gibraltar, which is home to Barbary Apes that run free, 30 miles of tunnel inside, and the city of Gibraltar with 30,000 inhabitants, 70 companies, and a high cost of living. Being a territory under the rule of Queen Elizabeth II, fish and chips were enjoyed, English was spoken again and red telephone booths were on the streets. 

As the sun hasn't set, there is more to see. I'm off to the beach so farewell from me!

Laura Ashley Lamm

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday, March 20

The countryside in Spain is as picturesque as it comes!  Rolling hills are covered with Olive trees, Almond trees, and green pastures. Around Granada, the snow-topped mountains seem close at hand, just above the "pueblo blancos" (white villages).  The white caves, as they're often called, are nestled in the wooded hills, and are the remains of defensive structures used during the Moor Era. Additional rooms have been added to the caves to create white houses with red-tile roofs. The cobblestone and river rock streets and walkways add to the feel of the thirteenth century Al-Ahmar dynasty.

Deborah Lamm

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness." - Ray Bradbury


To know a city, walk it.  A map is helpful, but not necessary, as long as you are willing to get lost or ask directions.

After the morning in The Prado, I decided to clear the Spanish Masters out of my head by walking to Old Madrid.  I had a cup of tea in the museum cafe, then headed west.  First stop, the Puerta del Sol. where I chose to photograph the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, rather than Carlos III.

Puerta del Sol, The Sun Gate, is the center of Spain, the 0 kilometer starting point to cities in all directions.  The bronze bear and tree are symbols of Madrid, not as showy as Carlos III on his horse, but much friendlier and an endearing representative of Madrilenos, the citizens of Madrid.

Madrid is the highest capital city of any country in Europe. Walking up and down its hills, one is reminded of this.

Monday, March 19

A day filled with diverse people creates colorful memories. One of my most colorful memories occurred in front of our hotel in Madrid, prior to our leaving for the day. Two street beggars were out in front of the church engaged in an argument--pushing, shoving, and yelling at each other in their native language (possibly immigrants). One female went into the church and found a broom--she came out gesturing as if to sweep the other out of her territory. By this time, the second female was sitting on the ground by the church gate, coin cup by her side; the first female resumed her demand that the other move to another location. Evidently, this particular spot was her territory. Finally, the first female found a spot by the second gate--though the verbal exchange continued for about five minutes--at least until the parishioners walked up, ready to enter the church, dropping a few coins in the cups along the way.

Interesting people have been everywhere. Along the plazas were street performers--musicians playing jazz, performers dressed as humans with invisible heads, and performers dressed as colorful animals and cartoon characters.

"Infamous people" have been everywhere, though none of us knew where. "Pick pockets" (the art of pick pocketing appears to be a growing profession) are dressed as professionals, commoners, and tourists. Traveling in groups, they're considered "smooth operators." According to the tour guides, pick pockets don't intend to hurt anyone--just remove wallets without being noticed. One distracts or bumps into the target, the other removes the wallet within seconds. As a precaution, we left passports and most of our money in room safes; we took paper copies of passports with ample euros when leaving the hotel.

Overall, Spaniards have been delightful! They are attractive, courteous, and multi-lingual, though many do not know English. Young children traveling with their parents are extremely well-behaved. Visiting historic sites with hundreds and maybe thousands of tourists has been most pleasant.

Here's to humanity...and to another day!

Deborah Lamm

Sunday, March 18

The ECC travelers embarked on an exciting experience with a city tour of Madrid, Spain, on Sunday. Leaving Catalonia Goya Hotel at 9 a.m., we visited the Memorial to Cervantes--a statue of Don Quixote on horseback, from Don Quixote, the most celebrated book in Spain. The memorial was surrounded by olive trees, symbolic of La Mancha, a region in Spain. We also visited the Museo Cathedral, Plaza de la Villa, and Plaza Mayor and toured the Museo National Del Prado, The Royal Monastery of St. Lawrence of Escorial, and the Valley of the Fallen Soldiers.

Rising above the history of Spain and the most noted landmarks were the people and the landscape of the city. Madrid is home to 4 million people, with thousands more walking the streets and visiting the sights. Eighty-two percent of the people own their homes or apartments; however, with the weakened economy, many more are renting. The city is considered one of the greenest cities in Europe with 1 million trees. Trees like oak, umbrella pines, and olive trees consume the landscape. Just as the people and landscape differ from Eastern North Carolina, so does the food. One Spanish treat is the tapas, a kind of hors d'oeuvre or bite sized food that is served with a drink. The term comes from pieces of ham or cheese laid across glasses of wine to keep flies out and to keep stagecoach drivers sober, stemming from the presence of the 7th century Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. Various kinds of Tapas are made with olives, roasted potatoes, chicken, seafood, just to name a few.

Tomorrow brings more new experiences...I'm ready.

Deborah Lamm

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hola, Espana!

I've always considered knowledge to be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. One must seek to acquire it, strive to obtain it, and work to continuously build upon it. Whether it is reading, traveling, studying or watching documentaries, the thirst for knowledge is empowering. How fortunate the ECC Travelers are to be able to delve first-hand into the culture, people, language, and history of Spain!
We have spent the first two days in Madrid, the heart of Spain. Madrid is home to one million trees and ranks first of the three greenest providences in Europe. Switzerland and Austria fall second and third, respectively.

Today (Sunday), we spent the morning touring the Prado Museum -- home of The Naked Maja, the work of Tiepolo, and remarkable paintings of Saint John the Baptist. The afternoon allowed us to experience what is known as the eighth wonder of the world -- The Royal Monastery of St. Lawrence of Escorial. Simply worded: it's magnificent. Built in the 18th Century (1768) by Felipe II (King Phillip II), his intentions were to build a palace for God, a mausoleum for his father and a cave for himself. It houses 2800 rooms, a collection of geographical maps drawn by hand 470 years ago, a series of wall paintings depicting important Spanish battles and five craved wooden doors given to King Felipe II in 1567 by the Hapsburg family of Austria. A church was built in the very center of the royal complex, and King Felipe built his bedrooms and those of family around the alter. He never had to leave his room to receive communion. While is bedroom connected to the church alter, its windows faced Spain's capital, Madrid. This was his cave -- he built for himself.

To honor his father, he built a beautiful mausoleum of Spanish marble and guilded bronze. Floor to ceiling to tombs in marble and bronze. He built the family burial underneath the heart of the church. It's Baroque style was the first in Spain. The mother and father of the Kings are buried here. Though a King may have had more than one wife, only the one who birthed an heir would be entombed here. Within the tombs are bones alone. One must spend 30 plus years in the rotting room until the body and clothes completely decompose. Then in a private ceremony, the bones are entombed. The current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I (John Charles I), parents are currently decomposing as we speak. Unfortunately, the rotting room is not on tour.

White marbles tomb chamber were built underground as well to house the additional wives and families of the monarchs. A white three-tier chamber houses the children of the monarchs who died in childhood. King Felipe II married four times, all of them leaving him widowed, and only one producing an heir.
King Felipe II's final architectural giant was the monastery or palace for God. It is known as the "triumph of a straight line" as all windows, doors, alters, etc. built of granite stone are perfectly straight. Statues of biblical figures in gold adorn the alter. One of the most incredible historical reference is the full-size white marble statue of Jesus on the Cross. His veins and chest bones are chiseled in the marble. Spanish soldiers before battle bow down and pray before Jesus.

It no wonder its considered the eighth world wonder. I encourage you to Google the site as photographs were not allowed. It's an amazing piece of history. Today certainly was fabulous; can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Adios from Laura Ashley Lamm

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The first day

"It is not down in any map; true places never are." - Herman Melville

There's a fog that descends when one arrives in a foreign country -- and it's not just the jet lag and lack  of sleep. It's a land of unreality -- half sleep, half hyper awareness. A cushion between the traveler and all that is new.  The temptation, of course, is to fall into bed and catch up on twelve hours of  sleep, but all the books forbid it. 

"Stay awake," they warn.  At all costs. Wander the streets.  Stand in long lines in public places. Take in a palace or two.  Anything but succomb to the siren call of your hotel pillow.  Your body rhythms must adjust to the new world in which they're living. Allow them to adjust, or you'll be hounded by jet lag all week.

I've never tested this.  I've always done as the good books say.  I  walk for hours; I visit museums I wouldn't normally haunt.  I stay on my feet and away from the hotel. I run from temptation.  But one of these trips, I'm going to throw caution to the wind and crawl straight from the plane and under the covers and stay there for a full twelve hours.  Just to see what happens.

But not this time.  I just don't want to take the chance that the books might be right.

In this spirit, we tossed our bags in our rooms and headed across Madrid, as far from our hotel on Calle de Goya as possible.  Some of us flew across the city in taxis, headed for the Royal Palace of Madrid; others set out on foot, a death march to the Plaza Mayor, where all good visitors sit at tables around the perimeter of the square, eat Tapas (small portions of Spanish dishes), and watch the street performers take over.

The palace was gratifyingly overwhelming.  You couldn't fall asleep there if you tried.  Too much glass in the chandeliers and gilt in the mirrors.  After a dozen "official chambers," you are in a daze that might as well be sleep. But you stumble on, partly to avoid jet lag and partly just to say you did when, at the end of the day, you all recount heroic feats of the traveler warrier over a glass of Sangria and a good piece of bread.

So. . . having fought sleep all day, here I am wide awake.  The entire hotel is asleep around me, and in the middle of the city, the night is still young.

Anticipation

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

For the first time, I'm traveling without worrying about plans, connections, luggage, or a myriad of other concerns.

While not traveling as a light as I might, I'm reasonably streamlined -- for me.  I've resolved to buy little -- well, a gift for my mother -- and I brought a good book to make waiting time seem shorter.

Instead of trying to cram every minute, I plan to watch the people and the scenery, smell the Spanish coffee -- and laugh a lot.

In short, je suis en vacance, as the French say.  "I'm on vacation."

We Made It!

Plaza Mayor
We made it! Our trip began from the Greenville airport on Friday around 11 a.m., and we arrived in Madrid at about 1:00 a.m., Eastern Standard time. The time in Madrid was 7:00 AM.  Needless to say, everyone was exhausted from the trip but there was no time for sleep. We met the driver who took us to our hotel, HotelCatalonia Goya, to meet our tour guide for the week, Rui Vega. Fortunately, our rooms were ready despite our very early arrival.  We all wanted to go straight to bed! But we were warned if we did so, the jet lag would certainly catch up with us. So, off to sightseeing we went.  We had an opportunity to visit the city center, Puerta del Sol, where we took in some great music; then we headed to the Plaza Mayor for some great paella.  After an afternoon of sightseeing and eating, we returned to the hotel for a briefing from our tour guide and an introduction of the other individuals that will be traveling with us for the next eight days.  Our full tour group will now be made of 35 individuals from all over the U.S., including Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Chicago. The evening was capped off with a great dinner shared by all members of the travel group. Now it is off to bed to get rested for the big sightseeing day in Madrid.
Paella
Metro stop for Puerta del Sol

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Welcome to our ECC Travel Abroad – Spain blog! We are glad that you are taking time out of your busy schedule to share some time with us as we travel around Spain.

Daily, Dr. Lamm, Roberta Cashwell, or I will update you on the themes and sites of the day. We are scheduled to depart for Spain this Friday, March 16, 2012 and return on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Along the way, we will visit Madrid, Toledo, Granada, the Costa del Sol, and Seville. The forecast during our travels is expected to be in the mid-to-high sixties with only a few scattered showers, so we are looking forward to great sightseeing weather.

As we do our last bit of packing, the level of enthusiasm amongst our group continues to grow and we are glad to have you participate in the journey with us. Take care and we will see you in Madrid…