As I sit in the lobby of my hotel in Stavanger, Norway killing the remaining hour until Zak arrives, I have mixed emotions. Upon taxing-in to the Stavanger airport runway, walking through the tunnel and figuring out which bus to take to the city center – I felt excited. From the plane, Norway is absolutely stunning. Everything is natural and radiates a green attitude. But upon arriving to my hotel and finally plopping down on the bed, I was right back to square one of traveling abroad – the reoccuring feeling that I am a foreigneer and know nothing about where I am. Luckily most everyone speaks English in addition to Norwegian, so that should help a little. They have a different currency – kroners – something I also know nothing about. I was competent enough to use the exchange machine at the airport but I have no clue how much money will actually be left in my account upon my arrival back to Sanse. Lastly, I am filled with a sense of disbelief. Am I really here, in Norway, on my way to embark on an adventure I’ve dreamed about since high school? And I get to do it with someone who I treasure dearly? Do I deserve this!? How did I get so lucky??
Nonetheless, I thought I would use this time to update you all on my first week of Semana Santa which I spent in southern Spain with my friends Evan and Taylor. (PS: Semana Santa is the equivalent of Easter in States, starting on Palm Sunday and going to Resurrection Sunday). We started our trip on the Friday before Palm Sunday in Sevilla, Spain – home of the most elaborate Semana Santa festivities in Spain (and possibly all of Europe?). We caught different flights there and met up in the airport to depart into the hot weather together. We had hardly any trouble figuring out the bus system and finding our hostel, HostelOne. Our hostel guy, Mark, was super friendly and offered to take us to a Flamenco show. First night in town and we were checking off one of the top things on my “must see” list. From the incredibly talented musicians and dancer, in addition to the heavily Spanish atmosphere, it was an incredible show.
The next day (Saturday) we decided to knock some of the popular sights out of the way. We started for the Cathedral, the largest gothic church and the 3rd largest church in the world. Honestly, without trying to be rude, all the churches are starting to look the same. But nonetheless, it was fun. Evan and I found the entrance to the tower and were greeted by an amazing view at the top (of 34 flights of stairs). Plus the gardens were beautiful, as they always are.
Next we headed for the Plaza de Espana. We stopped at the supermercado to grab some chorizo to pair with the fresh bread and cheese we had picked up at the farmers market that morning. We walked until we were in the Plaza de Espana, or so we thought. Not that great. So we plopped down by a fountain and ate our lunch. We checked our map for our next destination and found out the real Plaza de Espana was actually right behind us. We crossed the street and were awed by its beauty. Everything was built from tile. We did a full loop, inspecting all the different providences. We were ecstatic when we found Gipuzkoa. The Concha beach in Sanse was even featured! It was a pretty cool feeling identifying with our “home” of Sanse in another town. Its going to be so weird going home home to the states…
We rented a row boat for 30 mins (when in Spain…) and took turns rowing around the plaza then headed for the park across the street. So many flowers, so much tile – gorgeous. We found a couple secluded benches near a fountain and took a small break – which turned into a siesta, the best siesta I’ve ever had actually, basking in the southern sun.
Sunday, a.k.a. “Domingo de Ramos” was spent chasing processions. But before all that madness, we stopped at the Alcázar de Seville, admiring its beauty. We even ran into some friends from USAC in there – who would have thought?! We heard we should be in the Plaza del Salvador around 3 for the beautiful procession that would happen there. We got there in time to march behind the band and get pretty good spots to see the children (dressed in Ku Klux Klan attire, I kid you not) and their parents depart the church, guiding the way for the finale – the float. I had never seen anything so beautiful, large and unique as this. Tons of men organize themselves under this immensely heavy and decorated floats and march around the city with it. It’s one of a kind. After watching this entire procession, sunburnt and drenched, we headed back to the hostel to shower, only to be stopped by 2 other processions (which you cannot cross). So we sat down for a cold Coca-Cola and waited for them to pass.
We had decided on Saturday our next stop would be Malaga so early Monday morning we set off for the bus station to catch our bus. 4 hours later, we were wandering the hot streets of Malaga, in search of our hostel. Initially, Evan and I were having some second thoughts. The downtown was pretty run down, very industrialized and “city-ish.” We kept our minds open, surely there had to be something people liked about this port city. And we finally found it. Our hostel, the Pink Backpackers House was located on the edge of the historical center. Super guay! Tons of winding streets filled with restaurants, shops, and life. Jackpot, the next two days might not be too bad after all. We visited the cathedral gardens (couldn’t miss out on those), paid the student fee of .60 centimos to visit the Alcazaba de Málaga (the best preserved alcazaba in Spain), and climbed to the top of the path behind it to treat ourselves to a gorgeous sunset over the city.
The following day, Tuesday, we spent bathing in the sun in Nerja, a small beach town about an hour bus ride from Malaga. We played in the caves, ate homemade bocadillos and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. A perfect day in my books.
Next on our list of places – Granada, home of the oldest Moorish castle in Europe – the Alhambra. We checked into our hostel, White Nest, and were in love. They offered us tea and coffee upon arriving, the gypsy atmosphere was fantastic and they even had a retractable roof. Very quay!
After walking around and sight seeing in Granada day 1, we wanted a change of scenery for our second and last day there. We had two options: wake up at 530 am to stand in line for possible tickets to the Alambra and visit that all day OR take a bus to a small city outside of Granada and hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Can you guess which one I chose? Evan and I went for the hike and Taylor decided to wait in line for the Alhambra.
So we woke up the next morning, moved out of our rooms, left our luggage at the front desk and set off for the supposed bus #181 at the supposed plaza across the river. After speedwalking about 2 miles and being pretty confident we missed the bus (which comes every hour), it pulled up. 10 minutes late. Lucky us! We hoped on and were dumped 30 mins later at some random stop on some random road. Great. Well it turned out to be great actually. There were 2 other people on the bus who were doing the hike as well and guess where they were from?! The States, Milwaukee, Wisconsin to be exact! So we walked with Mike and Casey down the hills to the small city of Monachil. From there we split up. Evan and I went for the trail, the other two for some food. 45 minutes later and 3 people deep in asking for directions, we were on the trail. The first sight was breathtaking in itself.
We continued on the path and saw all sorts of vegetation. In southern Spain, there’s lots of dry dirt and dry plants to go with it. Sorta ugly. But not here. Buried in the mountains was plenty of lush greenery. We walked through a couple caves where people were actually rock climbing up the sides. We crossed a few rickety swing bridges. We took a couple wrong turns. But we made it back alright. With enough magical beauty to last us awhile.
And it turns out Taylor got into the Alhambra as well. So we all had a wonderful day. We met back up at the hostel to head to the bus station. Evan and Taylor were headed for Portugal for a week and I was on my way to Norway to climb Pulpit Rock. We hugged, said our goodbyes and parted ways. So after a 3.5 hour dinner in Granada, a 5 hour bus ride to Alicante, a speedy taxi ride to the Alicante airport, a 4 hour flight to Oslo, a 5 hour layover, a 1 hour flight to Stavanger and a 30 minute bus ride to downtown – I had finally reached my destination. Here there was a hotel room with unlimited showers and continental breakfast waiting for me. All rested this morning, I am loving Norway and counting down the seconds to hug Zak. I seriously couldn’t ask for more.
Happy Holy Saturday everyone, and may you have a very blessed weekend surrounded by those you cherish most.