20 March 2009

At the End of Europe

It's been a while since the last post and here's a quick update.

After leaving Barcelona I headed to Cordoba, where I stayed for three nights. In this southern Spanish city I visited the famous Mezquita, one of the world's best examples of Islamic architecture. Built by the Muslim Moorish rulers of Medieval Spain, this exquisite mosque was later consecrated as a cathedral after Christians regained control of the country. A forest of columns and double arches grows in the building's expansive interior; in every direction lines of perspective lead one's eyes to invisible vanishing points in the Mezquita's darkened quarters. I unintentionally but thankfully stumbled into the former mosque early in the morning, before visitors were charged for entrance. After an hour or so of being mesmerized, I left when the large tourist groups started arriving.

While staying in Cordoba I also made a day trip to nearby Granada, where I saw the equally famous Alahambra. This was a former palace used by the Moors. Like the Mezquita, it too is one of the world's finest examples of Islamic design and architecture. To be honest though, I was more impressed with the Mezquita. The Alahambra's cooling gardens were my favorite part of visiting the large palace grounds.

After Cordoba I left for Seville. I only spent one day in this typical Andalusian city as I waited for my bus to depart in the evening. My favorite sight in the city was the Archives of the Indias, which provided several maps and documents on Spain's activities and influence in the New World. Original maps on display showed explorers' routes and the designs for Spanish colonies like Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida.

I then took an overnight bus to Lisbon, Portugal (Incidentally, overnight buses should only be a last resort). I have been in the Portuguese capital since Wednesday morning, when I arrived at 5:30 and began an early morning search for a place to stay. The city is surprisingly beautiful, perhaps beguiling is a better and more specific description. The old town is set on steep hills and is crossed by narrow cobble stone streets, over which roll antique yellow trolleys. Very often a downhill street gives way to pretty views of the city or the wide Tagus River. A short jaunt to the west lies the Atlantic Ocean; therefore, the river resembles more of a bay at this portion of its journey to the sea.

Today I took a trip to the small and scenic town of Sintra, which is a half-hour train ride northwest of Lisbon. The town was once the holiday and get-a-way spot for the Portuguese royalty and the wealthy families of Lisbon. The royal palaces set in the lush and colorful hills have been opened to the public for visitation.

Tomorrow I will take an overnight train to Madrid, which will be the second to last stop on my trip before returning to Eichstaett. I will arrive on Sunday morning and hopefully be able to buy tickets to that evening's bull fight. That's one opportunity that I couldn't pass up to experience.

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