A few weekends ago we had the chance to travel to southern Spain, in the autonomous region of Andalucía. Our journey took us all the way down the western side of the country, through Castilla y León, Extremadura, and Andalucía.
The majority of central Spain consists of dry flatlands dotted with shrubs, with rolling hills closer to the coastlines. The journey was long, but the view from the edge of the bay in Cádiz was well worth it.
It was much cooler on the coast – a welcome break from the dry heat of Castilla y León. Cádiz is recognized as one of the oldest settlements in Europe, thanks to its location and resources. It certainly has its fair share of historic architecture – stone forts line the bay, and the plazas, old quarters, and churches throughout the city exude a unique character, with multicultural influences. Today, it remains an important base for the Spanish Navy.
As a port city, Cádiz has touches of other continents – the “Dragon tree” shown here can only be found in Cádiz, the Canary Islands, and Greece. Its name comes from the legend of Hercules, who allegedly fought a dragon here. The sap of the tree turns red, like dragon’s blood, when mixed with the soil.
The beaches in Spain are different – they’re warm, crowded, and sometimes clothing-optional. The majority of people that flock to the southern coast are either locals or Brits on holiday (whose tans, I might add, would make any Oregonian look like a regular sunbather). Nonetheless, having spent some time there, I have no trouble understanding why the beach is so crowded – it’s an enjoyable place.
On the way home, we stopped for the night in Sevilla, which is Spain’s fourth-largest city. It’s also quite possibly the hottest. It was sizzling in Sevilla, and in more than one way – the ambiance of Don Juan and Carmen brings soul to the old walls and embodies what is for many the stereotypical image of Spain – bullfights, tapas, and passionate flamenco dancing. Did I mention it was really hot?
Throughout the Andalucía region, the spoken language is distinct enough from Castillian to make communication difficult. My friends in Salamanca assured me that everyone has trouble understanding the language down there, not just foreigners. That made me feel a little better about accidentally ordering baby octopus for dinner. As mistakes go, it was a good one.
Sevilla’s cathedral is the largest in Spain, and the third-largest church in the world. The Giralda, or bell tower, is iconic of Sevilla and of the deep and varied history of the Spanish empire. Also of note is the Alcázar, a palace originally built for Moorish royalty, and the Plaza de España, an impressive square with a small canal running through the center. Each province has a tile display within the semicircle cloister. Salamanca’s was easy to spot.
My favorite part about Sevilla was the flamenco dance we watched in the evening. The flamenco is the most intense dance I have ever seen; pictures don’t do it justice. The guitarist strummed furiously while the dancers moved vivaciously around the stage, the man’s ear-splitting machine-gun footwork accompanied by clapping, the woman’s flamboyance epitomized in her proud stance. The singer’s melancholy wail brought forth a stream of emotions. It was captivating.