In the summer of 2006, I went on a trip to Spain. I was very excited, for this was my first time out of the country. I traveled with my parents, another chaperone pair, and twenty-five other students from school.
One of my most memorable experiences was not in Spain, but rather in Africa. During the trip, we took a ferry from Gibraltar to Ceuta, a Spanish settlement in North Africa. I became the first of my family to set foot in Africa.
In Morocco, we found a caravan that had stopped by the side of the road. They allowed us to briefly ride their camels for the price of one American dollar. Resuming our bus trip, we came across the medina or ‘citadel’ of Tetouan.
Once a Spanish fortress, it is now used by the Moroccan people as a market. The sights and smells in the medina were mixed and foreign, but it was interesting to see all of the spices and foods just set out there in the open. The people there spoke many languages including Arabic, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Bedouin tribal tongues.
In the medina, we stopped by an apothecary. They had almost any herb, spice, or botanical remedy one could possibly imagine. There was also a carpet bazaar.
We bought a real Moroccan hand-made carpet. I left Morocco with a better understanding of how Arabic culture influenced western civilization. Later, we traveled through a part of Spain called Andalusia.
Andalusia was ruled by the Moors for eight centuries, so in most of this land arabesque architecture is prominent. We stayed in Granada and visited La Alhambra, the last stronghold of the Moors, taken by the Reconquista in 1492. Unlike the busy medina, La Alhambra was quite placid.
Its gardens had been well kept since their founding, with beautiful flowers and cool trees. The fountains, in operation since medieval times, trickled with a melodious sound into giant pools. Behind it all stood the impressive walls of the fortress, tall and proud as they had once been.
It was so beautiful and majestic. The tranquility of this place allowed me to reflect on how this clash of cultures ushered in an age of exploration. We traveled in deeper toward the heart of Spain. We came across the city of Toledo. It looked magnificent from where we saw it, even though we were still a few miles away. Its walls surrounded a mighty hill which was guarded by the river Tajo. Its grand Alcazar, or fortress, stood over the hill and the spires of the adjacent cathedral reached up to the heavens. I knew that I would enjoy this city. Toledo, once the proud capital of Spain, changed very little after the seat of power was moved to Madrid in the 1500’s. If Toledo were famous for only one thing, it would be its sword smiths. Each sword is hand-crafted by a sword smith who has learned the trade only from other smiths whose talent has been passed on through the generations. I purchased a sword there from one of the grand smithies of Toledo. The one other part of Toledo that interested me was its faith. Also in the city was the grand Cathedral. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. There were altars made of solid gold and silver. Light poured through the rose window. An ethereal illumination filled the entire cathedral. I could have spent hours in the Cathedral just sitting, praying, and thinking. At the end of our trip, we reached the eastern coast of Spain in the land known as Catalonia. Now, Spain has several different cultures, but the Catalonians are extreme. They are hardly Spanish and speak their native Catalan. The city was Barcelona. It was huge! It looked like something from a Doctor Seuss book. At that point I had been away from a major body of water longer than I had ever been before. When we went to the beach, I ran up to the edge of the water. I had missed the sea. That night we watched the World Cup Soccer Tournament, but it was a sad evening. I would be leaving for America on the morrow. What an adventure I had had that summer! But this was only the beginning of my travels. My trip to Spain had opened my eyes to the world and ignited my urge to travel and see and try new things.