And here is our final update, a little later than planned. Last week it was time to say goodbye to half of our group as they set off on their long journey back across the Atlantic. We marked the occasion by heading for a group meal at a beautiful local tapas restaurant before taking photos and bidding each other a very fond farewell at the Plaza de España, the place where it all started a month ago.
For half of the group an exciting adventure in Córdoba and Seville awaited! On Monday morning the group boarded their bus at Plaza de España, and stopped off for some breakfast at the world's most beautiful truck stop before arriving in Córdoba for lunch. The hotel offered us time to get a bite to eat, and the students were able to take advantage of the pool while we waited for the intense Cordoban heat to dissipate and head out into this beautiful city for a spot of sightseeing.
Even though the sun showed few signs of relenting,, we kicked things off with a visit to a classic Andalusian house originally constructed by the country's moorish inhabitants in the 13th Century. It gave the students an opportunity to learn about the Arabic influence on Andalusian language, literature and its architecture, and why the Moorish heritage is felt much more strongly in southern Spain. It was also amazing to come face to face with the harmonious blend of European and North African architectural styles that make Córdoba such a unique city.
Then came arguably the most amazing activity across the whole of the course - a nighttime visit to the iconic Córdoba mosque. The site has been a place of worship since the 9th Century AD, and it was converted into a Christian cathedral after the reconquest of Córdoba in the late 13th Century. We were guided through the beautiful archways and altars of one of Spain's greatest buildings as we saw first hand how the site developed over the centuries. The students gave us particularly great feedback, with one student saying that the experience had been absolutely mind-blowing!
The next morning, we all headed over to the regional capital of Seville. With the heat growing stronger as the days went on, we took the opportunity to get in a spot of shopping at the local mall, although the heat scarcely died down as we headed out into Seville later in the afternoon! We started our afternoon with a trip to the Plaza de España, the most iconic site in the whole city, and easily the city's most photographed spot. The students were given a lesson on the building and how it exemplifies the revival of the mudéjar architectural style in the early 20th Century, and they even found time to take some photographs reenacting scenes from their favourite movies, as well as taking a boat trip around the moat!
And speaking of boat trips, we spent the evening on a ferry around the Guadalquivir river as the sun went down on our first day in Seville. We took in the sights from the river, including the famous Torre del Oro, as well as La Maestranza, one of the most important sites of bullfighting in Spain. Gave us opportunity to cool off and see Seville in a whole different way...
Later on, the students were challenged, just like in Cádiz, to go out and find the best tapas that Seville had to offer. It didn't take long for them to find a great spot where they enjoyed a beautiful group dinner in full view of Seville's famous giralda tower before enjoying an early night in preparation for a big day to come...
Wednesday kicked off with a trip to a local churros stand in one of Seville's most peaceful public squares, before we headed to the beautiful cathedral. It was fascinating to see how Christian Spain had built such an enormous gothic structure on the site of a former mosque, while integrating the original giralda tower into the overall building. It was particularly interesting to visit the final resting place of Christopher Columbus, before we headed up to the top of the tower to take in some splendid views of Andalusia's grandest city.
Later we headed next door to visit the Archivo de Indias, the building from which the Spanish Empire eventually came to be governed from the 18th Century. The archive houses such treasures as the original treaty that divided South America between Spain and Portugal in 1494, and it houses a stunning internal courtyard that provided an opportunity for some snaps...
In the early evening we visited the Alcázar of Seville, an old Moorish castle turned into a palace in the mudéjar style, with beautiful gardens and the famous Patio de las Doncellas, the most breathtaking space in all of Seville. Students took some time to cool off in the cloisters while losing themselves in the overwhelming detail on the palace's every nook and cranny. Upon leaving the palace we immediately took time for a much-needed water break, as the midsummer temperatures continued to soar.
Our day finished with a trip to Triana, the most colourful suburb in the city just across the river from the centre. The group got to explore the much calmer surroundings while enjoying the amazing food and drink for which Triana is so famous.
On our final full day, students enjoyed a delicious breakfast of toast and pastries as we prepared to head over to the Palacio de las Dueñas, one of the few royal palaces in Spain still inhabited. It was also the birthplace of the 20th Century poet Antonio Machado, which gave the students an opportunity to learn about Spanish culture in a postcolonial Europe. We got to explore the grounds and collections in the relative cool and in a much more relaxed setting than the Alcázar the previous day.
Later we headed over to Las Setas, a modernist architectural installation designed to provide shade in a city often lacking in it! After a spot of lunch and some relaxation back at the hotel, we headed over for a goodbye meal at a local tapas restaurant, also in the shade of Las Setas, before rounding off our evening (and the trip!) with a night of flamenco dancing, guitar and singing. We were blown away by the power of the vocals and the tireless, relentless rhythm of the dancing. Even treated to a personal performance of a guajira, a Cuban-inspired flamenco guitar piece, which requires the artist's fingers to move faster than the eye can see! Students enjoyed it so much that some even stopped to buy CDs and get autographs from the performers.
There was time to reflect on the trip as we walked back together to the hotel for our final preparations to come home. And in the early morning, we brought the students to the airport and bade our farewells as we finally went our separate ways. It's been an enormous privilege to be part of this course and to work with a group of such brilliant young people. A big thanks to all of them, and to you for following this blog. That's a wrap from me. Look forward to catching up in a year's time...
Paul Hyland recently graduated with a PhD in Spanish and Latin American literature from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a first class degree in Spanish and German, as well as an MPhil in European Literature from the same institution.