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...
For a bit of something different, this Thursday evening we took the students to the Gaditano Errante escape room experience, where they teamed up in Cádiz catacombs to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape within just one hour. They were led blindfolded through the darkness of the ancient underground passageways into a room where as a team they were asked to racked their brains over a whole host of clues, guided by a mysterious masked man who quite literally held the key to their safety... Our group were unlucky enough to be caught with seconds to spare, but all the same got to console themselves with a rather fetching photo before once again heading off to the beach...
The following Friday morning saw our very last day of classes! In one activity, students were asked to research and present on different periods of Spanish art, all the way back from cave paintings to the Renaissance and even the modern era! We also bade a very fond farewell to our teachers Ana and Brenda, who played such an enormous part in making their stay in Cádiz so memorable.
Taking a more relaxed pace as we look ahead to a long journey across the Atlantic, Friday evening gave us some more time to enjoy on the ever-popular Playa de Santa María del Mar, with a special musical accompaniment from our coordinator Víctor who kindly brought his guitar and treated us to a serenade before the students had their turn!
On Saturday morning, we took a trip down to Spain's southernmost point in the beautiful city of Tarifa. Once there, we got all set for a whale watching expedition, with a local expert giving us a briefing in all of the animal species living in the Strait of Gibraltar, from bottlenose dolphins all the way up to sperm whales! The students were also given a safety briefing on how to navigate a ship properly before we climbed aboard the ship that would give us two hours out where the Mediterranean meats the Atlantic.
We soon found that we really had to get our sea legs on in order to best the choppy waters, which definitely left a few of us feeling a little green! And for that matter, the whales seemed to be in a rather camera-shy mood, although at least we did get to see some packs of dolphins jumping through the crystal blue waters of the Strait! It was also was fascinating to brush past the coast of Morocco, the closest most if not all of us had come to setting foot on the continent of Africa. We got to take in the paradisal vistas, although we were all rather grateful to return to terra firma!
With the seasickness shaken off, we had some time to explore the beautiful whitewashed city of Tarifa, with its winding, labyrinthine streets and beautiful churches. There was a chance to stop for an ice cream and a coffee while breathing in the sea air. And after an hour's journey back to Cádiz, where else would we end up but at the beach? The staff here in Cádiz are starting to get a sense of what attracted the students here in the first place!
Stay tuned for updates on our final couple of days in Cádiz, before some final goodbyes and, for some, a trip to Córdoba and Seville...
As students were still recovering from the searing heat of a visit to Jerez de la Frontera, this Monday took a much more relaxed pace as we gave the students time to rest and recover in Cádiz. Students appreciated the opportunity to grab a bite to eat and do a spot of shopping in the old town so as to let off some steam before Tuesday's escapades...
This Tuesday night everyone got cooking as we learned how to make Spain's national dish paella in the local Foodie Cádiz cooking school. Led by a team of professional Spanish chefs, the students were thrown in at the deep end as they were taught the fundamentals of kitchen safety and maintenance in the Spanish language, before building up real-life skills for working in professional kitchens, from the correct way to handle a knife to how to always choose the right equipment for the task at hand. They were even put through their paces with a quiz on Spanish ingredients, and the students left the chefs more than a little impressed with their knowledge of staples of the local cuisine, from artichokes and jamón serrano to the local favourite Pedro Ximénez wine!
After everyone got their hands washed and aprons on, it was time to cook! All of the students were given their own station tasked with a particular job, from grating tomatoes for pan con tomate y jamón to chopping vegetables, or even helping to prepare a pitcher of sangría! As the dish came together, our students took it in turns to stand around the paellera, the typical pan in which paella is cooked, and were responsible for everything that went on in the pan, from sweating the vegetable base to browning the meat (as well as looking after the smaller pan where we were making our vegetarian alternative!). Though many of our group had not cooked before, it was plain to see how much progress they had made in just two short hours, as many of them proved to be rather a dab hand in the kitchen!
And of course by the end we all got to taste fruit of our labour as we sat around the kitchen table and eat a hearty plate of paella washed down with a refreshing glass of non-alcoholic sangría. And there was even room for a bowl of ice cream at the end...
Wednesday gave us the opportunity to visit Cádiz's magnificent cathedral, built in a mix of baroque and neoclassical styles. The cathedral is a living emblem of Spain's bust and boom, as the marble foundation yields to an upper section built of much cheaper stone, as a direct result of Spain's shifting place in world affairs thanks to the loss of its colonies. It was particularly fascinating to see the nets hung across the ceiling in order to catch pieces of the brittle stone as it falls away, especially as it contrasted against the splendid style of the rest of the building.
There was also time to head downstairs into the crypt and pay our respects to Manuel de Falla, Spain's most famous composer who was born on the Plaza de Mina in Cádiz and who is buried beneath the Cathedral. We also had the opportunity to visit the reliquaries to view just a small handful of the countless treasures held there.
And after that, we got climbing. The group braved the warm Cádiz climate and made their way up to the top of one of the Cathedral bell towers. It was more than worth the ascent as the tower gave us a simply spectacular view of the city, from its old and new town to its Atlantic coast. We also had plenty of time for selfies and to take yet more stunning panoramas of this beautiful coastal city. We were even taken by surprise by the bells chiming the hour right above our heads...
And what else would we do of an evening in Cádiz other than head to the beach? To help put an end to another big day we let students let their hair down once again on La Caleta, have a bite to eat while the sun went down and even enjoy a spot of volleyball! Stay tuned for updates on our escape room adventure and another night of Spanish guitar...
This Friday evening the group were treated to an evening sampling the local specialty of tapas! Tapas are one of most popular ways to dine in Spain - the cheap, small portions make eating a much more social experience than you would expect in most other countries, and allow you to try a wide variety of dishes without breaking the bank (or the belt!). Students were put into pairs and given €20 to split between them, with each challenged to go into the city independently, head to a tapas location of their choice and navigate the menu in the target language! Negotiating a restaurant is one of the most deceptively challenging parts of learning a new language, but our students more than relished the challenge (the puns are going nowhere). Here are just some of the dishes they tried...
The staff were not only impressed by how students managed to put their language skills to good use when ordering their food, but also that they chose some particular local favourites, from oxtail croquetas to salmorejo, a kind of chilled tomato soup that's a close relative of the more famous gazpacho. It quite literally gave the students a better taste of the local lifestyle here in Cádiz.
Saturday morning and group hopped the bus to Jerez de la Frontera, a beautiful town in the Cádiz province famous for its sherry wine (although we did not tell the students this!). After a half-hour drive from Cádiz, during the morning we stopped off at the botanic zoo, where we came face to face with some extraordinary wildlife. It is home to species common to many zoos, such as giraffes, hippos and even a lion, but it also hosts some of Spain's most feared predators including the Iberian wolf and lynx. During the hottest part of the day in the brutal southern Andalusian climate, it was a relaxed way to spend some time and even put some new animal vocabulary to their memory.
Later on, we escaped the searing heat of the Jerez summer by visiting Área Sur, one of Jerez's largest shopping malls. This gave everyone a chance to cool off in the air conditioning, as well as taking advantage of the sales! It helped us all to recharge some batteries during the part of the day when most locals would be taking their siesta.
When the weather had started to cool, we took a trip into central Jerez to visit its beautiful 17th Century cathedral. The cathedral is typical of many of Andalusia's monuments, in that it is a harmonious blend of vastly different architectural styles, blending together elements of the Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical. There is even a notable Arabesque influence, particularly visible in its porticoes and in its bell tower. Many major aspects of the building are reminiscent of some of the greatest examples of Andalusian architecture, including Córdoba's cathedral, once a mosque in its own right.
Togehter we explored the cathedral and its many collections and treasures, including a painting by Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán. Then it was time for a spot of climbing as we ascended the nearby bell tower to take in breathtaking views of the cathedral and its grounds, before returning to terra firma and stopping off for an ice cream and a drink to cool off.
After a long day on Saturday, Sunday morning took a more relaxed pace with a trip to a local cafe to sample favourite local breakfast of churros and chocolate. Straight after, things once again took a turn for the cultural as the group stopped off at Cádiz's Roman theatre, a structure dating back almost 2100 years. It is a symbol of Cádiz old and new, with the structure of the original gradient still visible, but the stage and portico buried underneath the medieval El Pópulo district of the city.
Later on, by popular demand the group hit the beach once again! As the day was beginning to cool we arrived at Santa María beach for a spot of sunbathing and swimming. It did everyone some good to relax a while after what had been an intense few days. As day turned to night, our coordinator Víctor treated us to a rendition of his favourite songs on Spanish guitar, before handing over to the group who shared their repertoire of guitar music from Dylan and The Beatles to Rihanna and Maroon 5! It was a wonderful way to see off those of us leaving the course this week, with plenty of emotional goodbyes even from those who had only just joined. As the sun went down we waved a fond farewell to the four students set to cross the Atlantic once more. For the rest of us, another busy week awaited...
This week it was time to welcome some new arrivals joining us at the midway point of the course. Our eight new recruits crossed the Atlantic from destinations as far flung as Boston, Baltimore and even Alaska, before arriving safe and sound in Cádiz. Our first three students arrived early on Wednesday afternoon after a long journey from Chicago, and they were taken straight to meet their host families in their new home. Our coordinator Víctor even turned up to lend a helping hand with bags and communicate with the family so that the students could get settled in.
Later that afternoon, five more students landed safely at Jerez airport. Our staff welcomed them at the airport and took them straight to the beautiful Plaza de España, where they were awaited by their host families eager to get acquainted with their new tenants! After breaking the ice with an hola qué tal their host parents took them to their homes, where they enjoyed a meal together and got to catch some much-needed shuteye after over a day's travelling.
For the first day of classes with the new group in place, our teachers took the students to the wonderful Museum of Cádiz to learn about the city's history and its art. In preparation, the students were given time to research a particular era in the city's history as well as one of its artistic movements before presenting their findings to the group.
Once in the museum, the students were tasked with finding two different works of art from each major period in Spanish history and bringing photographs to share with the class, as well as getting a snap of the one work of art they enjoyed most in the museum. Particularly popular was the contemporary art, including a picture of a dog with the head of a man! They also particularly appreciated the museum's collection of beautifully-preserved Roman mosaics.
In the evening it was time for our new students to get acquainted with their new surroundings. Our brilliant coordinator Víctor agreed to be our guide for the evening, and led us through the historic centre to give us a stunning insight into the city and its different periods. A highlight was a visit to the Cathedral, an emblematic symbol of Cádiz's history. We learned how its differing architectural styles are a direct result of Spain's changing place in the world, from a vastly wealthy seaport in during the conquest of the Americas to a minor European economy after the loss Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The lower parts of the Cathedral are made of marble and the local ostionera, a kind of sandstone found typically on the Cádiz shoreline; the upper parts of the cathedral are made of much cheaper and more fragile stone as a result of the Spanish financial crisis at the end of the 19th Century.
We also had the chance to learned about Cádiz's Moorish past. The Moors arrived in Spain in the 8th Century, where they remained for almost 800 years. It is in Andalusia where their influence - linguistic, architectural and even culinary - is most chiefly felt. We passed by the old Cathedral of the city, which, much like the Cathedrals of Seville and Córdoba, was once a mosque. We also wandered the streets of the medieval El pópulo neighbourhood and even ran into some ancient Roman architecture, such as the ruins of the amphitheatre. This gave us the opportunity to learn about Cádiz's role as a major port and political hotspot in the Roman Empire.
The following morning, our students were once again putting their Spanish skills into practice by spending time chatting to the locals on the Plaza de las flores. In pairs, they were challenged to approach people on the street and ask them about their taste in cinema. In half an hour the students were able to find that most Spanish people in fact tend to watch American films, though it was interesting to note the increasing popularity of local cinema in Spain due to the popularity of films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Ocho apellidos vascos, a story about the clash of regional cultures in a country of such geographical and linguistic diversity.
In the evening we took a trip south of Cádiz to the Entre Ramas Adventure park in the quiet coastal town of Cabo Roche, where students had the chance to get harnessed up and do a spot of climbing! Guided by an expert instructor, students were taught the fundamentals on how to climb safely and how to operate their restraints before being let loose around the park! As you can probably tell from the photos, it didn't take long for them to (quite literally!) get the hang of things...
Students got into the swing of it (yes, these puns are well and truly intended) by traversing a series of rope bridges and hanging walkways before speeding down a series of ziplines and back to solid ground! After getting a firm grasp of the basics, they even branched out (again, sorry) into more difficult courses involving skateboards, climbing walls and trapeze lines. After a great couple of hours' physical exercise we hopped aboard our bus back to Cádiz, just in time to grab an evening meal with host families and get heads on pillows ready for another big day.
Keep following the blog for updates on our first Spanish tandem classes, a visit to La Caleta beach and a night out ordering tapas...
This Sunday morning the group hit the Playa de la Victoria for another spot of surfing! This time with a twist - the surf boards came with a paddle. Students had clearly got the hang of balancing on the boards from the first surfing outing, and it was great fun learning not just how to keep up with the waves, but how to steer their boards across the unsteady water. After a couple of hours' surfing the students got to relax on the beach, going for a swim, digging holes in the sand, or just relaxing with a book. After a long, hot day exploring Ronda it was the perfect way to recharge some batteries.
Monday evening gave us the chance to explore more of the local history with a guided tour of the Puerta de Tierra, the 16th-Century gate that still serves as an entrance to the city. We walked up to the top of the tower where we caught a glimpse of the city's ancient past, as well as its industrial present with perfect views of the old quarter as well as its modern shipyards and the spectacular new bridge.
It was fascinating to learn about how the old wall once encapsulated the entire city of Cádiz to protect from foreign invaders, chiefly from Britain! Popularly believed to be the only gate that Napoleon could never cross, we learned how the wall was actually part of a series of structures separated by deep moats and defended by heavy artillery which can still be seen atop the gate. We also learned about its tragic role as a burial site for those who dared defy fascism during and after the Spanish Civil War.
Then it was time to wander down the coastline for some R&R on the beach before taking part in a flamenco guitar masterclass with local guitarist Alejandro Vázquez. Alejandro gave us the rundown on some of southern Spain's most famous musical styles, mixing between flamenco and rumba and even showing some local flair with some tanguillo and carnaval music typical of Cádiz. He even managed to mix in some bossa nova, jazz and classical guitar. With the demonstration over it was time for students to have a go themselves! Alejandro helped them get to grips with the guitar as they gave us their rendition of some slightly more familiar music, including Hotel California. They even tested their language skills with a performance of the pop phenomenon Despacito! With the vocal cords fully warmed up there was some time to relax by the beach and watch the sun go down before heading home to their host families.
Keep following the blog for some imminent news of some new arrivals, and our trip to a local amusement park!
This Friday after a hard day at work, our group took a trip to the Oratorio de Santa Cueva, one of Cádiz's most beautiful religious buildings. The church looks rather unassuming from the outside, and even a trip down into the underground feels much more sombre, sober than most Catholic churches. The cave is split into two sections - an underground chapel plain in decoration, and an upper chapel that is a sheer masterpiece of early 18th century architecture. Worshippers believe that the plainer surroundings of underground church are an opportunity to cleanse oneself of one's sins before entering the breathtaking surroundings of the upper chapel. It was particularly rewarding to hear the audible gasps of students as they entered.
Our coordinator Víctor provided us with a real insight into the history and architectural styles featured in the chapel. A particular highlight was the ceiling, which is hand-painted to give the illusion of three dimensions. The chapel also features three frescoes by arguably Spain's most important painter, Francisco de Goya, including a depiction of the Last Supper. As we explored the chapel, we also enjoyed the sounds of Las siete palabras, an orchestral piece penned by Austrian master Franz Joseph Haydn specifically for this very church.
Soon it was time to head back and relax with their host families to get ready for trip to Ronda, a beautiful mountainous city in the Málaga province, most famous for its iconic bridge spanning the El Tajo gorge.
As soon as the group arrived in Ronda it was time to take a tour led by a local guide. She showed us the Alameda, a beautiful park running through the centre of the city before we stopped off at the famous baroque Plaza de Toros, one of Spain's largest and most historic centres of the age-old pastime of bullfighting.
We soon took a trip to Ronda's iconic puente nuevo, one of Spain's most emblematic structures. It gave us a chance to take some snaps and stare down into the Tajo gorge! After we shook off the vertigo by heading over the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where our tour guide explained to us the Arabic history of the city of Ronda, including its conquering by the Berbers in 713 AD and its recapture by Christian Spain in 1485. We even had the chance to sample some of the local specialities, including yemas del tajo, a kind of cooked and sweetened egg yolk eaten as a sweet.
After heading back to Cádiz students had the chance to spend time with their host families in the evening before getting some much-needed rest on what was our hottest day so far! Keep following the blog for updates on another surfing trip and a special life flamenco performance...
It's been another action-packed few days here in Cádiz. On Wednesday morning the students took part in a Master Chef challenge where they had to learn to make the local drink, sangría (minus the alcohol, of course!). Led by our teacher Brenda, they were challenged to source ingredients and communicate with staff in Spanish in order to find what they needed. And after a successful shopping trip it was time to take it back inside and put it all together before enjoying a sip of their very own version of one of Spain's most famous exports. A perfect activity just as the Cádiz summer approaches its apex.
Later that day we kicked the linguistic immersion up a gear by taking our students to the local cinema to see Yesterday, Danny Boyle's new film about a man who wakes up in a world where no one remembers the music of the Beatles. It really kept students on their toes listening to an entire film in Spanish with no subtitles, and to their credit they were able to keep up! A film about the Beatles filmed partly in Liverpool gave some homesickness to our course director who is a native of the city, and also gave the students a chance to poke a bit of fun!
Thursday gave our group the opportunity to indulge in some much-needed retail therapy before we took trip up to the Torre de Tavira, the tallest building in Cádiz. Together we took in some spectacular views of the city and its crystal blue Atlantic coast. It also gave us plenty of time to take some selfies! Atop the tower, we were given a bird's eye view of the city's closely-knit streets and alleyways and caught a beautiful vista of the cathedral which dominates the Cádiz skyline.
After we were done taking selfies we headed back inside the tower to enjoy the camera obscura, a darkened room connected to the roof by a series of mirrors which project a strikingly clear reflection of the city onto a screen. Our brilliant guide took us on a virtual tour of the city by zooming into some of Cádiz's most important historical sites and giving us an insight into the history. Amazing how a simple series of mirrors and lenses could produce such an amazing perspective of the city, and in such minute detail.
Later it was time to let off some steam. A group disco night in a bar near Playa de la Victoria at the outer edge of Cádiz proved an extremely popular choice, giving our students the chance to dance to some of their favourite music while enjoying a (non-alcoholic!) drink or two. They also had great fun challenging each other, and the staff, to a game of table football. And for an extra slice of home, we even had sandwiches and burgers delivered from one of Cádiz's best fast food joints.
And to cap off a great day, the group headed down to Plaza Ingeniero la Cierva to enjoy Alehop, Cádiz's summer-long open-air circus festival. As the sun went down over Cádiz, we were treated to amazing four-man juggling and balancing act that kept everyone enthralled. A highly entertaining end to another jam-packed day here in Cádiz!
Keep following the blog for news of our visit to the Cádiz holy caves as well as our excursion to the magnificent city of Ronda...
This Monday it was time to wish a very happy birthday to our student Katie Ryan, who turned 17 with us here in Cádiz! To celebrate the big day the staff brought some cakes and milkshake down to La Caleta beach, one of Cádiz's most popular spots. Though the wind meant that we had some trouble lighting the candles, that didn't stop everyone from joining into a great big chorus of cumpleaños feliz. Celebrating your birthday on La Caleta beach - one of the most gaditano experiences there is!
On Tuesday the students had the chance to learn about the most archetypal form of Spanish music, flamenco. They saw how a whole host of influences from Spain and beyond have distilled into this most distinctive art form. At a dance studio owned by local celebrity flamenco singer David Palomar, they were taken through the basic steps and rhythms of different kinds of flamenco dancing before getting the chance to put it into practice by performing along to some of the most well-known songs in the flamenco genre.
Later the group got to cool off by learning about the instruments that set the pace of flamenco music. They found out how a whole range of instruments from all corners of the globe, from Morocco to Peru, combine to make that characteristic Spanish sound. At the end the students were given the chance to put it all together, with each of them given their own instrument from the tambourine to the triangle, and were led into the beat one-by-one until the whole group combined to produce a classic flamenco bass line. Later they were even given an expert demonstration in the cajón peruano, a percussion box that has made its way from the Latin American music scene and has become a mainstay of modern flamenco.
The evening concluded with a fascinating tour around Gadir, an ancient Phoenician and Roman archaeological site discovered recently during the renovations of the Cádiz puppet theatre. There they learned about the ancient origins of the city, from its probable foundations by inhabitants of Tyre in modern Lebanon, to its conquest and settlement by the Roman empire. They even came face to face with people who had lived and died there, and got an intriguing insight into the day to day lives of the city's ancient inhabitants.
And with that an action-packed couple of days came to a close! Stay tuned for updates on more of our cultural events, including a trip to Tavira tower and our upcoming cinema trip...
What a few days it's been in Cádiz as the first group excursions of the course got underway! Saturday took the group to the nearby coastal town of Bolonia. Bolonia is famously home to Baelo Claudia, one of Spain's best-preserved Roman cities, with everything from its fisheries and forum to its amphitheatre still very much in evidence today. Students enjoyed exploring the ruins and learning about the history of the Roman civilisation in Andalucía.
Soon it was time to head down to the beach for a spot of much needed r&r, and the slightly cloudier and windier conditions didn't deter our group from going for a swim! The late afternoon took us to Vejer de la Frontera, a beautiful Moorish town of white adobe buildings set high in the Andalusian hills. We learned about the contribution of the Arabic-speaking world to Spain's language, culture and architecture while wandering the narrow alleyways. We visited the remains of Moorish battlements and saw how the clash of Christian and Islamic cultures had left a marked imprint on the landscape in the form of churches and castles.
On Sunday we crossed the border between Spain and the United Kingdom by heading down to Gibraltar. The Gibraltarian streets eerily resemble any major UK city, though with much better weather! We had fun taking the cable car up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, where students came face to face with the local population of barbary apes and learned first-hand how adept they are at snatching food!
There was plenty of opportunity for photos across the many trails and walks of the nature reserve. We even stopped to learn about the history of Gibraltar as a disputed territory, as well as its significance in the Allied effort in the Second World War. One of the highlights was exploring the age-old limestone caves inside the Rock, once said to have been a subterranean route to the African mainland.
The trip concluded with a hike down the Rock and back into town, where students enjoyed some free time exploring a much warmer version of the typical British high street. Then it was time to cross the border back into Spain with passports in hand, ready for another exciting week in Cádiz.
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.