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The International Writers Magazine: Spanish Travelogue

Touring Spain
Marwan Asmar
The holiday started at the Madrid International Airport. The two came from Amman and Rome with their planes touching down a couple of hours from each other, and after the immigration check out, they quickly made their way to the hotel, and begun their long exploration journey on foot and local public transport.


The Spanish journey was made mostly through the Internet, “we booked everything online, our accommodation, hotels and all the connecting international, local, and regional flights” says Nizar Al Adarbeh, Executive Director of the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association.

He describes he was on a journey of a life-time with his colleague Dr Mohammad Al Khalili, an architecture professor at Hashemite University in Jordan. Our trip to Spain was part work and part leisure, giving two academic papers in restoration heritage in different universities, but we made sure we’d see all the important cultural sites.

Their journey made in the summer of 2007, took them to Madrid, Valencia, Granada, Seville, Cordoba, and Barcelona, and then flying to Paris. Because of their keenness to walk, sites were covered at length and they would go to the scene more than once.
Because of this they remembered what they called as “academic tours” really well. Details, anecdotes, happenings with the locals, including getting lost on a coach in one particular case were talked about in length as if to say they were on a great adventure.

In Spain Al Khalili says the contrast between the old and the new is striking as displayed in Valencia and underlined between the quaint and beautiful architecture of the city center and its old train station. Adarbeh took advantage of the fact it was on the beach-front, taking an extended swim before getting back to the university hostels, previously booked by one of Al Khalili’s academic friends.

alhambra A crowning of their trip was the Alhambra Palace in Granada although they saw the site in the very beginning of their two week sojourn its memorabilia deeply stuck on their minds because of the extensive photos they took.

Alhambra, situated on a hill in the region of Andulsia, is a complex of palaces, open courtyards and gardens with rich Islamic panels underlined by its Mediterranean-Islamic-Moorish architecture as displayed in its frescoes, wall paintings and Koranic writings that speak of a glorious past.

It took the two six hours to cover the Alhambra complex. They later recalled the Hambra overlooked the whole of Granada with the view simply breathtaking and the feeling this is really an Islamic city.

Granda and Cordoba were one-day excursions as the two were stationed for the first week at the University of Andalusia at Baeza, with Unesco dubbing the whole village as a World Heritage site. After the academic sessions they would keep traveling through the well-developed cheap and local transport system.

Southern Spain’s Islamic past is also underlined by the rows upon rows of olive trees neatly stacked against one another, a reminder of the continuity between one part of the western Mediterranean and its eastern tip. This is part of the landscape Islamic architecture.

In Cordoba, they visited the great mosque which today stands as a continuing monument to a structure build under the Umayyad dynasty in the 7th and 8th century.  Both visitors were simply enchanted by the Muslim presence underlined by the minarets, arches and archways that spoke of a distinctly Moorish style of Islamic structures.

Mosque The rectangular shape of the minarets as opposed to the rounded shape particularly glared at you showing there are different styles in buildings, pointed out Adarbah. Today, as well stands a small chapel long ago installed inside the Cordoba Mosque grounds.

One of the dominating aspects of the trip for the two visitors was the issue of facades and its variety combining the Gothic with the Baroque including the Islamic and the more modern. After the first week, it was back to the north east—Barcelona on the beach. Here they attended and gave a paper to another conference on restoration heritage.

Adarbeh says the facades were the most interesting part of the trip that we were graphically introduced to. The strange and the innovative was distinct in structure as exemplified in unique verandas and different shapes and sizes.

Barcelona is famous for its so-called Gaudi architecture, forms of buildings and styles that are an extension of the surrealism of Salvador Dali combined in twisted mannerisms to show there is much room for cultural innovation.

The unique modernist style of Antoni Gaudi was translated on the ground and on the streets of the city through its different shows that ranged from the artistic, clowns, miming, puppeteering, comedy, and live drawings.

For Dr Al Khalili it was certainly a pleasant time to spend your late afternoons and evenings in a city while exploring its different nooks and crannies as he would say, having spent a long day slogging in the academic classroom.

He commented the lighting is particularly beautiful. Their reflection on the different architectural facades, buildings and stones was serene and tranquil. The endless cafés on pavements, squares and plazas represented a distinctively European style and much added to the layback atmosphere.

Their trip was crowned yet again at the end of their second week through their one-and-a-half hour flight to Paris which is itself a capital they remembered well despite their short-stay having, of course, gone to the Eifel Tower and Arc de Triumph at the Champs-Elysees.

At the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, they went the same way as they came back. Adarbeh flew to Amman while Al Khalili went back to Rome to continue his Italian holiday before his final destination to the Jordanian capital to start his teaching load at the university.
© Marwan Asmar September 2010

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