Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do you want to go to Costa Rica in 2017?

Senor Allred is considering organizing an exciting, educational field trip to Costa Rica in June 2017. As per Alpine School District policy, this is not an official school field trip; rather, it is one of the educational tours offered by EF Educational Tours.
The 10-day tour is planned for the beginning of June 2017, and will visit the following places:
San Jose
Arenal Volcano
Lake Arenal
Rainforest Adventures Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

If you have any questions, or would like additional information, go to http://www.eftours.com/tour-website/1848744KW - or, have your parent e-mail me at bdallred@juno.com.

Senor Allred

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Merida, Salamanca, Avila, etc.

As my time in Spain quickly comes to a close, I figure I´d do a wrap-up of several of the places that we visited that I never had time to write about.
Merida was the capital of one of the Roman provinces when "Spain" was a major part of the Roman Empire. In fact, four Roman Emperors were born in what is now Spain, and Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus both were major players in the Punic Wars fought on the peninsula. Today, you can see the remains of several buildings from Roman times that are being excavated and semi-restored. One is a colossium that hosted gladiator battles as well as mock naval battles. Another was a theatre. There are also the remains of a Roman home with its accompanying gardens. As a history teacher who studied the History of Rome, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Ronda is the site of a massive bridge that connects the plateaus of both sides of a deep river valley. Historically, it was the place where the "rules" of bull-fighting were first written down and codified. It was also the site of one of the most atrocious scenes of Spain´s Civil War in the 1930s where several hundred people were hurled off the cliffs to their death.
Malaga, located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most famous artist of the 20th century. There is a museum now at the site of his boyhood home. It is also famous for its fried sea food.
Alcala de Henares is the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes - the author of Don Quijote. His boyhood home is now a museum, decorated as it was when Cervantes was a boy. One room has a fabulous collection of old editions of the world's first novel in various languages. This town is also home to the old University of San Ildefonso. Although the college was later moved to Madrid, the building remains. It was made famous by its founder, the famous Cardinal Cisneros, who is buried in a sepulcre under its chapel. Today it is the home of the University of Alcala de Henares which awards the annual Cervantes literary award to Hispanic authors of merit from both Spain and Latin America.
Astorga is a small town that has some Roman ruins including a massive wall that surrounds most of the inner city area. The Palacio Episcopal was originally built to be the home of the Archbishop. The architect, the famous Antonio Gaudi, made the mansion so gaudy, however, that the Archbishop decided that he couldn´t live there. It now houses the Museum of the Paths and exhibits art and relics with Catholic overtones as well as items associated with the Camino of Santiago. We also made a visit to the Museum of Chocolate with samples of chocolate from different eras as well as different countries.
Leon, is home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals along the Camino de Santiago. Its stain glass windows are among the most famous in the world. The Basilica de San Isidoro is a museum dedicated to the history of Leon during the Middle Ages. At that time, Leon was the capital of the most powerful city state in Spain. Its king bore the title of Imperator Hispaniarum and are buried in a vault under the basilica.
Salamanca is the home to one of the most famous universities in Spain. On the outer facade, a small frog is carved on the crown of a skull. Whoever can find it without help will, according to legend, be extremely successful in academics. (I found it first ;) It also has a famous double cathedral (old and new). The old one has been converted into a museum, and the ¨new¨one (built in the 1500s) is currently in use. It also has a hidden astronaut carved onto the outer facade - once again I spotted it first. The cool thing about this cathedral is that we were able to climb the tower and even walk along the balcony inside the cathedral and along the spires on the roof.
Avila has the best preserved walls of any city in Europe. The massive walls completely surround the Old Town. Although they have been destroyed at times during the religious wars between the Catholics and Moors, they were rebuilt and are as strong as ever. We were able to walk around the perimeter of about one third of the wall, climbing up the turrets for spectacular views of the city.
Cuenca is the site of the famous hanging houses. Built on a plateau overlooking two river valleys on either side, the town goes right to the very edge of the cliffs. A couple of houses even ¨hang¨over the edge. If we lived there, Mom would have had a heart attack before my first birthday.
Well, that´s all! See you stateside!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Four Castles

During the reign of the Bourbons, the monarchs built several palaces using French style architecture and gardens in Versailles as inspiration. The winter home was El Palacio Real in Madrid. It is a massive palace that was used by the monarchs into the 20th century. Each room was decorated in a distinctive pattern using various color schemes and decorative designs to made each room unique. Some rooms had hand woven tapestries depicting famous scenes from history or mythology. Others boasted paintings from famous artists showing portraits of the monarchs or additional famous events. Other rooms used decorative tiles or vases from other parts of the world (the orient or Middle East). Some rooms were painted in the style of the Cistene Chapel. Others held statues of famous people from history or mythology. The amazing thing was how almost every inch of the walls and ceilings were painted down to the smallest detail to match the style that was being used. All the furniture, paintings, etc. were originals. Naturally they were roped off and guards were in every room.
The spring home was the Royal Palace at Aranjuez. Although this palace was smaller than the one in Madrid, the rooms were painted with just as much detail. Some were even more impressive than the ones in Madrid. There were gardens and statues outside the palace including a massive park which is the largest fenced park in Europe. We took a small train tour through the park and city, but I think it would have been more enjoyable to walk around them at my own pace.
The summer home was La Granja located at the base of the mountains outside Segovia. Although the rooms weren´t as gaudy as the other two palaces, their elegance was impressive. The collection of tapestries there were the best I´ve ever seen and included a masterpiece depicting Rafael´s famous painting of the Last supper. The weavers used golden threads in sections to make the faces of Christ and the apostles gleam and shine in the light. The most impressive part of this palace were the gardens - acres and acres of fountains, statues, flower beds, ornately trimmed hedges, trees, and footpaths. I could have spent all day exploring the palace and ground without getting bored. Four days each year, they have all 100plus fountains going at the same time. The main fountain uses a natural system using captured rain water that runs throughout the summer on its own power.
The autumn palace is called the Escorial. Although the rooms weren´t as ornately decorated in this palace, it is possibly the most famous because almost every king, queen, prince and princess of Spain since the 1500s are buried in the massive sepulchre in the subterranean levels of this palace. Although I could never live in such gaudy homes, it was pretty impressive to see the exquisite collections of paintings, tapestries, paintings, and other authentic furnishes from an age when artisans took pride in hand decorated beauty instead of austere functional designs that are prominent today.
Until next time, saludos from Spain.

Segovia, Spain

Segovia was my favorite city on the trip. Granted, I came knowing a bit of history about the city already, because it is one of the cultural focuses in my textbook; but I would have been impressed anyway. The first thing you notice about the city is the enormous aquaduct that was used to bring water from the Riofrío to the city for almost 2000 years. It is the best example of Roman architexture in Spain, and the best preserved. It was built using huge stone blocks to build massive arches to support the aquaduct. At its highest point (28 meters) the aquaduct used two layers of arches. The aquaduct is 728 meters long and has survived the test of time as well as an attempt by an Arab conqueror to tear it down. (His men finally gave up and the section was restored by Fernando & Isabel).
Another impressive monument is the Alcazar. It is a castle/fort located on a bluff overlooking the confluence of two rivers making it virtually impregnable to attack. The fort is built in the shape of a ship, and its distinctive towers were the inspiration for one of Walt Disney´s castles. The castle is famous because it was the site of Queen Isabel´s coronation. It also held an astronomy center in one of its towers. AFter the monarchs moved out, it was used as an academy by the Spanish army. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed almost everything inside the castle in the 1862. A massive restoration effort was employed to restore it to how it looked during its heyday. The most impressive room is the Room of the Kings. It has life size replicas of each of the kings and queens of Spain (seated in thrones) from Pelaya down to Juana "la Loca" (daughter Fernando and Isabel). Under each monarch is a written summary of his/her greatest accomplishments. Other rooms hold replicas of the armor and weapons of the day, the throne room, a royal bedchamber, dining room, etc. Climbing to the top of the largest tower offers you a fabulous view of the city and the neighboring countryside.
Although the cathedral looked impressive from the outside, we decided to bypass a tour since we´ve seen at least a dozen cathedrals already this trip. Instead we went on a trip to the royal summer palace known as "la Granja." That was impressive too, but I´ll have to tell you about that in the next post.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Santiago de Compostela

On July 15, we visited Santiago de Compostela. The city is home to the most famous cathedral in Spain. It is also the third most popular pilgrimage in the Christian world after Rome and Jerusalem. Every year, thousands of pilgrims (ranging from religious zealots to agnostic adventurers) travel along the approximately 800 kilometer Camino de Santiago to visit the cathedral which is home to the tomb of the Apostle James (Santiago). Although there are numerous variations of the route, the most popular starts in France, crosses the Pyrenees Mountains, and follows the northern coast of Spain to the city of Santiago. According to legend, this was the path followed by James in his missionary journeys after the Savior´s death. After his own death, James´disciples supposedly transported his body back to Spain and buried it in a secret sepulcre at the site where the cathedral now stands. Below the cathedral, a golden coffin holds the purported remains of the apostle.

Shortly after the tomb´s discovery, during the Reconquista, an army of Christian soldiers was waging an important battle against the Moors. Things were looking bad for the Christians until, according to many eyewitnesses, a knight appeared on a white horse carrying a white standard with a red cross. The knight led a charge against the Moors, reviving the flagging spirits of the Christian soldiers and leading them to victory. After the knight disappeared, the leaders of the Christian army determined that the knight was the Apostle James himself. Ever since then, James has been the patron saint of Spain and has carried the nickname ¨Matamoros" - the Moor slayer. He became the symbol of the Reconquista and the Pope himself ordained the site of the tomb as a sacred spot - thus its fame.
Well, I hope you´re enjoying the history lessons. I find them extra fascinating because they apply to both Spanish and History. Until next time... Hasta luego.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baiona, Spain & Portugal

Today we toured a fort built on a small peninsula in northwest Spain just north of Portugal. It is part of Galicia which speaks both Spanish (Castellano from Castilla) and Gallego (a local dialect which is kind of a mix between Castellano and Portuguese). The fort was pretty cool with a big stone wall, several turrets, a large guard tower and cannons. Then we went on a small tour of a full scale replica of the Pinta. It was the smallest and fastest of Columbus´s ships and arrived in port at Baiona to announce the "discovery" of the Americas. Up until then, the coast of Galicia had been known as Fines Tierra (the end of the Earth) and the pillars of Hercules had been included in the flag of Spain to designate that belief. After Columbus´s return, they added the Latin phrase "Plus Ultra" which means "plus more" - or in other words, Spain´s empire now extended into the great beyond. After that we drove down to Monte Santa Tecla in which a settlement had been built on a large hill on the shores of the inlet that divides Spain and Portugal. There were the remains of a settlement that dates from 11 BC and an old church on top of the hill. From there we drove down into Portugal for a late lunch and saw a Portuguese fort which was fascinating, but small than the Spanish one. After that we returned to Spain. Overall, it was a spectacular day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Asturias, Spain

Asturias is a province, not a city; but according to Asturians, Asturias is Spain - everything else is just reconquered country. More on that in a minute. First off, Asturias is green, a lot like western Oregon with a very similar climate. It is on the northern shore of Spain and is beautiful. In 711 AD, the Muslims invaded the Iberian peninsula. By 722, they had made it all the way up to Asturias with little resistance. They awed their opponents with their advanced civilization. By the time they reached Asturias, only a small band of Christian freedom fighters stood in their way of domination of the entire peninsula. This band was led by the famous king Pelaya, who today bears the title of 1st King of Spain. He was actually only king of Asturias, but his heroics at the Holy Cave of Covadonga assured his place in the hearts of Spaniards. With their backs against the wall (literally the wall of the cave in which they´d barricaded themselves), Pelaya claims to have been visited by the Virgen de las Batallas. She encouraged him to lead his men to victory against the enemies of the Faith. There, at Covadonga, the Christians had their first victory against the Moors. The Moors retreated claiming that the climate was too cold in Asturias anyway, and that the band of Christian warriors was too small to worry about anyway. This victory is viewed as the beginning of the Reconquest, which lasted almost 800 years and ended with Fernando and Isabel´s conquest of Granada in 1492, which finally brought the peninsula (minus Portugal) under the control of the Castilla-Leon and Aragon in what is today known as the country of Spain.
Today, we visited the cave at Covadonga. There is a small chapel inside with an altar to the Virgen de las Batallas and the tomb of Pelaya. (I´ve seen 3 different statues of him today in 3 different cities in Asturias). Our hotel is right on the beach with a beautiful view of the Cantaberian Sea. Naturally, tomorrow is Sunday. Until next time.