Granada and Córdoba

Hey all! Sorry it has been a while since I’ve posted last, but today I have a ton of photos to share with you all! Unfortunately, WordPress is giving me a headache with my photos from Salamanca, so I will upload all of my photos on Facebook as well so you guys can see those, since there was some pretty cool stuff there!

Anyways, this past weekend we had our last excursion as a class (Sad!) on a voyage to Granada, and Córdoba as well! Both are found in Andalusia, a southern autonomous community of Spain. Both cities are known for being cities that first were primarily inhabited by Islamic people from northern Africa. The first city we went to was Granada. We actually ended up leaving at around 7:30 because it was an 8 hour drive there! We got to take a pretty nice coach bus rather then the tiny bus that brought us to Cáceres when we were picked up. Upon arriving in Granada, we stopped at the hotel for 30 minutes to decompress and prepare for a few hours of exploration. We started at the Royal Chapel, where the bodies of Ferdinand II and Isabella I, two of the most powerful monarchs in the 15th and 16th centuries, lie. They didn’t really allow photos, but thanks to a teeny camera in my GoPro, I was able to snag a couple photos of the inside of the chapel.

After that, we went and explored the cathedral in Granada. It was huge! There were also old versions of the songbooks that the choir used that were about the same height as I am! Crazy! After exploring the chapel and listening to what our professor, José Julio, had to say about the cathedral, we were done for the day. José Julio offered to take us up to a street where we could watch the sunset over la Alhambra, an old Arabic fortress/ palace that is pretty much the poster child of what you should think of when you think of the city Granada. It was absolutely beautiful! The street was crowded with families, couples, and many others watching the sunset and people trying to sell their handicrafts.

The next day, we went and toured the Alhambra. I think I will let the photos I took speak for themselves there. But we first toured the Caliph’s palace, then Carlos V’s Palace, the guard barracks, and finally the gardens. After that, we had about an hour and a half to get lunch. My friends and I found this restaurant, and split a GIANT paella, as well as a couple of liters of sangria! It had to be the best sangria on the planet. As Pierce put it so well, it tasted like boozy Kool-Aid. What’s there not to like?!

After lunch, we got back on the bus and made the 2 1/2 hour journey to Córdoba. While on the bus, I went into a pretty heavy food/ wine coma thanks to my consumption of probably about half of our huge platter of paella. We got there around sundown, and checked into the hotel. After that we had about 2 hours to ourselves, where we just hung out since we were just so exhausted! At 9:30, we had dinner, which consisted of all tapas. Some of the tapas we ate included eggplant fries and honey, Spanish omelette, and a fried fish called joputa (it is a short way to say hijo puta, or “son of a bitch” in English. Interesting name for a fish if you ask me!). We had the rest of the night to ourselves, so we went for a walk for a while, and came home at 12:15 to root on our beloved Cyclones in the Big 12 championship game. It was definitely time well spent!

The next day, we went and toured Medina Azahara, an old Arab city-palace constructed by the order of the Caliph of Córdoba back in the 900s. It’s mostly just ruins now, but still a worthwhile visit! We then went back to the main part of the city, and had another 1 1/2 hours to ourselves to eat and walk around. For lunch, I tried gazpacho, a soup that is a concoction of tomato, red and green peppers, onions, olive oil, vinegar, bread, and water. But here’s what’s so interesting about this soup: gazpacho is only served chilled! Nonetheless, it was absolutely delicious. I could live off of that stuff. After lunch, we went and got ice cream and then met up with our group in the Patio de los Naranjos, the courtyard of the Grand Mosque. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Grand Mosque, well it is an enormous mosque that in the middle has a cathedral as well! It is a very interesting building, and a must see if you are ever in Córdoba!

Well, that’s about all I have to share. Enjoy these photos! This weekend, I will be traveling to Barcelona, where I will meet up with my aunt Kathy and cousin Carolyn. Chao!



Street performer outside the Royal Chapel.



Royal Chapel! To the right is the crypt of Ferdinand II and Isabella I.



Cathedral in Granada!



The hustle and bustle of Granada as we make our way to go see the sunset.



Almost there! In the background you can se the Alhambra.



Pretty cool garden. Someone yelled at me for taking this photo.


This one too. 😬



What a view!



You can see the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. Also the first sight of snow in Spain!


Had to get a selfie with this scenery!



Making our way to a less crowded spot to view the sunset.



Making our way to the Alhambra!



The bath house.



Selfie with Pierce!



About to enter the Caliph’s palace.



Future courtyard goals.


Cool shot of the intricate designs on the walls!


Carlos, Pierce, David.



José Julio explaining where we are.



Palacio de Carlos V



Views from the tops of the barracks!



Joi and Emily!



Selfie with Laura, Pierce, and Maggie!


Making our way to the gardens!



Laura was pretty tired at this point.



Maddie and Kyra!



Arrival in Córdoba.


Night shots of the Roman bridge in Córdoba.



El Gran Mezquita



Medina Azahara!



Kyle and Pierce looking into an ancient sewage hole.



The remains of the palace!



Ice cream break in el Patio de Naranjos



Inside the Grand Mosque!





When I first started studying Spanish in high school, we learned about this city in Spain called Sevilla, where during Easter week, there is a huge celebration that includes ceremonies almost every day, as well as parades. Since then, it had been my dream to see this historic city for myself. And this weekend, my dream came true!!

Our entire group took a short weekend (we had class Friday to make up for a day that we missed) to go through Seville together! We all left on Friday and rented hostels that were all pretty much in the center of all the parts of the city that we wanted to see. Friday night, we all went and got tapas at a little cafe. I had swordfish and Galician-style octopus, both of which were absolutely amazing!

Saturday morning, we went and got coffee around 9. I finally got some Starbucks here! It’s really funny how in Caceres there aren’t any Starbucks, but in Seville, there was one at almost every corner it seemed like. Anyways, we started off by checking out Seville’s cathedral, Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. The larger part of the cathedral didn’t open until around 11 am, so we went into the smaller part of the cathedral that is still used for mass around 10 am. It was very beautiful, but absolutely didn’t compare to the rest of the cathedral. It is absolutely enormous! When this cathedral was built, they pretty much shot for the biggest and most beautiful cathedral possible as a means to demonstrate how wealthy the city was at the time. In fact, in the cathedral lies the grave of Christopher Columbus’ son, with the site of his grave being covered in gold.

We got to climb up Giralda, which is a giant bell tower attached to the cathedral. It was a lot bigger than we expected. We all inched up 37 flights of stairs in line with everyone, but when we got to the top, the views were exceptional! As soon as we got up there, however; the bell went off, which caught us all by surprise and was incredibly loud. After Giralda, we went into the Court of Oranges, which is just a huge courtyard full of orange trees.

After that, we all broke off to eat lunch. While walking and looking for a place to eat lunch, I enjoyed watching all of the street performers. You can find them anywhere throughout the city, and they range from traditional flamenco dancing (which was created in Seville) to breakdancing, magic, or even just people posing for hours on end. Kyle, Pierce, Nolan, and I opted for a restaurant right across from the University of Seville. I had a mojito and pad thai, which honestly was probably one of the better ones I ever had. During our lunch, one of the street vendors tried to talk us all into buying some sunglasses. His method was pretty flawed though. He would just put the glasses on us and tell us to give him 15 euros. He ended up convincing Nolan to buy a pair for 5 euros. After eating, we met up at a little coffee shop by the Plaza Mayor, and started making our way to the Plaza de España. There, we walked around and I admired all of the architecture and a flamenco street performance for a while!

After hanging around there for a while, we went back to the hostel to get our soccer tickets, as we all bought tickets to the FC Sevilla soccer game against SD Eibar! The stadium here is one of the largest, behind only Madrid’s and Barcelona’s stadiums. The game was an absolute party! The fans just sang and clapped almost the entire game. Even David was getting super into all of the songs! I actually ended up sitting next to an American guy at the game named Robert, who was just traveling for a short break from classes (he’s a teacher in Fort Lauderdale, FL). After some talking, Pierce actually found out that Robert’s cousin graduated from his high school a year before he did. Small world! Robert has done a lot of traveling, so I picked his brain for a little bit about places we should go. He told me that if I didn’t go to Morocco, that I was wasting a perfectly good opportunity to see an amazing country! We exchanged emails after the game.

After the game, we decided to indulge on some McDonald’s, but after that were all too tired to go do anything, so went back to the hostel. Seville is known to have some of the best clubs and discos in Spain, and they are all definitely worth checking out if you can muster the strength after a day of exploring!

On Sunday, a lot of our group left pretty early in the day; by like 3 pm. Pierce and I both had bus tickets for 8:30 pm, and two girls, Joi and Emily, had tickets for 7 pm. So we just walked around and actually got lost in the city! We got to try agua de Sevilla, a famous cocktail from the city that has quite a kick to it! We ended up finding our way, and went to the bus station around 6:30 to decompress from a weekend well spent.

Seville was absolutely amazing.  I got about a day and a half or so to explore all that the town had to offer. I definitely wish that we had a little more time, as I didn’t get to go through the Álcazar de Sevilla (the palace) along with a couple other sites, but seeing everything is definitely possible to do in a day and a half to two days time. One hundred percent a city you MUST visit if you plan on visiting Spain!



First part of the cathedral!



A little glimpse of the cathedral courtyard!



Walking to the other side of the cathedral!



What an entrance!



Most of the cathedral is just on display now. Here are some of the Baroque-style paintings in the cathedral.



This is the other part of the cathedral. It is mostly just for display!



Me and Pierce (and some other tourists)



Who was better, the photographer or the models?!


Climbing up the cathedral tower.


Halfway up!


The view was worth the 38 flights of stairs.



Had to stop in the middle of the street for this one.



Plaza Mayor!



Carlos was feeling the camera.



Recharging the batteries in front of el Plaza Mayor and getting ready to explore some more!


Natalia, David, y Nolan.



Portuguese embassy



Seville’s Plaza de España. Pretty much every city has a.) a Plaza de España and b.) a Plaza Mayor.


Cool plaza, better selfie.



Some families and couples enjoying a nice row around the plaza!



Representing Caceres in the plaza!



FC Sevilla’s stadium, Estado Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.



The stadium was so sweet, I just had to take a selfie in front of it!



This stadium holds some 70,000 people; one of the largest in Spain.



Play ball!

Some pictures from my phone:


Hey, everyone! This past Friday, we took a trip to this city called Mérida, which is about 40 minutes south of Caceres. It was so cool! The city has a ton of Roman architecture and influences, as you all can see in the pictures below! We first went to some old ruins that were jails, I think?

After that, we walked through a part of the town, and came across a few old ruins that were I believe some kind of temples. We walked and talked through the city as our program director (Toñi)’s friend walked us around the city and gave us a little tour of all the ruins and sites to see!

We went to a park that had a huge amphitheater and Roman coliseum side-by-side! This coliseum, in fact, was visited by producers and characters from the movie “Gladiator” in order to gain a sense of exactly how it would’ve felt like to be in the center of a real coliseum! After standing in the center myself, I probably would’ve run screaming if I had to fight some gladiators. The amphitheater was absolutely amazing with how well it has been preserved over the years (everything in Mérida was constructed around 1st-6th century A.D.). The details on the sculptures would make you think they’re not nearly as old as they are!!

After the amphitheater, we stopped for a lunch break. All of our parents made us bocadillas (snacks) of sandwiches and fruits. In addition to that, we all went together to a restaurant that sold platters of paella for only 6 euros! I think that I ate an entire one all by myself just because I know I’d never eat for so cheap once I get home.

We then went to a Roman museum that had everything from an old excavated Roman crypt to old jewelry from the first century A.D.! I could only get the crypt photos to load onto here for now, but I will try to get the rest of them up as soon as I can! The statues were absolutely amazing. I don’t know how sculptors then were able to add such perfect details to their sculptures.

Overall, Mérida was a very fun and pretty city to visit! I would absolutely recommend spending at least a day here to visit the museums and amphitheater/ coliseum if you are planning a trip to Spain. Stay tuned this weekend for Seville!

UDPDATE: Photos of the rest of the museum have been uploaded. Enjoy!!





Old jail cells.



It was an absolutely perfect day to explore!


Busy town square



Old Roman temple




Side view


There are ruins just tucked away in random parts of the city!



Park entrance leading to the amphitheater


Garden in front of the amphitheater


The stone seat-like structures on the bottom left of the photo were what they used to use for toilets! 💩


One of many entrances to the coliseum.


Coliseum (left) and amphitheater (right) are side by side!


Another coliseum entrance


Side of amphitheater


Center of coliseum!


Gladiators’ entrance.


What it would look like to walk out into the battleground.



Another one!


One of the entrances to the amphitheater (feat. Nolan)


Imagine seeing a show here!





Closer shot of the stage!


Looking out to my audience!



Roman crypt!





Real skeleton circa 1st century A.D.


Roman sarcophagus


Reconfiguration of an ancient Roman home


This bull represented a Roman diety.



The detail of this sculpture is incredible! Created circa 1st century A.D.



Excavated Roman home



Acueducto de los Milagros.


Clever graffiti art we found.


Climbing the mountain

Hey, guys! It has been a while since I posted an update. Having been here for a couple weeks now, everything in Caceres just doesn’t seem quite as fun and shareable as it did before.

This weekend, we just stayed back at home in Caceres. We mostly just bar hopped on the evenings. It was incredibly packed everywhere this past weekend! Overall, it was a ton of fun.

This past Monday, I and a couple of the girls on the trip went on a hiking trip together up the biggest mountain in the city. It was such a beautiful day! 60 plus degrees and not a cloud in the sky. From where we began our hike, it was probably a solid 30 to 45 minute hike up this damn thing! The views were more than rewarding though.

At the very top, we could see for miles. We could see all of the city, and the beautiful scenery surrounding it. There was a statue of Jesus Christ, as well as a church. The church was merely a tiny chapel, yet when I stepped foot inside of it, my breath was taken immediately. Above the altar was a sculpted mural of angels, as well as Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. It was like nothing I have ever seen before.

Here are some pictures of the scenery that I got to enjoy during the hike!


The beginning of our hike!


Views from about halfway up!


Had to take a selfie at the very top!

First Weekend in Cáceres

The time here already has seemed to gone by in the blink of an eye. I honestly still cannot believe that I am sitting here in Spain right now! Anyways, I have a lot to share, so get ready!

When I first got to Spain, we landed in Madrid-Barajas Airport. It was about 9:30 am here. After going through customs and getting my luggage, I had to find the meeting point for all of the students. It was this cafeteria named “Eating Point,” and I thought to myself that it would be a breeze! Well it wasn’t. after 45 minutes to an hour of wandering around, it turns out I was in the wrong terminal (I was in terminal 4 and had to be in terminal 1), so I had to take a bus to the correct terminal. After that, I accidentally walked to the wrong side of the airport, which probably took about 20 more minutes of my time. I eventually got to the right terminal and found the meeting point, maybe about an hour and a half later. There, I sat with students in the group, and waited 2 more hours for our course director, Toñi, to come pick us all up. When she did, we embarked on about a 4 hour journey to Cáceres. It was incredibly surreal to think that I am now living the dream that I had to study in Spain since I started studying Spanish was actually coming true at this point!

We arrived in Cáceres at about 7, and were picked up by our host families. My host parents, Natividad (Nati) and Juan Miguel, are a very nice couple who have been amazing to me thus far! We ate at around 7:30, which is extremely early here (the earliest people usually eat around here is 9 pm). I was already faced with a challenge, as the meal my host mother served was rice with shrimp and chicken livers! I expected at some point that I would have to eat some sort of liver or other organ while I was here, but certainly not this early on my adventure! After dinner I pretty much just unpacked. The flat that they live in is pretty small, but it is also very nice! It has 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, and kitchen. That night, I ended up going to bed around 11.

The next morning for breakfast (and every morning I’ve been here), Nati prepared me a meal of a chocolate-filled croissant with chocolate sprinkles, a mug of milk, and an apple. The milk here is very different. It is very thick, and apparently they have no worries with keeping it for much longer than we would, sometimes for a month or so.

Our group met up at our meeting point at 11 am, and we went for a walk around. We went first to a cell phone store for people if they wanted to buy a cheap phone for their time here or something, and then to the library to sign ourselves up. Unfortunately, when we arrived to the library, they were just closing for siesta (here in Spain, people will close up their shops for a while around the middle of the day for lunch and to go nap. It usually lasts from about 2 pm to 5 pm). So we instead went and checked out a little bit of the older part of the city. We went to this church, la Iglesia de San Juan, and it was absolutely beautiful!

Around 3, I went back to my house to have lunch and take siesta ( when Spaniards close their shops briefly around 2 to eat and nap, then go back to their days). We had this fish that was amazing! Around 6:30, the entire group met up again to go get coffee together. We met up with these two Spaniards named David and Natalia, who teach young children how to speak English, and are learning themselves. I sat with them and a couple other people in our group, and we talked to them for a couple hours about just about everything: politics, sports, TV shows, movies, cities to visit in our respective countries, you name it! It was really funny how we both tried to practice, so they would talk in English, and we would respond, or at least try to respond, in Spanish!

We returned to our homes to have a quick dinner at 9 pm, then by 10, we met up to go check out the night life! David and Natalia agreed to show us around, even though they told us that the night life wasn’t great on Fridays because students usually go home on Fridays. And yet, the bars and discos (night clubs) were almost as busy as an Ames bar on a weekend night! The first bar we went to, La Divina Comedia, was a cool place that sold racks of 8 shots for only 5 euros! It is crazy how inexpensive everything in Europe is. It was a very fun night!

The next day, we got to explore the city a little more. Toñi took us to a museum of modern art, which was incredibly strange and interesting at the same time. There was one part of the museum with drawings of only penises and poop. When David told me that most of these pieces sell for around 5,000 euros, I began to seriously question my career path.

We had pretty much free reign of what we did after that, so around 6 pm, I went exploring the old part of the city with Pierce, another student on the program and a friend of one of my best friends, Erik Nelson. This part of the city is all old cobblestone streets, and was so cool to see! Cáceres is a very, very old city, and it in fact is a place where the show Game of Thrones is shot regularly. We actually found a GoT-themed store, that had swords, crossbows, and other GoT memorabilia. We also found this cool bar tucked away into a courtyard. We all went out that night as well, and we actually got to take everyone to that bar that night!

According to Nati, Sundays are for resting. And today, that is exactly what I did. I slept in until 2 pm! After that, I ate soup for lunch, and then met up with a small group of students to explore the old town a little more. We found this church that for 1 euro, you could climb the towers in the church, and when you did, you were greeted by an amazing view of all of the city!

Overall, I can already tell that this semester is going to be amazing. Everyone in the group is pretty nice and fun, and we all get along. This weekend, I think that I am planning on going to Madrid, and I am very excited!

Hasta luego!

A little about me…

Have you ever been fascinated with the beautiful country of Spain? Do you want to find the most unique parts of Spain, and experience parts of the culture such as the cuisine and different customs? Look no further!

My name is Billy Marks, and this spring semester I will be studying abroad in Cáceres, Spain. I am very excited to go and see all that Spain (and Europe) has to offer! I will be studying Spanish during my time abroad. I chose to go to Spain because I have always been so interested in the country and have wanted to travel there ever since I started studying Spanish 6 years ago.

I am currently a junior attending Iowa State University. I am double majoring in biology and Spanish. I currently live in Minnesota with my family, which is myself, my little sister Olivia, my parents, Kelly and Bill, and our dog, Louie. Some of my hobbies and interests include following many sports (my favorites are football, baseball, and wrestling), binge watching the best shows Netflix has to offer, new clothes (mostly sweaters), exercising regularly and staying healthy, and spending time with my amazing girlfriend, Ellie!

The main reason I am writing my blog is to allow my friends and family to see all of the fun stuff that I am getting to do while I am abroad. In addition to that, I hope that this blog inspires readers to get out there and go explore the world around us. It is a beautiful place, and we are very lucky that we share it with so many people who are different, yet also the same, compared to us in the United States!