School trips to Spain

My friend Alan sent me this photo of one of our school trips to Spain. It must have been taken around Easter 1966. Alan is standing fourth from the right. I’m sort of in the middle, at the back. The boy in front of me is Juan José Badiola, a friend I made in Córdoba. I spent more time with him in subsequent years. He became a veterinarian and academic and is now Spain’s leading expert on Mad Cow Disease. More about him in future posts.

The man on the left is our Spanish teacher, Mr. Ariza. He had a big influence on me, I loved Spanish from the get-go. His wife (Ann, I think) was English. She taught Spanish at a girls’ school in North London, so they organized a joint trip. We were delighted to have female companions, of course. I wish I hadn’t been so shy, I always seemed to put my foot in my mouth around girls. I liked the Chinese girls, so nothing has changed there (they look more Filipino, actually). I think the guy kneeling on the left was a member of the wealthy Carbonell family (olive oil was their business, as I recall).

We went to Seville for the Easter processions, followed by the Feria. I found Spanish Catholicism simply overwhelming back then, especially as I was from a non-religious background. Spain was still the most Catholic country in the world. We stayed up most of the night watching the floats with statues, carried on the backs of the faithful, Nazarenos dragging their chains (they are the ones who look like members of the Klu Klux Klan) and the Roman soldiers. It was eerie.

Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, was dark and oppressive, full of images and statues straight out of a Hammer Horror film. I loved the sharply contrasting bell tower, the Giralda. The Feria was great, complete with Flamenco dresses and dancing – and the most beautiful horses I’d ever seen.

In ’66, we flew from London to Gibraltar. At that time it was not common for people from my background to fly and it was the first time I had done so.  Quite an event. We then took a train to Córdoba.

Traveling to Spain in ’65, ’66 (twice) and ’67 was a great learning experience, an eye-opener. I fell in love with Córdoba, where we spent most time. The school’s link was with the Instituto Séneca (a high school), where I think I stayed. Some of the boys were on an exchange arrangement. For me, it was like stepping back in time. “It has been estimated that Córdoba, with up to 500,000 inhabitants in the tenth century, was the largest city in Western Europe and, perhaps, in the world.” Back then, they had street lighting, while England was still in the grip of the Dark Ages.

Córdoba has the world-famous Mezquita and the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir river. I found these recent photos on It obviously hasn’t changed much.

And this is an interior shot of the Mezquita.

I’ll never forget walking through the winding, cobbled streets of the Judería, the old Jewish quarter. During the Caliphate, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and worked together.

Wonderful memories. I do hope I get to visit the city again before I shuffle off this mortal coil. At a time of the year when you don’t have to step over the tourists.

The first time I went to Spain, in 65′, we traveled by train, so the trip obviously involved a ferry crossing. I don’t believe I have any photos of the trip. It was a tremendous adventure. We went via Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower and took the night train (sleeping in a couchette car) to the Spanish border. We arrived at Hendaye, a major railway junction. Spanish trains used (use?) a broader gauge and I seem to remember a long wait for the train on the Spanish side of the border (the town is Irún). That took us to Madrid, where we had to take another train to Córdoba. I think the teacher who accompanied us was Ken Lloyd, I don’t seem to remember Mr. Ariza.

Spain was a backwater in those days. Dictator Franco had governed the country for 25 years and there were still Republican sympathizers hiding out in the most remote mountain regions.  The tourist industry had not yet taken off. The trains were  quite primitive and slow; they seemed to stop everywhere. But it didn’t matter. My senses were happy to take in every new sight, noise and smell. I found it all exotic in the extreme. Perhaps because the contrast with England was so great, I fell in love with Andalucía and it remained my favorite region of the country.

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