Madrid Solo Adventures

I had never realized how horrific the Boston public transportation was until I finally came back at the airport at 7:25pm and wasn’t able to get to the train from North Station to Lowell until 11:00pm…I ALREADY MISS SPAIN! Too much happened over the course of the week but I’ll do my best to get the best moments in this blog, especially the places I visited during the solo trips away from the group and scavenger hunt (sorry Prof.Z).

So it all started with me pulling up to the airport with no plane ticket expecting to get a ride. I didn’t realize the immersive scholarship didn’t include the plane ticket and when I realized this on the plane ticket I started to panic but Therese, who came with me to the airport helped me get into contact with UML’s study abroad team and we figured out a last second trip to England. And then to Spain. I arrived in England the day after and had an 8 hour overlay on my hands. I wasn’t able to sleep on the plane and was still not tired after the 6 hour ride so I decided to take the express to Paddington at the heart of London. The ride there was so easy to get into and it took through so many fascinating neighborhoods and boroughs that I wish I had more time to interact with than just a glimpse from the window. When I got to Paddington I was quickly disappointed because there was NOTHING TO DO THERE so I did some research on some of the neighborhoods in London and headed off to Upton Park/Green Street, a place with a rich south asian community and very little tourists. Upon arrival I was amazed with the beauty of the neighborhood and the diversity of shops and restaurants there. Upon walking down, I came across the Queen’s Market which was a hub of businesses of people in the area, whose backgrounds ranged across South Asia and MENA (Middle East and North Africa). There were jewelry shops, Halal butcheries, sewing kits, cookware stores, racks of handmade hijabs, and fruits and vegetables that you would never see in your local Market Basket. I sadly wasn’t able to get any photos because it was super crowded and I wasn’t comfortable taking a picture without a bunch of people’s faces in it.

But I got a picture of a really pretty mural in Upton.

After spending 30 minutes admiring the center of the market, I went back to its entrance and noticed a table with a few people outside asking for petition signatures. I decided to speak to one of them and they introduced themselves as Friends Of The Queens Market, a collective of Marxists who are protesting against the city government who’s trying to take down the market and replace it with municipal buildings, an extension of London’s plans to gentrify Green Street with condominiums and colonizers. I signed the petition despite not even living in the country and asked one of the organizers if they could help me find a souvenir of Green Street. They took me around Queens Market, walking into shops and asking vendors for ideas of what I could get as a souvenir but it was of no avail with my limited time in the city. As I prepared for my ride back to the metro, I exchanged numbers with one of the organizers so we can continue to keep in touch, and wished them good luck on their fight to save the market. Despite having no access to the internet since leaving the airport, the metro and express ride back went smoothly and I was able to catch my last flight to Spain just in time.

I got to Madrid around 9pm and messaged the others that I was still alive but completely exhausted. Not wanting to pay 30 euros for a taxi ride, I decided to take the metro all the way to hotel Regina which took me roughly an hour and a half to do, still running with no internet after leaving the airport. The metro workers couldn’t speak English so they helped me navigate the underground through body language and air diagrams. Along the way, I met some old ladies whose cards failed to scan through the turnstile while I was stuck trying to figure out how to pass the same turnstile because it required a different card than the one I bought five minutes ago. Despite the language barrier the three of us had, we worked together to pass through the gate without spending a euro through methods that I cannot share with you, and I was off on my final metro to the hotel. After experiencing a harder time navigating Gran Via, I finally stumbled across Hotel Regina and reunited with the group as I concluded day one. I proceeded to sleep for 13 hours that night.

The days that came after were so eventful and presented so many gifts that I cannot possibly fit all in here. Go read the other blogs posts my classmates wrote as they beautifully captured the group trips and the scavenger hunt locations of the city. I’ll be focusing more on the unmarked locations of Madrid and the solo missions that I had over the few days, specifically day three. The three locations I’ll be mainly discussing are the Madrid Masjid, Potencial Hardcore, and University District, with honorable mentions to Manila Bar Restaurante and Al Bahia restaurant.

The first location I went to was the Masjid and Islamic Center of Madrid, located in Ciudad Lineal and happened to be walking distance from Plaza de Toros. The building was beautiful and its tower was easily seen from a distance in which I used to navigate. However, it was gated and had security on the outside to prevent islamophobic attackers from entering the Islamic Center. Upon entering, I heard the voice of the Imam reciting a prayer, whose voice flooded the exhibition halls where I had entered. Despite not being able to read any Spanish, I still explored the exhibition hall which had posters of information on Islam and the history of the Mosque. The hall shaped itself into a square of glass panels, with the center holding a small fountain and a space for direct sunlight to enter. I went up the second floor and tried to peek into the library but due to it being late in the afternoon, it was locked and closed. I continued to wander the rooms of the second floor and came across one of the directors of the Masjid, who welcomed me with open arms, and seeing that I was new to the area offered to give me a tour of the place. He spoke little English but was still able to communicate with me as we walked down to the Masjid itself, took off our shoes, and observed Asr as it had just begun. There were around 20 other men in the room with us at the time who had greeted me with the same warmth as well. One of them, who was another worker of the Islamic Center, took me upstairs after the prayer and gifted me a tote bag and a Qur’ân to take back home to America. We spoke a bit afterwards about our lives in our own countries before walking back out of the Mosque together and parting ways at the end of the street.

Right after the Masjid, I decided to take the metro to the west of Madrid and visit the University District, where I found myself wandering straight into Complutense University of Madrid. The campus was MASSIVE and I was grateful to have brought the skateboard as I explored their numerous campuses including, the department of Agriculture, Pharmacy, Film, and Astrophysics, all of which displayed fascinating works of students and faculty in each of their subjects. There were glass panels holding a variety of trees and plants in Spain, geological samples of the terrain, and old machines that were used in the development of film. I walked across the sky bridge which took me over the highway and onto the section where all the dorms were but I never entered. I made an attempt to talk to the students but they didn’t know English and brushed me off as they were already occupied with their own studies. I found it really cool how these students have designated hangout spots in random spots of Madrid, often forming a circle around a random spot outside a building or plaza just to talk. It’s atmosphere was more full and social than what I had noticed in UML, despite it being late in the hours with many of the classes being finished for the day. I continued to do a little bit more exploring, taking photos of graffiti and art on the walls and skating across the campus before heading back into the metro to my final destination of the day, Potencial Hardcore.

It took me a while to get there as it was also located in a quiet alleyway outside Puente de Vallecas. Arriving right before closing time and knocking on the locked, gated door which I assume is to deter Nazis, I was amazed to see how much content was hitting my eyes from the inside of the store. There were anti-fascist banners up on the ceiling, walls of pins, patches, and stickers, on the left and racks of clothes on the right. Vinyls and records were lined up at the center of the store for people to view from all sides, and a library containing Spanish books and zines on the history of punk in Spain and its socialist, communist, and anti-fascist background. The front of the store had a pinned wall of posters containing upcoming shows, however I wouldn’t have been able to make it to any of them during my stay. There were even boxing equipment in the back with the ‘Anti-Fascist Fighting Club’ logo. A small door in the back allowed me to peek into what I assume was the workstation for the owner as there was a sewing machine for clothes and patches. The music on the CDs and Vinyls included not just punk but also ska, Oi!, grindcore, metalcore, crust, hardcore, jazz, and reggae. I tried communicating with the shop owner with questions about the store and its history but unfortunately spoke no English. I was however able to share with him the hardcore band I’m in, Silent Spring, which we played on the loudspeakers for a couple minutes. I ended up buying a bunch of clothes the next day which I was so excited to wear around once they were washed.

The honorable mentions go to the two best restaurants I ever went to in Madrid: Al Bahia from Lavapies and Manila Bar Restaurante from Tetuan. I went to Manila Bar Restaurante first on day four during my solo trip to the Filipino majority district of Tetuan. After navigating the district whose buildings and atmosphere closely resembled the ones in my home country, I walked in the restaurant with the most broken, American accent, Tagalog ever. However, the owners were delighted to hear the greeting and asked where I was from. There were a few titas sitting on the nearby table who were also interested in my journey here which I happily answered. The restaurant was playing Bee Gees (a classic staple to Filipino music and entertainment) from a small TV in the corner and decorations with the flag and star of the Philippines. I ordered the Lechon dish and Biko Ube dessert and made sure to savor the flavor because I was never going to have this experience again once I came back to the States.

Al Bahia was a restaurant that Brianna, Kiara, and I went to on Thursday, right before the James Blick talk. It was a Moroccan restaurant in Lavapies and the atmosphere and decorations of the inside were absolutely gorgeous and topped any restaurant I’ve been to so far. The dining room was strewn with white and light gold, with thin sheets that covered the windows but still allowed sunlight to come in. Moroccan and Middle Eastern decorations were placed across the room and paintings of people in traditional clothing were hung up on the walls as well. Even the kitchenware and tea pots looked amazing. I ordered the tomato and meatball plate while my friends ordered the cuscus dishes. We also ordered the unnamed tea from the menu, which turned out to be a sweetened mint tea. I usually don’t drink tea but that was literally the best tea I had ever drunk in my life. The food took a little while to prepare but we didn’t mind at all and wanted to take in the place as much as we could without rushing.

Okay those were some of the places that I went to in Spain, I hope you enjoyed it. I didn’t mind going back when we were leaving the country but now that i’m back in the states I really wish we had an extra week; there was so much I still wanted to do in Spain and it’s still cold and snowy here.

Cool photo I got during my first time looking for the hotel from the Metro

Visiting Valley of the Fallen and Our Last Day in Madrid

After an amazing and memorable week in Madrid, our trip has almost come to an end. Today will be the last full day we have and we’re determined to make the most out of it. Our morning started with getting breakfast at the hotel Regina as usual. The planned trip for Saturday was to go to the Valley of the Fallen and a bus was already waiting for us to take us to the monumental memorial we have learned so much about. Everyone got on the bus by 11:00 AM and our ride to the Valley of the Fallen started. It was a 40 minutes drive from the center of Madrid and most of us tried to take a nap and recharge to prepare ourselves for the productive day we have planned ahead. Trying to enjoy the view of Spain, I didn’t succeed much at sleeping through the ride.

Making our way to the mountains, the cross from the valley of the fallen was visible even from far away. At around 12, we arrived at the Valley of the Fallen. The cross was more enormous than we expected when we got close. The architecture of it was beautiful and the view of the mountains was amazing. We stopped to take pictures and look at the views. Soon, we met with our tour guide and began our tour of the Valley of the Fallen. Our tour guide explained and described the structure and history of the monument.

Valley of the Fallen

The Valley of the Fallen was built on the orders of General Franco to commemorate those who died in the Spanish Civil War which took place in Spain from 1936 to 1939. It includes one of the world’s largest basilicas and the largest Christian cross in the world. Construction started in the 1940s and was completed in 1958. It was built by Republican prisoners many of whom died in the process. It is believed that more than 30,000 soldiers from both sides are buried here. Franco’s body used to also be buried here until it was exhumed in 2019. On the basilica, there is a large statue of Mary holding the crucified Jesus, and underneath is a large door to enter the basilica. Inside, there are large statues of angels, Mary, soldiers, and also large medieval-style paintings. I was very surprised to see people praying inside and to see that flowers are still brought here given what the site stands for.

The entrance door to the basilica

After the end of our tour, we started heading back to Madrid at around 2:00 PM. The bus dropped us off at the hotel and we decided to go straight to a market to get lunch. A group of us went to Mercado San Anton, located in the Chueca neighborhood. This market has 3 levels of food stations and groceries. They had a lot of options to choose from and after walking around to see our options, I decided on getting food from one of the food stalls called Espiedo San Anton. I ordered the empanada de tinga de pollo and the wok de arroz con pollo. Both foods were good. After enjoying our meal, we decided to take the metro to La Latina which is actually one of my favorite neighborhoods in Madrid.

A Snapshot of Mercado San Antón

At La Latina, we went to a wine shop to buy some to take back home. The wine place consisted of all types of different wines and chocolates. My friends bought the wines and we started heading to the nun cookies place we have heard so much about. We asked for that day’s menu which was lemon and tea and when we were about to order, we realized all of us only had our cards with us, and the nuns only accepted cash. They close at 6:15 PM and it was already 6. Regardless, we ran around to take out cash and exchange money but unfortunately by the time we got the money, the nun’s already closed.

The beautiful La Latina neighborhood

Although we were disappointed for not getting to try the nun’s cookies, we decided to go to Chocolat Madrid to get the famous churros with chocolate. The chocolate here was surprisingly thick and very good. Afterward, we went to Sol and went to some shops to buy some souvenirs for our family and friends. We had the farewell dinner planned for Saturday at 8 so we went back to our hotel to pack and get ready for dinner.

The farewell dinner was held at La Taberna de Penalver. It was an outdoor, nice, and cozy restaurant. We first had starters and got the patatas bravas and chicken wings. The restaurant is known for its best paellas so we ordered different types of paellas per table for the main dish. My table ordered the chicken and vegetable paellas and I tried it for the first time which tasted really good. For dessert, we got the cheesecake and this was one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever tasted. The dinner continued with fun conversations and laughter until it was time to say goodbye to Maria and Francisco who have been great resident directors during our stay in Madrid. After saying Goodbye, we took the metro for the last time to Gran Via. The metro and the streets of Madrid were very crowded with people as is expected on weekends. We got to our hotel to grab a few things and a group of us headed out to a bar for our last night in Madrid. The night ended at 3 in the morning leaving the lively city of Madrid. Overall, coming to Madrid has been the best decision of my life and I’m grateful for the experience that I’ve had here. I will forever cherish the memories that we made in the beautiful city of Madrid.

Las Ventas Tour and James Blick Discussion

Tour of Las Ventas

The Las Ventas tour initially began with our very friendly and informative tour guide, Raul, once we arrived to Sevilla. Prior to entering the arena, Raul gave us some insight and the historical context of bullfighting. According to the Gran corrida de inauguration photo, Raul taught us what the three main depictions of the photo represented. The flag was of the second republic at the time, and the wording in the photo also describes the charity-driven environment of the bullfights (money given to those who built it). Below the words are a representation of the 8 fighters to 8 bulls. We learned that “Manolete”, Manuel Rodriguez, is considered the best bullfighter of all time in Spain. The tour guide also emphasized the bullfighters’ ego, in that their reputations pay off more than money. When they win, they either cut off an ear or tail, and the public honors them by clapping and cheering.

Las Ventas Entrance

Bull Fight Inauguration Poster

Once we entered the arena, were able to observe the multicultural art displayed on the arena that involved both Muslim and catholic attributes. 

Muslim and Catholic Exterior Design

        The timeline of the bulls prior to the fight to their deaths following the fights was also discussed. The tour guide described the fact that bulls went through a set of conditions prior to the bullfights. They were considered expensive to breed and were sometimes covered to protect their horns from blinding one another prior to the fights. Small and thin swords were used as an advantage over the bulls to reach their hearts and kill them. Many details played along during the fight that the tour guide also mentioned. Raul stated how weaker bulls were drawn from the competition and were viewed as not good enough. Following the death of the bull, meats are sold (were sold more commonly back then as well) and some were given to bullfighting schools for training purposes. Below is a photo of a bullfighter being attacked by a bull.

Actual Bullfight Photo

Another key historical figure we highlighted during the bullfighting tour was Juanita Cruz, the goddess of bullfighting. She was one of the first women to advocate for female involvement in bullfighting and designed her own outfit for it as well. I personally find this very inspiring as I am a feminist myself and see the importance of women involvement in traditional men activities. With Juanita’s reform, many women were able to bullfight along the way. Overall, Spain has a division between those who support bullfights and view it as traditional to the country while others are very progressive in regards to animal rights laws. 

Lunch at El Corte Ingles

After the tour, we headed to El Corte de Ingles where we had lunch at the rooftop cafe.  There, I had a slice of mediterranean flatbread and thai rice with a gorgeous view of Madrid. It was pretty windy but that didn’t stop us!

Rooftop view of Madrid

James Blick Discussion

Following the tour, we were able to meet one of Spanish’s journalist, James Blick, who touched upon his college experience in New Zealand, as he graduated with a degree in law, and shared pieces of evidence for us as undergraduate students. He explained that his career choice wasn’t a right fit for him and shared his personal experience with his decisions. Overall, he gave our group helpful insight about our lives and emphasized the importance of being open to pursuing different paths and finding your true passion.

Visiting the Reina Sofia Museum

After some downtime following the James Blick conversation, we visited the Reina Sofia Museum. This museum consisted of mainly contemporary art pieces and 3 functioning floors to look through. I personally wasn’t as favorable of this museum but kept an open mind to different forms of art.

Reina Sofia Sign

African Dinner at Lavapies

Following the museum, we toured Lavapies where we found a Senegalese restaurant known as “Africa Fusion ” where we had dinner. I had a yummy plate of jollof rice, beef, and vegetables and had a pleasant experience with the owner.

Senegalese Meal

A Week in Summary

As I sit here in the Madrid airport waiting for my flight home, I reflect upon an unforgettable trip full of newfound stories and learning experiences. Summing up an action packed eight days is near impossible, but I’ll try my best to do it justice.

I have never been a city person (yes I’m looking at you Boston and New York). Instead, I’m one who appreciates the peace and quiet of areas outside the city; I can’t stand the hustle and bustle of city life. Still, I held onto hope that Madrid would change my perspective on big cities, and that it did. I learned from my time in Madrid that my issue isn’t with big cities themselves, but rather the environment created by the people in it. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it is a disservice to Madrid to compare it to a New York City or Boston. 

An image of the classic stone streets of Madrid nestled between buildings.

People in Spain do life different, and they do it right. What is there to life if we give into the “go go go” atmosphere that many Americans abide by? Spaniards understand this, and it reflects in their culture. During our time in Madrid, we endured many lengthy meals and slow walkers. While this was initially frustrating for many of us Americans, I learned to embrace this culture. I challenged myself to enjoy our two and a half hour meals and not get frustrated when our futile attempts at signaling “la cuenta por favor” to the waiter failed. Meals in Spain are seen as a time for relaxation and a break from the monotony of a work day, often taking breaks as long as three or more hours for their meals. When walking the streets, I challenged myself not to plow through the snail-paced crowds to get to our destination faster but rather to slow the movement of my feet and take in the views around me like the locals were doing. Life is precious and goes by too fast, so adopting the Spanish attitude of taking it all in and enjoying every second is something I hope to bring back to my everyday life with me, even if it may seem difficult to adapt to an American lifestyle.

The paella we had during our three hour farewell dinner, a typical length for Spanish meals.

Lessons aside, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it was a trip we will never forget. Our arrival into Madrid simply did not feel real to many of us. Walking through the streets on our first day in the city, many of us kept repeating the phrase “we’re in Madrid right now”, as if to convince ourselves the experience was real. Only now as I sit here and write this reflection does it finally feel real to me. Our time in Madrid may have been short, but we most definitely made the most of it, getting roughly five hours of sleep every night and spending almost all of that time not spent sleeping out of the hotel and soaking up the city.

Being such an action packed trip, it’s hard to discuss only a few favorite things, but these would most definitely be some of the highlights. One of my favorite things about Madrid was the magnificent sights. Ranging from the historic architecture of buildings such as the Royal Palace to the wide-open, lush greenery of Retiro Park, there’s certainly no shortage of bliss-inducing views in the city. Even outside of the city, Spain had even more extraordinary views to offer at sights such as the Valley of the Fallen and the city of Toledo, which each have a fascinating history and background of their own. While all of the sights that we saw were undoubtedly awe-inspiring as they were, the rich history behind each somehow makes it all even more amazing. Each sight to see in Madrid has its own story to tell, and that all connects back to the evolutionary history of the city into what it has become today. 

A spectacular view of Madrid lit up at night from the ninth floor of a hotel in heart of the city.
A view of the historic city of Toledo from the top of the cliffs.

In addition to the educational experiences we had in Madrid, there was also plenty of time for fun. Some of the best memories made and laughs we had were simply from walking around the city, laughing at our own mistakes and lack of knowledge being in an unknown environment. There were also plenty of Spanish errors that lead to unintended translation among a group of zero fluent Spanish speakers. However, learning from our mistakes, especially when practicing language, is vital to improvement. We also had plenty of laughs when taking flamenco lessons, making plenty of wrong moves and embarrassing ourselves in the process. The same can be said about when we were watching our classmates fight a bull in virtual reality at Las Ventas bullfighting ring. Again embracing the spirit of Spanish culture, we shared lots of laughs and really treasured life in moments like this.

In order to get the most out of experiences like our study abroad trip to Madrid, you have to be ready to fail and embarrass yourself. It’s inevitable for everyone, and if you fear this, you won’t be able to get the most out of the experience. Our group really embraced this attitude, allowing for a fun and unforgettable trip. I’m very thankful to UML, Professor Zabalbeascoa, API, and more importantly my classmates for making this trip as memorable as possible, and I anxiously look forward to my next trip abroad.

One final glimpse of Madrid, hasta pronto!

Learning and Experiencing Flamenco

Going to see, experience, and learn Flamenco in Madrid, Spain is one of the most surreal opportunities to have. For once, the idea of moving in a lively way with the beats in the music led to a completely different adventure, in comparison to any of the other tours and trips we have had. We may have not moved a lot globally around the map, but we moved the most in one area, the dance studio. All the group meetups felt spiritual in some way as it was a chance to connect with a different culture, Spanish culture, it was magical walking into every experience expecting to be amused and impressed. Each somehow getting more and more exciting as the days went by. However, today is, in my biased opinion, the most fun and spiritual day had to be this Flamenco class. In the other trips, it was mostly on the student to actively listen to a tour guide explain the area or topic, but in Flamenco it was our duty to act within the Spanish culture. Which is, for me, easier than actively listening. In comparison to the other places, dancing Flamenco felt more like an experience than movement like walking or listening, as Flamenco made me move, listen, and then act putting together everything to show myself and others that I understood or actually tried to be in Spanish culture. Walking into the dance studio felt at home, as the place used to be an old stale apartment that became somewhere with life in dance and music. The Flamenco dance teacher was extremely skillful, having forty years of dance under her belt, to the point that watching her dance made you feel entranced by the Flamenco feeling and experience. She truly made it feel more like hearing music and moving to it. The Flamenco dance lesson was also a great way to break past our insecurities about our knowledge about Spain’s culture. As it was easier to feel involved in its culture by listening and moving as Spaniards would move in Flamenco. Even when it felt embarrassing or scary to feel like we were misrepresenting Flamenco, it was so comforting for the Flamenco teacher to not judge us or make fun of us. This just made being a part of this aspect of Spanish culture so much easier and less stressful. The Flamenco lesson we were all taking made it so that we had to learn some basic moves like the one, two, three, and four stomps or the two, three, and four steps or other moves like moving crossed palms into our chest and then over our heads. Then with those moves the students were all expected to apply them in an improvised “dance battle” between two groups. The Flamenco dance instructor encouraged us to act out our most intimidating looks and dance moves, as well as at the end making it so that even if two groups are “feuding” we would all in the end come back together and have a good time dancing or being with each other at peace. It was extremely fun, especially when at one point in the “scenario” we were dancing out, that we made a circle with everyone and had all of us do some sort of dance of any style in the middle of the circle. This lets everyone build on the Spanish culture in Flamenco, adding our little spin to their traditional dance that also does not erase what we had culture wise. Then afterwards a group of students and I decided to travel around to eat at a cafe then to Campo del Moro, the not so visited royal garden or park as we had heard of peacocks there. However, when we got there I asked around to find them and found that Spaniards were so helpful and kind to aid us in our quest, but then they had to give us the news that there was sadly no peacocks at that park. I appreciate their honesty with us and their sympathy as it was a part of the Spanish hospitality. The LGBT streeted named Chueca. Although, on the way there our group decided to go on the metro and what we had realized that we were going on the wrong subway and going the wrong way. This was all because of a courteous citizen who overheard us talking in English about where we wanted to go and helped us by telling us what lines to take and when to take them. It was again so nice to witness the warmth of Spaniards.

        The Comfy Dance Studio

Las Ventas and a Conversation with James Blick

Las Ventas

Taking the metro has become one of my favorite things to do in Madrid because it It makes me feel like I am a real resident of Madrid. Little did I know that today would be a day full of my favorite thing.

Today we took the metro from Sevilla to Las Ventas, the biggest bull-fighting ring in Spain. Upon arriving, I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the building. Which makes sense when considering the fact that it was built to hold up to 23,000 people. Other than that, the architecture was absolutely entrancing. The mix of Moorish and Catholic influences was very clearly observable and very stunning.

Las Ventas

And don’t even let me get started on the gate!

The Main Gate of Las Ventas

We enjoyed a tour done by the incredibly entertaining Raúl, who works for Las Ventas. Having Raúl as a tour guide made the experience a million times as incredible due to his witty personality and one-liners.  He started his tour with a warning of an exam he would be giving us later, which I admired because it really made me pay attention and made the whole experience much more enjoyable and engaging. He also asked us questions to make sure we were listening, which was mostly just him asking us who the best bullfighter was- it’s Manolete!

Raúl later asked for volunteers, for which I quickly raised my hand. It turned out that I would be able to try a virtual bull fighting experience, which was simultaneously absolutely incredible and terrifying. To my surprise, I was apparently pretty good at it. I think it might have just been my Iberian blood. 

Las Ventas was filled with tons of other incredible views. Such as, ironically, the slaughter house…

The Las Ventas Slaughter House

Another great view was the actual ring itself. It actually took me by surprise because from the outside Las Ventas does not seem as big as it does from the outside. So, upon walking in, I was immediately hit with a wave of humility as I was reminded how small I am as a human on the Earth. 

Inside Las Ventas

Note that the bullring is only used for actual bullfighting from late March to October, so Madrid used the ring as a rent out place for raves and other events in order to keep making money.


After the ring, me and a few other friends went out for lunch to a spot in front of one of the biggest opera houses. There were a number of seemingly delicious options, but I settled and had a veal lasagna and let me say, it was absolutely mouthwatering! My second course of the meal was what I expected to be marinated chicken wings, but were only just fried chicken legs. I suppose that’s the result of a menu mistranslation.

Veal Lasagna

James Blick

Later on in the day, we got to meet with a local journalist James Blick. It was amazing to ask him questions about his life in Madrid in an face to face session. It really allowed us to feel like we were talking to a human and not just a person in a screen. He offered us a lot of really valuable insight in information ranging from career to personal experience. I think that this conversation with him really tied the afternoon together into a pleasant little bow.


After our pleasant conversation with James Blick, my friends and I headed to a park hidden behind the royal palace called Campo de Muro. The trip there consisted of several 2-steps-forwards-one-step-backs on the metro, but since I love riding it I had a lot of fun. Eventually, after about 5 metro rides instead of the intended 2, my friends and I arrived to the park at around 6:15. However, the park had closed at 6:00PM. Nevertheless my friends and I decided to walk around the gate of the park and take in the beautiful sites.

Campo de Muro

On our walk, my friends and I encountered another park. We walked around for a little bit until we encountered a map, which showed a lake not too far away. One thing about me: I love bodies of water. So, I quickly decided that we would most definitely be walking toward the lake, and so we did. After about 20 minutes, we arrived to the most beautiful artificial lake. The sun was setting and there were ducks floating in front of a glorious fountain. This peaceful view was a very refreshing breather from the hustle of the city. 

The Royal Palace and a Rainbow
The Lake and Fountain

This is one thing that I really love about Madrid: it does a wonderful job at maintaining a healthy balance between urban and green areas. 

Overall, the day was filled with all of my favorite things, beautiful views of a forest and castle, good food, and, of course, METROS!!! 

Spanish Civil War Walking Tour

I woke up today at 9:00am to freshen up and head down to the continental breakfast the group’s been having every morning. My roommate and I took a short detour there though, walking outside the hotel to see how cold it was and what to wear, a hoodie or my heavier jacket. The wind and slightly above freezing temperature made me decide on the heavier jacket. Having figured out what to wear for the Spanish Civil War walking tour we went to get breakfast. I had a bread roll with turkey, eggs, espresso, and a few fruits to fuel my morning.

After finishing breakfast at 10:00 I met with the rest of the group in the lobby to begin the walking tour. The first place we went was Puerta de Sol to see the El Oso y el Madroño statue, which is the official symbol of Madrid, and the common translation being “the Bear and the Strawberry Tree”. It is unknown why this is the symbol of Madrid, but one theory suggests it is because many bears live around the city in the fields and there were lots of trees that looked like strawberry trees.

Our tour guide did a fantastic job of putting into perspective the history of the Spanish Civil War in the city by pointing out important landmarks and showing us the direction of an area after mentioning it. For example, he told us how during the war Madrid had been on the side of the republic, therefore the city was an enemy of Franco and his authoritarian regime, and pointed in the direction of hills which Franco used to bomb the city with artillery. One student asked if Franco had employed ariel bombardment, which our tour guide told us he did and how it was one of the first in all of history. He also mentioned how Hemingway came to Madrid frequently, even during the civil war! He told us he went during the war to experience the conditions firsthand, from which came Hemingway’s heavy criticism of Franco and his methods, especially the ariel bombardment of civilians.

Walking back toward the Regina Hotel towards Gran Via square we were shown the walls of the buildings in Sol and their marks of war. Faded and repaired bullet holes and bombard damage are noticeable along the sides of these buildings. When we reached the entrance to the hotel again our tour guide pointed out a building with a big, beautiful chariot statue. In the 1920s, this building was the headquarters of a wealthy bank, and the purpose of the massive statue was to symbolize their power. During the civil war however, the city painted this brass statue black in hopes it would be avoided as a target.

After getting to Gran Via square we were given a rundown of this busy yet aesthetically pleasing area. We learned that in the late 19th century and early 20th century Sol was the financial center of Madrid and the streets laid out in Gran Via square were made to create a quick connection from the east part to the west part of the city. During the Spanish Civil War this area was bombed little by little and worn down by Franco’s army. Overall, back then and today it’s used for entertainment, business, shops and is the heart of Madrid.

We continued our walk from Gran Via square in the direction of Plaza de España, passing by a telephone building which during 1929 was the tallest building in the country and most of Western Europe. There, an underground section was built which held a capacity of 1,300 people during the bombings of the civil war.

Even the building we passed that didn’t have much history behind them related to the Spanish Civil war were still so cool to see mainly because of the beautiful architecture, even the building that was refurbished for the modern day fast food chain McDonald’s. A personal favorite part of this walk was getting to see the CR7 hotel in Sol as the owner of the chain, Cristiano Ronaldo, has always been a hero and idol of mine.

On the way to Plaza de España we were pointed in the direction of where Franco’s troops tried a different point of attack on the city, from the mountains instead of river. After getting to the plaza, we saw the Don Quixote statue and took a group photo there, then went passed a playground which me and a few friends returned to later to rekindle our inner child and have some fun (the big slide there was awesome)!! We then took a walk to an area where a barracks during the war once was, there we saw an Egyptian temple given as a gift to Madrid and a breathtaking site of Madrid.

After the tour was over and my friends and I had our fun at the playground, we got drinks at El Invernadero De Salvador Bachiller which had the most calming environment and ambience I’ve experienced this trip so far. Then we went to grab lunch at JolliBee, a good fried chicken place which made my stomach feel at home. Finally, before making our way back to the hotel we spent an hour at the cat café in Madrid, enjoying the company of 20 or so rescue cats. One even sat on my lap!

The rest of the day for me consisted of souvenir shopping, writing this blog entry, and getting tortillas with friends before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Walking Introduction to Madrid

On our fourth day in Madrid, we were given a walking tour of the city. Our tour guide Tino expertly gave us interesting facts about the history and architecture behind many of the buildings around the city. We walked to the Puerta del Sol where we saw the infamous bear and strawberry tree statue. I also learned that the Tio Pepe sign is a Spanish favorite. When Apple Co. bought the original building that the sign had stood on and wanted it removed, it was then transferred to another building in the plaza. It is also here where they gather during New Years and watch the bell tower, much like Americans do in the United States. 

Fun fact: did you know that in Spanish tradition, many people get 12 grapes and listen to the rings of the bell at midnight on New Years. Each ring, they eat a grape and make a wish for the new year.  

Tino then led us through Retiro Park. It was a bit windy, but when the sun came out from the clouds, I was instantly warmed up. The breeze carried the smell of the city and the grass, making the trees sway. The sound of the trickling from the beautiful stone carved fountains mixed beautifully with the chirping of the birds. There was so much to look at and take in. 

There is a building in the park called the Crystal Palace, and all I can say is- beautiful. There were geese and ducks swimming in the pond in front of it, small jets of water shooting into the sky, and even a group of turtles sunbathing together. The building itself was mostly all glass and domed at the top. I learned that it was originally designed by an architect named Ricardo Bosco, with the intention of showcasing tropical plants native to the Philippines. 

When the tour ended, all of us went to the waterfront in front of the statue of Alfonso XII. The excitement in the air ramped up as we rented our boats to take around, despite severely lacking rowing knowledge. Being the competitive person that I am, I instantly suggested holding a race between my boat with Brianna and Kiara in it, against Joey and Dalton’s. It’s enough to say that we lost with me rowing. After a quick training montage and enjoying the views from the water, we quickly held a rematch. To an optimist, the three of us had won because we laughed so much more, but if you’re a stick in the mud, we lost. After snapping a few pics, we left and headed out for a quick bite. 

Once I got back to the hotel room to cool down a bit and get my second wind, I pulled out my journal to write about my time so far, and began a small sketch of the San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo. After a short siesta, the adventure ensued. 

A group of 8 of us went out to try to go to the Prado Museum during its free hours, but we could not see the end of the line so we decided to go a different day. We decided to shift plans and go thrifting at Magpie Vintage, upon arrival we were very pleasantly surprised as the whole street was lined with other second hand clothing shops. Each store had curated stylish pants and tops and simultaneously had a unique vibe of its own. 

We ended the night by eating at Restaurante Botín; it opened in 1725 and is the oldest continually functioning restaurant in the world. If you ever intend on visiting Madrid, please be sure to make reservations, especially if you plan to go in a big group. They are famous for their roasted suckling pig, which I shared with Brianna and Joey. The skin- perfectly crispy and not too thick, the fatty parts melted on my tongue, the meat- perfectly seasoned. I was not too squeamish about the fact that it was a baby pig, because in reality it’s a dish that’s very close to lechon from the Philippines, which I have eaten countless times. We had to take a flight of stairs down to our seating area, and in reality, you’re also paying for the ambiance. I believe it to be worth it because there are pieces of decoration that look frozen in time, and the lighting makes the all brick walls feel warm and inviting. 

In a short amount of days, Madrid has taught me more about myself than I thought was possible. The week leading up to this trip, my excitement was most definitely overshadowed by my anxieties of traveling seemingly on my own and having to navigate myself through a foreign country. I am a normally reserved person and severely opposed to change. But, I made it through the airport, I’ve made friends in record breaking time, and communicating just fine here. I realized that I am more of an adult than I thought I was and that I am capable. Additionally to these discoveries, I’ve found my boundaries and have specified where I am most comfortable and enjoy in life. But, what is life, if not to push yourself and take those steps out of that zone. Humans learn best through change, even though our instincts often tell us to stay where we are. 

I hope to look back at my entries and reminisce about my first time here, because I know for a fact that I will be returning. No pictures I take here could ever describe how I felt in the moment, it’s truly something you will have to experience yourself. 

Day 4: Walking Tour of Madrid & Flamenco

Today started with a walking tour of Madrid at 10:00 am after breakfast. We started at Calle de Sevilla and continued to the parliament. Here, the building was decorated for international women’s day on March 8th, which Madrid is expecting a big crowd for because Madrid is generally progressive with respect to their politics. 

We continued toward the Museo del Prado. On the way, we passed the second oldest luxury hotel in Madrid: The Westin. This is one of the many hotels that Hemingway stayed at, and I am certain I speak for all of this when I say that I was astounded by its breathtaking architecture. As we continued on, we passed the Neptune Fountain and the Ritz, which is the oldest luxury hotel. During the war, many of these buildings were covered so they could be protected during the war, however, some bullet holes can be seen as signs from the past.

Next, we saw the Plaza Dos de Mayo and continued to Ell Retiro Park. This park was breathtaking, and felt like home. It is the second largest park in Madrid, and is about one third the size of Central Park in New York. There were cyprus trees that looked like something I have never seen before. A street performer was playing the song of spring on the accordion, and that made it feel like a scene from a movie as we strolled through the park.

In El Retiro Park, we visited the Palacio de Cristal which was built by Ricardo Velásquez Bosco. We learned that this was built with the intention of dismantling it, but then it became very popular, so it remains here. I can see why it stays here, as it was a very beautiful landmark. Journeying through this park felt unreal and boosted my mood, I felt filled with joy.

After this, we continued to walk through the park and saw another pond where you could paddle boats. The tour concluded and we all decided to go on the boats. Shoutout to my boat driver Will! It was stunning in front of the monument and was a once in a lifetime experience. After this, we stopped for a quick lunch and made a stop at the hotel. Not shortly after we decided to go back to El Retiro Park because we knew there was more to explore.

At the park, we visited the rose garden. While there were not any flowers in bloom, it was beautiful at this time in the evening. We strolled through the park before our reservation at Las Carboneras for a live flamenco show. 

The flamenco show was an amazing experience. There were multiple dancers in beautiful traditional flamenco attire. The show consisted of each dancer having their own fifteen to twenty minute routine while the singers and guitar player played a song for them to dance to. As each was dancing, I found it interesting that the other dancers would cheer them on. Additionally, during their performance you could see their true emotion and passion. Their outfits flowed beautifully with each movement.

When the performance was over, the flamenco dancers came back onto the stage and taught us about flamenco. They informed us that none of them knew each other prior to this performance, and they had to improvise. I found this very impressive because I couldn’t tell it was improvisation. I also didn’t expect to hear that these performers didn’t know each other. They were so kind to each other on stage and would cheer for one another, so finding out that they didn’t know each other made me realize they have a very inclusive and welcoming community, instead of one that is more competitive. 

Watching this show was one of my favorite moments of the trip thus far. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, and I felt like I got the chance to experience the culture. I am very excited for the flamenco dance lessons, especially after seeing this performance. 

Following this, we headed to Calle Cava Baja. We decided to hop from tapa bar to tapa bar and compare dishes from each restaurant. We ordered croquetas de jamón and tortilla to split. It was fun to try these local dishes and see how the quality varied from each place to the next. 

As someone that has never been out of the country before, trying all of these local dishes, seeing a flamenco show, and even the simply stroll in the park was eye-opening. While there were some dishes I didn’t like, there were so many I loved. I am really happy I am able to try new things and build these memories I will never forget. 

Exploring Toledo

Toledo is a beautiful and rustic city situated on a large hill above the plain of  Castilla La Mancha in the heart of the country. Though originally founded by the Romans, the city was the former capital of Spain until 1561 when King Phillip II moved the royal court to Madrid instead. Toledo is an hour from Madrid, and the ride will have you pass through empty fields with a few ramshackle structures peppering the countryside. Large box stores or supply depots with garish colors are placed in small clusters adjacent to the highways. The drab surroundings quickly melt away when entering the city’s limits as the picturesque landscape, valleys, and houses catch one’s eye immediately. 

The winding road to the top of the hill will have tourists look down upon the valley that has been etched by the Tagus, the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. The river surrounds three sides of Toledo, making it appear like a large castle town  surrounded by a moat. Puente de San Martin, which offers a beautiful view of the river below and the city above, is a truly stunning arch bridge which exudes rustic medieval charm. It was originally constructed in the thirteenth century, once open to carriages, and later cars, yet currently is only traversed by foot. This choice is perhaps for the better, as the magical views deserve thoughtful recognition from those who pass over it. Perhaps even more satisfying is to view the bridge from a distance, as its presence over the valley beneath paints a better scene.  

The San Martin Bridge

After this, following the winding paths up the hillside lead to the Monastery de San Juan de los Reyes. This structure was built to celebrate the victory of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile over Alfonso V. The Monastery was last restored in the 1960s following damage from Napoleon’s invasion in 1833. A key thing to note, any stones with shinier or clearer color signify where repairs were carried out. In spite of this, they look no less stunning than in the original forms. Various saints and angels adorn the exterior, namely Saint John the Evangelist, to whom the structure was dedicated. Chains on the outside of the structure represent freedom, as those chains once held prisoners that were released under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella. The inside of the monastery boasts delightful cloisters surrounding an open-air garden, which alway contained pine trees and other such plants. Intricate eight-point star patterns adorn the ceilings of these areas, representing the Moors’ who constructed them. The impressive church houses incredibly ornate patterns etched into marble and limestone. Notably, eagles represent Saint John. The repeated symbols of yokes and bundles of arrows represent Ferdinand and Isabella respectively. Currently, the church houses a float which is being prepared for Easter, though its colorful quality juxtaposes the monotone interior of limestone. 

The monastery sits within the Jewish ‘Quarter’, which earned its name for the original population of Jewish people within the section of the city. While they were ousted some time ago when the area was purged of non-Catholics, the area pays homage to their previous occupation of the city with various tiles containing Hebrew words and symbols, which have been attached to walls and streets. It is interesting 

Last, but not least, was a tour through the Toledo Cathedral. Having taken almost 300 years to complete, the large cathedral exhibits three architectural styles: Neoclassical, Gothic, and Plateresque. The inside of the church sports incredible stained glass and marble sculptures, ornately carved wooden seats, large pipe organs, and impressive frescoes that wrap seamlessly onto the curved ceilings. The sheer amount of detail one could pick out in this building demands multiple revisits, as there is simply too much to take in for one viewing. The church has several tombs of previous bishops lying under the ground, which are covered with large engraved plaques on the floor, and signified with the cardinal hats hanging from the ceiling. This proved to be somewhat unnerving, furthered by the fact that some tombs remain above ground. One cardinal was buried one year ago in the church’s main hall, and fresh bouquets line the plaque covering the burial spot. A notable treasure of the church, is the Monstrance of Arfe, a carrier for the host which represents the body of Christ. The piece is made of solid gold and silver, weighing in at over 400 pounds and measures in at over ten feet tall. It is used in the annual feast of Corpus Christi held in Toledo. A truly magnificent piece, it is perhaps more precious and awe-inspiring than the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’ from Indiana Jones. When not in use, the piece sits upon an equally as stunning base, featuring carved figures in place of standard table legs. The piece took seven years to complete, and is very much worth the admiration. It is rumored to be crafted of the first of the gold that Columbus brought back with him from South America, which caused some to wrinkle their noses at the piece, myself included. 

From the plaza, several narrow corridors and meandering streets bring about a sense of whimsy, each turn leading to something exciting and different. The city in itself contains many shops with stunning handmade jewelry, leather accessories, and medieval weaponry such as swords and knives. From the hillier parts of the section, one can see several of the large homes. Some of the most expensive and grand houses one may ever encounter, some were refurbished to become hotels while others remain residential. They are reminiscent of American ranches, but with far smaller plots of land surrounding them, more so full of orchards instead. Surrounding this area are rolling hills covered with vibrant greens of the grass and cyprus, almond, or olive trees. The foliage and colors of the landscape seem like a fairytale. Toledo is home to delicious marzipan, an almond paste mixed with honey and sugar, and olive oils. The pastries are definitely worth a try for those with a sweet tooth. A break for lunch led us to a local restaurant, which featured delicious tapas plates. In addition, there was an exquisite gazpacho, featuring the much more flavorful Spanish tomatoes which outclass American tomatoes.

While the Royal Palace and museums may demand attention because of their artistic achievements, the beautiful art and architecture of Toledo are practically unrivaled. The narrow, yet rustic corridors lined with shops and restaurants exude a distinct charm, almost like a bustling town surrounding a medieval castle. The architecture is unparalleled, infinitely more interesting than any city found in the U.S., the only point of reference I have. I would like to return, specifically to have more food and experience more that the city has to offer, especially during one of its religious festivals or bull fights. Without a doubt, Toledo demands multiple visits to absorb all the sights, tastes, and sounds it has in store.

View of Toledo from the Cliffs Above