Just Another Saturday in Madrid

by Cameron McKenzie

Valley of the Fallen 

The group event of the day was a bus ride just outside of Madrid to visit the Valley of the Fallen, a monument commissioned by the dictator Franco to remember and entomb the bodies of fallen Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. The enormous construction took 20 years to construct, between 1939 and 1959. Following its completion, Franco received significant political pressure to allow the remains from both the Republican and the Nationalist sides to be placed in the tomb. The bodies of the nationalists were removed from previous resting places without the consent of their families and haphazardly strewn within the memorial. Today the Valley of the Fallen is the center of political controversy. The political right wants the Valley to remain intact as a pilgrimage for Franco supporters. In their eyes, the stolen Republican bodies are a part of the monument, and the public should let sleeping dogs lie. The political left wants the remains of the entombed Republicans returned to their families to be reinterred. Some go so far as to want the monument’s deconstruction as it represents the brutality and suppression the Spanish people faced under Franco’s regime. Several families have petitioned the Spanish government to recover loved ones from the Valley, but it is nearly impossible to separate and identify the remains of all who lie within.  

Our guide, Javier, held the monument in higher esteem than any of its visitors from UMass Lowell. Though very knowledgeable about the Valley of the Fallen construction and its religious and political significance, Javier could not keep his admiration for the memorial from coloring his tour. The monument takes € 2,000,000.00 to maintain and receives 200,000-400,000 visitors annually. Despite this funding amount, Franco’s tribute to the Civil War is falling into disrepair. Inside, water leaks from the ceiling, and water damage stains the stone walls. Buckets are unceremoniously scattered throughout the interior to catch falling drips. Due to the controversy and growing disapproval of the shrine, the Spanish government refuses to dedicate additional funds to the Valley’s restoration.  

The Valley of the Fallen is carved into the side of a mountain just outside Madrid. The crucifix adorning the top of the monument is the tallest ever built, standing over 50 meters high. Inside the chapel is the largest mosaic in Europe, utilizing over 5 million individual tiles. This stunning piece of art is miraculously undamaged thus far by the mountain’s water infiltrating the tomb.  

The Metro 

The Valley of the Fallen was an important monument to visit. However, this journey out of the city took only a couple of hours, and the rest of our Saturday students had free to explore Madrid. A couple other students and I chose to visit Retiro Park, an enormous park in the city’s center. To get there, we took the metro. When I began this trip, I was two days out of a cast for a broken and sprained ankle. My doctors had wanted me to remain in the cast and on crutches for an additional two weeks, but I had countries to visit and cities to see. I would not recommend such actions to any cripples not adept at disregarding physician advice. Our days in Madrid consisted of walking on average 8 miles a day. The city of Madrid itself is not particularly disability friendly. I could complain about the cobblestone roads or the lack of outdoor seating for rest breaks. However, my main exasperation is with all the false advertising of accessibility in the metro stations.  

Luckily, I was able to manage the stairs, albeit slowly. There would be glass doors at the bottom of the stairs descending into the metro station. One of these doors would invariably be labeled with a wheelchair icon and have a button to press for automatic opening. How on earth would a wheelchair ever reach that door to be able to use it? Some stations did have elevators for people with disabilities to access the underground platforms, but at more than one station, these lifts were out of order. When exiting the trains, there would sometimes be blue handicap signs illuminating the way to what one would assume would be an accessible entrance. These entrances often terminated at another staircase to the street level.  

Retiro Park 

Upon reaching the park, everyone from the city had come to spend their Saturday afternoon here. The main paths were so crowded it was impossible not to travel with the flow of traffic. Musicians played various instruments from the benches lining the roads, and magicians attracted crowds to see their street performances. By the pond at the center of the park, there is a large fountain. Since the city is in a drought, only a small amount of water spouted. In front of the fountain, a local dance troupe performed a hip-hop piece with hundreds of onlookers. These kids ranged in age from about ten to twelve. Despite their young age, I was captivated by their committed moves and synchronized choreography. When the dance routine concluded, Olivia and I made our way around the pond to the row boat rentals. Some of our classmates had discovered the pond boats earlier in the week and had a fantastic time. We got to the skiff rentals to find a line of awaiting boaters stretching a quarter of the way around the massive pond. There was a separate line for people who had made reservations in advance, and neither line was moving. We decided to return to the boats on a weekday when the crowds had to be smaller.  

One of the things I loved about Retiro Park was the open grassy areas for people to lay out in. The sun was shining, and the temperature was 74 degrees, so Olivia and I found an open space and stretched out in the sun. From this vantage point, we watch people go about their day. In Spain, people have really well-behaved dogs. More importantly, the dogs are beautiful, and it was hard to resist running up to each one of them and giving them pets. Though sitting in a park and people-watching was not the high-speed, maximize-your-time pace we had been going at, it was really nice to slow down and appreciate even the simple things Spain had to offer.  

Our Time in Madrid

by Cameron Ross

From our First Day of orientation and getting to know each other at our open dinner for our study abroad trip made this experience so much more fun and I wished we could stay longer in Madrid. On the First day of our exploration, we found ourselves in la Plaza de Santa Ana where we learned about some important individuals who lost their lives to the civil war wanting to unify the Spanish people with love, and one of those great individuals is none other than Federico Garcia Lorca himself. 

The next day we went on a trip to Segovia where we got to experience this beautiful gate like structure that you think is being held by some type of cement or glue, but actually the weight of the stones keeps the structure enacted and have been present since the time of the Roman rule! And to think at how advanced the civilizations were during that time with such complexity!

Next, we also got to see the Royal palace which had so much character and personality that the place was filled with so much tactical planning in case of a war/fight were to break out that it frightens many of us in the group of how much planning went into it as well as the lengths that were made. Also, to mention, if you have a fear of heights, I would take proper medication before coming because the drop offs are dramatic and sharp. Talk about game over if you were to slip… esp during those times. 

Also, we got to witness a beautiful mountain that had a shape/outline of a woman attending her womb laying down in the mountains. If you stare for about 10 seconds, the image of the woman will appear. (look at the mountains in the middle) 

On our 4th Day in Madrid we got to experience the Royal Palace where the King has his formal meetings and other activities here and its more often than not heavily guarded. Also, we learned that the King does not live in the Royal palace, doesn’t spend the night there either and travels to his home elsewhere in the country once his duties are completed.

And to top it off we got to experience some really good Chocolate Churros! Its very busy establishment so make sure to come early if you want a seat! 

As if we thought the views couldn’t get any better, we visited the Valle de Cuelgamuros! Not only is it the largest monumental Display of the Christian faith, but the works of art that was built inside the hollow mountain would leave you speechless. Unfortunately though pictures and videos could not be taken inside the building but the amount of detail that went into building this monument is extremely impressive exp during those times. They also hold Mass at the monument every day and also been known to host weddings at the very location. Even though it may seem bizarre to some, the political and emotional stances on sides of history this place holds still runs deep to this day! So, if you do plan to visit, just remember to mind manners because there are some vastly different views on this matter that are very sensitive to some. 

As we were closing out on our last few days in Madrid, we got to experience the El Rastro! On Sundays, they close down some of the roads to make way for locals and tourist to walk and experience the many vendors that have plenty of things from old ancient/ dated items that may have been lost in time to some potentially collectables and hidden gems that are a rare find! Also to mention, because there’s thousands in attendance to go to these shops that cover several blocks, that it is also a hot spot for theft so mind your belongings! 

On Monday we got to meet the famous James Blick, who was dropping countless gems on finding your passion and purpose in life and it’s not always a straight shot to find that purpose in life. Also, to be adjustable/flexible with the times and continue to push yourself to reach your greater self! 

Finally on our last Day we went to experience La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, where we learned about the legendary Manuel Laureano Rodriguez-Sanchez otherwise known as Manolete or Superman for being the best bullfighter and the Legend Victorino Martin Andres (The best Bull Raiser). 

Then to top off the night, we enjoyed some very authentic and cultural celebration of expression and renaissance through what is called Flamenco that has some other cultural influences that is often times performed with strangers without practice and it’s all improv. It’s such a magical experience that it’s something that you could never forget and makes you feel so immersed in the culture that you feel as though that you are of Spanish descent and belong there. Madrid is one for the books that you must visit at least once at some point in your lifetime. 

Madrid’s Bullfights

by Olivia Hebert

Today in Madrid our group had a late start to our first group activity. However, it was much
appreciated by many members of the group, as we were still recovering from our adventure to
the karaoke club the night before. Our day started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel and our
group anticipated our activities for the day. We were especially excited to meet our tour guide for
Las Ventas, as we had heard of his talent for showmanship. Despite our eagerness to start the
day, we all expressed our wishes to have more time together in Madrid. Our group reflected on
how we had all developed friendships with one another and reflected on our adventures together.
Arriving at Las Ventas was simple, just a few short stops on the metro. I was astounded by the
size of the arena, its vastness revealed the pride and grandeur of Spain.

We were welcomed by our guide, who immediately revealed his charismatic personality. Our group learned the deep-rooted history of bullfighting throughout Spain, including its famed heroes and their
influence on the sport. The arena itself was large and intimidating. Reminiscent of an ancient
amphitheater, its stone steps seemed incredibly steep.

After learning of the tradition of beer drinking and rowdiness of its patrons, I wondered just how many have plunged down the arena’s hard steps. Our group was also able to witness two of our members bravely fight against a virtual bull via VR. Along with an informational walking tour, we also visited the area’s private
museum. There, I viewed the ornate uniforms, paintings, and artifacts of past fighters. Some held
the gruesome experiences of their owners, with stains of blood and ripped garments. I especially
enjoyed learning about Juanita Cruz, the first female pioneer of the sport. I was intrigued to learn
of her relationship with Spain and Mexico, and her business relationship with Francisco Franco.
Additionally, our tour guide demonstrated the classic stances and movements of the fighters with
a cape. Passing the garment around our group, we discovered that is much heavier than what we
had anticipated. I was also intrigued by the multiple media outlets recording and filming
throughout the arena during our tour. It was interesting to witness them perform in action! I so
greatly enjoyed the tour to Las Ventas, and to commemorate the experience, I purchased a small
keychain resembling the elaborate costume of the bullfighters. For lunch, I went to Casa
Revuelta, a recommendation of James Blick. There, I tried their five-hundred-year-old wine
recipe and their famed fried code. It was delicious! For dessert, I took a short stroll to El Riojano
for their hot chocolate and pastries- another James Blick favorite. While I so greatly enjoy the
food of Madrid, I have yet to become accustomed to the relaxed pace of Europe. Along my way
to the hotel, I purchased commemorative gifts for my family at gift shops. I was able to find
international stamps and purchase postcards for my family. I am very eager to hear of their
arrival in the U.S. and am curious to discover the pace of Spain’s postal service. At the hotel, my
roommate and I began packing our bags for our next destination together- Portugal! Our final
dinner in Madrid was fantastic, filled with fun, good food, and flamenco dancing. My favorite
dishes of the night were the tuna salad and tortilla. It was the perfect ending to our trip, even if it
started to rain heavily on our way home. I enjoyed watching the numerous styles of flamenco
dances performed and was surprised to learn that both the music and dancing were improvised.
Before arriving at the hotel, I stopped at Mercado de San Miguel to try horchata. Interestingly, it
had hints of carrots- but it was nonetheless delicious. Arriving at the hotel, I completed my
packing and confirmed my flight for the following morning. Soon after packing, our group
decided to meet across the street from our hotel at McDonald’s for a final goodbye before
departing early the next morning. It was a bittersweet meeting, but I was intrigued to learn that
many of our members were continuing their travels across the world this summer. Thankfully, we
would be able to maintain our bonds via social media and school and hear of each other’s
upcoming adventures. Back at the hotel, the group prepared for our early flights and bus ride to
the airport. Hopefully, we are all able to wake up early!

May 21: Exploring Flea Markets, Museums, and Botanical Gardens

Every Sunday for more than 250 years, Madrid has held a huge, open flea market in the streets of La Latina known as ‘el Rastro de Madrid’. As a connoisseur of secondhand and antique shopping, Sunday was one of my most anticipated days of our trip to Madrid. Despite knowing of the market prior to my arrival, I was still blown away by the variety, size, culture, and atmosphere that the Rastro offered. I explored the market on my own for a few hours, buying all kinds of things for myself and for my friends and family back home. What I was most impressed by though, was the huge selection of leather and denim available at the market – all of which was not only cheap, but great quality as well. For a while now, I’ve been looking for a new leather jacket and leather vest, and I was able to find both there for under 30 euros.  

After exhausting myself from shopping at the market, I headed to Pum Pum Cafe for brunch. On weekends, this cafe offers a brunch deal that comes with coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade croissants, yogurt parfait with fresh fruit, and avocado toast with a fried egg all for only 12 euros. Though a simple meal, it was one of my favorites from the trip because it was delicious and fresh. Normally I’m not a huge fan of croissants or orange juice, but this meal changed my mind. One thing I noticed about eating food in Spain is that the ingredients are always local and fresh – unlike in the U.S. where most food is heavily processed and filled with preservatives.  

After lunch, I headed over to Real Jardín Botanico, a botanical garden right outside of the Prado Museum. The garden was huge and had a massive variety of different plants: including flowers, bonsai trees, trees, bushes, etc. All of which had plaques with information about them. Whether or not you’re into botany, walking through the garden is a relaxing and worthwhile experience. 

After finishing my stroll through the botanical garden, I headed over to the Prado Museum; which was one of the places I was most excited to visit in Madrid. I’m a big fan of art and visiting art museums, and this was my first time going to a big, well-known art museum outside of my own country. The museum is huge and a bit hard to navigate, so I definitely didn’t get to see everything (despite spending several hours there). However, I was most excited to see the museum’s extensive collection of Francisco Goya’s works, as well as Diego Velázquez’ “Las Meninas” – both of which I was blown away by.  

Before visiting the museum, I knew little about Goya and his works, but I still wanted to see them. Seeing his paintings in person, I got to see how his art progressed over time and I fell in love instantly. At the beginning of his career, he mainly painted portraits of royal and wealthy families, as he held a position as a court painter to the Spanish crown. Later on in his career however, his work became darker and much more personalized; with subjects such as war disasters, witches, insane asylums, and political corruption. It’s always interesting to see how an artist’s work can reflect their feelings and experiences during the time they were made. My knowledge of Spanish history helped me understand more the paintings that he made, and the paintings he made also helped me better understand the Spanish history that they reflect. My favorite part of the museum was the room that featured 12 works from Goya’s “black paintings” collection, as those were my favorites of his works. The room was lit darkly, creating an atmosphere that matched the paintings beautifully. 

After spending several hours in the museum (and way too long in the gift shop), my last destination for the night was dinner. I went with a group of a few other students to an Argentinian restaurant called “Parrilla El Gaucho”. To be honest, it definitely wasn’t the greatest food I had while in Madrid, but it was pretty good. Most of us got pasta, including myself.  

Though it was a bit exhausting packing so much into one day, Sunday was definitely one of my favorite days of the trip. From the market, to the museum, to the garden, and even the food; everything was very culturally enriching for me and I’m so happy I was able to experience it all. I hope that one day I can go back to that market again, because I would spend every Sunday there if I lived in Madrid.  

May 22: Going With the Flow

Nearing the final days of our time in Madrid, Professor Z planned for us to meet YouTuber James Blick who runs the channel Madrid Revealed. We had watched some of his videos when prepping for our time in the city and Professor Z is a huge fan. Our time with James Blick was entertaining and insightful. 

James Blick has a very fun channel and is not only good for providing entertainment but is very informative if you are planning a trip to Spain! James shared with us his journey to becoming a YouTuber and some valuable life lessons he thought would help us. I enjoyed listening to our New Zealander friend share words of wisdom many can so easily forget in regard to how we should approach life. I will share a few of them with you. To start off, James encouraged us to pursue our passions and what interests us. Our excitement and desire to continue learning and growing in that area creates motivation and you will enjoy what you do more. With that, knowing that those can change is okay! Evaluating your life and moving in a direction of growth is healthy and good. A few other things that stuck out to me were in regard to community and intentionality. With community, James Blick talked about how having people in your life is not just good but needed. When collaborating with others at work or living life in a neighborhood, having people to connect with is how your community is built. We all need to have people in our corner, can’t journey in life solo no matter who you are. In relation to intentionality, prioritize the things that matter most in life. Take time to evaluate your life and consider what you currently have on your plate to see if you have taken on too much. Very easy to live in a cycle of busyness and isolate ourselves from those who matter to us and miss out on experiences in life. James Blick was very popular in our conversations because of all he taught us through his videos, it was cool to meet him and our professor was ecstatic to spend more time hanging out with him.

Professor Z introducing James Blick

A group of us decided to go to Toledo and spend the rest of the day exploring the sites in this medieval history-rich city. In true college student fashion, we went to the train station with the intent to catch the next train out with no pre-purchased tickets. The spontaneity of the trip was not in our favor and could not get on the train, it was 1:30pm and we wanted to catch the 1:45 train, the next one out was leaving at 5. Instead, we decided to grab lunch together at an Italian sandwich shop in the neighborhood of Chueca. We took our sandwiches to Retiro Park and had a little picnic in my favorite park ever. I took the opportunity to ask if anyone else wanted to walk further into the park, and that park does not disappoint. It is 350 acres of pure enjoyment to me. People bike, run, workout, and rent boats in a pond, there are places to stop and grab a bite or a drink, pretty monuments, fountains, and sights to see. I do not think you can get bored there, definitely lost, but nature is just so relaxing, a great place to go for a walk with a friend or after a meal.

To end our last free night in this city I have grown to love, a few students and I went to the rooftop of our hotel building after eating some soufflé pancakes from a Japanese dessert shop called Sufu Cake. These pancakes were so fluffy, nothing I have ever eaten before but I have seen them online which made me curious to try them. The type I got was almond butter and chocolate drizzled on top and it was delicious. I found this place when researching the neighborhood of Las Letras in one of Professor Z’s assignments. Our rooftop is so relaxing, a great place to lay on a reclining chair and bask in the sun or enjoy the music playing by a chamber on the streets. For us, it was the latter and we also enjoyed some snacks we picked up from the local market. 

Rooftop of our hotel

The day had a lot of hiccups and uncertainties, however, each day is an experience and can be a good day despite plans not going the way intended. I enjoyed today and getting to explore and experience the city with different people.

-Stephanie Ceballos

May 23: A Final Day in Madrid

May 23rd, 2023 marked our last full day in the great city of Madrid. Amongst the group there were a lot of mixed feelings, whether it be being ready to go back home or not wanting to have to board a flight out. I know that I was one of the latter. Despite this, when I woke up I tried to look forward to the exciting day ahead of me. This was a little difficult as the night prior, I had gone out to karaoke to celebrate our last free night in the city, but I somehow managed to wake up and grab something for breakfast. 

After breakfast, we took the Metro to Las Ventas: the largest bullfighting ring in the world. The arena is extremely impressive, boasting over 23,000 seats. It also draws a large crowd, as evidenced by the amount of people trying to buy and/or sell tickets outside the arena. We were not there to watch an actual bullfight, as those took place in the evening, at 7:00pm, but instead we were here for a tour of the ring. While waiting for our tour guide, we were regaled with tales of bulls and bullfighters, particularly the uncomfortable tale of Banderillero Marco Galan, who had been injured in a not particularly pleasant location because of a bull.

A tribute outside of Las Ventas for bullfighter Jose Cubero
Exterior view of Las Ventas

We met with our tour guide at the entrance to Las Ventas. He was an incredible tour guide with a fun sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic. He showed us around the arena and informed us about bullfighting culture and history. He focused on some of the great bullfighters like “Superman” Manolete and “Batman” Bienvenida. Halfway through the tour, he asked for 2 volunteers, and I raised my hand, despite not really being informed of what I was volunteering for. It turned out that it was for a VR bullfighting experience. The bullfight was very disorientating, as I was strapped into a ring with a headset on my head and told to try to control a very blurry bull. I made it out alive, but apparently very virtually injured, as our guide informed me that I gave a performance that would have sent me straight to the arena’s infirmary. 

After that, our guide brought us through the gates to the main field of the arena and demonstrated the actual ways and styles that bullfighters used to control the bulls. It was a lot more elegant than the mess of a performance that I had given. After that, we continued to the museum by the stables. It was really interesting seeing the different paintings of the bullfighters and the different clothes that they wore. Manolete’s clothes were the most interesting as they were the clothes that he had died in. These garments, like many of the others in the museum, were still stained in blood. It was also interesting to learn about lady bullfighters and how Franco had used their prestige to increase nationalism in Spain.

The view of the arena from a stadium seat
Walking onto the field

Our tour ended with the museum, and with that came lunch. At the recommendation of our API guide Fran, a group of us went to Jarritos, located right by the arena. The place had a great atmosphere with extremely friendly staff. The food there was also very good. We ordered an Iberian ham platter as a starter, and everytime I have this iconic Spanish food item, I am reminded of how good it is and how deli ham could never compare. As a main dish, I tried an oxtail stew that was delicious and tender and went great with the potatoes that were served with it. 

After lunch, our group parted ways to get some last minute things checked off of the bucket list. It was then that the reality of leaving Madrid really started to kick in. I was reminded of how I had missed home so much prior to my trip, but now was almost dreading going back. With my time I decided to walk along Gran Vía and visit the huge Primark. Realistically, I could go to the Primark, but walking in the city for the past week had revealed just how popular this particular Primark was. And it lives up to the hype. There are floors and floors of items, almost to the point of being overwhelming. You can find so many things in that store, including umbrellas for when it randomly starts downpouring and will not let up like it did in the hour that I was in there. 

A look at Jarritos from our table
Amazing oxtail stew
A look at the 6-floor Primark on Gran Vía

Rain-free, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for our last dinner in Madrid, complete with a flamenco show. The show was incredible, and it was a surprise to learn that most, if not all of the show contained improvisation by the artists. Every flamenco dancer had a different style and presentation that added to the performance, ensuring variety and intrigue. My favorite artist was the guitar player, who played so impressively I could have sworn he had more than two hands. It was interesting to see how ingrained the art of movement is in Spanish culture. From the matadors of Las Ventas to flamenco dancers, movement is such an important undercurrent to the art and showmanship of Spain. 

This is something that I know I am going to miss. Despite being a city and despite being slower than many places in the US, I feel that Madrid values movement in an entirely different way. Movement is artful, it’s purposeful. The city is constantly begging you to keep moving, keep seeing what needs to be seen. A 15 minute walk can get you far in this city, and a 30 minute walk almost feels like nothing. It’s a city that is hard to say goodbye to, but that is all the more reason to come back. 

May 22nd: Meeting James Blick and a Hectic Day in Madrid

As with every other day of our trip, we rushed through breakfast at our hotel and made our way down to the lobby to meet up with Fran, our API assistant director. Once the whole group was accounted for, we headed over to meet James Blick. In anticipation of coming to Spain, we were all required to watch 8 of youtuber James’ Blicks videos. As a lover of food and Spain, he creates content about getting the most authentic experience when coming to Spain, particularly in Madrid. At the beginning of our time with James’ Blick, he gave us an overview of his life, including details about his college degree in law, unhappiness with his career, time spent in France, and how he ended up in Spain. It was a lot of information to take in all at once, but I left feeling like I understood Blick much better and feeling refreshed by some of the advice that he gave. My favorite piece of advice was this, “It’s okay that what if what you’re doing at 40 is different than what you’re doing at 20.” Although most of our group was able to describe what they want to do with their lives, life is constantly changing and evolving. Hearing those words was extremely comforting.

After our time with James Blick, our group divided into smaller groups and headed into the city. The group that I was a part of wanted to go and visit the historic city of Toledo, with hopes of seeing where painter El Greco once lived, where the armor and swords were made for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and much more. We headed to the metro stop in Puerta de Sol and headed to line 1 which would take us to the Atocha train station. I brought my book on the metro to hopefully make some progress in it. Although we have all become accustomed to taking the metro after using it for 7 straight days, the chaos of certain lines can be extremely distracting. When we finally arrived at the train station stop, we proceeded to several help desks in search of tickets to Toledo. Once we finally reached the correct desk, we heard the devastating news that there were no open trains for the next four hours. We tried to come up with another plan to make it to Toledo, but ultimately gave up and decided to try and find a place for lunch.

We hopped back on the metro after making our way through the massive train station. Several classmates had been raving about this Italian sandwich place in the Chueca neighborhood called Puccias. Once we all had received our food, we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and walk to Retiro Park to enjoy our lunch. Although a few wrong turns were taken, we finally got to the park and quickly sat down to devour our sandwiches. While eating, we enjoyed music from an accordion player in the park. All throughout Madrid are many musicians who play their music on the streets. It has been an enjoyable experience to hear them playing every day as we walk around the city. Proceeding our lunch, we walked around Retiro Park, exploring different parts of it and making our way to its end. At this point, some of the group decided to walk back to the hotel without using google maps and simply trusting the knowledge we had gained of the city. Although this most likely lengthened our walk, we felt like natives as we walked through the streets and embraced the city.

After a quick siesta in the hotel, a few students headed to the Matadero, a former slaughterhouse and beloved spot of Ernest Hemingway. We did not get the whole experience of all the art that this complex has to offer, but we were able to enjoy the architecture of the large complex. There was an eerie feeling once you stepped inside the walls as if it were a ghost town. While we explored it, I read a few articles to our group about some of its history of it, including that old women used to come to drink the “nutritious” of the dead cattle. It is currently used as a place of art and culture.

Following our visit to Matadero, we headed to a Japanese pancake place in Las Letras called Sufu Cake. We enjoyed the extremely fluffy and delicious pancakes before we headed to the market to grab some fresh fruit, something that I have greatly enjoyed in Spain. Every corner that you turn, there is a fresh produce stand. It is so convenient to be healthy here! Once we got what we wanted at the market we walked back to our hotel to enjoy the rooftop patio it has, listening to the sounds of the city and enjoying the beautiful sky.

I have tried to approach my days here with a faint structure for each day but trying to simply walk around and enjoy the authentic experience of living here in Madrid.

Emerald Bell 25’

May 21: Sunday in Madrid

Sunday is a very eventful day here in Madrid. From a street being turned into a pedestrian road to an outdoor flea market with no end, Sunday is the perfect day to go out and enjoy all that Madrid offers. It is definitely not a day you will want to miss out on while visiting Madrid.

Sweet Morning

The day started off with a trip to an amazing bakery called “La Mallorquina”, which is in “Puerta del Sol”, so it was a quick, simple walk from our hotel. The bakery was spacious, and it smelled so good. This place is liked by lots of people, so the expectation was that we would have to wait a long time in order to get our pastries, however the service was straightforward and rather quick, so I would recommend trying it out even if the amount of people seems intimidating. We tried their famous “napolitana de crema” and a macaroon, and they were both incredibly delicious. They were so warm, and as soon as they hit our mouths, they just completely melted. The pastries weren’t too sweet to where it makes you sick. They were just right, and every bite was extremely enjoyable. I loved these pastries and I will definitely come back just to try out some more. If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, “La Mallorquina” is the place to go.

El Rastro

Later in the day, at around 12PM, we started our walk towards “el rastro”, an open air flea market that runs in the city of Madrid every Sunday from 9AM to 3PM. We actually took a longer route towards the market so that we could experience walking on this street that is usually for cars but is closed and turned it into a pedestrian street every Sunday. Walking down that street was an amazing experience because it was filled with people just enjoying their time and soaking in as much of the environment as they could. There were cyclists, people walking their dogs, children, etc. It was very interesting to learn about this idea of closing a street off every Sunday for people to walk on, but I absolutely loved it and I thought it was an amazing idea, since it gives people something to look forward to every week. Eventually, we got to the “rastro” and right away the amount of people that were there took me by surprise. Although. there were many people, it still did not feel overwhelming. Quite the contrary, it brought the market to life. Right off the bat, I noticed that the market had a large so many stores and so many things that could be bought. From clothes to electronics and collectibles, I truly believe that the market had at least one of everything ever made in the world. As we made our way through the market, we realized it was much bigger than it seemed at first. Every time we took a turn, there were more and more stores. It was so much to where I am not even sure I saw it all. Overall, “el rastro” is truly a shopper’s biggest dream. There are so many things to choose from and the prices are very good for the most part. This was one of my favorite experiences in Madrid so far. If you’re patient and don’t rush, then you will definitely find a good deal on something you want.

Real Jardín Botánico

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the Real Jardín Botánico. The weather was not the best, unfortunately. It was cloudy, and it even rained a bit, but that still did not take away from the beauty of the garden. The garden had a vast collection of flowers, trees, and much more that came from all over the world. The biggest thing that stood out to me was their bonsai collection. They had a lot of them, and they ranged from all ages, some were even 100. Beyond its amazing nature, my favorite thing about the botanical garden was its environment. It was a very relaxing and quiet place. I am not sure if that was because of the weather or the time of the day, but I thoroughly enjoyed how it felt to be in the garden, it is a great place to take a break from the big city, and it was a nice contrast to “el rastro”.

So far, Madrid has been the easiest city to fall in love with. There is so much to do, the food is delicious, and the environment does not compare to anywhere else in the world. Madrid quickly became one of my favorite cities and one that I recommend everyone visits.

May 19: Fusion of the Past/Present, and of the Day/Night

Day 4 in Madrid started at 0:00 military time. It was our first night experiencing the night life in Madrid. As a group of us students walked through the streets we continuously got approached to enter different pubs/clubs. In the back of my mind I knew they are promoters and looking for fresh bills to be spent. Nonetheless, one of the promoters we met, Maria, was quite sweet and convincing. So, we ventured off with her and actually ended up enjoying the night. We made friends with a group of Canadian girls  in which we spent the night listening to Reggaeton. This night was the night my hand gesturing skills were perfected — we met plenty of friendly Latins who did not speak English so I had to find some means of communication since Google translate could not keep up with the long conversations and loud music. I realized that communication was not mutually exclusive which language (although an important component). I practically spent the whole night signing and gesturing with my hands.

Fast forward 4 hours and its time for breakfast ! My roomate, Heather, and I compensated for the early start to our day (0:00) with espresso at breakfast. I don’t normally reach for coffee, but it was very much helpful to persist through the day with a full tank of energy. Five hours is normally plenty of sleep, but mix that with jet lag, energy expenditure, and its actually 2 hours of sleep. After breakfast, the group toured the city with Tino (our tour guide for the day) . We walked down Gran via where there are 3 major sections. Considering the fact that I’m not particularly interested in the arts, I was surprised to find that I liked the third section the most. The streets were filled with theaters/cinemas from the 40th century. Although most building were renovated, the ambiance of them still reflected the traditional/historic arts of Spain — which is why I liked them.

One thing that caught my attention during this tour was the fact that even though most of the renovated buildings had a deeper meaning that what meets the eye; yet, most people knew the stories and origins, regardless of what they are repurposed as today. For example, the building symbolizes the strength of the country because it used to be an important political building before Franco made an agreement with the US. Other notable, and quite impressive buildings we toured include the Hotel Florida ( La Corte Ingles), Pestana CR7 Hotel, Casa del Libel, Royal Palace of Madrid, and the Cathedral of Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo Partnership with Pestana Hotel Chain

After the tour, I continued to explore the city, and ate one of the best tapas up until that day (unfortunately, I can’t recall the names only how good they were). So if you are reading this go to Casa Lucas ! The day took a quick turn when I met the famous Fat Spider-Man. By the end of this encounter I had less hair on my had because spider-man decided he wanted a handful of my hair. He hated my hair, or loved it so much that he wanted a souvenir — I’ll go with the latter. I then left to the hotel to get a quick break before the next adventure of the day.

I regained energy at the thought of chocolate con churros at San Ginés. They are highly spoken about, so my expectations were pretty high. Turns out I am not a fan of chocolate con churros, it was average at best ( I really wanted to like them). I am planning on trying a different location in hopes to change my mind. The churros left me with an unsatisfied sweet tooth so I decided to get gelato with my roommate on our walk to Reign de Sofia. The gelato did the trick; lemon was refreshing, raspberry had a delicious tang, and pistachio was creamy – overall, a great way to end to the day.

May 21: The Rastro and the Rest

Given the meeting time at 11.15 in the morning, I’ve started the day at around 9.30 to get ready for breakfast. After the meal, we headed to the Rastro which is a huge flea market, within a neighborhood of Madrid called La Latina. This market is held on every other Sunday, from 9.00 in the morning to 3.00 in the afternoon, and is the largest flea market in Madrid. I believe it is roughly a 16 minute walk from the hotel that we are accommodating (Hotel Regina Madrid), but because the streets were closed, we had to take a detour which took us an extremely long walk to the market – taking us about an hour or so. Along the way, we walked past the Prado museum where the street was closed due to reasons I have no idea of. We then encountered a few processional giants – figures about a few meters tall, in costume, worn by people with support internally – that were making a performance, likely a dance. After what it seems like forever, we arrived at the market at around noon. 

Reading about it and seeing images off the internet, it seems about right. There were a large variety of good being sold such as: jewelry, bags of all sorts, old cameras, shoes, liquid fragrance, hand drawn cards, scarfs, antiques, candles, hand fans, incense sticks, tapestry, clothes – even including tie dye shirts and baby clothes – and many more. These are only some that I could recognize and remember. Personally, I am not a big fan of shopping. Although some of the items tickled my curiosity and interest, I try not to buy items I know I won’t be using, including souvenirs. Hence, nothing was bought. I kept on walking down the slope where the market kept on going, stopping for a minute to watch a man sing, and another minute to watch an old lady playing an instrument unknown to me, then eventually reach the other end of the market, at around one in the afternoon – a great timing for lunch.

Because we have to visit at least one cafe in Madrid – stated on the scavenger hunt assignment – with Pum Pum Cafe in mind, I’ve decided to find my way there and as expected, there was a line to get in. And so, I chose another cafe close by within the Lavapies neighborhood, found on the scavenger hunt map that was provided, and settled down at Cafe Barbieri. I arrived there around 1.30pm which was not as busy and had plenty of space left within the restaurant. I sat in the area between the bar and the dining space of the restaurant, staring straight at the other dining tables. Recommended by the waiter, I went for a pasta dish that has a pesto sauce, with pistachio bits, bacon and dried tomatoes along with a bottle of water. I am not a big pasta fanatic but the sauce was creamy with little grains of pistachio in every bite that added a little sweetness to the dish, complementing the savory bacon bits and slightly sour dried tomatoes. I have also ordered a cheesecake after that. Their cheesecake was like a combination of a basque cheesecake and a runny cheese tart, with a hint of saltiness.

After lunch, since I am already within Lavapies, I went to another cafe that is a cat cafe called La Gatoteca. Even though I knew a reservation was necessary, I didn’t make any beforehand and showed up on the spot. Fortunately, there was room for me to join. They gave me a wrist band indicating the time I went in and you can also get a drink when you go in. There are several rules to follow that the staff ran through before I entered where the cats were. You can also find them on their website for those who are interested. Because it was in the afternoon, most of the cats were taking their naps and only one or two of them were active. I planned on staying around for half an hour – because they charge you depending on how long you stay inside – but I ended up staying for 56 minutes which costed me 7.50 euros. Once I left the La Gatoteca, I walked back to the hotel.

After more or less half an hour later, I went back out and took the metro to Matadero Madrid. This was one of the places associated with Ernest Hemingway – an American novelist. Matadero Madrid used to be a slaughterhouse that Hemingway used to visit when he was younger. It has now become a space for cultural and contemporary art experimenting and production. Although some essence of the buildings stayed the same such as the sandstone warehouses, the interior of the spaces are redesigned and repurpose to hold arts and performances. Exploring for not too long after – because most spaces require an entrance ticket – I decided to go get dinner at Pez Tortilla. The place was packed but I managed to swiggle my way inside and take out a pincho tortilla which comes with a portion for one person. With this tortilla, I walked to Placa del Parque de la Montana and ate there while enjoying the nice breeze and the hill top view. Before I end my day, I grabbed a cup of ice cream from a shop called Toto and took the metro back to the hotel.