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.

May 18th: Segovia and Tapas!

For the third day in Madrid, our class scheduled a trip to Segovia, a small city with rich historical significance just northeast of the “Comunidad de Madrid”. Originally settled by Iberian Celts around 700 BCE, the area became truly urbanized once under Roman occupation around 80 BCE. As a result of such early development, modern Segovia has produced a fascinating blend of cultures, architectural styles, and economic practices. Such unique circumstances allowed for the class to quite literally travel through history as they traversed the city. 

Aqueduct of Segovia

Upon arriving in Segovia, it would have been impossible to miss its most iconic landmark, a fully preserved Roman aqueduct. Spanning nearly 2,600 feet, the Aqueduct of Segovia was the first monumental site for our class as the bus drove into the heart of the city, an impression that will certainly leave an unforgettable mark on myself personally. Completed either just before or after the death of Emperor Trajan in 117 CE, the Aqueduct has continually represented a symbolic source of pride for the city in even becoming its coat of arms. Each of its granite blocks, weighing around 2,000 to 5,000 pounds, were originally stacked without even the need for cement, utilizing pressure to create structural supports and reaching a height of up to 30 feet. It is a truly impressive feat of Roman engineering that I would have never originally expected to have witnessed when traveling to Madrid. While the Aqueduct of Segovia has not been actually used since 1961, experts are confident that it can still be utilized today! 

Hey! That’s me at the top of the Aqueduct, overlooking the downtown square at the bottom of the hill!

Cathedral of Segovia

Traveling away from the Aqueduct further uphill, our class arrived at the Cathedral of Segovia, a marvelous example of late Gothic architecture and a central tenet of the city’s landscape. Constructed from 1525 to 1577, the Cathedral was a staunch representation of the city’s now purely Catholic identity. When Moorish Muslims fully occupied the Iberian Peninsula by the end of the eighth century, Segovia was almost entirely abandoned until it was reconquered in the late eleventh century by King Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon. The establishment of modern Spain with the conquest of Granada in 1492 then prompted the infamous Spanish Inquisition in which Jewish and Muslim influences throughout the Iberian Peninsula, including in Segovia. This caused the city’s famous Jewish quarter to largely become homogenized with its surrounding neighborhoods as Catholicism became the area’s sole practicing faith. The Cathedral’s high rising ceilings, intricate ornaments, and serene courtyard were a testament of this controversial historical phenomenon.

Classic gothic cloister, almost similar to the Hogwarts Courtyard!

Alcázar of Segovia

Passing the city’s center, we reached the final major landmark of our tour in the Alcázar of Segovia, a unique castle with many different uses throughout its several centuries of existence. However, this particular alcázar has no historical connection to the Moorish Muslims in the area. In fact, despite its Arabic origins, the word, alcázar, was adopted by the Spanish language and is still utilized as a label for Segovia’s flagship castle. The Alcázar of Segovia was originally one of primary residences for the House of Trástamara, which would include the kingdoms of Castile and eventually Aragon, and even witnessed the crowning of Queen Isabella I in 1474. With the rise of the Hapsburg Dynasty in 1516, it would be repurposed into a military academy in 1764. Within the castle itself, the walls are commemorated with marvelous designs by employed Muslim Moors, who were experts at geometric perfection for their time. After traversing through the many royal chambers of the Alcázar, our class climbed 150 steps to reach its top where the Spanish flag flies resoundingly. The view of the rest of the city from this summit was absolutely stunning as the arid countryside provided a complementary background.

The Alcázar of Segovia from a slight distance, a true testament to Medieval architecture at the time!

Roast Suckling Pig and Tapas to Finish

After exiting the Alcázar, our tour of the city elapsed, and members of the class dispersed into their own groups for lunch. I personally had the privilege of eating Segovia’s specialty dish at “Restaurante José Maria”, the roast suckling pig! There was some souvenir shopping that followed before we unfortunately were scheduled to return back to Madrid. Despite Segovia’s small stature, I would have certainly devoted several more days to exploring its many historical intricacies when given the opportunity. With such an extensive day, most members of the class, including myself, decided to rest for a few hours before traversing through Madrid once more. Late in the evening, a group of us arrived at “Casa de Abuelo” for dinner where we ate a variety of different tapas, including garlic shrimp, octopus, and beef tail. It was a savory end to an extravagant day!

Delicious octopus!
Such a stunning view from the top of the Alcázar, displaying the entire hilltop of the city with the Cathedral at its center!

May 19th: Madrid Walking Tour & Chocolate con Churros

Friday the 19th our 4th day in Madrid. It’s true we just got here but it was easy to establish a routine and have everything planned here. The breakfast in the morning at our hotel is one of my favorite parts of the day, the avocado toast tastes so good here, also the almond cake is very delicious. After breakfast it’s the time to start walking around the city. For this day we had a Madrid information walking tour. We walked for around 2 hours, and stopped at few sightseeing, such as first tall buildings in Madrid, the Egyptian temple, Catedral de la Almudena, and the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is so huge, it is so impressive and mind blowing. Our tour guide provided us with so many insightful information about those sightseeing and the history of Madrid. And just like that our morning was done by walking around Madrid main streets.

The Royal Palace
During the tour with a view of Madrid city

The afternoon is when we start looking for the best lunch spot, and as a hesitant person I really struggle with making this decision😂. There are so many cafes and restaurants in Madrid, it’s hard to pick one, thankfully our scavenger hunt map narrows down those options. Myself, Heather, Jomira and Rotana my classmates went to get lunch in Cava Baja. After walking up and down the street we finally decided to go to a tapas bar, Casa Lucas, and without exaggeration the food there was one of the best food I have ever had. We ordered two cold tapas (tuna with veggies and shrimp toast), one hot tapas( chicken toasts) and one tomato salad. Everything was so delicious, I have to mention the tomato salad with goat cheese was something from heaven. Tapas is a really nice thing in Spain, specially having it with friends eating delicious food, telling stories and laughing, such an amazing experience to have. As we are almost walking everywhere, we take our lunch break to sit down and relax. After tapas, we walked to Plaza De Mayor where we encountered the famous fat Spiderman, he is so funny we took those pictures with him. 

Fat Spiderman

Now comes my favorite part of the day, Chocolate con churros with the whole class and our professor. We went to one of the oldest chocolate with churros cafés in Madrid “San Gines”. I very much liked the churros that I ate 7 of them, 6 with chocolate and 1 without chocolate 😂. Every Churros tasted better than the one before. The chocolate was so rich and delicious, it was a very worming dessert. After eating churros we had so much energy that many of us wanted to go check the Reina Sofia museum. We took the metro and 3 stops we were there. This museum has one of the most famous Picasso’s art pieces “Guernica”, it is huge and very beautiful. Also there was some really nice art pieces of Dali. Here are pictures of Guernica and myself with one of Picasso’s pieces. Leaving the museum we took the glass shield elevator, the view of Madrid city was so beautiful. After the museum it was time to eat, we had a nice dinner as a group and took the metro back to our hotel. Just like that one day in Madrid is done. It was an eventful day, we got to experience a lot of what this amazing city has to offer. 

Chocolate with Churros
With one of Picasso’s pieces

May 20th Valley of the Fallen

The Valley of the Fallen, El Valle de los Caídos

Instead of the usual 10 am start to the day, El Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen) allowed us to meet at 11:30. With the extra time, some people enjoyed a longer breakfast, while I enjoyed a long sleep from experiencing the city the night before. Our group met in the lobby to start our journey to Spain’s most controversial site. We have learned about The Valley of the Fallen, discussing it and writing about its recent history, such as the exhumation of Francisco Franco’s corpse, now it was time to see the real thing. The Valley of the Fallen is about 30-45 minutes away from Madrid. With a late start to the morning, our group hopped on a bus and went out to see the structure built under Francisco Franco’s order. We passed through a gate allowing us to enter the mountain territory. The bus navigated up a road that snaked through the mountain toward the structure. Going up, you could see the cross above the site among trees. Every event, excursion, exploration, and discussion has been interesting, providing more of an understanding of Spain. Despite the many different experiences to expect, of all the events, I was thinking of this one. I was not expecting to see much, but because of the history and story we learned behind the site, I wanted to see it. People have talked and still do about what the Valley of the Fallen represents, creating a divide in opinions over it. The forgotten history of Spain was something attached to this massive structure which brings it to reality to some extent. The building and cross are deep in the mountain, surrounded by forest. The view from the front courtyard is beautiful as you can see Madrid in the valley surrounded by mountains. Our group had a tour guide who told us more about the architecture of the building, facts about the structure and answered questions.

The Valley of the Fallen base level to the top of the cross is similar in height to the Eiffel Tower, and the cross is the largest in the world. Mass services are held daily within the building and the four statues at the bottom of the cross are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In addition, the legal loophole they used to remove Franco’s remains was that he did not die in the war but of old age. Because the monument was built to bury those who died in the Civil War, they could legally exhume Franco and others like that. The building and structure itself are compelling. Seeing the 2,000+ ton cross above the mountain is mind-grabbing, especially when you realize the inside is hallowed out to create the building. The large paintings, angel statues, painted dome, and gateway inside the site had fascinating value. This monument would probably be something delightful if it occurred as ordinary, sadly, this is not the case. As we learned before and again on the tour, this site is one of the most controversial sites in Spain. The different opinions derive from those who supported Franco and those who see the location as a reminder of the tragic cruel past, or the victims buried there against family wishes. Knowing the story behind the monument and the potential number of lives lost in creating this initiated a dampening feeling that put me in a particular mindset. Regardless of the controversy and the unsettling nature, it was great to see a historical creation of Spain’s history unknown to most of the younger generation.

Viewing this historical monument was not the only use of the day. Being the trip was not that long, and we came back around 2 pm, we had the rest of the day to explore and enjoy the city of Madrid. Along with a portion of our group, we ventured off to Bean Burrito, a delicious place that creates Burritos such as “Legendario”. We ate together, discussing plans for tomorrow, the Premier League games, La Liga games, the night before, and what we were doing later that night. Many of us went to museums, watched movies, and enjoyed walking around the city. To end the night, I went to a luxury store with two others and ate nachos with tuna shrimp dip to finish the night. I will end the night earlier than usual to recuperate after several nights’ outs. Madrid is a city filled with history which built personality for the country. From the Valley of the Fallen to eating Nachos, it was a blessing once again to experience the culture of Spain.