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.