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.

May 18: Trip to Segovia + More in Madrid

Today we woke up early in order to leave the hotel for Segovia at 9. Most people grabbed a small breakfast in the hotel buffet before making their way to the lobby. At 9, we made our way outside to the area where the bus would pick us up. What followed was the relaxing hour-and-a-half drive from Madrid, through the countryside, and into the small town of Segovia. It was fun to gaze at all the villages and mountains that Spain has throughout its land while the background radio of the bus played classic American hit songs. In addition, we got a sneak peek at the Valley of the Fallen along the way.

Bohemian Rhapsody was playing in the background

We were mainly coming to Segovia to see the famous Roman aqueducts that still exist and stand proudly in the town. There was a terrific sight waiting for us when we finally pulled up on one of the roads overlooking it.

Our tour guide, a British lady with perfect English, gave us numerous facts about the aqueducts and some history behind them and Segovia as a whole. She explained that lots of masonry work went into designing the ducts and moving them/holding them together in a place where they would not collapse, even without concrete. After getting a nice view of the aqueducts from the top, we decided to trek further into the town. Segovia is a very walkable area, with many stone paths and gift shops/restaurants lined along the sides. We passed lots of those while making our way to our next major stop, the cathedral. We were fortunate to get the chance to look inside and observe the beautiful artwork/architecture there.

Past the cathedral, we made our way towards el Torre de Juan II. We crossed over the moat and into the tower to explore. In order to get to the top, our group had to climb 150 steps. The view was worth it, however.

By this point, it was around 2. We decided to break for lunch for two hours before returning to Madrid. A group of us, including myself, had seen a James Blick video where he tried a delicacy called “roast suckling pig”. Wanting to engross ourselves in the culture, we walked over to José María. Unfortunately, because it was peak lunchtime, there was chaos in there and they understandably did not want to seat twelve of us at a table. I and a few others left. However, after we left, the remaining few broke up into smaller groups and managed to land tables at the restaurant. As for us, we made our way over to a cool Lebanese restaurant near the aqueducts called Tuma. Jomira, who came with us, knew all about what kind of Lebanese food to order and communicate with the waiter on behalf of all ten of us. We got to eat very delicious food, stuff that I had never even heard of before, like kebbe, labne, hummus (very nicely made), fatoush, taboule, chicken/lamb, and shawarma.

All in all, we had a very nice and relaxing lunch on the terrace. The other group got to get the full roasted pig experience, such as seeing how the chefs cut the pig’s head off its body (after it is already dead) with a plate.


Around 4, some people decided to walk around some nearby shops to pick up souvenirs. We also made sure to use the bathrooms, which cost 50 cents at the gift shop, before boarding the bus again. On the way back, mostly everyone slept, except for a few of us in the front who jammed to hits from the Backstreet Boys and Aerosmith.

We got back to Madrid at 6. I heard from some others that from 6 to 7:30 pm, the Prado would allow free entry. Due to that, I took a 15-minute walk from the bus, under the hot Madrid sun, already red as a tomato from foolishly not wearing sunscreen, in order to stand in line to get in. The line moved quickly, and I was inside in no time. Unfortunately, the day’s long events caught up to me, and I felt a huge wave of exhaustion wash over me as I started walking around the museum. Nevertheless, I tried to power through and see as much as I could. Interestingly enough, photos are not allowed inside the Prado. It was nice to just be able to amble around and observe without feeling obligated to whip my phone out. Most of the art centered around themes of Christ, religion, and Jesus dying on the cross/being resurrected. It was interesting to observe how big religion was in society during the earlier centuries. I personally was not super interested in this type of art, however, the paintings that stood out to me as my favorites were the dog paintings in one of the rooms. The Goya exhibit in the museum was also fascinating. By 7:30, I decided to leave and head back to the hotel.

I rested in the room for about two hours in order to gain some energy back. By this time, almost everyone else had gone out to eat in their own groups. At around 10, I decided to venture over to Santo Domingo Plaza to see if there were any new spots that I could eat at. During my walk, I realized there was an important Europa League football match between Sevilla and Juventus occurring at this time. As a result, I made it my mission to find a bar to watch the match at. I walked to several bars, but they were either too busy or not showing the match on their TV. Thankfully though, I knew of one spot where I was certain to watch the match at a relatively empty bar, all while getting the chance to munch on some nice Spanish cuisine: TGI Fridays. 

I do not regret going to TGI Fridays because the second half, as well as extra time, involved a great Sevilla comeback. I filled up on a nice burger after failing spectacularly to order in Spanish. I also met a nice man at the bar named Diego who worked as an engineer in Spain, and was a huge Atletico fan (I was wearing an Atletico Madrid hoodie that I bought the previous day, which allowed us to hit it off). We talked at the bar in broken Spanglish for two hours, where he treated me to some free buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks. 

At midnight, I headed back to the hotel and joined some other students to head out into the city for a few hours. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any sleep even after returning back to the hotel, so I decided to end my long day by walking in Retiro Park at 6:30 am and catching the sunrise.

All in all, it was a very busy day that was filled with so much adventure. Segovia was a breathtaking place with so much history and vibrant culture to offer. I am really happy that I got the chance to step outside of the city and take in this wonderful experience that will stay for a long time with me.

May 17: Officially on Madrid Time

First full day in Madrid was packed with tortillas, sunshine, and 24,000 steps. We started with an early Madrid morning (10am) walking around the landmarks of the Spanish Civil War. We spotted some of the tapas bars Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, one of which was named Cerveceria Alemana. This spot is located in Plaza Santa Maria and the table he used to sit at is arguably in the best spot in the bar; in the front window of the bar facing the plaza. The wood exterior of the bar is charming and the vibe inside feels like a step back in time.

We also walked through Malasana and Chueca, which both have a different vibe. Each town within Madrid is distinctive because each part of the city has something new to offer. Of course, the metro connects them all together, and we later discovered it’s super easy to navigate.

In true Spanish fashion, we took a break for lunch around 1pm. Jomira and I strolled along Gran Via until we discovered Parque del Retiro. It was so beautiful! It’s a huge park with a pond in the middle where you can rent boats and float around for a while! We rented a boat for 6 euros and relaxed for about 2 hours. If you decide to do the same, I definitely recommend bringing a picnic for your time on the boat!! It’s a very lively environment with people on the water, running/walking throughout the park, and even people walking their dogs…everything!

The view from the boat!

We then traveled to Bodega de la Ardosa for their famous tortilla and vermouth. This was Professor Z’s recommendation, and we can safely say it was a great one at that! We asked our waitress to order her favorites for us and of course it was the tortilla and vermouth. We also got an artichoke and croquetas de jamon. Everything was so good and the restaurant was constantly busy, people coming and going every few minutes. However, expect to stand while eating, it’s always busy and most of the high tops (there are only 5-6 tables in there) don’t have chairs. But don’t be afraid of a little line waiting outside, everything moves fast!

Inside Bodega de la Ardosa

Following lunch, we shopped throughout Sol and went to the Monastery of Corpus Christi Las Carboneras, which is where the sequestered nuns sell cookies! We ordered 1 kilo of Nevaditos (iced shortbread biscuits). In hind sight, 1/2 kilo would’ve been more appropriate because these cookies are very small so 1 kilo was a LOT of cookies!! But the process of acquiring the cookies is why this is by far my easiest recommendation. Where else do you find nuns selling cookies without contact!

Contactless Cookies!

To finish off the day, we attended a cooking class in Pacifico where we made paella, tortillas, and torta de Santiago. After a few eggs on the floor and practice flipping the tortillas, we successfully made 3! Our paella was the most fun to make because everyone was involved. It had a bunch of ingredients that everyone contributed to prepping such as onions, garlic, peppers, chicken, calamari, and prawn. We also added a bunch of seasonings as well as the rice with the broth. Everything was fun to make and very delicious. It was exciting to eat the food we all worked hard to make!

The nightlife began with watching the Real Madrid vs Manchester City soccer match (very rough start for Madrid) and the city was not happy with that. We had to watch the game from the sidewalk of an Irish pub because everyone was packed into every bar trying to catch the game. Although a little chilly after 8pm, everyone’s spirits were up…until the game became too tough to watch. Real Madrid lost the match 4-0, so we decided to call it quits for the day and headed home. We took the metro home and clocked in our 12th mile of the day. Resting up for more adventures tomorrow!!

May 16th Arrival and First Impressions

Ryan Ellis

I boarded my flight from Logan International Airport at 4:50 pm and about 9 hours later and a stop in Dublin I arrived in Madrid at 10:00 am. This was my first flight were there was a possibility of jet-lag but fortunately I was able to stay awake until bedtime in Spain and reset my clock a little. I don’t know how well that worked as the next morning I was quite tired but I stuck it out. The airport was similar to others I have been to the only difference was taking a subway like cart along tracks from one terminal to another, which I think is more convenient then having to take a shuttle or a bus from one to another. The bus ride into the city was when I realized how different the architecture of everything is so different and feels so much older then anything I have experienced in the states. It felt like we were driving through a museum with just how elegant every building and statue is. Stepping out of the bus and looking around I was hit with the same feeling the first thing I saw which is directly outside our hotel was the four seasons hotel which is in a incredibly ornate building. The first surprise that came was the temperature, for some reason in my head I had always thought of Spain as being hot but despite it being a sunny and nice day it was very pleasant outside. I am not a huge fan of the heat so it not being extremely hot was very nice.

Four Seasons Hotel

We luckily were able to check into the hotel on arrival which made everything a lot easier. After dropping of our bags it was time to eat. Me and two of my new mates headed to the streets, we followed a recommendation from our guide to the Mercado de San Anton but many of the stalls were actually closed and we ended up eating at a restaurant that was not on the scavenger hunt or anything but it turned out to be delicious. It is called La Nieta and I had my first sip of Spanish wine at the bar while waiting for a table and it came with a little ham croquette. Receiving a little free tapa with your drink is something I was told might happen but it was still a pleasant surprise when it actually did. I am not a big wine drinker but my mother said her favorites are from Spain so I had to try. I didn’t know which to order so I asked the bar tender for his favorite and he explained the bottle to me it was a Rioja Joven bottled in 2002 and it was actually tasty. The croquette was also good but after being seated I ordered Sepia a la plancha which is grilled cuddle fish and that was very good. The restaurant itself shared the old museum vibe that the I got from the city, the furniture all looked very old, the menu was in chalk and white bored on the wall, and it was run by three old Spanish men that spoke no english but were very kind.

La Nieta

After lunch I returned to the hotel to relax for a bit before heading out for orientation and the welcome dinner. Fending off the urge to sleep in the very nice hotel room, the time for orientation had arrived. It was a short walk through the beautiful city and down into a cool basement. Orientation was pretty basic with the most useful information being the tipping culture which is not tipping or a small 5% if you feel it deserved. We also received metro cards which I think is very useful. We used the metro the next day and it was very easy to navigate and the set up of the tracks I think makes more sense than the subway in Boston or New York and I can actually read that language. The welcome dinner was a short walk from orientation and we saw a few land marks along the way namely the puerto del Sol which is home to kilometer 0 which In theory is the geographical center of Spain where the maps and roads are drawn from which is really cool to see because we don’t have anything like that in Massachusetts or in any other states as far as I’m aware. We also saw the plaza de Mayor which is this beautiful square plaza that is a little touristy but still cool to see. The welcome dinner was nice to get to know the group a little better. There were a few tapas or more like appetizers before the main course including a tuna and white fish salad, fried mushroom, the very traditional bravas, and what I believe was fried pork belly. They were all good but I liked the bravas the best and have since gone to some places recommended by James Blick for the best bravas in Madrid. I must say the ones I have gotten since have been better than the first batch but they were still good. After dinner that first night I was so exhausted that I passed out right after getting back to the hotel. My first impressions of the city actually surprised my self, I feel that the sense of age in this city is so prevalent especially when compared to the cities I have been to in the states. The roads seem like they were built for walking and not cars because of this I couldn’t imagine driving around this city it seems like it would be a nightmare. Beyond that the buildings while being very beautiful it is not obvious what they are. This is probably in part to me not fully understanding the Spanish language but there isn’t massive signs or lettering on the buildings like many we have in the states this has made it a little difficult to find a certain place at times but it also frees up the wall face to be ornate and detailed. I feel the idea I had in the beginning about the city feeling like one big museum is truly how I have felt so far in nearly every place besides the hotel itself.


In this study abroad course, UMass Lowell’s Honors College will explore the past and present of Spain’s vibrant capital city: Madrid!

Follow UMass Lowell Honors College students and faculty as they immerse themselves in the culture and history of Madrid, Spain. UMass Lowell Honors College and the Office of Study Abroad & International Experiences offers this exciting short-term study abroad program to Madrid, Spain. Interested – check out the program’s webpage.