Gracias España

Hello, my name is Mina Lam. I am a rising senior in the Honors College, majoring in Business Administration with a minor in Economics.

It is a great privilege to wrap up the whole experience I had with my peers in Madrid, Spain through our studying abroad with API.

For over a year, I have been working with the Honors College as an Honors Orientation Peer and Honors Informational Peer, where I have assisted with advising and sharing more about the Honors College program to current students at our location, O’Leary 300, as well as to potential students at Welcome Days and Orientations. I have talked to students about the benefits of the Honors College and mentioned the studying abroad opportunities we have through the program, but I haven’t personally gotten the chance to have been studying abroad yet. I was thinking of ways that I could study abroad while doing my DifferenceMaker co-op during the summer. Then I found out about this course: Exploring Madrid’s Past & Present, where we were able to study abroad in Madrid with the class for about a week in the summertime (a week right after Commencement), which I saw was perfect timing. I have always thought that during my time in college, it would be amazing to study abroad. After a week of helping with Commencement and campus events, I became excited to start the studying abroad adventure soon and meet everyone in Spain. I am so glad that I went on this trip. It helped reignite my passion for photography and it feels really great to learn more about history again.

Now, where to begin?

Let’s start in the beginning.

Before the trip, I actually haven’t flown in over 15 years. The experience of renewing my passport and booking a flight was very new, but I was glad to have it done in time for this studying abroad. I waved goodbye to my family as they wished me safe travels.

After the 6-hour flight, looking out from my window seat, I was amazed at the beautiful view of Spain. Such a breathtaking sight at 6:30 am. Despite having about an hour of sleep, I felt energized to start my adventure exploring Madrid.

For the first two days of our trip, everyone was welcomed by API, where they organized a group welcome dinner after a full day of walking around Gran Via, Sol, and Plaza Mayor. It was wonderful to hear that they were very close to the Hotel Regina we resided in. To be living right at the heart of Madrid. Amazing! Most of us had stayed up for over 24 hours once we arrived but that didn’t stop us. There were many shops, food places, and even performances on the streets at night. We were amazed at so much we could do as we learned more about the culture from our API tour guide as we remembered the neighborhood presentations we had done in our class.

El Oso y el Madroño (The Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree)

On the third day of our trip, we all met at the Hotel Regina lobby and departed together to the bus that would take us to Segovia. As we arrived at the destination, we left the bus and entered the historic city. After some hours of walking, we reached the Alcazar de Segovia and a few hours later, the Catedral de Segovia. At the Alcazar de Segovia, we learned about the history of the medieval castle and its architecture. We were all amazed at how everything looked inside the fortress. Everything was full of detail and it was nothing like what we have seen before. To see this in person is definitely a different experience than looking at pictures.

Throneroom at the Alcazar de Segovia

On our fourth day, we had a guest lecture about Madrid as we walked around the city and into Cortes. For the street signs, they are images that are placed on a side of a building and each had a drawing. After touring that morning, my peers and I went out for lunch to eat tapas. Afterward, we all met together with everyone and headed to Chocolatería San Ginés. As we walked into the chocolate cafe, we all enjoyed the smell of warm chocolate and the soft, yet also crispy, churros. Once we all took a bite of the churros with the chocolate, we were entering a new world.

Art on the walls during our walk tour around Madrid
Chocolate con Churros

On our fifth day, we all went to the Valley of the Fallen, a Catholic basilica and a monumental memorial. As we entered the basilica, it was a fascinating experience as we looked at the statues and art on the ceilings. We all didn’t imagine how big it was inside and how it felt like being there in person.

Afterward, some of my peers and I went to the Metro Station to get to Mercado de la Paz, an indoor marketplace, for lunch. We went in and saw a deli that was full of Iberian ham, salami, and much more.

Valley of the Fallen
Mercado de la Paz

On the sixth day, we had a tour of the Spanish Civil War with API, where we walked and went by Monumento Cervantes. As we head back from our tour, we had a great view of the Royal Palace, which was our next spot to visit in a few days. Hours later, many of my peers and I went to a jazz performance at a cafe that was just a 10-minute walk from our hotel. The concert was amazing and the artists were incredible. We were able to buy a copy of the band’s CD and had it signed!

Monumento Cervantes

On our seventh day, we all met up at the lobby of our hotel to take the Metro to tour Las Ventas, the largest bullfighting ring in Spain. We learned about the introduction of bullfighting and its history in the stadium, and most of us attended the bullfighting event. It was an interesting experience to watch. The entire time they got me on the edge of my seat. After leaving the stadium, my peers and I went to a nearby restaurant and had dinner, where we had prawns and salted green peppers. The prawns were so fresh and the green peppers were filled with lots of flavors, especially when adding lemon to them.

Prawns and Salted Green Peppers with Lemon Slices

On our eighth day, we visited the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Catedral of Madrid. The Royal Palace looked amazing. There were many rooms and the chandeliers were glistening. Each room looked very unique and was connected by the elegant style. After the tour, I got the chance to go explore Retiro and saw the boats and ducklings at the Estanque Grande del Retiro. The sky and water in the lake were so clear and beautiful. Such a great view. Wonderful place for anyone, especially those who enjoy nature! We then walked around El Retiro Park and entered La Rosaleda, a lovely rose garden. There were so many flowers of numerous colors that I haven’t seen before. Lots of rose bushes and stone fountains, which were a wonderful sight to see. After a day of exploring and enjoying the sceneries, we all met together one last time and had a group farewell dinner, which was organized by API. The food was delicious and looked exquisite. My peers and I had the lobster risotto and it was absolutely fantastic. The food is prepared very well and we can taste the freshness of the ingredients that the chefs used to prepare our meals. At the end of dinner, we all shared our favorite part of our trip and wished each other all the best as we headed back to the hotel and prepared to pack our bags for our flight that was starting the following morning.

Royal Palace of Madrid
Estanque Grande del Retiro
La Rosaleda
La Rosaleda

On our eighth and final day in Madrid, we had our last Hotel Regina breakfast and each started to check out of accommodations. We joined our API guide who helped organize our airport return and thanked her for her help and for giving us a fantastic experience studying abroad. After the check-in process and getting through the airport, we all finally went on our flight and headed back home, and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts.

There is so much I have learned and experienced during my first studying abroad. I’m excited to share more about the adventure I had in Madrid once I see my family and friends again. The feeling of going to a place in person is so much different than just learning in the classroom setting. Compared to learning in a traditional UML classroom, we can learn through notes, pictures, and videos; but we aren’t able to see everything in front of us in full detail or try the Spanish cuisine. However, through travel, we were able to walk in the area and see everything. I highly recommend other students to someday study abroad and also take part in the Honors College program for these opportunities. I would like to thank Professor Zabalbeascoa, the Honors College, and API members, Alicia and Maria. My peers and I were able to learn more about Madrid and got the opportunity to experience this trip thanks to these wonderful people. I have also gotten to grow more as a person as I learn more about the culture of Madrid and interacted with many people.

Until we meet again, España!

Madrid Trip Recap

I want to start this by introducing myself. My name is Aaron and I’m a senior mechanical engineering student, set to complete my degree in the fall. My goal for this trip was to have new experiences, try new things, make new friends, and experience Spanish culture. I met those goals and exceeded them by more than I could have imagined. I am so glad I get to tell you about it.

The day of our flight to Madrid was filled with excitement. I left for the airport with my friend and Roommate Charlie. Getting through security took no time at all and we were sitting there wondering what to do with our time. Luckily it didn’t take long to spot our fellow UML students and we quickly got to talking. Everyone was wonderful and soon we all boarded the flight together. After landing and arriving at our hotel, we quickly we decided to go out and explore. It didn’t take long for us to find ourselves in Gran Via, where the street was closed off for a speed-walking race that was supposedly a tryout for the Olympics. We watched that for a while as it was very amusing before proceeding to what must be the world’s fanciest Primark. The store has four floors, I bought sandals, swim trunks and $3 cologne (it smelled fine, but it was very weak). At this point we were all directed to an orientation where we got metro cards and were given a dinner to end the night.

Day 2 was our first full day in Madrid. It started out well, we all managed to get out of bed on time and make it down to meet in the lobby of our hotel. The day’s itinerary included only a Spanish style cooking class. Quickly, we boarded the metro with the cards we’d been given the previous day and began on our way. From exiting the metro, it was a short walk to the cooking class. There we were informed, we would be making a cake, a paella, and gazpacho. Paella is a Spanish dish consisting of rice, veggies, and seafood. I personally partook in dicing red peppers for the paella and, decorating a cake. After the cooking class we were free to do as we pleased for the remainder of the day. We all split up into groups, I headed with Cole and Charlie to explore Madrid. We started at a free exhibit. While cool it was a very small exhibit and offered just a taste of what was to come. From there we chose to head to the Thyssen museum. The Thyssen museum turned out to give me a wonderful impression of the city.

After leaving the museum we decided to look for the crystal palace and garden. We bumped into some other students from our trip and proceeded into the garden together. We saw some cool flowers, trees, and vases before arriving at the crystal palace. The palace was a cool sight, and we snapped some fun photos. I appreciated getting to know everyone before we headed back to our hotel.

Day 3 began with a day trip to Segovia. The bus ride there was around an hour. I couldn’t sleep on the bus; I was too busy looking at the natural beauty of the landscape and the architecture passing by. Out the window to the left I spotted what I knew had to be the Valley of the Fallen which we would visit later in the week. As soon as I arrived, I saw an unexpected sight, what lay before me in all its’ enormity was a Roman aqueduct. Upon exiting the bus, we strode right beneath the aqueduct to meet our tour guide directly below it. The tour guide soon confirmed this was a roman aqueduct built in the second century AD. It took the Romans around 20 years to build the aqueduct which continued to carry water to the palace until the year 1929. From there our tour of Segovia started by walking towards the castle. Seeing a real castle with its furnishings preserved was a very cool experience, as was learning its history

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Roman Aqueduct in Segovia

Day 4 started with a guided tour of Madrid; we visited some cool sites that I would return to later. Before leaving for the trip, we had presented PowerPoints in groups about a certain neighborhood that we were required to visit while there. I chose the Chueca neighborhood, which I took the opportunity to visit following the tour. In Chueca I visited the market and ate at a rooftop restaurant. Before leaving I made sure to grab a cool pair of socks. After Chueca came our scheduled visit to get Chocolate with Churros. The food consisted of thick melted chocolate together with churros. However, it was so good, we kept asking for more. We ended up adding chocolate ice cream as well. By the end I was completely stuffed.

Day 5 was our second day trip, this time to the Valley of the Fallen. A monument built by general Franco to honor and house the bodies of the soldiers who fought on the fascist side in the Spanish civil war. The monument was built using labor from republican prisoners of war, thousands of who died in its construction. I felt very uncomfortable being inside a monument so overtly dedicated to fascism. One part of me felt I was defying the monument simply by standing in it. Another part of me couldn’t wait to get out of it. Soon enough we left, took some cool pictures in front of it and we were on our way back to Madrid. After arriving back in Madrid, several fellow students and I decided to go visit an observation tower. Once at the top, the view was well worth it. From the tower we could see nearly all of Madrid and well past that to the surrounding country and mountains. Directly beneath us was a university we had passed on our way there. It was small for a university in my opinion, but I’m unsure how undergraduate education works in Spain. From the tower, we could also see Casa de Campo, Madrid’s analog to Central Park, the difference being it’s not central and it’s around 5 times the size. Before this I had not truly understood just how big the park is. It’s enormous, large enough to be a town in and of itself and it’s a beautiful natural wonder inside of the city. Upon seeing the park, I was immediately saddened that I would not have time to visit. Also, from the tower we could see the interesting architecture of Madrid. The royal palace and neighboring cathedral were on display. After leaving the lighthouse Stephanie, a fellow student suggested we go to the cable cars that traveled above the city. While initially reluctant as we’d just gotten a plenty nice view, I’m glad that I listened. The cable cars took us directly into Casa de Campo. Turns out I got to visit after all, and this was by far my favorite part of Madrid. The trees there were the variety I thought only existed in the Serengeti, and the park was very natural feeling, full of hills and outcroppings that were incredibly fun to explore. I hope to return there one day with a mountain bike. Thoroughly exhausted, I went to get Tapas before proceeding to the world’s oldest certified restaurant, a spot Hemmingway ate at. There I ate the head of a baby pig and got a live Mariachi band performance. This was overall the most exciting day of my trip, and I still cannot believe how many things I managed to pack into a single day. 

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Casa de Campo

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Baby Pig Dinner

Day 6 began with another guided tour of Madrid. The subject of this tour was the civil war. We visited the spot where some fighting took place early in the war and got an amazing view of the royal palace. From there we proceeded on to get food. I got the best tortilla I’d ever had in my life at La Buha. After that I visited the Prado Museum. The Prado is definitely the flagship museum of the city. Housing famous paintings including the black paintings by Goya. Seeing Saturn devouring his son was something I’d looked forward to. The way the exhibit was set up, displaying all the paintings in a dark room with the accompanying descriptions describing where they were found in Goya’s home painted its own creepy picture of the last years of Goya’s life. After the Prado, I visited the Reina Sofía Museum with Cole. At first, we thought we’d arrived too late, and we settled for getting gelato. However, after seeing the line continuing to form, we decided it must still be open. Inside the museum we got to see Guernica, a moving painting by Picasso depicting the bombing of the city of the city of the same name. We also saw The Great Masturbator, a strange work by Dali.

Day 7 began with a guided tour of the Las Ventas bullfighting stadium. The stadium was spectacularly huge. Inside we learned about the bullfights, and a couple students; Oliver, and Kelsey, along with our API attendant Alicia got to try a virtual reality bullfight. At the end of the tour was a museum about the history of bullfighting. After the tour ended many of us went to buy bullfighting tickets for that night. I knew to expect the torture and murder of the bulls, I however still could not comprehend the brutality of it until I saw it for myself. The tour operator of the stadium had described how the matador’s aim to strike the bull with a sword in a very specific coin sized spot that leaves it dead in five seconds. None of the matadors hit their mark, the deaths were slow and brutal. I would have been comfortable saying this even before the fight, but after witnessing it I will happily affirm I condemn the sport. 

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Bullfighting Stadium

Day 8 began with a guided tour of the royal palace. The royal palace was truly grand, and I particularly enjoyed the Apotheosis of Hercules ceiling painting. The history of the palace and the country’s rulers was fascinating, and I enjoyed the history lesson. After our tour, I went to get some food and check out some other archeological sites. That night we enjoyed a farewell dinner hosted by API before going home. I went out once more after to see the city one more time and get ice cream. I knew I’d miss Madrid, and that I’d never get to have another experience like this. I wish it could have lasted forever.

Madrid changed me as a person, I’m better than I was before. I’m comfortable doing more things than I was before. I am willing to take more risks than I was before, I want to take more risks that I’ve done before. I wish I’d gotten to do this earlier, but I am thankful I got to do this at all. I want to thank UML, the Honors College, Professor Z, API (especially Alicia and Marie), and everyone else who helped me get here, I really couldn’t have asked for more and I can’t express how much I appreciated the opportunity to do this. 

Live fast,


To be or not to be…a Royal

Welcome to our eighth and last day of this fantastic trip. I’ll take you over how my experience was in the Royal Palace, the Cathedral of Madrid, and our last dinner of the trip.

Royal Palace

If you were like me when I was a child, I always wondered what it was to live in a palace; of course, as a child, you would never think that you would be able to visit one. Still, you cannot stop yourself from imagining how it would be. And I dare to say my inner child’s palace was a game compared to the Royal Palace of Spain.
To give some background on Spanish politics. Spain is guided by a monarchy in which they have a king, the chief of state, and then a prime minister who is the president. Interestingly enough, even though Spain does have a king, the King and his family do not reside in the Royal Palace. After the visit, a few of my classmates and I did not understand why you would not want to live there.
To say the least, the Royal Palace was beautiful. From the architecture to the different rooms that we were able to see. The floor, stairs, and statues were marble and/or limestone. The decorations were made of bronze, and it had chandeliers in most of the rooms that were just beautiful, mostly made of crystal.

One can wonder what is done in the Palace if the royalty does not live there. Besides being made chiefly a tourist attraction, it’s used for meaningful events like signing essential documents and weddings. For example, one of the most important documents signed in the Royal Palace was the joining of Spain to the European Union. One of the most recent weddings was that of the current King with his wife, celebrated on the outdoor patio in the Palace.
Besides the different bedrooms, bathrooms, and ballrooms, the Palace is mostly a representative palace, from the thrones on which royalty never actually seats to crowns that royalty never actually wears.
Overall, I am still baffled that people do not live there since the Palace is so massive and beautiful. I do understand that it’s a magnificent touristic attraction, but I don’t know why it mostly must be only that.

Cathedral of Madrid

Next to the palace it is the Santa María la Real de la Almudena Cathedral. To be honest, it was underwhelming and, to say the least, troubling, and I will tell you why.
I was raised in the Dominican Republic, an official Catholic country. I also went to Catholic school, meaning that I have spent a lot of my time in chapels, basilicas, cathedrals, and overall different types of churches. If you don’t know, a fun fact about my country is that we were the first place in the Americas where Christopher Columbus arrived on his trip to the Indies. Although we were the first country where the indigenous tribes got evangelized and ultimately killed by the Spaniards, indigenous people weren’t fully killed in some countries. Still, my country was not one of those.
Even though I am currently not Catholic, churches still give me a sense of peace and calm. This one, though, did not give me that.
To give some information about the church, it took around a hundred years to be finished, doing so in the nineties; this is important because as the years went by, so did the different styles of architecture and art, which ended having an impact on the design of the church by showing how the church has multiple design styles that, to say the least, are not very favorable to the church.
But the most troublesome for me is the ceiling inside the church. There are beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the church. They would be for me just paintings if I didn’t know what each rectangle meant. Each rectangle indicates a pattern found in the tribes that were evangelized by the Spaniards worldwide, which translated in my brain to all the people killed by the Spaniards. It was way more than I thought it was. So for that reason, the church personally will not be remembered as a fond memory in my brain.

Final Dinner
After the tours, we had some time for our own, and then later that day was the goodbye dinner. We went to La Taberna de Penalver restaurant, which specializes in paella. We had patatas bravas as the appetizer, then most people ordered from the vast range of paellas they had. Personally, I don’t eat rice, so I ordered a three cheese huevos rotos, which I need to say, I’m very picky about food, but that was delicious, from all the different huevos rotos that I had tried until then, I can say, without a doubt, those were the best I had. And then finally, we had an option of cheesecake or white chocolate or pistachio coulant dessert, and I chose the pistachio coulant, which was good.
The night was not out of the ordinary. Still, it felt special; it felt important; it was our last meal together. The stuff that we learned about each other, and more importantly about ourselves, we will have for the rest of our lives. For a moment, I understood maybe why royalty didn’t live in the Royal Palace, even though they could. Because you don’t have to have a huge palace or home to be royal, because at that moment, I was in Madrid, having good food, surrounded by good company, and a new self, and for a moment, I was royal too.


On this day we woke up bright and early to board the metro to Las Ventas, home of Madrid’s bullfighting stadium. I thought the bullfighting stadium would be a long way away from our hotel, but it only took four or five stops before we arrived at Las Ventas. When we walked out of the station, I was absolutely amazed. The bullfighting stadium was breathtaking! The building was constructed of reddish-brown bricks and had a Spanish and Muslim influence. I loved the Muslim style of the pillars on the top of the stadium. It was only the morning, but I could hear the roars and cheers from the crowd echoing the whole stadium in my head.

One of the things that made this tour so unique was our tour guide, Raul. Right off the bat, Raul was enthusiastic and brought so much energy to the group. Personally, I was very excited to tour the bullfighting stadium, but I was not sure if other people were as excited as I was. I feel as though Raul made everyone interested in being at the stadium, even if they did not support bullfighting. Raul told us about Madrid’s best fighters as well as the statues outside of the stadium. One of these statues was for a cocky bullfighter who claimed to be the greatest of all time, even though he was only an amateur. Raul told us that when this bullfighter did this, the whole crowd booed him and threw objects onto the field to show their disdain toward him.

Next, Raul showed us the hallways inside the stadium. I really appreciated the architecture of the windows. They were large, still had the Muslim influence, and brought in so much natural light. A very interesting attraction in the stadium was a virtual reality game in which the user was the bullfighter. I really wished that I had a chance to play the game, as I think bullfighting is one of the coolest, most exotic things about Madrid, however, we could not stay there playing the game all day. Oliver, Kelsey, and Alicia all did great and survived the bulls! Not only do matadors have to survive the bulls, but they also have to entertain the audience with flashy moves and swagger. Personally, I think that Oliver had the most finesse!

Raul then had us watch a video that was an introduction to bullfighting as well as a brief history of the sport. During this video, we learned how the bulls were raised and the criteria for a “good bull”. The bulls are raised peacefully on a farm with acres on acres of land to roam, run, and battle each other. According to Raul, the best bulls have wide horns that are also flatter and less pointy. This is because it makes it easier for the bulls to catch the matador. Raul mentioned to us that the bulls are not allowed to see any of the matadors before they enter the stadium, too. 

I felt so excited once the bullfighting started. I thought that the fight would be one matador against one bull, however, there was a whole crew of fighters in the battle. We sat on stone seats with very little legroom, but I felt so culture-shocked that the aches in my legs and feet were not too bad. When the bull was slain, I realized that that was the first animal I had ever seen be killed in front of me. I was not too disturbed, as I felt like the matador had defeated the monster or final boss.

While I do not necessarily support animal abuse, I enjoyed bullfighting and think that the Spaniards should not be criticized for it. In the United States, livestock can live their entire lives with one inch of wiggle room, while they are being pumped with growth hormones as well. The bulls used in bullfighting live long, natural, and healthy lives, but experience a gruesome death. It may sound cruel for me to say this, but the bulls are going to be used when they are dead regardless. Raul mentioned to us that some of the bull can be eaten by humans, such as the cheek and tail, but the rest of the bull is used for pet food. No sports in the United States guarantee death like bullfighting does in Spain. I think that is what makes it so fascinating to people. It was so fascinating to me, which is why I stayed for five matches with Aaron and Jon. The matadors are risking their lives for our entertainment, which I can appreciate. I would recommend tourists in Spain to watch at least one bullfight, and if it is not for them, they are welcome to leave after the first fight is over.

After the bullfights were over, I went and got dinner with Aaron and Jon at a restaurant five minutes away from the arena. I got huevos rotos, which is fries eggs over french fries, but mine came with bull tail over the dish. It was definitely the best huevos rotos I had on the trip. I always tried my first gelato in Spain that night, which I definitely recommend!


Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is possibly one of the most famous paintings in the world. When you see it in photos online, it just seems sort of neat. But seeing it in person is something else entirely. For one, it is enormous. At 25 feet across, the Reina Sofia art museum quite rightly devotes an entire large room to celebrate the grandeur this one work.

For those who do not know, Picasso painted Guernica to commemorate the bombing of Guernica, a Basque town in northern Spain. During the Spanish Civil War, the Fascists (those are the bad guys) chose Guernica as a target for aerial bombing. The town was not an important strategic target; it was full of civilians and had few soldiers and defenses. The Fascists chose to bomb Guernica to practice murdering civilians.

Guernica and it’s citizens were devastated by the bombing, which leveled the entire town. More details about the event are easy to find. I especially recommend Xavier Irujo’s book, The Bombing of Gernika: A Short History. Pablo Picasso wanted to capture the destruction and the pain with his painting.

Picasso: Guernica, 1937 (Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain)

Now, I will not pretend to be an art expert or a Guernica expert, but let us explore this painting a little bit. On the right hand side there is a figure with his arms outstretched. Picasso was inspired Fransisco de Goya’s painting, The Third of May, 1808 (which is also very cool), who was himself inspired by the figure of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Towards the left hand side we can see a woman screaming in agony. Her newborn baby has been killed. In a way, the horror and brutality of the bombing of Guernica can never be truly captured, but Picasso’s painting probably comes the closest.

In Madrid there is the Sobrino de Botin, which is, and this is true, the oldest restaurant in the world. It is nearly 300 years old. Located close to Plaza Mayor, it was a famous destination of Ernest Hemingway. It is famous for the roast suckling pig which naturally I had to try, and anyone reading this should also if they have the opportunity. It just tastes like really good, very tender pork, probably the best I have ever had. Just being in the restaurant is a memorable experience. As a Hemingway attraction it is very popular, and you can tell just by looking around how old it is. Even the menus are so cool that several of us snuck them out so that we could keep them. I can now make many recommendations for where a traveler should go for a great time in Madrid. Sobrino de Botin is my top restaurant recommendation.

Nueve meses de invierno y tres meses de infierno: A Royal Farewell

Nine months of winter and three months of summer. This was a Spanish phrase that our tour guide, Alicia, had said. Spain gets pretty hot in the summer, especially at noon when the sun is at its highest. At least it wasn’t as hot as some of the previous days (high 90’s in Fahrenheit). I was sweaty everyday and always dehydrated, but I wouldn’t trade these days for the world. 

On our way to the Royal Palace of Madrid.

The Royal Palace

We met at the hotel lobby at 11 AM and walked about 15 minutes to the Royal Palace of Madrid. We had seen the outside of the palace in a previous tour, but now we had a chance to look inside. Our tour guide was named Alicia—not to confused with API’s Alicia. Below, the picture show the street side of the palace (left) and the outside of the palace past security (right).

The palace was huge and extravagant, because why wouldn’t it be? Its construction began in 1734 and was completed in 1764, with Charles III to be the first one to live in the palace. One room had 15 chandeliers, and another held several display cases of porcelain items, gifted to the Spanish royal family as wedding gifts. There were so many rooms to explore and most of them didn’t allow photographs to be taken. We just took in the sights, listening to our tour guide’s voice as we dodged the many other tourists in the limited spaces.

Alicia the tour guide would point out the geometric floor patterns in each room. These floor patterns would act as markers for things like where the guards would step in formation or for royals to use when learning to dance. 

As someone who grew up in America, it was weird for me to process that Spain is still a monarchy to this day with Felipe VI as the current king as of 2014. The modern family portraits (painted, of course) in the palace seemed almost out of place, but maybe that’s because the other royal portraits showed clothes that aren’t common in this century. 

We briefly visited the Catedral de la Almudena that was right next to the palace. It was just a cathedral, but it was interesting to see it’s beautiful architecture and stained glass windows, vividly colored in the afternoon sunlight. Although, the little rectangles (shown in the last photo in the following set) painted to represent the different tribes the cathedral “saved” with Christianity did not settle right with me.

A Break

After the tour, we dispersed in different groups. A couple of us decided to eat nearby since it was lunchtime. El Anciano Rey de los Vinos was a restaurant recommended to us by Julian. It was right across the street from the cathedral. We were seated outside as birds hopped around our legs, looking for crumbs. I decided to have los huevos rotos, or broken eggs for lunch. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of it as I promptly devoured it upon being served. 

Then we decided to go souvenir shopping. It’s my last full day in Madrid and I’m okay with spending my day like this. This is the true tourist experience. 

After that, we went back to the hotel. I wanted to rest and reorganize my stuff so I had one less thing to worry about before heading home tomorrow. 

Around an hour before we had to meet in the lobby for dinner, some of us decided to go to a candy store that was 10 minutes away. Sweetland had a very attractive aesthetic—a stark contrast with the stone walls and detailed balconies. The store sold all sorts of sweets including American cereals like Captain Crunch. I allowed myself to splurge (read: lose my self-control) and brought other flavors of my favorite candies and snacks for my sister and I to share. 

The Farewell Dinner

We all met back in the hotel lobby at 8 PM and headed to the Gran Via metro. We got off after a couple of stops at Diego de León station. The streets were still bustling as we settled down at La Taberna de Peñalver. Apparently, this restaurant was known for their paellas, so we had to have it for our last dinner in Madrid as a group. It’s safe to say that everyone devoured them, including the other dishes like los huevos rotos and croquetas.

We chatted into the evening under the tent at which our tables were set. The bright lights strung about added to the warmth of being around each other even with the cool night breeze. 

Julian talked to us about traveling more outside of this trip—to explore other parts of the world as enthusiastically as we explored Madrid. I learned that I could walk more than I realized. I was never really the type of person to leave my room often. Even when traveling around to visit family or to take vacations. I liked keeping to myself. Having been on this trip with strangers—acquaintances, at the very least—forced me to step out of my social comfort zone since I wasn’t great at making Spanish conversation.

We said our goodbyes to those who weren’t leaving with us at the same time. I went with a few others to the Metro to get back to the hotel for the last time. It was there in the near empty train that I begun to feel longing to return to Madrid in the future.

Bullfighting in Las Ventas

It was another late start for us in Madrid and today was the day we got to see the bullfighting stadium, Las Ventas. To get there we had to take the metro, something that had become quite a routine while here in Madrid. Going up the stairs of the Las Ventas station we got our first view of the amazing feat of architecture that the stadium is. I was in awe. I assumed it would be a smaller building, but the size of the building and its many many archways blew me away. 

Our guide through on the tour of the stadium was Raul who from the beginning brought an incredible energy to a group still in the process of waking up. He first taught us about some of the greatest bullfighters to ever fight in Las Ventas. One of them was named “Manolete” and Raul gave him the nickname Superman. He was famous for being one of the best bullfighters ever and was doing moves no one had ever done. In all sports there are generational talents who change the sport. Some modern examples in American sports are people like Tom Brady, Steph Curry, or LeBron James and I got the sense that Manolete was the bullfighting equivalent of those athletes 

As we moved through the stadium we first stopped at a terrace overlooking the street outside and Raul explained that is the area where people go to drink and argue before the fights even begin. He even said the fights on the terrace can be more entertaining than the ones with the animals. Raul also explained the architecture is a mixture of styles between catholic and Muslim styles honoring the histories both religiouns have in the country. Next, we took a look at some taxidermied bulls to see the size. I will say they are smaller than I expected but Raul explained that the best fighters are the ones around 500kg because if they are too big they are slow and not as fun to watch. When we went out into the stadium we could really see how big it was. It seats around 23,000 people which feels very small compared to some of the massive stadiums we have in America, but that is still quite a crowd. 

Inside the concourse they had a virtual reality station set up to let people try being a matador or bullfighter. I volunteered and went first putting on the harness and goggles just hoping not to make a fool of myself. The game was clearly meant to be easy but it was fun to put myself in the shoes of a matador. I had to shake the controller to call the bull to charge and when it did I had to move the cape with the bull at first then lift it up so he would stop running. If there was a way to bullfight in virtual reality without harming a real animal I think I would do it because I really enjoyed the minute and a half I had in that game. Raul made it clear that the job of the matador is to put on a show and demonstrate control of the bull with style and class.

We watched a short video showing the different aspects of the bullfight from the start where they test how the bull will react, to the picadors on horses, to the banderilleros with their harpoons. The video was graphic but after watching it I thought watching a bullfight wouldn’t be that hard. Going into the trip I had made my opinions clear that I have a moral issue with bullfighting as it is the torture of an animal for the entertainment of a crowd. But if you’re going to criticize something you should at least be familiar with why you dislike it, which is why I decided to go see that night’s fight. 

We got seats in just the ninth row so we were very close to the action, almost a little too close. When the event started I had a lot of nervous energy and a morbid curiosity about what I was going to watch. Earlier in the day we had seen up close the costumes the fighters wear, but there was no comparison to actually seeing them in action. Though we couldn’t make out the exact patterns, the gold embroidery shimmered in the sun and was truly stunning. Once all the fighters were in position and ready the gate with the bull opened. As soon as you could see the bull you could see the fear he had being in an unknown place and already bleeding from his back. The first part of the fight where they have the bull run at the pink and yellow capes or capote to learn the bulls movements and this was my favorite part. It didn’t involve the animal getting injured and the matadors could really show off their style and flare like Raul had told us about. After the matadors had sufficiently analyzed the bull, the picadors came out with their spears and on horseback. Their purpose is to see how the bull responds to pain because if he backs off and won’t fight they will have to get a new bull. This part may have been my least favorite beside the death of the bull because for the picador to spear the bull he must let the bull run into the horse. The horse is wearing a Kevlar vest and is safe enough but I can’t help but feel bad for it. The last group before the matador is the banderilleros who have small harpoon spears to stick in the bulls back. This job is probably the most dangerous because they’re on their feet and have no cape so the movement they use to attract the bull is their own body. After the six harpoons had been stuck in the bulls back it was significantly bloodied. Every time the bull charged more and more blood came pouring out of its many injuries. Finally it was the matador’s turn to finish off the animal with his sword. Raul explained that there is a small area about the size of a quarter that will stop the bulls heart in five seconds if hit with the sword. I was hoping this would be the case because the bull was obviously in extreme pain and I wanted its misery to be over. The matador used his small red cape to make the bull charge past him many times and after some passes the bull couldn’t even fully stand because it had lost so much blood and was so tired. When the matador finally decided to plunge his sword into the animal’s back it seemed to me that he may have hit the perfect spot as the bull fell quickly and died. 

The tickets for the fight were rather expensive so I decided for it to be worth it I could stomach one more fight. For the second fight of the day it went mostly the same as the first except it took the bull a little more coaxing for him to charge. There was a group of older men right behind me who were very into this fight but only because they hated the bullfighter. They were heckling so loudly that at one point almost the whole stadium shushed them. Raul was very correct about the passion some people have for the sport whether it be for or against certain fighters and these guys really showed their disdain for the matador even cheering for the bull for a little bit. The end of the second fight was much harder for me to watch as the matador clearly didn’t hit the perfect spot and the bull began coughing up blood which is when I had to turn my head away. 

The two fights I witnessed helped solidify my opinion that bullfighting is a cruel sport that is just the torture of an animal for fun. I don’t plan on ever watching another fight but I don’t regret seeing them. I can’t say I recommend everyone see one but it certainly was an eye opening and educational experience for me. All in all it was a long and emotionally draining day, but I wrapped it up with some good food and company with friends. 

Experiencing the Sights and Sounds of Madrid Shaped by the Spanish Civil War

Gathering in the lobby once again

Today was another late start and as our weary group once again congregated in the narrow hotel lobby you could definitely see why. Many tired, but excited, faces from having seen and experienced so much over the past few jam-packed days huddled in the lobby trying to keep out of the way of other guests. After collecting everyone we made our way down Gran Vía and met our fantastic tour guide, Ana, in Plaza de España. Immediately she could see how much of a toll our grand adventures had taken on us and promised us plenty of shady spots along our walking tour route.

Starting at the Plaza de España

Our Civil War tour began in the beautiful Plaza de España, flanked by the impressive Torre de Madrid (Tower of Madrid) and Edificio España (Spain Building). Standing in the metaphorical shadows of these notable buildings, metaphorically since we were trapped under the intense Spanish sun, the food, drinks, and fun faded as Ana’s overview of the Spanish Civil War made us reflect that we were truly here to learn how a dark past shaped the Madrid we had experienced so far. Ana explained to us briefly that the conflict officially began in 1936 when the Nationalists launched a coup against the Republican government, igniting the Spanish Civil War. After three years of intense fighting, the war ended in 1939 with a Nationalist victory and General Francisco Franco became the dictator of Spain for the next thirty-six years. During his reign, both the Torre de Madrid and Edificio España were built under his orders. These impressive buildings that we were all gazing up at were here as part of Franco’s efforts to rebuild Spain after the war and when constructed were the tallest structures in Spain. The brutalist style Torre de Madrid was at one point the tallest concrete building in the world and the neo-Baroque Edificio España introduced the concept of the mall with many different shops located under its rooftop terrace.

A piece of ancient Egypt in Spain

We continued our tour by walking to Parque de la Montaña (La Montaña Park) stopping in front of what appeared to be a series of stone structures. We stared curiously at them while also taking in the sights, sounds, and even smells of the park, as Ana pointed out that the tree behind us was the one that smelled so amazing. Underneath this fragrant tree, Ana explained that we were looking at the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was moved to Spain for preservation in the 1960s. Relevant to our tour, this wonder was sitting on the former site of the city’s military barracks. Those barracks were the place where the Nationalists launched their coup d’etat and attempted to take Madrid in 1936 at the start of the Civil War. The failure of their coup is what caused the war to continue on and Madrid would not fall until the end of the conflict in 1939. The site also has a beautiful view of the massive park Casa de Campo.

Flying planes and a heart

Journeying on to Parque de Atenas we stood beneath the grand Royal Palace of Madrid and the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre). We gathered around Ana next to the statue of the famous fictional character of Spanish literature Don Quixote, staring up at the Teatro Real, discussing how the Spanish Civil War was the first conflict in which planes dropped bombs rather than grenades. In fact, during the war, the Teatro Real was used as storage for bombs and an explosion sent a real human heart flying into the air. I was beyond curious about this and Ana explained that an Italian opera singer loved performing in Madrid and had donated his heart to the theater. Thankfully we learned that the singer’s heart was recovered and returned to the theatre hopefully safe and sound! These types of stories are what I personally love about history, as they help us connect with the people of the past more than just a list of dates and places ever could.

Following the amazingly informative tour, a group of us split off to explore the park and the many restaurants that lined its edges. We stopped for a quick lunch of tostas and refreshing helado at Taberna Real Restaurante. Reinvigorated by our meal and refreshed by our ice cream we took Madrid’s wonderful metro to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum to escape the heat and see some great works. It was impressive to see that the museum had a large collection of paintings by American artists, as the Prado and Reina Sofia museums we had visited earlier often did not feature them.

An evening of great food and jazz

After some brief but much-needed rest back at the hotel, we set off to a tapas restaurant called La Casa del Abuelo. On Professor Zabalbeascoa’s recommendation, we tried the garlic shrimp and it was indeed very good. Other excellent dishes we had were huevos rotos (broken eggs) and my personal favorite patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) with both bravas sauce and garlic mayonnaise. Following yet another great meal of the day, we headed for Cafe Central, a jazz cafe with live shows every evening. At the Cafe, we were treated to the rock and jazz stylings of a group called Red House Revival. As a saxophone player, this cafe was the personal highlight of my day, even as someone who loves history and greatly enjoyed the morning walking tour. The band was lively and had the entire crowd clapping along and begging for an encore by the end.

Brief videos of the performance at Cafe Central by the group Red House Revival

Connecting jazz and the Civil War

To cap off a lengthy day, we made our way back to the hotel, and still wired from that thrilling performance we decided to unwind on the hotel terrace. Curious to learn more about the Cafe, a quick google search lead me down the internet rabbit hole of the history of jazz in Spain. Cafe Central opened in 1982 in the explosion of music and art that followed the end of Franco’s dictatorship, which had suppressed Western-style music in favor of traditional Spanish folk music. For anyone planning to visit Madrid I’d highly recommend a visit to Cafe Central and to not forget while listening to the excellent performances that even a simple jazz cafe’s existence was influenced by the Spanish Civil War just as much as the rest of this beautiful city has been.

Civil War Walking Tour

One of the most interesting and informative tours I went on during my stay in Madrid had to be our guest lecture on the Spanish Civil war. The Spanish civil war started in 1936, but tensions rose much earlier. In the Republic of Spain, politicians were elected to represent the people every two years. The Republic also had a king and queen yet they lacked any real authority. In 1923, the king and queen decided to install a dictator to rule over Spain. However, after six years with poor leadership, the king decided to replace this dictator with a new leader. This leader allowed elections to occur and soon, there was no republic anymore. This meant that there were no longer kings and queens. In 1933, Spain’s political party  to the right (the Nationalists) took power and the country remained a republic. Things start to change because in 1936, the next election was held and the left political party (the Republicans) won and changed laws and legislation. On July 12th, 1936, the Nationalists had enough of the left being in charge and killed a guard that worked for the Republicans. The left retaliated and the fascists used this as an excuse to attack. After the guide told us this context, she took us to Temple of Debod. This temple is an Egyptian temple dating back thousands of years. I noticed how it was small yet quite fascinating. It reminded me of our previous trip to the aqueducts due to its age and scale. Unfortunately, the line to see inside was quite long so we stopped by some shade that had a gorgeous view. Our tour guide informed us that this was the location where the 1936 coup against the government was started. Members of the army were inside the Temple expected help but the coup failed. The men attempted to surrender but were immediately shot and killed

Remarkable View from Temple of Debod

During the beginning of the war, General Franco (assisted by Mussolini and Hitler) crossed from mMorocco and moved to the south of Spain. Franco’s main objective to capture Madrid and close the city off from Valencia and Barcelona. Doing this would cut off port access for Madrid and isolate the city. When Franco was about to enter Madrid, there was a military city called Toledo. Franco heard they were having problems so he entered with his troops. By helping this city, he became famous & the highest military official. This was strategic and got him more power. During this conflict, most countries would not help the Republicans (the Left Party). Many nations saw this conflict as fascists vs communists and didn’t want to help communists. In reality, it was people who voted for an election vs fascists. In November of 1936, the siege of Madrid was conducted. The Nationalists (the party on the right) flew to Valencia, Barcelona, and Paris. The military took control of city. bombs flown to Madrid from Caso de Campo. This was apparently the first time officials threw bombs out of airplanes. While our tour guide told us this story, we stood in front of the opera house. Apparently, the bombs were stored inside of this ginormous opera house. The War continued on and eventually, the Nationalists took Barcelona and Madrid. When the Nationalists took the city, they he residents were starving. It was then the Nationalists threw bread from planes. Franco took power and the Republicans had to flee to exile. This led to Franco’s dictatorship and the abolishment of the monarchy for over 30 years. 

Park the group took shade in (featuring the best professor in the study abroad department)

While I found this session quite informative, I also completed more than just that during my day. I went to a restaurant called Taberna Txacoli. While there, I ordered a tortilla with cheese and grilled onions. It also came with a side of hot sauce which added the much needed extra flavoring. In the evening, I went to this restaurant and bar in Sol. This restaurant had a unique theme- dragons. There were dragons on the wall and even one hanging in the ceiling. Their specialty drink (which I did not order) was served in a dragon mug with dry ice. When they put the dry ice in, it looked like steam was coming out of the dragon. I thought this theme was certainly unique. There were also fake cacti and busses inside that served the food. I thought it was a bizarre yet captivating theme and I certainly won’t forget it anytime soon. If you decided to go to madrid, I highly recommend you learn about it’s unbelievable history. 

The Tortilla I Had For Lunch

My Flourishing Fine Friday

The start of a great day

Being able to sleep in late this morning already set the tone of the day. Feeling replenished and rejuvenated from yesterday’s antics, I was more than ready to tackle today’s agenda. When I saw our amarillo (yellow in spanish) coach bus in front of the hotel, my anticipation arose. I was super ecstatic to be on the way to The Valley of the Fallen and view what I have been so longing to see. After copious amounts of research and becoming aware of the basilica back in class, this became the main sight I was eager for. Something about its significant/rich history, along with its massive architecture/sculptures ultimately captivated me. I certainly was aware of how massive everything was but I knew that the reality of it wouldn’t compare to my imagination. 

At The Valley of the Fallen

Once arrived at The Valley of the Fallen I was in utter shock. I was absolutely astonished by the beautifully kept area. The scenery was like something out of a movie. I personally have never witnessed anything like it before. The first thing that caught my eye was the large cross that stood high above us. Soon I was informed that the cross is the largest Christian cross in the world, which is mind blowing. The alluring entrance definitely set the bar for what was soon to come inside the basilica. 

As expected inside one of the world’s largest basilicas, I became engrossed within its beauty. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph inside the monument due to the rules set but even my camera wouldn’t be able to encapsulate the views witnessed. I learned many interesting facts regarding the Catholic basilica/monumental memorial. Class readings and videos could not compare to how powerful and forceful the energy was inside that building. I honestly have no words to describe what I felt and seen. It’s truthfully a sight one must see for themselves to fully understand what I am saying. So if you made it this far, this is your sign to book a flight to Spain and visit the Valley of the Fallen!

(Me on top of the WORLD)

Boats & Blossoms

Once the tour of The Valley of Fallen unfortunately ended and we made it back to the city of Madrid, a friend and I weren’t done with the day’s festivities. We wanted to explore more of this beautiful land. So we thought to ourselves, what better way to explore the land, than to go to a park?  We got some coffee and a croissant from Starbucks and made our way to the Metro station. We proceeded to the Sevilla station and took line 2 and within 5 minutes we were at Parque de El Retiro. This park was the most attractive park I have ever witnessed. Everyone just looked so carefree and happy. Just enjoying the beautiful surroundings. My two favorite sights were the boaters and the botanical garden. We didn’t have the chance to try the boats but I am definitely prioritizing that before my departure back home. Although I did get the chance to enter the botanical garden. It smelled heavenly!

Wrapping up the day 

To wrap up my fulfilling Friday, I spent the evening on the hotel’s rooftop just reflecting and debriefing. Today was jam packed but I had the best day ever. Being educated on the country that I have been residing in for the past two weeks has been a big blessing! I am so grateful to be able to travel and learn the history of past civilizations and explore the current world around me. Spain has been nothing but great and I am already planning my next flight back! Vale! (Vale is one of the most popular expressions in Spain, and you can hear it almost everywhere you go! It’s the way to say “okay” in Spanish & many use it as a response to almost anything and everything)