The day started off with a walking tour of the Spanish Civil War. It was interesting to hear about the events of the war from a new perspective, in the locations where they happened. The area of what is now Parque de La Montaña used to hold a large military barracks crucial to the defense of Madrid during the war. The park provided a beautiful view of Madrid, which explains why it attracts so many people. During our walk we saw other tourist groups, couples, families, and a man playing guitar.

Parque de La Montaña

On our way back from the tour we passed by the royal palace where we saw the guards for the first time. It was surreal to see the tradition of the guards on horses contrasted to the Spanish police openly carrying guns standing just a few yards away. Both have the intention of enforcing order and protecting the palace, but one is symbolic with deep historical roots and the other is an adaptation to the modern world and government of present Spain. I took special note of this because I am currently studying criminal justice.

Guards of the royal palace

My favorite part of the day was the free time we had. I spent it with a My favorite part of the day was the free time we had. I spent it with a group of fellow students and explored the neighborhood of Malasaña. The neighborhood felt youthful, trendy, and busy. I noticed the streets were occupied with more young people than other areas of the city. We explored several thrift shops which provided a unique insight to the closets and trends of the locals. We found many t-shirts, sunglasses, handmade jewelry, leather jackets, and scarves. These thrift shops were very unique from the ones typically found back in the states. They were not large businesses like Goodwill or Savers, rather boutique-style shops each with their own individual theme and specialty. One had many leather and rock-style gods, another a large selection of 90s era windbreakers. There was an absence of maps and locater apps as we explored whatever caught our attention and followed our interests. The time spent wondering through random streets and shops felt as new and different as the city itself. The streets were bright, covered with shop signs and the common graffiti. I found that the graffiti somehow fit the energy of this neighborhood much more than in the others as it complimented the hipster theme.

Outside of a thrift shop
Street in Malasaña

For dinner we stopped at this market called Mercado de San
Idelfonso. The building consisted of three levels with various food vendors and seating inside and outside on a courtyard area. The food selection ranged from typical Spanish cuisine (croquettes, tortilla, Iberian ham) to sushi and tacos. We shared croquettes, chicken tacos, and potatoes. Market style eateries proved to be my favorite places to enjoy and share food. There is always a large variety, and the setup makes it easy to sample different foods at the same time. The tables of the patio were covered with mixed media style art, with some made with recycled food wrappers. This complemented the artsy side of Malasaña. After we finished eating, we explored some more secondhand shops before heading out to get some gelato. We enjoyed the treat in the aesthetic blue dessert shop and began walking back to the hotel.

After spending much of the early days on the trip near the hotel and Sol neighborhood, it was refreshing to explore a new area of the city. It was a reminder of just how large and diverse Madrid is. One moment you could be passing by a historical monument and the next a vintage rock-themed shop. Both hold significance to the city and the Spanish character.

This trip was my first time traveling abroad. I was determined to get out of my comfort zone and explore something new, to fully immerse myself in the unfamiliar. I had known no one in this group prior to departure. This day I was able to explore unknown streets with new friends. A sense of normalcy (which Covid-19 has taken from so many of us) was restored. I was able to prove to myself that I am capable of many things and can adapt to new challenges and situations. I am so grateful for the new experiences and friends that this trip has given me. I have learned the importance of travel and personal exploration, and the truth behind the idea that one cannot grow while surrounded by the familiar.