A Day in Toledo

Today was an early day on our exploration of Madrid. I set my alarm for 8:30, planning to just roll out of bed and hop on the bus. Instead of exploring around Madrid, we visited the old capital of Spain: Toledo. The hour drive there was nice, as I was able to listen to an album I have been meaning to listen to forever, and as it was so early compared to our other days in Spain, no one was in the mood to talk. Once we entered the city, everyone began to marvel at the sight of it all. Compared to Madrid, Toledo had a much older and rustic look to it, which reminded me a lot of the time I was in Italy. As we drove up the winding streets, we approached a place to park where we could get out and take in the view.

Looking back on it now, it is tough for me to put into words on how beautiful the view was. Being able to see almost the entirety of the city was breathtaking. We were able to get plenty of photos up there, and once we got back from the trip, most of my friends ended up posting pictures from there since it was such a great view. Once we had spent ten or so minutes up there, we were gestured to get back on to the bus in order to continue the tour of the city.

The bus driver drove for about five or so more minutes before he stopped in front of a bridge, where the walking leg of the tour was going to start. As we started to walk up the city, I was in awe of how every single part of this city had an amazing view. Even when we later got to the center of Toledo where it was much more like an actual city, there were some pathways that led to spectacular views. 

One of the first stops we took after we walked up the steep streets was a cathedral where the tour guide actually got married. This stop was quite short, as the staff there were setting up for a marriage ceremony. After we got kicked out, we went to an even larger cathedral known as Catedral de Toledo. What impressed me most about this stop was the architecture, from the stained glass to the carved figures on the wood. Every aspect about this cathedral impressed me. As we exited, we were able to see some paintings as well, along with the painted ceiling which reminded me of other stops we had taken on our trip. 

Before we were let loose to find a place to eat, we checked out Museo del Ejercito, which focused around the Spanish military. When we entered it, we were able to see the remains of the original building that were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. After the museum, we were let loose to figure out where to eat, so we ended up splitting up and my group of people decided to go to a Mexican restaurant. While it was decent, I was just happy to eat, as I was not able to hit breakfast before we left this morning. After lunch, we went back to the hotel. Since we had to travel back on Sunday, we were getting our COVID tests done today, and I hope that I never have to take one like that again.

Once we all had our tests and we found out none of us were positive, we broke off once again and I decided to try and hit the Prado before we left, but it was full, so we settled on going to La Reina Sofia museum again since Na’imah had not been yet. While we were cutting it close, we made it back to the hotel in time to meet for the API goodbye dinner. It was an overall great dinner, as I was able to spend it with all of the friends I made on this trip. I know this blog post is just about this day, but I am so grateful I was able to go on this trip and meet the people who went as well. Being able to explore a city over 3000 miles away from our school really bonds people together. This final dinner was the perfect wrap up of the trip before we all parted ways to go back home and eventually meet up again for our final meeting.

-Layne Thistlewood

To Wine and Dine Like the Locals

Even before I touched down in Madrid, I had the goal to wine and dine like the locals. My grandmother had visited Southern Spain before and told me of the quality and freshness of the food here. The cuisine of Spain derives from both geographical features, being located on the Mediterranean, as well as historical ones. Knowing a little about the history of Spain being a place with all 3 of the major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in one region at a certain point of time, I was excited to experience a culture inspired by many different walks of life. The Spanish are so serious about preserving the integrity of their food, there is also a concept called denomination that assigns traditional dishes and wines to certain regions to protect their cultural and creative property.

Bottle of white wine from the Ribeiro region of Spain. Notice the Denominacion de origen on the bottom.
Bottle of young, red wine from the Rioja region.

At the wine-tasting event, we learned about the proper steps to make drinking wine a holistic experience of almost all the senses because, as the lecturer had emphasized, wine is alive. First, you observe the wine. Is it glistening and clear? If it’s not, the wine is dead and maybe you should ask for a different bottle. Then, you pick up the glass from the stem to not alter the taste and quality of the wine with your body temperature. You then tilt the glass enough to see all the wine, so it is divided into 2 sections: the part of the drink near the rim and the rest of the body. These may be distinguishable by their different colors, especially in red wines. Next, it is time to smell the wine. This is done up to three times because wine simply sitting in the glass smells different than wine that has been freshly sloshed in either a clockwise or counterclockwise motion, just choose the one you prefer. After a fresh slosh, you can also observe the lagrimas (tears) dripping down the sides of the wine glass. If the tears drip down faster, there is more volume of alcohol and slower ones mean less. Finally, you can taste. Take a sip and hold it in your mouth for a second, let the flavor permeate in your mouth. They say that the wine in Spain, one of the wine capitals of the world along with France and Italy, can activate all your tongue’s flavor profiles: salty, sweet, umami, bitter, and sour. Though I don’t enjoy wine, I respect the ancient craft that has been honed to create a culture surrounding drinking it. The lecturer also provided us with tapas, free snacks that restaurants originally provided to cover wine glasses with to protect them from bugs and dust but have evolved to become an integral part of the Spanish eating experience. I enjoyed bread with hummus (because I don’t eat pork), bread with sheep’s milk cheese and a sweet fig paste as well as bread with homemade Spanish tortilla. White wine pairs well with tapas and meals with fish and white meat. Red wine pairs better with red meats and the Rosés are saved for dessert.

A classic and famous Spanish dessert are churros con chocolate. This isn’t your average melted Hershey’s chocolate; it is thick, rich, and creamy and just pairs so perfectly with the crisp, plain, and airy flavor/texture of the churros. Fun fact: churros are always thin, and the thicker ones are called porras. Learning all these interesting facts about wine and Spanish food was the group activity for the day. I believe it achieved its goal to enrich our experience in Madrid through expert knowledge, this woman being a professor in Spanish culture and the daughter of winemakers. Their expertise as both native Spaniards and experts in their fields put into perspective a Spain I would have never known unless I studied textbook after textbook. Instead, they made it an exciting and interactive experience by taking us on walking tours and having us try the cuisine for ourselves.

Churros and porras con chocolate from Madrid’s oldest chocolateria, San Gines.

As much as I love our planned activities, I also heavily enjoy the one that comes after: self-exploration. Throughout this trip, we had been encouraged to break off into smaller groups than our large 15-person mass and explore the city at greater depth. Sometimes, that entailed me walking in an uncertain direction and patiently awaiting the city to unveil itself to me. I had done this a few times already during our trip and its awesome! This is not to say that I hadn’t been culminating relationships with some of my classmates, so last night it had been easier to find a small group of 3 other people that had the same ideas about what the next step was after the lecture, and the obvious answer is dinner followed by dessert! In a true Spanish fashion, the small group of us tried each other’s meals, laughed over stupid jokes, divulged a bit about our lives, and created unforgettable memories. I am surely going to take home the importance of sharing a table from Spanish culture. In their eyes, a meal is another opportunity to make your bonds with people deeper. This is the way Spanish people wine and dine.