I made it in one piece. I got to Madrid, an amazing, clean and fun city, at around 7 a.m. on January 1st. After I grabbed my luggage, I hopped on the metro to go to my hostel. At this point, about 8 a.m., there were still people on the subway trains from the night before, looking for the next place to celebrate el año nuevo. And I’m not talking about a few people – these train cars were full. It was incredible! I knew the Spanish liked to have fun, but I didn’t expect to see this many people still out and about.
I got a little lost after getting off the metro but found my hostel within the hour. I dropped my luggage off there but couldn’t check in until that afternoon, so I decided to walk around the city for a little bit. I took pictures of everything, walked for hours and ate a traditional, small Spanish breakfast – a muffin and an espresso. I spent the rest of the day exploring, slept that night and then met a few friends who came early at our hotel the next day. We did pretty much the same thing that day – we walked and talked, took plenty of pictures and went out for tapas and churros with chocolate that night. And Dios mio those churros were good.
The next day, everyone from our program arrived and we all met in the lobby at 7 p.m. so Jaime could give us our itinerary. Afterwards, we all ate dinner together. I can’t remember exactly what we had, but I’m sure there was jamón. There’s always jamón. The next morning, we got up bright and early to go see El Escorial, the monastery of Saint Lawrence, to the northwest of Madrid. It didn’t sound too exciting when we were on our way there, but it was absolutely amazing. There were paintings and frescos everywhere in the building, a stunning alter in the church, the beautiful doors made out of different types of wood to look like they’d been painted and given as gifts and, more amazing than anything else in my opinion, El Panteón, a room under the alter in which the remains of the previous Spanish royalty lie. The room itself was beautifully ornate and simply standing in that place surrounded by the tombs of the past Spanish kings and queens going all the way back to the sixteenth century is indescribable.
The next day, we went to Toledo, the previous capital of Spain. With over 60 churches and synagogues, it’s easy to see where the saying “Holy Toledo” comes from. The city is surrounded on three sides by a river and the view of the city, as well as the architecture and artwork, were amazing. We saw the biggest Gothic cathedral in Spain here – and it was breathtaking.
The day after we went to Segovia to see one of, if not the best-preserved roman aqueducts in existence. The majority of the aqueduct is underground. However, the visible part starts as this:
And becomes this:
In Segovia, we also saw the most recently built Gothic cathedral, the church in which Queen Isabella was coronated and one of her castles surrounded by what used to be an actual moat. We also ate the Segovian specialty for lunch – suckling pig, or cochinillo. It was fantastic and oh so rico. It was so tender, it was literally cut into portions using a plate.
On our last day in Madrid, we went to El Museo Prado, the Prado Museum, which is a world famous painting gallery. Although we saw works by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya, we only got to stay for an hour and a half. It doesn’t sound like a short amount of time to look at some paintings, but when I got there, I wish I had days to see everything. Afterwards, we also got to see parts of the Royal Palace where the Spanish royal family used to live. They still accept guests here and hold events for royal families, ambassadors and other very important people. That night, our last in Madrid, some of us went to see a small, intimate flamenco show. The guitar music was beautiful, the singing passionate, and the powerful dancing so inspiring. I found out about the show late and almost didn’t go, but I am so glad to have had the chance to see an authentic flamenco show in person. I loved absolutely loved it.
My time in Madrid was inolvidable, but we had to leave the next day to start the coursework-related portion of our program. This is, after all, a study abroad program, not a vacation. I’ll miss Madrid but I’m sure I will grow to love Oviedo equally as much, if not more.