2016 Summer Hannah Stevens Temple in Spain Temple Summer

Castles and Monasteries and Aqueducts, Oh My!

When planning a trip to a new place, one undoubtedly has apprehensions and expectations.  You’re venturing into unknown territory – any number of things could be awaiting you!  Like many before me, I had apprehensions about traveling by myself to a country on the other side of the (very large) pond.  I expected to be flustered, lost, enthralled, distracted…  What I didn’t expect, however, was to be left completely breathless.

View of Plaza de Santa Isabel


First things first: no amount of Google Images searches can prepare you for the breathtaking beauty that is Spain.  While I expected to be wowed, I can honestly say that I didn’t expect to need an inhaler every five seconds due to the architecture, foliage, and natural beauty that waited for me at every corner.  Upon our arrival in Madrid, my jaw found a comfy place about a centimeter from the floor where it would stay for the remainder of the week.



I quickly learned that not only was everything beautiful – everything had history.  From Madrid to San Lorenzo to Ávila to Segovia to Toledo, we were continually surrounded by the rich history that Spain has to offer.  In Madrid, it was the Royal Palace decorated in the Baroque style.  In San Lorenzo, it was the library and gardens and walls of the monastery where monks still live today.  In Ávila, it was the ancient walls that protected its inhabitants in medieval times.  In Segovia, it was the Roman aqueduct that is still standing, as well as the castle that inspired Walt Disney to create the iconic Cinderella’s castle.  In Toledo, it was the cathedral that boasted the marks of various periods, from Gothic to Romanesque to Baroque to Neoclassical.  And everywhere, our incredible guide Gerry reminded us of the art and music and history that weaved each one together.

The gardens of El Escorial
Entryway to Palacio Real in Madrid
Castle of Segovia
The walls of Avila


One of my apprehensions in coming to Spain was how I would relate to people on a completely different continent.  But as Gerry showed us the intricate ornamentation of the baroque Royal Palace, I was reminded of the equally intricate Bach cantatas of the same era that I sang with my choir this past semester.  As a music education major who is constantly surrounded by the music of different eras, my brain quickly began making parallels.  My country may not have existed at the same time as the renaissance San Lorenzo de el Escorial (a monastery and palace of the Habsburg dynasty), but the music I’d studied in my music history classes did.  In fact, as we walked through the grand library of el Escorial, I found a book that displayed original Renaissance music notation.  I was absolutely speechless.

Even in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, we drew parallels.  Paintings by El Greco and Velasquez and Goya told of love and pain and suffering and peace and war and depression and were all so wholly human that you couldn’t help but feel it.  In the Museo Reina Sofia, we stared for fifteen minutes at Picasso’s Guernica, searching and finding and marveling at the human elements that were tucked into every corner of the masterpiece.  No matter the continent, people will hurt and love and laugh and cry.  People will feel.  People will create.  Spain has been nothing but a testament to the human need to create.

One of the most incredible things we saw was definitely the Roman aqueduct.  It is from the time of the Romans (over 1,000 years old) and absolutely massive.  And to top it all off, it is not bound together by anything like concrete or clay – it is completely freestanding.  This is just one example of the MANY times our jaws found their place about a centimeter off the ground!

The Roman aqueduct
Temple in Spain Summer 2016 Students in front of the Aqueduct – photo credit to our incredible guide, Gerry

Amidst all of the fascinating Spanish history, we found ourselves in Madrid during their Pride Week!  The streets and people alike were decked out in Roy G. Biv.  There was an air of excitement everywhere you went.  I could see it in tourists, in natives, and in my fellow students alike.  Between the festivities of Pride Week, the incredible excursions, and the meals that we all shared, friendships began to form and memories began to take shape.  And just to think… it’s only the beginning!



Being among such incredible company in such a historic city put a smile on my face.  And let me tell you – it hasn’t quite gone away just yet, and I don’t think it will.


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