I write this post as our group leaves Madrid by bus for Oviedo; soon, we will be meeting our host families and starting classes. Looking back at my few days in Madrid, it feels both like my time there went by in an instant and also like our group first met up at the Hotel Europa in the heart of Madrid months ago. I think I could best summarize my Madrid experience in two parts. The first is the wonderful excursions we took as a group to landmarks in town and in cities nearby. The second is the exploring my friends and I did in our free time that allowed me to personally discover what Madrid has to offer and to dive head-first into using my language skills, which proved to be both challenging and rewarding.
Part One: Group Outings
We spent our first day seeing two staples of Madrid: El Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace) and El Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid’s largest art museum). The palace was unbelievably lavish, and we saw some renowned works of art like Las Meninas by Antonio Velázquez at the museum.
The following day, we took a short trip to Toledo where we visited La Catedral de Santa María de Toledo (The Cathedral of Toledo) and La Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca (a 14th century synagogue). What is so striking about Toledo is that at one time, all three main Western religions coexisted there together in peace. Looking around and seeing influences of each religion and culture in the town’s architecture, you can’t help but feel incredibly inspired.
Next, we went to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to see, well, El Escorial, which contains a monastery, a school, a royal palace, and a basilica. But, my favorite room here was the royal library, with breathtaking paintings on the ceiling illustrating the subject that each section of the library contained (sadly, they didn’t allow pictures there!).
On our last day of excursions, we went to two cities outside of Madrid. First was Ávila, a walled city where we saw both the main cathedral and The Church of Saint Teresa. Then, we went to Segovia, where we saw the stunning Roman aqueducts which have stood in the city since at least the early 2nd century, and El Alcázar de Segovia, a Spanish fortress that looks as if it were plucked straight from a fairy-tale.
Part Two: My Time in Madrid
Another fundamental part of this past week was how I spent my free time in Madrid. We were very fortunate to arrive at a very exciting moment for Madrid; the city was in the middle of celebrating both The World Cup and its Pride festival. All over, people sported jerseys of their home teams, and all around us buildings were decked out with pride flags. An air of excitement filled the streets wherever we went. This atmosphere, combined with the multitude of exciting things Madrid offers, made for a very exciting time. Some highlights included trying a tapas restaurant with my friends, visiting El Retiro (a large park in the heart of town), going to El Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid’s museum of 20th Century Art), getting churros, visiting La Chueca (Madrid’s gayborhood), and shopping at different stores.
The first time my friends and I went out to eat by ourselves, I got super nervous. I struggled with understanding the Spanish of the waitstaff at first, and I let the confusion get to my head. I was frustrated–it felt like all the Spanish I had learned vanished! I learned quickly that nerves can easily impede your ability to speak, especially in another language. So the next few times I went out, I made sure to think of the following when speaking with others:
1) Breathe – clear your mind and concentrate on what you want to communicate.
2) Speak slowly – it’s very tempting to try to show off or blend in by speaking as quickly as you can. You soon realize that nothing of what you’re saying makes sense and it’s better to take your time to focus and to formulate your sentences well.
3) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s going to happen. But, if you let your fear stop you from trying, then you’ll never learn how not to make them
I soon discovered that going to stores by myself, interacting with local people, and completing transactions–all in Spanish–was really satisfying! I bought clothes, books, souvenirs and baked goods all around La Puerta del Sol near our Hotel. My advice to myself as I leave this week behind (and to everyone else in general): it’s perfectly fine to be nervous–but all you have to do is keep trying.
I’ll be back next week, after meeting my host family and my first week of classes.
¡Hasta la semana que viene!