Excited, nervous, anxious, but also born ready. There were many, many mixed feelings as the days were winding down until January 10th, the date I departed from Chicago to Madrid, with a pit stop in London. As I was packing, and doing a lot of unpacking, it was hard for me to completely grasp that I would be living along the Mediterranean coast for the next six months. I definitely was going to miss my family but also was looking forward to shaping new friendships and a family abroad, amongst my home-stay and other USAC students. That being said, there is no doubt that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and I was looking forward virtually keeping up with people at home. That presents one of the biggest challenges while trying to soak up this awesome experience with you…sharing it! But no worries, I’ll do my best to get to the point, be engaging, fun, and hopefully you can try to vicariously live through my time in Alicante.
The flight over was extremely long, but being my first time flying to Europe I was attentive to every detail and abruptly awoke to my first international flight meal, chicken with mushroom sauce. Surprisingly, not that bad. The two full days of traveling seemed endless and as if I didn’t sleep much, but the tours around Madrid were bound to wake me up.
There were several places we visited in the city of Madrid itself which all were very impressive. We visited the Prado Museum, an 18th Century building opened by Ferdinand the Seventh, which features the works of El Greco, Diego Velazquez, and Goya. All became royal painters, which is common around the age of 40, but Velazquez skillfully became one at the age of only 24. On a different day we went to the Reina Sofia Museum to view Picasso’s Guernica, a piece made after bombings during the Spanish Civil War featuring much symbolism.
We also walked through the Plaza Mayor and to the Royal Palace of Madrid, which was originally built as a fortress. Charles the Third was its first inhabitant after a huge fire, and is home to a lot of original collections. We went through a Throne Room where every single thing was an original except the red velvet that was replaced on the walls and the thrones, which are in Segovia. Every room was jaw-dropping. Spain has the most important and wealthy tapestry collection in the whole world, but since they are so big and there are so many, there isn’t enough space to put them all at the Royal Palace. Other than the wonderful sights we saw in Madrid I was able to meet up with my close friend Andrea from high school who has been studying in Madrid for a few months. She was able to show me around and we enjoyed wonderful Spanish nightlife! On my last day a bunch of USAC students all went to discoteca Joy as well till the wee hours of the morning. It was tons of fun, and reminded me of home with big cow figures everywhere!
Another place we visited was the city of Segovia, a place known for being home to the famous Roman aqueduct. The water transport system was all handmade and all the stone blocks were strategically placed that if one were to be removed it would still be standing! That being said, one key stone was placed in the middle of several arcs, and if removed the whole structure would collapse. It is said to be one of the most significant and best-preserved ancient monuments left on the Iberian Peninsula. It’s crazy to think that it is still standing and could be functional today, and I saw something so ancient. Besides the aqueduct, we also went to the wonderful Alcazar of Segovia, a famous fortress near the Guadarrama Mountains. Walking through the city was incredible and there were many buildings designed with brilliant architecture. My view from lunch was breathtaking as well, overlooking the whole city with mountains in the background.
The last city in Spain we visited during our Madrid tours was Toledo. Before we left we were told to stick with the group otherwise we would get extremely lost in the winding streets of Toledo. On our ride over we stopped atop a hill to take picture of a great panoramic view of the entire city, river, and Alcazar. We toured a synagogue turned church that still has services, frescos covering the ceilings, and all the gold you could see. Very beautiful and elaborate. The city is known for its silver and production of swords, but I passed on buying any for I may not be allowed back to the states. Another refresher of home was the street sign of Calle de Toledo de Ohio, since the two places are sister cities of one another. All tours were spectacular!
Overall, Spain is great despite having several cultural things to get used to. Streets here are very narrow, to the point where I think they are comfortable sidewalks, and people drive very crazy. At one point we were all walking in Segovia and a delivery truck literally barely fit between two buildings and the street, forcing me to jump in a door opening to let it go by. They also eat dinner at about nine thirty every night, and I need to become a napper for siestas! Hasta pronto. See you soon.