After four flights I finally made it home. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to travel abroad. Not only was it one of the funnest experiences of my life but I also feel that I learned a substantial amount. My Spanish improved at a faster rate than it ever has since I was required to use it to get around not just when I felt like it. Looking back I am really glad that I went on the Madrid tour. It allowed me time to adjust to the time change without having to be in school it also allowed me to make friends before I started my program so I did not feel so isolated when I started classes. The tour was also very fun! I feel more independent now. I navigated a foreign country alone for a month and I feel like I can conquer just about anything now. I was also very introverted before my trip and I can tell that I have become far more outgoing now and am more willing to put myself out there. I am so glad that I did this. Like I said before too I made some amazing friends on this trip who I plan on visiting! More excuses to travel which I have absolutely fallen in love with!
This weekend we made a weekend trip to Alicante to visit some of the friends we made during the Madrid tour who chose to study in Alicante. We took a night train there and back so we saved money by not needing to get a hotel for those two nights. It was also nice since we had plenty of time there. It was beautiful in Alicante and we went during the San Jose festival so the entire city was decorated and celebrating by lighting large Bonfires in the streets. The fire department is present so it completely safe. Alicante is more similar to the type of city you think of when you think of Spain. It is in the desert and is super hot. I really loved it there and it was so great seeing their city. I was finally able to wear some of the shorts I packed since San Sebastián is so much cooler. Alicante is also bigger so there are some bigger chain stores that San Sebastián doesn’t have. Although, San Sebastián does have one of the largest Zara’s in Spain. Alicante also has some beautiful beaches too. We spent almost a whole day on one of them. While I really enjoyed my time in Alicante I do not think I would have enjoyed a session there as much as I do in San Sebastián. San Sebastián is much easier to get around and Alicante was a little too hot for me. However the further in Spain you travel the nicer the locals are to tourists and they also have the flamenco dancing!
The city of San Sebastián completely exceeded all of my expectations. It is a stunningly beautiful city with so much to do. They have three beautiful beaches, located right next to the Pyrenees mountains, plenty of hiking trails, there is nightlife, and it’s close to a bunch of other gorgeous cities you can make day trips to. There is something for everyone. Tons of outdoor things to do and plenty of shopping and great restaurants. I made some really amazing friends who have so many similar interests as me. I originally did not believe people when they told me the friends I would make here would be with me for the rest of my life but it is definitely true. We are already making plans to visit each other. The classes are interesting and challenging yet doable. I am learning a lot and not just in class. Interacting with the locals allows me to be fully submersed in Spanish where it is easier to learn. I do not think I would have felt this same way about taking a Spanish class in the United States. I was also able to take a surfing class while here. It is so much fun learning to surf and the instructors are all super helpful and friendly. It’s also been a nice way to meet other people in my program. It’s going to be hard to stay good bye to this city and these people. I am so glad I did this. It was worth every penny I spent on it.
This weekend me and a few of my friends from my program made a weekend trip to Paris! It was so beautiful there and extremely easy but to get around. The subway system is clearly labeled and they have a handy app that will tell you exactly which trains to take. The French are also super helpful if you happen to get lost. All the tourist attractions are close to each other so you can walk between them so we were able to see almost everything in a relatively short amount of time. The Lourve was beautiful and I could have spent an entire day in there. Saturday night we sat under the Eiffel Tower and ate cheese and bread and watched the sunset. After the sun goes down the tower does a light show sort of thing where is changes color and sparkles for about 15 minutes. One thing I wish I would have done though is bought the six euro card from my university showing that I am studying abroad because the admission to most of the important museums would have been free. Including the palace of Versailles which we went to on Sunday before our flight back. The palace was stunning and exceeds my expectations. However, be prepared for extremely long lines! The lines do move quickly though. All in all the weekend was amazing and I can’t wait to go back there some day.
Today we went to the Pyrnees mountains on the border of France and Spain. They were absolutely beautiful! We went on an hour long hike which wasn’t too strenuous and had lunch at the cute cafe with the best lamb chops I have ever had. After we were done with lunch we visited the museum of witches which explained the history of the Spanish Inquisition. Following the museum we were able to see the actual caves of the witches and walk around. It was amazing getting to not only learn more about the history and culture of the country I am living in but also getting to see it for myself. To end the day we went to a working basque farm house. The family was so welcoming and truly wanted us to learn about their lives and family history. They showed us their farm animals and we held a lamb and dead some cows. Turns out cows do not have top teeth which is super interesting.
I am still amazed at how easily it is to make friends here the locals are very helpful and inviting. We are able to sign up for an intercambio through our program which is a local who you meet up with every so often to practice Spanish with. You help them with their English and they help you with your Spanish and it’s also nice since they are able to show you the hidden gems of the city and recommend places you normally wouldn’t go or try.
Today we visited Gipuzkoa where we visited a traditional Basque farm house and learned about how the Basque used to make cider. We also went on a hike with a geologist to learn about the interesting geology of the coast. The coast is unique because of the tilted beds which reveal hundreds of billions of years of Earth’s history. The coast is also an extreme abnormality because none of the layers are interrupted or missing. The geologist taught us about how they figured out the extinction of the dinosaurs and what role this place played in it. It was absolutely stunning and extremely interesting to learn about. We also visited an old basque church where priests hid basque books and photos when Spain’s dictator ordered them to be destroyed. Spain is rich in so many things; culture, history, food, and landscape. Everyday I feel as though I am peeling back a new layer and uncovered a hidden gem. Everywhere I have visited has been beyond beautiful.
Making friends here is also much easier than expected. We all have several things in common and being in a foreign country really bonds a group. Everyone that I have met here has been extremely accepting and eager to make friends. I have known these people for only a few weeks but I feel as though they will be in my life long after we leave here. The teachers and administrators are also helpful and nice. They are locals to the city so they have great recommendations for things to see and do. I am so thankful for this experience already and would recommend it to everyone.
Today we visited the city of Toledo which was once the capital of Spain and is called the city of three cultures because it is rich with Christian, Jewish, and moorish heritage. We first went to the cathedral which was absolutely stunning. I thought that the United States has beautiful churches but nothing can compare to that. It was extremely interesting because we were able to see three different styles throughout the church since it took over 250 years to complete. We were in Toledo during the corpus cristi so the entire city was decorated beautifully which only happens once a year so we felt pretty special.
We also saw El Greco’s painting “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” which depicted the miracle of two saints coming from heaven to take the Count of Orgaz’s body to heaven. El Greco painted himself and his son into the picture which is considered to be well ahead of its time.
We also visited the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca which is a synagogue that was built by the moorish and later turned into a church by the Christians showing even further the rich history of all three of Toledo. Our guide Elena also told us the reason the synagogue was turned into a church was because when the Christians took over Toledo they forced the Jewish to either convert or to leave. Toledo is rich in history and is nearly impossible to navigate without a guide. The city hasn’t changed much over the centuries and the streets remain extremely narrow and winding.
We visited the museum of El Prado today. The museum was originally supposed to be a natural history museum but that never happened and it is now home to some of the world’s most famous classic paintings and sculptures.we were able to see many of El Greco’s masterpieces and how his art reflected his life. Towards the end of his life he became very depressed and that showed in the style to his paintings. The museum was home to only classical paintings and the modern paintings were held at the Reina Sofia which we were able to visit in the evening. We saw the works of Picasso. Both museums were exciting and Interesting to me since I had learned about several of the artists and paintings in a few of my classes back home.
As a group we went on a walking tour of Madrid. We saw several of the squares and plazas where we learned the history, importance, and meaning of the name of each one. My favorite was the Plaza Mayor. After that on elf my roommates and I went to the royal palace and took a tour. It was absolutely stunning. Every room’s ceiling was a masterpiece. It has Mazzini views of Madrid and it was very interesting to learn more about Spain’s history. Even though the palace is used only for ceremonial purposes these days and is not the residence of the Royal family. The a palace was so extravagant it was difficult to image one family living there.
We went to the Valley of the Fallen and Segovia today. On the way to the Valley of the Fallen we learned about the Spanish civil war and why several Spaniards refuse to go to the monument. The Civil War in Spain is looked at in a much different way than the way American’s recollect their civil war. We are more able to acknowledge the loss of both sides and place less blame on either side. This could be due to the fact that America’s civil war dates over 100 years back while the Spanish civil war is relatively recent and that the ‘winning’ side is no longer in power. The monument was absolutely beautiful and had multiple symbols such as the ten arches representing the Ten Commandments. There was also a gorgeous mosaic at the top of the cathedral that was composed of six million individual mosaic pieces.
In Segovia we were able to see the old roman aqueduct which gave Segovia running water up until the 1960s when it was decommissioned. The aqueduct had of 260 arches. We also visited the castle and learned about Queen Isabel and how she was one of the first feminists of Spain. Typically when a royal woman married she forfeited all of her power to her husband but Isabel refused and kept her power. She and her husband ruled together and equally which I found interesting. We also had lunch at a lovely cafe where we learned that in Spain you seat yourselves instead of waiting for the hostess. We looked like complete tourists but the food was delicious.