Study Abroad: Notes from Spain
Goodbye and Hello in Madrid, and a Visit to Toledo
by Dani Schneider '09
Our return to Madrid marked the end of two weeks of backpacking. Thankfully, we allotted ourselves a few days here in order to regroup before starting the next leg of our adventure.
Eby's (Lauren Ebersole of Hagerstown, Md.) last day here was an eventful one spent visiting the Reina Sofia Museum and doing some last minute shopping. Home to Picasso's masterpiece “ Guernica” and numerous other pieces from one of my favorite Spanish artists, Dali, I really enjoyed our time in this modern art museum.
Afterwards, we wandered the streets in search of espadrilles (a type of shoe very common in Spain). I haven't really done much shopping since I was limited to what I could fit into my pack. We found a small store near Plaza Mayor where we all bought espadrilles for only 4.25 €! I got two pairs, jean and hot pink (of course). They are all handmade so it's hard to size them or else I would bring back a pair for everyone!
Before heading back to the hostel, Eby and I stopped at one last shoe store that she had been to two weeks ago while they were waiting for me to arrive from the states (when I missed my plane...). It was packed with locals, so we figured we had found a good place to shop. When we got inside we couldn't find the ones we had seen in the window and since Eby speaks virtually no Spanish, it was time for me to practice. We were successful in that I was able to practice my Spanish and Eby bought some really awesome shoes. We ended the day with tapas at an outdoor cafe and headed to bed since we had to leave early the next morning for the airport.
After Eby checked her luggage, we said our goodbyes and told her we better see her again soon (since she graduated this past May). Emily (Hoffman of Tampa, Fla.), Kat (Kathleen Blake of Greensboro, N.C.) and I picked up the rest of our luggage that we stored in the airport and headed to our new hotel. Picking up my suitcase was almost like Christmas. We were so excited to have new clean clothes and luxuries like my hair straightener.
Little did we know we would also be staying in one of the nicest hotels in Madrid, La Princesa. What a difference from the hostels!! When I went up to my room, I found my new roommate Sarah catching up on some sleep, so I decided to do the same.
That night, we had our first meeting with the International Studies Abroad (ISA) group. I met the rest of the group made up of 27 college students from all across the U.S. Carmen, our director, gave us an overview of what we could expect over the next few days during our excursions to El Escorial, Toledo, and Madrid. It was a little hard adjusting to traveling with a large group after traveling on our own, but we had made new friends before orientation was even over.
The next morning, we visited the infamous Prado Museum and had a guided tour in Spanish which highlighted the works of El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya. It was amazing seeing these incredible paintings in person since I had spent some time studying them in high school. After our tour, we had some free time during which I visited the Renaissance section to view some paintings that Dr. (Charlie) McAllister (a Catawba College professor of history) had taught me about before my trip.
That afternoon, we also toured Palacio Real. Europe's third largest palace which contains over 2,000 rooms no longer houses the royal family, but still hosts royal functions. After two days with the girls and two days with the program in Madrid, I was ready to head to our next destination.
On our way to Toledo, we stopped at the Valley of the Fallen and El Escorial. Valley of the Fallen, marked by a 500-foot cross, is a memorial to victims of the Spanish Civil War. There is an underground basilica, directly underneath the cross, which contains tombs of the war victims as well as the tomb of Franco. This was one of the scariest churches I have ever been to; maybe because of the huge angles with swords that flank the entry way. El Escorial was ok, probably because at this point all of these lavish palaces are starting to look the same.
Toledo was a good change of pace after a big time city like Madrid. When we arrived at our hotel, there were all kinds of paparazzi. Unfortunately, they weren't interested in all of the American students staying there that night, but rather in a president of one of Spain's regions who was.
The next day, we had a guided tour of the city where we saw synagogues, mosques, and cathedrals which gave us a little bit of an insight into Toledo's religious history. A great surprise for me was getting to see El Greco's painting “Entierro del Conde de Orgaz” which I had previously studied and somehow forgot it was here!
I still can't believe all the incredible things I have seen here in Spain over the last few weeks. The back of my journal has a great quote which I think everyone who travels can relate too, " Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember; and I remember more than I have seen." - Benjamin Disraeli. Obviously, I can't write everything on my blog, but I hope that other than its purpose of sharing my adventure with you all, that it will also help me remember this trip forever.
Tomorrow morning, we leave for Santander where I'll be living with a family and taking classes at University Internation Melendez Pelayo for the next month.
Dani welcomes e-mail correspondence from current and prospective members of Catawba's community and can be reached at email@example.com.