Student Blog: Study Abroad in Spain
Three Different Cities in Three Days!
by Stephanie Cook '12
Bonjour from France! Our group has moved from Madrid to Paris and we are enjoying our time in this magnificent city! But, before we came to Paris, my friends and I had an action-packed weekend exploring Segovia, El Escritorial, and more parts of Madrid. I have a lot of cool information to share!
Friday was the last day of classes. Luckily, my class had finished up the day before, as well as Dr. Wilson's class, so we were able to do whatever we wanted that day! Whitney, Jamie, my new friend Geronimo and I decided to go see the Royal Palace that was in the downtown area of Madrid. This is where the King of Spain and his royal family lived in the late 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s. The palace is now only used for state ceremonies and is open to the public when not being used for these events. It was a beautiful building inside and out. There are 2,800 rooms, so needless to say it is quite large! We enjoyed looking at the different rooms inside the lavish palace. None were alike and all were used for a different purpose. There was even a Drawing Room, who would have thought?! They were all very decorated and each very beautiful. I felt important being able to go inside and see where the different kings and their families have lived.
After exploring the palace, we all were hungry and needed some lunch. We found a great Italian restaurant with a set menu for only around 10 Euros. A lot of restaurants in Madrid and even here in Paris have these available for customers. One can order an appetizer, entrée, and dessert all at a set price; in this case the charge was 9,90 E. There are 3 or 4 different choices to choose from under each course, and all are usually delicious!
After lunch, Whitney and I decided shopping was a must, so we headed into a popular shopping destination called Sol. It had so many stores and was popping with people! It was fun to see the different European fashion styles and look around.
On Saturday, we went to a city about an hour away from Madrid called Segovia. This place is known for its aqueduct and beautiful castle. The aqueduct was used to transfer water from a dam all throughout the city. It was in operation from the very early 1,000s until 1992! It was beautiful to look at and was unlike anything I had ever seen. The castle was magnificent as well. It reminded me of the Royal Palace since every room was so beautiful and different from one other. I will be sending in pictures soon so readers can see these two cool sights! After coming back from Segovia, we decided we would go try one of Spain's famous deserts, Chocolate Con Churros. These are cinnamon sticks that are dipped in a hot chocolate sauce and are supposed to be a magnificent dessert of Spain. Maybe we got a bad batch, but my friends and I agreed that the chocolate sauce was very watery and was not up to the quality we expected it to be. Nonetheless, we ate all of the churros, which were a lot better than the chocolate sauce. It was a bit of a bummer, but at least we can say we tried the dessert, right?
Sunday, we went to visit El Escritorial, another city about an hour away from Madrid. We went and visited a famous monastery here. It was also very big! We sure got our walking in that day. We even went to a room where some of the famous kings and queens of Spain were buried! It was cool but kind of creepy at the same time! Their names were written on the tombs and covered a large portion of the walls making up the room. We weren't supposed to take pictures in the monastery, so I was unable to get a picture of this room. But, I do have some pictures from the outside of the building that will be posted!
My trip to Spain would not be complete without going to a bullfight. Even though I do not agree with the abuse and killing of innocent animals, I wanted to experience this part of Spain's culture. Jamie, Whitney and I decided to go to the bullfight when we got back from El Escritorial. Madrid has a bullfight every Sunday, with six bulls killed each week. How sad is that? We were only capable of staying for three of the fights. The blood and stabbing was a bit too much for all of us. Each bull would come running into the ring looking all tough and fierce, but after each stab, you could see each getting weaker and weaker and losing his or her pride. It was one bull versus several matadors, a horse with a person on its back stabbing at the bull, and the entire arena of people. These horses were blindfolded because if they saw the bulls being stabbed or the bulls themselves, they would freak out. They had no idea what was going on. I felt so bad for the horses because the bull would try to fight them as well. Luckily they had a protective shield around their bodies so the bulls usually never hurt them. It was just heartbreaking to watch these horses be involved in such a violent act, and they had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Even though the bulls fought with all they had, each ended up dying. One or two of the matadors would rip off the ears of the bull if it was considered a good kill for them. This was disgusting to see. The poor bulls were then dragged out of the arena after they had fallen over and died. Fans would wave white flags as a sign of surrender when the bulls did this. It was so sad, but I did not cry, and I am surprised about that! I can safely say I will NEVER go to a bullfight again after seeing how much the bulls and horses suffered out in the ring. I am not a fan of animals being tortured, so I won't go back and watch such a cruel and disturbing show that is used as a form of entertainment by most of its spectators.
The fact we were leaving for Paris, France the next day made all of us feel better and not think as much about the bullfight that night. We got up very early to get to the airport and make our flight. We arrived in Paris around 2:00 in the afternoon and got to the hotel close to 4:00 PM. Mary Alice, Dusti and I decided we wanted to explore the city and see some of the famous sights. We were all very tired, but knew we would only have a few days in the most romantic city in the world, so we had to make the most of them! We took the metro to the shopping district and walked to the Arc de Triumph. This arc was gorgeous and so cool to see! After this sight we went to eat some dinner and then made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Talk about a busy place to be. There were tourists, vendors, and beggars everywhere! It got annoying when people were yelling at me to buy their plastic Eiffel Towers or give them money. I did give in,
though, and bought an Eiffel Tower that lights up! It is really pretty and cost only 3 Euros, so I do not feel guilty about my purchase.
They beggars really started to get on my nerves throughout the trip to Paris. Some would just look pathetic and hold plastic cups yelping for money, while others had planned schemes. One gypsy girl came up to me when we were at the Eiffel and asked me, "Do you speak English?" I thought she was asking for directions, so I said yes. She then preceded to shove a piece of paper in my face, and right as I started to read it, my friend Mary Alice screamed no and pushed me away from the girl. She quickly explained to me this girl was trying to get me to read this piece of paper which would say something along these lines, "I am a refugee from Estonia. I have no food to feed my children. Please give me money." Supposedly if you read their piece of paper, these women will expect you to give them bills and will not leave you alone until you do! Scary, right? I am very thankful Mary Alice was with me during this situation to help
me get away from this girl. I had no idea what she was trying to get me to do. Throughout the trip, more of these girls came up to me, but I knew what they wanted, so I just said no each time and walked away.
There were a lot of other beggars around the tourist sights that had their own schemes different from this particular one. There were men from Senegal that would come up to tourists, particularly girls, and start braiding a bracelet on their wrists. The bracelet was usually a representation of their country and was put tightly on one's wrist so they could not take it off once it was started and completed in a matter of seconds. Then, these men would make these people pay anywhere from 10 to 20 Euros for their cheap creations, and would keep bothering the people until they paid for bracelets they never asked to be made for them! How rude. There were also people who claimed to have found gold rings and showed them to couples saying they dropped it. The innocent people would say the ring did not belong to them, and finally the person who ‘found' the ring would say something along the lines of, "Ok, it isn't your ring, but you should
pay me for the good deed I did of finding it." How ridiculous! These schemers would not leave people alone until they gave them some money. Some even threw coins back at people and claimed that they did not give them enough! Others would come up to people and start talking to them, which was used as a distraction for another person to come up and steal their belongings if they were of somewhat easy access! The things people will do for money these days is an embarrassment. If you are in a big city in any part of the world, do not be a victim to these schemes. Keep your hands in your pockets, your money in a safe place, such as a money belt, and just say no to anyone who looks suspicious, or better yet, to any stranger asking for something! You can never be too careful these days.
Besides all of the street crime in Paris, the city was absolutely gorgeous and I really enjoyed my time there. I ended up going to the Louvre, a famous art museum, and got a picture of the original Mona Lisa! The painting is very small and was protected with a large glass shield. Nevertheless, it was cool to see the real painting! We also visited the Notre Dame Cathedral. Has anyone seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame? This was the cathedral used in that movie and is very famous. The stained glass windows were breathtaking and the overall building was gorgeous. The only thing that I didn't like about the cathedral was the gypsies asking if we spoke English outside. Besides sightseeing, we did some shopping (at the mall by our hotel, not the shopping district which has stores such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci), and ate at some delicious restaurants. The hotel had a gym so I tried to use it whenever I had a chance. I have two weeks when I get back home to Georgia to work out and get ready for the fall tennis season, so any exercise I could get in was a must!
We leave to go back to the States tomorrow. I had a great time in Europe, but am ready to get home and be with my family. I also miss being able to play tennis every day and eat healthy, so it is time to get back in the swing of things! Ultimately, this trip was an unbelievable experience and I am so glad I was able to go on it. I had to give up a lot of things to be here, but it was all worth it in the end. I think everyone needs to travel and see different parts of the world. It gave me a completely different perspective and made me realize the United States is indeed not the only country on Earth! We have many companions besides other Americans on this planet. Some history of Europe that I have learned about all through my years of schooling started to make more sense to me since I was able to see the places where some of it occurred. The architecture is stunning and absolutely gorgeous, especially in Barcelona. I was
able to practice my Spanish and communicate with the locals in Madrid, where we spent most of our time. These are just a few of the positive attributes about the trip. If you haven't been to a country in Europe, you need to start planning your trip! It will change your outlook on life and give you an amazing experience that you will never forget. Thank you for reading my entries and I hope you enjoyed them!
PHOTOS: Study Abroad in Spain