Barcelona, Spain: Night 1

After a long, but exciting day in Lisbon, Portugal, my sister and I hopped on another plane, and made our way to Barcelona, Spain. Although I studied abroad in Alcalá de Henares (near Madrid) for a summer semester during college, I didn’t have as much time to explore Barcelona as I would have liked. Ever since, I have always wanted to return to this beautiful city, and finally had the opportunity to do so.

Upon checking in to the hotel and dropping our things off in the room, my sister and I walked through the city to find a restaurant recommended to us by a local. On our way, we passed the immaculate Casa Battló, which will most definitely be discussed in an upcoming post.

When we finally found the restaurant, we didn’t waste any time! We ordered Spain’s famous patatas bravas (potatoes drizzled with a delicious aioli sauce), as well as fried calamari, sangria, and of course, seafood paella. The food was just what we needed after a long day of traveling, and it was the perfect way to start our adventures in Barcelona.

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Days 23 and 30 in Spain: Exploring Madrid

In an attempt to spare everyone from various posts each time I travel to Madrid, I decided to combine two different trips into one post. Last Tuesday, a few of my friends and I went on a field trip with our program director to see the Museo del Prado in Madrid. We walked around the city for a bit at first, but as you’ll notice, I won’t be posting any pictures of that since most of my pictures are the same as ones I have previously posted. We started our trip off by passing the National Library which is closed off to those who don’t have a specific library pass, and made our way over to a local brewery. I was one of “those” people who ordered a soda at the beer factory so try not to judge me too much. The reason why we held off on going to the museum until later in the afternoon was because most big tourist attractions in Madrid as well as throughout Spain have free visiting hours (which is definitely something to look into before making plans when traveling around Spain) and it just so happens that the Del Prado Museum’s free hours are in the late afternoon. By the time 6 o’clock in the evening came around, we stood in line and got in for free. (Something you’ll quickly realize when traveling abroad is that anything free is a huge perk!).  Seeing as the Del Prado Museum has over 7,000 paintings and is known to be one of the biggest and most famous museums in the world, it was jam-packed everywhere we turned. Our professor walked us around and showed us the main paintings and gave us a history lesson on each one and unfortunately, the museum prohibits picture taking, but I was lucky enough to get one picture in before finding out that I wasn’t allowed to do so. We saw paintings by famous artists including El Greco, Murillo, Goya, and Velazquez, and each one was more interesting than the next! It was truly amazing to see what kind of history and in-depth background information each and every painting has. Museo Del Prado is definitely a “Must” on any to-do list in Madrid, and it was really a great, culturing experience as well!

This past Tuesday, one of my classes took an excursion to Madrid as well, and we went to el Barrio de Letras, a quarter in Madrid dedicated to famous authors and poets from back in the day. As we walked around the quarter, we saw where certain authors grew up, where they gained inspiration for novels and stories, and even a famous cathedral where a lot of them got married. I had to write a paper on our trip so I’m pretty much just going to translate it into English and use it here. (Hey at least I’m honest).

Before the excursion officially began, we saw the House of Congress, surrounded by police officers (which was definitely a cool sight to see). Our trip to el Barrio de las Letras commenced at a statue of Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was the one who wrote Don Quijote de la Mancha, the second most translated book in the world (after the Bible). We then walked over to Lope de Vega’s house which is also a museum. Cervantes and Lope de Vega didn’t exactly see eye to eye, and Cervantes even referred to him as a “monster” because Lope de Vega wrote over 3,000 plays during his lifetime, an incredible number of works! (And most of us find it hard to find enough days in the week to keep up with our blogging). Not to mention, Vega was recognized for them while he was still alive, whereas Cervantes was recognized after he died.

After learning about the rivalry between the two authors, we walked along a street famous for providing inspiration to Cervantes. He was known to write various scenes of Don Quijote on this particular street, so it was pretty cool to see where he gained some of his inspiration from. We progressed on and saw yet another famous author’s house, Don Francesco de Ovedo Villegas. Not too far from here was a street dedicated to gossiping. Since works from this time period were known to criticize society, authors had the actors of their plays gossip as a means of getting the critizing across. So it was only suitable to have a street dedicated to gossiping and criticizing society and the lives of others, right?

Back to Cervantes, he had requested to be buried in the Convent of the Trinity (el convento de las trinitarias) and was in fact buried there, but his tomb was removed a few years later to an unknown location. Finally, we concluded our trip with la iglesia de San Sebastian (a church) where Cervantes had his funeral (not burial) and where many authors of this time were baptized or had their weddings and/or other processions. Unfortunately, the museums and the cathedral were closed by the time we got there, but it was still neat to be able to walk through “literary history” in Madrid.

Day 14 in Spain: Exploring Madrid

Considering the fact that these next two weekends will be dedicated to traveling in other cities, I decided to spend this past Sunday (yesterday) in Madrid to explore all that the city has to offer. In comparison to the US, I’d have to say that Madrid is like our New York City. There are so many people in this city, that one traveling alone in this huge city may possibly have no idea what to do with himself/herself. Luckily I was with a small group of friends, so I didn’t have to worry about the overpowering size of the surrounding environment, and was able to take in all the sights. Madrid is so fast-paced and everyone there is either running to or from work, running to or from home, running across the streets before the lights change colors, running around as crazy tourists trying to jam-pack their days and get in all the famous monuments, but wherever you turn, someone is running. Such a crazy city can really make ones head spin, but I tried to not let the living in the fast-lane mentality of Madrid get to me.

We started the day off by going to El Rastro, also known as the Thieves Market, because of all the pickpocketing that takes place here. The market was truly incredible! Anything you could possibly ask for, they had. Clothes, souvenirs, playing cards, collectors items, antiques, junk (in a few stands), toys, art; they literally had everything! The market is only open on Sundays from the morning until 2pm, so once the vendors started breaking down their stands, we headed over to our next destination, La Plaza Mayor. This central plaza, located in the heart of Madrid dates back to the 1500’s and has been reconstructed in the 1700’s due to various fires. Its history and beauty is truly breathtaking, and you’re always guaranteed to find street performers and entertainers close by to keep you on your feet.

Next stop on the list was the Mercado San Miguel, a market place right next to the Plaza Mayor. This market has private vendors, each of whom all sell different tapas, drinks, desserts, you name it. You literally walk from one food vendor to the next with pocket change and taste the incredible food that they offer. Once we sampled enough food to keep us satisfied for a while longer, we walked over to the Museo de Jamón, which is the Ham Museum, just a few blocks down the road. This museum offers a wide array of pork selections, and even though I don’t eat pork, everything looked great. I had the only non-pork item on the menu, which was chicken, which was good, but nothing worth writing any more about. After recharging ourselves, we walked over to the Parque del Retiro, which is an over 350-acre park that Spanish monarchs from back in the day used to spend time at, and entertain guests here. Various statues and monuments can be found throughout the park, and its beauty is truly mesmerizing. My friends and I enter a rowboat to further explore all that the park had to offer, and it was definitely refreshing considering the dry heat all around us in Madrid.

Finally, after making our way out of the park, we walked over to the Jardines del Museo del Prado, an incredible garden area by the Del Prado Museum, one of the most famous museums in the world. The gardens were amazing, as you can see in the pictures, but unfortunately, by the time we made it over to the museum, they were closed. However, it’s a great reason to come back to Madrid soon to check it out again! Not to mention, we found inexpensive tickets to a flamenco show and found out times for upcoming bullfights so you can count on another post about Madrid in the near future!

Spanish words of the day: mercado- market; cuánto cuesta- how much does it cost (singular); cuántos cuestan- how much do they cost (plural) — both useful when making a purchase or preparing to bargain with a street vendor

Days 3 and 4 In Spain

Yesterday was my last day in Sevilla, and was definitely a day well spent. I woke up and made sure to check out el Museo de Flamenco Baile, which is a popular tourist attraction being that it’s the city’s most well known Flamenco museum and school. My friend and I walked around the museum, learning about the origin of the incredible dance, as well as the various types of flamenco dances there are, each based off emotions. We got to see videos of the different dances and techniques and learned about great dancers of the past and present. After the museum, we grabbed lunch by La Giralda (the tower I mentioned in my previous post), and took in the city’s beauty before it was time for us to leave. When we returned to the hotel, our suitcases had finally arrived, and we took a cab to the train station, and then a train to Madrid. Upon arriving in Madrid, we boarded the metro to go to our hostel for the night. When we got off at our stop and exited the metro, we had to ask numerous people to point us in the direction of our hostel. After walking through the city with our luggage (for what seemed like forever), we finally made it to the hostel.

Upon arriving at our new destination, we pushed the buzzer on the door and were let into the building. When we walked in, we noticed the huge spiral staircase that seemed like my worst nightmare. Just like the movies portray, we walked up two and a half flights of stairs, just to check in and be told that our room was on the next floor up. For those of you who, like me have never stayed in a hostel, well, don’t. (I’m kidding… kind of). There was no air conditioning, which normally wouldn’t be too bad, but considering that the only thing saving us from the 100+ degree weather was a small fan made the hostel quite an experience. And a tip for anyone planning on staying in a hostel anytime soon: when showering, make sure to hold your toiletries firmly or else you may end up dropping them in the toilet. (True story).

My friend and I made sure to leave the room before we had time to suffocate, and we headed over to eat dinner, and then to a pub in the middle of the city to watch the Spain vs. Portugal Euro Cup game. The game was incredible, seeing as everyone around us was full of spirit and energy as they cheered on their team the whole time. In the end, Spain was victorious and won during penalty kicks after overtime. The streets were filled with happy locals and the celebrations had begun since Spain was now going to compete in the Euro Cup finals. We headed back to the hostel to try and get some sleep before an early start this morning, but when the room was too hot for us to handle, we walked around the city to hang out with the locals, as they celebrated their victory.

This morning we made our way to the Madrid Airport and met up with our group, because today was the first official day of our study abroad program. Once everyone had arrived, we all hopped on a bus to Álcala de Henares, where we met up with our host families. My host mom greeted me as I got off the bus, and graciously welcomed me into her apartment with her eight year-old son. My host mom speaks Spanish and German, and nowhere in between those two languages is English, so whatever Spanish I know will definitely come into use, and if I don’t learn fluent or almost fluent Spanish by the time I leave here, well, for the sake of my study abroad funds, I won’t have to worry about that. But the biggest culture shock so far (well, at least for today) had to be learning that most of the houses and apartments in Spain don’t have air conditioning, which is something I’m going to have to get used to. And quickly).

I recently received a comment on my previous blog post asking me what the weather here is like, so if you still can’t tell (as I sit here sweating while writing this), it’s in the mid nineties at night and low one hundreds during the day. Hopefully the weather will cool down soon, but one can only hope so much.

In the morning, we’re going to have a group orientation where we will purchase our school books, take a tour of the campus, do whatever else the orientation entails, and take a trip to Madrid (which is only 25 minutes away from us) to check out some of the big tourist attractions. That’s it for now, but I will leave you with this; a new addition to my posts here in Spain.

Spanish lesson number one: When in Spain, you’ll notice that the people use a “th” lisp. In a book I recently purchased here, it explains that there is a popular legend in which Ferdinand I (also known as Felipe IV), a Spanish king, had a lisp when it came to pronouncing the “s” sound. A while later, all of Spain ended up mimicking his lisp, which apparently is how the Spanish lisp began. However, this story is just a myth, but the real “th” sound is only pronounced with the letters c and z (whenever preceded by an i or e), while the letter s remains the same as in English- all of which is a selectiveness due to the way Spanish evolved from Latin. The book hits the “don’t judge top soon” point right on by stating, “So when you hear someone say gracias (gra-thyas), they are no more lisping than when you say ‘thank you’ in English.”

Day One In Spain

No trip would be complete without annoying traveling stories, and although it’s only my first day here, I have plenty. Yes, I try to keep my posts inspirational to help others, but sometimes we need to vent, and if the airlines won’t listen to my complaints, I figured someone here would, so thanks in advance. Even though I’m from South Florida and go to school in Orlando, the Tampa International Airport offered the most inexpensive ticket prices, so I decided to start off there. My flight was delayed a while not because of the torrential downpour taking place due to Tropical Storm Debbie, but because the airline’s generator wasn’t working, so they had to wait for a mechanical engineer to take a look at it. We finally left three hours later (in the tropical storm bands), and were on our way to the Dulles Airport, where we would then take a connecting flight to Madrid. My friend who is traveling with me and I were told that we would be missing our connecting flight and would have to spend the night in a hotel by the airport, complements of our airline. As we landed, however, the stewardess made an announcement for us to go speak with her when we got off the plane, and when we did, she told us that our connecting flight was delayed due to potential gas leakage problems, so we took off to the gate. Of course it was one of the furthest gates away from us, but we made it in time, and were told by the crew that we were extremely lucky to have made the flight. Once we sat down, the already two-hour delayed flight was further delayed an hour and a half. We took off and upon arriving to Spain, we found out that our luggage hadn’t made it, and wasn’t yet traced to any particular airport. There’s no need to further complain, so I’ll stop it at that and change the subject.

Since my friend and I have plans to spend the next to nights in Sevilla, we boarded a bus which took us to the Atocha Train Station in Madrid, and we hopped on a two and a half hour train to where we will be spending the next few days. We plan on walking around a little later, so upcoming posts will be much more interesting, but the culture shock has already begun to kick in. You can clearly tell that the people here in Spain have their own unique accent with the infamous lisp that Spain is associated with. The crowds and crowds of people in the train station, the overwhelming amount of people on the busses, and only fragments of English being spoken by passerby tourists makes it somewhat uneasy to be away from home, but somewhat exciting as well. The two definitely balance each other out and all I can hope is that I pick up more the language and fast (and get my suitcase too). That’s about it for now, but there will be plenty more to come soon, and lots of pictures as well.

Until next time,

Daniel. Or as they say in Spain, Daniel