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Exploring Spain - Travel Seminar Class + First Month in Madrid

Oh boy, am I behind on blogs. Let’s travel back in time, alright? Let’s start from when I left Copenhagen to Madrid. Our program started on August 13th, but I got in the night before and stayed at a hostel. That afternoon I walked around Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid (and of Spain itself), and people watched from the main fountain. There was some type of protest going on and I asked the lady next to me about it. She wasn’t sure herself, but she noticed my accent and asked me where I was from. They do that a lot here in Spain – whenever I speak Spanish, people will know right away my Spanish isn’t Spain Spanish and they’ll say, ‘where are you from?’ ‘California,’ I’ll answer…’No but your origins’ and I’ll answer that I’m Mexican and they’ll say ‘Ohhhh, yeah! I thought you were Colombian!’ And then I laugh because I only ever hear that in Europe – Me? Colombian? There aren’t many Mexicans here so I guess they don’t expect us out here haha. Anyway, the woman introduced herself as Betty and we ended up talking for two hours about life, her’s in Spain since she moved from Colombia about 40 years ago and mine starting out in Spain. She’s great; I’m actually meeting up for coffee with her this weekend!

The next day, I headed over to meet my school’s group, and since we would travel around Spain for the first part of our semester, we were checked into a hotel in Madrid. It was a super nice hotel too, guess that’s what we paid for with our expensive tuition, am I right? It was also really nice to see my fellow ISYEs (Industrial and System Engineers) again after our summer apart. So we got to have our dinner (with a nice touch - a bottle of wine to ourselves!) and catch up. We are also the oldest people on our program, all super seniors, compared to the sophomore/juniors, and felt a little disconnected from the rest of the group so I’m grateful to have them by my side here. The next day, I got to celebrate my 22nd birthday here in Madrid with guess what? Orientation! But what was nice is that they had a dinner and dancing class set up for the group afterwards so I didn’t have to do any planning for the evening! We had a delicious tapas dinner – jamon, queso, paella, croquetas (my FAVORITE Spanish food! They’re these fried balls of like, this cheesy potato and different types of meat), and sangria! It was great because one of our program coordinators, Gaby, kept checking up on me and asking how my birthday was going. And with a full belly I said, “Great!” We were then lead to a small dance club where they were teaching steps on learning salsa, bachata, and reggeton – even though I am latina, I am terrible at learning how to dance. My partner, Jasmine and I kept stepping on each other but it was still such a fun time. We ended up staying after the lessons as they played more music for dancing in general. Teddy, the girl that set up the dance event for us, was told it was my birthday and she ended up setting it up where they brought out a fire sparkler on a bottle of champagne for my group! It was so nice

The next day we had our first travel seminar history class – which I am SO thankful for. We get to know whose statues we’re walking by haha! Our professor Hector, is absolutely great, you can tell he loves history and architecture and he’s kind of sassy and I love sassy people. So after class, he brought us on a walking tour of Madrid and I snapped some of the following photos:

Snapchat videos from these days:

Cordoba, Spain (Travel Seminar Day 1)– August 16, 2017

So in the beginning of our program is built around a Travel Seminar history class where we have class and learn about the history of Spain as we travel around - a really sweet deal. 5 cities in 10 days, I'll tell ya now, it was exhausting, but so great! So the following day, we hopped on a coach bus and headed south towards Cordoba, España! Just to pinpoint where we went for the next 10 days, below are the cities we went to in order: Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona.

Our first stop was Cordoba. It instantly looked different than Madrid: more historic, tightly packed buildings, and it was OVER 100 DEGREES (Fahrenheit). We were melting. We weren't going to have the full day in the city so we started with free time to get lost within Cordoba's narrow streets. Hector told us that the buildings were so tightly packed was to block the sun from peeking onto the streets - I'd like to thank those who thought of it many, many years ago.

The gallery above shows the photos taken before our Mezquita tour. Make sure to click the photos to enlarge them, and then you can click through the gallery. Cordoba dates back to the Roman times and it's cool to see the bridge and several other buildings remain from those times. We got lunch in this hidden cafe in the open center of a building. A man on his guitar sang a famous Spanish song apparently because people sang along with him. It was a really great atmosphere. Hector told us Cordoba was famous for their dish Salmorejo. It's a tomato-based paste with bacon bits on top in which you eat it with a spoon and dip bread into it. It's super fresh and perfect for a hot day. I also ordered croquetas because like I said, I because infatuated with them.

After two hours, we met up as a class at the Mezquita - a large Cathedral in Cordoba. What's so cool about this place is that it's a clash of two different faiths, Christianity and Islam. So when the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim rule for hundreds of years starting in the 8th century, they built this mosque which was the largest in the world at a certain time. When the Catholics recaptured the lands hundreds of years later, they converted it into a Cathedral, but didn't tear it all down. It's an interesting building because you see both Catholics and Muslims visiting it to this day. This will be a reoccurring theme, the islamic influence in the architecture, especially in teh south of Spain. Below is a gallery of the Mezquita:

Snapchat video from this day:

Sevilla, Spain (Travel Seminar Day 1-2)– August 16-17, 2017

After the Mezquita visit, we returned to the bus and headed towards Sevilla. That evening we walked around the center and went to a place that the good ol' internet suggested. So El Corte Ingles is Spain's Macy's just taken to the extreme. They're all huge, and some are specific to certain types of stores - one is just athletic clothes, one's only electronics, another's a grocery store, but most of all - it's the store that has super nice items. I don't think we have anything like it in the states. Anyway, a lot of the Corte Ingles stores have rooftop restaurant/bars, like a mini food court - so we went to one and had dinner there. It was a super nice view from the rooftop and the walk home was nice, until we couldn't find our hotel. So we mapped it and little did we realize we mapped it to our hotel's conference building with the same name... first off, who doesn't have their conference hall IN their actual hotel? Why does it need to be a 15-20 minute walk from your building??? ANYWAY, below are a few photos from that little fiasco.

The next day we started with a walk around the city with our class and walked to the city center. We went inside the Cathedral of Santa María de la Sed and saw the supposed tomb of Christopher Columbus, the guy would ruined it for the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. We also climbed the Giralda, the bell tower, and what was interested about it was that it wasn't all steps. It's actually a winding slope all the way up because the man who rang the bell several times a day actually rode a horse up the ramp (talk about lazy! Just kidding, I almost died going up that tower - ha!) Just thought it was interesting because all the viewpoints we usually see tend to be steep steps.

After doing that, Hector brought us to the Alcázar of Sevilla. SO. COOL. It's this enormous palace (which the Spanish royalty still uses sometimes to stay at!) which again displays the islamic influence mixed in with the Christian architecture. What also made the place even cooler is that THIS IS DORNE - Dorne from Game of Thrones! They mainly used the main yellow building and the gardens to film scenes from Dorne, which was super cool to see in real life then compare to the on-set photos from the scenes. The palace itself is quite large and very beautiful. Of course, because we were still down South, it was over 100 degrees again. I bought this dandy fan in Cordoba and I put it to good use during this trip (as you can see in the gallery below).

Snapchat video from this day:

Granada, Spain (Travel Seminar Day 3-4)– August 18-19, 2017

Our first day in Granada started with another hot walk around town before we headed over to the hotel to meet up for our trip to La Alhambra the castle on top of Granada. Turns out it's the season of Jasmine's! So Jasmine and I got this photo in front of the sign letting us know:

La Alhambra like a lot of the other places we visited went through the same owners: built on top of Roman remains, under Muslim rule, it was built as a palace and fortress, and then later after the reconquest, it remained as a palace for the king and queen. This is also where they allowed Christopher Columbus to sail to and discover the Americas. The king after Ferdinand and Isabella was their grandson, Charles, and he built his own palace us on the grounds as well. The entire area is just huge. A lot of climbing, but with we were greeted with beautiful gardens, architecture and views:

The textures found around this palace are incredible. All hand-carved, La Alhambra was extremely impressive with endless walls and columns covered in gorgeous designs:

After the Alhambra visit, we had free time to walk around and explore. We went through an Arabic market that had some really cool stuff. Granada had a lot of these beautiful lamps that I was tempted on buying but I know they'd either break on the flight back or wouldn't fit in the first place. We also tried a pastry that we were told was their specialty, Piononos, named after a Pope. It was sponge-like, but yet surprisingly soft, and very sweet!

The next day we had class and a free evening. Hector set up a flamenco show for us to see in the caves of Granada, it was so cool! And even cooler, MICHELLE OBAMA, the FLOTUS who we miss dearly, sat in the same chair I did!! I will say, I chose the chair because it said her name but I didn't put two and two together until after the show where the place had a huge photo of all of them posed with Michelle Obama in the cave! So Michelle and I sat in the same chair, isn't that something? The show itself was beautiful - the colors, dancers, and singing were all so vivid. Afterwards, we got to see the Alhambra at night from St. Peter's plaza, it was so cool to see it from another angle.

Snapchat videos from these days:

Valencia, Spain (Travel Seminar Day 5-7)– August 20-22, 2017

The next bus ride was a longer one; we were on the coach bus for about 6-7 hours. So since we spent most of the day driving, we had a free evening right away, and since we've been spoiled by San Diego, the first thing we did was bus straight to the beach! We missed it too much. And this was the first time my feet touched the Mediterranean - it was sooo warm. So we vowed to come back the next day to go swimming (spoiler alert-it was amazing. The water felt incredible and the water was so calm and hands down, my favorite beach. Holly and I spent the whole time singing The Little Mermaid's Part of Your World too, it was fantastic).

The next day, Hector took us on a city tour around Valencia. We got to see a market, where I learned that the Spanish make Horchata WAY differently then we do (still delicious, but it's made based off a certain nut), a silk/textile market, and the Cathedral of Valencia. Fun fact, the HOLY GRAIL is located here in Valencia. I mean, we can never know if it is the ~real~ holy grail, but wow, what if it is?

The following morning, we made a quick visit to the Ciudad Artes y Ciencias. We didn't have time to go inside any of them but it's a huge piece of land dedicated to various museums of arts and sciences, opera houses, you name it. It was very cool. I wish we had thought of coming here when we had our free time in Valencia.

Snapchat videos from these days:

Barcelona, Spain (Travel Seminar Day 7-10)– August 22-25, 2017

And finally, our last stop of the 10-day Travel Seminar portion of our class: Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona before and I absolutely loved it, so it was great to come back and see it when a new lens this time!

Our second day in Barcelona consisted of a walking tour around the city. As many of you know, Barcelona is part of Catalonia, after the classes we've had with Hector, we know that the relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain is strained right now. Catalonia wants their own independence (they don't even speak Spanish) from Spain so there are always rallies and a vote (this upcoming weekend actually) is set up to take place - but only by Catalonia. It's regarded as going against federal law so it really is quite the messy situation. So I snapped these photos of Catalonian flags hanging all over. Hector also pointed out these funny figurines - they're characters from shows, movies, pop culture, politics, etc bending over, taking a poo. Hector couldn't stop laughing over it, haha. Anyways, here are a few photos from that.

Next, we went to La Sagrada Familia. I believe it to be the most beautiful church to exist. The construction in it is ongoing, but it's absolutely beautiful. Antoni Gaudi designed it and construction started in 1882, and it won't finish for several more years. It's a church that looks like no other, to me. It's droopy facade is so cool and the inside is just breathtaking with all of the colors that pour into it.

Photos just don't do it justice, but I tried my best.

Now, while it was great to be back in Barcelona, it was bittersweet this time because Barcelona had just endured the terrorist attack on La Rambla a few days before our arrival. Everyone was a little on edge about going and our coordinators were not allowed to take us to the area where the attack was. It didn't feel right to avoid the area to me so after our visit to La Sagrada Familia, we walked to the heavily guarded area. The scene was heartbreaking. So many vigils were laid out across La Rambla (the large pedestrian walkway right in the heart of Barcelona). It was emotional being there, I cried for those lives that were affected by the senseless act.

We continued exploring and then on our last full day, in Barcelona, we had class and visited Parc Guell, another of Gaudi's creations. It's always made me think of something that comes straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with all its funky shapes. Also check out my funky glasses! Thanks Primark! Of course being in Barcelona, every millennial remembers the absolutely iconic film, Cheetah Girls 2. A masterpiece. Well, being here, we HAD to recreate the following still from their musical number, Strut. Couldn't quite get my leg up, I should have stretched a bit.

Anyway, that afternoon, we took advantage of our location and took a beach day to ourselves as we would spend 7 hours driving to Madrid, concluding our roadtrip.

Snapchat videos from these days:

Madrid, Spain - August/September 2017

After the 10-day adventure, it was nice to finally settle into our new homes. We are all spread across the center of Madrid and our neighborhood is in the southwest part of that center. Jasmine and I live with a young woman named Abi. Our first week, her mom Francis stayed with us because Abi was in Cardiff still on vacation, and we LOVE Francis:

How it works is that while living with them, we share dinner each night and it's great because we get to practice our spanish, get to have good company, and best of all, have some homemade meals. Dinner has been great, I'm surprised I'm not overweight by now with how much we eat!

I think what I'll do from here is just write down some short sentences on general things about my past month (and some) in Madrid:

  • School is, definitely not harder, but just more busy work here. I'm taking all GE's here and they want us to read SOOO much, I MISS MATH. I need my calculator. It's frustrating.

  • I've started exercising again! Kind of, it's been a week since I did, but it's better than going without it for a year lol

  • On that note, running in Retiro Park makes running so much less miserable! It's really nice that the park is right next to our school so I can go right after class

  • We eat dinner incredibly late here - for example, it's 10:14pm right now, and we still haven't had dinner.

  • I have yet to make Madrid friends because we are only surrounded by USD people. I'ts difficult, but I need to find ways to meet other people, that's what we're here for!

  • So a week ago, I signed up for meet-ups online that are formed by people with certain likes - so I joined groups that like photography, music, and just other general things so whenever there's an event, I can put on my big girl pants and meet some people!

  • I love the public transportation here - it's cheap, and easy and just great.

  • Madrid is a lot like the inland valley in it's weather - it's SO HOT. I'm melting! And then the mornings are getting brisk which I do like.

  • Andrew came to visit me during the second weekend of September - it had been a whole month (that's the longest we've gone without seeing each other) and it made me so happy to have him out here - probably my favorite weekend in Madrid so far

  • I found an INCREDIBLE Mexican restaurant - I know right, unexpected in Spain...but the guys behind that grill have to be Mexican, they just make them so well. Their tacos al pastor are so so so good, I'm so happy I found it or else I would have gone crazy! They even have Jarritos there!

  • Enjoy some photos and snaps:

This was one of our nights out in Madrid which ended in fireworks! The coolest show I'd seen, we layed out on this hill in Madrid and the fireworks were so close to us, we had to lay down to watch them because they were right above us. And they went to music, it's like Disney's!

I'll close out this post with some photos I've taken around Madrid. If you read even HALF of this, I applaud you. I'll have you know, it's taken me an entire day to write this - never left the house... so voila - the longest blog post in history is now over! Te amo España!

Jasmine Denisse

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