June 30, 2017
We climbed off the plane, each separately shaking off the heavy residue of sleep that lingered chased us from the hot and rather sticky constraints of the plane. “Gracias,” the attendants murmured as we passed – a simple act that seemed to signify that we had truly left the familiarity of los Estados Unidos. We were entering a new reality, one that we would live for the next whole month. We piled onto buses, wiping our eyes and exclaiming to each other about the surreality of our arrival.
Several cramped and sweaty minutes later, we had traipsed into the airport, and, still groggy, merged with the long lines of people shuffling through customs. The room was large but hot; Spanish swam through our minds, and a few of us were already regretting our decision to risk The Experiment. We grabbed our bags, rested and used los baños, and then made our way to the bus. Large and dark and rather imposing it seemed, with the words Spain Bus printed boldly on its side; yes, we truly were in Spain, and not just some unfamiliar Spanish speaking part of the US that had never been aforementioned. We loaded the bags and piled on, chatting; the pre-departure games and the close quarters of the flight had already brought us together as a group. The bus wove through traffic and carried us into the city of Madrid.
First impressions: large, old, elegant, different than expected, and beige. The bus pulled up next to a chiseled beige stone building on a chiseled beige stone street; nervous jumping at mention of pickpockets, we once again hoisted our bags and set off for the hostel. Spurts of quick and unfamiliar Spanish leaped out of the crowd in snatches, and more than a few Spanish eyes followed us down the street; already it was clear that we were the outsiders. We arrived at the hostel awed and more than a little uncomfortable, were assigned roommates and rooms, and briefly separated to deposit bags and ponder.
A while later, we regrouped in the lobby, still tired and wholly overwhelmed by the entirety of the flight and our first glances at the city – yet excitement was beginning to stir. We left the hostel and took our first walk through the streets, once again watchful for pickpockets. The large sprawling plazas, elegant architecture, cigarette smoke in the air, and blooming pride colors all served to support the fact that Madrid was not as foreign as we’d first imagined, and several people agreed that it was not completely unlike a few familiar cities blended together.
It was also during this first walk that we learned to be wary of street vendors, as well. When walking the plazas, we were approached by a tall African man, who thrust “gifts” upon several people in our group and then demanded payment, which we lacked. With a Euro and a tense exchange in rapid Spanish, K sorted the matter out. We joked with those who had been given the man’s knickknacks.
Lunch was below ground, in a brick room below a restaurant reminiscent of a wine cellar (which at some point it probably was). It came in three courses. Each came with a tasty selection of various Spanish dishes – cool gazpacho, steaming potato soup (which proved very fishy), slices of beef, salads, and many other options; we went back into the sun feeling as if we’d been served a fancy dinner.
After lunch was a long rest period at the hostel, whereupon we returned to our rooms to read, wait, and talk. Several Experimenters gave in to jet lag and napped, and for those who didn’t, staying awake was challenging and dozing was nearly inevitable. Hazy time seeped by, and the call for the next excursion came as a relief for some of us – a welcomed distraction from the active concentration of simply staying awake. We walked to large green Retiro Park, twenty-ish minutes’ walk from the hostel. After briefly exploring the green space in the park and observing the oddly-colored pigeons, we made our way to the large pond near the park’s center. The pond – more like a small lake – was picturesque, set before a scene of Greco-Roman style statues, stairs, monuments, and pillars forming its backdrop; the water was also teeming with rentable rowboats. These boats were rented, and most of the group ventured out on the crowded lake, dodging ducks and other boats; unsurprisingly, not everyone came back completely dry. After a brief peek into a small art exhibit celebrating LGBTQ pride, we headed to dinner.
Dinner, seeming more akin to the American version of lunch, was also comprised of delicious Spanish cuisine. Tapas were the menu, and a rainbow of surprisingly filling small plates were passed across the table at another restaurant. Everything from calamari to some form of potato salad was tasted and evaluated. Stuffed, and in the drowsiness of food comas, we walked back to the hostel. There, we retired, and, upon agreeing that it had seemed like we’d been together in Spain and had known each other for much longer than a day, collapsed into deep sleep.
For the past three days in Madrid, our group has grown to love the beauty the city offers us. Together we have walked to the park, the museums, the stores, and of course the amazing restaurants, too. The museums we explored were very beautiful. It was as if we were walking further into the culture of Spain. The paintings, especially Picasso’s, were exquisitely drawn and told the perspective of Spanish people. Not only did the paintings portray multiple stories, but the sculptures were of a modern style that was mesmerizing to stare at, as well. Besides the modern paintings and sculptures, today and we had the opportunity to learn the stories behind paintings made during the renaissance era. The paintings were painted with so many details and focused on different aspects of Spain. Although some of the paintings were of naked people, it allowed the group to focus on the beauty of the human body. The people in the paintings told their perspectives and portrayed their value of religion and culture. All in all, exploring the art museums allowed us to get a flavor of the Spanish culture and understand their history.
Friday June 30
On the last day in Madrid, we took a final tour of the Palacio Real. No amount of words could do it justice because it was truly amazing. First, there were rooms for every action possible. There was a room for dressing, eating, waiting, greeting, and one was even dedicated to specific colors. Second, each room had an abundance of chandeliers. One room had more than six chandeliers that gave the room a glorious glow that heightened the beauty. Third, the ceilings themselves were masterpieces. They included intricately carved figures of angels, gods, mortals, and flowers along with handcrafted paintings that were a labyrinth of beauty. Last of all, the view. Once we left the interior of the palace, everyone met at the arches. What’s crazy is that we left the beauty of the palace interior for a majestic view from the exterior. With the juxtaposition of nature as well as the city. Overall, I can honestly say that I would love to live in El Palacio Real though it would be quite a task sneaking down to the kitchen for a midnight snack. It truly was an amazing experience.
Yesterday, we came to the city of Toledo, which was once the capital of Spain. The people here in Toledo had a positive attitude toward us because we worked to speak their language efficiently. The narrow streets, the people, and the beautiful cathedral stood out. The landscape was a gorgeous scene to see! We also took absolutely amazing Snapchat videos to capture the moments we enjoyed so far on this unbelievable experience! Now we’re on our way to the homestay and cannot wait <3!