Goya’s Madrid – Final Project

The focus of our final photography project was, of course, Madrid.  More than simply portraying the city, though, we had to show Madrid through the eyes of another artist.  The professor gave us the choice of three men—Pedro Almodovar, Francisco de Goya, or Earnest Hemingway—who have all spent a significant amount of time in Madrid.  For these artists, Madrid influenced them just as the city experiences their presence today.

I chose Goya, the famous Spanish painter, because I thought that the man whose ideas have existed the longest would be the easiest to depict.  This, though, was one of the biggest difficulties of the project.  We had to photograph things that weren’t really there.  Pursuing Goya’s Madrid turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.  With a New York Times audio guide of Goya-related locations as my project road map, I made my way around the city, doing my best to document the artist’s essence.  Unfortunately, many Goya locations, such as museums and churches, prohibited photography.  My photo collection in tribute to the artist is not as balanced as I would have liked, specifically lacking people interacting with ideas of Goya today.  Given the restrictions, however, I feel that I was able to successfully convey a feel for the artist, albeit somewhat literally.

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A larger-than-life bust of Francisco de Goya looks out over Madrid, Spain from the San Isidro Park on May 1, 2016.  Goya painted landscapes of the San Isidro meadows in both his light and dark periods.

 

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A man seeking financial assistance sits in a sunny crosswalk at Calle de Goya in Madrid, Spain on April 14, 2016.  Francisco de Goya often found inspiration for his work in social class divides.

 

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Members of the Spanish Civil Guard march along Calle Mayor in the Dos de Mayo parade in Madrid, Spain on May 2, 2016.  Two of Francisco de Goya’s most famous works, The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808, commemorate the events of Spanish rebellion against the French occupation.

 

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A tapestry of the Royal Coat of Arms of Spain decorates the reception area of the Royal Palace of Madrid on April 18, 2016.  The Royal Tapestry Factory, where this hanging was produced, also converts many of Francisco de Goya’s paintings from canvas to tapestry.

 

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A young girl recedes from observation of Francisco de Goya’s The Sermon of Saint Bernardino of Siena in the Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid, Spain on April 27, 2016.  Goya placed himself in this painting, as he did in many of his other works, garnering a reputation for direct and indirect self-portraits.

 

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A man considers postcard replications of some of Francisco de Goya’s most famous works in the Prado National Museum in Madrid, Spain on May 10, 2016.  The Prado Museum is home to many Goya masterpieces.

 

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The photographer reveals herself in the mirrors of the Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande in Madrid, Spain on April 27, 2016.  The church houses one of Francisco Goya’s own self-portraits, The Sermon of Saint Bernardino of Siena.

 

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A cherub light fixture hangs from the frescoed ceiling of the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida in Madrid, Spain on May 6, 2016.  Not only did Francisco de Goya paint the ceilings of this chapel, but it is also the site where he is buried.

 

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Goya’s signature, etched in stone, peeks through the fencing around his commemorative statue on Paseo de la Florida in Madrid, Spain on May 6, 2016.  The statue honors Goya across the street from his burial site in the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida.

 

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A bird rests on top of the head of a statue of Francisco de Goya in Madrid, Spain on May 6, 2016.  The statue, located across the street from Goya’s burial site in the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida, celebrates the artist’s skill and talent.

 

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A family picnics in the San Isidro Park in Madrid, Spain on May 1, 2016.  Though different than what would have been observed two hundred years ago, Francisco de Goya painted visitors of the San Isidro meadows early in his career.

 

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The title of an etching by Francisco de Goya trims the base of the Goya statue that guards an entrance to the Prado National Museum in Madrid, Spain on May 10, 2016.  The nightmare that befalls Goya in this etching, El sueño de la razón produce monstrous, or The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, is of the corruption of the Spanish society of his time.

Based off of an assignment that my professor completed for the New York Times, the second feature of the project was that it was to be executed like a real photojournalist’s assignment.  As if our photos were to be seen in a publication accompanying a travel text, we had to submit 12 photos, complete with journalistic captions, to our professor who role-played as editor of the publication.  From my 12 photos, and the 12 photos each from the three other students in the Goya group, he curated a collection that best represented Goya’s Madrid.

The final print of the collage-like compilation hung outside of our program director’s office for our peers to observe.  Four of the ten photos that my teacher chose to represent Goya are my work, including the cover photo of the collection.  The balance between my perspective and those of my fellow group members’ made for a very cohesive and diverse product that we are all proud of.

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You can check out the other groups’ work on our class blog.

 

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Family Week – April 18, 2016

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The Royal Palace of Madrid from its left-wing courtyard.

Like the Flamenco show and the bullfight, I saved seeing the inside of the Royal Palace of Madrid, another what-to-do-when-you’re-in-Madrid staple, for my family’s visit.

The Plaza de la Armería splits the Palacio Real de Madrid and the beautiful Cathedral de la Almudena.  Together, they convey a sense of grandeur and aristocracy from days past.

From the outside, the Royal Palace simply looks like a large government building.  The inside, however, is much more ornate.  Once within palace walls, you are not allowed to take photos past the reception area.  Throughout the hallways of this royal abode, though, are some of the most elaborate rooms I have ever seen.  With an audio guide as our navigator, my family and I walked room to room, learning about the monarchs of Spain and their lavish possessions.

My favorite room was the Gasparini room of Charles III, decorated floor-to-ceiling with incredible print and color.  The armory was another memorable area of the royal complex, displaying an impressive collection of imperial armor, and accompanying views of Madrid and the mountains beyond.

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View of Madrid from the armory balcony of the Royal Palace of Madrid

After having been indoors for most of the morning, we spent the second half of the day in Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden, or Real Jardín Botánico.  With grounds much larger than they appear, one could spend an entire day strolling through the rows of vegetation.  Though the flowers are the most photogenic, the gardens were also filled with fruit trees, aquatic foliage, and succulents.  There was even a greenhouse, sheltering tropical plants from around the world.  We may have been too early in the season for the gardens to be in full flourish, but the spring air and sunshine still made it a great day.

Fun, flower photo editing— it’s amazing what a computer can do!

Tonight’s nighttime activity was a jazz club.  Or supposed to be a jazz club.  Unfortunately, Café Central, the restaurant and live entertainment hub, was packed by the time we arrived, requiring reservations or early attendance.  The full house looked like a good sign of a good time.  Next trip, we’ll call ahead.

Though we would have enjoyed a night out, my family and I welcomed an early early end to our day and a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow morning we would be traveling to Paris!

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

REVIEW: Las Ventas Bullfight

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With varying levels of comfort and curiosity, my family and I decided to check “watch a traditional, Spanish bullfight” off of our Madrid bucket list.  We prepurchased tickets from TicketsToros, an online bullfight ticket distributor, and picked them up at the office just outside of the Plaza de Toros de Las Vantas.  The exterior of the building itself was beautiful, and though the inside showed some age, it added a sense of historic time travel to the event.

My research on the Las Ventas experience advised purchasing seat cushions for the concrete benches from we would watch the show.  On the way to our seats, we picked up the much-appreciated, rear-end protection for a euro and change, and shuffled through crowds of tourists, spotted with the occasional group of Spanish elders, towards the ring.  Our seats were in the cheapest section, “Sol,” or the area of the open-air coliseum that received the most sunlight during the event.  We were happy to be out of the shade, because April in Madrid isn’t too warm.  Squished together on our small section of bench, I remembered the tight quarters of the Flamenco show, and couldn’t help but wonder if the seats were Spanish-sized or if we were American-sized…

 

 

At 6 p.m. exactly, the event began.   Between spirited music from the band and the procession of participants in proud, shining dress, I felt the pregame jitters.  Just like any other sporting event, the performers prepared in the ring while the spectators sat in anticipation of the start of the event.

 

Generally, a bullfight begins with the least prestigious matador of three.  For six bulls, the matadors perform in order of increasing esteem twice, each fighting two bulls.  The matador-to-bull matchup totals about 30 minutes, comprising of three parts.  The first stage requires field assistants to tire the fresh bull, prompting him with double-sided pink and yellow capes to charge repeatedly back and forth across the ring.  Once the animal has burnt its initial energy, horses enter the ring for the second phase of the fight.  In this middle section, horse-mounted assistants spear the bull in the shoulders with banderillas to further weaken him.  Finally, the matador takes over, one-on-one with the bull.  The goal of the matador is to make as few movements as possible to make the bull charge.  By a single spear thrust in between the shoulders of the animal, the fight is finished.

The body of the bull, once drug by horse-drawn stirrups out of the arena, is then prepared for consumption.  Rabo de toro, or tail of the bull, is a popular dish, especially during bullfight season.  Sometimes, however, body parts are reserved for the matador.  If he performs exceptionally well, he may receive the ear of the animal as a prize.  The matador can even earn the second ear, or both ears and the tail, for a truly impressive fight.  It was obvious to all, though, that the matadors that we watched were not receiving any execution prizes.

In the first fight, the matador’s assistants fatigued the bull.  Then, a horseman introduced the decorated spears, sticking them in the bull to further drain him.  Watching the blood drip down the bull’s sleek, dark hide, shining in the setting sun secured my distaste for this event.  Already, the poor animal, had had enough, and the matador hadn’t even begun.

 

 

When the matador entered the arena, he inched his way closer and closer to the bull as it became increasingly exhausted.  Then, though, in one, quick motion, the bull scooped the matador off of his feet, sending him face-down into the sand as the animal reared about him.  Saved by his assistants, the matador recovered quickly.  He did not, however, emerge from the hiccup unscathed.

The sweep from behind pierced through his beautiful uniform and punctured his behind!  With flaps of fabric hanging down, and skin fully exposed, the matador continued the fight.

 

From the bloody beast to the injured matador, I tried to act like I was watching TV and not real life.  It was all a little too much.  I had mistakenly imagined the experience with more theatrics and less reality.  I thought it would be a show, instead of the bullfight that it was.

To make the trip worthwhile, my family and I saw the first fight through to the end, but by then, we had had enough.  Once we had gathered our belongings and were ready to leave, the second fight had already started.  On our way out, we ran into old men and angry yells.  Too slow to exit, we were forced to stay for the second fight.  Feelings of frustration soon turned to understanding when we realized why fate determined us to stay: the second fight was horrible.

From our barely-attentive, untrained eyes, things seemed to be playing out in the second matchup just as they did in the first.  Then, the whistling began.  Drawing from tennis knowledge, my aunt suggested that they were sounds of disapproval.  We glanced down at what was happening in the ring to realize that the second matador had spiked the bull with the “final” spear multiple times and was still trying to finish the animal.  As the bull stumbled in disorientation and pain, my aunt recognized that we had to see a poorly executed fight to appreciate the skill and humanity of the first set.

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Though there is beauty in the grace of the matador and the fanfare of the event, bullfighting is an ugly sport.  I am glad that I got to experience a great Spanish tradition, but only those who enjoy fight-to-the-death events or are truly invested in learning about Spanish culture should attend.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Family Week – April 15, 2016

Arrival

From a short-notice additional week off, and a last minute change of plans, I found myself standing at the large, frosted glass doors of the airport’s arrivals.  I watched others receive their loved ones and smiled at their reunions, but I leaned against the railing impatiently, waiting to surprise my own visitors. Almost an hour after expected, it was finally my turn to overwhelm my weary travelers with hugs and happiness— my mom and aunt had arrived!

After spending three months with strangers (many whom I’ve come to adore), I was at once comforted with familiarity and love that only a family can provide.  I could not wait to begin this week in Europe that my mother, my two aunts, and I would always treasure.

Excited but exhausted, we agreed to rest the first day of their visit. Fortunately, this in itself was a pleasant experience at the Airbnb we stayed in for the week.  The apartment was centrally located, clean, spacious, and safe.  Aside from the poignant, grape-scented diffuser that made the room smell “purple,” we had no complaints.

 

Day 1

Madrid greeted my family with a rainy day unlike any that I had experienced here before.  It poured.  I had to adjust my plans to show them the city.  My aunt suggested that we take a Madrid City Tour bus to shield ourselves from the weather while still touring town.  The poor-quality headphones made the audio guide difficult to understand, but I did my best to make up for the guide by informing my family with the facts that I knew.  Between the two bus tour routes offered by Madrid City Tour, we were able to see the city’s highlights, and even visited areas of Madrid where I had never been before.

After drying off and regrouping at our Airbnb, we took a short walk to Cardamomo for a traditional Flamenco show. The only flamenco tablao in Madrid to have been reviewed by the New York Times, we decided that proximity and quality made Cardamomo a great choice.  With tickets for the 8 p.m. show, the four of us squeezed into a tight row for four, ordered included drinks, and prepared for the performance.

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Two guitarists and two vocalists, all male, took to the perimeter of the stage.  The musicians seemed to pluck at the guitar strings as they wished, producing coherent but disorderly staccato tunes.  I could also appreciate the talent of the singers, who had to almost yell for their raspy voices to be heard above the guitars. Though at times their vocals resembled those of Middle Eastern songs, I could feel antique, Spanish authenticity in their voices.  Soon after the musical opening, a first dancer appeared on stage.  His body was slim and his movements were graceful.  Relieving the first man, a second dancer took the floor.  With a muscular build and a long, curly, black ponytail, this dancer better fit the my idea of a fiery Flamenco dancer.  You could tell, though, that he was a younger dancer, less mature than the first man.  Finally, a woman performed, mesmerizing the crowd with powerful steps and spins in her traditional, Flamenco dress and scarves.

Without any knowledge of the various forms of Flamenco, I did not know what to expect from this show.  The dancers did not use props like flowers, fans, or castanets, as I had anticipated.  For this performance, it seemed as though the musicians had a better chemistry with the male dancers than they did with the female dancer.  It was more entertaining to watch the men on stage because of the strength in the connection between the performers.  Where there should have been a passionate admiration and appreciation for the woman, I did not feel these emotions conveyed by the men during the show.  Despite not knowing much about Flamenco, the show was the perfect evening activity for my aunts, mom, and me.

 

Day 2

Clear, blue skies and sunshine determined our day’s agenda.  We strolled around Retiro Park, one of my favorite places in Madrid, where I showed my family park highlights, such as the peacocks in Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, the Crystal Palace, which was in between exhibits, and the boat pond.

Where last night’s Flamenco show was light entertainment, tonight’s event would be less pleasant.  Interested in seeing, but not in support of, traditional Spanish bullfighting, my family and I went to watch this cultural event that has such a strong presence in Spanish history.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Barcelona, Spain

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A heavily edited photo of Barcelona, but my favorite of the trip.

 

The most important fútbol game in Spain, El Clásico pits Spain’s two largest cities against each other for the ultimate rivalry.  Each year, Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona fight for national bragging rights as the best Spanish fútbol team.  Because Barcelona hosted this year’s match, 16 people in my program and I made the trip to the opposing team’s city to see its attractions and experience its liveliest weekend of the year.

 

Day 1

With an airline delay, we landed an hour behind schedule for our first evening in Barcelona.  Though the flight was a disappointment, my friends and I took the quick and convenient 5,90€ Aerobus airport transfer to the city’s Gothic Quarter, arriving at the Sun and Moon Hostel, our residence for the weekend.  With limited hostel experience, I was not prepared for the lodging’s atmosphere.  We entered the building to loud music and were introduced to a bartender shortly after arrival.  Unsure of what I had gotten myself into, I soon learned that there are two types of hostels: the quiet, keep to yourself establishments, or the community-oriented, party hostels.  Though we were staying in the latter, it did not pose a problem, considering our exchange of quality for location and price, even with the many small, unexpected fees we came upon during our stay.

Friday night was the best night to go to Barcelona’s most popular club, Opium.  Contrary to its severe name, the beach-access disco had a diverse customer base and relaxed atmosphere.  With party-goes aged from early twenties to late forties, there was a place for everyone, be it on the dance floor, at the bar, or on the patio overlooking the sea.  Though we ended the night early in preparation for our busy next day, I could have spent hours listening to the rumble of the waves mix with the beat of the music from the club.

Wanting to make the most of our weekend in Barcelona, a few friends and I had preordered tickets for the Sagrada Familia, one of the greatest religious structures of all time.  I had heard about and seen images of the incredible work that architect Antoni Gaudí had done, but nothing could have prepared me for the first-hand experience.  The church towers over you, so much so that the views of the entire facade are better seen off-site.  The intricacy of the facade was impressive, but the interior blew me away.  Tall, geometric columns glowed in all colors from the dream-like luminosity of the stained glass windows. Though the great number of visitors made the structure seem less like a place of worship and more like a circus, it made the religious house that much more of an dramatic offer to Catholicism.  It’s partial completion adds to its grandeur, making me wonder what the experience will be like when it is finished.  Plans anticipate that 2026  will be the end of major construction, so I hope to get the opportunity to one day return and see Gaudi’s vision complete.

Continuing with the morning’s Gaudí theme (not difficult to do when in Barcelona), my friends and I walked from the Sagrada Familia to two famous Gaudí-designed houses: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.  We did not have the time (or money) to enter the buildings, so we admired them from the outside.  The colors of Casa Batlló radiated down the street, with gentle turquoise and bright green glass making the facade dance like crystal-clear water.  Casa Milà was more understated, but equally as curious.  Though at first it blended in with the surrounding structures, standing below the skeleton-like building revealed more geometric intricacy, similar to that in the Sagrada Familia.

On route back to our hostel for an afternoon rest, we traveled down Las Ramblas, one of the busiest streets in Barcelona, lined with souvenir shops, food vendors, as well as formal stores and restaurants.  We had been warned of the excessive pickpocketing on this popular street, but I never once felt targeted or suspicious.

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Located on Las Ramblas is another one of Barcelona’s must-see specialties, La Boqueria.  This half outside/half inside marketplace is comparable to but bigger and better than the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid.  La Boqueria boasts sweet snacks, fishy dishes, meaty meals, and fresh, fresh fruit, all available to eat in or take out.  Over the course of our two hours wandering the market, we gnoshed on chocolate covered strawberries, samples of gourmet cheese, and, our favorite, fruit juice smoothies.  Feeling adventurous, I first tried a dragonfruit, or pitahaya, juice, that went down sweet but left a terrible, sour aftertaste.  My second try, a juice mix of strawberry and pineapple, was a success.

After a quick rest at the hostel, we were ready for the game!  General public tickets for El Clásico went on sale at 11 a.m. on the day of the match.  Thinking I had a chance, I logged on to the website hoping to secure admittance to the game.  At 11:02 a.m., I was a customer in a queue of over 5,000 fútbol fans, or in other words, never getting a ticket.  Accepting the inevitable of viewing the game from outside of the Camp Nou stadium, I wore my Real Madrid scarf with pride through the streets of Barcelona as our entire group took on the ambitious task of finding a bar in which all of us could watch.  The size of the group ended up being a non-issue, because the pub that we waited in line for for over an hour reached full capacity before we even got to the door.  Slightly panicked, with only a half hour until kickoff, we rushed to find another place to watch, leaving all hopes of comfort behind and sights set only on finding a screen.

Split between a small café and an even smaller bar, my group of friends slid in where we could and watched Barcelona dominate the first half.  They started strong, had greater possession of the ball, and took more shots… but they didn’t score.  The second half brought Barcelona luck with a goal in the 56th minute.  Real Madrid, however, responded with an incredible scizzor-kick goal by Benzema in the 63rd minute, followed by a tag-team play by Bale and Ronaldo in the 85th minute to clench the lead.  As the Barcelona fans (just about everyone besides my friends and I) grumbled in disgust, we cheered in victory to our final stop for the night.

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My view of the game…

Recommended to us by other students studying abroad in Barcelona, the Dow Jones Bar was unlike any establishment I’d ever visited.  Sure, it was dark, played bad music, and was outfitted in wooden decor like most other bars, but, as the name implies, the Dow Jones Bar had a schtick; it was a stock market bar.  Screens hung above the bar sharing the how much a drink was currently worth with its corresponding percent increase or decrease— Fireball up 1.3%, Guinness down 3.8%.  You paid based on the fluctuation of the worth of the drink, so you had to watch carefully when to buy.  To add to the fun, there would be an occasional stock market crash (“crack”, in Barcelona), when all drinks were sold as originally priced, but just for a few seconds.  Though the bar itself is a relatively quiet way to spend an evening, the concept is definitely worth checking out.

 

Day 2

The next morning, following more suggestions from Barcelona study abroad students, my friends and I went to Brunch & Cake for brunch and cake.  We chose to dine at their waterfront location, Brunch & Cake by the sea, to later visit the beach.  Though the menu options were limited, I got scrambled eggs on a massive sunflower seed bagel and, paired with a strawberry smoothie, enjoyed every bite.  Falling into the trap of the restaurant’s tempting name, I split a piece of red velvet cake with a friend.  With just a hint of cream cheese flavor, the icing made the treat, and it was some of the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had.

We walked off our meal at the Platja de Sant Sebastià, a beach full of sunbathers and surfers enjoying the sunny day.  This was also the base of the Port Cable Car, a gondola ride providing views of Barcelona and transportation to the Montjuïc hill.

A few friends and I had tickets to the monitored Monumental Zone of Park Güell (the park itself is free) two hours from the time we got in line for the cable car.  We hoped that the process would be quick enough to do both.  It wasn’t.  After waiting way too long for what ended up being a tourist trap (seriously, it’s so bad, do not go on the ride and save the 11€), we were late for our Park Güell time slot.  Because some of Gaudí’s work in the park has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, a section of the park receives a limited amount of people at a time.  My electronic ticket would not scan past our time slot, so being late was going to be a problem.

We took a taxi from Montjuïc to Park Güell and ran to the first worker we could find, my arm extended with the ticket.  Over there, the worker directed.  So we ran towards the area where she gestured and waited in a short line to speak with another worker.  That window, the next attendant said, and we approached our third worker.  Holding my breath in anticipation, I presented my ticket.

“What do you want me to do with this?” the park employee asked.

“Scan it?” I replied, confused.

“What time was your ticket for?” he requested.

“2 o’clock….” I reluctantly responded.

“40 minutes ago!?” he confirmed, as if I were crazy for even trying to enter. “This is the exit,” he finally clarified.

My friends and I explained to him that this is where we were directed, not knowing that our first direction of “over there” meant the overlooked entrance around the corner.

“So you were waiting in this line the whole time?” he half asked, half declared, developing his own understanding of what happened. “I apologize for the misdirection and will notify my colleagues at the entrance to let you in.”

Fortunately, they accepted us into the park, even though we were late and it wasn’t really their fault.  I know that this was my one “Overly Ambitious (read: Stupid) Traveler Forgiveness” pass, so I will try to avoid the close calls from now on.

Park Güell was beautiful, and it was worth paying for access to the iconic Gaudí monuments and designs.  Less intellectual than the Sagrada Familia, the park was simply pretty, serving to aesthetically please.  Gaudí knew how to make things that people like to look at!

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After rushing around that morning and pacing through the park all afternoon, my friends and I rewarded ourselves with Chök treats.  Usually donuts aren’t my thing, but I was willing to make an exception for the Chök concoctions.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to, for the little sweets shop served many options.  Settling on a kronut, it wasn’t the best dessert I’ve ever had, but I didn’t run away from this member of the donut family.

We left Barcelona to return to Madrid with Vueling Airlines.  Because we did not know the date and time of the soccer game before we booked our flight, we scheduled a 10:30 p.m. departure.  With Vueling, we took off an hour later than planned and had the least pleasant flight accommodations that I’ve encountered so far.  Though we did make it back to Madrid for the last metro train, I am extremely dissatisfied with my Vueling experience and will try to avoid flying with them in the future.

 

Destination Locations

 

Pau, Amor, Barcelona

A.J.H.

Spring Break – Düsseldorf/Easter

Düsseldorf, Germany

It was important to me that I returned to Madrid on Saturday to properly recognize and celebrate Easter on Sunday.  With this restriction, there were only two flights from Florence to Madrid in our price range, and both had long layovers in Düsseldorf, Germany.  Düsseldorf, then, became our sixth and final city!

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Views of Rheinwiesen State Park from Altstadt, across the Rhine River

After some difficulty with the cab drivers at the airport, prompting the information desk attendant to advise us not to let “those bastards toss us around,” we secured one of the sleek, black, Mercedes Benz taxis, operated by a woman who had to be older than 70.  She brought us to Altstadt, or the Old Town, honking the horn and grunting German frustrations along the way.

Altstadt is a pleasant part of Düsseldorf located on the Rhine River waterfront.  Crowded with people, from bikers and runners to families and elders, the Rhine Promenade was the perfect place to take a travel break.  The Altstadt district also boasts the “longest bar in the world,” (which should be clarified as the longest avenue of bars in the world), so we strolled down the street in search of a restaurant where we could relax.

Aiming to fill our stomachs with hearty German fare before our next flight, we chose, at random, Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel, for lunch.  Restaurant in the front, brewery in the back, and filled with people, it seemed like a good option.  I ordered pork schnitzel, which I had never tried before, because it sounded like German thing to do (and it is one of Julie Andrews’ favorite things— has she ever led you wrong?).  The schnitzel, as it turns out, is simply breaded meat, and mine was most certainly frozen before it was served to me.  The side of roasted potatoes, however, was delicious, definitely the best potatoes I’ve ever had.  Corresponding with our get-in/get-out sprint to make the most of our layover, our waitress was also a no-nonsense lady, embodying the stereotypical German way.  Like the taxi driver, she was one of the best women to work with on our hasty schedule.  After paying for our meal (and 6€ for a bottle of water!), we headed back to the airport and flew home to Madrid.

 

Easter

With a long week of travel preceding my Easter Sunday, I was happy to slow down and appreciate the special day.  While away, I had missed most of the traditional Spanish, Semana Santa proceedings, but there was one event left for Pascua.  Performed every Easter in Plaza Mayor, the Tamborada del Domingo de Resurección is a drumming display that symbolizes the trembling of the Earth as Jesus died on the cross.  A different representative group is chosen to play every year, but the musicians customarily don purple, the color of Lent.  I was entertained by the joyful cadences and was impressed by the group’s professionalism, especially considering the age range of performers.  Though it seemed like I was surrounded by more tourists than madrileños, the encompassing presence of God was what mattered most.

After the Easter drums, my roommate and I enjoyed brunch at a restaurant that I had had my eye on for weeks.  La Rollerie, just outside of Plaza Mayor, had attractive decor and an alluring menu.  Too cold to dine outside, we ate in the whitewashed front room adorned with fake but festive flowers and fruit.  I ordered La Rollerie salad of fried Brie and teriyaki vinaigrette, and my friend and I shared the cheese fondue.  Though pricey, the dip was worth it, as we almost ate the entire dish, bread bowl and all.

To end our Easter Sunday, we stopped in La Mallorquina.  One of Madrid’s most popular bakeries, La Mallorquina’s two-story building is always crowded, and so for me, avoided.  For this special occasion, however, we took home a mona de Pascua, or a Spanish pastry bread holding a hard boiled egg, served only on Easter.  I did not eat the egg with the pastry, and my experience has me questioning if anyone actually does…

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Though a holiday church service, preferably closed with the Hallelujah Chorus, is my typical Easter Sunday, I did my best to experience Pascua like the madrileños.

Fun Facts

  • The mother of the girl that I tutor is from a small village outside of Madrid.  When I asked her what she did to celebrate Easter, she explained that she revived a fading Spanish tradition with her family.  The night before Easter, she, her siblings, and their children filled an outfit of old clothes with straw, just like a scarecrow.  This being symbolized Judas.  On Easter, they burned the straw man, punishing him for his betrayal.  I found it an odd practice, especially to promote among children.  Perhaps this is why it is no longer as common as it once was…

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

Salamanca

Students in Salamanca

The second of two day trips organized by my program, Salamanca was a pleasant surprise of enjoyable architecture and interesting history.  After the first, rather boring visit to Toledo, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Salamanca, a city with as equally as rich history, but a dominant student presence, both in the past and present day.  Stories of the mingling of academia and religion throughout Salamanca’s development kept me engaged the entire trip, and established a willingness to return to this city of students.

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New Cathedral/La Nueva

The first stop on our tour was the Catedral de Salamanca.  The twelfth century Catedral Vieja, or Old Cathedral, was soon outgrown by the expansion of the city, and construction of the Cathedral Nueva, or New Cathedral, began around the old building in the 1500s.  Restoration work in the 1900s brought about work on the facade of the New Cathedral.  As an artist’s signature, on the exterior of the building, the designers left two hidden figures in the detail of the decor, testaments to the century.  They chose to incorporate and astronaut, to represent the technological discoveries of the time period, and a monkey holding ice cream (no one seemed to be able to justify this one).

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Astronaut (left); monkey (right)

The inside of the cathedral was even more intriguing, with a clear aesthetic divisions between the sections of the old and new.  The grandeur of the Old Cathedral was impressive, considering its antiquity, but the New Cathedral was just as breathtaking, extravagantly executed with Baroque-style details.

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Altar in the New Cathedral

To complete our visit to the cathedral, we climbed its towers and enjoyed the view of Salamanca.

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View from the cathedral

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Bell tower in the cathedral

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View of Salamanca

Our second stop in Salamanca was the town square.  Like Madrid, Salamanca has a Plaza Mayor, but the one in Salamanca has stronger traditions and is, in my opinion, more beautiful.

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For lunch, many of us went to Mandala, a restaurant café recommended to us by our program advisor for its abundance of beverages: 18 flavors of hot chocolate, 45 combinations of milkshakes, 56 types of juice and too many teas to count.  With high expectations, I ordered raspberry white chocolate hot chocolate and a tapa, but neither were exceptional.  The hot chocolate tasted artificial and the tapa, a mini burger, was underwhelming  With so many options, however, I hesitate to give Mandala a bad review; there is so much more to try!

After lunch, the group visited the University of Salamanca, established in 1221.  With this year, it is the oldest university in Spain and the third oldest in the world.  As with the facade of the cathedral, the university’s exterior was beautifully intricate, with another hidden message: this time, a small frog.  Our guide explained that at the time, frogs symbolized lust, so the little amphibian was a warning to students to remain focused on studies and not get distracted by other students.  Though the original building is no longer used for classes, we were able to tour some of the preserved university classrooms and courtyards.

Not everyone in the program went on the trip, but we took a group photo of those in attendance, because my program director wanted an image for the program newsletter and I “had a nice camera” for him to borrow.

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About half of USAC Madrid Spring 2016

 

Travel Tips

  • Don’t take on more than you can handle.  With our choice of Spanish-speaking or English-speaking guides, on all of our tours, I had chosen the foreign language group in Toledo to test myself and practice Spanish.  I thought that touring with the Spanish speaking guide would be beneficial, but in reality, I do not know enough Spanish to understand the explanations and appreciate what I was seeing.  At first, I was a little disappointed in myself to select in the English-speaking group in Salamanca, but by the end of the day I was glad, because I got so much more out of the tour.  I’m all for challenging yourself, but sometimes it’s better to take a step back to be able to enjoy the moment.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Salamanca

A.J.H.