Today was our final full day in Spain! Traveling to Madrid has been such a fulfilling and enriching experience and I can’t believe how quickly these two weeks have flown by.
We spent our last few hours in Europe exploring the city today. Madrid is such a vivacious place; full of history, art, and dazzling landmarks. Lelia and I had already gotten a taste of the city on Sunday, when we had the day with our families, but I was so glad to get to experience it twice. It would take weeks to fully digest all that Madrid has to offer.
Lelia and I woke up bleary-eyed, but ready for our usual breakfast of pan de tostado (toast) with olive oil and salt, which is typical in Spain. We were out the door with our adorable twin host sisters in no time.
Our first stop was the Museo del Prado, which houses some of the most famous art in the world. We explored the works of Goya, Velazquez, and more, while strictly adhering to the no photo rule (well, kind of). I saw some of my favorite pieces like Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez. There is nothing quite like seeing paintings up close in real life; it never really compares to photographs.
After a quick stop for croissants, coffee, and the gift shop, we were on to our next destination: El Parque del Retiro! Famous for its stunning monuments and picturesque lake of rowboats, it made the perfect place to have our picnic lunch. It was lovely to walk through the urban park again. We basked in the sun and enjoyed our last bocadillos in the grass. Somewhere along the way we found time to buy ice cream and fake Gucci belts from vendors along the paths.
I am currently writing on my laptop while Lelia and the twins play keep away with one of Lelia’s birthday balloons around me. Every so often the balloon hits my head and they shriek with glee, “Pobre Laura!”
I am going to miss Martina and Olivia so much. I am going to miss my host mom Olivia’s kind smile and graciousness, and my host dad Jaime’s dry sense of humor and amazing cooking. I’ll miss learning new Spanish words and phrases every day, my host family correcting my awful American consonants, and exchanging tongue twisters and idioms. I never anticipated that I could learn and grow so much in just two weeks, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have never felt more home away from home, entirely immersed in a new culture and way of living. I have learned to look forward to the unexpected, because you just might have the time of your life.
Espero que nos veamos muy pronto, España.
Until then, adios… for now!
Written by Lelia Ottinger ’20, recounting March 14th
Today we started bright and early by taking a bus to the outskirts of El Escorial, the town where the famous castle and monastery of Philip II is located. We picked up our tour guide and headed to the beginning of the hike we would make to the top of one of the mountains of the Sierra mountain range. We started our trek, and after about 45 minutes of making our way up the mountain we took a little break near a fountain of natural spring water and a heard of wild cows. After our break, we continued on, with the hike getting harder and steeper as we went. But when we finally made it to the top, the views were well worth the difficult hike. We spent some time at the top, then it was time to head down the other side.
The way down proved very difficult as well, with almost all of us slipping and falling at least a couple of times, but we got to the bottom with few minor injuries and only one phone short of what we had at the start of the day. We all climbed back on the bus and napped on the way back to C.E.M.
Some of us headed to our favorite mall in Laz Rozas, Gran Plaza after school and ate an extremely late lunch and shopped for the remainder of the afternoon. It’s crazy to think this is one of the last day of the exchange and all of us are extremely sad to leave our host families and this beautiful country behind.
Written by Alexandra Konikoff ’20, recounting March 12th
Today we went to Segovia, Spain and some of the Spaniards joined us on this excursion which made it even more fun. We started the day by seeing an ancient Roman aqueduct that is still standing, and I have never seen anything like that before. After that we broke up into small groups of three, (2 Americans and 1 Spaniard per group) we did a group scavenger hunt around the city of Segovia. Which helped us get to know the Spaniards better. During the scavenger hunt my group walked by the filming of a movie, and took some videos which was very cool to see the behind the scenes of a movie!
We walked around in our groups for about an hour, and after the scavenger hunt we re-convened as a large group outside of the Alcázar de Segovia castle before entering. Once inside the castle we had a tour of the interior, and there were two groups, one tour in English and one in Spanish, and some of my friends and I chose the Spanish group so that we could better our Spanish and take the tour in all Spanish. We took a tour of the all of the beautiful rooms in the castle such as the bedroom, dining room, common area, weapon room, and the balcony. Each room in the castle was decorated with gold on the ceilings and and had beautiful tapestries hanging from the walls. After the two groups finished their respective tours we met up again and all climbed up the 156 stairs to the top of the castle together to look at the magnificent view and take lots of pictures.
We were all very tiered after the stairs so we had a siesta in a field and had the lunch that C.E.M provided us and relaxed. Señor Bunn also taught a yoga class for those that were interested. Our siesta lasted for about an hour and then after that it was time to head back to C.E.M for the day.
Written by Julia Duarte ’20, recounting March 10th
On Sunday, many of us spent the day with our host families, visiting different places and eating amazing food. I woke up at 9:30, drowsy, but ready for the adventure that awaited ahead. In my mind, I realized that I have been in Spain for one whole week. One whole week of creating memories, cultivating friendships, and experiencing a new version of life. After a quick shower, my host family and I hopped into the car and drove up to Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (as Elaina did yesterday!). The car ride there was filled with singing at the top of our lungs and laughing at countless jokes. I won’t go into the details of El Escorial because you’ve already read about the facts from the previous blog post, but rather, I’ll recount all of the small, special moments from this day. First of all, my host sister, Martina, and I bonded over the fact that we adore ‘80s music.
So far, this trip has taught me that communication is one of the most challenging, yet when achieved, extremely rewarding things in life. Only a mere week ago, I was taking this crucial skill for granted; however, these past few days have opened my eyes to its importance and difficulty. Whether it be through music or fragments of Spanish, the ability to communicate with someone so different yet so similar to you is something to be cherished.
In the afternoon, once we ate a small “aperitivo” (appetizer) at a nearby restaurant, more songs, both in Spanish and English, carried us home to the jardín (garden) where soon we would eat paella. After setting the table, Jaime, Martina, and I played around with a soccer ball. We shot the ball through a makeshift goal, played keepaway, and tried to meg each other. Towards the end of our antics, I was overcome with a burst of pure happiness and fell to the ground with laughter with Martina when we accidentally tripped over the ball at the same time. Soccer, the form of communication so prevalent in Spanish culture, proved to do just that for the two of us. Following our small one-on-one match, we renewed our efforts to relate to each other and began to talk about more than just our plans for the following day at school, which I am extremely thankful for.
Written by Elaina Tenfelde ’20, recounting March 9th
Hola! Today was our first, and only, full Saturday that we will have in Madrid. Therefore, the pressure was on to see and experience as many things as possible before the end of the day. I began my day at 8 a.m. when I woke up with the sun in my face and some birds singing outside. Not a bad way to start the morning. At 11:00 Gonzalo and I ventured over to Torrelodones to pick up Ashleigh and Alvaro. From there we drove to the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Madrid. Built in the 16th century on the orders of King Felipe II, the Sitio serves as an extremely popular tourist destination due to its breathtaking views and rich historical significance.
Once we arrived, we decided to go into the Monastery of El Escorial and take the self-guided tour. Looking back, I am so glad that we decided this because the monastery was BEAUTIFUL: gorgeous murals, majestic stone archways, and one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.
Personally, my favorite part of the tour was the artwork. The intricacy and style mimicked that on the Sistine Chapel (I think, I’ve never actually been) and the coloring was spectacular. There was on staircase that had biblical images all up the walls and covering the entire ceiling, so that you were completely surrounded by a rainbow of religion as you walked up it.
About 15 minutes later, we walked down to the lower levels, where the monks and nuns are laid to rest. While the marble and brass detailing was impressive, it was hard to escape that fact that you were surrounded by dead bodies. However, it was pretty cool to see the burial place for the kings and queens of the houses of Austria and Bourbon.