Saturday, June 27, 2015

Toledo y El Escorial

We have continued exploring the areas around Madrid before heading to Salamanca, which is about 3 hours away. On Tuesday, we visited Toledo, which is about an hour south of Madrid. Our program organizes the transportation for all of our excursions, so a coach bus picked us up near our hotel.

Toledo is built on the top of a hill and is surrounded by a river on three sides and a wall on the fourth side. Only about 10,000 people live actually in the center of the city, but many more live across the river or outside of the wall. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage City and it is easy to see why. It is known as the "Imperial City" and is famous for the co-existence of Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims. Toledo is the old capital of Spain.

As we arrived to Toledo, we met our guide and rode the bus up to get a panoramic view of the city. You can see for yourself that it's pretty incredible:

After taking some (read: quite a few) photos, we took the bus down to a bridge and began our walking tour of the city. Our guide told us that there are more than 100 churches in the city, many of which are now museums. The chains hanging on this church were hung in the late 14th century and symbolize the triumph of Christianity in the campaign to conquer Granada. 

Next, we went in a synagogue and got to see the ornate decorations. It is amazing how well preserved everything is.

Toledo is also the home of El Greco's masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which is found inside a small church. It was amazing to see how large this painting is, but photos were not allowed.

We continued through hilly Toledo to the main cathedral. This cathedral is consideredand most important in Spain and is the second largest in the country. It was constructed between 1227 and 1493.

One of many small side chapels inside the cathedral

The high altar

The choir and one of 10 organis inside. Spainish organs have both vertical and horizontal pipes

The Transparent, behind the high altar

El Greco's The Disrobing of Christ in a side room of the cathedral

This ceiling was painted in just 9 months

After our free time, we headed back to Madrid. A group of us went to a covered market near our hotel for a tapas dinner.

And then we went to the most famous chocolateria in Madrid for some churros con chocolate. They were delicious!!

The next morning we had to have our bags all packed and leave the hotel. It was a little hectic because we all had giant suitcases and the hotel elevator only fit one person and their luggage at a time. Then we had to take our bags out ino the super busy Puerta del Sol and wait for the bus to pick us up. Vehicles aren't technically supposed to stop in that area, so we had to load our luggage and get on the bus as soon as possible. While we were waiting for the bus, however, I got some nice photos of the Puerta del Sol.

The bus ride directly to Salamanca from Madrid is about 3 hours, but we took a side trip to El Escorial to visit the palace/monastery there. This is one of the royal sites in Spain. The complex was built in the mid 1500s by the king as a summer home, church, and school for the royals. The building also houses the remains of the Habsbourg and Bourbon rulers (1550 to present). It was really amazing to see, but we were not allowed to take photos inside. I think my favorite room was the library, because the books are so old and so pretty, plus the art in there was gorgeous.

After finishing our tour of El Escorial, we continued to Salamanca to meet our host families. The landscape of the countryside reminded me a lot of Eastern Oregon.

Crossing the Rio Tormes into Salamanca.

When we arrived in Salamanca, our host moms were all waiting for us at the bus stop. My roommate Lynzee (from Wisconsin) and I are living with a 70-year-old lady whose name is Vicenta. She is the sweetest! We live on the 5th floor (well really it is the 6th because the ground floor is 0) of an apartment builiding across the street from Salamanca's train station. There is also another American student living in our house (from another program) until July 11. We had the rest of the evening to unpack our suitcases and get situated in a new city that will be our home for the next seven weeks.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Exploring Madrid (The Prado, Retiro Park, and more)

Welcome back!

Our first full day in Madrid, we felt much better and were mostly recovered from the jetlag. We started out the morning by eating breakfast in the hotel (a wide spread of all sorts of food, including pastries, cereal, fruit, cheese, and meats) and then walking to the Prado Museum, about a mile away. This was a good way to get a better view of Madrid, and not just the most touristy area.

The Prado was INDREDIBLE. While we were not allowed to take pictures inside, here are some photos of the building:

Oh wait, I did take one inside before I realized that they weren't allowed... My bad!

For those of you who aren't aware, the Prado houses almost all of the most important Spanish paintings, including works from Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco. The museum's collection is condsidered one of the world's finest collections of European art, and dates from the 12th century to the early 19th century. We had a private group tour, which was great, because we were able to see and hear about the most famous paintings in the museum in just a short time. Among many others, we saw Velazquez's Las Meninas, Goya's Las Majas  and black paintings, El Greco's The Holy Trinity, and Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. 
Group photo at the end of our Prado visit
After a few hours in the museum, we had some free time, so wesplit up into groups to have lunch and explore the surrounding area, including Buen Retiro Park. For lunch, we found a small tea/sandwich shop:

None of us realized how big or pretty the park was before we got there, and we soon were in awe. Here are some photos:
The gate to enter Buen Retiro Park

After our free time, we went to the Museo Reina Sofia, or Queen Sofia's Museum. This museum opened in the 1990s and houses much of Spain's important art from the 20th century, including Picasso and Dali. The most famous piece housed at this museum is Picasso's Guernica. Once again, no photos allowed inside the museum, but here is a group photo outside:

By the time we were done at the Reina Sofia, we were all exhausted again and our feet were sore from standing and walking on hard, uneven surfaces all day. We headed back to the hotel for some "rest" but I ended up going with a group to get gelato between Plaza Mayor and our hotel. I got coconut and Nutella, and the shop forms the gelato into a flower on the cone, which we found pretty cool.

After gelato, we had a group meeting back at the hotel to talk about living in Salamanca, attending the University, and our host families. We got to confirm which classes we want to take and got personalized maps of the city with both our host family's house and the program office marked. By the end of the meeting, it was 9:30, which means time for dinner in Spain! My group had our heart set on paella (a traditional Spanish seafood and saffron rice dish), and we ended up eating in Plaza Mayor. It was delicious and not as expensive as we feared it would be. I also got to try my first tinto de verano (red wine mixed with lemon-lime soda), which is one of the most popular drinks in Spain.

We finished dinner around 11:00 and headed back to our hotel, just as the nightlife was beginning to pick up. Still getting used to the schedule here, but I'm getting the hang of it slowly but surely. :)

Arrival to Madrid

Hello everyone!!! Thanks for coming to read about what I'm up to this summer. :)

I am studying abroad for seven weeks in Salamanca, Spain, the quintessential university town in all of Spain. It just so happens that the university at which I will be studying (La Universidad de Salamanca) is one of the oldest in Europe, founded in 1218. That's right, they will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of its founding in three years! I will be taking classes in Spanish language and culture at the university, all taught in Spanish. I have a Spanish minor at Oregon State and this will help me complete the majority of the credits that I need for that part of my degree.

My trip began by flying from Portland to Dallas/Fort-Worth and then from there to Madrid on Saturday.
Although I was able to sleep a little bit on the second flight, I left my house at 3:30am and then arrived to Madrid at 8am the next morning due to the time difference. Needless to say, I was exhausted. After getting my luggage and going through customs, I met many other participants in my program inside the airport, many of them also from Oregon State. We waited for a few hours together until we were picked up from the airport by the program's Resident Director, Maria. Even though I didn't really know any of them before the trip, we all felt each other's pain and were very excited to get to our hotel in order to relax and take a nap. We are staying in Madrid for a few days before heading to Salamanca in order to see some sights in the city and explore the surrounding area.

Upon arrival to the hotel a little after 11am local time, some of the rooms weren't ready yet, so a few of us went to the hotel meeting room/living room to relax and get on the free wifi. :) Once my room was ready, I got a nice nap and then met my roommate, Lynzee, who is from Wisconsin. After resting for the afternoon, the whole group got together and we had an introduction to the program. There are 21 students from the United States who all arrived at the same time for the program.

After our meeting, Maria led us on a bit of a walking tour around the area of Madrid near our hotel. Since we are staying right in the Puerta del Sol, many of the sights of interest to tourists are within walking distance, including Plaza Mayor and plenty of shopping opportunities.
Many of us were rather impressed with the good quality and location of the hotel. We are getting our money's worth! Maria led us to a restaurant for our welcome dinner after the short tour where we enjoyed some traditional Spanish food. I had fish soup, roast duck, and a delicious pastry with sorbet for dessert.

Most of us were dragging by the end off dinner, so we went back to the hotel and called it an "early" night (it was about 10:30 when we got back but the activity in the Puerta del Sol was just starting to pick up.

Overall, it was a great first day in Spain!