These past few months have been incredible. There has been so much I have seen and learned about the Spanish culture, and it has brought everything together that I have learned throughout my years in high school and college. Although I seldom like to admit it, there are some things I actually miss about the United States. Being immersed in a whole other culture helps you to realize the things you take for granted in your home country/state.
I’ve compiled a list of the things I miss, but I am not letting them prevent me from enjoying my time here by any means! I acknowledge that it is okay to feel a little homesick, if you will, and it’s something you should actually embrace because that is a huge part of who you are. But first, here are some other things I’ve done here that I haven’t had the chance to mention in the previous posts because of all the adventures I’d been having. I’m now going through a sort of lull where I am not traveling for 2 weeks before my spring break. I’m going to need the energy!
A couple weeks ago, my Colorado friend with whom I share a first name decided to take to the hills for a refreshing day of hiking in the mountains. Cercedilla is a rural town an hour north of Madrid by train and we left early in the morning to not waste daylight. When we arrived, we started up to the entrance of the trails. On the way, we made some friends.
Afterward, we scaled the mountain on a 3 mile trail and got a breathtaking view from above.
It was rather relaxing and it made for a nice break from the smoggy city air, chatter of the city and strict schedules of everyday life. I encourage everyone, no matter where you live, to take a day once a month and surround yourself with nature. Turn off your smartphone, tablet and computer and breathe in the unpolluted air of a forest, mountain, or possibly a beach (depending).
I am in my element.
I got some other great pictures while I was there as well!
A bee busy at work.
Downy pussy-willow blooming
I even saw snow for the first time since leaving New York in December!
For a class field trip one Friday, we went to El Escorial and Valle de los Caídos (which I will soon be describing). El Escorial is a monastery, royal palace, museum, and school all in one. We spent the day touring the inside and they were super strict on taking pictures. Ughh.
View from inside the courtyard
One thing that I thought was pretty cool was that the same guy who designed it (Juan Bautista), also happened to design St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome! Philip II hired him and they made this building as a monument to Spain’s role as a center of the Christian world. Yeah, that’s not pretentious at all…
Inside the building is the where the royalty is buried as well. Unfortunately, they’re running out of space so Juan Carlos (the current king of Spain), is going to need to find somewhere else to lie his bones.
Lovely ceiling within
The building was started and finished between the years 1563-1584. Bautista didn’t live to see it to completion, much like Gaudi in today’s times with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Nice, sunny day at El Escorial!
Valle de los Caídos
Let’s fast-forward a bit now, about 350 years later to the dictatorship of Franco. Work started in 1940 and took over eighteen years to complete, with 10% of the workers being political prisoners. Nestleed in the Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid, it was made to honor and bury those who fell during the Spanish Civil War. Franco stated that the reason it was created was to serve as a “national act of atonement” and reconciliation to the people. This whole monument has been very controversial in the years it’s been around.
The most striking feature is the 500 foot cross that towers above, which normally can be climbed. However when we went, the conditions were too dangerous due to falling rock. Lovely.
This monument includes a Catholic Basilica, an Abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos — four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. Not to mention, a spectacular view!
I could get used to this.
The breathtaking basilica dome. This picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice!
Also interestingly enough, this is where Franco himself is buried. I stood right above him! Eerie and awesome at the same time. My feet were above a Spanish dictator. You can’t say that every day!
Since I have some friends up in Valladolid, (2.5 hours north of Madrid), I decided I could visit. Remember the Argentinians I met in London? One of them was studying here and she was kind enough to let me stay with her for the night.
There’s not much to see in Valladolid. It’s your everyday Spanish city, with its fair share of Catholic churches, schools and plazas. I got the grand tour though from my friend and I saw the buildings at night, which was the best!
I went to a barbeque the day before with her and met some really nice Spaniards and tried morcilla for the first time, which is blood sausage. Despite the name, it’s actually pretty good!
She also taught me how to longboard! Well…kind of…
The next Tony Hawk?? (lol jk, I could barely stay on the board)
I also saw some “pavos reales”, peacocks!! 🙂 If you literally translate “pavo real”, it means “royal turkey.” Makes sense…
I’d never seen one in person before, so that was definitely a highlight of my trip!
I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person but I thought I would be able to go out that night. But it was soooo cold and I just didn’t have it in me. I don’t know how the Spanish do it, or Argentinians for that matter. My friend got back that “night” at 6:30am and then was up the next day for more. I wouldn’t even be able to keep my eyes open if I did that!
The town of the “casas colgadas”, this little pueblo and its whimsical looking homes reminded me of book three of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. “Casas colgadas” translates as “hanging houses”, and that’s what these homes were! They were suspended unnervingly over a cliff, looking ever so picturesque.
Wide Window much?
There was even your typical narrow wooden bridge that we had to cross to get to the city.
Not for those with fear of heights (like myself)
Once we got to the main city though, it was your normal Castilla-style town, with sandy-colored buildings, bustling locals, cafes, souvenir shops and the like.
Of course, there was a cathedral.
On my own, I wouldn’t have gone inside. But since it was a class field trip, I had to go in to look around and take the tour. Amidst the renaissance and baroque-inspired architecture, there were some neoclassic and modern influences such as the windows.
And a couple sculptures:
I thought this one above was particularly beautiful because it shows the distress on the Virgin Mary’s (Jesus’ mother) behind him, upon seeing her son being persecuted.
Embodying the Gothic Anglo-Norman style, work on building this began in 1196 and was completed in 1257. King Alfonso VIII largely defined its construction. The official name is the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Gracia. The façade of the building is fairly recent, from 1902 and demonstrating a neo-gothic appearance.
It was indeed a lovely church, but then again all the Catholic churches in Spain are very beautiful!
Now all they need is some heaters and we’re all set!
We also walked around a bit and saw some beautiful homes and archaeological ruins!
We went into a Modern Art Museum as well and if we didn’t have a guide, I wouldn’t have gotten anything from the experience.
I liked this sculpture, which the artist had actually encouraged people to touch it and move it around to their liking.
Okay, now I’ll let you know some things I miss about the United States, David Letterman style. Some of these are really small, but once you’ve been out of your home country for long enough, you start to notice these things!
1. Buying groceries: I am a largely independent person and not being able to buy/choose my own foods is kind of driving me crazy. Maybe it’s the Orthorexia talking, but I need to be able to buy, prepare and cook my own meals. That’s what I’ve learned since being here! Please don’t get me wrong—I appreciate everything my host family does and the food they cook—a lot actually. This is just one of my quirks I suppose.
2. Free coffee refills: Another round, please! Oh wait, that’s not a thing here since when you order a “coffee”, they give you an espresso. Unless you order a “café americano”. In that case, they will still give you the espresso, just diluted with water. Coffee is more expensive here, and since they give you espresso (which is worth more), cafeterias can’t be just giving away free refills to everyone all the time. While I’m at it, free tap water is another thing I miss. Those kind of thing only really happen in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
I want moreeee!
3. Friends: It’s getting to me now (a little). All of the Overheard at Geneseo posts, and new happenings on campus make me miss my school a little bit. But more importantly, the people in it. It makes me glad I chose to stay an extra semester for grad work. Literally my whole senior year was spent off-campus, student teaching and studying abroad…man that time flew!
4. My car: I miss being able to just get into my own car and go somewhere, blasting my music and singing off-key to whichever destination I was heading toward. The freedom of a car is lovely, although I don’t miss draining my wallet into my gas tank!
5. Wegmans: I miss the variety of Wegmans in its options for foods, as well as the service and atmosphere. Not much more can be said about this one.
6. Breakfasts: As I’ve said before, eggs aren’t a breakfast food. Neither are English Muffins, pancakes, bacon, sausage…basically anything we Americans eat for breakfast. I miss frying up some eggs with some flapjacks on a Sunday morning for my desayuno. By the way, Kristan—if you are reading this, you are totes getting me some Phil and Cindy’s when I get back. Gracias.
7. Familiarity: Undoubtedly, I miss the overall familiarity of my hometown and university area. I also miss the community of people in the Jamestown and Geneseo area. This topic comes into play especially with my running. Here, the roads are more confusing less familiar, there are more people (SLOW people), stoplights, and less long country roads to run on.
8. The U.S. dollar: Okay, so it’s not like I miss the U.S. dollar itself. Actually, I think the euro is pretty cool, and the one and two euro coins are very handy. But what I am really referring to is the value. The U.S. dollar is worth around .70 in Euro, fluctuating a few cents here and there. One day, I took out 250 Euro because taking out more at one time helps with fees. The receipt showed me that it was equal to 350 USD. Ouch. Yeah, I’m ready to spend exact amounts again.
U.S. Dollar value is decreasing
9. My family: All right, all right. I’ll admit that I am kind of maybe beginning to sort of perhaps occasionally miss my family. I haven’t seen my brother (the older, really tall one) in a particularly long time because he had gone to boot camp in the beginning of December, so by the time I return it will have been exactly 6 months since I have seen him last. The first thing we’re doing is hitting up the gym for an intense lifting sesh.
Also, my mom’s posts about my little(r) bro makes me miss him all the more. He is so young and innocent and sweet, but he is growing up so fast! I am always faced with the controversy of furthering my college career and the heartbreak of not being able to spend more time with him at this age. Before I know it, he’ll be all grown up like me (yikes) and I want to treasure the moments of when he is young as much as possible.
March is a big month of birthdays for my family (grandma, mom, sister, brother), and I had to miss all of them being across the world. I wish I could have been there, but there isn’t really much I can do if this is the way the wind takes me.
10. My friend, Jess-I know I’ve said it before, but I really miss this girl! We understand each other and are best buds. She’s always been there for me and I hope I can say the same for her. Don’t worry though, we have a whole fun day/week planned for when I get back!
I will reiterate: Although these are some things I miss about home, I am by no means moping around wanting to go back right away. In fact, in less than one month I’ll already be home, this wonderful experience dissolving into a crazy, fleeting dream. Therefore, this has inspired me to grab hold of every moment I have left here and enjoy it to its fullest. I’ll have my whole life to be in the U.S. (maybe!), so I need to soak in as much culture and experience as possible before my departure.
The world is my playground!
TAPAS QUOTE OF THE WEEK
I haven’t really gone out for tapas lately, but I will try to have one for next week!! However, I did find this quote which I really liked!
Next week, I am going to PARIS, FRANCE!
I need to go practice my French!
Until next time,