The GoGlobal Blog

One Country, Two Weekends, Three Trips

One Country, Two Weekends, Three Trips

Hola amigos y familia!

To make good on my promise for frequent life updates, I am currently coming to you live from a bus traveling back to Madrid after a long weekend away. These past few weeks have been insanely busy with both school and traveling in full gear, and so I have only now found the time to write this update as I sit here grumbling over the eight freaking hours I have left on this bus. *Sigh,* life is hard. Anyway, before the semester starts to speed on by, I want to recap the first couple free weekends that I have had in Spain. So without further ado, here is my review on the Zaragoza Province, Toledo, and Barcelona.

On the Saturday of our first free weekend, a group of us traveled to the Zaragoza region of Spain on a pre-organized trip to see the Monasterio de Piedra. The Monastery was a long two and a half hour bus ride from Madrid, and brought us into a rural area of the country with beautiful scenery and backdrops. It was a cold and rainy day, even snowing at one point, however we still loved walking around the old Monastery and learning the history of the region. The highlight of the trip, though, was actually the surrounding gardens of the Monastery, which featured a huge number of beautiful waterfalls. We spent the day hiking around the picturesque garden area and admiring all of the immense waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and vast caves. It was a wonderfully organized trip, that left us feeling as though we had stumbled upon a hidden jewel in the heart of Spain.

The next day we traveled to Toledo with the same prearranged group. This too was a very fun trip that offered loads of information about Spanish history and specifically the medieval town itself in relation to this history. We visited the huge cathedral and the various religious quarters that are situated around the center of the city. Eventually, a smaller group of us wandered off to explore the city for ourselves and hiked around the winding, cobblestone streets. The day trip was incredibly relaxed, and we took our time eating lunch and sampling the locally-produced sweet, marzipan. Toledo was extremely interesting to visit due to its turbulent history involving the coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims all within the city’s boundaries. Evidence of such differing religious preferences is still very evident within Toledo, thus producing a very unique culture set within the context of a visibly ancient city. Now, because I have been cursed to live a life characterized by an endless string of embarrassing moments, it was only a matter of time before this was transferred over to my life abroad. The most notable embarrassing moment from this particular trip, (note that I say the MOST notable, signifying that I could actually write an entire blog entry on embarrassing moments from these first few weeks alone), occurred when we were visiting a synagogue that had been converted into a museum. After walking in the entrance, I spotted a trash can in the corner of the room which I proceeded to dump a pocket full of tissues in. This was immediately followed by an angry security guard yelling that it was not in fact a trash can as I had originally thought, but an umbrella holder. Feeling super flustered and embarrassed, I did the only thing that seemed logical in the moment, and ran away to hide in the middle of my tour group. I spent the rest of the museum tour simultaneously admiring the old synagogue and hiding from every security guard that passed, as I was SURE that they were all after me for my tissue debacle. My American education failed me, as it did not prepare me for culturally-superior Europe where umbrella holders are apparently a thing. However don’t worry about my self-esteem, as I will continue to blame my great country for all of the failures that I have already experienced and will surely continue to experience overseas.

While the two previously described trips consisted of short, day excursions, our trip to Barcelona required a full Thursday-Monday block of time. After traveling seven hours by bus to reach the city, my roommates and I spent the weekend exploring the different neighborhoods and attractions by foot. We visited the city’s infamous tourist sites, such as the port area, the busy La Rambla street, the open air La Boquería market, and the Gaudí house, Casa Batlló. We later realized that we had walked over seven miles this first morning in Barcelona, definitely justifying the 15 Euro haul of candy I had bought earlier in the day.  After a much needed siesta and late lunch, we hung around the hostel that we were staying in for the weekend and received our first taste of hostel-living. Much to our surprise, the hostel was not a gross, cesspool of random people, which definitely defied my initial expectations. In reality, the hostel was a fun living space which both motivated us to explore the city by offering special activities and facilitated interaction between the guests. We met travelers from around the globe, including from Scotland, Germany, Australia, Panama, and Egypt to name a few, and spent the rest of our weekend with these once random strangers. One of the girls we met in our hostel clicked so well with our group that not only did we spent the rest of the weekend sightseeing with her, but she actually came to visit us in Madrid a few days later. After this trip I feel confident in saying that I now truly understand the appeal of hostels and am looking forward to booking more during my travels. The next day in Barcelona was spent visiting La Sagrada Familia and the gothic neighborhood of the city. Both areas were very interesting, though in my opinion, only necessary to visit once in a lifetime, and for a short amount of time. We eventually found ourselves in need of caffeine and warmth, and so found a local Starbucks (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) to spend some time recuperating in. I am NOT exaggerating when I say visiting a foreign Starbucks has been the largest culture shock I have yet to receive in my time abroad. Drip coffee in Spain is not popular, but never in a hundred million years did I imagine that a Starbucks would not prominently display the “normal” coffee offerings that I have grown so lovingly accustomed to in the States. Please take a second to empathize with my situation, as I was unable to order my grande, blonde roast coffee with room for cream. I understand if you immediately feel disgustingly horrified, just as I did, at the fact that a young, culturally-stupid, American could not order her usual coffee beverage. Such a shame. I will say, though, that what Starbucks lacked in coffee offerings, they made up for in pastry options. They offered a huge selection of unique selections that I had to literally walk away from in order to resist the temptation. Now before I completely digress into this Starbucks tangent, I will stop myself and return to the deep, worldly, and thought provoking experiences that I am supposed to be having and that you actually want to read about. However while I am on the topic of food, we did end the night at a great tapas restaurant, where we ordered a huge selection of small plates to fill our food-deprived bellies. On our final day in Barcelona, we visited the famous Park Güell that had been designed by Gaudí. The park was a very great end to our trip, as it offered amazing views of the city. Our overall impression of Barcelona was incredibly positive, with all three of us roommates agreeing that we needed to return later in the semester when we could fully enjoy the beaches and warm weather that is typical of the city.

To end this post, I want to prove to my parents and any other haters out there that I am actually learning a thing or two in my travels.  Here is a compilation of fun facts that I have learned about/from the places I have traveled to thus far:

  • From the Monastery:
    • Drinking wine and eating pork in public areas were very important in medieval Spain, as it signaled that you were a “good” Christian. This was especially important during the Inquisitions, and is one of the reasons why butchers hung pork in the windows of their shops.
    • The alters of medieval churches are always oriented to the east. This is because Jerusalem is located to the east of these European countries, and so the alter was used to point the way toward the holy land.
  • From Toledo:
    • There are only three medieval synagogues left in Spain, which two located with Toledo. Much like the alter in the Christian Cathedrals, the Holy Wall of the synagogue was ornately decorated and always oriented toward the east to signify the direction toward Jerusalem.
    • The river that surrounded most of the city acted as a natural moat that protected Toledo from foreign threat. Walls were erected around the area of the city that was left exposed.
  • From Barcelona:
    • Park Güell was originally meant to serve as a backdrop and private park for the extremely wealthy families that would eventually be living nearby. However a lack of interest and money lead the park to be given to the city of Barcelona, who then opened it as a public park.
    • Gaudí is buried in the crypts of La Sagrada Familia, as it was deemed as his most cherished, life project.

Thanks to everyone who completed reading this week’s blog! I promise they will not all be this extremely long, but I am a little behind and ask you to bear with me as I attempt to catch up in my entires. Please check out my pictures which I have uploaded to Facebook as well, I promise they are probably much cooler to look at than reading this blog is. Lots of love for you all, and stay tuned for entries detailing life in Madrid, trips to Morocco, and other random abroad experiences!

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