I was on a balcony. I had a view. There were gardens, mountains, and pieces of art. A cool breeze was passing through. The only thing that was missing was my princely clothes and my crown. My visit to the monastery of El Escorial was like a fairy tale story. This giant monument is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a charming municipality with picturesque mountain views and architecture that complements the scenery. I was taken aback when I learned that it was the residence of Spain’s austere King Phillip II. The ancient monastery includes eerie royal catacombs, a meticulously decorated basilica, gardens, courtyards, multiple rooms, and artwork from many centuries ago.
Our group finally was able to reach one of the upper floors where the king’s art collection was being displayed. A balcony with an open door caught my attention. “Awesome! A view!” was one of the first things that came to my mind. Little did I know I was entering my very own storybook scene complete with a gorgeous view of part of the castle-like monastery, artsy gardens bellow, and magically verdant mountains in the distance.
Walking past San Lorenzo’s colorful buildings on our way to El Escorial monastery.
A grand view of one of El Escorial’s facades.
A view of El Escorial’s surrounding buildings that complement its austere character.
A view of the charming, story-book town of San Lorenzo against the mountains.
The beautiful facade of the monastery’s basilica. Its outer appearance does not do justice to its marvelous interior.
A look at the old interior halls El Escorial.
A view of one of the monastery’s inner courtyards.
A side view of El Escorial monastery.
The charming streets of San Lorenzo.
An enchanting view through a window of El Escorial monastery.
The inviting streets of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
We stumbled upon a cute restaurant in San Lorenzo with a tree canopy.
Walking down a street in San Lorenzo.
A collection of colorful buildings in San Lorenzo de El Escorial greeted me when I arrived.
What is the best way to capture the life and grandness of Spain?” I would ask myself. I can almost visualize the days flying by to my departure from this treasured land. How can I make it last? How can I portray a general overview of this place that greets me with a load of surprises?
One answer I have found is overhead shots of the cities. From such a high perspective, analyzing the “big picture” or capturing the general atmosphere of the places I have been to comes much easier. It makes the pieces easier to put together. That one moment I got lost in that one neighborhood will make much more sense when I see how its buildings fit in with its nearby locations. That one friend I met on that one street will become more memorable to me when I see the architecture and street life that surrounded our encounter.
“Zooming out” has really made me appreciate how interconnected my experience has been. It makes me see that whatever struggle I was facing at that time, outside my bubble, there was still beauty, life, and hope surrounding me, whether or not I chose to see it at that moment. Please enjoy these wonderful over-head shots of Spain and be reminded of how interconnected your experiences are with the world around you. Click on the photos to view in slideshow format with their descriptions!
View of Cibeles in Madrid taken from the town hall building.
A view of a street corner from the ancient wall of Avila.
A view of Avila’s Basilica of San Vicente and its surrounding areas.
A view of Avila from the heights of its wall.
A view of Madrid and its Catedral de La Almudena from a hill near the Debod temple.
A view of Callao, a section of Madrid’s famous street, Gran Via.
An over-head view of Callao, a section of Madrid’s famous street, Gran Via.
An aerial view of Madrid from the tower of Moncloa.
An aerial view of Madrid from the tower of Moncloa.
An aerial view of Madrid’s Complutense University from the tower of Moncloa.
A snapshot of some artful gardens taken from a bridge over the Manzanares river.
Me posing in front of a mountain view of Cercedilla, a town outside of Madrid.
A semi-aerial view of the picturesque gorges that surround the city of Toledo.
A view of Toledo from the one of its bridges.
A view of Sevilla from the enormous Las Setas structure.
A view of Sevilla from the enormous Las Setas structure.
A view of rural land on a scenic train ride from Sevilla.
Comically posing on a mountain overlooking Cercedilla, a town outside of Madrid.
Enjoying a picturesque view of Cercedilla and its nearby areas from atop a mountain.
Attractive people, efficient public transportation system, surprises at every corner, and cool-sounding colloquial words are just some of the things I have liked most about my study abroad experience here in Spain. However, one of my favorite things has been the architecture. Even though I am not an expert that can identify the different kinds of styles I have come across, I am a student with a camera that can wonderfully capture their timeless beauty.
Click on the photos below to view them as a slideshow along with their descriptions!
The Royal Palace
A curious street corner in Madrid
A beautiful building near the town hall of Madrid.
El Ayuntamiento de Madrid (the town hall)
An interesting building near Puerta del Sol in Madrid
The national Prado Museum in Madrid.
The details of the facade of the cathedral within El Escorial.
The facade of the cathedral of the Escorial.
Some colorful red buildings near Plaza Mayor in Madrid
The entrance gate and wall of Toledo
A meticulously designed gate wall in Toledo
The cathedral of Toledo is one of the largest in Spain.
A beautiful street corner in Madrid.
The Almudena cathedral in Madrid at dusk.
An artistic structure near the Legazpi neighborhood in Madrid.
Las Setas in Seville, Spain.
An eclectically inspired building facade in Seville.
A cathedral near the tower of Seville.
The beautiful inner plaza of the Alcazar de Sevilla in Seville.
The Plaza de Espana in Seville.
A look at the detailed buildings of Seville’s Avenida de la Constitucion.
An interesting orange building near Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
A tasteful arc on a building near Gran Via in Madrid.
Click on the photos below to view as a slideshow and descriptions!
The cathedral’s inner plaza-square
The cathedral’s inner plaza-square
Passing through a large chamber underneath the cathedral
A look from inside the meticulously crafted cathedral
Passing through one of the large interior arches of the cathedral
Hand-made stained glass windows!
The light passing through the windows’ particles set a great atmosphere for prayer.
The interior the sanctuary with an upper balcony.
An exterior view of the outside of the cathedral.
I do not think I had ever heard the words “recycled” and “cathedral” together like this until CIEE, the program through which I am studying abroad, sent out the cultural activity invitation. Out of curiosity I registered for the event and waited to see how this strange title could unfold. Before the event, I pictured in my mind an old Gothic or Roman-inspired cathedral. Once I would walk in, I would be surprised to find it to be a bustling bazaar or a form of open-air supermarket.
I was wrong. The group and I traveled to a small town called Mejorada del Campo within the community of Madrid. We walked for a good distance past tranquil townhouses, charming restaurants, and even metal barriers that lined some of the streets to protect the locals when the townspeople would hold bull runs! Suddenly, a tall colorful structure began to appear in the distance. As we drew closer, our director welcomed us to the recycled cathedral and I was perplexed by what I was seeing.
The steps were a dark reddish umber and the main body was a sandy tan, with multiple other others sprinkled in different parts. The two-story structure had massive towers and multiple sections. At first, the cathedral looked abandoned because of the unfinished walls and the support material that was visible in several parts. We went inside and our director, who lives in Mejorada del Campo, explained that the cathedral is actually unfinished and is still in progress. The materials used to construct it are recycled materials from different parts of the town and the rest of Spain, donated by supporters of the work. A light-bulb lit in my head, expressing, “Oooh.”
This amazing and colorful structure was started and is still being constructed by a 92-year-old man named Don Justo. He started the project in the early 1960s and, with his devout faith in God, is still helping with the construction making hand made stained glass windows and mixing cement.
They warned me. People have told me over and over that the eating schedule in Spain is very different from that of the United States. What did I do? I brushed off the comments and thought to myself, “Meh, I’ll be able to handle it. Nothing to sweat.” To some extent I was right, I can handle sometimes the late lunches and the extremely late dinners. But sometimes, my body refuses to obey. All I can think about is the mouth-watering gastronomy of this precious land and the inexplicable joy that I get at every meal.
This should not be a surprise because I am a man that likes to eat. When my stomach tugs at my mind for food, I have trouble concentrating on my schoolwork. Lunch and dinner being later than what I am used to really challenges me in this area. In the United States, I may eat lunch at 11:00 am, noon, or maybe even 1:00 pm. In Madrid, my classes run right through what I use to call “lunch time” and have me eating at 2:30 or 3:00 pm. When I am finally out of class, I speed-walk to the dining hall where they serve delicious, typical Spanish dishes or to Donner Kebab, a high-quality Turkish restaurant that is popular among the students.
“When’s dinner?” my stomach mumbles an hour after I eat my large lunch. Normally in the U.S.A, I may have dinner at 5:00 pm, 6:00 pm, or maybe 7:00 pm at the latest. Here, my host mom calls me from my room to eat dinner at 9:30 pm, 10:00 pm, or 10:30 pm. All the waiting makes the meal much more enjoyable. Marilé, my host mom, prepares a variety of Spanish dishes that I savor every time. Lentejas, morcia de Burgos, huevos fritos, sopa de calabaza do not name even half of the foods she serves.
Even though the lunches and dinner may be later than what I am used to, through this change, I have learned to savor every bite and leave each meal happy. Waiting tends to make each God-given plate special and more delicious than it already is.
Click on a photo to view in slide show format and each description!
The famous churros and chocolate from Chocolateria de San Gines.
Sanjacobas (fried ham and cheese patties), eggs, and bread
Carcamusa (meat stew with tomatoes and vegetables) and bread
Veal with vegetables
Carols III University has a wide selection of foods to choose from in its dining halls.
Fried fish, pisto (vegetable mixture with tomatoes and peppers), and bread
I took a cooking class where I learned to make paella, gazpacho, and an almond dessert.
Cinnamon french toast with ice cream at La Gloria de Montera restaurant
Donner Kebab (meat, lettuce, and various sauces on bread) with fries at the famous Donner Kebab restaurant
Glazed almonds made by residents in a convent in Alcala de Henares
Boiled eggs, fried fish, and cheese slices
Lentejas, jam, eggs, and bread
Pasta, breaded chicken, tomatoes, and bread
Fried calamari with leafy greens and lemon at La Gloria de Montera restaurant
Tosta de Atun (toasted bread slice with tuna and sauce) and pizza with cheese, tomatoes, and basil
My host mom packed me some delicious mini-sandwiches for a day trip to Avila!
Classic spanish tortilla (potatoes and egg omelet), spanish ham, slices of cheese, and bread
“Medieval walls? Santa Teresa de Jesus? A 16th century home?” were questions that were going through my head as I toured the nearby cities of Avila and Alcala de Henares. I could not contain myself when I found myself face to face with thousands of years of history. What topped off the experience was that both cities were having medieval festivals!
Avila, Spain, which is an old city to the west of Madrid, where I am studying, shattered my expectations as my host mom and I inched closer and closer to the city center where the behemoth wall stood. The wall is almost 1,000 years old and encircles the historic city center. We went through one of the main entrances and were greeted by lively folk music, people in colorful medieval costumes, and a plethora of vendors selling souvenirs and food.
On my way out, I did not hesitate to try Avila’s famous Patatas Revolconas, to visit the ancient Cuatro Postes, or to learn more about Santa Teresa de Jesus who lived in Avila.
My thirst for history led me further to Alcala de Henares, an ancient city just east of the city of Madrid. I felt honored to stand in a city founded in pre-Roman times. I was able to visit an archeological museum where million-year-old fossils were displayed along with Roman mosaics and other ancient artifacts. I also received a tour of the house where 16th century author Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, was born. Stepping outside into the streets of Alcala, I found charming streets bustling with people who have come for the medieval festival. Mini parades of people dressed in armor and mystical creatures livened the avenues of vendors.
So much has happened in the past few days that I feel a gallery of photos would better express my excitement for the wonders that I had the privilege of beholding. The enormous Palacio Real (ironically, the king and queen do not live here), the beautiful and monumental Almudena Cathedral where the current king and queen of Spain held their wedding, the awe-inspiring Madrid town hall (El Ayuntamiento de Madrid), and the oldest restaurant in the world (el Restaurante Botín, which was founded in 1725) are just a few of the sights that made me beam with life.
It felt like love at first flight when I first landed in Madrid. My first time being outside of the continent of North America gave me unbearable happiness. I could not help but release some of this joy through expressive eyebrow raising, dramatic gasps, and oh-my-goshes as I watched my dream unfold before me. While everyone seemed to stay calm around me in the airport, on the bus to the CIEE office, and in the public squares, I was bouncing with anticipation. I felt like a child overflowing with innocent God-given wonder. The friendly Spanish people were not hesitant to sit next to me, a stranger, nor were they too reserved to happily answered my questions as I ordered tapas. I felt very free. I felt so free that I got lost on my way back to my lovely home-stay! I took that time to ask for directions in Spanish, to sight-see, and to act like a local. It feels like I am falling in love with Madrid already, and I have only been here one day!