Category Archives: Madrid

Happiness is best when shared–#msuspain heads into the wild

Knowing that our final days in Spain are dwindling down has created an elephant in the room type of situation for #msuspain. We are all very aware that Saturday is quickly chasing us down, ready to pounce and send us back to reality, but nobody wants to acknowledge it. In this spirit, we are living in the moment and trying to squeeze as much fun and excitement out of every day. Today’s final “field trip” to Segovia, a town located 50 miles northwest of Madrid, has been a microcosm of our past three weeks in amazing city.

“On time is late” – A quote from my middle school band teacher

It’s not always easy getting 11 people to a specific location on time (especially since nine of them are girls, if you know what I mean), so we’ve all had our fair share experiences of being late. Sometimes it’s because an alarm doesn’t go off, or other times it’s when you accidentally take the metro the wrong way. In today’s case, you board the wrong train and end up having to wait around for two hours to catch the next one.

In Karl’s defense, he had us all up and rearing to go at 7:45 am, and we were at the train station by 8:20 for our 8:45 train. Unfortunately, he received some faulty intel from a train station employee and we ended up getting on at the wrong platform. Karl realized something was wrong when there weren’t any other passengers on train, which prompted us all to sprint to another platform, but it was all for naught. The train had already shut its doors and we were forced to set up camp in the train station for two and a half hours until the next train left the station at 11:30 am. However, the hours flew by as we played cards, worked on our flipbooks and got more than enough of our daily allotted sugar intake for the day with gummy worms and other assorted candies. When the eventually time came, we ventured onto the correct platform and headed off toward Segovia.

Oh, it’s just another amazing European church again. Yawn.

We have visited countless churches during our time in Europe, and it seems like each one just tops the next. Whether it’s been in Barcelona, Toledo or El Escorial, each cathedral finds a new way to impress. The cathedral in Segovia was breathtaking in its own right, but since we have already witnessed these other amazing houses of God, it just seemed like another church. We’ve been spoiled rotten with these religious spectacles since we’re at the point where they all appear to look the same.

After the tour of the church, we did a little window shopping and continued our journey through Segovia. More than once we had to press up flat against brick buildings to allow cars to pass through the narrow, cobble stone streets. It just made our adventure to the castle that much better.

The weird little beasts love to explore.

Our group does not shy away from adventure.  This troupe eats adventure for breakfast, well, after our usual cafe con leche to start the day, that is. If you need any more proof, just look to El Escorial. Karl has been building up our trip to Segovia the past couple of weeks with tales the last groups’ excursion to a picturesque location that was perfect for snapping shots of the town’s famous castle, Alcazar. With this mind, we were all excited for the amazing hike that would be in store for us today. Eight members of today’s group were brave enough, cunning enough, and more importantly on this scorching hot day, hydrated enough to take on the task of finding this unique viewing point. The rest of the group joined Karl and Nancy for succulent suckling pig and drinks in Plaza Mayor back in the city. Armed with our water bottles, cunning and vague memories of Karl’s instructions as to how to reach the location, we headed off. We wandered around streets and down a wooded path before eventually stumbling upon a road. We spotted a trail heading up a hill and decided to pursue it. The exploration party climbed a steep, dirt path slope and came across a plateau which offered a gorgeous view of the castle. Not satisfied, when then climbed even higher, this time ascending to the spot, the best view of the castle. It was essentially a 360 degree shot of the entire surrounding area, and those of us who made the hike couldn’t have been happier with what we had accomplished.

5 unforgettable weeks

Since this appears to be my final blog of the trip, I suppose this is an appropriate time for me to be sentimental. I never imagined that I would have so much fun and make such lasting lifelong memories with eleven folks I had just met five weeks before. I have had a couple classes with a few group members (Catherine and I actually have had four classes together and actually never really spoke to one another before. Oops!) but we were nowhere near as close as we are now. As sad as the reality that our time in Spain is almost up, I will always cherish these memories and these people. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of 10 other little, weird beasts to spend five weeks with. On that note, Adam and I, the other wolf in my wolf pack as well as my fellow soul sister, have formed an unbreakable friendship that has spanned boarders, time zones, and multiple soccer jerseys. We have completely revolutionized the way people think about blogging, first with our infamous “Living on a dream” video back in Barcelona, and then with our innovative infographics on the Prado Museum. We’d like to end our time here in Spain on a high note with this moving piece (we’re currently experiencing technical difficulties with the video and should have it up soon. We apologize for the inconvenience). We hope you have all enjoyed experiencing our travels through the points of view of the only two guys on this trip as much as we have enjoyed being stuck with these nine fantastic chicas. Jersey boys forever!

Adios!

John

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Laura E. gets sentimental…

There are certain moments I want to box up in a little glass snow globe to keep on my nightstand so I can shake it and relive my favorite days. This was one of those days, but I know that no image or representation of it could ever do it justice. Just for kicks, here are some photos that could give you some idea of what we saw.

El Escorial is a little town that is a 45 minute bus ride northwest of Madrid, famous for its royal palace that includes a cathedral, monastery, school, library, gardens and fabulous views. The castle was built for King Philip II starting in 1563, taking 21 years to complete.

Our tour guide was a little bespectacled man of what I’ll call great knowledge and enthusiasm, with English annunciation worthy of an impression perfected by Karl. The religious devotion of King Philip II is apparent in the solemn severity of the architecture and the lack of frivolity in his court. The inlaid wood doors and original tile work still preserved today are remarkable artisan achievements of which I could hardly believe were created almost 500 years ago.

After our castle tour and garden exploration we had lunch in a café that offered us the cheapest price (9 €) for the menu of the day – I had something the waiter and I called “revolutionary potatoes” (which arose from my lack of proper pronunciation of the real dish) and chicken, along with a couple sips of wine, making the hike through the rain – did I forget to mention the rain? – much more enjoyable.

So, this castle was sweet. The gardens were equally amazing. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty of the three-mile hike we took to the top of the mountain overlooking the castle. Each sight of the day was more breathtaking than the last.

Nancy led the 12 of us along a winding road up the mountain. The majority of us were cloaked in an array of colorful ponchos, making it hard to lose the group and great for taking photos. Do you know how pretty everyone looks in ponchos?

The hike should have taken about half the time, but it seems we are easily distracted by every moss covered boulder and field of wildflowers. The defining moment of the day for me was (probably a little too recklessly) jumping up on a rock that overlooked the most beautiful and vast greenery I’ve ever seen, gasping, and screaming for everyone else to climb up. The look on each person’s face as they registered the view was the most amazing display of human emotion I could imagine.

Reaching the top of the mountain, we climbed up the manmade rock steps to survey what we had conquered. I’m not a very sentimental person (ummm sometimes), but the view made my heart surge with joy. I’ve never been so at peace with nature and in awe of my environment at the same time. Looking at that made me remember that the world is such an open place of beauty and possibility.

So often I forget about nature. I’m busy. You’re busy. We go to work, maybe school, we don’t take the time to listen to the world. I could have sat on that mountaintop for hours, taking in the view and hearing things that are usually blocked out by my endless mental to-do list.

As Nancy said to Karl, “They have to learn one word in Spainsh – tranquilo. They’re on Spanish time now. Learn to be tranquil.”

I’m trying. I still have that mental to-do list, but maybe I’ll slow it down. I don’t have that memory snow globe, but if I take the time to really observe and appreciate things, maybe I don’t need the snow globe. I’ll try to be a little more tranquilo.

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