Our Grand Welcoming – A Taste of Madrid and Toledo

Although I intended to write this sooner, rereading my journal entries from my first week in Spain is already a reminder of the density of the adventure and lessons I am living through and learning; the depth of this nation’s and our global history; the sweetness of this life dream.

To the Capital – Madrid 

Mahadrid  – former name; Arabic origin; (the city of) Good Water

While I do not identify as the “city-type,” Madrid welcomed me graciously and the whole ISA staff offered their open hearts and direction to us as a soft landing pad while we stumbled through our initial days of the program.  Any worries I may have had about clicking with my roommate were completely rested within the first few hours of knowing each other when Katerina asked me which album the India Arie song I was humming along with belonged to.

The first day waking up in Madrid only reaffirmed my decision to step away from home, the things I “know” and am comfortable with. Everything looked like art: the street signs painted on tiles, the tapas, the song of Spanish language, the endless park and fountains. Beyond that,  nearly all of these elegant squares and detailed buildings had a long history and infinite stories held in their walls. Attempting to take notes and follow the dialogue of our tour guide, Laticia, challenged me because there was (is) just so much to unravel.

I drooled through the oldest traditional market in Spain, Mercado de San Miguel, whose endless selection from fresh fish of all kinds, to paella, glimmering fruit, honey comb, and every pastry imaginable looked like it was saturated in a lo-fi filter. The very brief synopsis through Museo del Prado really felt humbling; to gaze on art that had been painstakingly preserved for hundreds of years (although time is beginning to reveal some of the original mistakes on the canvas, peeking through the layers of paint) and through distance, time, and lack of historical knowledge still be able to connect with the pieces, especially Goya’s “Black Paintings.” I may not have lost my hearing and beloved country to a dictator, but I think all of our demons share a common root. Maybe recognizing another’s can help bring peace to our own. After touring Museo de Prado, Katerina, some new friends, and I spent the sunny afternoon walking through Parque de Retiro. Instead of threats of a fine for littering or not cleaning up after your dog, the signs throughout the park and city read something like this: “These are our gardens, which require the care of all,” and “It is good luck to have a clean city.” Strolling around the parks many monuments and elaborate statues, I suddenly understood all the pride my Spanish-American friend who also studies at Stockton, Olivia, continually exudes for her country. I remember standing in Puerta del Sol and having the words “I get it” accidentally fall out of my mouth.

That night was just what I needed after a long day of intense stimulation and travel. Katerina, some new friends from the ISA program, and I, by Shanely’s direction, ended up eating a mountain of Dominican food and dancing (or trying to) Bachata y Merengue.  I was exhausted and returned from our mellow night relatively early. The soft body pillows at NH Alberto Alguierra Hotel, the only kind I have seen all over Spain, allowed my very satisfied and full self to easily drift into dreams of the following days adventure in …


The capital of the 16th Century

To us it’s a Hollywood set, but the people here really call this home

Walking down Toledo’s winding cobblestone streets felt like dancing and being applauded by the theatre itself, at the same time. Not only were John Snow’s sword and Froto’s ring designed here, but at one time this space was know as “La Cuidad de Tres Culturas,” where Muslims, Catholics, and Jews lived and practiced amongst one another in peace. My words cannot begin to describe the beauty of art and architecture the interaction of these peoples produced. This intertwining can be seen, heard, and felt all over the country.

Santa María la Blanca Synagogue, possibly the oldest one standing in Europe, completely entranced me. Once a synagogue originally built in the 12th century, later a monastery, a warehouse, and now finally a historical sight, this space was built by Moorish people with a Mudéjar style, utilized by those of the Jewish faith, and captured and repurposed by the Catholic church. Over 800 years later and the framework is still evolving. Beyond the sometimes peaceful and other times violent passage of power written in the buildings history, this was my first glimpse of Mudéjar style. The intricacy and symmetry of their geometric designs delight my eyes. While the cathedrals are grandiose and equally as artistic, the Moorish poly-lobbed arches just have a certain mesmerizing quality. After nearly two months of seeing them all over Spain, this design and the stories behind it have not lost a drop of their allure.

I also appreciated walking through San Juan de los Reyes, the Catholic monastery who’s construction began in 1470s. Interestingly enough the blue print called for its placement directly in the center of the Jewish quarter. Mudéjar designs were present here too, intertwined with symbols of the Catholic faith and I felt like a peace permeated from the courtyard in the center, filled with orange trees. Although my hopes to meet them were denied, I still think its incredible that about 10 monks live there currently.

That night I enjoyed the richest desserts from the restaurant “La Cave,” eating over glass floors peering down into the wine cellars below and spent the night getting to know the people around me. The next morning before breakfast, (and leaving for Sevilla!) Kat and I took a walk around the hotel grounds. The sidewalk was lined with rosemary, lavender, and sage and on a nearby walking bridge, we saw the sweetest graffiti; all of which I gladly accepted as more than coincidences affirming my journey. We stared our day with a sun salutation over a love written bridge and its warmth stayed with me through the bus ride over the greenest hills, endless solar farms, mountains, and forests to the long awaited meeting of my home for the semester.


La Ola de España

I flew out of Philadelphia National airport east towards Madrid, just over three weeks ago, with excitement and fear pouring out of both my eyes and nose. With everything I’ve already learned, between the language, city layout, some of the customs, and the many people I’ve met, I really find it hard to believe that just three short weeks have past. Despite the intricacy and intensity of this exhilarating and expansive wave I am riding, the two and a half months I have left here seem that they’ll only allow me to scratch the surface of the new ocean I’m exploring. The only option that leaves me with is to approach each new day without fear and every encounter with the entire presence of my mind, heart, and spirit, so I do not miss one drop, one shimmer, one moment of the magical experience I am so blessed to live out. (I could also change my return ticket…We’ll see.)

At this moment, I have to finish my spanish homework before the ISA (International Studies Abroad) staff and students meet up to play fútbol, which is hosted every Monday night from 19-21 (7pm-9pm) at a local high school. Last weeks game reminded me how much I love being on a team and although I am heading to a cello concert tonight as well, the nostalgic joy of team sports I relived is just too much fun to miss out on.

Since January 25th, I’ve seen several beautiful and historically rich cities, dressed up for a carnival, began practicing flamenco, moved in with what feels like a grandmother whom I’ve known forever, found some incredible friends, and started at a new school, so clearly we have a lot to catch up on. I so look forward to sharing with all those reading my adventures through Madrid, Toledo, Cádiz, and of course, my lovely home for the semester, Sevilla.

All my love and gratitude,