Studying abroad in Europe has its perks…and I’m not just talking about an amazing food culture. Everything in Europe is closer together, making traveling between countries easy and accessible. It’s pretty much assumed that students abroad will travel around to experience different cultures and customs, and our group has definitely taken advantage. In the middle of February, we made the trip to Lisbon and two weekends ago, we traveled to Barcelona. At the end of this week, we start Semana Santa and have an amazing lineup for our 10 days of vacation. It’s incredible to have the opportunity to travel from country to country, but what has quickly become one of my favorite parts of being abroad are the short trips and activities planned as part of the Hopkins program.
The JHU in Madrid Program has regularly planned events designed to expose its students to Spanish culture. These events can range from a cooking class to Flamenco lessons to my favorite: short day trips around the country. I know I’m biased, but Spain is gorgeous. Each part and province has its own charm, style, and way of life. Not to mention an astoundingly rich history with displays of different styles of architecture, and of course a specialty in cuisine. We’ve been to a couple of provinces/cities but we have more to come, as the temperature gets warmer. Here’s our list of travels so far:
Cuenca, Spain: We stayed in the city of Cuenca, which is located in the province of Cuenca, just south of Madrid. Cuenca was actually our first stop of the program even before traveling to Madrid to meet our families and get settled in. To help us adapt to the Spanish lifestyle, we spent 10 days in Cuenca as an orientation. In addition to planned activities around the city, we had language classes to get us in the groove of speaking and understanding Spanish. Cuenca is absolutely beautiful. The city is small, but boasts its own historic, Roman district that also houses Spain’s first gothic Cathedral. The city is also located right in the mountains, with the majority of its buildings carved directly into the rock, or hanging over the rocks, like the famous Casas Colgadas. I loved our time in Cuenca, and will probably never forget their song.
Toledo: Toledo was the old capital of Spain before Felipe II moved the capital to Madrid in 1561. The historic city is also known as “La Ciudad Imperial,” is just about a 45 minute drive south of Madrid, and the entire city is nestled in a mountain. Before entering the city, we stopped at a point where we had a panoramic view of the entire city and it was incredible. The city itself is also extremely different from anything I’ve seen before. Everything is left as it originally was, so walking through the streets feels like walking through the streets of the 16th or 17th century. The architecture is also interesting because there’s such a mix of Christian gothic, Arabic, and Jewish influences due to the city’s history. The entire city is a mixture of the three cultures and has maintained each culture’s presence. Toledo was definitely my favorite stop so far.
Madrid (El Escorial, Valle de los Caídos): One of our trips took us right to the border of Madrid, about 45-minutes north of the city and up into the Sierra, to visit the palace and monastery built by Felipe II: El Escorial. My first reaction when we walked up to the entrance, was to let my jaw drop. The building is ENORMOUS. It’s not quite as ornate as other palaces in Spain and in Europe, but is beautiful in its design. I also can’t forget to mention that there’s an incredible collection of art inside, not only in the palace and library, but also in the chapel situated right in the center of the structure. The same day, on the way back to Madrid, we stopped at Valle de los Caídos, a monument created by General Franco. The Cathedral is also enormous and built in a mountain, designed to make a person feel small in comparison. This Cathedral was interesting, because it felt cold. Even though the chapel was decorated, the rest of it was stone and poorly lit. The tomb of Franco is in the Cathedral as well, which added to the strangeness of the environment. Regardless, the structure is impressive and has one of the largest crosses in the world.
Segovia: Located about an hour northwest of Madrid, Segovia is another province up in the mountains, and is a historical, medieval town. I loved this visit, because all of the buildings and architecture was older than we’d seen before. The castles and churches were different because they came from a different time. The structures were also enormous and stood in comparison to the small, winding streets that dated back to the 11th century. Segovia is also home to an incredible aqueduct. Around 2000 years old, the aqueduct stretches 10 miles, and doesn’t use one drop of cement, per the building style of the Romans. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I think I took about 1,000 pictures. Also in Segovia, we had the opportunity to try their traditional meal: Cuchinillo (alright, so I didn’t because it’s meat). We also got to try their traditional dessert (which I proudly ate 1.5 plates of): Ponche de Segovia.
The trips so far have taken us around and about Madrid and have shown us a lot about Spain’s history. Next up, we’ll be heading further south to Córdoba and Granada…can’t wait!