Cuenca and Madrid are two completely different places. I think I have the tendency to generalize places that I’ve never been. I wouldn’t consider myself extremely well traveled or worldly, (after this semester who knows?) and I had really only thought that the size of the city would change, but not much else. However, Madrid is a completely different, unique, and honestly, stunning place to live.
Madrid is not actually a very ancient capital in relation to its European counterparts. The original capital of Spain was actually Toledo, where you can still visit the ancient palaces and religious sites of the Spanish nobility. Rey Felipe II moved the capital to Madrid, to a more centralized location during the sixteenth century, and built up a relatively unimportant city into a place for him and his court to live and rule from. Because of this planned aspect of the city, since it was meant to be beautiful and over-the-top for its royal inhabitants, the city is filled with all types of ornate, complex, and even decadent architecture. This is especially true for the Madrid antigua, which includes the palacio real, la plaza oriental, and la catedral de la Almudena, all places meant to serve the Spanish king and his court. Still, other parts of the city that are not as well know for their historical or architectural significance still maintain their cobblestone streets, their cast iron balconies, and their unique exterior tile work.
However, the beauty of the past doesn’t necessarily hold back Madrid from growing and evolving. Many of the central neighborhoods of the city have been transformed by the more recent history of the city. Chueca is an up and coming part of town, with a thriving LGBTQ+ community and night life. The neighborhood of Lavapies is known now for its cultural and gastronomic diversity, a phenomenon that would not have occurred without immigration to Spain from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Malasaña, a place to search for vintage finds and quirky cafes, was not always known as the hipster part of town. Madrid isn’t a place that is trapped in the past, or a city engulfed in tourists, trying to snap pictures of how things once were. It is a city that is able to contain the contrast of the past and present. Madrid is still very much alive and it continues to build on its identity now.
The culture of living in the streets hasn’t changed; however, Madrid has a much larger variety of ways to do so. There is an uncountable number of bars and cafes. Madrid boasts some of the top art museums in the world. Both the Prado and the Reina Sofia are free for university students, along with all the other public museums in the city. It also contains large parks for strolling, playing futbol, and exercising (if that’s your thing). These parks usually have some treasures hidden within. For example, the Parque de Retiro has a large lake to boat on, a library, botanical gardens, resident peacocks, and a glass palace. the Parque de Oeste contains the Debod Temple, an ancient place of worship gifted to Spain in the 1960s by Nasser. Also these are super great places to visit, since they’re also free.
But how does one make it to all of these attractions? Hopkins pays for an all-inclusive metro card, that allows us to use the metro, buses, and commuter trains in and around Madrid. Their public transportation system is actually turning 100 this year, but it’s still pretty easy to use; take this from someone who gets lost in her own hometown. We also now live with host families, instead of as a group. This was a little nerve-wracking for me at first, but it has allowed me to practice and to better my Spanish, and has actually allowed me to live more independently, with the support of a family if I ever need anything. The class structure has also changed. Instead of two classes, we now have five. We get to choose what classes we take, and get to learn about Spanish society and culture while also learning and practicing our Spanish. The classes we take here allow us to discuss more complex and interesting topics than in a traditional Spanish class, without the fear of messing up a word or the conjugation of a verb. The classes are designed to help us take risks and to talk more freely than I would ever be able to do in an American classroom.
So far, I have loved living in Madrid, and I am looking forward to seeing what a whole semester here looks like.