Just a warning in advance: This post is going to be very picture heavy. This is because 1) I am a visual person and I’d rather see something rather than hear someone explain it to me. 2) To properly show you what I’m explaining, I think pictures will be more effective than lengthy descriptions. Anyway, here I will tell you all about my traveling on the weekends within Spain throughout my internship here in Madrid (because if you’re in another country, you have to take advantage of all the opportunities for travel).
As you might remember, I have been to Spain before in high school with a homestay program. With this program, I spent 5 days traveling to Madrid, Granada, Toledo and I spent 5 days staying with a family in Sevilla. I feel very lucky to have seen so many cool cities in Spain, but upon returning for my internship this summer, I realized just how big Spain is, and how many places there are to see. Furthermore, I had only ever visited Southern Spain (Andalucia) and Madrid. Just like the United States, there are different regions within Spain that have different cultures, languages, accents, and food.
- One of such cultures that is incredibly different from the South of Spain is the Catalonia region. This is the area up near Barcelona and northern Spain that speaks Catalon in addition to Spanish. This culture is very different from Andalusian culture, which can be seen in the way they speak and the way they dress. Plus, if you are up to date on any world news, then you probably know that Barcelona and Catalonia are trying to succeed from Spain. This is visible in the rebellious culture of the youth, in the graffiti and street art which is everywhere, and even in the way they choose to respond to you in Catalonian if you speak to them in Spanish.
I went to Barcelona to visit my two friends from OSU who were doing a month-long study abroad program there. They also made comments about how cool it is to see the pride that Catalonia has in its culture.
Here is a picture of the city of Barcelona from the height of Park Guell. In the distance you can see the ocean, which is the thing Barcelona has that Madrid doesn’t- the beach. (If Madrid had a beach, it might actually be the perfect city).
Another cool thing about being in Barcelona was getting to see the huge influence that Antoni Gaudi had on the city. I had spent my time in high school Spanish class learning about the huge Sagrada Familia cathedral and his unique style of architecture that has shaped many artists since and given way to the adjective “gaudy” to describe something as “extravagantly bright or showy.”
Something they don’t teach you in Spanish class when you learn about the Sagrada Familia is how cool the inside is. I think the beautiful, nature-inspired inside of the Cathedral is even more magnificent than the extravagant exterior facades.
It is always cool to see things you learn about in class right in front of you. Even better though is to learn new stuff while exploring a new city. I had heard of Park Guell before visiting it in Barcelona, but I knew nothing about the background of the Park. I highly recommend reading about the history of the Park which was originally supposed to be residential development, with the downtown area built by Gaudi.
2) Another culture in Spain that I got to experience was that of the Valencian region. Made up of the “Costa Blanca” or “White Coast,” Valencia, Benidorm, and Alicante, this region is a beautiful coastal community on the Mediterranean. Not only is this a popular region for vacations (like the bachelorette party of Sophie Turner in Benidorm), but it is also rich with its own unique culture. The birthplace of Spanish paella, it is a beautiful, always sunny, always warm-watered place to explore. I happen to have a friend who lives in Altea, a small beach town 40 minutes north of Alicante and two hours south of Valencia, so I naturally went to visit him and soak up the beautiful Mediterranean sun. Even more fortunate was that I visited on a weekend where I would get to experience a great Valencian community tradition. Called “El Dia de San Juan,” this is a celebration of the birth of San Juan, who according to the Bible was born on the 23rd of June. This is also a celebration of the summer solstice which is the longest day of the year, thus the shortest night of the year. While technically this day is the 21st of June, they celebrate it on the 23rd along with San Juan. This festival, originating in Alicante, is made up of parades, food, and on the night of the 23rd, bonfires and fiestas on the beach all night long. While it is a day celebrated throughout Spain, the Valencian community makes it a real spectacle. Each town celebrates it differently, and because Altea is on the smaller side- there were smaller more intimate parties. However, it was still one of my favorite nights I think I’ve ever had. The Spanish know how to celebrate their Saints, being such a historically Catholic country and known for their parties. I felt really lucky to have been in this area for the Festival, and it was definitely my favorite memory of Spain so far.
An interesting part of Spanish culture I did not know- their dogs are much better behaved. Dog beaches are extremely common in Spain, as well as dogs walking around without a leash. In Spain, dogs are trained to stay by their owners side and not greet other people or dogs as they are walking throughout the city. Here is my friend’s dog happily splashing around at the beach in Altea.
3) It is extremely easy to take day trips from Madrid. My friends and I took two different day trips from Madrid, both within an hour bus ride from the center.
First stop: Toledo
Pronounced Toe-lei-doe (not like Toledo, Ohio), this medieval town is within the larger Madrid metropolitan area, so our bus ride was included for free with our student transport pass. Toledo was one of the cities that I had been to before in Spain, but it is so unique and beautiful that I did not mind one bit going back here. It is surrounded on three sides by a river and one side by large city walls, so it was not conquered as much as other cities in Southern Spain throughout history (such as the Moors). Due to this, it maintains lots of its ancient charm and walking through this city truly feels like you are back in medieval times.
Toledo has lots of rich history, including a large amount of paintings from the famous painter El Greco who lived there for much of his life. Toledo also boasts the “most expensive” cathedral in Spain. Full of paintings and sculptures from famous artists and gilded in gold and other rich materials, it is extravagant and gorgeous. The only other church I’ve seen that is more impressive than the Cathedral of Toledo is the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Second Trip: Segovia
Am I the only one who thinks of the country of Genovia from the Princess Diaries when you hear the name of this city? No? Well anyway, it certainly is a city that you can picture what the days of a royal family living here were like. In fact, its castle was the inspiration that Walt Disney had when creating Princess Cinderella’s castle.
Anyway, this town which is a lot less touristy than Toledo has just as much charm as the latter. It has its own impressive cathedral, and plenty of beautiful views.
However, what most people go to Segovia to see is the ancient Roman aqueduct that is in almost perfect condition. This aqueduct was built when the Romans occupied Spain and has survived over 2,000 years. After seeing this incredible sight in person, I am in awe of the achievements of ancient civilizations. However, there is the theory that aliens did it… I mean look how big this thing is and tell me it’s not a possibility.
So that’s it for my visual presentation of my tour through Spain. I highly recommend visiting Spain, due to its plethora of history, beauty, and culture. Plus, Spain, just like most European countries, is cheap and easy to travel around. Besides cheap flights, trains, and buses, there is also this amazing app called Bla Bla Car. It is sort of like a long-distance Uber, and it is what I used to get both to and from Barcelona, and to Benidorm (next to Altea). While Spanish people often gripe about the long drive times, like the 7 hour drive to Barcelona, to us Americans it is a breeze. I mean I drove 19 hours to Florida this past Spring, so I am definitely not complaining about a 7 hour drive that only cost me 30 euros. Plus, it was another opportunity for me to practice my Spanish with other random travelers. I had some great conversations with my Bla Bla Car drivers and fellow passengers!
Overall, interning in Spain has given me the opportunity to learn more about a different culture and appreciate what it is to be a global citizen. I feel very lucky to have such great internship and global opportunities through OSU and through Fisher!
If you have any questions about any of the places I visited or just about Spain in general let me know! Plus, I can give you any information you need to know about the Madrid Summer Global Internship program with Fisher. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org!