The countdown has steadily been ticking away and I can’t believe that in just a few days I’ll be boarding a plane and heading back home after four and a half months in Spain. For the most part, the time really does seem to have flown by, but I guess it always seems that way at the end of a semester. This semester has certainly been different though: I’ve been surrounded by a new language, I’ve learned how people in Madrid live their lives every day, and I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled around six different countries.
We recently attended a “Reverse Culture Shock” workshop to learn about how the process of adjusting to life back at home is just as difficult as getting used to life abroad. While I don’t know if I 100% buy the idea of feeling like a foreigner again in your home country, the workshop got me thinking about the differences between living here in Spain and living back in the States. At the workshop, they also told us that in order to get the most out of your study abroad experience, you’ve to got do a little reflecting. So here goes my first attempt at this whole “reflecting” business. I thought it would be interesting to discuss a couple things that I’ll miss about living in Spain, along with a healthy dose of things that I’ll be happy to leave behind. Got to be balanced, right? Let’s get started on a negative note so I can end on a positive one highlight some of my favorite things about Madrid.
Yeah, I know it’s called “study abroad.” And I definitely cannot complain about the workload here. I have to think that if a Spanish student from La Universidad Complutense de Madrid came to Boston for a semester at BC, they would be so overwhelmed by the workload they’d turn right around and fly back home. So while the lighter workload was a nice change of pace, my school here itself, well, wasn’t. I enjoyed my classes overall (save for Spanish Cinema and the fact they started at 8:30am), so the actual learning part was mostly great. Where the learning happened on the other hand … Maybe it’s the combination of dark, frigid, and uncomfortable classrooms, the entryways constantly filled with smokers, or the walls and signs covered in Communist/Socialist/Fascist/Let’s-Rebel-Against-Something-ist graffiti. Whatever it is, Complu doesn’t exactly have the same atmosphere as The Heights. I’m just looking forward to being back on BC’s beautiful campus in the fall, that’s all. Let’s compare.
The sign in front of our building at Complu.
The sign at BC’s main gate.
Another thing that I can’t really say I’ll miss about Spain is the food. If I had to describe typical Spanish food in a single word, I’d probably choose “plain.” They seem to be afraid of anything remotely spicy or seasoned in any way. Spanish cooking uses very few spices and is really heavy on rice, potatoes, pork, ham, and unidentifiable vegetable mush. That being said, I would say that my host mother here is actually a really good cook - it’s not her fault that Spanish food is really awesome at being mediocre. It’s also not her fault that I’m a little put off that Spanish people hardly refrigerate anything. Meat, cheese, eggs, fish, drinks, and even ice cream (ok, not ice cream) are just kept on the counter all day. When eating out, it seems like Spain doesn’t have much of a taste for Mexican food, Chinese food, or BBQ-style food. The rarity of Mexican food here (probably due to its spiciness) is the worst. I want a burrito. And finally, I can’t say I’ll miss the now familiar site of patas de jamón (pigs’ legs) hanging in shop windows.
One little food-related thing I definitely will miss is our tradition of grabbing lunch at 100 Montaditos every Wednesday, when you can choose from their 100 different mini bocadillos (sandwiches), and they all cost just 1€ each. 100 Montaditos, you will be missed!
Since BC is basically in the suburbs of Boston, my semester in Madrid has been the first time I’ve really lived in the city. Madrid really is a beautiful and amazing city and I’ll miss being right in the middle of it all. It has everything - an overload of famous museums, a bunch of distinct barrios, a ridiculous nightlife (They say “Madrid nunca duerme,” or “Madrid never sleeps”), a humungous central park, and of course a rich and interesting history. It’s got traditional bullfights, busy plazas, leaning skyscrapers, and a pretty epic royal palace too. And of course, the most convenient way to easily get around to see all that Madrid has to offer is by hopping on the amazing Metro. Back in Boston we don’t have the luxury of riding a subway that does crazy things like, you know, operate on a reliable schedule. Madrid has a little bit of everything and being the country’s capital, it’s about as Spanish as Spain gets. When I finally leave my homestay on Avenida de América to fly back home to actual America, I’ll miss walking around Madrid, getting lost, and always finding something new in this giant city.
While it’s great to be in Madrid, one of the things I will probably miss most about studying abroad is the opportunity to easily travel all around Europe. When else do you get the chance to decide just days beforehand that you’re going to spend the weekend in Lisbon? And how often do you find yourself climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, checking out a carnival for Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, and having Easter dinner at a restaurant in Copenhagen all in the same week? Although I didn’t do as much traveling as some people in my program, I think I traveled just enough for me, and I feel pretty lucky to have had the chance to see all the places I did visit. Getting to see the classic European destinations like London and Paris was great, but I’m really glad I traveled to some cities (like Lisbon or Copenhagen) that are a little off the beaten path too. I love getting to see new places, and I’ll definitely miss how convenient it is to travel not only around Spain, but also around all of Europe.
So there you have it, some things I’m excited to leave behind and some I wish I didn’t have to. There are, of course, more on both sides of the fence, but that’s enough for now. I fly back home on Wednesday, and I’m not sure if I’ll write another post before then, but who knows? Blogging is more fun than studying for two finals though, so you’ll probably be hearing from me again soon. Until then, ¡hasta luego!
Some people think it’s a worthy cultural tradition and a form of fine art. Others think it’s a cruel, barbaric practice and something that should have been abolished long ago. What could spark such polar opposite opinions in Spain? Bullfighting.
While public opinion is definitely leaning towards the eventual demise of the bullfight, the centuries old tradition still lives on today. In my Spanish Cultural Studies class a while ago, we had an interesting debate on the subject in which half of us were protaurino and half were antitaurino. There were plenty of good points: Bullfighting is an integral part of Spanish cultural tradition, the bulls are very well cared for their entire lives, and the corrida really is more of an art than a sport since no competition or betting is involved. On the other hand the bulls obviously have no say in the matter, they usually die somewhat slow and torturous deaths, and the “fight” is never a fair one.
Having learned the facts of bullfighting, I understood the logic on both sides, so I was excited to see one for myself to make my own judgment. Luckily I got the chance to see a live corrida de toros in Madrid’s bullring. My verdict: bullfighting is kind of awesome.
The bullfight consists of three stages which are repeated by three different toreros (bullfighters) with a total of six bulls. The event began with some fanfare and a procession of toreros and horses, and before long the first bull ran out of the gate into the ring. The torero and a small team of other bullfighters go through a series of moves using a pink and gold capote (cape) to start tiring the bull out.
After a few minutes, a picador comes riding out on a horse. The picador carries a long spear a tries to weaken the bull by stabbing it in the back of the neck. The horses are blindfolded and protected by heavy armor since the bulls always charge at them. The first time the picador stabbed the bull was a little bit unsettling to watch, I’ll admit. We collectively cringed since it was the first instance of bloodshed, but after that I really started to like the spectacle.
Once the bull is slightly weakened by the picador, the first stage of the fight is complete. Next, three men called banderilleros come out, each armed with two short barbed spears called banderillas. One by one, each bullfighter attempts to stab the banderillas into the bull’s shoulders. At this point, there’s a lot of blood and the bull is understandably extremely pissed off. Here you can see the red and yellow spears stuck into the bull’s back.
When the banderilleros have done their job, the final stage of the bullfight begins. The matador is left alone in the ring with the bull. He’s given a red cape and a sword. He then attracts the bull using the cape and performs a series of close-range passes. This is where you can really see the art of the whole bullfight. It’s clear that these guys are professionals and they definitely put on an impressive show as they come within inches of the half-ton bulls. The matador keeps making passes at the bull until he’s ready to end the fight. He works the bull into position and attempts to stab the sword through the back of its neck, killing it instantly. Since this isn’t exactly easy, it usually takes more than one try to kill the bull. When the bull finally hits the ground, the crowd always goes wild. The last of the six bulls was definitely the best one to watch. The torero did the best job, had the sweetest moves, and executed a clean kill at the end.
I’m really glad I got to experience a Spanish bullfight because I don’t think you can really have an opinion on the subject unless you’ve seen it for yourself. Now I can definitely see the cultural significance and value of the bullfights, but I have to think that the days of the corridas are numbered. The biggest supporters of bullfights are from older generations, and I think the antitaurino movement is only going to grow in the coming years. The whole experience really is like an artform and I feel pretty lucky to have seen it performed firsthand. When in Spain, right?
Stay tuned for some more photos and a video of la corrida!
¡Cómo vuela el tiempo!
My host mom said this last night at dinner and it made me realize that I’ll be home before I know it! I definitely feel like the time is right to be heading back to the States soon, but I really want to try to enjoy my last few weeks in Spain. Yes, they’ll be filled with some papers and a few finals, but also with exciting things like bull fights. That’s where I’m headed tomorrow night, so stay tuned for details and photos of the gruesome Spanish “cultural experience.” Can’t wait!
With Paris and Amsterdam checked off the list, my final stop on Easter break was the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. You may be thinking, “What on earth is there to see in Copenhagen?” Before my trip I honestly had no idea how to answer that question, besides of course that my friend Ally from home was there. I made the trip from Amsterdam to Copenhagen to visit her (she’s been studying abroad there since September) and to check out a city I would probably never have another reason to go to. So why go to Copenhagen? Why not?
The flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen was a short one, and before I knew it I was on the train with Ally heading towards her kollegium, or dorm, just outside the city. My friends Nick and Justin, and Nick’s British friend Becca were also in Copenhagen visiting Ally, so we all headed into the city to enjoy the beautiful weather. We grabbed some sandwiches, bought some traditional Danish beers (fun fact: drinking in public is completely legal and very common in Denmark), and sat down in a big plaza to relax. My first thoughts on the city were that it looked a lot like Amsterdam - comparable architecture, some canals, and a similar overall atmosphere. Another much appreciated similarity was that, as in Amsterdam, all Copenhageners speak English along with their native Danish. While they did speak a familiar language, they certainly did not use a familiar currency. For the first time since exchanging euros for British pounds in London, I had to give up my euros again and replace them with Danish kroner. Even though I learned that $1 is the equivalent to slightly over 5kr, it was still hard to wrap my head around the fact that a sandwich could cost 30 of anything.
We decided to head to Copenhagen’s aptly named Rundetårn (Round Tower), which is, well, a round tower. This 17th century tower was built as an observatory, and it was constructed featuring a giant spiraling ramp (not stairs) so the king could be pulled up in his carriage without having to walk. And they say Americans are lazy. Unfortunately I forgot my camera at this point, but here’s a great photo of the view from the top (be sure to click through for the original). Way in the back on the left side, you can even see the bridge to Sweden.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city, checking out the Royal Palace, and relaxing in a park before heading back on the Metro for the night. Another fun fact for you: Copenhagen’s Metro has sleek, driverless trains. Hey MBTA, you seriously need to come to Europe to see how terrible you really are. You have lots to learn.
Nick and Becca left the next morning to fly to England, so Justin, Ally, Ally’s Danish boyfriend Jesper, and I did some more exploring in the city. Thanks to the fact that Jesper’s an actual Dane, I was even able to master a useful Danish phrase.
After walking around Copenhagen seeing some more of the sights, Jesper took us to see one of the city’s more interesting areas, called Fristaden Christiania (Freetown Christiania). Christiania, which occupies the site of former military barracks, is a self-proclaimed autonomous community of around 850 people right in the middle of Copenhagen. It operates largely outside of Danish law and governs itself under a set of community rules. Christiania is well known for its semi-legal soft drug businesses and its tolerant and, umm, free spirited residents. It’s a safe area and a popular destination for curious tourists, so it was cool to walk through the fully developed make-shift compound and see this one of a kind “freetown” in action.
The next day, which was Easter Sunday, Justin flew back home to the States and Ally, Jesper, and I went on a canal tour of Copenhagen. The tour began at one of the city’s most picturesque and most visited sites, Nyhavn, or New Harbor.
The canal tour took us along the shoreline and through some canals, all while our trilingual Italian tour guide Giuseppe repeatedly told us how “very beautiful” everything was and how any old building in the city always seems to be converted into apartments. We saw the ultramodern Copenhagen Opera House, the Royal Palace, the Royal “Black Diamond” Library, and the famous Little Mermaid statue, which recently returned from a trip to the Danish Pavilion at an expo in Shanghai. Fun fact: This little statue commemorates the famous children’s classic written by Denmark’s number one boy Hans Christian Anderson, but it’s seen its share of troubles. Apparently she gets decapitated, has her arms sawn off, or gets covered in paint by vandals on a semi-regular basis. Poor Little Mermaid.
On my last day in Copenhagen Ally and I went to Tivoli, an amusement park located right in the middle of the city. It was so strange to have a mini Six Flags actually in the city, but it turned out to be a really fun little park. Some of the rides are actually among the highest points in Copenhagen, so when you’re at the top you get a great view of the city - that is, until you suddenly free fall back toward the ground. And seeing as the day before was Easter, Tivoli was all decked out for the holiday, complete with creepy moving påskkeharen inside a giant egg.
While Copenhagen may not have as many famous sights as Paris or London, I’m really glad I made the trip there for the weekend. As always, it was great seeing Ally, Nick, and Justin again and meeting Jesper and Becca too. I can’t say that I’m likely to ever have seen Copenhagen otherwise, so this was the perfect chance to catch up with friends and soak in some Danish culture. I had tons of fun and left with a much bigger list of reasons why everyone should see Copenhagen at least once.
Copenhagen rounded out my Easter break Euro trip, and now I’m back in Madrid for my last month abroad. It’s sure to fly by, but I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated! But that’s all for now … hasta luego!