Yes, I was just in Barcelona, Spain and now I am headed to Brussels, Belgium for a two-day trip to partake in some holiday shopping at the Christmas Markets and indulge in waffles. Sue me. Actually, please don't because I could not afford that at this point in my journey. 

We leave tonight on a Ryanair flight (gulp) and come back late Thursday evening, also on a Ryanair flight. Prayers are appreciated. We really do not have anything planned whatsoever for Brussels and in all honesty, that feels extremely nice in comparison to Barcelona where we went all day for two and a half days. 

We know we want to spend some quality time at the Christmas Markets, ice skate, look at the incredibly tall Christmas tree at the Markets and be reminded of Rockefeller Center, visit La Grande-Place (an UNESCO World Heritage Center site) and then go to the Musical Instrument Museum, where it is free the first Wednesday of every month. What a coinkydink! But other than that we do not have many plans and we all are content with that. 

Many of us have several papers to write so some of us decided that Thursday in between our check out time and catching our flight we are going to find a cafe with Internet and hunker down. Homework in Belgium? Why not!

This is my last trip outside of a day trip to Aranjuez, Spain on Friday and I am a little sad that my traveling has come to an end. However, I have been blessed to have such wonderful excursions and a great group of students to share them with. It is hard to believe that I have been to so many different countries and cities in my short time here and it is coming to an end so soon, but it is time to say goodbye to Europe and hello to my home in the United States. 
 
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Exterior of El Escorial, in San Lorenzo, Spain, from the view of the road leading up to the monument.
In October I wrote a blog about visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites while in Europe for the semester and I have just added another to my list for the semester, El Escorial. The tally now is seven overall in Europe, five in Spain. How exciting this is! (Yes, Yoda-Speak I am.)

Going to El Escorial was a great day trip. While the majority of our group was visiting Geneva, Switzerland for the weekend Rachel and I decided to stay local and see historical sites that we have yet to be able to, unfortunately we both had a late start on Saturday morning so we only saw El Escorial, but that proved to be enough as we wanted a more relaxed weekend anyhow. 

El Escorial is located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a region near Madrid and in the center of Spain. If you are based in Madrid like myself you can either take the bus or the train, both are inexpensive costing 7,50 euro roundtrip and is a relaxing 55 minute ride both ways. When you arrive in San Lorenzo you don't think El Escorial is far from the train station, but it is about a 20 minute walk uphill, so for those who do not enjoy a steady incline or have issues walking I suggested taking the bus offered that runs for the station to El Escorial. Rachel and I decided to see how fit we were and walked the incline, wrong move. 
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Rachel outside of El Escorial entrance.
Once we reached the area we were shocked as to how large this five century old monument was. I personally believe it has the potential to put the Queen of England's palace to shame, sorry Buckingham Palace. El Escorial is quite possibly the most important architectural monument from the Spanish Renaissance, and I say quite possibly because every Spanish history and culture professor I have had has said this. My señora even said this once I returned from my day trip. The monument, the brainchild of King Philip II, took 21 years to complete, beginning in 1563 and ending in 1584. Phillip II wanted the building to be a place that had multiple purposes and being the determined man he was he made it happen. El Escorial was not just a palace for the King but was also a burial ground where many of the Kings of Spain are buried (originally it was meant to solely be a burial place for his father Charles V), a monastery, church, college and library. 

If you are more of a visual person here is a break down by date:
  • 1582: Iglesia de San Bernabé 
  • 1584: Royal Palace, Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, university 
  • 1592: Biblioteca de El Escorial 

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Hallway leading to the pantheons.
Rachel and I wanted to take our time going through El Escorial but our leisure lunch took a bit longer than we anticipated and did not enter until around 4:00 and it closes at 6:00. As a result we bypassed the numerous rooms of paintings and armory from past wars, we quickly gawked at the tools and apparatuses used to build the monument located in the basement and then strolled through the living rooms - yes, there were multiple living rooms - and enjoyed visiting the ornate bedrooms and offices, the five century year-old chairs that still had their cushions and tapestry in tact and also the pantheons where 26 kings and queens are buried. This was probably my favorite part and Rachel's least favorite. That sounds morbid so let me explain a bit. 

I have never been a fan of cemeteries, I mean who is? But, on the other hand I think their is something special about how as a family you all are together in one unified location in the end. (I am probably not helping myself sound less grim right now, my apologies.) The pantheons and the several other rooms where the princes and princesses are also buried signify a single location where hundreds of years of history are conjoined. Yes, the kings and queens may not have gotten along, really boosted Spain's economy or even lead Spain downhill (Philip II, that is aimed at you) but they played pivotal roles in Spain's history. It was a little creepy, for lack of a better word, to walk from room to room and see more crypts and tombs that have decayed bodies in them, however it makes you realize how far back the history of Spain goes and how young the United States of America is. At one point I asked Rachel what she thought the bodies would be like after so much time has passed, she did not like that question and began to walk faster towards the exit. Once we came to the last of several of the stone, white, and rather cold, pantheons we decided to take a peak at the basilica and then get some fresh air by taking a gander through the gardens. The Church of San Bernabé  was beautiful and we stayed for a few minutes then said to one another, "Why do these all look the same to us now?" So we soaked in the beauty of the church and headed for the gardens. 

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Iglesia de San Bernabé.
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Rachel in the gardens of El Escorial.
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Gardens of El Escorial.
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Rachel and Andrea outside El Escorial entrance.
We saw swans, took in the brisk air and soaked in the view of the mountains and really could not believe that the grass was still so lush and green, in Minnesota there was six inches of snow. As we walked through the gardens I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to have this much green space but how I would hate to groom the shrubs and maintain the fountains. Whoever does deserves a raise. El Escorial and San Lorenzo were pleasantly quiet and I think Rachel and I both needed that after celebrating Thanksgiving away from our families and the comfort of our quiet hometown, Minneapolis. All in all it was a great day-trip and I think it is quite possibly my new favorite UNESCO site in Spain I have seen. Props to King Philip II, you didn't do all that bad.