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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. 
 
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Kevin and Emily serenade the Spaniards with Taylor Swift's hits.
People always say you haven't had a successful trip to Milwaukee if you haven't been to one of the breweries or had a locally brewed beer, in Spain many of the university students we know say you haven't been integrated into the culture until you have been to a botellón. Well, I guess I have been integrated into the Spanish culture! 

A botellón is a gathering that involves alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages where you sit outside and chat, drink, share stories and have a grand old time before you head for a bar. For our first botellón we stayed inside because it was rather chilly outside. Those of us with intercambios have really been able to dive deeper into the Spanish culture and Amanda's intercambio, Alejandro, invited us over to his friends apartment to partake in the festivities. We all immediately said yes as we haven't had the opportunities to go out with Madrileños and after experiencing what we did that night, I don't think any of us would decline another invitation. 

When we arrived with Alejandro the five of us were a little nervous. Yes, we can carry a conversation in Spanish; yes, we know how to have fun; yes, we know we have an accent, but that didn't stop us from having butterflies in our stomaches. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted by about fifteen to twenty Spaniards, they were sitting in the living room socializing and when we walked in their heads turned towards the door and they smiled. After taking the sight of five American's in they stood and got in a line. The procession of besos (kisses) began. For a solid five minutes we gave kisses on the cheeks and heard countless names that I could not tell you to save my life. They all were very welcoming and extremely interested in getting to know us while we were very interested in getting to know them. We spoke in Spanish and those who could speak English wanted to practice, it was a great start to a great evening for all the people at the party. 

When we started to talk to a smaller sample size of the group we began to discuss the differences and similarities between the United States and Spain as well as the Americans versus the British. One male studied in England for an entire year and when he spoke English out came the perfect British accent, we all were under the impression that he was British and English was his primary language until he told us otherwise. When we spoke about the American accent in comparison to the British accent the Spaniards said both were fairly easy to understand, but that the vocabulary is different. They have a point. It is just like how the Spanish from Latin America has a different vocabulary than the Spanish from Spain. We then moved on to the touchy topic of stereotypes. The Spaniards went first saying they thought all Americans would be rude, fat and egotistic. They explained that much of Europe and many Spaniards believe that the United States population believes they are superior to all other cultures. They said that we are more advanced when it comes to some things, but not all. One male even said to watch out for China, and I will admit he has a point because we should. We asked if we fit the stereotypes and preconceived notions and thankfully they said no. We didn't get to share about what we had expected in terms of people, but then again as the group of five of us discussed later, we didn't really expect anything out of the ordinary or really know what to expect.

After the serious conversations we decided to do a Spaniard versus American game session, I'll spare you the details and let you know the Spanish are fast. We were crushed. To bring the botellón to full swing and just relax for a bit we decided to play a little bit of music. While Kevin, Amanda and Emily played the guitar and sang American pop songs, Rachel and I spoke to one girl who studied abroad in London, England for a six months the year prior. This was the most comforting of all conversations that night in my opinion. 

María asked if we have started to think, sleep and eat Spanish and we couldn't lie to her, we said no. She was neither surprised nor offended and explained that she is nowhere near as good at English as she hoped she would be after London. She said she and her friends used Spanish together because it was a way they could feel secure and grounded in a different place far from home. María did what the most of us here are doing. Go to classes taught in a foreign language, converse with vendors, people on the streets and our host-mothers in a foreign language, but spend your free-time with students who speak your native language. She was so happy that we spoke Spanish to her and she spoke English to us, and so were we, but what was even better to know is that our group wasn't the only one to stick close and speak a first language. 

As the night came to a close we reconvened as a whole group. Some people left giving us our two besitos on the cheeks while others stayed as we continued to talk about the evening and how we all need to have another botellón or two before the end of the semester. It was a refreshing evening and one of the best I think I have had in Madrid. We spent the night like real madrileños and it could not have been better, especially after we taught them how to photo bomb pictures, they loved that. 
 
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Christmas wreath outside Starbucks entrance.
Sitting in a Starbucks is far from what I would call a cultural experience, but sometimes you need a little taste of home. So as a treat from studying since nine this morning at the apartment (it is now 7:30 p.m.,  almost eleven hours of straight studying) I decided I needed a pick-me-up and a Starbucks apple crumble latte sounded like it would tickle my fancy.

After walking around the neighborhood for a bit and printing some things for class I ventured to the Starbucks a block away from the apartment in Arguelles and saw my first Christmas wreath in Madrid hanging on the door. I entered and what greeted me? "Jingle Bells," possibly my favorite Christmas song ever. OK, maybe not ever it’s a close call between "The Christmas Song" by James Taylor, "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey and any version of "Jingle Bells." 

I know, I know, it is not even Thanksgiving, but it’s midterms and I love Christmas because it is the one time my whole family is together and the bickering is at a minimal. Sorry mom, it’s true. 

Now, back to Starbucks. 

If you have never had an apple crumble latte you absolutely need to try one. It’s everything about Christmas in one sip: the apple, the cinnamon, the whipped cream, a smile can’t help but spread across your face when the hot milk reaches your tongue and you taste the delicious taste of, dare I say it again… Christmas.

As I type this The Beach Boys's "Little Saint Nick"  just came on and another smile can’t help but creep onto my face, you can’t not be happy during the Holiday season. Music tells you to be joyful (and triumphant), you are close to spending a nonstop, possibly too much, amount of time with your family and you get to eat delicious food. That all sounds incredibly wonderful, I don’t know what there is to be grumpy about. 

Currently, my cute, red, Christmas Starbucks coffee cup that contains my delicious apple crumble latte, is sitting on the table next to my computer as I plow away on Theology. My once disgruntled face is now relaxed as I recall all the unforgettable holidays I have had in my life and the fact that I am very lucky to be abroad and to have had the experiences I have had in my life. It was almost a year ago to this day that I was processing my visa applications to go to India with Diederich College of Communication, and now after a great journey there I am here. It is crazy what the world has in store for you. 

I leave you with a question posed by the great Charlie Brown:  "Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know what my answer is, but do you?   

That being said, as I take my last sip of the Christmas-in-a-cup-latte, I sign off from this blog post and wish you a happy start to the week. Christmas countdown: 37 days. 


 
When people say they are bored in Madrid, Spain my nose and lips become scrunched  together and my eyes become a little narrower, it's a look of confusion and wonder. I ask myself, how do people get bored in Madrid? 

Last Friday I was guilty of being bored. I was tired of studying, I was sleepy and I really just did not want to learn anymore about the book of Judith in the Old Testament. I'm all for an empowered woman, but three hours was enough time with her for one day. Luckily, it was puente (an official three-day weekend holiday) for the Festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, the female patron saint of Madrid, and two other girls and myself decided to immerse ourselves one step further into the Spanish culture and see what a religious festival in Madrid was like. 
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Virgen de la Almudena exiting the Catholic cathedral.
History:
The Virgen de la Almudena (Virgin of Almudena) is the icon of the Virgin Mary and is the image of the advocation, or summoning, of the Virgin that also is the patroness of Madrid. The devotion to la Virgen de la Almudena began in the 11th century and is celebrated every ninth of November. 

According to the history of Our Lady and the history of Spain under the ruling of Dom Alfonso VI it was when Alfonso reconquered Madrid in 1083 from the Moors, who conquered the city in the eighth century, that Almudena made her presence known in a rather spooky manner. King Alfonso VI wanted the Catholic cathedral, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, to be purified after being neglected and misused by the Moors. The statue of Our Lady, placed by the Apostle St. James in Santa María, had disappeared and the King, along with other religious administrators and powers, held a procession to find the statue. They walked throughout the city and around the walls praying to God for help in order to find the statue of Almudena. They sang and prayed while waving scents along the way until at one point part of the wall fell and they found the statue of la Virgen de la Almudena, which had apparently been there, hidden, for over 300 years. The even more spooky part is that next to the statue were two candles that were still burning. At this point in history the statue was named Our Lady, not Almudena. It was when Alfonso and his religious authorities found the statue that they named her Almudena, meaning market or granary, because she was hidden near the Moorish granary.

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Madrileños watching the procession in front of Santa María.
Experience:
When we arrived at the metro stop Ópera the number of people walking around the area was greater than usual. The holiday was only for Madrid and with a number of banks, shops and museums being closed as well as schools and other employees being off for the holiday the streets were buzzing with traffic. 

We headed to Santa María la Real de La Almudena next to Palacio Real where the mass, celebration, and procession were taking place. Along the way were vendors selling flowers, people young and old, the occasional newborn babies dressed in all white and bonnets on their heads, and whole families in tow were at the festival. I had never seen so many Madrileños in one place, except for a Real Madrid game. 

When we arrived at Plaza de la Almudena the square was full. The service, traditionally held outdoors at Plaza de España, was moved inside the cathedral due to the rain, drawing even more people to the plaza. We ventured towards the end of the square farther from the busy streets to watch the offerings of the flowers and listen to the service. Though none of us in our group of three are terribly religious, we found it nice to follow the service while standing in the crowd and take in the aroma of the thousands of flowers that were continuing to fill the temporary wall that was built for the holiday. As we stood for an hour or so we watched people pray, sing, gab and really just be happy to pay respects to their female patron saint. I was in awe with how many people were coming and going, if they had to work they paid their respects to the Virgen de la Almudena and quickly left after saying a prayer, others arrived before us and left after listening to the mass over the speakers. 

After watching the flowers multiply we moved closer to the cathedral to watch the procession that would begin soon. I am not sure what I expected, but seeing hundreds of people exit the cathedral in black dresses and vales, alter boys and priests in white cloaks and superbly dressed people of importance (though we couldn't tell you who they were or why they are of significance) was not what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be an intimate crowd that would exit the church and that maybe they would also say a few words to the crowd outside in the rain, and even walk over to the wall of flowers and give an offering, but none of that happened. I'm not saying it is good or bad, it's just not what I expected. 

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Wall of flower offerings before the mass began at 11:00 a.m.
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Number of flower offerings grew until it filled that evening.
Following the beginning of the procession and the first round of incense being swayed into the air and wafted by the public the heavily decorated gold wagon with a statue of Almudena was brought out from the center isle of the church and down the red ramp for the Madrid community to see. Suddenly the crowd began to clap, then the clapping turned to singing lead by the priest inside the cathedral. While the singing continued the clapping regained momentum and I watched as people in the crowd began to radiate happiness with their smiles. Those who were close to the ramp stretched out their arms to touch the flowers on the wagon and reached further to wards the top, as if every inch that was closer to Almudena would change their lives. The passion during the entire festival was profound. I have never seen so many people in one place to pay respects to a patron saint, or any saint for that matter. At this point I felt really lucky to be a part of a community celebration that I would never get the chance to experience in the United States or possibly ever again. 
The statue of Our Lady and the entire procession then left the Plaza de la Almudena and walked through the streets of Madrid. The street procession went through the standard route of Puerta de Sol, Plaza Isabell II, and the Plaza Oriente. As we left the streets were beginning to become less crowded but people followed the patron saint down the street at a gradual pace. One last glance behind me showed the flowers adding a brilliant hue to the overcast sky and an aroma that reminded me of newly blossomed flowers in my garden at home. All I could wonder right then and there was , Who could ever be bored in Madrid?
 
Streets upon streets filled with crowds of people, multiple languages and cultures, and colorful stalls selling different products, it is all you can ask for on a Sunday morning at el Rastro just south of the La Latina metro stop. 

El Rastro de Madrid, or more commonly known as el Rastro, is one of my favorite parts of Madrid. The open air flea market is held every Sunday during the year and offers everything you could possibly need, and that is not an exaggeration. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., a solid six hours for you to find what you need. A winter coat for 10 euro that would normally cost 30 to 40 in a store, is easily found during this time of year, cute clothing for males and females can be found at bargain prices, especially if you look at the two euro liquidación piles. If you're looking for handmade jewelry and original artwork, then this is the place to go. Last but not least, if you want to get your hands on authentic Spanish music then look no farther than the several vendors who blare their favorite picks and allow you to sample them before purchasing. 

The first time I ever went to el Rastro was several years ago when I first came to Madrid. It was sensory overload with the number of people in the streets canned like sardines and the occasional vendors yelling their deal of the day at those who walked by. The prices were unbelievably cheap and the numerous souvenirs, house products, clothes, artwork and more were too much to choose from. I learned from that experience that you have to go in with a plan, and my plan for my trip last weekend was a warm coat or hat and a gift for my mother. 

We went to el Rastro at 12:00 in the afternoon, a good time to go if you want to be behind the tourist crowd that comes along around 11:00 a.m. and the bargainers between nine and ten. The group of four and myself walked up and down, strolling to see if what we were looking for popped out at us. Some of us purchased wool socks and tights, a jump drive and winter hats and headbands, others bought gifts for family members. I purchased a knit headband and a gift for my mother, though I can't say what I bought for her since she reads this blog more than everyone combined. Sorry, folks. 

While shopping and hunting down the best deals you can't help but just people watch. With all the different nationalities and languages being spoken it is hard to not whip your head back and forth in awe. I am 100 percent guilty of staring at people at el Rastro, I won't deny it. It's too fun not to do. 

The best thing about open air flea markets is that you can take your time moseying through the aisles and no one will care because they are doing the same thing. The same is true at el Rastro though I do believe that this market has something over others I have been to and I wasn't sure if my observation was correct until I did some more research. Here, the aisles are broken up into categories and each street has something different to offer but the one common thread between all the streets is the fact that local antique shops open their doors for the Sunday cliental to stop in and peruse if the stalls prove to be overwhelming. Now, the antique stores weren't the observation I was talking about it is the following streets that seem to have something special to offer.   

  • Calle Rodas: Where lots of people, mostly young, swap trading cards. The street is known for buying and selling magazines, stamps, and trading cards. Get your Yu-Gi-Oh! on here. 
  • Plaza de Cascorro: Get your fashionista on here. This is known for it's fun and unique clothing and accessories. 
  • Calle San Cayetano: has permanent stalls that sell hand crafted paintings, drawings and of course art supplies. Also known as "street of the painters" or "Calle de los Pintores." This is a LeRoy Anderson, Jr. type of aisle. 
  • Collectable and rare books, magazines and other reading material can be found at vendors around calle Rodascalle CarneroPlaza de General Vara del Rey, and calle Carlos Arniches. If you want to brush up on your old Castilian, be my guest. 

Having no rhyme or reason is difficult when you're shopping, but knowing these streets consistently offer the same items week after week is comforting. 


After spending time at el Rastro it is customary to go have a beer or sangria and enjoy tapas. There are multiple places that you can go, relax and talk about all your great deals. So, by the time five o'clock comes around on a Sunday after the market you should have no reason to not be all smiles. After all, you at least got to hear lively Spanish music and look at beautiful artwork for free.  
 
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Left to right: Kevin, Andrea, and Rachel.
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Left to right: Kevin, Alissa, Andrea, and Rachel.
A spoof on Toddlers & TiarasHoney Boo Boo, the National Hockey League lockout and the usual aerobic instructor were all the rage this year in the United States for Halloween, but here in Madrid, the night of October 31 is more for scaring you rather than to have a few laughs. 

Halloween and trick-or-treating are becoming increasingly popular in Spain, however the holiday, if you will, is more of an American custom. Children here are just beginning to go trick-or-treating at stores, schools and their neighborhoods dressed in superhero or princess customs while teenagers and young adults dress in devil costumes or frighteningly scary dead people. Face paint is all the rage and making yourself look deathly scary is the point of Halloween here. The innocent outfits like cats and Where's Waldo? are accepted, but not common. A group of us went to a discoteca and celebrated with other students we are studying abroad with and we clearly did not get the message that Halloween is more about fun and fear than fun and humorous. 

Rachel and I went as cats, Alissa went as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and Kevin should have won best costume with his assemble as an Olympic gold medal - complete with gold body spray I may add. 

Unfortunately, we were too terrified to take photos of the people dressed in scary costumes and this journalist forgot her camera, on the bright side the venue will be putting photos up shortly from the costume contest. 

One thing we did notice last night was how openly people look at you in Madrid. Kevin received many comments and shocked expressions, even a few pointed fingers and gasps. I'm sure we did the same thing when we saw exceptionally detailed and realistic Joker face painted masks last night, though I never realized how openly people stare here.  I guess it takes a gold medal to realize that. 

 
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The Generalife in Granada, Spain.
Before leaving for Madrid a dear friend of mine and I exchanged decorated block letters for us to remember each other by. When times are rough and we have no motivation to do anything, or we simply want to remind ourselves of our silly life moments, we look at the letter. Mine hangs above my desk, hers sits on top of hers. On the "E" she gave me is a quote saying, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer" and that couldn't be more true. 

Traveling is the one thing that you walk away from being a more informed, experienced and cultured individual. After researching a few places I have visited this semester I realized that several of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, places considered to have significant cultural and natural importance regarding humanity and the heritage of the world population. 

As of 2012 there are 962 sites, and over the course of my travels since I was girl I have been to over 20, six of which I have seen since the beginning of the semester. Traveling makes you richer and the fact that these sights were recognized for doing so makes the fact that I went that much better. 

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Engraved details are everywhere in the Alhambra.
SPAIN, 44 UNESCO SITES: Andrea = 4
1.) First is Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was originally built to be a military base in the tenth century but became home to royalty and the court of Granada in mid-thirteenth century  As the centuries went on the Alhambra slowly became both a fortress and a home. The walled town had quarters for the military, the Alcazaba; an area for the top government officials, the Medina; and quarters for the servants. To the east of the Alhambra is the Generalife, the royal gardens of the Alhambra. Both the Generalife and Alhambra look over the district of Granada called Albayzín and are incredibly beautiful architectural monuments that pay tribute to Muslim Spain in the 16th century. 

While you walk through the Alhambra your jaw will drop in awe. Don't even bother lifting it up either because it will just keep falling down. Also, if you trip over your own feet, like I did (I have a battle wound to prove it) don't be embarrassed, its happens more than you think. Here, the Moorish and Andalusian architecture blend beautifully, the amount of hand engraving makes your hand hurt just looking at it, and the best thing about the architecture and art is that none of it has been altered, even with the Christian conquest, the buildings and art have only ever been restored. This is by far my favorite UNESCO site in all of Spain.

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Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo.
2.) The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza. I won't sugarcoat this one, it was rather boring but the Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo was beautiful. Úbeda and Baeza, frequently called twin towns, are approximately 10 km from one another and combined make for decent day trip, we did it within two hours on our way back from Granada. The significance of Úbeda and Baeza and why they are considered 
 UNESCO World Heritage Sites is due to their Iberian and Roman backgrounds that lead to their abundance of Renaissance architecture.

3.) Segovia, rhymes with Genovia (that's right I watched The Princess Diaries), Spain. Segovia is amazingly old. I don't know if I have every used those two adjectives together and for the same noun but for this medieval city it definitely works. The three cultures that coexisted: Moors, Christians and Jews created unique architecture and style while also paying homage to the Acueducto, the symbol of Segovia for all intensive purposes. Built in approximately 50 A.D. and restored by the Catholic Kings of Spain in the fifteenth century, the roman bridge is one of the few well-preserved monuments of its age left on the peninsula. Walking around the city and stumbling here and there on the cobblestone is nothing but a treat as you gaze at the ancient buildings, the immaculate Segovia Cathedral and try the delicious pastries. When we left Segovia after our day visit I was filled with new knowledge on architecture and art, but also full of delicious chocolate and cream filling. Never say no to a pastry from Segovia. 

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Acuedcuto in Segovia, Spain.
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Segovia Cathedral
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Rear entrance of Cathedral of Toledo.
4.) The last is Toledo, Spain, The City of the Three Cultures and home to El Greco. Toledo is a city that has been home to several civilizations, architectural styles and was influenced by many cultures but primarily by three religions that co-existed: Islamic, Hebrew and Christian. The imprint of the three religions accompanied by the many civilizations Toledo was home to make the city beautiful. Mudejar architecture, a mixture of Catholic and Islamic styles, is the predominate style in the city and is a reminder that religions have the ability to co-exist. 

      Important (and of course beautiful) places to see in Toledo: 

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Banks of the Seine in Paris, France.
FRANCE, 38 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
4.) The one UNESCO site I have been to in France counts for a lot more than one monument, thank gosh. If it hadn't I feel I would have cheated France with my 24 hour day trip. The site is Paris, Banks of the Seine and includes seeing various landmarks such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame de Paris, city squares and basically anything along the Seine River. Paris, being the river city it really is, is a beautiful city that has historical masterpieces every which way along the Seine, from hundreds of years-old to more recent developments Paris balances the different architecture styles. The only thing left for me to do is go back and visit the rest of the breathtaking country. 

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Tor Peterson and Kevin Kriz in Heroes' Square.
HUNGARY, 8 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
5.) My three day trip to Budapest was wonderful and I'm pretty sure it will be deemed the highlight of all trips I will have taken this semester. I know I said knowing a place I have visited is a UNESCO Site makes my experience even richer, but if Budapest hadn't been it still would have been well worth the trip. The World Heritage Centre entitles the location Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue and I can happily say I have been to each tourist sight listed in that title. Budapest is a city that used to be two, Buda and Pest, and is now joined by several bridges. On the right bank is Buda, on the left is Pest and civilization can be traced in both cities back to the Palaeolithic period, we're talking Stone Age here people. Budapest is a beautiful city that has some of the most amazing things including bath houses, labyrinths, monuments and a democracy that is only a year older than me. 

      Important places to see in Budapest: 

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The Banks of the Danube and Parliament building.
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A quick snap of one of the churches in the Castle District.
PORTUGAL, 14 UNESCO SITES, Andrea = 1
6.) If you read my blog post about my weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal you know I fell in love with the ocean, beautiful city, the people, and of course the pastries - what else is new. The history of Lisbon dates back to over 300,000 years ago, needless to say I was told a lot of information on the walking tour that I could not digest, but these are the important things to know. 
  1. Though it dates back to over 300,000 years ago, only in the early 12th century did it became a nation state.
  2.  According to a legend the city was named Olissopo and founded by Ulysses. Olissopo has origins in Phoenician Allis Ubbo which means "enchanting port" and this is where Lisbon, or Lisboa, received its name.  
  3. During the 15th century Lisbon was the departing point for Portuguese discoveries that lead to finding colonies in Atlantic islands, shores of Africa, Asia and Americas. 
  4. It was during this same time period that the UNESCO sites I have seen were built: Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
  5. Earthquake of 1755 destroyed almost the whole city and it was rebuilt by Marquis of Pombal
  6. It is one of the world's longest founded cities 
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Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon, Portugal.
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Rachel Arsen on Atlantic Coast beach in Lisbon.
After traveling to each of these destinations I have walked away being happier than I was when I arrived and also more informed about each city's culture, history and people. The more I immerse myself into the Spanish culture and the culture of being a frequent traveler, a nomad some would say, the more I enjoy investigating the places I have been and want to go. You truly do walk away from a place being a richer person, and I have learned to never  doubt the power of traveling because of this. 
 
This weekend I breathed the smell of Minnesota. The smoke from a fire in the mountains mixed with the smell of hot s'mores, that then combined with the smell of a fresh downpour and cut grass. After a bit the smell of fallen leaves and fall came and soon I couldn't help but take deeps breaths of the wannabe Minnesotan air. Cercedilla, Spain you had me fooled from the get-go. 

This weekend  seven of us hiked the trails of the Sierra de Guadarrama, a stretch of mountains located approximately 60 kilometers from the capital of Spain, and in the Northwest of the Community of Madrid in Cercedilla. Madrid is a cosmopolitan city, there is no doubt about that, and when we found out there were hiking trails and outdoor activities nearby we all became anxious to get out of the city and stretch our limbs. 

Getting to the town was easy. You can hop on the Renfe or take a bus, each the same price, and it takes you directly to the bottom of the mountains where you walk up the road for about half a mile before you get to the beginning of the trails. At first we planned on taking the Yellow Trail, a five hour hike with a slower incline but farther distance, but before we began our trek we found the Orange Trail with a duration of three hours with a steady incline and better views. We opted for the latter. To our surprise the approximated times were not accurate, we finished the Orange Trail in two hours, with stops for the views and lunch. Next time we will  dominate the Yellow Trail instead. 
The weather was unpredictable. For hiking it's better to overdress than underdress and the majority of us came covered in layers but some opted for a more breezy experience. As we hiked I became hot, I took my North Face fleece and rain jacket off, ditched my scarf and was still hot hiking up the hills in my t-shirt. Being bundled up served me well when we came to the top where the wind was strong and the temperatures were significantly lower. I even donned a pair of mittens while we ate our bocadillos at a plateau in the mountain ridge. Emily and I bundled up as much as we could at this point, but we soon realized that our group had a wide spectrum in terms of tolerance for cold weather. 
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Andrea and Emily bundled up at the top of the Orange Trail.
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Emily and Kevin: one bundled, one not.
Not only was it nice to get some exercise it was a great way to see a different side of Spain. We're used to such a busy city where it seems no one ever sleeps and cars are on the roads 24/7. In Minneapolis and Milwaukee there are at least times of the day and places where you can go an escape the hustle and bustle, but as of yet we haven't been able to find somewhere to do that, until now. 

The pine trees, rocks, gravel, actual green grass, and the action of hiking all made the three of us from Minnesota feel right at home and added a little kick to our step. Nature was upon us and it felt oh so good. The views were absolutely stunning. Clouds covered the peaks of the Sierra, mountain bikers engraved their paths on the side of the trails, there were actual boulders on the side of the trails and for the first time in months we saw wildlife, including  a n earthworm Kevin named Herman and later a cow we all took photos next too. Needless to say we needed a dose of nature rather than city. All-in-all our excursion took about six hours from meeting at the metro station to arriving back to our designated Señoras and it was a highlight of the study abroad experience. Could we go again? Yes, but it's beginning to get cold and we all know Emily and I don't handle that well here. 
 
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Doble AA sign in Chueca.
I write as I should be packing for Lisbon, Portugal but I can't help but think about all the little things that matter while you study abroad. You would be surprised by what triggers memories and what makes you miss the people you left behind. Here are a few things that I have seen that remind me of home. 

While walking around in Chueca,  a neighborhood in the center of Madrid, I found a sign that said Doble AA, or Double AA in English. At my internship this summer with Tap Milwaukee a co-worker and I were AA as her name began with the letter A as well, but I also would be called Double AA alone since my first and last name both begin with an A. It's strange how one sign can bring back great memories, make you smile and also make you realize how much you miss the people you worked with. 

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A Madrileño wearing a U of M shirt.
Another instance was when I was with the group and saw a man wearing a University of Minnesota Twin Cities t-shirt and playing the violin. It reminded me not only of home and my family but also of my two years in high school where I took classes full-time at the U of M. I thought about all the fun times I had there and the friends I made but the man with his violin and Golden Gophers shirt also made me grateful for all the people I have waiting for me back home.

Thirdly, television shows. I won't lie, I like Gossip Girl, I like Glee and I love Covert Affairs, so when I am not in the same timezone as my friends who also watch the shows it becomes very difficult to share our thoughts let alone oh, ah, and gasp together. On the other hand, it's nice to have people with me here who also watch the shows so we can share our belated viewing experiences together.

Last, but certainly not least, you get excited when you see you have an email from your family and friends back home saying they are thinking about you and miss you. When they also expand upon the course of events from the week, or the night before, the email is even better. There is nothing better than waking up to an email or text from someone you miss back home, it's a great way to get motivated to start the day.






 
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Pedro Córdoba (right) and Carmen González (left) dance a live Flamenco at Casa Patas in Madrid, Spain.
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"Carmen" dancers. Photo from Ballet Flamenco Madrid.
Flamenco, a popular form of song, dance and music that originated in the southern region of Spain, Andalucía, is a part of the Spanish culture you can't help but love. It's not hip hop, it's not pop nor is it Broadway, it's pure theatricality melded into a classy jam session. Or at least that is how I tend to think of it. 

Since I have been in Spain I have seen three very different flamencos, each equally elegant and full of life. The first was "Carmen", a theatrical rendition placed in Seville in the year 1830 where one gypsy, Carmen, uses her beauty to seduce three different men and eventually all four turn against one another. The show lent itself to a more dramatic performance that had more of a mix of dance and acting than the other two. Being the first flamenco I had seen I was enthralled. The colorful layers of the dress, the red lipstick carefully applied to the dancer's lips, and the men who move carelessly around the women all were something new to take in. It brought me back to the days when I danced and made me miss it. The dancers moved, stomped, clapped with assurance that was inspiring and set high expectations for the next flamenco at Casa Patas Flamenco en Vivo

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Pedro Córdoba dances a serious flamenco at Casa Patas.
Casa Patas had a different vibe, a smaller stage with tables and chairs compared to Carmen's theatre. Our group sat in the front row and sipped on sangria while Carmen González and Pedro Córdoba, stomped, clapped, swirled and moved aggressively but somehow daintily at the same time. González's dress was all black, the only color visible was from her red lipstick. The mood was low-key, you could tell it was their job but they had fun doing it. Here the singers sang from their heart and did improv, taking turns at making jokes and egging the singer on. The guitarists enjoyed the quarrels between the singers and strummed the guitars with passion. A solo performance during the intermission kept the music and ambiance flowing.  It was a lighthearted and enjoyable performance with some serious kick to it, no pun intended.  

The next flamenco we would go to would turn out to be the most enjoyable so far, even if I couldn't see the stage. It was after a long day of sightseeing in Granada at Jardines de Zoraya. Two singers, two dancers, a drummer and two guitarists crowded the small stage and the beautiful thing about it was they all had smiles on their faces that exemplified their enthusiasm. They began with a song featuring the guitarist and drummer and up next came the young female dancer, dressed in black but per usual the red lipstick popped and her earrings added more color. She clapped her hands then twirled them together near the center of her chest before spreading them outwards and then above her head. Towards the end she moved back to her chair but remained standing as she danced in place for a few moments. She took a bow and soon the man took his turn. The atmosphere was more relaxed and you could visibly tell the performers did this for joy and referred the lively music compared to the previous Flamenco's serious tones. One woman who sat in the front row tapping her foot and clapping while also nodding to the beat. She had a look of approval as she stared at the male dancer's feet which were moving like a high speed pendulum. I'm going to take a stab at her past and say she was a great flamenco dancer growing up but somewhere along the way she found a new calling and lives vicariously through young dancers. The entire performance flew by in what felt like a matter of minutes though it lasted about an hour. The groups consensus was that the performance at Jardines de Zoraya was the best of all three. They danced with their heart and appeared to have the most fun doing it, all we need to be like them is a life of flamenco lessons and a miracle. Though that still may not help me.

Videos of the flamenco dancers at Jardines de Zoraya