Picture
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. 
Picture
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 

Picture
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. 

Picture
Iglesia de San Bernabé.
Picture
Rachel in the gardens of El Escorial.
Picture
Gardens of El Escorial.
Picture
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. 
 
Picture
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. 
 
Picture
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. 

Picture
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.

Picture
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. 

Picture
Acuedcuto in Segovia, Spain.
Picture
Segovia Cathedral
Picture
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: 

Picture
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. 

Picture
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: 

Picture
The Banks of the Danube and Parliament building.
Picture
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 
Picture
Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon, Portugal.
Picture
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. 
 
Paris, France is a real life doll house.

Beautiful old buildings, delicately designed doors and ornate scaffolding. Monuments that are centuries old are placed along the sidewalks all while the new mixes well with the old. Paris could be one of my favorite places to travel, but the only thing missing was someone special to share it with. 

That sounds cliche, but many of us who traveled to the city of love felt the same way. You see a different type of beauty in Paris and you can't help but think that you want to share it with someone else that you see that same beauty in. 

Yes, I am an independent woman who can handle things on her own, but that doesn't mean I don't want to share a moment or two with someone special at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or walk through the halls of the Louvre and share interpretations. Now, don't think that got me down. Not having a soulmate to share my time in France didn't effect my level of extreme joy one bit. The pure exhilaration of being in the city was enough of a companionship for the 24 hours I was there. 

If you recall I had a to-do list for my adventure in Paris, but not everything went as planned due to the rainy weather, but I made the most of it. 

We arrived that morning in Paris around 9:00, met a taxi driver who sped along the streets but stopped abruptly for any woman who wished to cross the streets (what a gentleman), ate at a Moroccan restaurant (some what contradictory, I know) and then we dropped off the groups bags at their hostel. I was meeting my friend from home so I was the definition of a tourist and carried it with me. By 2:30 we were off to see the sights. 
Picture
Musée du Louvre, Paris.
First up Musée du Louvre
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my father is a art enthusiast and former art teacher turned special education principal. (I still don't understand how one job progressed to another.) But somewhere along the way of him raising me, his affection and love for art wore off on me and now I find myself going to museums and art exhibits to clear my head and see the world from different perspectives. Naturally, when I arrived outside the Louvre, I was giddy. One student even laughed when I was unable to hold in my excitement and skipped a few times.

Picture
Pinching the top of one of three pyramids.
We walked along the outside and in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) and pinched the top of the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre), but we didn't have the time to squeeze in a grad tour of the inside. I could feel my dad's head shaking in disapproval, but all the more reason to come back and take him with me!

After the Louvre we walked along the Seine river and took in the breathtaking views. We knew we were missing out on Paris' hidden gems and the history of the city because of our short window of time, but we tried our best to stop at buildings we thought were important and figure out what their significance was. That sounds absolutely terrible, go to a famous city and decided what was more important to see and skip other parts, but we all justified it by telling ourselves we would be back one day. I'm crossing my fingers.

Picture
Notre-Dame Cathedral.
We walked along the Seine until we hit the Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and boy was that beautiful.  As the former religious and social justice reporter for the Marquette Tribune, I find every house of worship to be fascinating. They are places that are central to a culture and tell you much about the history of a country and a population. Notre-Dame was not an exception, it was the rule. 

The beauty inside was moving, and the number of candles being lit by those who were worshiping and tourists was astounding. "Our lady," another name for the cathedral, took over 200 years to build, seeing completion in 1345.  That makes the cathedral  over 800 years old and to this day it is still used for Sunday mass by the Roman Catholic Church and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. With it's age, the church has seen it's share of positive and negative moments.

Picture
Rose window inside Notre-Dame.
•    In 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King inside the cathedral.
•    1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor inside the cathedral, and before saved Notre-Dame from demolition due to its state of disrepair.
•    In 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. 
•    During World War II, France was afraid the Germans would destroy the newly installed stained glass windows, so the Church decided to remove them and were put back in after the war.
•    For more history visit Notre-Dame's historical website here.

After I processed the age and importance of the church and picked my jaw up from off the ground, we were off.

Picture
Angelina hot chocolate.
Next was hot chocolate, and not just any hot chocolate, Angelina's hot chocolate.

Angelina is a short walk from the Louvre and worth every bit of the 4,50 euro it cost for a cup of hot cocoa. The thick, dense chocolate is the richest form of deliciousness I have ever tasted. Piet Levy, a former coworker of mine at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recommended the spot before I left Madrid and I can't thank him enough. Everyone moaned at the price but ten minutes later when our straws scratched the bottom and all that was left was the annoying suction sound, you didn't see a single frown, only smiles that symbolized our happy tummies and satisfied sweet tooth.

As we drank our to die for liquid candy, we walked toward the Eiffel Tower and along the way saw women who were the epitome of French. One woman had wavy hair tucked in a high pony wrapped with a bow, perfect makeup and red lipstick, a blazer and blouse paired with a high wasted skirt and heels with tights. Don't forget the gorgeous man her arm was wrapped around either. His dress pants, casual blazer, button down and loafers flattered her outfit. The couple made me swoon. Love was in the air, and I was in love … with my hot chocolate.

Picture
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
Shortly after, we ran into the Eiffel Tower

All I can say is that it is huge. I mean, I can say more than that but that was my first impression. It was strange to be at the foot of something you see so many times on television and in the movies. It's no lie to say I had to pinch myself. When we were in line to buy tickets to go up I couldn't believe I was seeing something that I always dreamed of. I think this was the moment that the fact I was in Paris hit me. My mother always dreamed of coming here and here I was, for 24 hours, and feeling guilty that I was there before her. So, I took it in just as she would have.

  • When we went up the elevator, I was afraid of the heights. Just like my mother.
  • When we got to the top, I took a lot of photos. Just like my mother.
  • When I tried to look over the side, I think I vomited a bit in my mouth. Possibly like my mother.

Picture
View of Paris from the top of Eiffel Tower.
It was a breathtaking view and experience that was worth the 7,50 euros (student discount, ka-ching!) After we descended the tower, we went and had our crepes and I joined my friend Milea from the United States for the night. The next morning two men from our group and I were off to Budapest, Hungary. Talk about a change in trips.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paris, France but it is expensive to travel. I spent approximately 40 euros on food, transportation and fees to get into places. Was it worth it? Yes, but if you're going to go there on a student budget search for deals and be efficient in where you eat, what you want to do and how you are going to travel within the city. Walking is your best bet if you want to save money on transportation or make sure you see a group of things in one area before you hop on the metro to other sights.

Did I complete my to-do list? Let's see:

To-do list:
1. Pinch the top of the Louvre  -- Check.
2. Eat cheese and crackers and drink wine in front of the Eiffel Tower for lunch -- Weather complications, next time.
3. Pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the top -- Sadly, no. Weather prohibited us from going to the top of the tower and from taking a photo of me pinching the top.
4. Go to Angelina and have the best hot chocolate in Paris -- My sweet tooth craves nothing more than another.
5. Eat a crepe with strawberries for a dear friend of mine -- Does Nutella count? Strawberries cost more...
6. Try not to drool while looking at all the extremely well dressed Parisians. -- That is just impossible.
7. Not be mad if I don't succeed at number six because it is a tall order. -- Not a bit upset, only jealous I can't pull off a bow in my hair.

 
Picture
Guernica by Pablo Picasso in Museo Reina Sofía. Credit picasso.com
Warning to all readers: I love gallery assistants, but do they really have to hate on me trying to actually prove I saw something amazing? The following are my sentiments towards a fashionable gallery assistant at El Museo Reina Sofía.

Dear Museum Man: 

Here's my beef I have with you.

Number one, you are never smiling. My question is why? You get to stare at gorgeous pieces of art all day, that sounds like a great time to me. You are even provided a chair to sit on if your legs get tired, life can't get better. 

Secondly, you and your co-workers all wear the same black-on-black outfits and stick out like sore thumbs against the museums white walls. Why can't you get all jazzed up and match the intellect and jaw dropping art that you stand by all day? Don't pretend like I didn't see those Italian leather dress shoes you had on along with that tailored blazer.  Share your wardrobe with Joan Miró and Juan Gris, because Mr. Museum Man, you've got style for a gallery assistant. 

Lastly and most importantly, why must you yell at me from across the room when I am taking a picture while others are interpreting a piece in silence? There was no sign to say I couldn't take a photo, there were actually signs that said I could take a photo as long as it didn't use a flash - and I made sure I turned my flash off. 
Picture
Gallery assistant saw me taking a photo of this Picasso.
I'll be sure not to bother you next time if you politely tap me on the shoulder and explain this room is off-limits. No one responds to yelling, no matter how cute your shoes are. Well, maybe if you had the really cute Kate Spade Nadira flats I would respond… But that's besides the point. 

On a happier note, I am pleased you allowed me to stay in the museum and look at the remaining Pablo Picasso paintings, including the one and only Guernica. If you had not allowed me, and the other student who took a photo as well, to stay we would have been greatly disappointed due to the fact that I could stare at this painting for hours. 

Enough about my "beef" with the gallery assistant. For those who know me you will know I really don't mind that much, he was just doing his job. I am actually slightly jealous of his occupation. 

The other night one of the guys in the group asked us all this question: What job would you have if you knew you couldn't mess up? I immediately said art restoration. 

My dad would be proud with this answer, my mom would jerk her head back, crinkle her nose and say, huh? But it is the honest to goodness truth. 

You would have the talent to restore pieces of work that have been seen by thousands, if not millions of people depending upon the painting. You recreate the brush strokes someone put on a canvas years ago, you remove surface deposits via cotton swab and it makes you wonder how vibrant the color was when it was first created. Just think if you had the task of restoring Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas it would be time consuming and make your hands shake, but the satisfaction of fixing a splotch of color and no one being able to notice, how awesome and rewarding would that be? I would love to say one day, "Hey you know La Infanta Margarita in that one really famous painting Las Meninas? Yeah, I made her white dress a little more white." OK, maybe I wouldn't tell people like that but you get my drift. 

Personally, I think Mr. Museum Man wants this job too. After all, he does need to fund his wardrobe. 

In summary, I thank you dear Museum Man, you made me recount my trip to Museo Reina Sofía countless times, engrained into my memory that I should not take photos in a gallery - regardless of the signs - and helped me dream a little dream about having a job in art restoration. 

Yours truly, 
Andrea Anderson

 
I feel like a girl from Mean Girls, but in a good totally not a Regina George way.

Regina George was a judgmental pack leader and Lindsey Lohan tried to fight back, though she did give in a little… and the rest of the Plastics clique followed Regina's lead. They made made it clear that they would judge someone on first glance, if you were cute enough, devoted enough and had the potential to be the queen bee's workers, you were in. They looked you up and down, sized you up and took your first impression to be their final impression. 

This confuses me, not Mean Girls, the rule of first impressions. People always say you can tell if you are going to get along with someone and fit in with them after a conversation or two, maybe even after a cup of joe, but I have always picked a bone with that - it's the second impression that makes things a little clearer and can solidify your decision. 

The summer of my sophomore year in high school I came to Madrid with a friend and her family. The mother was originally from Madrid and each summer they returned to their apartment in Tres Cantos, a suburb of Madrid, to visit the mother's side of the family. They showed me the incredible art museums, explained what a Cino was, (a dollar store, primarily run by immigrants from a Chinese country) made the ever so easy and fast public transportation system seem world class, and introduced me to beautiful people. It was only after a few days that I knew I loved the city and wanted to return another time. 

Four years and one month later, I am back and the second impression has reminded me that my first impression was not wrong. The country seems even more beautiful than I remembered. The way the sunlight hits the bushes and trees on the Calle del Prado and the smiling couples who walk hand in hand (thank gosh the PDA has subsided a bit, so far…), and the language rolls off peoples tongues in a mesmerizing way I am only hoping to reach. A girl can dream and succeed, right? (Rhetorical, don't answer that folks).  

Before I was here for enjoyment, but also to improve my Spanish but this time around I'm here for strictly academic reasons, however that didn't influence my second impression because Madrid is a city that has a place for everyone. If you like to run there are plenty of parks that can also be used for a picnic or a romantic date. If you're into shopping, there are many locations in the city that has streets filled with stores. There are also several Zaras throughout the city. For me it's a combination of everything, except for shopping since my suitcase was already almost overweight. 

Here are a few things a lot of students think about when you say study abroad and what my experience with them has been:
  • I actually go to school, believe it or not you are required to do that when you're abroad.  
  • Yes, I enjoy it. Call me a nerd, see if I care. 
  • I eat delicious food and am most likely going to eat even more once I move in with my Señora. 
  • No, I don't go out every night (shocking, right?). 
  • And No, I don't pull a Lohan move and give the slender girls of Spain a Kaltene Bar to make them gain weight because they are all super nice. 

I didn't know what to expect my second time in Madrid. Was it going to be the same? Was it going to be different and make me nervous? Well it isn't the former and the experience definitely makes me nervous at times, but all I can say is that my second impression of Madrid has confirmed my belief in which Madrid is a beautiful country with wonderful people, art and food. I had my first impression like Regina, but I didn't make it my last. Can you say four month fiesta of knowledge? I can. 
 
I'm sitting across my bed, feet dangling aimlessly over the edge like when I was younger and I think back to the simple times when I was five years old. There was no worry in the world about what you were going to wear the next day. You didn't question if those black flats you wanted to wear really went with that navy dress, or on a more serious note, you didn't wonder where in the world you may end up come fifteen years from now. 

Oh, how being a five year-old with a broken arm from rollerblading was so easy. Now I think about those things almost every day - maybe not the black flats and blue dress scenario, that's only every once in a while. This all has a point, I promise. 

Fifteen years ago I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to speak another language and see the world outside of what I knew at that age. I still want that same thing, the only difference now is I don't have a broken arm and I'm a lot older. Some would say wiser too. 

Tomorrow I begin my journey to Madrid, Spain with nine other Marquette students. Each of us comes from a different background but all have one thing in common, we are going to the same city, most of us are on the same flight, and I guarantee you the majority of us are peeing our pants, whether they want to admit it or not. 

For three and a half months I will be living with another Marquette student and a woman I can only envision to be like my grandmother. Her name is Señora Irene Romero, who is supposed to be a great cook (a trait my grandmother sadly did not possess, unless it was baking), and lives near the university I will be attending, Universidad Complutense. (My grandma Frances lived in St. Paul, Minn., maybe Irene isn't much like my grandmother at all...) I will be attending school, taking an art history class at el Museo Nacional del Prado, and stumbling over my words left and right, but that is all part of the fun, right? 

The correct answer is: Right.

Follow that answer up with the question, but what will I do without my family and friends when I need shoe advice? That one is harder to answer.

When the reality of leaving my family and friends began to creep into my consciousness I didn't like it one bit. I would shew it away from my brain while at work and when my mother became a little choked up on the phone I would drastically switch the topic after saying to her, "It's OK ma." I wouldn't accept the fact that I wouldn't be in contact with the peopleI grew so close with these last two years or have them right down the hall of my Schroeder dorm room. But alas, last Sunday came and I said goodbye to my friends at Marquette and co-workers at the Journal Sentinel. On the six hour drive home I may have listened to a few maloncoly Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift songs and put "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift on repeat.  Then after about twenty minutes I hit a torrential downpour to match my tears and smudged mascara. I had a few choice words for the weather man at that point. Shortly after though I realized that when you take a leap of faith on yourself to be independent for this period of time, your friends and family are letting you go because they know you're strong enough to do this, and that they will be right where you left them. Well, hopefully not right where I left two of my best friends, they were in the rain. 

Fifteen years ago I guarantee you I was asleep in the same twin size bed I am sitting on right now. I have ditched the Pooh Bear sheets (not the pillow though, it's too cute) and I still have the same bear my brother made me in Home Economics on my bed stand. The difference is tomorrow morning I wakeup for a flight that leaves for Madrid, Spain and not for a day at summer camp. You can plan your life as much as you want, but you just never know where you may be fifteen years from now. 

As a dear friend of mine would say, traveling is the only thing that makes you richer. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and hope that through my adventures this semester I only grow to be someone I look back on and can say, "Dang, I'm awesome." No, but really, fifteen years is a long time, so my mantra for this trip is to take each day as it is and hope my travels make me a richer person in all aspects of life. 

Ciao for now!
- Andrea