By Amanda Benton
Travel abroad. It’s one of those things I’ve wanted to do since I was in middle school. This year, that dream, or whatever you want to call it, came true…but maybe not in the way I expected it to.
At 10:10 on January 15, 2010 I found myself in the middle of Heathrow airport, lost, confused, and amazed by the fact that every single person from London was wearing a scarf. About four hours later I found myself in the middle of Harrow, Middlesex, UK…aka the middle of nowhere.
Needless to say the last two and a half months have been a series of ups and downs, trials and errors, laughs and tears, unfortunate mistakes and incredibly pleasant surprises. I’ve seen churches built over 2000 years ago, watched royal guards in ridiculous hats, mastered a transportation system far less complicated than the NYC subway but way less reliable, listened to open mic nights, taken long wandering walks in the English sunshine (aka overcast and rainy), and tasted all the traditional British foods.
We’re currently on spring break however, and last weekend I went to Spain with my good friend, and fellow Marist student, Marissa Ryan. She is spending her semester in the heart of London interning for parliament and taking classes at the London School of Economics. (Clearly her life is much more exciting than mine!).
Anyway, our trip to Spain.
We arrived at the Madrid airport on Friday morning around 1 a.m. and got yelled at a lot by the woman who owned our hostel, managed to figure out the metro without much ado, and made it to our hostel around 2 a.m. Instead of falling instantly asleep, we stayed up talking til four.
Even so we were up bright and early Friday morning ready to see Madrid! First on our agenda was to find La Plaza Mayor, but these plans were foiled by free bananas in el Puerta del Sol. We couldn’t pass them up so we went there first, waited in line, yelled “Viva Espana” with some random woman, and got five bananas each from the Canary Islands – part of a protest on Spain no longer wanting to import bananas from there.
Then we went to Plaza Mayor. It’s mostly shops and restaurants and a statue of some guy on a horse (clearly seven years of Spanish and one semester of Civ. of Spain has not paid off in terms of my knowledge of the capital city). There was, however, a man dressed as Spider-Man and Marissa and I took many pictures with him!
Then we kind of just wandered the shops for awhile, complaining that it was cold and excited by literally everything. Lunch was a calamari sandwich. Then we headed towards El Catedral, but stopped on the way at “El Mercado de San Miguel” which is the food market. Marissa got churros con chocolate and I got something we couldn’t pronounce and then we split them. Muy delicioso.
El Catedral was pretty amazing, but also very dark. Outside there was a statue to Pope John Paul the 2nd. El Palacio Royal (our next stop) was even more amazing; each room was elaborately painted and decorated with each piece hand-selected. We ended up spending so much time in their the people who ran the place ended up locking up behind us!
At this point we were a bit knackered so we made it back to our hostel and watched some tv in spanish for an hour before finding a late dinner (well 9pm, which is quite late for us, but fairly normal for Spaniards). It was pure luck but the place we ate at had a free live flamenco singer afterwards. At first it was just the guitarist because the singer was late, but outgoing members of the audience sang the part and two people even got up and danced.
We saw la plaza de Cibeles, the communications palace, walked down museum road, and then found our way to the botanical gardens. Unlike the previous day it was absolutely gorgeous and sunny out. Not much was in bloom yet, but for only 1.50 euros, the place was quite amazing.
Next we went to El Parque del Retiro. Words can’t really describe it: Locals were everywhere, the park was full of fountains and playgrounds and plants and memorials and statues and vendors and little woodland creatures and even a soccer field and a lake! it was a wonderful afternoon of just walking around and enjoying life and taking pictures. The Crystal Palace is also located here.
Then we were determined to find the monument to Columbus, or as they call him, Cristobal Colon. We found it… and then preceded to be disappointed by how unexciting it was.
We got paella for dinner and then went to see the Lovely Bones at the local movie theater.
Our last day in Spain we started extra early, got some Dunkin Donuts and then went to mass or “el misa.” Then we went to the traditional street market which was ginormous! I don’t think we even saw half of it and we were there for 2 or 3 hours.
At this point we had two hours to waste so we went to Athens park and lay in the grass and looked at the clouds and chatted.
Great end to a great weekend.
Amanda Benton (Class of ‘11) is a Communications-Advertising and Radio/TV/Film major from Spring City, PA.