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Madrid, España! July 4, 2013

Posted by sofiatuttle in Travel Log.
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Well my official study abroad experience is now a few days underway! After weeks of beach, family, and even some paddle boarding in Portugal, I am now through a week of classes here in Spain! On Friday the 28th my dad and I flew out of the Lisbon airport bright and early; we had a mere 1 hour flight to take us to Madrid. We had the whole day ahead of us, so we started off by dropping our things off at the hotel and wandered a few blocks until we found a cafe to stop at for an early lunch. The immersion into Spanish was immediate.. as our waiter didn’t speak English at all. I had obviously expected to be using Spanish all the time, but it was just a huge transition from Portugal where almost everyone at least can hold a basic conversation in English. The menu was completely gibberish, and I made a mental note to study lots of Spanish food terms. I had a sandwich and my dad got calamari, so even though ordering the first meal was a struggle, we were full and ready to take on the Museo Reina Sofía.

The main contemporary art museum of Madrid, it held hundreds of works including those of Dalí and Picasso. Honestly, it made me realize contemporary art just isn’t my thing.. seeing the paintings of such famous artists was really neat, but after a couple hours of seeing exhibits ranging from a piece of wood on the ground to a sink with toothbrushes (all surrounded by guards directing you to not touch the art, by the way) we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta. To me, the best part of that day was the evening; we walked into the city towards the Plaza Mayor and got tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel – a wonderful little indoor market downtown where we enjoyed “pimentos de padrón”, gazpacho, and some local cervezas.


We ended up walking around for hours – seeing the Palacio Real, Puerta del Sol, and generally wandering around dozens of Madrid’s many side streets packed with people, bars, restaurants, and cafes.

The next day we woke up and got a workout in at a local crossfit box – only a 1k jog over and we were able to take advantage of all the equipment during their “open box” period for free! I got to use the erg and my dad even bought me a t-shirt! So a very successful morning.


After quick showers, we headed back downtown (now only a 15-20 minute walk we knew well) and ran into a protest marching down the street! We were able to bypass it, though, and got some lunch before touring the Palacio Real – the largest palace in Europe! Since it was built, every Spanish monarch has resided in the residence except for the current ones. However, it is still used for important events or ceremonies even today. My dad and I were both tired from all the touring, so we relaxed at a cafe with drinks and tapas for over 3 hours! Really living like the spanish, we enjoyed our food and drinks while sitting in the shade – avoiding the heat of the day.

Finally, Sunday, we got another short workout in – this time at the Parque del Retiro. The massive city park was not only very beautiful and filled with people, but it was crisscrossed with tons of shaded pathways used by runners and bikers alike. The rest of the afternoon was filled with a bus tour, where we got to see all the sights in the city that would’ve been too far apart to walk to. Then we walked to my residence here at Calle San Lorenzo, and my dad flew back to the US Monday morning – leaving me here to experience Spain for another 4 weeks!

This week so far has been wonderful – we have about 4 hours of class a day, and then a guided afternoon excursion. My favorites were the Real Madrid Stadium (where the beautiful and, obviously, Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo plays) and the Prado Museum (the 2nd largest art museum in the world, only behind the Lourve), where I got to see paintings by Vazquez, Goya, and Rembrandt.



Now, with classes done for the week (who doesn’t love Fridays off??), I’m packing and planning for our trip to Pamplona! It’s only a once in a lifetime chance to see the Running of the Bulls.. or maybe participate in it.. I guess I’ll find which out by Sunday!


Madrid and Barcelona! June 11, 2013

Posted by Parker Buntin in Travel Log.
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Hello everybody!

When I began writing this blog post, I was sitting on the last train back to Lorraine; the final stretch of railway travel that began in Barcelona, Spain that day. That weekend (Fri. May 31st – Tues. June 4th) was our second longest weekend in the GTL program: four whole days to travel anywhere we want. My destination: Spain!

Almost immediately after our classes ended last Friday (May 31st), my friends and I left  chilly, rainy Metz for  hot and sunny Madrid. The first few legs of the journey were standard railway travel that we had experienced the previous weekends. The difference in this journey, however, came with the overnight train we rode from Portbou to Madrid. The train ride was fun! Four of my friends were in a couchette, a sleeper train, so they had a little room with pull out beds for the night. The tiny little room reminded me of those on the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter, but maybe that’s just me..

My friend Alan and I reserved our tickets later, so after playing cards in our friends’ room until midnight, we retired to first class. It was tough to sleep. We missed the conductor earlier when he passed our the blankets, blindfolds, and earplugs, because we were in the other room. I got some restless sleep until around 4:30. I woke up, read some of a book, then was lucky enough to find the conductor and ask for a blanket. Then I got some more solid sleep (as much as possible in a chair on a moving train) and woke up in the morning.

The landscapes our train passed were breathtaking. The Spanish country-sides are gorgeous, much like France, Germany, and other European countries, but unique nonetheless. Every country contains lush and flowing landscapes that contain a mix of nature and man’s influence.

We got to Madrid and didn’t get too far in our walk into town before hunger stopped us in our tracks. My friends and I found a small little supermarket that was reasonably priced and gobbled up some ham and egg sandwiches. After that pit stop, we made our way all the way to the hostel. That took a long time; it was a fairly long walk, but it was quite enjoyable to walk from the business district of Madrid all the way into the heart of the historic district. It was such a relief to take off our heavy backpacks when we got to the hostel to check in!


After checking in, we all decided to go to the Royal Palace. We opted not to go inside, but that didn’t take away from the beauty of the building. My friends and I took a lot of pictures, having fun jumping off a bench to get some cool midair photos. Walking around the castle was also really neat, due to the exciting yet somewhat touristy atmosphere. There were musicians and flamenco dancers, bubble blowers and painted people. Everyone was trying to perform for a bit of extra cash. Then we made our way to Madrid’s giant park. En route, we all decided to stop for some gelato ice cream. While we sat and enjoyed our snack, a bird decided to relieve itself on one of my friend’s shirts. It was quite humorous to everybody but him. Haha be careful sitting in the shade, my friends.Image

That friend bought a new shirt, and then we made it to the park. It was so nice! The weather seemed perfect, and understandably, the park was packed with tourists and locals alike. There were two awesome parts of the park we saw: the rose garden and the crystal palace. The rose garden seemed to be overflowing with flowers, most beautifully in bloom. I took a lot of pictures, trying to be artsy. One of my friends was determined to smell all the different types of flowers. I couldn’t really distinguish between the different varieties, but they all smelled good to me!Image

The crystal palace was neat to visit. The majority of the palace is glass, and there is nothing inside except for some colored dots. As you might be thinking, it isn’t an actual functioning palace. Rather, it’s much smaller and is intended to be a work of art. The way the light came through the palace at every angle was really cool. I like natural light a lot: I seek out windows when I study and what not, so understandably, I thought this palace was very cool.  🙂Image

On the way back to the hostel that night, we happened across a demonstration. It was actually in our way, so we had to take a detour to avoid the protest. The police wouldn’t let us go our normal way back. That was fine. We made it back safely and collapsed in the hostel after walking for about 8 hours. The funny thing was that we took a nap for about an hour, woke up around 10PM, went down the street, and ate at an all you can eat buffet. Then we went back and fell asleep for the night. Hey, college kids have to eat..Image

 The next day, my group and I travelled to Barcelona. We slept in, then hung out at a McDonald’s for a bit before our train. After a few hours on the train, we walked for about an hour to the hostel. Barcelona is a city that is alive, more so than any other city I had visited so far this summer (Brussels coming in second). It took about an hour to walk to the hostel, where we met up with another group of friends from GTL. Then some of us went out to eat with a friend studying CS with the GT Barcelona study abroad program. Small world! We went to a little place and got tapas and paella. The Spanish cuisine was delicious. Stuffed, we met up with the same group of friends from the hostel, then explored everywhere from Old Town Barcelona down to the beach for the rest of the evening. Barcelona never seemed to tire. It felt like the number of people outside never fluctuated. Later, however, it seemed like more of the people outside were locals, rather than tourists. I just thought that was an interesting observation.Image

The next day, my friends and I did a lot of stereotypical touristy stuff. We walked to a park, walked to the Sagrada Família, and then walked up a giant hill to catch a view of the city. The park was nice. It was a lot smaller than Madrid’s, but it had this giant statue that was gold plated and sparkled in the sun. It was breathtaking. The park was also small because it was one of Barcelona’s many parks, not a centralized one like in Madrid. The zoo was also in the southern part of the park, but we decided not to go. Instead, we walked north to the Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família Barcelona’s largest cathedral and is still being built. It is the longest construction project ever, I believe, because it is funded via donations from the church. As such, it might go several years without construction. That being said, it was definitely under construction when we visited it. There were men in hard hats hard at work from the façade to the peripheral awnings. The cathedral was massive, towering over everyone and everything. It was truly a sight to behold.Image

Then took the metro to a stop near Park Guell, an iconic park at the top of a hill that overlooks Barcelona. It was quite the hike up the hill, which reminded me of San Francisco back in the States. When we got to the top, however, it was clear that the effort was worth it. The view was breathtaking. We all took a lot of pictures, like normal, but it felt amazing just to sit back, relax, feel the breeze, and look out over the entire city of Barcelona.Image

Madrid and Barcelona were awesome. The rest of our adventures consisted of a lighthearted evening and then all day travel back to Metz. It was an amazing weekend, and definitely one I’ll remember. 

European Euphoria July 2, 2012

Posted by sidsinha in Travel Log.
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Hola de Madrid. Es día bonita! Madrid is the number one city I have been to, I am convinced. From the inordinate amount of Plazas (pronounced Plathas due to the Spanish lisp) to the delectable tapas, Madrid epitomized my idea of Spain. Of course I enjoyed Barcelona and its almost fantasized life, but Madrid gave me a true sense of Spain, I felt. I am slightly biased towards Madrid, because on of my friends gave me a personal tour of much of city. He knew his facts, and best of all, he enjoyed showing us around.

            I am currently at Madrid-Barajas, waiting to board my flight to Rome. Yesterday marked the beginning of our mid-summer break, five days. Some friends and I are going to Italy (within Italy, most likely to Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre).  Before Italy, however, I wanted to take a trip of my own. So two nights ago, I came to Paris and met up with some Oxford friends. Then the next day, I took a flight to Madrid to meet a good friend of mine. Finally, I am about to head out to Rome to meet the rest of the gang.

The craziness is a small reflection on my summer. In the last 5 weeks, I have been to 11 cities, taken more than 40 trains, and eaten over 20 kebabs—sometimes what I would define as my cause of sustenance. The kebabs are a delicious conglomeration of vegetables, tzaziki, red pepper, and meat (usually chicken) in a thick piece of pita bread. They are phenomenal AND cheap (not necessarily a combination representative of Europe).

My next few weeks consist of canyoning in Switzerland, Running [with the Bulls] in Pamplona, running around in Prague, relaxing in Budapest, and fulfilling my aspirations in Istanbul—the top city on my list of places to visit for much time. Stay tuned.


La Adventura de Andalucia! July 30, 2011

Posted by annasulimirski in Travel Log.
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The third weekend I was in Spain we took a trip as a class all over the southern region of Spain, Andalucia. We visited the cities of Granada, Sevilla, and Cordoba which were all extremely beautiful! I loved how the entire region has so much Arabic influence. We left as a class on Thursday to travel around southern Spain. We started out in Granada, which was the last Spanish city to fall from the Arabs to the Christians. It’s architecture is to die for, and mountains with snow on them are in sight even though it’s boiling hot! We visited the Cathedral and the Alhambra there. The Alhambra is incredible. It was considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world at one point. It is like a palace/fortress building of the Arabs on the huge hill. It’s gardens and geometric designs were marvelous!

Next we went to Sevilla where we saw the 2nd largest Cathedral in the world and an old palace modeled after the Arab style. They were both incredible. I loved the feel of Sevilla on the riverside.

We then drove to Cordoba, which felt like we were in a desert. There we visited the Mezquita. It was my favorite building of the whole trip. The site originally had a cathedral that was then ruined for a mosque, and then the mosque was converted into a cathedral again. It’s mixtures of two cultures is fascinating!

I then traveled back to Cadiz for a week before leaving for Madrid. I finished up my finals in Cadiz and had to say good-bye to my home and Spanish mom, which was really hard!

Madrid was slightly overwhelming because of it’s huge size compared to the cities we had visited before then. I grew to love it, though, especially the huge parks that all the locals spent so much time at, especially at night. I visited the Royal Palace, the train station that practically has a rainforest inside, many monuments, and took a day trip to the little town of Segovia. Segovia had roman aqueducts from the first century A.D. and the castle that Walt Disney based the Sleeping Beauty castle on.

It was an incredible 2 weeks 🙂

¡Bienvenidos a España: Primera Semana! July 13, 2010

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Monday at 5:00, I said my goodbyes to the US and boarded the huge, double decker Boeing 747 on our way to Paris, France. After having dinner and reading, I went to bed with a setting sun only to wake up 3 hours later to the morning sunshine and breakfast. After spending an hour in the Paris airport, we headed on our connecting flight to Madrid. Even as I exited the airport, I could already tell that I was going to love this country.

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From Portugal to Spain (At last!) May 30, 2010

Posted by Becky Byler in Travel Log.
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We arrived in Spain today! Madrid is gorgeous, but so much has changed since I was last here, that I could barely find my way around. We took the metro to our hotel (Hotel Muralto), and then walked around the streets for a few hours before dinner. The best find was the El Corte Inglés less than two blocks away… everything you need in one enormous store! By the time we returned from our walk, we were famished, but we didn’t have to wait long for our flamenco show and dinner.

Dinner at the flamenco club was absolutely amazing. I was so excited to eat paella, drink sangria, and watch a flamenco show, and the club surpassed my expectations! The first plato was a fried potato and egg dish, and the second plato was chicken paella. The flamenco show started while we were being served dessert (chocolate cake), and I was so absorbed in the dancing and rhythmic beats that I almost forgot to eat it!

All of the Girls Outside of the Flamenco Club

There were four dancers in the flamenco show, three females and one male, and each person took turns dancing while the others accompanied the musicians. I loved the flamenco show since it is a blend of dancing, singing, and playing instruments, and all three of them blended seamlessly throughout the performance. Also, the stamina of the dancers was phenomenal- one woman tapped her feet for over 15 minutes! It was also interesting to note how, depending on the dancer, the style of the flamenco dancing changed slightly. This ability of flamenco to adapt to the current situation is what makes it so unique, and, as a result, no two shows are the same. (more…)