I can’t believe I’ve already spent over a month in Spain. Time has flown by, and while it seems as if I’ve just only arrived, Spain is already feeling like home. With classes starting on the 20th, I have finally been able to establish a relatively stable schedule for the week, which has helped to make living here feel less like an extended vacation and more like a semester abroad.
While we are certainly here to study, the Tufts in Madrid program has provided us with so many incredible opportunities to visit museums, see plays, and experience the culture of Spain. Even as I write this I am on the train to see Rock the Ballet, a dance and music extravaganza in Madrid! Every museum we visit, every Spanish play or movie, and any cultural activities are all reimbursed by the program, which makes taking advantage of these opportunities that much easier.The morning after we returned from Segovia I woke up early to travel into Madrid as it was the last day of the temporary exhibit Turner y los Maestros at the Prado. As a photographer, I have always loved taking landscape pictures. There is infinite beauty in the world around us, but at the every day level it can be so hard to find the time to stop and appreciate our surroundings. How often do we actually observe instead of simply looking? For me, Turner’s paintings paintings force us to do just that. One cannot look upon his enormous painting of Venice or his startling sunsets without feeling an appreciation for beauty in the natural world. The exhibit was particularly interesting as it followed Turner’s career in trying to make a name for himself. Showing Turner’s art alongside masters like Manet and Rembrandt, the exhibit displayed various views of the same beautiful world, charting Turner’s progress as he carved his own place in the history of painting. On the walk to the Atocha train station after my visit to the Prado I came across the ending to the Vuelta de España, essentially Spain’s equivalent to the Tour de France. I had never seen a bicycle race like this up close before, and it was pretty amazing to see so many bikers fly past.
With the start of program classes on the 20th, our roulette wheel of scheduled activities finally began to slow down. We were provided an extensive list of classes at the University of Alcalá and reviews by previous students, but ultimately it was up to us to find the classes that interested us. I had already decided to take the art history, gramática, and sketching classes offered by the study abroad program, but this left one more University class for me to find. As an Engineering Psychology major at Tufts, I found myself in the unique position of not being able to take any classes towards my area of study. This left me open to take any class that interested me. There were too many, but fortunately enough only a couple that fit into my schedule. I visited a Spanish literature class and, while the professor was kind and I knew some of the Spanish students in the class, the workload was a little high for a guy not majoring in Spanish. Luckily for me, Sergio, one of the professors working with the program, teaches a physical theater class at the University. Art history, gramática, sketching, and physical theater. What an awesome schedule!Dibujo (sketching) has definitely been one of my favorite classes so far. Drawing is certainly not a skill that comes naturally to me, but it is something that I really enjoy doing. For class, we meet at a location in Alcalá or Madrid, like the Plaza de Cervantes, and simply sketch for two hours. Nothing makes you notice the detail of the architecture in the town or the intricacies of a trees form than studying it for hours, drawing it, redrawing it, and constantly evaluating your work.
Not only have I been lucky enough to explore my artistic side, I’ve been able to take Salsa lessons thanks to the program’s stipend for extracurricular activities. I’m currently taking three classes a week and having a blast. While difficult, especially for someone rhythmically challenged like myself, these three hours of dance class help me unwind, get some exercise, and have a blast learning something new. These lessons, combined with my physical theater class, where we run, jump and fall theatrically, will hopefully help me improve my own self awareness and control.One of the best parts of settling in here is getting to know the Spaniards and being able to meet them for dinner or to go out at night. These relationships not only make it easier to adapt to living here, but make one feel welcome and at home. The University of Alcalá is hosts an ERASMUS program for European students who want to study in Spain, so at night the streets, bars, and discoteccas are filled with students from the world over. Some of the intercambios who participate in the Tufts program are also ERASMUS intercambios, so I’ve been lucky enough to meet friends from countries like Germany, France, Latvia and more! My intecambio amigo Diego was even nice enough to invite us over to his house near Madrid after our visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, to celebrate Kayley’s 21st birthday American style, since 21 isn’t as big of a deal here. In Spain many people live at home well into their 20’s, so it’s not typical to regularly have people over to hang out or party. It was a great change of pace to be able to all hang out together, eat pizza, and play games. The house was awesome, the typical post-graduation bachelor pad everyone dreams of, with an incredible view of Madrid in its entirety. I was able to sit on the balcony and watch the enormous full moon rise on the horizon.
The weekend didn’t end with the birthday fiesta, however! Saturday night we ventured a town over to Torrejon, to visit Parque Europa, a sprawling park filled with replicas of Europe’s most famous monuments, statues, and landmarks. We sat by the Trevi Fountain, walked past castles of northern Europe, and posed for a picture in front of the EIffel Tower. The night ended with some delicious tapas and a live concert in ManáManá, one of the discobars in town.To cap off a weekend of birthday celebrations, museum visits, and European landmarks, Yoli, a Spanish student working with the program, organized a trip to el campo to go horseback riding. The bus ride was pretty short, about 40 minutes, but in that short amount of time we were transported from urban Alcalá to rural fields and farms at the top of a large mesa. The ranch was pretty large with multiple stables and we spent a few hours exploring, meeting the horses and the resident basset hound, and taking in the cold country air. A riding competition was scheduled for the day and we were able to watch it from beginning to end. With the long morning turning into afternoon, we sat down to delicious meal of eggs, french fries, and chicken, a standard meal in the Spanish diet. We were finally ready to montar los caballos.
I had taken a few horseback riding lessons with my mom when I was a lot younger, which I mentioned to the instructor, so she assigned me to Blackey who apparently has a kicking issue. At that point I wished I had just kept my mouth shut. I had nothing to worry about though as Blackey was great and we got along famously. After a few turns around the corral we headed out to the trail. A narrow path that wound through fields, yards, and orchards, the trail took us up and down the hills and valleys around the ranch. The view of the surrounding countryside was stunning. The sun was beginning its decent and everything was bathed in a golden light. Such a beautiful end to another amazing week in Spain.