To Spain and Back in 90 Days

Who am I?

The name is Zach Mapes. I am an alumnus of Lincoln Southwest High School, Home of the Silverhawks, in Lincoln, NE. I am a current junior at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, majoring in Secondary Education in the Spanish Language. Although I may be a student at UNL I attend La Universidad de Granada in Granada, Andalucía, España. I am here to study Spanish, hopefully become a fluent speaker (or as close as I can get in a semester), and learn about the Spanish culture. All in all, this trip should be good for me, and hopefully for you as well.

To Spain and Back in 90 Days

So this is where everything begins for you I suppose. When people tell you anything is possible when you put your mind to it, the stock answer is typically “Oh yeah, I know, but…”However, once you lose the ‘but’, it really becomes all about how much you work at it and how badly you want something to actually come to fruition.That is how this trip to Spain panned out for me. I’m a not so wealthy kid, in a relatively wealthy country, being awesome 24/7 and learning skills that will last a lifetime.

La Primera Semana – 10/1/09

About a week ago I got on a plane in Omaha, Nebraska, after an hour drive from Lincoln, to fly to Atlanta, where I sat for five hours, to get on a plane to Spain. I had never been outside the country, I had rarely been away from Nebraska in the last six or so years, so this was a big step for a guy like me.I was the only student from the Cornhusker State to take on this endeavor, meaning I would have to meet new people, experience new things, and attend a new University.But I did it, and I got here, and these are the stories from my trip.


We touched down in Madrid at 9:30a after an eight hour flight over the Atlantic which departed at 7p. Trying to do the math?Well, I wouldn’t recommend it.Madrid is six hours ahead of the Atlantic coast of the US, so when paired with a long flight, it means for an extremely long day with a short uncomfortable nap on a cold plane.Not all was lost however. I did get a sizeable meal and the opportunity to watch newly released movies, so that was cool.In the Barejas Airport, customs was all of a stamp and then we walked through a door into the main ticketing region where the International Studies Abroad (ISA) directors were waiting for us.There were at least five other students on my flight from the ATL, so on the bright side none of us were alone wandering the Spanish countryside.

We then made our way into the city to the hotel, the Husa Moncloa, where we relaxed and slept for the next few hours, trying to overcome the jetlag.That night we took a panoramic bus tour of the city and got to see quite a bit, but the fun was just beginning for us all.

Madrid has a lot to offer and unsuspecting tourist here on vacation.There is the Prado Museum of art, the Museum of Art of Queen Sophia, the city center itself, as well as the outlying town Escorial and many other aspects.We had the opportunity to experience all of these things during our three days in Madrid, and I would recommend hitting all of these spots on a trip to Spain.

One of the most fulfilling experiences of this part of the trip was finally seeing some of the works of different artists and having the opportunity to experience the culture I have studied for so long.Sitting in a classroom staring at pictures of some of Picasso’s greatest works, or watching a video about how Dali paints some eccentric stuff does not really compare to looking at the same paintings in person.One of my favorite pieces of art, Guernica, was on display in the Reina Sofia where it is a permanent part of the collection.That may be due to the fact that it cannot actually get out of the room where it’s housed due to size, but it was amazing to have this opportunity.It took me back to my days in high school Spanish where I “dressed up” as Guernica for a culture fair.This of course consisted of me wearing a cardboard replica, attached to a baseball cap, with the eyes cut out of the horse much like something reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.Nonetheless, photos were allowed, so a couple are included here:

Next was the chance to see the tomb of Fransisco Franco, Spanish militant and dictator for a number of years during the 20th century.For those of us from the U.S. who have had democracy for over 200 years now, it is very difficult to fathom that some of the older individuals in Spain actually lived underneath a dictatorship.It is even harder to believe that some of these people are still in support of Franco and his regime, long after it has been replaced by democracy.The picture below is of the tomb in which Franco and many of his supporters are buried (approximately 40,000 supporters to be exact).The cross is completely made of concrete, hollow so the wind will not topple it, and large enough for a semi-truck to drive through, provided it could get up there.This site was chosen because Franco wanted people coming to Madrid to be able to see his mark, and it can be seen, for 25 miles in any direction.The church portion was made by hand over a 19 year period and was literally blasted out of the side of the mountain.I did mention that some people still support him, and Catholic mass is held here every week for any individuals who would like to attend.

The next stop was the monestery of Phillip II, the burial site for all members of the royal blood line and royal families since its inception.Unfortunately, the tomb in which all members are currently housed is full, so the current king and his family will need to decide what they are going to do for themselves.This is a scenic shot of the monestery itself, which is now a church for the public, a museum, a school for boys, and a monestery.A rather diverse building at this point in time.

And lastly, we hit up what is widely considered the most holy city in the entire world, Toledo (Holy Toledo!).Toledo, marking a total population of about 80,000, is considered one of the smaller city centers in Spain.A bit comical when you think of Lincoln as the second biggest city in Nebraska at 250,000.Old Toledo is the medieval city on the mountain, housing around 10,000 individuals, with the rest of the more modern Toledo surrounding.This was a very cool town with a lot of rich history to offer, but what can you expect from a place that changed hands 3 or 4 times throughout history.

All in all, this first week has been a blast, and now we are on our way to meet with our host families.From the info I got, I will be living with a roommate, Andrew, from Ohio State University.We have been roomies in the hotels as well, so we’re getting to know each other pretty well at this point.And the two of us will be living with an entire host family.Carmen, our mother, Fernando, our father, Fernando, the eldest of the children at 23, Pablo, 21, Alvaro, 19, and Elena, 13. It should be a big happy family, especially with their one cat and one dog.¡Estoy muy emocionado para conocer mi familia!

At this point, I guess that’s all I have, but it looks to be shaping up to be a fun few months. I hope you have enjoyed what you got to experience vicariously through me here, and expect more crazy adventures in the future.Until next time…

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