The Beginning of Endless Possibilities

Greetings from Spain! I have officially been in Spain for two weeks now, and I must say I am having the time of my life. Everyday I am learning something new, meeting new people, and trying new foods.

We arrived in Madrid where we had orientation for two days. I thoroughly enjoyed marking the beginning of the semester off with this because it allowed all of the students to make new friends and calm some initial nerves. We spent a lot of time with our AMAZING directors, as they helped us adjust with differences between American and Spanish cultures. For example, and most importantly… food!

Spaniards usually have five meals a day. Breakfast is around 8 a.m. consisting of toast and coffee, a later breakfast at 11 a.m. of ham/fruit/bread, lunch is around 2 p.m. which is the biggest meal of the day and usually consists of about 3 courses, “merienda” is around 5 p.m. which is a small snack/appetizer, and finally, dinner at about 10 p.m. Phew! But, how can Spaniards eat so much and stay so thin? Well, not only are their portions smaller, they also walk just about everywhere they go. Another reason I love this country is because almost everything you need on a day-to-day basis can be found just footsteps away.

One of my favorite parts about our stay in Madrid was visiting two famous museums, Museo Reina Sofía y Museo del Prado. Reina Sofía was more abstract and home to paintings by Salvador Dalí and Picasso (Guernica). Prado was another Spanish art museum containing well-known paintings by Velázquez (Las Meninas) and Goya. Okay, so I am no art savvy, but having learned about these paintings/artists and now seeing the original pieces was truly a neat experience.

After the museum tours, we had free-time for the rest of the day. Here, I had my first tasting of the traditional Spanish cuisine, “paella”. It consists of rice, peppers, vegetables, meat, and seafood. One can choose what type of meat/seafood is included in the dish. I must say, it was delicious! After lunch a couple of us wandered the streets of Madrid for hours. Exhaustion didn’t even faze us at this point because we encountered the most beautiful architecture and sightings this set of eyes has ever seen. My favorite was Palacio Real, due to its breathtaking structure and its surrounding landscape.

Palacio Real
Palacio Real de Madrid

At the break of dawn the next day, the whole ISA group ate another delicious breakfast at the hotel and then boarded the buses. It took us about an hour bus ride to arrive to one of the most beautiful, picturesque cities I have ever seen…Toledo. I feel like I am overusing the word “beautiful”, but I just don’t know any other way to describe the scenery. Words and pictures truly do not do any of it justice! Anyways, we broke off into smaller groups to do tours around the city and I was lucky enough to be in Mario’s group… the most animated tour guide I have ever had! Here we got to tour a historic monastery, the oldest synagogue still standing in Europe, a famous painting by El Greco, the second largest cathedral in Spain, and the streets of Toledo.

A view of Toledo

It was all still so surreal and I did not want to leave Toledo at all! However, the next day was a much-anticipated one… the day we would all finally get to meet our host families! I look forward to sharing all sorts of stories with you about my amazing Spanish family, but for now I’ll leave you with a little inspiration.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Emily Pena
Sevilla, Spain
Spring 2012

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