Pre – Trip Panic Attack
As an international student from Vietnam, in order to be able to enter Spain and participate in this amazing study abroad program that I’ve been waiting for since registration, I need to obtain a Schengen Visa prior to my arrival. The whole process of getting the documents and applying for this was completely insane. I failed to get it in the U.S, leaving the only option is to fly back to my hometown and acquire it in the country of residence. The timing was super close that I only had one month to go over the procedure and start applying hoping I could get it on time… To be honest, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown not knowing if I could make it to the trip. My mind was blank and my heart race started to beat faster day by day.
Thank God, I finally got my long-awaited visa exactly one week before the trip. One week of packing and preparing for this journey went by in a blink of an eye. Isn’t it surreal that I AM IN SPAIN right now, exploring all the corners of Madrid and living my best summertime?! The wait is over and now it’s my time to enjoy every moment of España.
“Puerta Del Sol – The Heart of Madrid”
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 14 June 2022
If Brickell is Miami’s bustling central business district, then Puerta Del Sol is definitely the heart of Madrid constructed as a lively paramount square. Meaning the Sun’s Gate in English, it’s known as a popular tourist gathering site for historical learning, cuisine tasting, favorable shopping,.., and many other activities they wish to do at the city’s essence.
Personally, the cutest thing I’ve seen at this square is certainly the bronze statue of the bulky bear standing on his feet sniffing at the tree. Surprisingly, it turned out to be that this is actually the symbol of Madrid – El Oso y el Madroño – translated to be the bear and the strawberry tree. These two symbolic icons were chosen by a king. To his proposal, the strawberry tree (representing trees and woodlands) were the city’s precious property that was strongly believed by early Europeans to be a helpful remedy for an epidemic. On the other hand, the bear was a commemorative tribute that was once killed by the king while hunting. Its courage and daring when facing death brought huge attention to him that later on, he decided to use it as a remembrance.
The diagonal direction of the statue marks the geographical center of Spain – both the city and nation’s Kilometer Zero. Located on the pavement in front of the Case de Correos (the House of Governor which used to be a Post Office), this stone lab is a legit scale to measure all distances across Spain.
Our walking lecture continued to the Plaza Mayor, another predominantly spectacular square of Madrid enclosed by red and yellow buildings with tall porches around the plaza. On the north side sits the Casa de la Panaderia, the municipal and cultural building. Ever since the completion, the construction acted as the city’s most eminent bakery. Right in the center of the square is the equestrian statue of King Philip III – a valued gift from the Duke of Florence to the King of Spain.
On the day of our class tour to this remarkable neighborhood, we got to this remarkable neighborhood at around 9 a.m. and it’s surprising how most of the stores and restaurants were not open yet. The streets and the walkways to this well-known tourist site were nearly empty with barely any other people except us. Hence, it came to my realization that Spanish people probably start their days late because of longer days in the summertime where the sun doesn’t go down until 10 p.m.
Hence, three days later, me and my classmate – Cat – decided to come back to Sol in the afternoon ( 5 a.m.) and everything just got so much busier compared to our first visit. We noticed restaurants and stores filled with customers, streets filled with tourists and busking performances,… The atmosphere was just great with so many activities going on. What a bustling spirit to wander around and catch a glimpse of this charming district!
“A Dream Comes True”
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 18 June 2022
As soon as I got off the bus, a spectacular scenery appeared right in front of me as if I thought it was just a kind of an architectural structure that stands majestically at the gate entrance. To my astonishment, it turned out to be much more than that, which is called to be the Aqueduct of Segovia, a water-conveyance structure built under the Roman Empire.
This powerful structure is surely the city’s symbol that welcomely “greets” tourists once they enter Segovia. It acts as a dominant “bridge” that supplied water from the Frio River to the city in the 20th century. About the design, the pillars and the two-tiers arches are made of stable blocks of stone. An interesting fact about these stones is that they fit jointly without the use of cement! In fact, the lower arches adjust in height in correspondence to the overall construction’s adaptation to the contours of the surface.
Despite being built in the second half of the first century A.D, the Aqueduct is well-preserved until the present times and was proudly recorded as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. Today, the Aqueduct still stands eminently at the marvelous location of Segovia and I would never stop being in awe of its beauty every time I look at this wonderful structure.
Apart from that, I’ve always been such a huge fan of Disney and little did I know that the first Disney castle dedicated to the appearance of Snow White was actually inspired by Alcazar de Segovia! For me, being able to see and step into this gorgeous fairy-tale inspiration is a DREAM COMES TRUE.
Used to be a Roman fort, the castle went through multiple reformations by each following ruling culture. Historically, its functional constructions were to be a fortress, a palace, a prison, and the Royal Artillery College.
Especially, climbing up the narrow, winding stairs to get to the top was an absolutely cool-to-be-experience where I had to be extremely careful with the tiny steps and limited space. Once reaching the peak, the only sound I could make was “WOW“. The splendid mountain views and greenery nature scenery were all over the sight. Hence, Segovia has definitely had my heart where I fell in love at first sight.
“EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED”
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 24 June 2022
To me, the “C” in Cordoba certainly stands for Colorful, which was also my very first impression of this alluring city. Of all visual elements, colors catch my attention the most, and so does this town. Peaceful and lively seem to be a contradictory component, but somehow, Cordoba is a perfect blend between serenity and dynamism.
From Madrid, we took a 1-hour-30-minute-train to Cordoba as a day trip before arriving at Sevilla later that night. Honestly, I had no clue nor any background knowledge about this brand-new city that I’ve never heard of. Apparently, Cordoba is a widely known capital of Islamic Spain in the Middle Ages and has proved to be the meeting point to learn as perceived by the Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
To our amazement, La Gran Mezquita (The Great Mosque) was one of the highlights of this trip due to its “2-in-1”: originally built as a mosque but eventually converted into a cathedral. Remarkably, there is no exact separation between the two religions within the site. You could not witness by eye the physical barrier nor the transformation point at all. Thus, this religious site still does receive humiliation of holding a mosque under a church, or vice versa to the present day.
Before the Spanish Inquisition, Cordoba used to be a vital residential area for the Jewish community. The Jewish gate to this district opened up like a vibrant paradise gate for me as we entered. All of a sudden, the whitewashed walls painted with vivid colors reminded me of the pretty-much-alike-scenery of Santorini, Greece – where I’ve always dreamt of visiting.
I found my simple joy just by wandering around this Jewish quarter, exploring the local stores, cafes, restaurants and taking glamorous photos. Despite being an ancient city holding many precious vestiges of several religions, Cordoba still shines as a vigorous gem for its vibrancy and liveliness.
As a person who adores brightness and pigmentation, isn’t it lovely how every corner of Cordoba is bursting with colors and decorative flowers hanging on the wall? Initially visiting Cordoba with a blank mind but look at what this beautiful brought me: a great sense of pleasure and delightfulness.
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 24 June 2022
As soon as we started walking back to our housing, a cool summer breeze and humidity captured my curiosity. What an escape from the intense heat in Madrid! I was looking around to find where it came from and there it was! A huge river right across the street. And that was how Sevilla welcomed us pleasantly.
The whole city is situated on the Río Guadalquivir. Interestingly, it’s the only traversable river in Spain carrying an absolutely crucial role in the country’s history. A lot of significant events had happened right on this river: blockade, defenses, conquest, crossings…. In reality, the very first voyage around the world was actually from Seville initiated by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519. At that time, his goal was to circumnavigate the globe.
During the era when Spanish invasion of America, Sevilla became the gateway to the Spanish Indies, meaning ships leaving and returning from Spain had to pass through Sevilla. Nowadays, the river serves as the symbol of the city with the prevalence of many maritime activities, making it the central hub for urban development with its unique cultural expressions.
On top of that, it would have been incomplete without mentioning Plaza de Espana – one of the most dominant squares of the nation. Originally, it was built with an aim to revive Spain’s greatness after the decline in prosperity and economy. The plaza has the distinct shape of a semicircle, enclosed by a row of yellow buildings, which are now used as government institutions.
Especially, there are exact 52 benches and tiles representing each province, region of Spain. Another highlight is the huge fountain in the center surrounded by a serene canal with charming bridges. Visitors can absolutely rent a boat and enjoy a wonderful ride around this spectacular site, reminding me of Estanque Grande del Retiro (Madrid).
As being in the center of Seville, the Plaza is a must-see architectural jewel where not only can you learn about history but also, having an opportunity to sit back and appreciate the charming Flamenco dance. For me, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with such great views, good music, and amazing dances.
“A Charming Jewel on the Mediterranean”
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 10 July 2022
Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Sitges carries a lively compilation of glamorous whitewashed buildings with scenic beaches, lively nightlife and LGBT-friendly ambience – perfect for a satisfying getaway. Just within an hour away from Barcelona, the town is recognized as the St Tropez of Spain due to its opulent villas and gorgeous beaches.
Among the collection of momentous galleries and museums, I discover the vital role Sitges plays in the flow of the Modernist art movement. Namely, the Cau Ferrat Museum was once home of the prominent figures of this Catalan movement – Santiago Rusiñol – displaying a distinguished collection of ancient paintings, artworks, sculptures… mainly made from antique ceramic, glass, and iron.
The building preserves flawless space and venerable works of art by famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, El Greco, … As a result, Cau Ferrat was witnessed as an iconic transformation in the Temple of “Modernisme”. With the participation of all leading artists, it established an aesthetic ensemble of how all art forms were highly revered in the “Modernisme” movement.
Apart from that, it will be a shortcoming without mentioning the transatlantic cultural exchange between Miami and Sitges. Having visited Charles Deering Estate in Miami and then coming to Palau Maricel and Cau Ferrat in Sitges, I noticed the intertwined architectural designs and multicultural structures. Because of being greatly influenced by the Catalonian culture in Sitges, Charles Deering decided to construct a Stone House at Deering, a reminiscence to both cherish Spain’s local tradition while maintaining his American identity.
After all, Sitges is certainly a jewel on the Mediterranean that no one could miss when coming to Spain, especially Barcelona. It gathers all of the diverse components such as historic sites, glitzy beaches, flavorful restaurants, exclusive local stores and cultural festivals. It would absolutely be an ideal holiday destination that should be put as a must-visit on your travel bucket list!!!
“SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST”
By Elsa Chung of FIU Honors Spain Abroad on 4 July 2022
Photos by Elsa Chung // CC by 4.0
Unquestionably, Barcelona is the city that popped up immediately when thinking of Spain. It is the most well-known city with many popular tourist attractions not only nationally but within the whole Europe continent. Throughout the trip, my classmates and I were all counting down the days until we reached this fascinating city. From my observation, I could tell the great excitement clearly shown on their faces on the way there. “I AM SO READY FOR BARCELONA!” – screamed everyone.
It is the capital and the biggest sovereign community of Catalonia – as distinctly expressed through art and architecture. The most notable landmark is certainly La Sagrada Familia – the enormous unfinished Roman Catholic church – designed by Antoni Gaudi. This masterpiece is broadly recognized as Spain’s symbolic icon and also is perceived as “by the people for the people”.
The construction first started in 1882 and still continued to be in progress up until now, after over a century. The Basilica has three symbolic facades: Nativity, Passion, and Glory as representations of Christ’s Birth, Crucifixion, and Death respectively. Stepping inside, I was in absolute amazement of the colorful interior. This is one-of-a-kind cathedral that stands out the most out of the ones I visited in Spain.
Influenced by Catalan modernism, especially neo-gothic styles, art nouveau, and modernisme movement, Gaudi characterized his work in the freedom of form, delightful colors, and natural unity. The pillars were made in the structure of delicate and elegant tree trunks, depicting a glorious forest of columns and sparkled by bright colorful stained-glass windows.
Besides, another superior monument that impressed me was Palau de la Musica, designed by Modernist Architecture Lluís Domènech i Montaner. As a flower lover, I admire the fact that there are more than 2,000 roses hidden throughout the entire building. At the center, the stained-glass ceiling represents the sun, the main concept of the design. The whole intention is to establish nature interaction, utilizing inexpensive materials to create marvelous artwork.
Extraordinarily, the principal approach is to place an emphasis on movement. Since nature is not static, so is the interior, portrayed by a Pegasus statue, 18 sculptures of women playing musical instruments, tilted light, … All of these inspirational figures harmoniously express the calling for joy, beauty, and life.
Personally, stepping into this concert hall was absolutely a world-class experience for me. It would be my dream to come back here, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. How wonderful it is to fully indulge in this remarkable site with the high-quality sound of magnificent instruments. Moreover, Catalunya’s flag is presented all over Palau de la Musica, as a reminder that Modernisme is an exclusive expression of Catalan cultural identity.