This weekend, I hopped on the bus and visited Madrid. When I arrived, I was immediately stunned by the size of everything. All of the buildings were very grand, and the streets were wide and long as well. For the past two three months, I had been living in a small town with small streets and such, so this was quite a welcomed change. My plans for the trip were small–I wanted to see Toledo, watch a Flamenco dance, go to a Bullfight, and tour the King’s castle, but besides that I did not have any expectations from my trip.
During my trip, I visited Toledo, which was the episcopal seat of Visigoth Spain. The town was about a half an hour from Madrid, and walking around the town did not take too long as well, making the visit really accessible. Built on a hill, the town realizes a close-to-Platonic vision of the medieval town, with the city protected by walls and an outside river. At the center of the city, a Cathedral strongly stands. Before the Muslim rule in Spain, a Catholic church lay at the same exact place as the Cathedral now. When Muslims took over Toledo, they tore the church down and replaced it with a mosque. In 1085, the city was reconquered by Alfonso VI, King of Leon and Castile. The mosque was converted into a Catholic Cathedral, which was then recognized by Pope Urban II as the primate cathedral over the rest of the kingdom in 1088. Then, in 1222, the Pope authorized the construction of a new Cathedral. This Cathedral is the one which people see today. Built in high gothic style, the Cathedral was grand and beautiful. On the outside, the Cathedral draws attention with its spires and dome, and on the inside, it inspires the sinner to pray with high ceilings and beautiful artwork. My favorite part of the Cathedral was a statue of Mary smiling down at baby Jesus. Her face was filled with Joy, and was depicted as much more emotional than many other statues of her and her child. After visiting the Cathedral, my friend and I had a traditional lunch, choosing our meal from a menu of daily specials, and starting and finishing with gazpacho and flan.
At night, my friend and I saw a Flamenco dance. We went to a cafe which hosts the dances, and watched what could be shortly described as a lot of yelling, stomping, and arm flailing for an hour. In a longer description, the dancers all took their turns and improvised a routine. A classic guitarist laid down the music, while a caller sang for the dancers in almost a Turkish way. The dance itself was similar to tap dancing, but each dancer personalized their routines with their looks of determination and the style of their arm movements. Each dance was a mixture of speeds, moving from slow bodily movements and meditation, to rapid and crazy movements.
On Saturday, I walked around the center of Madrid. I visited the Cathedral, the Palace, and numerous plazas. The Cathedral was beautiful. On the outside, it seemed a little plain, with stone statues, but on the inside it looked completely different. There were many chapels made especially for certain religious orders. The ceiling had really neat art and wood work. The Palace was unexpectedly gorgeous. I had to wait in a line for more than half an hour, but it was definitely worth it. I saw armour from numerous kings, and some really neat rooms, with golden and silver decorations. What really surprised about the palace was its size. Everything was so big. In one of the rooms, we saw a huge table for the special dinners, and it was neat to stand there and see everything how it was in the past. The Plazas were also neat and large.
On Sunday, I saw a Bullfight. I was really excited because I had read and studied so much about Bullfighting in my Spanish classes, and I was finally going to be able to witness one in person. When we arrived to the arena, many stands were set out selling candy and seat cushions for the audience. Everybody seemed like they too were really excited to watch the fight. In the arena, people were preparing the circle for the fight, painting white lines which gave the bullfighters a way to see the distance to the gates for safety. The actual bullfight was really neat. But it was hard to watch for two main reasons. The bullfighter placed himself in many dangerous situations. These bulls, which were considered small, were huge! They looked so strong, with their huge muscles and bodies. They also seemed hard to read, acting in spontaneous ways. Every time the bull came close to the bullfighter, I got nervous. The second reason why it was hard to watch was for the bull. Sometimes the bull would really strong and live in pain for awhile instead of dying right away. It was the job of the bullfighter to kill it completely by stabbing a knife through the head after he already had been stabbed by a sword through the heart. But sometimes the bull would keep on fighting while it struggled through the pain, and it was impossible to get close enough to stab it in the head with the knife. It was difficult to watch it suffer in this way. I have heard both arguments about Bullfights. People advocate for keeping bullfights as it preserves parts of the history and tradition of Spain, but watching this event also gave reason for people advocating its termination, as it is painful for the bull.
Overall, my experience of Madrid was a complete one. I ate Spanish food, saw major places in Madrid as well as Toledo, watched a Flamenco dance, saw a Bullfight, and hungout with some locals. I greatly enjoyed my visit, and this weekend will add to my difficulty in leaving Spain just next week.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches English as a second language in Spain and plays basketball professionally there. She recently received her Bachelor's degree from Hillsdale College, one of the nation's top Liberal Arts schools in MI. At Hillsdale, she played basketball and studied English and Spanish. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing, painting, surfing, and playing the piano.