Dios mio! I have been in Europe for almost 8 weeks now and it has been the most fun/tiring/educational experience I could have imagined. I have visited 12 cities so far–mainly in Spain–and between school, weekend adventures, and planning the next portions of my Europe trip I haven’t had much time (or energy) for writing. But now that I have a spare moment, I’ve sat down in a cute little bookshop in Barcelona and want to attempt a recap of my time here so far, which will take a few posts, because it has been so wonderful and each place has had something so unique to offer.
Through both our program and our own planning my friends and I were able to visit some very beautiful and very historical sites in and around Segovia. Here are some favorites:
El Monasterio de El Escorial (The Royal Site of San Lorenzo):
This monastery was absolutely incredible and full of historical importance. It was built in the sixteenth century for King Phillip II and took 21 years to built, which is a phenomenally short time for such an intricate and large structure. It contains the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen, full of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin books and decorated with paintings of famous philosophers and celebrations of the liberal arts. I could have stayed just in the library for an entire day looking at all the art (and the thousands of books) but we went on to see a ton of tombs, including a room containing 22 Spanish kings and queens and their respective spouses. I tried to really grasp how significant those people’s lives were to the history of the world while I stood in that tomb, and it was quite a powerful moment.
The monastery of Santa María la Real de Nieva:
This gothic-style Catholic monastery had a center plaza surrounded by arches covered in ornate carving representing symbols of the months of the year, the agriculture of Segovia, and different symbols of power and faith.
El Castillo de Coca:
Coca is a nearby small Spanish town that boasts a massive castle complete with a moat and tall lookout towers. The christian castle was full of spiral staircases and hidden rooms and viewpoints everywhere we turned.
El Palacio Real de la Granja se San Ildefonso:
This royal palace, in the absolutely beautiful town of Granja, was the home of many Spanish kings and many famous weddings and religious ceremonies were held here. As in many of these places, photos were prohibited inside, but luckily the gardens were as grand as the castle. My friends and I also visited La Granja a second time, and after getting caught in a thunderstorm we spent an afternoon out into the forests, trying (and not succeeding) to find a river to swim. But the views and the company were well worth it.
Valle of the Caidos:
My absolute favorite visit was to the Grand Basilica in the Valle of the Caidos, which the Spanish dictator Franco ordered built in order to “honor those who fell in the Spanish civil war.” But here’s the problem: many of those who built the massive basilica were political prisoners who opposed the dictatorship. So for obvious reasons, the building remains very controversial in Spain. Yet there is no denying how breathtaking both the valley and the architecture is. The interior of the basilica is unlike any of the other churches we have seen; instead of hundreds of ornate sculptures and paintings, it was dark, built of stone, and gave much more of a Hogwarts-esque vibe than a that of Catholic church. Franco wanted everything about the structure to be larger than life to make visitors feel very small and insignificant, and there is no doubt that he achieved that goal.
These visits are just the beginning and don’t even include all our weekend adventures, but I will write about those in the next post.
During my time in South Africa I was constantly learning about myself. And although I’m pretty sure that I’m stuck with those introspective thoughts for the next few years (yay for the confusing 20’s), this trip has been much more externally focused and I feel that I am constantly learning about the world around me. Europe has this incredibly long and well-documented history that I admittedly know very little about, yet from my mini-vacation in London, my history and culture classes, and these various excursions I have already learned so much about this powerful continent.
Oh! And I also had a ton of fun. My time in Central Spain was full of friends, beers, tinto de verano (a fruity Spanish wine), frozen yogurt and tapas, which are all muy comun. The long days of sunlight, relatively stress-free class schedule, and late-night atmosphere made for some great memories. Of course, the hardest part of traveling is having to say goodbye, but thankfully, this time many of the friends I made actually go to Oregon! So I will see them soon. And as for my host family, there were lots of tears and hugs and besos the day I left. I can’t express how much their family meant to me–the love between them was a blessing to experience and I am grateful to have been accepted and loved by such wonderful people. I have no doubt that I will see them again. In the letter I wrote for them, I shared one of the quotes that has been so relevant to me this year:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
I will be forever thankful for the time I spent in central Spain. Hasta pronto. ❤