Editor travels abroad on Spanish Exchange

Editor travels abroad on Spanish Exchange

Spanish Exchange group poses infront of the Enfantes School in Toldeo, Spain. The exchange group spent three weeks in Spain living with host families and getting to better understand the Spanish culture.

Shannon Olsen, Lifestyles Editor

Week 1: January 25- February 1, 2013

Stepping off the plane after a seven-hour flight, I could hardly contain my excitement of spending the next two weeks and five days in Toledo, Spain with my exchange student Andrea.

While Andrea was staying with me and my family at the beginning of the school year, our relationship took off immediately. I knew then, that our friendship would be one that would last a lifetime.

After she left to go back to Spain, one thing crossed my mind: the next five months are going to go by so slowly because I cannot wait to see her again and meet her family.

Over the months we were separated, the two of us stayed in contact. We Facebook chatted as often as we could, and as my trip drew nearer, we talked even more. I spent my first weekend in Toledo with my host family. It was perfect because it gave me time to get to know my family and immediately test how much Spanish I actually knew.  I quickly learned that I had to attempt to speak completely in Spanish because neither of Andrea’s parents speaks English.

Her family was so welcoming and from the first day, they made me feel a much at home as possible. She has two younger brothers, Diego and Nicolas, who very much reminded me of my own brothers, constantly picking on each other. This small similarity made me feel right at home and made me smile.

On Sunday, my family took me on an excursion to follow “La Ruta de Don Quijote” (The Route of Don Quijote). Don Quijote is the famous Spanish novel written by Miguel Cervantes. Don Quijote travelled all over Spain to many different places, and I was able to stop and see a few of those places. Our first stop was the small town of Orgaz. We got a tour of La Castillo de Los Condes de Orgaz (The Castle of the Counts of Orgaz).

The castle was made completely of stone. None of the rooms were carpeted and all of the walls were stone which gave it a very medieval feel. My favorite part of the castle was being able to go up on the roof. The view from the top of the castle was magnificent. I could see out over the entire town and off into the distance for miles.

The next location, Consuegra, had the famous windmills mentioned in Cervantes’ novel Don Quijote. We walked up the road as the wind whipped through our hair. Although it was a pretty day, the wind chill forced me to stay bundled up in my coat and scarf. After a quick walk around the windmills, we got back into the warm car and headed to the next location. My family and I drove to a few more small towns before heading home for the night.

One thing I immediately noticed about Spain was the time that they eat their meals. They eat “comida,” their biggest meal, around 3:00 p.m when school lets out. Then they eat their final meal of the day, “cena,” around 10:00 p.m. Cena is a smaller meal than comida and it is similar to our dinner.

It took me a few days to get used to the eating schedule. At home, I never eat breakfast in the morning, but in Spain my family made me eat breakfast every morning which was difficult to get used to. The other meal that I had a hard time adjusting to was comida. Because of the different schedule, I was never hungry for comida, so I never ate that much and my family thought that I never ate enough food. They were always trying to feed me more food than I could eat.

On Monday, because Andrea and the rest of the host students did not have school, our group took our first excursion to Madrid. The first thing we did when we got to Madrid was take a tour of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). As I walked through the front doors of the palace, the magnificent sight of the grand staircase and beautiful ceilings left me gaping in awe of the beautiful room I was standing in.

As I walked up the grand staircase, the tapestries that covered the walls were what made the grand staircase so breathtaking. Each tapestry told a different story, and the ceilings were a swirl of beautiful flowers and different designs that matched every wall perfectly.

As I walked through the rest of the palace, I noticed that every single room was different. Each room had beautiful details and the most interesting part of each room was the ceilings and walls. Each was beautifully painted or pieced together as a mosaic.

My favorite room had a nature theme to it. The banisters had ivy leaves carved and painted going up into the ceiling where it turned into a beautiful tree. And just like every other room in the palace it had a magnificent chandelier right in the center of the room.

After we finished our tour of the palace, the group walked to the Puerta del Sol, which is the center plaza of Madrid. Located in the Puerta del Sol, is the zero kilometer mark, the center point of Spain. We spent a few hours around town before heading to the Prado Museum. The museum was filled with many paintings by many famous Spanish painters including El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya. The museum was our last stop in Madrid for the day. The next day, and every school day following, I went to school with Andrea.

Even though I went to school with Andrea, I did not go to her classes until my final school day in Spain. Instead, I spent every morning working on my school work that I brought with me from home.  After finishing up my school work for that particular day, I, along with the rest of the group, walked uptown to Plaza de Zocodover which is the center plaza of Old Town. We spent the rest of the afternoon in Old Town shopping and exploring the town until school was finished and I was able to go home with Andrea.

The city of Toledo has two parts to it, the Old Town and the New Town. The Old Town is the portion of the city that is still surrounded by the ancient city walls. The New Town is more modern than Old Town, and consists of all the surrounding buildings that are not surrounded by the ancient city walls.

Andrea’s youngest brother Nicolas always had swim practice during the evening, and Andrea’s mother would take me out to pick him up and show parts of the town that I did not get to see during the day. One of the most interesting places she took me was the Alcazar of Toledo. Half of the Alcazar is a museum in which there some of the ruins of the original Alcazar before it was destroyed.

Week 2: February 2- February 8, 2013

On the second weekend, the group went on excursions on both Saturday and Sunday.  On Saturday, we went to El Escorial, El Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen), and Segovia. It was a long day but each place we visited was absolutely beautiful.

Our first stop was The Escorial in the town of San Lorenzo de Escorial. The Escorial is best known as the former residence of the King of Spain. Now it is where the members of the royal family are buried. It was a good thing that we did not have to be outside for very long, because with the wind blowing, the air outside was freezing.

Each room has many different artifacts that dated back to the 15th century. On the bottom floor of the palace, all of the tombs are spread out. The main tomb is the Pantheon of the Kings. Only the kings and queens are buried here.

After we finished our tour at El Escorial, our next stop was El Valle de los Caídos. The unique thing about El Valle de los Caídos is that the cathedral is built into the mountain. While we were looking around outside, it started to snow a little bit.

I stayed outside for as long as possible to take in the beautiful sight, but bitter cold air nipping at my face forced me to find my way to the entrance of the cathedral as quickly as I could.

As I walked through the cathedral, there was an eerie feeling in the air. The cathedral was built after the Spanish Civil War to remember all of those who had died. The other part that makes the cathedral interesting is that the dictator Francisco Franco is buried in the cathedral.

After the Spanish Civil War, Franco decided to build the cathedral in memory of all soldiers who had fallen during the war. When the cathedral was built, the site was designated to be Franco’s burial place.

After spending about 30 minutes at El Valle de los Caídos, the group quickly boarded the bus to head to our final destination for the day, Segovia. For those of us that had taken Honors Spanish 2 with Spanish teacher Jane Michael, we specifically remembered Segovia being one of Susana y Javier’s stops in Susana y Javier en España, the book we read throughout the year.

We got some free time to walk around the town before meeting up for our tour of the Alcazar (another royal palace). The Alcazar had a lot of the old armor that the knights wore and there were many old tapestries, but it is famous because it is where Christopher Columbus’s will was read.

When we were finally done our tour of the Alcazar, it was time for us to head back to the bus. The exhaustion from the long day quickly began to hit me as I, along with most of the group, was dragging my feet as we walked back to the bus.

Sunday was another beautiful sunny day filled with many new adventures and exciting places. Our destinations were Segobriga to see the old Roman ruins and the small town of Cuenca to see the houses that are built into the sides of cliffs.

The Roman ruins in Segobriga were very interesting and I was amazed at how much of the Roman ruins archeologists had uncovered, but I was mostly excited to go to Cuenca.

Cuenca is considered the Grand Canyon of Spain because of the cliffs and canyons that the river had created. The bus drove up the very narrow road to the top of the hill and to be honest I did not think the bus was going to be able to make it around some of the turns that it did.

Once everyone was off the bus, we followed a scenic path down the hill to town so we could take pictures and get a closer look at the canyon below. Being on a dirt path near a cliff made me a little nervous, but once I saw the beautiful view of the town over the cliffs, it did not bother me as much.

We spent a few hours in Cuenca looking around town and seeing the many wonderful sights before heading home.

Instead of going up to Old Town every afternoon, our group was asked to visit some of the English classes some of the days and talk to the students. I was a little nervous about talking to people that I did not know, but it ended up being fun and the students were all nice.

Week 3: February 9- February 11, 2013

The second week flew by so quickly, and before I knew it, I was beginning to think about going back home to the United States. Saturday, Feb. 9 was our last excursion, and we went to Madrid for the day. We did not spend much time in the actual city of Madrid. The main excitement of the day was going to the Xanadu Mall about 20 minutes outside of the city.

We spent about three hours in the mall before boarding the bus to go home. We did not stay out too late on this excursion, because that weekend was Carnaval. Carnaval is similar to Mardi Gras. It is a huge celebration and everyone dresses up in costumes and goes out all night. Wanting to get the full experience of Carnaval, I decided to dress up with Andrea and her group of friends. We all dressed up as soccer players.

The following day was my last day in Toledo with my family. I spent the day walking around town with them as they showed me a few sites that I did not get the chance to see with the group. After my final tour of Toledo, they took me home so I could pack my suitcase. I decided that I should go to sleep early that night because I had to get up early the next morning.

Having to say goodbye to Andrea and her family made me very sad and I had been dreading it the entire trip. As they drove me to the school Monday morning, I could feel the tears welling up. I tried as hard as I could not to cry, but once the tears began, there was no use in trying to stop them. This goodbye was not goodbye forever. I made a promise to myself that I would see them again someday. For me, and many others in the group, it was not “goodbye,” it was “see you later.”

Shannon Olsen is a Lifestyles Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.