Rebecca Takes Madrid: Mar. 13-Mar. 19

23 Mar

Yes, I am super well aware that I refer to myself in the third person in the title. Thank goodness a certain older brother of mine is thousands of miles away so that he cannot sass me about it. I call this week “Rebecca Takes Madrid” because this was the most solo time I have spent in the city since arriving quite a few months ago. Since it was a long weekend, many of my friends were either out of town on trips or had friends in town. So I dedicated this weekend to checking multiple things off of my Madrid Bucket List.

The school week was pretty uneventful. Just doing the usual reading papers, giving feedback and shaking my head at certain questionable statements made by students. This week I learned that some students believe that there are 51 states in the United States. Unless they’ve added a new one during my tenure in Spain, I’m pretty sure there are only 50. ( I tried not to be too sassy while offering feedback on that- here’s to hoping that I succeeded).

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Friday was the one year anniversary of finding out that I had received a Fulbright grant. Oh my goodness, how time flies. I received the email about the grant after walking out of a very difficult evolution test. I don’t even know how to capture the feeling of pure elation and shock when I saw what the email said. I will never forget that walk from Gore Hall to Mentor’s Circle (where I paused to call my parents). I must have looked like a crazy person, as I was beaming while trying to hold back tears of surprise/happiness. It was a good thing I learned how to use the call-joiner a week earlier (I know, I was very behind on technology) so that I could tell both of my parents at the same time. When I applied for the Fulbright, I never really considered what it would feel like to actually receive one, because I thought that there was a very slim chance that I would be chosen. But wow. What a moment. And then, in typical Rebecca Jaeger fashion, I went to the dining hall (I know, of all places) and started to research the experiences of previous grantees to Spain. When I saw that I would have to procure my own housing in Madrid, my joy turned to “I don’t think I can do this” and I proceeded to panic a bit. But hey, that’s all water under the bridge now.

So yes, I was very nostalgic on Friday thinking about that moment a year ago and everything that has happened since then. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here and to be learning more about the world and myself (ugh, I know, so cheesy, but it’s true). It is crazy to me how I have less than three months left and I want to do everything in my power to make the most of the experience.

Which is why, I spent a crazy amount of time checking things off of the bucket list this weekend. On Friday I went to a museum in the former house of a famous artist, Joaquín Sorolla. Fun fact, I pass that house at least twice a week, but have never been inside. It was very interesting, and I could truly get behind his paintings as they were mainly beach scenes and portraits. It all made sense.

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Reminded me of Kathleen and I, when we aren’t flipping each other out of kayaks

The best part of the day was when I tried a new ice cream place. One of my co-workers had been recommending this ice cream place to me since October. But, it was a bit out of the way, so I never stopped to try it. Until Friday, that is. I figured that the best way to celebrate my one year Fulbright-eversary was to eat ice cream on a sidewalk in my host city. What a great decision that was. I had “Muerte por Chocolate” (aka Death by Chocolate) and Ferrero Rocher. Let’s just say that as soon as I was finished, I wanted more. It is a good thing that I did not try this place sooner, as my wallet would have taken a major hit over the last few months.

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Is there a better way to celebrate the one year Fulbright-eversary?

On Saturday, I took a day trip by myself to the Valley of the Fallen, which is a monument to soldiers who died in the Civil War, as well as the burial place of the former dictator. I will be honest, I’m not sure exactly what to think of the place. It is a striking monument, with the largest cross in the world (it can be seen for miles), but it is also a bit unusual to have a monument at the burial place of a dictator who many people did not like. From what I can tell, even Spanish people have mixed feelings about it. There were even children riding bikes and scooters around the plaza in front of the basilica. It was very interesting to observe.

My experience started at the bottom of the mountain where the monument is. Most people take cars or tour buses up to the top, but I had neither of those, so I was fully dependent on my own two feet. As I approached the gate, the man asked if I was walking and I said yes. He then asked doubtfully if I knew that it was over 3 miles (he used the number in kilometers, but I’ll convert it for you) and I said yes. Thus started my solo hike up a mountain. The entire time I was out walking, I only spotted one other person making the trek on foot. I felt like we shared a special moment as he passed me on the narrow sidewalk.

It was quite beautiful. Just me, the winding (uphill) road, and the trees. I find that I have a much greater appreciation for nature after living in a city for the last few months. There’s something about the fresh air, birds, and pine trees that I find very peaceful and reminiscent of home.

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Some Spanish trees

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More Spanish trees

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View of the cross from a distance

At the top, I spent time just walking around and taking in the views. Honestly, my favorite part of the whole monument were probably the views of the surrounding mountains. So I’m up there, admiring the views and documenting the experience through taking selfies. I had previously noticed these youths (like college-aged boys) having a push up competition, which I considered joining but then decided it would not be respectful of me to do so. (Obviously nothing to do with the fact that we were at a historical monument, but rather I didn’t want to embarrass them in front of an audience). So I just shook my head and continued snapping pics. About 4 minutes later, as I am headed toward the basilica, I hear the boys talking to each other and they say “Hey wait, she looks like that professor from IE” (the university where I work) and “Yeah, I think she is.” So guys, I finally had my first seeing-students-outside-of-class moment. Granted, I had no idea who they were, because I introduced myself to hundreds of students at the beginning of the semester, but it nevertheless made me smile.

The basilica was interesting as well- dark and kind of spooky, with chapels dedicated to each branch of the armed forces. The former dictator, Franco, is buried here (right at the main altar) which, to me, felt a little strange. But, I felt it represented an interesting piece of Spanish history, so I wanted to see it.

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The largest cross in the world

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The basilica on the hill

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Putting the selfie stick to good use

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Caught this guy trying to get into my bag…

After my visit to the top, I hiked the three miles back down. It was hot. It wasn’t fun, but I knew that I had to catch a bus, so I was making sure to hustle my way down. So I get to the bus stop (which is literally a little red shelter on the side of the road with a field of cows behind it) in plenty of time. So I sit in the direct sunlight and wait. Well guess what? The bus I wanted to take was full. Joy to the world. And the next bus wasn’t for another hour and a half. So, I sat there, all alone, on the side of the road in Spain waiting for the next bus. I was not a happy camper. All I could think about was the fact that the next bus might be full too, which would leave me stranded for even longer. I’m happy to report that the next bus did have room and my sweaty, sunburned self made it safely back to Madrid. Did I treat myself to that ice cream place after that ordeal? Yes, yes I did. (I will add that my ice cream tally for the weekend was 3 times in 3 days. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t try out the place sooner).

Sunday and Monday continued my bucket list extravaganza. I visited this “lighthouse” (which was in the middle of the city and not by water, so a bit of a disappointment). It did, however, provide great views of the city. And then on Monday I visited an art museum. I’m not sure if it is sad, but my favorite part of the museum was the collection of landscape paintings by American artists. You can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the girl. There were even paintings of New Jersey! #JerseyPride. I was way too excited about that.

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A casual painting of the Jersey Shore in a museum in Madrid

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What a great view, am I right?!

I also ran a 9 mile race on Sunday (for fun). It was actually quite fun… But I had to share this sign that I found while picking up my runner’s bag. I’m not sure if anything would make for a better description of some of the things that I love…

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America, am I right?

 

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