Travel Week 1: Spring Break in Spain

Hello all! Been awhile since I’ve posted, but I have a decent excuse. My long study tour takes place during DIS’s second travel week, so I had time to hop over to Spain to meet up with some friends from W&M during travel week one. Following my trip, my parents were in Copenhagen to see the sites and meet my host family. I’m finally settling back into a normal routine…only to takeoff for Italy for my long study tour next week!

I can’t begin to describe how nice it was to finally travel! I love Denmark, but it’s been tough to watch Instagram fill up with pictures of my friends, whether DIS or other W&M students abroad, travelling to somewhere new in Europe just about every weekend. I certainly don’t have the budget for that, but told myself to let loose for spring break and enjoy myself in a country I’ve always wanted to visit.

For future DIS students, or any study abroad student, I’d suggest coming in with more realistic expectations for travelling than I did. Every student traveler swears by Easyjet or Ryanair as a ‘cheap’ way to get around, but even if your flight is just $100 roundtrip, you’re likely to spend at least another $200 on local attractions, food, transit, and somewhere to stay. If you stay in Denmark for a weekend, you can cook at home, travel by bus and train using the transit pass provided by DIS, and check out the many museums Copenhagen has to offer for no more than $20 total. You can also just pick a neighborhood to walk around in for the day for free! I’d recommend getting to know the city you decided to live in for the semester as if it’s home, and then making the most of travel breaks and/or time before and after your program starts to travel elsewhere. This will allow for more than 48 hour trips so you can really soak up the food, history, and scenery of new places rather than just putting another pushpin in the map.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights of my visit day by day! I met up with my friend Madelaine in Madrid for a day, then we visited our friend Rachael in Seville for 4 days, and came back to Madrid for the last 2 days before parting ways.

Day 1: El Clásico

As a lifetime soccer fan, this was possibly the highlight of my trip. I was furiously looking to attend any La Liga, Champions League, or Europa League matches while in Spain, but the dates just didn’t look to line up. I originally counted this match out since it’s THE rivalry of club soccer and costs a pretty penny, but when will I have the chance to do this again? I bit the bullet and had an incredible time with 80,000+ others at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to watch Real Madrid host FC Barcelona.

Just hearing the lineups announced was surreal. Each team has some of the best players in the world and I never thought I’d get to see Messi play live. Some of the big names involved were Ousmane Dembélé, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitić, and Marc-André ter Stegen on Barcelona and Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić (the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner), Sergio Ramos, and Thibaut Courtois on Real Madrid.

It was a tense match since both clubs were well aware of the other’s tactics having met just a few days prior in the Copa del Rey semi-final. It only took a goal from
Rakitić in the 26th minute to lead Barcelona to a 1-0 win, but Real Madrid had chance after chance to level it up.

It was a bummer to watch the home team lose, but as a neutral fan in this match, it was really the atmosphere which I enjoyed most. There were some chippy moments and the whistling – the European way of booing – was deafening. Can’t wait to watch many more derbies throughout my lifetime.

Days 2-3: Walk, Eat, Repeat

Madelaine and I took the train to Seville following my quick intoduction to Madrid, somewhere she’s been quite a few times! We were pumped to get there and settle into our Airbnb following a night in the last available hostel in Madrid. It was so nice to arrive to a sunny, 70 degree day and walk around in short sleeves.

We met up with Rachael and got a quick tour of the downtown area prior to hopping from restaurant to restaurant to sample some of the city’s popular tapas. Rachael told us about the Spanish verb “tapear” (to have some tapas) and that’s certainly my new favorite word. I was introduced to a dish I ordered at least once a day for the rest of our time in Seville – espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas).

The next day was another beautiful one, so we made the most of it and walked over 15 miles during the day! We checked out the neighborhood across the canal from the main area, Triana, and were exhausted by time we headed home. We got some groceries to make a bomb salad at home since our legs had nothing left to go out again.

Days 4-5: Sightseeing (and more good eats)

Tuesday started with a visit to Real Alcázar, a royal palace with a history that highlights the shift from Muslim to Christian power in Seville. The artifacts on display and gardens were breathtaking and certainly worth the 30 minute wait to get in.

We walked just a minute away to check out Catedral de Sevilla, another site emblematic of Seville’s religious history. It was originally built as a Mosque, but was later “Christianized” and is now considered one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in the world. The 20 meter high altarpiece is stunning and depicts 45 scenes from the life of Christ.

Catedral de Sevilla is also the most agreed upon site of Christopher Columbus’s tomb – a pretty eerie thought given his legacy. I did not know this prior to entering, but followed the crowds inside and there it was!

Wednesday was a rainy one, and it was the first time Rachael had experienced heavy rain in Seville. I guess it was a sign for Madelaine and I to leave the next day.

We tried to visit the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in the morning, but learned they were cash only upon arrival. That was pretty cruel given the 30 minute walk through the rain to get there, but we did get to see some odd sights along the way.

We walked through the dystopian looking remains of the The Universal Exposition of Seville from 1992. Many of the buildings are home to research facilities now, but it was wild to see how dated the “Age of Discovery” from 1992 looked in 2019.

Since we struck out at museum #1, we walked across the canal to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. They had an extensive exhibit of Murillo’s work – over 55 pieces of an array of themes.

After another morning of long walks, we were ready for our midday fix of tapas. We went to a place under “Las Setas” (the mushrooms), a massive wooden structure that looks like mushrooms.

For our last night in Seville, we had our best “tapear” night yet. We started with glasses of vermouth, a sweetened, herbal wine drink popular throughout Spain, at El Comercio. El Comercio also has some of the best churros in Seville, so it’s not frowned upon to start your day there and then come back to kick off your night. I was not as good at documenting our tapas as Madelaine and Rachael, but we had so many great dishes. It was the perfect last night and Madelaine and I (sadly) siad our goodbyes to Rachael until the fall semester.

I absolutely loved Seville, as it was miles less touristy than Madrid and still had plenty to see. My experience made me want to visit a lot more Spanish cities outside of Barcelona and Madrid.

Days 6-7: Wrapping up in Madrid

We took the train back to Madrid Thursday morning and checked into our next Airbnb in Lavapiés. I caught up on sleep for a few hours before we had a night out which involved elements of Denmark, Philadelphia, Ethiopia, and Spain.

Our first stop of the night was Mikkeller Bar Madrid. Mikkeller is a Danish microbrewery founded in 2006 by a high school teacher and a journalist. They make some of the best beers in the world and I wanted to get a taste of Denmark after being away for nearly a week! We ended up sitting with the owner of the bar, who was from Copenhagen, and his friend, who was from Roskilde! The owner told me that Mikkeller’s art director, Keith Shore, is based in Philly! Crazy coincidence to have my spring break, study abroad, and home city collide and a fun way to connect with people.

We moved from a lively atmosphere to a dead quiet one at an Ethiopian restaurant nearby. I’ve been waiting to try Ethiopian food for years, and, although we were the only ones there, it did not disappoint. The injera bread that is used to eat the food was as good as I had hoped.

The main event for the night was a flamenco show at Las Tablas. I highly recommend anyone visiting Spain to make room for a flamenco show at night for the atmosphere, dance, and music. It was unlike any performance I’ve ever seen and we were mesmerized by the intense dancing.

We started our last day in the most fitting manner – churros con chocolate. This is probably the snack I’ve missed most since returning to Denmark. I continue to be puzzled by how Spain is regarded as one of the world’s healthiest countries while a plate of fried dough and a cup of chocolate is an appropriate breakfast.

We walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were definitely not in peak season, but still a sight to see. I can only imagine how beautiful they must be in the summer. This took us to Retiro Park, where we saw some of the most popular parts like Retiro Pond, the Palacio de Cristal, and the French Gardens. Between Retiro Park in Madrid and Las Setas in Seville, Spain has some incredible areas of public space to enjoy on sunny days – which is nearly every day.

Following my interview in in the early evening (I have job for the summer hooray!) we went to Museo Reina Sofía to take advantage of the free evening admittance. This was the most incredible museum I’ve ever been to, largely due to the amount of Picasso there, most notably the massive, provoking Guernica. Guernica was covered in most Spanish classes I’ve taken, so it was special to see it in person. It was painted in response to the bombing of Basque Country by Nazi Germany and Italy, at the request of Francoist Spain.

The museum was massive and I could have spent a whole day there, but they were ushering us out and it was time to for San Miguel market for, you guessed it, vermouth and tapas. We had fun searching for any euros we had left and paying with for €1 drinks with a handful of coins. While we planned to have a late night and maybe visit a club, the city was PACKED following the International Women’s Day demonstrations. We decided to call it a night after some tapas hopping and packed our bags for home, whether that be Roskilde or Williamsburg.

Wrap-Up

This was an incredible trip and I as so happy to test whatever Spanish I remember and do things I love in another country with great friends. I’m pleased that I decided to stay in one country for my break because I got to see more than just the main sites, learned how to get around on foot and by public transit, and didn’t spend every other day in an airport. 10/10 would recommend Spain for the weather, food, and people.

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