¡Bienvenido a Toledo!

 “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

     Adjusting to classes in Madrid was a borderline traumatic experience. Monday, I was bright eyed and excited to be in a new country surrounded by new people while immersed in a different style of living. By Tuesday, my exhaustion had swooped in full force, rendering me useless in the day and full of energy in the dead of night.

     I have class Monday through Friday from 9am to 12:30, rain or shine- 80° or 100°. Some days we have a compulsory culture class from 12:50 until 2:15pm. A class, might I had, that lasts 20 forevers and contributes nothing to the number of credit hours that I will be completing this summer. Our instructor’s task: to inform us about the trips we will be taking so we know about the places we will go and the history behind the places we are venturing to. She is a pleasant instructor, but she grossly overestimates my classes’ collective understanding of Spanish. Spanish in Spain is incredibly different than the Spanish Americans learn in the United States. Americans studying Spanish know that accents, speed, and idiomatic expressions are aspects of a language that change from region to region. However, knowing this and experiencing this are two very different things. This learning curve is something that I thought I was more prepared for than I actually was. Our instructor speaks in very specific artistic terms that we have never learned in Spanish, and have a hazy, at best, understanding if in English. So, sitting in our culture class two to three days a week for a total of 6 hours with about 30 minutes worth of understanding is brutal. Combine that with the three hours of class we’d had before, participating in Madrid’s nightlife, and still not sleeping due to jetlag, let’s just say there are many a closed eye in that class.

     In the past, I’ve been taught how to academically connect with the Spanish language. Reading text, watching a documentary, reading a book, or learning something is all a beneficial part of learning a language. However, there’s a huge difference in discussing literature in class and asking for directions to a club on the street, hoping that a native Spaniard has the patience to deal with your grammatically incorrect inquiry, slow rate of speaking, and mispronunciation of words that leave them absolutely dumbfounded. From my experience, the stereotype about going abroad is that people from other countries will refuse to speak to you in English, even if they know the language and know you struggle with their native tongue. In Madrid, I could literally go into a restaurant to order coffee, and if I asked a question (because let me tell you, the way restaurants operate in Madrid and in the US is different) I could see the frustration in their eyes. If I mispronounced a word, asked how they made a food, asked if it was okay if I sat anywhere, I could see the look of “really, are you really asking this right now” on all of their faces. One woman behind a register heard me being to order a sandwich in Spanish, said nothing to me, switched with the worker at the register next to me, and she began speaking to me in not-the-best English simply because she could tell I wasn’t a native Spanish speaker. A waiter at a churro and chocolate restaurant literally gave me evil eyes when I asked him if he took a certain type of card. He ignored my question, used the chip, it was rejected, and he told me by card was declined. I had a moment of panic, wondering why my card got rejected, especially since it was my first day in a foreign country (I called, but was nervous that they had put a ban on it from swiping half way around the world). He angrily demanded cash, and because I had not had to spend money in Madrid, I only had a large bill. He looked at my bill and looked me in the eye and said no again. At this point I was confused, panicking because I had a dysfunctional card, and rifling through my wallet for a miracle. To his complete disdain, I had to bust out a different card, and he literally tried to serve me so quickly that he spilled milk everywhere. Although my experience with rude waiters has outweighed by experience with h the good ones, I can say that some have been great. One waiter (while making my coffee) complimented my Spanish, asking me how long I had been studying and asking where in the U.S. I was from. Another waitress advised me to try some paella and walked me through a lunch menu, which has been the best meal I have had while I have been here. So although this class has kind of prepared me for the museums we are visiting, it has not taught me real-world applications like, how to survive in Spain when the people you are attempting to speak to do not want to be bothered.

     Tangent aside, one thing that I did, fortunately, take away from that class was that we were to be going to the Museo Sorrolla and the Museo Nacional del Prado. Both feature artwork from well-known Spanish artists, and it was a super huge deal to be able to go. We had the privilege of going on guided tours both times. In the Museo Sorrolla, we were permitted to take pictures. In the Museo Nacional del Prado, we could not take any photos (Rumor has it that photos were not banned a year ago, but I suppose it’s all water under the bridge now). The artwork was beautiful, vibrant, historic, and larger than life. I feel like the adventure to get to both museums was probably a bit more action-packed than walking through the museums, speaking at a whisper, and listening to in-depth summaries and artistic evaluations of the works.

     My semi-faithful group of walking partners were all late. Not the typical 3-5 minutes late that tends to happen with groups of 20-25 students. We were, “I hope our professors do not yell at us and hate us” late. Something to know about Auburn Abroad in Madrid is that there is no introduction to the city, no smooth transition. From the beginning, they bring you on a walking tour, bring you to a point in the city you have never seen before, and wave goodbye. Your group of 45 jetlagged, mostly-English speaking students is abandoned in a city that, for some, is bigger than any city they have visited before. Some students have no data plan yet, and even though I did, my mobile service abroad is literally the slowest I have ever encountered in my life (and I go to school in rural Alabama). So, naturally, for our museum trips, our program did not pick a location that all of us would know to meet up and walk from there. They dropped the metro train stop that was closest to the museums, and told us to find them.

     So after we found ourselves at the museum, we had our belongings scanned by security, and off we went in the Museo Nacional del Prado where we were able to see some of Spain’s (and the world’s) most historic paintings. We finished our trip as a group to the museum and then set off on our own adventures (though, not before I could get some cool pics and an awesome selfie.)

     The museums were definitely a cool part of our trip, but I think the highlight of the first week was my visit to Toledo. Toledo is a community about an hour away from Madrid (by bus, so it’s probably half the time in a car). It is famous for its historic cathedrals, and hundreds of years ago it used to be the capital of Spain until Madrid slid in and took its spot. Toledo is absolutely gorgeous. It is also extremely mountainous, and take a wild guess at who is terrified of heights?

 

     The first thing we did was go up to one of the highest points in Toledo for picture opportunities. The journey up a one lane road in a coach bus was nothing short of terrifying, but we kept going up, and up, and up until we made it almost to the top to take pictures.

      After a very rushed five minutes, we drove back down the mountain (still terrifying, but I felt so relieved not to be that high up that I just squeezed my backpack until we got back to the bottom). I was relieved when we were dropped off until I realized the bus had taken us to the lowest point in Toledo and to make it to the actual city we were going to have to climb up. I wish I had taken pictures of the way up because it was not a short walk, and it was not a gentle slope. We walked probably a mile upwards until we reached the city of Toledo and were given around ten to fifteen minutes to get coffee, breakfast, and some snacks before we were going to start our tours.

     A group of us young ladies got a recommendation from our instructors, and we took off in search of the small shop where we actually saw our professors there. The gastropub was quaint, faintly lit, and pretty well-visited. We all ordered smoothies and coffee, but like everywhere in Spain, service is not American-style fast. So our group had to end up canceling our orders and I had to slurp down scalding hot coffee much quicker than my body appreciated, but we made it back in time for our group not to leave us.

     While in Toledo we visited the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo first, a Roman Catholic cathedral in Toldeo that is literally one of the oldest and most famous Cathedrals in Spain. They still have priests that will take you in for confession, and they will take you in for confession in Spanish (the priest that facilitated confession for some of my groupmates only spoke Spanish). 

     Now, this is where things became interesting in Toledo. A classmate, Sephora, and myself asked our professor how much time we had left because we had not been able to see some of the Goyas (paintings by the artist Francisco Goya). So she said we absolutely had to go see them and we did, under the impression that we had until 1pm until the group left. At 12:55pm we made sure to be back at the meeting point, and saw no Auburn students. Confused, Sephora and I were looking around trying to find our group. After going back inside to make sure they were not standing around the front door, (security only let one of us back in, by the way… Gotta love it) I went back outside to find Sephora still standing there alone. I texted our Madrid GroupMe to find out that our group had LEFT US.

     Now, our group had split into a Spanish-speaking guide and an English-speaking guide. There were about 15 people in our group, most of them people we talk with, and our guide and group of Auburn students abandoned us in Toledo, an unfamiliar town, to move on to the next museum without checking to make sure we were all there. Luckily one of our program directors came back to get us and was not super upset about us getting abandoned. Though, I can say that my level of livid made up for his calm after standing there in 100º heat with one other young woman when I have about a 70% understanding of most of the things people are saying around me.

     I think I was about 50% livid with the people we went with because they are supposed to be the people that Sephora and I were cool with, because personally if I realized two of the people I was hanging with were missing, I would totally say something. I was also 50% upset with our Estudio Sampere guides because they obviously did not do a head count to make sure that our group was there. I’ve tried to let that hurt go because we made it back safely, and thankfully nobody took advantage of our obviously misplaced state, but I also did not tell my family that this happened because I knew that Auburn Abroad would have been receiving a hostile phone call from Momma Rowe.

     After we were so gallantly rescued from the sweltering streets of Toledo, we visited some more cathedrals, a synagogue, and a monastery which were all gorgeously made. One of the highlights of my trip, however, was getting to have an hour and a half break for lunch where I ate the most amazing lamb chops, salad, and potatoes for about 11 euros, including the ice cold bottle of water I washed it down with. I was going to order a glass of wine, but considering the 100º heat outside, the amount that I was sweating, and the amount of walking uphill and downhill that we were doing, I passed in order to avoid being laid out in the sloping cobblestone streets of Toledo.

     Because lunch was at the end of our adventure, we met up at a random meeting spot in order to walk to the bus as a unit. Thankfully, before we left Toledo, our instructors took a head count to make sure all of the students were there, and we pulled off to make the hour long drive home. I know that some of my classmates went to a club called Kapital where they had a ton of fun until 6am on Sunday, exploring seven floors of prime club space.

     I, however, went to this small little eatery called Café y Té for a couple of hours, reading a book and taking notes on what part of my week I wanted to blog about. After a therapuetic video chat with Momma Rowe, some brilliantly made coffee, and a bomb playlist, I was pleased and ready to end my first week in Madrid. Sunday brought me beauteous sleep, a great day for winding down, and just enough of a shopping adventure to get out of the apartment– which was exactly what I needed.

~R.S. Rowe