One of the luxuries of the Lausanne program, in addition to our gorgeous homeland and our central location on the European continent, is our ability to travel every weekend we’re here (save for the weekend between our finals weeks and the first weekend of our orientation weeks), made possible by our three-day weekends (Friday through Sunday). While you’d think that this is a lot of time to travel and see Europe, it’s really not that long. Unless you leave on Thursday night after your last class and return late on Sunday (you can’t return after midnight on Sunday, or you get counted as absent in all of your Monday classes, and an absence on a Monday (or Thursday) counts as two instead of one), you will only really spend a day and a half in any given place. Since our main means of transportation is via train, our travel days can be extremely long, so that sometimes leaves only a day to see a city. However, every semester we get a long weekend, which is a five-day weekend extending from Wednesday until Sunday (again, you can leave after your last class on Tuesday if you wish). I spent this semester’s long weekend with my roommate, Alexa, and two other roommates, Hank and Jonathan, in Madrid, Spain. ¡Vamos!
The whole process of going to sleep and getting up in the morning was a bit stressful (a bit meaning really in this situation). The night before we left, I was busy working on a humanities paper I had due the following Tuesday, and had decided at around seven o’clock pm to change my topic. I was so stressed that I decided not to join in the fun of the house’s Halloween party (worst decision I’ve ever made…). On top of that, I hadn’t packed for my trip, printed my boarding pass or hostel reservation, or filled out the travel log, so I found myself packing in my room from midnight until 1:30 in the morning. After a measly hour and twenty minutes of sleep, my roommate woke up to take a shower. Being the light sleeper that I am, I stayed awake for the next half hour before it was my turn to hop in the shower. At four o’clock we rolled out for our 4:20 train with another group that was heading to the airport as well. About twenty minutes into our 40-minute train ride to the Geneva airport, my roommate started arguing with one of the boys. At that point I knew it was going to be an interesting trip.
We arrived at the airport, went through security with no problems, and got on our airplane. The instant our plane’s ignition was turned on, a terrifying sound resonated through the plane that sounded like a saw cutting through the body of the plane. I’m not the best flyer, so this sound set me on edge and set my heart on a racehorse’s pace. To be honest, I was quite convinced the plane was going to break down on the takeoff, but tried to calm myself. As you can all see, since I am able to write this today, the plane did not crash or blow up or get sawed in half. Which I am beyond thankful for. And about ten minutes into the flight, the horrifying sound stopped.
An hour and fifteen minutes later, we landed in Madrid! After exiting the plane, we made our way to the metro to find our hostel. After twenty minutes on our second metro train, Hank noticed that it looked like we were heading into the outskirts of the city, and that we were supposed to be staying in the old town of Madrid. He asked an older gentleman sitting across from us if we were heading in the right direction, and found out that we had passed our metro stop seven stops ago. So we had to disembark and go almost all the way back (we were supposed to get off at the second metro stop…oops!). At the metro station, Alexa asked the police where our hostel was in relation to the metro station. However, since she didn’t know much Spanish and since the policemen didn’t give the best instructions, we couldn’t find it, or the street it was on. That led to another hour of searching, lugging our luggage and asking person after person where the street we were looking for was. Finally we found it and checked in around eleven. However, we couldn’t go into our room until three, so we had to find something to do in the meantime, but they would hold our luggage for us. So we decided to get some tapas for lunch and to see the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real.
(Alexa, Jonathan, and Hank in Plaza Mayor)
The palace was stunning. We were able to go in (Alexa and I were smart and brought our student IDs, so we got a discounted entry price. Note: when in Europe, always take advantage of your student ID!) and walk around. Every single room was extensively decorated, and it reminded me a lot of Buckingham Palace. One thing I noticed about the palace was how many Chinese paintings there were. There was even an entire stateroom filled with Chinese paintings on the walls and ceiling. After seeing the palace, we stopped by the armory and marveled at the helmets with pictures of demons and intimidating beasts on them. Once we left, the line to get in was at least ten times as long as it was when we first came, so we were thankful that we had come early enough to beat the crowds. We then walked around the palace onto the street.
There, we saw an interesting looking painted rooftop and Alexa, Hank, and I decided to look for it. Jonathan decided to stay at the small park next to the palace until we returned. Our scavenger hunt did not lead us to the building we were looking for, but we did encounter two different parks – one normal one and another one with Egyptian ruins that overlooked the city. We then continued searching, but couldn’t find the building. So we got some ice cream and returned to the palace, only to find the building and realize that we had passed it before. We gathered Jonathan and headed back to the hostel, stopping at a jewelry store to buy some turquoise bracelets. We got our room key, and settled in to our hostel room.
Keeping with Spanish tradition, we then took a two-hour siesta. Which was much needed. Afterwards, we went out to get our hands on some paella for dinner. We found a nice little restaurant that served it and stuffed our stomachs with the delicious Spanish plate. Because it was Halloween, our hostel was having a special event with its sister hostel nearby, with free sangria at our sister hostel followed by bar hopping. We decided to try it out, but 1. the sangria was cheap and disgusting (which should have been expected, since it was free), 2. we were just playing drinking games instead of actually being social and getting to know other people, and 3. I was far too tired and grumpy to go dancing with my companions, so I asked if we could just go back to the hostel and sleep. The boys agreed with my suggestion, and we decided to go back and rest since we’d had a long day. Alexa wasn’t too happy about our decision, but it was for the sanity and health of our group that we didn’t go out that night.
The next day we got up, got some breakfast from the tapas restaurant we’d eaten at the previous day, and went to the Prado Museum (I got in for free!).
(Museo del Prado)
On the way there, we saw the most adorable beagle puppy, and Alexa and I went up to his owner, a friendly and cheerful little kid, and asked if we could pet his dog. We asked and found out that his name was Gumer. Gumer! So cute! Of course I got some pictures of him, and fixed my need to pet an adorable dog.
Since I was writing my humanities paper on Venetian Renaissance paintings, the museum helped me develop my ideas and gain more knowledge on the subject. Plus, we got to see all of the famous paintings and painters, like Las Meninas and Goya, which I had learned about in high school, so that part was really exciting – I finally got to see the paintings and the museum that I had learned about in Spanish class since I was a measly middle school kid. We then took a break from museums and visited the botanical gardens next to the Prado, where we took pictures, looked at the beautiful scenery, and talked.
After our jaunt through the gardens, we visited the Reina Sofia (I also got in for free – thank you Pepperdine ID), which was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. I had no idea it was filled with modern art, which I’m not a big fan of in the first place. We had only really gone to see Picasso’s Guernica, but since the boys had to pay full price, they wanted to check out as much of the museum as possible. So we did that. And then we encountered the floor filled with propaganda from South America in the 1970s. After being sufficiently depressed and freaked out by that, we encountered a separate exhibition, and a piece that took up three rooms. The first room had a white light projected by an empty slide projector onto a white screen and a chair in front of it. Every few seconds, the slide would change, still with white light shining on the screen. Though the lights were off in the room, lights from the room before it still illuminated the space. Then we moved onto the second room, which was pitch black except for a white light that was projected onto a white sphere. Over the speakers was an uncomfortable noise. The white light fluctuated with the pitch of the voice. It took me a while to figure out what the sound was until I realized that it sounded like a man being beaten to death. His screams filled my brain, and my heart picked up its pace. I then moved into the third room, which was pitch black and silent. I was freaked out more than words can express, and so I anxiously asked my companions if we could leave. They weren’t quite as freaked out as I was, but they agreed that we should leave.
After departing the museum, we got lunch at a restaurant affiliated with our hostel, and then walked back to our hostel to take another siesta when Jonathan and I remembered that we had seen these two-foot long pieces of candy that we wanted to buy. Hank decided to take his siesta and Jonathan, Alexa, and I went back to Plaza Mayor to buy some candy. Then, we went to Plaza del Sol (the plaza we had entered the previous morning from the metro station) and went browsing and shopping. We stopped at a jewelry store, Sephora, a soccer store, and a few clothing stores.
(Plaza del Sol)
Alexa had wanted to go to Zara, but we couldn’t find it (I had asked someone in Sephora where it was – in Spanish – and she had told me the right directions, but I just didn’t realize that we had to go farther than we had in order to find it) until we were walking back to the hostel. Of course, we had to go in. There, I bought some heels and a sparkly blue dress, and Alexa bought a sweater. Happy with our purchases, we went back to the hostel. I got on my phone and had a spontaneous freshman year roommate, Ruth! It was such a great conversation, and even though I know I was supposed to be living it up in Madrid, it was great to talk to such a great and lovely friend!
We were supposed to go to a flamenco dance show that night at the other hostel, but when we got there, they informed us that the dancer had gotten in a car accident, so the show was canceled. To compensate for any inconveniences, they said we could go bar hopping with the hostels for free. So we went out and got a quick dinner and returned to the hostel in time to leave for the event. Overall, the venues were so fun, especially compared with a bar that Pepperdine students frequent back in Lausanne. Here, they had great dancing music, and the people from our hostel were really friendly and nice to talk to. I even got to talk to some locals in Spanish and practice my Spanish speaking skills, which I apparently haven’t lost, thank goodness! Basically the whole night was filled with dancing and talking to other hostel guests (who weren’t drinking much, or anything, and by default, I could actually have a good conversation with). One of the guys from our hostel was from France, and I also got to practice my French with him, which was encouraging, since I hadn’t really talked much in French outside of our French class, to be honest. After visiting four bars, we decided that we were tired out from dancing and the loud music and returned to the hostel at, yes, four in the morning.
The next day, we got up and went to Toledo on a day trip. I hadn’t realized how close the city was to Madrid, and it was nice being able to get out of the city and see some new scenery. Our driver dropped us off near a museum, and we essentially wandered around the city for a good six hours. There, we visited the cathedral, and pretty much every part of town. Sadly, we hadn’t done any research on the city before arriving, so we didn’t have an agenda. But we got a lot of walking in regardless, and got to see many cats!
(ahahahaha silly cat!)
Even though it was a cool little city, there wasn’t anything extremely remarkable about it, except for the view of the countryside and the river. Our driver picked us up at four and we returned to Madrid for the rest of the evening. Again, we took a siesta and went out to dinner afterwards. Once more, we returned back to the hostel, packed, and went to sleep early.
Saturday morning our alarm had somehow not gone off, so we had to rush to get out of the hostel and to the airport on time to make our flight back to Geneva. We literally woke up and were out the door in fifteen minutes, running the whole way to the metro station. Since we were all upset about not waking up on time, tensions were high between all of us, which did not make the trip to the airport any fun. Alexa and I had to constantly remind the boys to stick with us instead of walking ahead of us. When we arrived at the airport, it turns out that we had a lot of time to spare, actually. So we grabbed some donuts from a shop and sat in the waiting area, where we ran into three other girls from our program, who had been in Barcelona for a few days, and had come down to Madrid for a day. We caught up on each others’ travels and boarded the plane. Sadly, my carry-on bag was slightly too big to be considered a carry-on by the airline, so I had to check it for a fee of fifty euros – not a happy thing for me to hear. But once we were back in Lausanne, I was so relieved to be home. So relieved. That’s when I realized that I was essentially done with traveling for the rest of the semester (well, save for my trip to Paris the following weekend). I was already so over traveling and just wanted to spend my weekends catching up on sleep and work, since I hadn’t done either in a long time.
All said and done, my trip to Madrid was great. I loved the city, and although I didn’t love the company, it was a good trip. I’m so glad I got to go and experience the culture I had spent seven years learning about in middle and high school.