Last week I had the honor of visiting Madrid, Spain with about 30 other NYU students through the Presidential Honors Scholars Program, and it was truly an unforgettable experience spent with extraordinary people. I was only there for a week and in all honesty we probably only got a total of 8 hours of sleep during our time there but I already miss all of it! As I had never left the continent before this trip I took this as an opportunity to completely leave my comfort zone and explore, not only to learn more about Spain but to also learn more about myself. With that being said, there was a lot to be learned that week.
The first day was definitely the LONGEST. Our flight from JFK was at 5:30 pm, but we all had to meet up at 2:30. It was a six hour flight and a six hour difference, so we ended up arriving to Madrid at around 7 am. Guess who couldn’t sleep through the flight and ended up being awake for a whole two days straight? I couldn’t complain though because once we arrived it was impossible for me to feel sleepy at all seeing the beautiful scenery and hearing how differently people spoke Spanish. Yes, Spain Spanish is completely different from Latin American Spanish and while I was one of the few who could speak it it was still difficult for me to understand the dialect. Even ordering food became tricky (and croquetas became my go-to staple!) Our professors were understanding of our jetlag and only gave us a quick photograph scavenger hunt around Parque del Retiro for the day.
Our trip outings focused mostly on the coexistence between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Spain from the Middle Ages through the modern day. This consisted of visiting museums, mosques, synagogues, and many other points of notable architecture and history. My favorite excursion was on the second day at the Prado Museum where I got to see the original Goya and Diego Velazquez pieces that I loved studying so much in my art history class in high school. As somebody who loves painting I really appreciated being able to see these painters’ strokes and color palettes in person. It made me excited to hopefully be able to study abroad here during the summer to take a course on Spanish artwork and literature (stay tuned for that!)
Right after the Prado Museum we also visited the Royal Palace where we had a picnic right by the Plaza de Oriente (seen in the featured image). We walked in and I couldn’t contain myself. When I tell you I was left breathless I’m not exaggerating; the castle was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen in my life, from the monumental size of the exterior to every large and small detail found in the interior it almost made me want to become an interior designer. Every single room you walked into you had to look up to truly appreciate the beauty of the whole place. Outside of the palace you also had access to the most incredible view of Madrid where you could see the separation of the beautiful bustling city and the lush foliage and untouched nature. Of course I had to take a picture with it in the background (thanks, Max!)
We had time to venture out of Madrid and visit both Córdoba and Toledo, two smaller but equally beautiful cities. In Córdoba I was lucky again to witness one of my favorite pieces from art history in person- the Great Mosque of Córdoba- where again I was left speechless and overwhelmed by excitement and admiration. This was a hallmark of architecture that I had admired so often in pictures and to get to see it in real life brought me so much joy and pride in myself because it was my hard work and efforts that had brought me here. I was suddenly flooded with facts I had learned years ago, from the contrast of the Arabic and Christian elements to its history and background. While at that point I thought I had seen the best of it, it wasn’t until we visited Toledo that I realized I couldn’t pick a favorite place. All these significant buildings were too beautiful to compare.
While Spain was beautiful and I tried so many new dishes and saw new places I believe the highlight of this trip were the friendships that were formed. I had attended seminar with my peers for a whole semester now but our friendships didn’t really bloom until we were all placed in a new environment with new challenges. We got lost together, shared so many stories and secrets, partied at both some of the craziest and some of the strangest places, and got photobombed by a bird. I’m glad our paths crossed and that I was able to share this experience with all 30+ of my peers. Madrid, you were unforgettable!
(picture credits to Max Pau, you’re awesome!)