Ahhh, sleep! Our dear old friend. It has been a while!
As hinted at above, we got to sleep in today! Making our way down to breakfast (before 10am was the only requirement for WHS travelers!), we enjoyed yet another fabulous buffet. Ms. Ebling was pretty excited that there was a crepe station, and the group took full advantage of the create-your-own omelettes. Accompanied with fruit, cereal, bread, BACON, and Spanish specialties, we certainly filled our tummies with delicious nutritious food.
Our first activity of the day, as aforementioned yesterday, was a tour of the city of Tossa de Mar. Elena, our tour guide, came to meet us at the hotel at 10:30 sharp to pick us up and lead us around. Elena, being the last tour guide that we would have on our Spanish excursion, was also one of the best. Enthusiastic and interactive, she told us the history of the city as if it were an adventure. As you may be able to guess, Tossa de Mar dates all the way back to the 4th century (the Romans again!). Outside the city wall, the Romans produced…. You guessed it… wine! Preserved under sediment, archeologists found structures from a roman house and vineyard! Structures included a pool, bathrooms, a kitchen, and a patio. In addition, there were mosaics, displaying the wealth of the former owners. Mosaics were one of the old styles of art that Gaudi molded into his own style, so it was very cool to see the roots of where this idea came from!
We then gathered outside of a church from the 16th century. We had also seen a hospital, also from the 16th century. Elena told us that there was in fact another chapel that we would see too! The 16th century, therefore, was a very rich period for the Spanish, as they were able to build many buildings, especially ones that helped lower class working citizens. One of the chapels was built after a very bad storm. One of the men in the city said that if he survived the storm, he would build a church in honor of St. Mary. And he did! He survived and kept his word. It was a nice, smaller sized white chapel, one that welcomed large crowds because of the circumstances under which it was constructed.
After we learned a little more history of the city, we climbed up the stairs to the city walls and had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. Seriously, breathtaking! Check out the pictures in the blog, but they do not do it justice! We felt so lucky to have the sun shining today, especially at this moment! Snapping some photos, we continued up the hill on which the light house rested. Stopping for photo ops and learning about a few old structures along the way, we ended the tour with the most beautiful view of the sea- one that we certainly would not have discovered without our amazing tour guide Elena.
Kids were pretty surprised after the tour as this was it… our last activity. Until dinner, kids had time to eat, shop, and explore the city and/or hotel pool! Almost all WHS travelers went back to the beach while the sun was still shining, dipping their feet (or accidentally tripping) into the sea. Even Chaperones Martinez and McNulty were splashed by the sea! Another big activity - soccer! Jenna Lee, Alexa DuClos, Colin Chenoweth, Nicole Amparano and Nicole Sedmak teamed up to play against some Spanish travelers also staying at the hotel. It was all in good fun and Nicole, Nicole, and Alexa are excited to head home to start their season at WHS!
Dinner was full of conversations reflecting on the highlights of the trip. It is still crazy to think that tomorrow at 4 am we will be heading out of this beautiful country to return home to friends and family. We have missed you all - that is for sure, but Spain has been nothing but welcoming and we leave with warm hearts, despite the chilly weather. We can’t wait to share this experience with our Whitewater community, and look forward to excursions in the future that open the hearts and minds of students to step outside their comfort zones and cultural norms.
The rain in Spain falls gently on the plain...but it pours in Barcelona. Today was an early morning for WHS travelers as we prepared ourselves and our suitcases to take off at 6am. Grabbing breakfast packed by the hotel to go, we boarded the bus for our hour and a half trip to the Madrid train station. Most were sleeping on this leg of the trip, as it was still dark outside and the bags under our eyes needed some TLC. Train station security was pretty straightforward once we arrived, and with an hour to spare, we dug into our breakfasts outside our track number. Some of us purchased cafes and cappuccinos, needing a little extra pick me up for our journey on the high speed train.
So the cool part about this section of the trip was the opportunity to ride a high-speed train to Barcelona. Speeds reach up to 174 mph, a technological feat that hasn’t been developed in the US. Taking us a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes (regional trains take almost 9 hours with stops!), we arrived to rainy Barcelona and met our guide Montserrat.
After a short bus tour of the city with a few main sights like the Casa Batllo, the University Square, and the Arc de Triomf, a triumphal arch built for the entrance to the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition, we descended and took a short walk to La Sagrada Familia, one of Barcelona’s biggest attractions. Although it was raining (again!) outside, this was still a breathtaking sight! The Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church, designed by the late Antoni Gaudi. When Gaudi was asked to construct this church, his response? “Very good.” While its construction started in 1882, it is still being completed as we blog! Gaudi passed at age 73 (in 1926...) with less than a quarter of the project complete. Due to the Spanish Civil War, some of the architectural plans were destroyed, so it has been up to the current architect to use the Christmas facade (the one that was finished while Gaudi was still alive) to decorate the other two facades. Inside the church was some pretty swanky Nouveau Art decorations. Orange, blue, green, and red stained glass windows allowed light to shine in and illuminate the alter. Very beautiful, and we definitely understood why there were so many visitors to this building, even with all the construction.
Afterwards, we ate lunch! A decent size group of us went to a tapas restaurant where we got Patatas Bravas, Croquettes (not dog food… fried bechamel sauce? It’s a Spanish thing) with chicken, mushrooms, tempura shrimp, and meat bombs (Colin checked them out - they were like deep fried meatballs - yum!). We then toured Gaudi’s Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera. It is a modernist building finished in 1912 by Gaudi for Pere Mila and his wife Roser Segimon. At first, it was controversial because the facade was so bizarre compared to other buildings in the area. The couple, after getting Gaudi to build this house for them, lived here for free by charging their tenants rent to stay in this modernist location. The rooftop is decorated with sculptures that also function to heat and cool the house, as Gaudi believed that bare rooftops looked like bald human heads with a singular hair. He wanted to be a little more creative and stylistically appealing.
After this tour, we spent a little time in the gift shop and headed to our hotel in Tossa del Mar, about an hour and a half outside of the city. A quaint village, kids looked forward to the indoor pool and buffet for dinner. We get a little bit of time to sleep in tomorrow before touring the city, and hopefully we will escape the rain on our last full day in Spain!
Fantastic dinner last night, check. Playing Catchphrase in the hotel lobby afterwards, check. Plentiful breakfast this morning, check. Looks like we are all set to start off our sixth day in Espagne! A healthy and hearty breakfast was needed today as we would not be getting back in the city for lunch until almost 3pm. On the agenda, a guided tour of El Escorial and a quick stop to La Valle de los Caidos.
El Escorial was about 45 minutes away from the hotel. Some of us snoozed on the bus, while others chatted away about how they couldn’t believe it was already day six. Upon arrival, Rosario, our guide for this site, greeted us warmly, even though it was freezing outside! One of the bummers of this tour was that we weren’t allowed to snap many photos inside the building; however, we do have some pictures outside in the winter weather!
El Escorial used to be the residence of the King of Spain when he moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Wanting to live and to be buried in the capital city, El Escorial was constructed for a multitude of functions. Serving as a monastery (still in use - we got to hear some of the gospel songs!), basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, and university, El Escorial does it all. Construction was started in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, but upon his death, Juan de Herrera, his apprentice, finished the project in 1584. It took about 21 years to complete this project, leading to the expression : La obra de El Escorial (the work of Escorial) meaning that something takes a long time. As mentioned above, there were many functions that El Escorial served. Considering all of these things, WHS travelers were pretty impressed with the size and glamor of the building, so this expression is not one we would use to equate slowness!
So it’s basically a huge huge building/palace/church that are interconnected. Entering in through the library (really cool old books, art, and globes), the school of theology and the church were on either side. The ceilings were decorated with paintings by Pellegrino Tibaldi and the bookshelves were lined with both printed and handwritten books that date back more than four centuries. The frescos on the ceilings depicted the seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy. This world-renowned library held many famous books, even some that were forbidden during certain time periods in history!
We strolled next over to the church that could be accessed by going down a flight of stairs from the library. The church was giant, and had different sections for different groups of people to go to the services. Right outside the church was a section for the “commoners” to go attend mass, like the builders of El Escorial. Then, nobles and royalty were allowed to enter and stand inside the church under the basilica. Next, up high, was the space for the chorus and the members of the church. Finally, there was the alter where the priests and the Royal Family attended mass. It was interesting to see the divisions in the church in the physical space when nowadays we use these buildings to bring people together!
We continued on around the altar to see the Kings and Queens’ quarters. Doors from either side of their bedrooms led to the masses so that they could be right up close and personal for all services. The King was super Catholic! Another reason, a major reason, why El Escorial was built was for the mausoleum (an above ground cemetery…) for the King’s family. The most disturbing part of the mausoleum was the “cake,” or where the children who were under the age of 7 were buried. Their graves connected looked like a giant cake, which did not give the normal yummy in your tummy feeling that looking at a cake normally gives. Descending a giant staircase, we were directly under the altar, where the Kings and their parents were buried. There are currently still two graves open in this spot for the parents of the current king of Spain. It was a very beautiful room, decorated very lavishly.
After we finished at El Escorial, we headed back to the bus. We power-walked and power-shot our group photo because of the snow… yes, it was snowing again! Certainly reminded us of home!
Our next stop was la Valle de los Caidos, or the Valley of the Fallen. This is a basilica and a monumental memorial that was constructed to honour and bury those who fell fighting for his Crusade during the Spanish Civil War by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Covering a large lot in the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, works started in 1940 and the building was finished in 1959. It was crazy old looking for only being built in the 1950s. It was unfortunately foggy AND snowy, so the steps up to the giant cross you’ll see pictured in this blog were closed. We did some exploring in the church and on the grounds, took a group photo, made a few snowmen (and snowballs!) and hopped back on the bus to head back to Segovia for lunch.
Our next activity that we had for the kids was a rally, or scavenger hunt. The kids broke up into four different teams : El Grecos, Los Sanchos, Las Ranas, and Les Patatas to compete for prizes around the city. Essentially, they had to find monuments, street names, answer some questions, do some sketches, and be back at the hotel by 5pm! As soon as we got off the bus, time started, and groups scurried off to first eat lunch (it was a late one!) and then start their rally. After tallying up the scores, the winners were clear : Los Sanchos! All WHS travelers got some tasty Spanish candy for giving it their best shot, and the winning group got some pretty slick Espane pins.
After free time and dinner, we’re back at our rooms now packing up before heading off early to bed. Tomorrow we’ll be taking a high speed train to Barcelona, where we will be on a bus tour, sightseeing, and of course eating! Adios, Segovia!
Up and feasting on our daily breakfast spread, it was an early start to the day. Taking off at 8:30 am, we were headed to Salamanca, the oldest college town in Spain. A two hour bus ride away, we loaded up and shipped out. We were a little bummed to see the weather forecast, rain with a chance of snow because of the freezing temperatures. A little cold weather wasn’t going to hold us back though, so we bundled up in whatever layers we had, grabbed our umbrellas or ponchos, and got off the bus to meet Rocio, our local tour guide.
Rocio introduced us to the city, explaining that it is very famous for its university as well as its new and old church… all of which we were going to be seeing! While the city has around 250,000 people total, about 25,000 of them are university students. Like the other towns we’ve been to so far, there is a lot of cultural diversity in Salamanca’s history. Jewish, Muslim and Christian populations all contributed to the architecture in some way, shape, or form. Close to the Spain-Portugal border, there was an earthquake in 1755 where many of these structures had to be restored. Education and tourism bring support to much of the economy in Salamanca, and WHS travelers were sure to contribute to the latter!
Our first stop was the University of Salamanca, built in 1218. Coming up on its 800th birthday, it is the third oldest functioning university in the world, founded by King Alfonso IX. The city is preparing for the anniversary with a giant countdown clock and apparel! We gathered outside the facade of the university, where there were three levels of decorations- the first level was decorated with teachers and professors, the second level was decorated with the King and Queen in order to thank them for financing the university, and the final level was decorated with members of the Church, as the relationship between the Church, the State, and Education was prominent during its foundation. Also on the facade were three skulls. On top of one of the skulls was a frog. The University of Salamanca is a highly respected university and was very difficult to graduate from. Therefore, legend has it, that if you were to find a frog in Salamanca you would have success in the university. If not, well it would be tough luck for you!
When we entered, one of the rooms that we saw had its original furniture. It was basically long rows of benches and tables, with a pulpit looking thing for the professor. In the university’s younger years, there was a professor of theology who did something very illegal : translated the Bible into Spanish. For this, he served a five year prison sentence. As he returned to the university, everyone wanted to take his class and they were anticipating his first seminar back. Very famously, after five years, he came back to class saying : “Now, where did we leave off yesterday?” These words are still very famous in the university today. The other saying that we learned that the university would use to tell its students was : “What nature does not give you, Salamanca does not lend you.” In other words, you have to work hard to achieve your goals, as nothing will be handed to you. We liked this motto and will certainly share with staff and students back at WHS! Sage Babcock said that she was looking forward to using it as a motivational quote to inspire her to work hard in college. Way to go, Sage!
After finishing up at the university, we headed over to the cathedrals. Normally, a city has only one cathedral. But, because the Old Cathedral that was built in the 12th century, in romanesque style architecture, went out of style, they wanted to build a New Cathedral, in a gothic and baroque style architecture, in between the 16th and 18th centuries. Normally, a city would just knock down their original cathedral to construct a new one on top of it, but Salamanca was special. Instead, it decided to connect the two for a few reasons. One of the main reasons why they did not destroy the Old Cathedral was because it was used by the University. In needing to use the space for classes, it was a valuable economic asset to have in the community. What was really neat about the two cathedrals being connected was the staircase. Our guide told us that it was literally like walking down 400 years of history as you descended from the new to the old cathedral. That was certainly a magical descent, and one could feel the changes instantly as we stepped into the center of the Old Cathedral.
We were also fortunate to check out the Casa de las Conchas, or the House of Shells, because it was decorated with over 300 shells. Built in the 15th century by Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado, it currently houses a public library (and is being restored- so we weren’t able to take many pictures...also, it was pouring rain!). Maldonado was a professor at the University of Salamanca as well as a knight from the Order of Santiago. The outside decorations of the house were considered to be a symbol of this order, or to express love for his wife, as the shell was on his wife’s family’s coat of arms.
Finally, we took a look at Plaza Mayor, the main square in Salamanca. Lucky for us, we got to take advantage of the galleries that surrounded the court and protected us from the rain. We admired the emblems of important monarchs, Catholics, and professors that surrounded the square. Not all of them are complete yet, which certainly allows for more souls to place their mark on Salamanca! We thanked Rocio for her time and energy in leading us on a fabulous tour despite inclimate weather conditions, and headed off to lunch.
WHS travelers headed to a few different spots for lunch. Many were interested in Spain’s version of American classics : hamburgers, lasagna, and sandwiches. The chaperones had lunch with Jovona at a recommended tapas restaurant called Maison Cervantes, where they tried some of the local specialties of Salamanca. WHS travelers then had time to enjoy the gift shops and quiet streets, and the sun even made an appearance!
After a chilly ending to the afternoon, we headed back to Segovia on the bus and it started SNOWING! Our bus driver did an excellent job in transporting us safely, however, we thought we came to Spain to escape the horrible Wisconsin winter! Although it was a strange sight, the snow at night with the lights on the aqueduct did give us a completely different and equally beautiful view of the city. Inclement weather or not, Spain is still a great place to be with sights that take your breath away rain or shine...or snow!
First things first, we needed to find out what breakfast was like at this new hotel. Getting off to a bit of a later start, kids got to sleep in and experience an even more extensive buffet than our first hotel! In addition to all of the things in Madrid, we had the addition of Nutella for toast, a few different bread rolls, scrambled eggs, bacon, and breakfast cake. Waking up slowly, we all enjoyed the delicious buffet and ensured we had the proper nutrition to carry us throughout the day on our morning excursion.
At 10 am we met Eva, our tour guide of Segovia, right outside the Roman aqueduct. She told us some interesting facts about the city to start. Explaining the purpose of the aqueduct (to carry water to the city), she confirmed that they were built by the Romans. The aqueducts are one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the time period, dating back almost 2000 years. The aqueducts here run for about 10 miles and are made up of over 25,000 granite blocks and include 170 arches, the tallest one being almost 30 meters high. Eva, who is from Segovia, also told us a legend that was used to explain this technological advancement by her elders. Legend has it that there was a young lady who used to have to carry water back and forth between the city. Tired of this feat, she made a deal with Lucifer in exchange for her soul. He asked her when she wanted the task completed, and she said overnight. Lucifer nearly completed the task, however, he did not completely finish, leaving a small gap towards the end of the construction. It is even rumoured that the holes in the sides of the aqueducts were imprints left from the devil’s fingers… creepy!
Next, we meandered over to a plaza where Eva essentially explained 700 years of Spanish history in 15 minutes. Using the students as actors in the history of the monarchs of Castile and Aragon, Eva explained the political marriages that were created to increase their kingdom’s power, which ultimately led to the expulsion of non-Catholics. There were many marriages and deaths between the students’ characters, and it was an engaging way to cover a lot of important ground in a short amount of time. This information set the scene for the Cathedral’s construction. Carlos V wanted to construct a gothic cathedral, but ran out of money. A century later, when the project could be completed, styles had changed and were now in a Renaissance fashion. However, in order to pay tribute to Carlos V, they used the original plans, with just a few tweaks. Therefore, both styles can be seen in the cathedral today.
We also saw the Casa de los picos (House of the points), which was the building that was first attacked anytime the city was in danger. The decoration not only made it stylistically appealing, but also protected from incoming threats. It was a really neat and different (Muslim-built!) house that has inspired the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy!
The Alcazar of Segovia, a castle located in the old city, was our next stop. Although originally constructed to keep the King and Queen safe as a fortress for the city, eventually it served more as a royal palace. Running into some construction problems along the way, they enlisted the help of the Muslims in the area (who, emphasized by Eva, were the best builders) to complete the structure. Therefore, the fortress included many characteristics of the Berber Almoravid dynasty. We saw beautiful tapestries that decorated the rooms and told stories. The tapestries also provided warmth for the rooms because Segovia is known to have cold winters! Some of the kids (Nicole Sedmak, Colin Chenoweth, Alexa DuClos, and Paige Prager) went up to the tower (selfie included!) to get some pretty slick views of the city.
After the Alcazar, kids enjoyed some free time. Chaperone McNulty headed over to the Candido, considered one of the most famous restaurants in Spain, for some suckling pig. In order to prepare the pig properly, one has to cut it with a plate (we have video to prove it… let’s see if we can get it on the blog!). Only then can the dish be served, and Sage Babcock, Megan Hartwell, and Colin Chenoweth all found out how delicious it was!
Chaperone Ebling headed to go inside the cathedral with Nicole Amparano, Nicole Sedmak, Paige Prager, and Alexa DuClos. For a small fee, they got to see the inside mix of Renaissance and Gothic architecture as well as various small chapels and a very pleasant and peaceful courtyard. There was one kind of creepy painting in particular that depicted the devil, with a skeleton, and Jesus with a bell and a family on top of a tree. Ms. Ebling was pretty confused by the meaning, and Nicole Amparano explained her interpretation- that death was trying to get at the family at the top, and Jesus was warning them and helping them to save them so they could go to Heaven. Shout out to Nicole for being a critical thinker!
Next up, chocolate con churros. Entering a small cafe, we headed up to the second floor to enjoy this classic Spanish afternoon snack. The hot chocolate is the most chocolatey thing ever. Seriously, it’s a step away from the richest chocolate syrup you’ve ever had. Even with 19 hungry Americans, there were still churros and chocolate left over afterwards because that was how massive the mounds of churros were! Regardless, we ate until we could eat no more and left with a sweet satisfaction for another round of free-time.
When dinner came around, we headed to the same place as last night. This time, we had a spaghetti (like pasta carbonara) appetizer, a white fish with a broth of some sort and peas for dinner, and ice cream for dessert. We got to eat at a huge long table which led to some interesting and fun conversations and really got the group talking!
We have an early start to the day tomorrow! We will be exploring Salamanca, a university town. We should have much to compare with Whitewater, so stay posted for our next update!
Even though we had to wake up slightly earlier than yesterday, the promise of a delicious breakfast motivated us to get after the morning. Eyes wide and mouths watering, we swapped the earlier and later groups to help ourselves to the breakfast buffet. WHS travelers approached the table more confident on day 2, knowing just what they loved and going back for seconds of their favorites. I think the best part about the breakfast spread is the fact that all kids get to choose what they like and don’t like, what they want to pile on and ignore. It certainly gave our American favorites a run for their money.
Encouraging kids to double and triple check their rooms before boarding the bus to Toledo, we met in the lobby at 8:15, excited for our next adventure. Thankfully, we left nothing behind (so far, at least!). Within the hour, we had picked up our tour guide Imma in Toledo and drove to a breathtaking panorama of the city. Imma started filling us in on the need to know’s of the city : the Tajo River splits the city, it’s the melting pot of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (all three being equally important), and while about 12,000 lived in the old part of the city, there is a new and upcoming part of Toledo that houses over 80,000 people. Toledo was the capital of Spain until it was moved to Madrid in 1561. Why? Because Phillippe II (the King) wasn’t a Toledo fan. Basically, personal preference. But, Toledo is still the capital of Castilla la Mancha, the region in which it inhabits!
Our next stop in Toledo was the Catedral Primada Santa Maria de Toledo - a gothic style cathedral dating from the 13th century. It combines the Mudejar style of architecture along with other classic gothic structures to produce a beautiful open space inside. What is especially interesting about this cathedral, is that although it dates back from the 13th century, it was constructed on the grounds of both an old church and the prayer hall of a mosque. So, while this is the structure that stands, it was once two other buildings.
After the cathedral, we made our way to the Church of Santo Tome. Toledo was home to El Greco, a Greek painter during the Spanish Renaissance, for the latter part of his life. The singular painting housed here illustrates a popular local legend. According to the legend, Don Gonzalo Ruiz, a native of Toledo who was a very generous donor to the city (aka the Count of Orgaz) was buried and two Saints descended from the heavens and to bury him with their own hands in front of inhabitants of the town. What was really interesting about this work was that El Greco painted not only himself in the work, but also gave the Virgin Mary his wife’s face, and put the face of his child in it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take any pictures here, but the painting will rest forever in the minds of WHS travelers because it was so beautiful!
Afterwards, we headed over to the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing, the Santa Maria la Blanca. Now it is a museum owned by the Catholic Church, but in 1180 it was erected as a synagogue. This proves to be a symbol of the cooperation of the conflicting religions occupying the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, which is way cool!
We continued our adventure through the bustling town to reach Zocodover Plaza, the central market place. The plaza used to be the center where livestock was traded when Toledo was a Spanish-Muslim city. From here, WHS travelers enjoyed some free time in the city where they could buy all their wonderful parents and friends souvenirs, grab lunch, and meander through the hilly streets. Scarves, ceramics, keychains, and hand-made jewelry were just a few of the purchases made! Megan Hartwell and Alexa DuClos also found some muoy delicioso ice cream to top off the yummy lunches they enjoyed.
Meeting again at the Zocodover Plaza, it was time for the sword factory! A short bus ride, and we arrived at a small building where we were able to see a demonstration of how swords were made, as well as how they were decorated. We then headed to the gift shop (who can resist checking out actual swords and hand-made jewelry!?) where we saw amazing jewelry made by masters, students, and the factory at the site. WHS travelers tried out some of the swords (no we didn’t stab anything or anyone, just posed for some sweet pictures) and tried on some of the jewelry. Obviously, the more detail and the more artisan, the more expensive! To see the kids interacting and getting so excited over the merchandise was a lot of fun, and we spent a fair amount of time just perusing and browsing all the different and incredible sword and jewelry decorations.
Finally, it was time to board to the bus and head to Segovia. Our bus driver made some pretty slick turns, amazing the people sitting up front how nimble this giant autobus was and what it could do. Shout out to our bus driver who got us from point A to B to C safe and sound! So, as you pull up to our hotel in Segovia, you get to see the most amazing thing. Burger King! Just kidding, it’s the Roman aqueducts, which date all the way back to 112 AD!!!!!! They are literally right outside!
We’re getting ready for dinner after an exciting and activity-filled day in the sunshine. More to come on the aqueducts and the city of Segovia tomorrow. Buenos noches todos!
First order of business: shout out to the Dads of our WHS travelers! Today was Father’s Day in Spain, and we thought very fondly of you all today. Without your encouragement and support, this trip would not be possible for your kids! So, feliz dia de los padres!
Getting up and at ‘em, WHS travelers started off the morning early (7:30 or 8:15 am groups!) for breakfast. Provided by the cafe next to the hotel, we ate very well. A self-service buffet, menu items included chocolate croissants (with chocolate sprinkles on top!!!), meat and cheese, churros, fruit, yogurt, cereal, hard boiled eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice, and coffee. There was a tomato gazpacho as well that Paige Prager was brave enough to try, but it was a bit of a surprise as it had a little kick to it! At breakfast, we went over the plan for the day : el Prado, paella, el Retiro, free time, and finally dinner!
Jovana came for us after we were finished eating breakfast and we headed out of the hotel with the mission of making it to El Museo del Prado, on foot. We took the Gran Via, or Madrid’s equivalent of Michigan Avenue, to el Prado. It was about a half an hour walk, so we were already on the road to getting our steps in for the day! For those of you who don’t know, el Prado is the third best museum in the world (in general) and the best museum in the world for classical art. THE BEST. Paintings come from all over Europe and span from the 12th to 20th century. It is also one of the largest and most visited museums in Spain, with about 1,300 works on display. We were going to meet Ines again, who would give us a private tour in the museum. Thank goodness, because I don’t think chaperones or students were up to the challenge of taking on all 1,300 works with organization and grace! Mrs. Brigham-Schmull had created a packet for us of all the major works of art in the museum, donating her personal time and effort to ensuring the kids were well informed and intrigued by the art history in the museum. Huge shout out to Mrs. B for this - we all appreciated the packets and used them religiously to take notes during the tour! Ines broke it down for us, like a pro, and here are a few fun facts that we learned :
After our tour with Ines was over, we got some free time at the museum. Some of the kids decided to check out the cafe and gift shop, while others went back to wander the murals and paintings. As 2 o’clock rolled around, our tummies started grumbling and we decided it was time to head over to Paella Real (the royal paellea!), one of the best paella restaurants in Madrid.
When we got to the restaurant, it felt like an extension of the Prado. We meandered up a flight of stairs to an empty room, with red walls and old paintings hanging up. We scurried over to an empty spot and most of us started eating the bread on the table - we were famished! The restaurant instantly smelled like paella… and most of the kids had no idea what it even was. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that originates from Valencia. It is composed of a risotto that is seasoned with saffron and rosemary, with added green beans, artichokes, and a few other vegetables, and finished off with seafood and meat. For most kids, this was the first time they were trying (and having to de-head and de-shell!) langoustines and mussels. Kids were also speaking a lot more Spanish (encouraged by their chaperones!) and looking for new vocabulary words. Alvin Tillett asked (in Spanish!) how to say artichokes, and got something not far off from a cognate. Props to him and all the rest of the kids that were making concerted efforts to stay en espagnol!
Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, the paella was amazing! The restaurant brought out two huge paella dishes… and by huge, we’re talkin’ each paella pan taking up half of a huge long table. There was so much food, and servings looked like they would be too big for our stomachs, but the paella that was served to us tasted so good that we just ate it all up.
After lunch, we headed back out to El Retiro Park, one of the largest parks in Madrid. El Retiro used to be owned by the Spanish Monarchy, and in the 19th century was made public. There are tons of activities to participate in. From sitting in the sun enjoying an ice cream to rowboating, this was definitely the place to relax. With about an hour to explore, kids split up in their groups of threes, leaving the chaperones at the cafe to come back to in an hour. While no one went row boating (sad face) due to time constraints, many a photo were taken and I’m sure the pictures the kids took will be a hit.
Finally, it was time for probably the most anticipated part of the day : shopping! Kids had been asking all day for some free time to check out some of the local shops. With faces as cute as theirs we just had to squeeze it in. Students got about an hour to check out stores and meet at the “American Embassy” aka Starbucks, before we headed back for dinner. Many a keychain were purchased, so look for those gifts mom/ dad!
Dinner was fabulous. Eating at the same place as last night (the hotel restaurant), we enjoyed a cold asparagus salad with fried fish, french fries, and flan for dessert. Again, kids were in Spanish, especially Megan Hartwell, Marijose Cuellar, Karime Villarreal, and Jeremy Hoesly. They are rockin’ this whole second-language oral proficiency thing!
Tomorrow we’re off to Toledo and Segovia. We have lots to look forward to, and will be sure to sign back in after our adventures!
Upon embarking the Airbus 330 aircraft, we were warmly greeted with a “buenas tardes” by the Iberia staff. This was really happening! We were really going to Madrid, in style, with personal touchscreen entertainment systems to accompany each and every one of us along the way! We sat towards the back of the plane (the perks of being in group 1 to board the airplane) among one or two other student groups. Apparently we weren’t the only school in the Midwest with the genius idea of travelling abroad for Spring Break!
Megan Hartwell lucked out and got to sit by Ms. Ebling, but I think she was more pumped that Independance Day was an option on the touchscreen system for in-flight entertainment. Hearing our takeoff instructions in Spanish and English, it started sinking in. With a “buen vuelo” (Have a nice flight), we were off! A few hours into the flight, dinner was served, which surprised some of the kids. We chowed down on either beef or chicken something-or-other with rice, peas, carrots, a shrimp salad, Brie cheese, a mini baguette, and a spice cake with cream cheese frosting (delish). I know, you’re sitting at home and you’re thinking That sounds better than the Hamburger Helper I had last night for dinner. It was. Especially the spice cake. Querico! It was impressive to see the kids starting to try out their language skills by ordering their drinks in Spanish. Choices were pretty simple, but saying Coca Cola with a Spanish accent certainly received very grateful authentic Spanish responses! Way to go Whippets! After dinner, it was lights off and kids tried to sleep (or got sucked into the touchscreen… I mean, The Lego Movie was on there… how can you pass that up!?). Shout out to Allison Ceranske who was a trooper. She didn’t get a wink because she has trouble sleeping on planes, but still made it with a smile to Madrid just like the rest of us! A few hours later, we were woken up to a ham and cheese breakfast sandwich (bonus points for the Kit Kat that Iberian Airlines threw in there, too!), juice, and coffee. We were an hour outside of Madrid! Kids anxiously took photos out the window of the mountains below, commenting on how small they felt compared to the world outside.
Anddddd we’re landed. Seriously, smoothest landing ever. That pilot did a fantastic job! Making our way through customs without problems, we met on the other side, gathered our luggage, and found Jovana, our courier, waiting for us outside of baggage claim. Jovana comes from a small town north of Madrid, and welcomed us all with a smile. Leading us to our tour bus, we loaded up and shipped out.
Our first stop was Plaza del Toros, where we met Ines, our tour guide for the day. This is the second largest bullfighting stadium (Mexico has the first!) and we got a pretty sweet group photo to start off the day. Ines then led an on-bus tour to many different places throughout the city, including the Biblioteca Nacional, the Templo de Debod, and cruised past Parque de el Retiro, where we will be spending some time tomorrow. Then, Ines led us to walk the Old City of Madrid, where we saw French, Muslim, Roman, and Spanish architecture throughout our walking tour. At the Palacio Real, we caught the end of the changing of the guard, and saw the Catedral de la Almudena, which has only been finished as of the early 1990’s! We then walked to a few small plazas to see some doors and buildings dating from the 14th century and we stopped briefly outside the Guiness Book of World Records’ oldest restaurant. This restaurant was from before America was born : 1726. Imagine the family recipes that have travelled the centuries!
Before heading off to lunch, we also checked out Plaza Mayor, which was beautifully lit by the sunshine. A few of us took our jackets off at this point- life is good in Spain! We also stopped by Puerta del Sol, a very crowded and very touristy spot that we would meet back at after we ate lunch. With groups of three, or with the chaperones (which almost all the kids decided to stay with us!) we were off to find our first taste of Madrid. The large group decided to go get Bocadillos Calamares, Jamon, y Tortilla, sandwiches made with a special bread that had either calamari, ham or what we would call a frittata inside. Definitely one-upped the airline food! Jenna Lee and Colin Chenoweth found out the hard way that water that was served was not cold, but thankfully they have amazing chaperones who gladly donated their ice from their soda drinks to their warm water!
After lunch, we headed over to the Tour Bernabeu, aka the Real Madrid soccer stadium. Although we started up at the highest level of the seats, looking down with a panoramic view of the field, we eventually made our way down to the field through trophy cases, old jerseys, the athletic locker room, and the history of the Real Madrid futbol team. More stellar group pics! Karime Villarreal, Nicole Amparano, Nicole Sedmak, Dalia Velazquez, and Marijose Cuellar purchased their group photo from the gift shop after the tour, taking home a sweet trophy photo which will be sure to make all soccer fans jealous that they got to stand that close to it!
Finally, we made it to the hotel! Checking into rooms proved to be tricky for some of the kids (keys are weird here), but with a bit of free time to get settled in and go explore, we will be meeting at 8pm for dinner! More updates and photos to come! Day 1 was filled with lots of excitement, but I think it’s fair to say we are all looking forward to our comfy beds tonight, which will definitely beat the airline chairs.
It’s 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon. With our comrades at WHS just beginning their Spring Breaks, travelers to Spain have been on the first leg of their trek to Madrid and are now anxiously waiting at gate K19 to board our 8-9 hour flight across the pond.
WHS travelers were excused from school in the morning in order to ensure that every last item was packed from their checklist and they were well rested for the trip ahead. Shout out to Colin Chenoweth and a few others, who made it to class anyway, as Ms. McNulty encouraged students to wake up early in order to best adjust to the time difference (jet lag can be a real pain!). There is no doubt that Colin will be awake and asking questions at our first tour in Madrid- the Real Madrid soccer stadium! Gathering in the auditorium with all different colors and sizes of luggage, curious students popped their heads in to wish us well and to ask if there was room in any of the suitcases for them. After reviewing travel documents and spending some quality time with the fam, it was noon (okay, okay...12:05) and time to roll out. This was no ordinary bus, my friends. Faux-wood floors and bathroom-equipped, we snuggled into our reclining chairs on the coach bus that was to take us to Iberian Airlines.
Waving goodbye to our apprehensive friends and family, we were off! The bus journey was a smooth one, in which some students decided to take a snooze and prep for the long journey. Jeremy Hoesley was sleeping (ish) as his Netflix show did not fully captivate his attention. Despite getting 10 hours of sleep the night before, he could not resist the comfort of the blue fuzzy bus chairs. Nicole Sedmak also tuned in to Netflix, watching a Spanish cartoon to prep her ears for the espagnol she will encounter within the next 24 hours. Marijose Cuellar and Karime VIllarreal chatted, bragging to their friends via Snapchat about their trip. It’s a chilly and rainy day in Whitewater, Wisconsin; and we’re on the way to warmer weather. First stop, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Terminal 5.
HOLD UP. Terminal 5? Yes, terminal 5. At least, that’s where the bus driver took us. Wait… there’s no Iberia Airlines in Terminal 5! Have no fear, chaperones are here! There is a reason we gave ourselves three hours at the airport… the next 10 minutes we spent scurrying over on the shuttle to terminal 3, and what an adventure it was! Not only did WHS travelers get a chance to take a coach bus, but also a pretty cool high-speed (okay, exaggerating, it was only like 30mph) shuttle. Descending at terminal 3, we made our way over to the Iberia counter. After tediously waiting in line for some time, we started checking in one by one. Security was uneventful (thank goodness-- although Brianna Tillett got her retainer looked at nice and closely by TSA!), and here we sit at gate K19. Our flight boards at 5:10, taking off at 5:50 (so they say!). Travelers are enjoying their last taste of America; Karime dug into some homemade tacos (which she graciously shared), Roberto Navejas purchased some good ol’ American Mickey D’s, and Starbucks was on Dalia Velazquez and Melanie Reyes’ list of final flavors of the USA.
We promise to keep all friends, family, and community members updated as we continue our journey to Espana. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the blog!
Travelers journaled about their emotions related to our upcoming trip. One consistent emotion all of the journals included was an element of excitement. The students are also a bit anxious for the unknown experiences coming their way. In their own words, students had the following to say:
"Round 2 and I'm ready to go. ..different country, new things, and new people. This trip is a once in a lifetime experience. ~Sage
"I can't wait to go to Madrid and see what life is like there and to see the amazing architecture in Barcelona." ~ Colin
"I hope we can see an authentic, traditional dance and we can jump in." ~ Megan
"I'm excited to meet new people and know new places." ~ Karime
"I'm very excited about this Spain trip. It's the first time I will be leaving the country." ~ Melanie
"We will be going to Spain soon and I am very excited...I picked up my euros and they remind me of Monopoly money." ~Jenna
"I can't wait to go to Spain! The departure is coming so fast. I'm most nervous about potentially losing my luggage." ~Paige
"I hope everyone has fun and we get to see a famous soccer player!" ~ Alexa
"I want everyone to know that I love seeing new things. While we're in Spain I hope understand better the culture and the language." ~Katie
"I'm excited to try new food and I'm excited to meet the people and learn the culture. ~ Allison