Walking through Spain and the magnificent city of Madrid
Spain is an incredible country. From the depth of culture to the natural beauty, I have come to love this country and the experiences I have had here.
I arrived in Spain almost two months ago. Luckily for us, the USD Madrid program took us on a Travel Seminar for the first ten days that we were in Spain. Within that short period of time, we visited five different cities and drove through much of the southwestern region of Spain.
Our first stop was Barcelona, where we stayed for two nights. The city is surrounded by both the Mediterranean Sea and the nearby slopes of the mountains. We visited the Sagrada Familia, the main cathedral of Barcelona that, by the end of its construction in 2026, will have been 144 years in the making. Walking around Las Ramblas, an area that is full of markets and stores to explore, was another great part of this visit. The city is very alive into the night with wonderful restaurants and bars right along the coast.
Next we headed to Valencia, a great beach town right on the southern coast of Spain. This was a chance for us to relax on the beach and enjoy some authentic paella, a classic Spanish dish of rice, vegetables, and seafood or meat. From Valencia we drove to Granada, one of my favorite cities thus far. Granada is located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and therefore has a beautiful backdrop. There we spent a day at La Alhambra which is on the hill of La Sabica overlooking the entire city, giving us an amazing view of the mountains and architecture.The La Alhambra was built originally in the late ninth century as a fortress and was later converted into a palace, consisting of various structures and immaculate gardens.
Our next stop was Seville, where August temperatures can reach around 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. My favorite part of this city was Plaza de España, located in the Parque de María Luisa, a huge park with families and runners everywhere. Around that area is a river lined with tons of restaurants and shops.
On our way back to Madrid we stopped in Córdoba and visited the Cathedral of Córdoba and spent a few hours walking around that area. The cathedral had a very interesting architectural style since it was originally built as a mosque. This all happened in only 10 days; 10 of the craziest days of my life, but it was the best introduction to being in Spain.
The new lifestyle in Madrid has been challenging but fun to adapt to. I live with the sweetest host mom, Conchi, who has really made my experience. From practicing my Spanish at dinner to learning about all the best restaurants and bars in Madrid, she made the transition so much better.
One of the biggest changes that I have tried to get used to is their daily schedule. Everyone goes to work in the mornings, but lunch, or “comida,” is a time that everyone takes off and spends socializing, eating tapas, drinking sangria and relaxing. All of the stores are closed down from about 2 p.m.-4 p.m. before they open back up for the evening (which would really be considered their afternoon) until about 9 p.m. That is usually the time when we eat dinner, which is a bit early for most Spaniards who typically eat around 10 p.m.-11 p.m. My roommates and I are always starving by this time and we are still unable to get used to this lifestyle!
Meanwhile, the city is still alive with families and children until pretty late in the night with people finishing dinner and enjoying each other’s company. This is especially evident in Puerta del Sol, the main square in Madrid that is just minutes from our school. Even when I am walking around there at midnight I see children and grandparents taking their night stroll through the city.
The bus and metro system here are the easiest I have ever experienced; you can get almost anywhere in the city with your Abono Pass and a short walk through the city.
My favorite part of the city is Parque del Retiro, the park that is right in between where I live and the USD Madrid Center. It is a huge park that I have yet to explore the entirety of, but I go almost every day to run. There is a constant stream of people running, rollerblading, doing yoga, riding bikes, and walking their dogs through the countless paths of the park. There is also a lake at one end of the park, Estanque del Retiro, where people enjoy rowing canoes on a nice days.
Another area that I visited in September is the Basque country in northern Spain. We went to Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum, the famous modern art museum. This was a very quaint and family-oriented town with nice parks and cafes to visit.
From there we took a bus to San Sebastian, a beautiful beach town right on the coast. It had one of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen! It was small but surrounded by the edge of the city and had the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean. We enjoyed walking around the small city and trying their delicious “pinchos” which are basically the same as tapas. I really enjoyed this part of the country.
Living in Spain has already taught me so much about the different lifestyles that exist around the world. I have loved every minute of it, from the challenge of improving my Spanish to the late dinners every night. I cannot believe it’s already halfway done, but I’m excited for the many more adventures to come.