Hey guys, sorry for the delay in my postings! It has been a busy few weeks of exploring and experiencing Toledo. I made it safely to Toledo on January 14 which is the town I am living in for the semester. It is located about 1 hour South of Madrid by bus, and its climate is fairly arid. The temperature has been around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny each day, but it can get chilly at night. My favorite part is that the city has over 1,500 years of history! When the Roman Empire fell the Visigoths made sure to sweep in and claim the strategic city as a capital. After that, the conquering Muslim armies from Northern Africa ruled the region for centuries alongside the Jews and Christians. Eventually, the Christian kings from Northern Spain re-conquered the city and it has been Spanish ever since. In fact, Toledo was once the seat of the Royal Spanish crown until it moved to Madrid in the 16th century. The appearance of the city is very regal. It is a walled city with cobblestone streets (hard to walk on) and is extremely hilly (rivals San Francisco). There are many Roman, Muslim, and Christian ruins inside and outside the city’s walls. One of the coolest parts is that the city hasn’t changed much. There have been no new buildings within the walls since the 1700s. After the Spanish royal crown moved to Madrid, many of the aristocratic families did as well creating room for people to move into the town…and those people were the monks. Toledo once had over 40 monasteries and convents within the city walls creating many of the beautiful buildings that are scattered through the winding streets. Outside the city walls there is a river that runs alongside 3/4 of the city’s boundaries. There are many medieval bridges leading into the city creating a nostalgic feeling of another world. On top of the natural moat, the city sits high up on a hill surrounded by cliffs creating some of the best natural defense of any city. It is easy to see why this location was important to various groups over the years.
According to my professor, Spain has the most study abroad students than any other county. Therefore, living in Toledo I don’t fall far from the heard in this one. My living conditions here in Toledo are more than what I expected. I live in the same building where I eat and take classes. The building itself is a converted 16th century monastery that is connected to a church…and a modern day music school (can make listening to the professor quite difficult sometimes). I have my own bedroom with a shared bathroom with another student from the U of M. The bedrooms and bathrooms even have their own cleaning service so we never have to clean! We have more than enough room for storage and study space, too. The cafeteria is on the first floor and meal times are at 8am, 1:30pm, and 8:30pm — I’m about used to it by now. The cafeteria tries to serve traditional Spanish, yet American, dishes to us. Before coming, I had no idea how much Spaniards love their ham…it is literally everywhere! Jamón Ibérico is what they call it. Basically, it is extremely cured ham and they leave it out without refrigeration, pretty tasty. They also eat a lot of potatoes, rice, and seafood. Traditional tapas (Spanish appetizers at bars that are usually free with your drink) are usually some sort of ham, potato, or fish. One of my favorite dishes here, however, are chocolate and churros. You can find these at the cafes around Spanish towns where they will serve melted chocolate used for dipping your churros into — amazing! A churro is basically fried dough kind of like a donut or funnel cake.
There are about 100 students studying at this international center. The University of Minnesota makes up a majority of the students, however, there are many students from the Notre Dame, Puerto Rico, and various colleges around the United States. About half of the students live in home stays with Spanish families, while the rest of us stay in the dormitories where our school is. Since the classrooms are upstairs, it is really easy to get to class now and I should have no excuse not to drag myself up there. I’m taking 5 classes this semester, they are: History of Spain since 1936, Economics of Spain and the European Union, Latin American Politics, Spanish Mysticism, and Ethnography and Folklore of the Iberian Peninsula. All of those courses, as well as everything at the center, are in complete Spanish. At first, it was really tiring to listen to all day, but day by day, everyone seems to be improving. I only have class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays so it always makes for a nice weekend! However, my Tuesdays and Wednesdays can get quite long. When we’re not in class, or not exploring the city on our own, the center provides many co-curricular activities for us. For example, cooking classes on traditional Spanish dishes; Flamenco classes; sports such as Volleyball, Soccer, and Basketball; mini-conferences on various Spanish issues and topics; and also various guided excursions to cities like Madrid, Segovia, and El Escorial. Overall, they do a good job at keeping you busy. We also have a communal TV room located on my floor where we can watch both American and Spanish programs. The Spanish, and European culture, has sadly been overly infiltrated with American music, movies, and TV shows. Everywhere you go there is American music playing, or a movie theatre showing many American films. However, the funny part is that all of the movies and shows are dubbed over in Spanish. It’s pretty funny to watch “Modern Family” here in Spanish where their mouths don’t match up with the voices! In addition, movies and shows are usually a month to several months behind their release dates in the United States. The nightlife in Spain is just as I imagined, it is crazy. They seriously stay out until 6am at discotecas, bars, or what have you. It is quite a different lifestyle than the U.S.
The number one thing I miss from America is spice in my food. In Spain, all the food sort of falls within the same spectrum of taste — not bland, but not spicy. I especially miss Mexican food each and every day. It’s funny that nobody in Toledo wants to open up an ironic Mexican restaurant here, or at least, I haven’t encountered one yet. But other than that, this place is awesome!
One interesting thing I’ve done here, besides exploring everywhere, was going to the El Greco Museum. El Greco was a controversially famous painter from the 16th century and resided, for most of his life, in Toledo. The museum was attempted to resemble his house, which was thought to be located nearby, and a couple of his paintings. Many of his famous works are in the churches in Toledo, or are in the national museums in Madrid. After visiting Italy, it was interesting to see his style of painting compared to his contemporaries on the other side of the Mediterranean.
In the photo above, I live between the Cathedral on the left, and the Alcazar (fortress) on the right.
I have been in Toledo now for over 2 weeks, and in Europe for almost a month. Each day is something new and I wouldn’t pass this experience up for anything. I am truly blessed that I can take a trip such as this one. I will try to update this blog as much as I can about my travels, and random experiences in Spain.