After Segovia, I only had 2 weeks left in my new home. Time was drawing to a close on our program, and emotions were mixed. Yes, I was sad, but also excited to continue travelling. I’m lucky enough to continue my adventures, whereas the majority of the students were flying home at the end. We had one final week of classes, and then our finals week (April 23rd - 28th).
I spent my last two weeks tying up loose ends and soaking up lasting memories. I also got a chance to finally do a few touristy things. Easter Sunday, I got a chance to attend Mass at the cathedral in Toledo. Toledo’s cathedral is the second largest in Spain, and dates back to the 12th century, so it is giant, intimidating, gothic, and important. The Mass was said by the Archbishop of Toledo, which has been an important position throughout Spanish history — so that was very special. The Mass was extremely traditional and reminded me of the Middle Ages. Being Catholic (and coming from a progressive church)/ history major, it was quite an experience. Out of respect, I didn’t bring my camera to Mass on Easter…and later that week I went back with Ali to take our pictures inside the church. Another touristy thing I finally got to do was visit Santo Tomé, a smaller perish on the edge of Toledo. The church dates back to Renaissance times, and is most famous for its Greco painting, “El Entierro de Señor Orgaz”. Easily, one of my favorite Greco paintings, and one of his most famous. After taking a Spanish Mysticism course all semester long (in Toledo nonetheless, a hotbed for religion over the centuries), the painting encompassed all that I had learned. In addition, I was also able to visit a convent that had been in existence for over 1,000 years. Of course many things have changed over time, but documents that were signed 1,000 years ago are still there.
I was able to climb around the cliffs outside the city one last time with friends to take in that beautiful Toledo sunset, and enjoy my favorite spot to get sangria at the hilltop bar. I enjoyed one last match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at a packed bar, and all of the theatre that goes into Spanish soccer — I’ll never truly understand it all. I was also able to just enjoy walking around last time.
To take a break from studying, a group of us decided to finally do something that we’ve been talking about ALL semester long: a grill out. After waiting out for a nice day, we finally decided to grill down by the river. We found a disposable grill at a store, went to the butcher and got some burgers and hotdogs, and got some beer at the SuperChino and went to town grilling inside the foundations of a ruined building. It was quite the time. I dub it, “bringing true barbecoa to Spain”. It was all fun and games….until the bats came out at dusk to start feeding. They were getting too close for comfort, so we cleaned up shop at that point.
I finally made it to a bullfight as well (corrida de toros) my last Sunday in Spain. I went with my friend Emily to Madrid (everyone else decided to “study” for finals) where I went with her to get her tattoo ( you should ask to see mine ;) ), and then went to Madrid’s largest bullfighting ring, “Las Ventas”. Tickets were extremely cheap, and we were able to bring food in from the outside…so overall a good value! The stadium was very traditional in true Spanish style, and resembled a Roman coliseum as you entered with sand in the middle and concrete benches to sit on. Many argue against bullfighting as animal cruelty and many argue it as a theatrical/cultural event. I had no true opinion of it prior since I had yet to witness it. I knew that before coming to Spain that I wanted to see one since growing up in the States all you hear about in Spain are the bullfights…and let me tell you, it was one of the most unique experiences that I couldn’t have seen coming. How a bullfight works is there are 3 matadors, and several helpers “picadors”. The matadors skills are dependent on how much help he needs from the picadors; the agility and finesse of his sword; and lastly, the “dance” he has with bull. In one night they will “fight” with 6 bulls, sometimes more if the crowd asks for it. Each bull, as the night goes on, is supposed to become bigger, stronger, and more dangerous — in theory, of course. Throughout the fighting of one bull, the picadors will stab the bulls back with various pikes or javelins to injure its neck muscles. The Matador will then “dance” with the bull with his cape for several minutes in a theatrical manner, using only correct technique and finesse. Now, it’s like the movies in the sense that red/pink will drive a bull crazy — I don’t get it. However, unlike the movies, bullfights aren’t all action. The bull, because of extended running/blood loss, eventually slows down and barely moves when charging the cape. It’s a very odd experience when the bullfighter is face to face with the bull, and touching it. Now, after showing off his skills, the matador will insert a sword through the vertebrae of the bull to attempt to stab the heart. A good matador can do this in one smooth attempt, and bring the bull to his knees; however, the amateurs are the ones that make it look like animal cruelty by making many attempts — this is the sad part. Once the sword is successfully inserted, the bull will eventually tire out and lay down. At this point, the matador (if skilled) finishes the bull in one stab to the brain. Once again, another hard part to watch. Each bull takes around 30 minutes from start to finish. The first bull was hard to watch, I’ll be honest. I had never seen anything as violent in person before, or watch anything, such as a bull, die in front of my eyes. However, after the 1st bull (I stayed for 4), you begin to see the technique, and art of the matador and his dance with the bull. Plus, bulls have been sacrificed for thousands of years in the Mediterranean area, this is just a different way. The meat of the bull is then sold to local restaurants to serve at a premium price. Overall, I’m glad I went. I got to see a traditional event in Spain, and I enjoyed certain aspects of it. However, I wouldn’t go more than once, so I’m glad I didn’t go earlier in the program.
The only thing left was to take finals. Overall, they went well and were easier than the U. However, they were more difficult than originally expected for a study abroad program. But that was my mistake for taking a true “U of M” program, over a private institution’s program!
After saying our goodbyes, Ali and I headed out Friday morning, April 27th at 5am to catch a train in Madrid towards Bordeaux. It was bittersweet, and I currently don’t have the words to describe my experience in Toledo, or Spain, or even Europe yet. Everything has happened so fast, and I have learned so much about Europe, the world, and myself. My Spanish has definitely improved and I have successfully lived outside the U.S. However, at this point in time I’m at a loss for words (for once). It’ll take time to decompress my thoughts and ideas — and things that I probably can’t express in writing. Overall, I know I made the best decision of my life up to this point to study abroad and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. I’m truly blessed to have had this opportunity and cannot think my parents enough for their support. Hopefully, after sometime I can write down my thoughts on Toledo and how it fully influenced me.
But until then….stay tuned for posts on Ali and I’s backpacking adventure for the next month! April 27th - May 28th we will be somewhere between Bordeaux, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Milan, Cinque Terre, and Rome!