To get settled on the Camino, we spent a day in León getting to know the town. We toured the Cathedral of León and the Basicica de San Isidro. Some of us found a ‘secret’ tour that led us up past the flying buttresses of the cathedral.
The only thing I had ever been skeptical about this trip was the people I would be hiking with. Considering we’d all be together for 5 weeks straight without a day to spare and 99% of my communication would be with these people, I was hoping they’d be atleast tolerable. After 4 days of being on this trip, there are no words to describe how close we’ve become in the short time we’ve known each other. There’s something about being a Hokie that is so unique and specific to our VT community. Every single person in our camino group has already made a tremendous impact on our trip thus far. First, there’s Dom–who can simply be described as The Life of the Party. His bubbly personality and never ending energy serves as an endless motivation for the group to get up each morning at 6 a.m. to start our trek. Then there is Coryn and Mark, our dubbed parents of the group. Both recently graduated making them the oldest of the group.
On our second day in Madrid, the group had the opportunity to visit the Museo Nacional del Prado, one of the largest museums in the world. The building itself is enormous from an outside perspective, only to be dwarfed by the winding hallways, multiple floors, and maze-like art room exhibits.
One of my favorite pieces was entitled, “The Execution of Torrijos and his companions on the Beach at Málaga” (pictured below) by Antonio Gisbert. We weren’t supposed to take pictures, however I used my phone camera without a flash. It struck me initially because the intense nature of the scene depicted and the incredible detail used to paint the men’s faces.
This scene commemorates the execution in December of 1831 for a group of fifty-three British sponsored Spanish liberals who had attempted to put into effect a radical constitution.
One element of the scene that stayed with me was the somber nature of the men waiting to be executed (without a trial) and the way that three of them were holding hands in a display of support for each other as they faced impending death.
Our evening continued as we went to see an excellent ballet and flamenco dancing performance entitled “Carmen” and ate dinner by sampling several types of tapas at the famous Mercado de San Miguel.
Madrid….wow. The city has so much charm and character with the old architecture mixed in with modern trends. I think that the buildings caught my attention the most; I was able to appreciate them on day one when I was super jet-lagged and not able to pay attention to much else. So many of them had terraces, including Hostel Acapulco where we stayed, and I loved going out and looking at the area around us.
I felt like Madrid was pretty similar to New York City in terms of traffic, business, street vendors and performers, and tourist attractions, but I just found it to be more charismatic… probably because of the architecture. My sister claims that cities are all the same just with different attractions, and I agree to some extent, but I also see a lot of differences. In New York I got to see Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and the Top of the Rock.. In London we went to Buckingham Palace and saw the guards with the funny hats and took pictures in telephone booths. In Madrid we saw the Crystal Palace and went to watch Carmen, the flamenco dancing. So while the general traffic and craziness of a city may not vary too much, each city has it’s own trademarks and certain charms.
I did love Madrid and the Spanish flair was something I’ve never felt before. English is the main language in NYC and London and the traditions in those cities were relatively similar to what I’m used to but Spain is a completely different world. Obviously the language is different but I’ve also never experienced the general attitude and cultural history. I love it-I get to speak Spanish and experience a completely new adventure.
Our day started with a walking tour of Madrid to shake off the jet lag. Jon, our guide for the day, took us through the iconic places in Madrid: Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. Between the jet lag and language fatigue, students returned to their rooms for a serious siesta before tapas
I’m a little sad to be leaving Madrid today, but I’m ready to see more of Spain. Just driving away from the city, the surrounding countryside is absolutely amazing, big mountains all around, a mix of thick forests with some more dry, rocky parts. Toledo was the coolest thing we’ve done so far, in my opinion. The views from the top of the town were just breathtaking, and the town itself, with all the old buildings and tiny streets was just unreal.
And oh my gosh, the food here is just, yummalicious. La Carboneria, Carlos’ place, definitely had the best food so far. The tapas came nonstop, and I wasn’t complaining. I have always heard that Europeans eat much smaller meals than we do, but every dinner we have had so far I’ve left the restaurant feeling like I was going to explode. Thankfully we’re about to walk 300km so I don’t feel too bad about it. I’m getting pumped to start walking, it is going to be the most memorable backpacking trip of my life, I can already tell.