The Walls and Cathedral of Avila

We have arrived in the beautiful town of Avila, which somewhat resembles an ancient fortress. There is a stone wall that surrounds the city and images are brought to mind of what this town was like back in the medieval times. As you arrive to Avila you are first aware that it is high up on a hill, most likely to keep watch for any invaders. The wall has five entrances serving to give limited access into the town, another method for protection to its inhabitants. Fortunately we were given the opportunity to “walk” the wall. I was a little confused of what this meant when this activity was first presented to us. However, I soon understood. We walked up the worn-down, steep stone steps and made it to the platform on top of the wall of the ancient town. The view was incredible! You could see the rolling green hills, the mountains, the other small villages that have sprung up in the last few hundred years, for several miles in the distance. It made me wonder how these people of Avila were able to construct such a massive stone wall with only man power, and not only was it made to perfection with such unique architecture, but also, it was such an effective method to protect the town. Within this border, you are able to find some cafes, restaurants, shops, and souvenir stores. However, the most impressive building I came upon was the cathedral of Avila. This building was very Gothic looking and the largest building within the town. It was apparent how important religion was to these people back in the day. As you entered the Cathedral, the arches, stained glass windows, and gold plated icons were astounding. Everything about this place was so amazing! Definitely my favorite part of Avila!!!




Toledo streets

I cannot believe how much I have seen in just one week. I feel truly lucky to have been able to see the fast pace lifestyle of Madrid and the beautiful antiquity of Toledo and Avila- and this is just the beginning.

At this point, my favorite experience has been visiting the city of Toledo. The city is indescribably beautiful. As we walked around I found myself thinking, “Is this even real?” The architecture, people and just overall atmosphere was unforgetable.


You could see that the city had an intense history. Just walking around was like a museum tour. The city is surrounded by a wall that kept out invaders back in the day. And within the city, you can see that the layout was specifically designed to keep its inhabitants comfortable in a time of less advanced technology. The buildings are built close together to create more shade and therefore the streets are more narrow. This creates a small problem with car traffic, but people still get by.


I think that was what impressed me most. Although parts of Toledo are not conducive to modern day lifestyle, there is no renovation. The streets are narrow, the walls serve no real purpose anymore- but they are still there. I think it’s great that the city still holds on to its history. And it should, because Toledo is an amazing place.


– Shoma


Catedral Primada in Toledo

Toledo was absolutely gorgeous. A quaint medieval town, when I walked through the narrow cobblestone streets I felt like I was traveling back through time. The cathedral, however, was what really brought the feeling on. When I walked through the giant and intricately carved doors, I could clearly visualize people hundreds of years in the past walking through them to attend Sunday Mass. Its incredible how much the original architecture has remained in place. Obviously restorations have been done, but they are not noticeable at all. The cathedral appears exactly as it must have been five hundred years ago.

When I walked inside I was immediately in awe at the absolute magnificence of its structure. The ceilings are so tall; my neck is sore from looking up for too long. The main altarpiece, however, was what truly stuck out to me. Floor to ceiling, the entire wall is covered in paintings and sculptures all covered in gold. With the splendor of the altarpiece and the size and design of the organ (biggest one I have ever seen) I can only imagine that attending services there are extremely intense and moving.


I think that the cathedral really is what made Toledo so special to me. The whole atmosphere of walking down the streets with its flying buttresses in view gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that only happens when something magnificent has struck me. I loved Toledo for that reason: the feeling of traveling back in time from the cathedral really was something magical.


– Ellie


Do One Thing To Support Cultural Diversity and Inclusion

Did you know this about today, May 21:

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in partnership with UNESCO and a wide coalition of partners from corporations to civil society is launching the world campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion,” aimed at engaging people around the world to Do One Thing to support Cultural Diversity and Inclusion.

This day raises awareness on the richness of world cultures and the opportunities that cultural diversity can bring to societies. This study abroad opportunity to the El Camino, offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, is living this campaign to its fullest.

What have you done today?


Sorry, Ohio, this Toledo really rocks!

From the minute we drove down to Toledo after completing the quick bus trip from Madrid, I was completely and irrevocably in love with the aging town.  Whereas Madrid surprised me with its mixture of old and modern and the non-stop pace of the people, Toledo represented a relaxed, easy-going pace.
As we trekked up a long, steep hill after the bus station I couldn’t take my eyes off the buildings stacked on top of each other in alternating layers of orange, yellow, and tan.  There were no stop lights, no erratic skilled taxi drivers, and no overpowering smells of car exhaust or trash.  We joked about how the people and traffic were nowhere near as patient and polite back home in Blacksburg.
In the last five days, I have realized how I love each adventure more than the last.  I loved Madrid, and now I love Toledo a hundred times more.  Each city, museum, and activity is providing a different experience encouraging me to learn about different cultures and people.  I can’t wait for the next chapter of this unbelievable opportunity and to see even more of Spain.
– Julie 

Amazing Madrid

The time I have spent in Madrid has been nothing short of amazing. From ATMs that aren’t even open 24 hours to death-defying taxi driving, this city has surprised and impressed me at every turn. I have tried some of the best food I have ever had, and enjoyed amazing hospitality from the spanish people. In addition, i have learned so much from just simply walking around and listening to the sounds of the city. The hustle and bustle of a major city is mixed with a much deeper sense of relaxation, and contentment. Economic conditions aside, people here really attempt to enjoy life and only work to live, rather than the other way around. Cafes and bars are rarely empty, and the streets are always filled with people simply enjoying being outside. Madrid has so many things to experience and i’m so thankful I was able to get a taste of it, and cannot wait for more. Of course, there will be no post-modern art next time.


warming up

The Puerta de Alcala in the Plaza de la Independencia (“Independence Square”) in Madrid.

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.