Alcázar? Aca-believe it.

Believe it or not, being in Spain does not mean that my education is taking a backseat this semester. I still have classes to take, homework to complete, pages to read, and plenty of studying to keep me occupied. “This ain’t no Girl Scout camp.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this semester I am taking five classes for fifteen credits. I start each Monday and Wednesday with ninety minutes of Spanish Grammar. As repulsive as this may sound, this class is actually my favorite. Taught by Cristina, our wonderful program director, this class covers everything from verb tense review to current events to book reports. We have already spent two and half days on a section called “Common American Errors” in an effort to help us blend in a little more. It’s a challenging class, but so far it has been quite enjoyable and it has really helped my everyday Español.

My other favorite class: PHONETICS. This is another class that doesn’t sound particularly riveting. How exciting could it be to phonetically transcribe Spanish letters and words? I love it. It is very straightforward and logical, much easier than English phonetics.

My other classes are Spanish Relations with Latin America (RcLA), Spanish Culture and Civilization (C&C), and Spanish Literature. As far as RcLA goes, I thought I pretty much knew everything there was to know about Christopher Columbus after studying him almost every year since 3rd grade and representing him in a mock trial in 7th grade. WRONG. The “descubrimiento” of America from Spain’s point of view is different angle that I hadn’t considered before. Culture and Civilization goes hand in hand with my Latin America class. Both classes are studying the same time period: C&C focuses on what is happening in Spain and RcLA focuses on what is happening in America. Being able to compile a “worldview” of Spain in the 1500s is pretty interesting. Having classes with coinciding time periods is definitely helping me to see the “big picture” clearly.

A particularly awesome component of school is the mandatory field trips. Each class has two required excursions during the semester. This past Friday, my Culture and Civilizations class took its first field trip to a town called Segovia, about ninety minutes away from Alcalá. It has been a while since I have gone on a legitimate field trip. And let me tell you, this trip was legit. Legit in a “gone for the whole day/stay with the group/mom packs your lunch in a brown bag” sort of way. This was the real deal.

Our excursion to Segovia consisted of two specific destinations: El Palacio Real and El Alcázar de Segovia. El Palacio de la Granja de San Ildefonso was constructed in the early 1700s by Felipe V. The architecture of the palace is based on Versailles, built by Felipe’s grandfather, Louis XIV of France. La Granja served as the summer palace of the Spanish royal family for over 200 years; they would spend three months here and then move onto a different palace for the following season. El Palacio de la Granja is particularly famous for two things: Los Jardínes and el Enterramiento de Felipe V. The Gardens of the palace are filled with Greek mythology themed statues and fountains. The fountains, which still use the original pipes and jets, are only active a few days out of the year, one or two at a time–the exception being the feast days of San Fernando and San Luis, when all 26 fountains are set for a phenomenal show. Other reasons why this palace is memorable: buried in the chapel of the palace is King Felipe V himself, one of the only two Spanish kings not buried at the Pantheon of El Escorial. (El Escorial: next week’s field trip!) La Granja was Felipe V’s “baby”—he loved this place, and therefore chose to be buried here instead of with all of his predecessors.

Yeah, I could live here. View from the palace!
Yeah, I could live here. View from the palace!


After our tour of the palace, we had a few hours off to eat lunch and explore the town of Segovia.

Found another new novio on this trip. (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
Found another new novio on this trip. (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
Exploring Segovia: We’re basically models. (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
Exploring Segovia: We’re basically models. (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
A little Wisco pride with fellow Badger Valerie at the Aqueduct of Segovia! (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
A little Wisco pride with fellow Badger Valerie at the Aqueduct of Segovia! (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)

The other stop of the day was the Alcázar of Segovia. Historically, the first reference of this castle was in the year 1120, but legend says that it was used as a fortress during the times of the Roman Empire. During the Spanish reign, the Alcázar had a variety of uses, everything from a prison to a palace to a military academy to a fortress (its intended purpose). Fun Fact: Disney’s Cinderella castle is based on the Alcázar of Segovia. I knew this place looked familiar!

Cinderella’s castle: cue the singing mice and Fairy Godmother!
Cinderella’s castle: cue the singing mice and Fairy Godmother!
Found my handsome prince, too! (I have a thing for chivalrous men.) The Armory Room was my favorite room in the Alcázar.
Found my handsome prince, too! (I have a thing for chivalrous men.) The Armory Room was my favorite room in the Alcázar.

Sunday was another new adventure: tried out a new church for Sunday Mass. When I say church, I actually mean a 700-year-old cathedral: Catedral de los Santos Niños. The mass I attended was the children’s mass, so all of the kiddos sit in the front with their teachers and the mass is geared toward them, which was PERFECT for me because I understood all of it, despite the language barrier! I’ll definitely be going back to this particular mass, watching the little niños do the sign of peace is the most precious thing I have ever seen.

As I continue adjusting to Spanish life, one thing missing from my daily routine is the news. I am a news addict; I live for the Today Show with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. The Spanish news keeps me up to date on politics, unemployment, and strikes in España, but I am definitely out of the loop when it comes to current events in the United States. I completely forgot about the Super Bowl until I saw all of the Facebook statuses and tweets about Beyoncé’s lights-out show. Felt a little un-American after that.

Alcázar de Amanda? That has a nice ring to it. OWN IT. (Photo Credit: Valerie Hagerstrom)
Alcázar de Amanda? That has a nice ring to it. OWN IT. (Photo Credit: Valerie Hagerstrom)

Thought of the day: I am a history buff. I love American history. My favorite holiday is Presidents Day; the John Adams documentary is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen; and sometimes when I’m bored, I recite the U.S. Presidents in order, just because I can. I’m obsessed. Recently, I have been trying to determine why I am so in awe of European history. I have always loved history; so why do is my mind completely boggled by Europe? I am almost positive it is because Europe is ancient in comparison to the United States. In the past few weeks, I have stood in buildings that are more than four times as old as the United States. I live in the town where Christopher Columbus had his first meeting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. That’s cray! Don’t get me wrong: James Garfield and Alexander Hamilton will always hold a special place in my heart. But there might be room for Felipe V as well!

Next project: learn all of the Spanish kings in order.