So, who wants to go down the creepy tunnel inside the tomb first?

It’s hard to believe that I have been here for one month already. Time is flying by!

Classes are continuing to pick up here; midterm exams are just around the corner. Academic challenge of the week: handing in my first Spanish book report this past Monday. I read a book in Spanish cover to cover! Be impressed, it is way harder than it sounds. Other things that are difficult: proper Spanish pronunciation. V is pronounced like B, D is pronounced like TH, T is pronounced like D, C is pronounced like TH when it precedes E or I, and LL is pronounced like J. Memorizing the phonetics chart is pretty straightforward. It’s the whole remembering-to-speak-like-this-in-daily-life that is the problem. Serious struggs on the pronunciation front this week.

After a week filled with Francisco Pizarro, reviewing pretérito and imperfecto, and Miguel de Cervantes, it was time for another Field Trip Friday. With our packed lunches in hand, we boarded the bus and we were off to El Escorial, a city about an hour away from Alcalá. Once again, our trip had two specific destinations, Valle de los Caídos and El Palacio del Escorial.

We started the day at Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).  Built into the side of a mountain, this monument took eighteen years to build, with construction beginning in 1940. The monument is a memorial and basilica, easily seen from miles away because of the enormous cross topping the monument. (108 meters tall!) Created by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Valle de los Caídos is said to have been built as a burial site, to honor those who were killed in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. The remains of over 40,000 people are concealed and buried under the floorboards of the basilica. It is also the burial site of José Antonio Primo de Rivera (founder of the Falange Movement in Spain) and Francisco Franco himself. Both men are buried around the altar within the basilica, marked by simple tombstones in the floor.

 

View from the front of the monument
View from the front of the monument

But that’s not the whole story of this national monument. Valle de los Caídos is surrounded with oodles of controversy. Many of the 40,000 buried at the basilica died building this monument. More than half of their identities are unknown to this day. The controversy becomes evident with the fact that many of these people were prisoners from the political party opposing Franco’s regime. The fact that Franco used this commemoration to memorialize his own side of the Spanish Civil War more than the other adds to the controversy of the monument. The Spanish government declared that Valle de los Caídos is a monument to all those who died in the Spanish Civil War, stated in a document issued after Franco’s death. Despite this national pronouncement of equal commemoration, many Spaniards do not support the monument because of the connotations associated with it. Only word to describe this experience? Haunting. Imagine walking through a church knowing exactly what lies beneath you. The whole experience was very moving; it was a lot to take in at once. Needless to say, it was an emotional morning.

Valle de los Caídos.
Valle de los Caídos.

El Palacio del Escorial was the autumn palace of the Royal Family. Construction of the palace took 21 years and it is easy to see why. Not only is El Escorial is a palace, it is also a basilica, a library, a monastery, and a pantheon. The Panteón is probably the most well-known aspect of El Escorial. With nine different rooms in the Pantheon, nearly all of the Spanish royalty is buried at El Escorial. The most elaborate room is the Pantheon of the Kings, with twenty-six sepulchers that contain the remains of every king and queen of Spain since the Catholic Kings in 1492 (with the exception of Felipe V who is buried in Segovia, and Fernando VI, who is buried in Madrid). The room is a circle with the kings on the left side and his spouse in the corresponding sepulcher on the right side. In cases of multiple wives, the queen buried in the Pantheon of the Kings is the one who gave birth to the next king. The only problem with the Pantheon of the Kings? As soon as the father and mother of the current king, Juan Carlos I, are interred at the Pantheon, all of the sepulchers will be filled. In other words, Juan Carlos I is sort of out of luck when it comes to his burial place… TBD.

 

Checking out the palace. Ya dig? (Photo Credit: Sean Delaney)
Checking out the palace. Ya dig? (Photo Credit: Sean Delaney)
I kid you not, the outside feels like something right out of Harry Potter
I kid you not, the outside feels like something right out of Harry Potter

Despite our exhausting Friday, we were up and at it again on Saturday, headed back to Madrid to check out the Museo del Prado. In comparison to the Reina Sofía from a few weeks ago, the Prado is a little more antique. The Reina Sofía is filled with 20th century art, while the Prado is stocked with everything from the 12th century to the 19th century. After an hour and a half of exploring, we hadn’t even made it through half of the first floor. That’s how amazing and enormous the Prado is. We made an executive decision to finish the first floor and schedule a return trip for the second floor. My personal favorite: Joaquín Sorolla. Only a few of his works are displayed at the Prado, but they are fantastic. Many of his other works are located at Museo Sorolla, also located in Madrid. I am definitely planning a visit there sometime in the next two and half months. Other highlight of the first floor: the Goya collection. If you are not familiar with his works, do yourself a favor and Google it. Or just get yourself to the Prado to see them in real life.

An afternoon at the Prado! (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)
An afternoon at the Prado! (Photo Credit: Brittni Matthews)

After an afternoon snack, a glass of wine, and a dish of ice cream, we returned to Alcalá. But our day wasn’t over yet. We still had a big night ahead of us: CARNAVAL. Sort of like Mardi Gras, Carnaval is a huge celebration before the beginning of Lent, starting on Friday night and ending on Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s basically “Fat Tuesday” except it lasts five days long. Carnaval is more popular and more extravagant in southern Spain (where all the warm weather is!), but it was still a pretty big deal in Alcalá. Everybody dresses up to go out, almost like Halloween in Madison! My host mom told me that the difference between Halloween in Spain and Carnaval is the types of costumes. Halloween costumes are always scary and Carnaval costumes are all about fun. The costumes were so creative and people get really into it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have room in my suitcase to bring my extensive collection of dance costumes with me, so we were only spectators for this event. I knew I should have packed my silver spandex. What was I thinking?!

Immersion moment of the week: A few days ago, my life went into all out crisis mode because my jar of peanut butter was empty. It was CATASTROPHIC. I made my way over to this little store called “Taste of America” where they sell things like Froot Loops, Heinz Ketchup, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese—and of course, Jif Creamy Peanut Butter. You know, the essentials. I started chatting with the friendly man behind the counter when I was paying for it, in Spanish of course. While I was waiting for my change, I set my wallet down on the counter in front of me and he said, “Oh, are you American?” in English. He only recognized my American-ness because I had a Wisconsin drivers license sticking out of my wallet.

Starting to blend in, say what?!

 

 

 

 

 

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