“You’ll never wear your rainboots” and other advice for studying in Oviedo

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It’s been almost a full week since I have returned from Oviedo, and I can surely say: jet lag has gotten the best of me. The time difference from Spain to the east coast of America is six hours. Believe it or not, these six hours really affected me. For instance, during my time there, I could barely call home because my afternoon was usually my mom’s early morning. I would like to say however that it did make my experience better. In not being able to call home as often, I was forced to speak more Spanish and fully concentrate on enjoying my time in Oviedo.

For my final post, I’d like give all the people studying in Spain in future semesters my top five pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t Over-Pack – I personally over packed and I regretted it in the long run. I packed a big suitcase (one which weighed over 50lbs) and two smaller carry-ons. This was a bad idea for two reasons. Firstly, I only wore some of those outfits once during the entire month. Secondly, there was a washing machine! I could wash clothes as often as I wanted, and considering I bought new clothes in Oviedo, there was no reason to pack so many from home.
  2. You’ll never wear your rain boots – This pretty much speaks for itself. I brought rainboots, just to realize it doesn’t rain in Oviedo the way it rains out here, at least in the summer. The majority of the time, the rain was mainly a drizzle of varying degrees. However, it was never enough rain to pull out the rain boots. And on that note, I maybe only pulled out my umbrella once. A rain jacket usually sufficed.
  3. Use the ATMs upon arrivals – The whole money topic was really confusing to me, mainly because I had traveled before and bringing American money to later be converted was what I usually did. However, in Spain, the Euro is worth more than the dollar, so that changes things. Also, finding places that converted money was so difficult to do outside of the city, that it was nearly impossible. Most students just told their banks they were traveling, and they were able to take money out at ATMs. Just remember to take money out in large amounts because there is a international withdrawal fee.
  4. Speak Spanish with your American friends – I personally wish I had done this more often, but as you may know: it is easier said than done. Sometimes, if I was in the mood, I could speak Spanish to my friends and use it as practice. It is easier to speak and mess up your Spanish with your friends because although they’ll laugh at you, they know what you’re TRYING to say. Simple as that. It definitely helps with your understanding of the language throughout the entire experience if you can make mistakes in a small setting without fear of judgement.
  5. Travel and explore! – A plane ticket from Oviedo to London is cheaper than a plane ticket from Washington, DC to London. I was lucky enough to have extra money to spend on a trip to London during one of the weekends with a few friends. With these weekends, many other students took trips to Barcelona or other countries. Additionally, if you don’t have extra money for plane tickets, the bus from Oviedo to other parts of Spain is also fairly cheap. One weekend, my friends and I traveled to this beautiful beach in Llanes, Spain on a bus that was about $20 round trip. Either way, make sure to spend your extra time exploring all that Oviedo, Spain, and Europe has to offer!
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views of the Big Ben from the London Eye in London, UK

With this being said, study abroad in Spain is easily one of the most life-changing experiences I have ever had, and I know it’ll be the same for you!

 

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Signing Off, Oviedo

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Every weekend and sometimes during the week, the University of Oviedo sponsors a trip for all the international students to go on. For our final weekend there, we went to Astorga and Leon. Both of these towns are a few hours away from Oviedo so we all had to wake up early to get on the bus. In Astorga, I visited the Chocolate Museum simply because this town was known for its rich chocolate exports. The trip was lots of fun and it was a great way to see more of what Spain had to offer.

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a photo of some of the machinery used to make chocolate

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Leon is filled with tons of art, so why not take a picture next to one of their statues!

Our final Thursday night dinner was a great way to end off the day considering we had all just finished taking our Spanish finals. Before arriving in Spain, it was mandatory to take placement tests. These tests determined our level in Spanish, which further allowed us to challenge ourselves during our summer intensive course. I’m very pleased with the way things turned out because I was able to both review the grammar I already learned and add on to it. My final exam was stressful, as all other finals usually are, but it wasn’t anything I had not learned. It was a fair playing field out here at the University of Oviedo.

Friday morning, our last official day at the University, we had a graduation ceremony. I received my final grade in my Spanish class and a certificate of completion. It was a wonderful experience.

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My graduation ceremony!

As my time in Oviedo comes to a close, it is only right that I share with you one of my favorite memories from my time here. As a starter, my funniest memory was when my friends and I decided to hike up Mount Naranco to see the Jesus Christ (or at least a statue of him). On the way up the mountain, we came face to face with a goat. This goat was large and had a look in his eyes as if we had just entered his territory. For the first few minutes, he simply followed us and then as he got progressively closer, we realized we were being backed into a corner. We were at the edge of the mountain and the goat was less than a foot away. Luckily enough, one of us was an expert in goat behavior, and I had a croissant. My friend, the expert, told us that from living around them, they apparently get aggressive if you move to quickly or run. While I stood there scared out of my mind, we decided to offer my croissant in exchange for our freedom. After throwing a few pieces at it, we threw one far away in the opposite direction and walked away as fast but calm as we could. It was such an amusing experience. Times like that are what made my entire month in Oviedo an unforgettable experience.

I am so grateful for what Temple Study Abroad and the Gilman Scholarship Program were able to do for me because without them, I could not have had such a wonderful opportunity.

There’s Always More To See

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As mentioned previously, we have classes in the mornings until early afternoon, Monday through Friday. Some teachers give homework while others primarily do in-class assignments. This leaves an ample amount of free time to explore the great region of Asturias and all that it has to offer.

Outside of class, most students usually spend time traveling to the nearby beaches and cities. Last week, my trip to Gijon and La Playa de Poniente was met with nothing but sunny skies and a mini adventure.

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views from Gijon

After sitting on the beach for about an hour, my friends and I decided to walk through the streets. At the top of the hill, near the seaside, we stumbled upon one of the historical landmarks in Gijon – Batería baja de Santa Catalina. This area was mainly used as the primary defense zone in warfare. Asturias is so rich in history that we discovered so much about the town without even knowing.

 

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fort remains in Santa Catalina, Gijon

Another exciting part of Asturias, and Spain in general, are the scenic hiking routes available at for different levels. A few days after our visit to Gijon, a few friends and I decided to hike up Mount Naranco to see Monumento al Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Monument of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). The route winded through the hills which at times became very vertical, but seeing the monument up close was definitely worth it.

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the view of Oviedo at the beginning of the hike

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me on the steps of the monument

Unknowingly, the next day in my mosaics class, we took a trip back up Mount Naranco to visit two Romanesque churches: San Miguel de Lillo and Santa Maria del Naranco. We learned the history of both of these historical landmarks. One topic I found interesting was that these churches were not included in wars and rather simply served as a place for the people to worship. In San Miguel de Lillo, they also used the church as a place to collect water which was cool to see. Considering our final mosaics project has to encompass all the field trips we take during the semester, I made sure to get some nice pictures. The sites from above Mount Naranco and the various historical landmarks truly made the mini excursion exciting.

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La Iglesia de San Miguel de Lillo

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a group picture (featuring my classmates and our wonderful professor on the far left, Genevieve)

Every Thursday night, Jaime (our program coordinator), sets up a group dinner at a local restaurant where we get to enjoy typical Asturian foods with each other. This gives us a chance to come together as Temple students and update one another on the complexities of our home-stay arrangements.

So this last Thursday night, we went to the Tennis Club of Oviedo for dinner where we each got to order individually. Here in Spain, they usually serve lunches and dinners in sets of three or even four. There is a first plate which is typically a salad, pasta, or soup, followed by a second plate which is the main entree of meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables. Then, of course, the last plate tends to be dessert such as arroz con leche, flan, or ice cream. I particularly love our dinners because the food is amazing and it gives me an excuse to dress up!

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me and two of my close friends

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our dinner table

Oviedo, Here I Come

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After a much needed orientation in Madrid, it was time to relocate to Oviedo!

Early Sunday morning, we had breakfast in the hotel and loaded our suitcases into the bus. It was a bittersweet departure because I’d be leaving such a beautiful city, but I was excited to finally meet my homestay family and start classes in Oviedo. The drive from Madrid to Oviedo was about 5 hours, most of which I spent sleeping! The city we were headed to was far past the mountains in Spain, so there were lots of beautiful sites on the way.

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one of the most beautiful sites of Spain

Upon arriving in Oviedo, I looked out the window to see all the host families patiently waiting in the park beside the campus. I had barely gotten off the bus when my host mom tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the warmest hug. Although my Spanish-speaking skills were shaky, I tried my best to form a few greeting phases and make a great first impression. For the first time since arriving in Spain, I would be separated from my friends and left alone to live in a new environment. Initially, it was hard speaking solely Spanish to my host mom because it took me a while to form sentences and she didn’t understand English at all. However, from her experience in hosting previous students, she was very patient.

The following day, we had to meet around 11am for orientation at the University of Oviedo. There were a lot of other students from other parts of the United States there, and a few from other countries too. We heard advice and greetings from the directors and faculty of the university before heading to the Milan campus, where we would have our classes for the next month. The basic schedule consisted of a three hour Spanish class taught by a professor from the University of Oviedo followed by an afternoon class held by a Temple professor. Based on my requirements for graduation, I decided to take Mosaics II with Temple. Other students had the choice of taking Hispanic Readings or Cultures of Spain. The classes only have about 8-10 students in it, which I love because we can all participate in such a small setting.

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a few of my classmates in Mosaics

In my mosaics class, outside of the required texts and assignments, we take trips to local museums. The purpose of going is to gather information for our final project, and last Friday, we took our first trip to the Archaeological Museum of Oviedo. This museum was so interesting due to the artifacts found in the region dating back to pre-historic times. I took lots of pictures of the various exhibitions in hopes that one of them will relate to the topic I will choose for my final project.

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photo taken in the Archaeological Museum of Oviedo

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another photo taken in the Archaeological Museum of Oviedo

 

Today, I am heading down to Gijon to hang out on the beach with my friends and shop a little. Gijon is a small city located on the northern shores of Spain and it has two beaches, La Playa de Poniente and Playa de San Lorenzo. The stores in Spain tend to open in the late afternoons; rather than in America, where they’re open in the morning. Nonetheless, I am excited for whatever is in store for our journey.

 

Let’s Get It Started

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After weeks of waiting, I was finally granted a Gilman scholarship, in addition to a Temple Education Abroad scholarship.  Both of these combined gave me more than enough money to cover my summer tuition, plane tickets, and program fees! For the Gilman Scholarship, I had to submit a few more documents which primarily showed verification into my applied program. Temple’s Education Abroad office was very helpful in providing me with all these documents so the process would go smoother.

The next thing on my list was to actually buy my plane ticket, now. Because of the six hour time difference between the east coast and Spain, I bought a ticket with a Monday afternoon departure. This ensured that I would arrive on time to meet with the group on Tuesday morning. Luckily, when I got to the airport in Madrid, I spotted Genevieve, one of the teachers, and Brendan, one of the students. We took a taxi cab headed for our hotel in Chamartin, which is in the northern part of Madrid. Although it is on the outskirts of the city, it was home to the second major train station in Madrid. It was easy to navigate between Chamartin and other parts of the city.

During my first official day in Spain, we went to the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum accompanied by our very knowledgeable tour guide, Jerry. The Royal Palace is the home of the Spanish monarchy which includes most of the government officials. However, we learned that although previous Kings and Queens of Spain used to live there, the current ones, do not. It was so amazing seeing the various rooms in the palace. Even though we were not necessarily allowed to take pictures of everything, I was able to sneak a few! 

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inside entrance of the Royal Palace of Madrid

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just a photo of me outside of the Royal Palace

 

Throughout the rest of the first few days of orientation in Madrid, Jerry took us to a lot of different museums and cathedrals where we were able to see where previous Kings and Queens went to mass. The cathedrals we visited in Avila, Segovia, and Toledo were also used as burial grounds for the royal families, which was very interesting to learn about.

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a few of my friends and I enjoying the beautiful scenery in Avila

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Temple students take a group photo outside the walls of Avila

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The throne room inside the Castle in Toledo

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Temple students pose for a group photo outside the Castle in Toledo, Spain

In our free time, we explored the city and even got the opportunity to visit a modern art museum, Reina Sofia which featured Guernica, a famous Picasso painting.

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one of my favorite paintings in the Reina Sofia, modern museum of art

Luckily enough, on our last day in Madrid, we were able to attend the World Pride Parade after our visit to Toledo. There were so many people, floats, music, and food everywhere. It was such a great experience in being able to see everybody of all ages come together in the city.

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a few friends and I enjoying the World Pride Parade

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taken at one of the main stages of the parade in Puerta del Sol

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the city was completely decorated with rainbows!

Getting ahead of the program

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I’ve already spent nearly three months preparing to study abroad this upcoming summer, and there’s still so much to do!

November of 2016, I made the decision to declare a Spanish minor so that I could learn more about the language and culture. I knew that this choice would benefit my future goals in numerous ways, even though, academically, it would be a challenge. As a biochemistry major, my curriculum is strict. I have to take a certain number of classes within the College of Science and Technology each semester in order to graduate within four years. So as I entered my junior year, my course schedule from now until graduation has already been planned out. Nonetheless, I still chose to declare my minor, and I decided that if I had to take summer classes, why not just take them abroad?

Fast forwarding to early January of 2017, I was completing the finishing touches on my application to Temple in Oviedo. I made sure to get my essays reviewed by my peers, and to my excitement, by the end of the month, I had received acceptance to the program. Now I could really begin the process of preparing to study abroad. However, one of the primary obstacles I needed to overcome so that I could reach my goal was financial.

In order to pay for this education abroad program, I need assistance from scholarship programs. So far, I have applied to three programs through Temple University, the Gilman Scholarship Program, and Fund for Education Abroad. Each of these scholarships required me to write essays, which is not one of my strengths. But with the help of tutors in the writing center, I have written and submitted them. Hopefully, I am awarded at least one so that I can actually participate in this program. Fingers crossed!

Whilst I wait to hear back from them, I have prepared myself for Spain in other ways. I am setting up an appointment with my primary care physician within the next month so that I can make sure I am healthy enough to travel. I have never had a surgery or been in a medical emergency before, so I doubt that is a concern at all. I am also getting my passport soon. The only problem there is that is costs about $140, and to college students, like myself, that is a lot!

With less than three and a half months to my departure, the countdown has begun. Everything, including these scholarships and pre-departure materials, need to fall into place. I am very optimistic in this journey, so wish me luck!

Till next time,

Dele

 

 

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(a photo of Spain from outside our hotel in Chamartin, a town in northern Madrid)

One Last Look Around

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Temple Spain’s Picos de Europa trip

Two weeks before leaving the program, Temple Univesity students take one final excursion to the Picos de Europa mountains for the weekend. On the trip, we visited villages, ate like kings and queens, and saw some breathtaking views.

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The first stop on the excursion was the municipality of Cabrales, an area famous for its cheese with the same name.

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We took a walking tour of the town and local trails which included caves where the Cabrales cheese is aged.

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It wouldn’t be Asturias without rolling green pastures, snow covered mountains or some sort of livestock.

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En route to the caves.

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Temple students and other tour groups take a look at the wheels of Cabrales cheese, a very rich variety of blue cheese, being cured in a real, natural cave. The milk form the cheese must come from specific herds of cows only found in Asturias.

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On our way up the mountain, we stopped at a monastery that has a crucifix made with pieces from the true cross.

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A view from one of the peaks.

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Temple students on top of the world.

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Student Julia celebrating the monumental climb (cable car ride).

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Student Jacob in mid-back-flip at the top of the mountain.

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We had perfect weather throughout the excursion.

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Near Llastres, another view of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Exemplifying Asturias’ diverse range of terrain, to the left side is the ocean.

Neighbor to the North

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Gijón is a coastal city just a twenty minute bus ride away from Oviedo. Known for its sidra and its beaches, Gijón is a popular destination in Asturias for weekend trips. Throughout the semester, Temple students took day trips to the neighboring city.

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When there’s a break in the rainy weather, Asturians rush to the beach to soak up some sun.

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It addition to its shores, the city is filled with scenic parks and recreational areas.

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Students from Temple University and other exchange students for La Casa de Las Lenguas (the language program for foreigners that Temple University is partnered with), pose for a group photo with the Temple flag.

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Student Jon shows off his cherry and white pride on the northern Spanish coast.

Orientation and the Golden Fleece (Part one)

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On arriving in Madrid and understanding Spain’s visual language

(Our orientation excursions to Segovia, Ávila and Toledo will be featured in part two)

 

From the moment I arrived at the Madrid airport, I was welcomed into Spain by a sensory overload.

Spain provides sensory experiences for learners of all varieties. For the auditory learners, the streets are filled with dialogue. In Madrid, you can visit any café or bar in a residential neighborhood, and find yourself immersed in the chatter of familiar and not so familiar Castilian phonetics. This total language immersion is equally inspiring as it is overwhelming, and serves as a constant reminder of where I am and why I am here. For the kinesthetic learners, Spain offers the opportunity to touch and interact with history. From major metropolitan areas to medieval hill towns, travelers are invited to explore every landmark, museum, cobble stone alley, or plaza. The opportunity to visit works of art or historical sites, that I had only ever read about in textbooks, provides unforgettable impressions and lessons. And finally, for the visual learners like myself, orientation in Madrid provided an introduction to Spain’s visual language.

Our guide, Gerardo or “Jerry”, took us through museums, palaces, and historic towns. Along the way, he engaged all of us in the tangible history embedded in each stop. We visited the Museo del Prado where Jerry highlighted the works of Spanish master painters. Together, we analyzed works of art and looked for symbolism that linked the piece to its historical context. At the Royal Palace of Madrid, Jerry introduced the symbolism of the golden fleece in heraldry of the Spanish monarchy. While being overwhelmed with ornate decorations and the immense collection of precious objects, our orientation group looked for the symbol of the golden fleece in every room. Each time we found it, we were able to piece together an understanding of the golden fleece in relation to the history of the palace and Spain.

The pure excitement and sensory overload that came with our orientation in Madrid may make my description a little underwhelming. In fact, the iconography of the golden fleece probably seems like a minor detail to most; however, I like to think of it in relationship to my upcoming five months in Spain. Learning about the symbolism of Spain’s visual language was an effort to build a greater understanding or view the bigger picture. Through all sensory experiences, I hope to piece together a comprehensive knowledge of Spanish culture, Spanish history, and most importantly, Spanish language.

 

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Students Lilli, Natasha and Haley

 

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Puerta del Sol, a major plaza in Madrid.

 

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Students Lilli, Natasha and Haley

 

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Plaza de Armeria, courtyard of the Royal Palace, Madrid.

 

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Royal Palace of Madrid, the largest palace in Europe based off of square footage, has over 3,400 rooms. Photos were not permitted past the grand staircase.

 

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Jaime Duran (far left), program director, standing with orientation students at the grand stair case in the main entrance of the Royal Palace.

 

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Jerry, our orientation guide, explaining the symbols of the heraldry.

 

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Temple students Evelyn, Haley, Lilli, Elaina and Olivia outside of the Royal Palace.

 

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View of the Gran Via at night.

 

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Calle Alcalá decorated for the holiday season.

 

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Cybele Palace, the Town Hall of Madrid.

 

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Orientation group at El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside of Madrid. The Escorial once functioned as a monastery and a royal palace. The structure is the greatest example of Spanish renaissance architecture.

 

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The architectural layout imitates a gridiron in reference to the martyrdom of San Lorenzo, its patron saint.

 

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Photos were not permitted inside of the Escorial; however, I managed to get one shot of renaissance fresco paintings at the main staircase.

 

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Exterior shot of El Escorial.

Even the Cows Have Names

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Saturdays in Oviedo

Like most of Spain, Oviedo is known for its extensive weekend markets. The series of markets throughout the city center reflect the Spanish cultural values of leisure, family and food. Throughout Spain, socializing revolves around food. Whether you stop with a co-worker for a pincho (pintxo or pinchu in Asturian), go out for drinks and share tapas, split cachopo (an enormous deep fried stuffed steak dish) with friends in Asturias, or cook dinner with your family, the value of people and food go hand in hand. In Oviedo, Asturians take pride in the freshness of their ingredients. As our program director Jaime Duran told us during orientation, “In Asturias, even the cows have names.”

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On the weekends, most Asturians make a trip to the El Fontan Market with their families.

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Outside of the food markets, there are flower and flea markets that stretch throughout the old city.

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In a small city like Oviedo, it’s common to catch up with family and friends at the market.

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On some weekends, the markets are accompanied by a parade of traditional Asturian performers.

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Oviedo is known for having sculptures everywhere. The two sculptures above represent a narrative about the adjacent fish market.