So yesterday I got to go on my first official outing. It was pretty cool because there was a two hour bus ride, and I hadn’t gotten to see much of the country besides the city yet. It was kind of surprising how brown everything is. I mean I know central Spain isn’t really known for rainfall, so I’m not really sure what I expected. It not exactly dessert, there are some trees and stuff, its just not rolling fields. There are tons of small mountains, well I’m not even sure they can be called that, but there are pretty neat rock formations everywhere. Its also cool to be driving then randomly see ancient ruins of some random stone structure. Anyway, we were headed North East towards Barcelona, but we didn’t quite get to the halfway point. About 20 minutes away from the monastery we pulled over at a rest stop for breakfast. I had this…thing that I’m not really sure how to describe. Perhaps it was sort of like Spanish tortilla, but I don’t think I’ve actually had one of those yet. It was in the shape of a tall piece of pie and was mostly eggy but there were like cheezy potato hash browns in the middle. Whatever it was, it was delicious, albeit slightly overpriced.
The last part of our drive took us through this quaint little village that was so pretty. A classmate and I debated about whether or not it would be a good place to live; although it would seem like the perfect place to grow up, it was literally in the middle of nowhere and pretty isolated. Seriously though, it looked like it should have been on a postcard.
So this monastery was originally ran by Muslims, then the Catholics took over, then, I believe in 1865, the Spanish government seized control of it or something; it was abandoned for about five years until some wealthy family bought it and converted it into a tourist attraction. A small portion of it remains in ruins, another part has been turned into a museum, complete with wax figures, and the largest area was converted into a hotel and spa. We toured the museum part and learned about how they used to store their food underground and make wine. Also, in the 17th century, they made chocolate there for the first time in Europe! The architecture was kind of mesh of different styles, so that was cool to see.
As it turned out, the monastery wasn’t even the main the attraction; the best part was the gardens. They did tell us about that during orientation and mentioned how there were some waterfalls, but the description did not do justice to the landscape. There were several huge waterfalls, and the entire area was amazing. We actually did some hiking around (mostly up) the stone paths and we got to see some truly incredible views. After walking around the top, we squeezed through a cave to start going back down. At one point, it opened up into this cavern that was actually behind one of the main waterfalls. It was very cold and extremely wet, but down below you could see into the small pool and it looked so serene. I don’t really know how else to describe it. Although it was kind of dark in there, the water looked really blue, and there were these huge fish swimming everywhere. It was kind of indescribable, but it was one of those places on Earth that makes you appreciate existence, or at least it did me.
We hiked the rest of the way down and it turned out to actually be quite taxing. I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but it was all just a little more intense than I’d thought it would be and I really enjoyed it. When we came out of the caves, we walked along these huge pond things that were actually fish farms. In fact, they were the very first ones in Spain, possibly Europe, but I think just the country. There were a couple of different kinds, but if I remember correctly I think it was mostly trout. With that, we got back on the bus and started the journey home. We stopped at the same rest area for lunch, where I had some pretty average, yet extremely overpriced, pasta. That place was kind of a ripoff in general, but I guess when there’s not much else for miles you can basically charge whatever you want. By the time we got back to Madrid, I had a renewed sense of Wanderlust and was ready to start mapping out my next adventure!
That notion was slightly dampened today as I had to spend the majority of my time doing coursework, but I guess its a give and take. I feel like I’m really starting to make progress here. I got my public transport card on Thursday with no problem, and on Friday I had this appointment at some official office place to get some housing document thing as part of the process for my residency card. I was glad the clerical stuff went without issue, but the whole excursion turned out much more interesting that I thought it would. First of all, the building was pretty cool itself, then across from it was this arch statue thing that was awesome. Its funny, it seems there’s always something interesting around the most random corners here.
After my appointment I thought I would test out my ever-improving navigational skills. So the school had given me a basic map of how to get to the office from the university, but the office was kind of a straight shot from my apartment, so I had gone straight there. I thought maybe I could then figure out how to effectively get to the school from the office, but I guess my talents still have a lot of room to grow. I ended up walking around for close to an hour, but it was rather enjoyable. It turns out there’s a pretty big park right in the area that I had no idea existed. Apparently Madrid is the second greenest city on Earth, but like for actual vegetation, not environmentally friendliness (though everyone does seem to recycle everything). Also, there is a whole neighborhood called University City and there were so many schools in all different departments named for various countries. Oh and someone else asked me for directions! This time I actually knew where to direct him since I had just walked past it! Overall it was a very pleasant walk because it was on the verge of storming so there was a light mist and a cool breeze. It was also slightly thrilling because it looked like it might start pouring at any moment. I finally found a map, but after examining it I realized I was way more lost than I had thought. Fortunately I ended up back at the office building where there also happened to be a metro station, and from there I was able to navigate back to the university. So yeah, improvement on my sense of direction has been slow but sure; I have basically found that trial and error seem to be the best way to learn 🙂
Tomorrow marks another round of classes and whatnot, so I guess I’d better get some sleep.