Through My Eyes: February 2015

February. Winter is still quietly lingering and I’m starting to focus on the now and the near future. My time here in Spain is finite, and I’m really starting to feel it. I’m pushing myself to experience everything I can in my time left here.

Swings in Calatayud

Couldn’t resist the swingset on a pit stop back to Madrid from Zaragoza

This month was just fun. Sometimes time slows down when I’m enjoying myself, and February felt like a busy, yet relaxing month. Here are the highlights of what February looked like through my eyes:

Carnaval

Picture Mardi Gras, but instead of New Orleans, you’re in Spain. Carnaval, which is celebrated the week before Lent, is a huge deal in Spain, especially in the south. Everyone dresses up in costumes similar to Halloween in the US. There’s a parade and everyone’s ready to party and have a great time.

I wish I ventured into the South to celebrate, but prices for accommodation and transportation were astronomical by the time I started looking into it. While Madrid’s Carnaval celebration is more tame than those of Cadíz or Tenerife, the parade and fireworks were still very impressive. The city was full of life despite the cold weather!

This year’s parade theme was Don Quixote, full of intricate and unique costumes telling the legendary story. The horses were my favorite costumes in the parade. They swayed with the wind as if they were galloping!

Madrid Carnaval Parade

Some of it was kind of creepy, like that old circus freak show feel, but I thought it was really cool! As a first timer at Carnaval, Madrid’s festivities were a lot of fun.

Madrid Carnaval Parade2

The fireworks at the end of the show were my favorite part. Palacio de Cibeles was the perfect backdrop for the show. I’ve always loved how beautiful the palace looks lit up a night; it looks even better with fireworks popping off above it!

Plaza de Cibeles FIreworks

Palacio de Cibeles

Monasterio de Piedra

Monasterio de Piedra3

On the way to Zaragoza, we stopped at Monasterio de Piedra, an old monastery with a natural park boasting waterfalls in the most peaceful atmosphere. It was my favorite part of the Zaragoza road trip, and we hadn’t even arrived to our end destination yet!

Cola del Caballo

Monasterio de Piedra is one of my favorite places that I’ve visited in Spain this year. Away from civilization, it’s so tranquil and picturesque. I’d recommend it to anyone traveling between Barcelona and Madrid, it’s the perfect place to take a pit stop and get some fresh air!

Cola del Caballo

Zaragoza

Basílica del Pilar on the Ebro River

Basílica del Pilar on the Ebro River

The capital of Aragon, I think I expected more out of Zaragoza. While the Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar was remarkable to see, I didn’t find there was much else to in the city aside from seeing the popular tourist spots.

Alfería Palace

Alfería Palace

However, the food was fantastic and we spent our nights popping in and out of different tapas restaurants. I drank my first kalimotxo (wine mixed with cola), a drink native to northern Spain.

Basílica del Pilar

Chinchón

Quiet Streets of Chinchón

A tiny pueblo with about 5,000 inhabitants located outside of Madrid, I knew basically nothing about Chinchón prior to my visit. It was a 45 minute ride away and I thought we were going to be dropped off in the dry fields until the bus stopped in civilization. It was Chinchón.

On the streets of Chinchón

Not too many people know about this pueblo, but I hardly think it should be kept off the map. Restaurants keep their wine in huge pots preserved in caves and the food is fantastic! We feasted on hearty soup, chorizo, local cheese, and wine before venturing toward Chinchón’s Plaza Mayor.

Overlooking Chinchón

Plaza Mayor in the middle of the photo is the center of town

Every Spanish town has a Plaza Mayor, its main square, and it’s always interesting to see how they compare. Chinchón’s has to be one of the best I’ve seen because of its authentic feel. The plaza is a large circle right in the middle of town and it’s made of dirt. Fiestas, jousting competitions, bullfights, and even executions used to be held here in the past. Bullfighting is still a popular sport in Chinchón and a main attraction during some festivals. It was a bright, sunny day when I was there and the only people I saw in the town were hanging out in Plaza Mayor, sitting at tables outside restaurants, drinking their vino. The simplicity of life was so beautiful and palpable that I could taste it in my own glass of vino.

Bloopers

Of course it wouldn’t be a trip if I didn’t have some kind of accident. This time at Monasterio de Piedra, more devastating than previous follies; I obliterated my phone screen. Considering that I use my phone for the majority of the photos I take, I can’t believe I had gone so long – about 10 months – without committing this accident.

Iphone "before" picture

A “before” image of my phone. It’s a shame I didn’t get an “after” one too!

I was really bummed out, especially since we still had the rest of the weekend to spend in Zaragoza. Luckily the camera and touch screen were still functioning. I fixed it promptly when I returned to Madrid because shards of glass kept lodging into my fingertips when I used it.

Looking Ahead

I’m headed to Edinburgh in March. It will be my first time in an English-speaking country since I left the US in September! I think it’s going to feel strange at first because I’ve grown accustomed to living in a country in which English isn’t the first language, but then again I’ve heard it’s difficult to understand the Scots anyway. I’m excited either way!

At the end of March, I’ll also be going to Morocco during Semana Santa (Spain’s Easter). I’m in the process of planning out my trip and there’s just too much to see in only 10 days! It might be a lot of jumping around, but I’m determined to experience all of Morocco that I can.

I’ve scoured airline sites to find deals to places I have yet to see that are on my ever-changing bucket list for Europe. I’ve booked a weekend in Budapest for May and am looking to possibly hit Paris, Malta, and Venice soon (fingers crossed!).

February is just about the halfway point for my time in Spain, and it’s a really bittersweet feeling. I did not renew my position to be an English language assistant for a second year. I love my job, my school, and living in Madrid, but there’s so much of the world waiting for me to discover. Trying to figure out where I’m going next is a challenge. I have my heart set on South America, but I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do there. I’d like to teach English or provide another value-added service, but the pay is much less substantial than Europe and I may not be able to support myself in South America for long.

At Monasterio de Piedra

I can definitely see myself returning to Spain again to live. I love the culture, the language and the life here. These days I look at my surroundings with feelings of longing, as if I may never see this again. Dramatic, I know; I still have 4 or 5 more months here, but I can’t help but feel sad that I know I won’t be staying here for longer than that. Maybe when I finally do decide to settle down, Spain will be my long-term home. Vamos a ver(we’ll see).

2 Comments

  1. March 6, 2015 / 12:54 pm

    Your writing is tempting me! Now I shall definitely plan a trip to Spain!

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