Spain

Madrileños para una semana

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Well I think it’s safe to say that it’s been longer than “a little while” since my last post, but I’ve finally found something I’m excited to write about… TRAVEL (surprise, surprise)! Ever since I returned from Spain in 2013, I’ve struggled to find a good niche to write about. I’ve stated from the beginning that this blog is more of a creative outlet for me, but I’ve started several posts about my life during dental school, and they’ve all fizzled out because I lost interest. While I enjoy learning about and practicing dentistry, I haven’t found a topic that I’m particularly interested in writing about (the good thing is that I still have time because there are plenty more days of dentistry ahead). However, I recently took a trip to Spain (surprise, surprise again!) and as I’ve been reflecting, I’ve thought of a few things I’d like to share. Now those of you who actually know me know that I’ve had a more recent international trip than the one I’m writing about today. Trust me, I will write about my 2017 summer experience, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my trip to Spain earlier this year. I’ve had several ideas for this post floating around in my head ever since I returned, so I would be disappointed if I didn’t at least share the highlights from this experience. I love the life I live in the midwestern United States, but I love the way in which travel expands my viewpoints, pushes me out of my comfort zone, and strengthens my faith in God and humanity. So here’s the first post in what I hope will be a great future of creative juices flowing: Madrileños para una semana.

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First of all, a madrileño is a native or local of Madrid, and though my family and I aren’t actual madrileños, I think it is a fun, catchy play on words. During the first week in March, I had the opportunity to travel with mis padres to Spain. If you’ve read my blog before, you know how much I love the Spanish culture, so naturally I’m always looking for a chance to go back. I’ve also had the intention to take my parents with me some day in order to show them a place that means so much to me. We initially planned to take this trip after I graduated from dental school, but a discounted flight offer presented itself last summer and it was just too good to turn down. I wrestled with buying tickets for a while, and exhibited a fair amount of buyer’s remorse after we bought them since we kind of bought them on a whim. However, then I realized that nothing in the future is certain, and we may not find discounted tickets like this in the future. And with that, we were off!

While in Spain, my parents and I made Madrid our home base (hence the madrileños reference). We took two day trips to Segovia and Toledo, but spent the rest of the time wandering the streets of Madrid. To say that Madrid is the city that never sleeps is… a very true statement! Madrid is a beautiful, vibrant city with people everywhere and lots of adventure to be had! I could detail each day of our trip, but I think I might doze off during the process of writing (and you will most certainly doze off while reading). Instead, I want to share my big picture takeaways from the trip.

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Madrid

My experience at El Rastro

Before this year, I had only ever heard of El Rastro. El Rastro is an outdoor market that is held in Madrid every Sunday, and it just so happened that we arrived in Madrid on a Sunday! Even more coincidental? El Rastro was in the same neighborhood as our hotel! So we decided to drop off our luggage and take our jet-lagged bodies down to El Rastro. It was a chilly March afternoon, but that didn’t stop people from going to El Rastro. There were many vendors set up selling everything from sunglasses, to books, to antiques, and there were even more people perusing what El Rastro had to offer. So if you’re ever in Madrid on a Sunday and want to live like a Madrileño, be sure to stop by El Rastro.

Menu del día

The menu del día may be one of my favorite things in Spain. Basically, most restaurants have a daily special called the menu del día. The menu del día typically includes two courses (a dessert often makes it three), along with your choice of bottled water, soda, beer, wine, or coffee. The best part is that you know the cost for your entire meal upfront and that all of this usually costs less than 15 Euros. What a deal! Now of course you can go to a really, really nice restaurant and pay more, but the general idea is the same. The menu del día definitely makes dining in Spain a fun experience!

Retiro Park

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I first heard of Retiro Park when I was in Spain in 2013. I spent a few weekends in Madrid, but just never took the time to go check out Retiro park. I heard that the park is not only beautiful, but that there’s a crystal palace. Who doesn’t love palaces? And one made of crystal?! This I must see. But first, a little history. The name retiro translates to “retreat” – fitting for a park. This park once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy, but is now a public park very close to the Madrid city center. My parents and I decided to take a break from all of our indoor sightseeing to go check out the park one afternoon. We walked along it’s beautifully manicured lawns, enjoyed the large public lake filled with pedal boats, and found what we (well, really I) wanted to see… the crystal palace!

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The Palacio de Cristal is on of the most popular features of the park. The palace was built in 1887 to be used for international exhibitions. The palace is now used as an art gallery. When my parents and I were there, the palace was part of an exhibition sound piece for the Reina Sofia Art Museum. Sounds are first played over a speaker, the sounds then reflect off of the palace walls to create a truly unique work of art. If you are interested in learning more about this work of art, check out this web page for The ship is going under, the ice is breaking through by Lothar Baumgarten.

Home away from home

So there you have it! A few of my takeaway moments from this trip to Spain! Leaving was especially difficult for me this time because I was only in the country for one week and I know that there’s so much more we could have seen. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time sharing this experience with my parents. I learn more each time I visit this incredible country, and yet I always leave wanting to go back and learn even more. There are so many incredible places I want to visit in this big, wide world, and yet I know that when given the opportunity, Spain will always be at the top of my list.

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Segovia

“The ideal is to feel at home anywhere, everywhere”

Geoff Dye

Photos by Megan Coffroth

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buen_Retiro_Park

 

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2014 Year in Review

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Since my blog has been on WordPress for over a year, I thought it would be fun to share my most viewed posts as a way to wrap up 2014. Actually, all of my top blog posts are from when I was living in Spain in 2013. WordPress even said, “Consider writing about those topics again” since they were popular posts. Oh, if only I could write about Spain right now! Oh well, someday. Anyway, I always love reading about old adventures, and I hope you do to! So here you have it, my top blog posts of ALL TIME (the past year and a half!):

IMG_13871. Things We Can Still Learn from Dr. Seuss – This one is my most popular post by far, and actually has nothing to do with travel.

2. My Spain Top 5 – I wrote this before I went to Spain and detailed my top 5 must-see attractions! I can also now say that I’ve seen everything on my top 5 list. Time for a new one!

3. Packing for 3 months?! Help! – As I prepared to go to Spain, I was trying to figure out the most efficient way to pack. I was surprised because there really weren’t many suggestions out there. Luckily, I found a fellow blogger’s site to help me out.

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4. Castilla-La Mancha Highlights – I wrote this post once I figured out where I would be living. It is similar in style to My Spain Top 5 post, but more specific to the Castilla-La Mancha region. The only things I didn’t see there were Belmonte and the famous windmills. Another trip then! 

5. My Visit to Alarcón – This post really doesn’t have much text, and I think it was initially popular because it was one of my first posts from Spain. However, it has some staying power and remains my fifth most-viewed post. Maybe it’s because of the awesome pictures of this medieval town. Be sure to check it out!


“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber

Photos by Megan Coffroth

Cuenca

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My time in Spain as a CIEE Language and Culture Teaching Assistant was spent in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, particularly the province of Cuenca. I lived in a small town about one hour from the capital of the province, which is, coincidentally, also named Cuenca. Many of my students often talked about taking weekend trips to Cuenca for shopping, family visits, etc., so I knew it was somewhere I would enjoy. One Sunday during October, my host family took me to visit this charming city. I was so lucky to be able to go on a beautiful fall day. The colors of the leaves on the trees were really quite stunning.

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We began our morning on the outskirts of the historic part of the city. In case your unfamiliar with the setup of cities in Spain, most of them have a central historic area with the newer, urbanized area surrounding it. I know, I know, it makes perfect sense for a city to be organized this way. However, I would consider the U.S. equivalent (downtown) to be very different from a historic city center. In other words if you love history, be sure to go to the city centers.

We parked the car along the bottom of a gorge. The oldest part of the city is surrounded by several gorges formed by the Júcar and Huécar rivers. After a healthy 15 minute walk, we ascended into the historic center. It was a very calm Sunday morning, and not many people were out in the streets, but we could hear some noise coming from the Plaza Mayor. FYI, someone, somewhere was playing an acoustic guitar while we were walking (I love Spain).

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Our first stop in the city center was the cathedral. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace and Saint Julian is in the center of the city, thus making it difficult to miss. Constructed from 1182 to 1270, the cathedral is the first Gothic style Cathedral in Spain. Certain features reminded me of Notre Dame in Paris. We decided to take a tour inside the cathedral. The mid-morning positioning of the sun allowed for some remarkable stained glass reflections. We also heard the haunting melodies of the monks singing somewhere in the cathedral. It was beautiful.

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Our next stop was the Museum of Abstract Arts. The museum is housed in the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses). These buildings are what many people think of when they think of Cuenca. The houses were built in the 15th century right on the edge of the gorge. The houses now contain the museum, allowing tourists to not only enjoy the arts, but also the picturesque view across the gorge.

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Brigitte Bardot, 1959 – By Antonio Saura – My favorite painting in the museum!

After enjoying the Casas Colgadas from the inside, we made our way to the Puente de San Pablo (Bridge of Saint Paul). This bridge was constructed from 1533 to 1589 over the gorge. The purpose of the bridge was to connect the city of Cuenca with the St. Paul Convent. The bridge allows a marvelous view of the Casas Colgadas.

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After spending some time on the Puente de San Pablo, we headed back to the car. I was able to snap some pretty cool pictures along the way. There are lots of other things to do in Cuenca – these are just some of the highlights I want to share. So, if you ever find yourself in Castilla-La Mancha, make sure you visit Cuenca!

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Have you ever been to Cuenca? If not, would you like to go? Which locations top your list? Also, if you’re interested in more of what Castilla-La Mancha has to offer, check out my post Castilla-La Mancha highlights.

“I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.” – David Rockefeller

Photos by Megan Coffroth

Shifting focus

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I used to have an “About Me” page on my blog, but in this ever changing world, it’s been difficult for me to keep it updated. Thus, here is my attempt at sharing some updates about me. I originally started my blog as a way to keep my friends and family updated on my adventures in Spain. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing all of my experiences with you, the readers, and getting feedback via comments and e-mails. In fact, I enjoyed blogging so much that I’ve decided to continue! The only problem is I’m not in Spain anymore…therefore, the focus of my blog is shifting.

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Many things have happened within the past year, and so it is only fitting that my blog reflect those changes. Last May, I graduated with bachelors degrees in Biology and Modern Languages (Spanish). I studied Biology because I new it would provide a way for me to reach my ultimate career goal: becoming a dentist and helping provide healthcare to under served areas.  I studied a foreign language because learning about different cultures fascinates me, and I think it is beneficial to know Spanish in today’s global community. After graduation, I spent my summer working, applying to dental school, and preparing for my upcoming trip to Spain. As evident by my blog, I loved my experience in Spain and I look forward to returning someday. However, I now have some exciting news to share…I’ve been accepted to dental school! After five years of challenging undergraduate courses, studying for the DAT, and spending a large amount of time shadowing other dentists, I’ve finally been accepted to a DDS program, and I couldn’t be happier!

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I’m not quite sure what this means for my blog, but if you’ve enjoyed reading about my interests in Spain and seeing my photos, I can assure you that these types of posts will continue. I love learning about Spain, Mexico, Central, and South America, and I hope to continue to share my thoughts on the cultures in these regions. I’ve also just recently begun to dip my toes into photography and cooking, so I’m excited to see what I can learn. Just be expecting some dentistry related posts too!

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Photos by Megan Coffroth and a-thousand-words.tumblr.com

A Sevillian Carriage Ride

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This week I’ve been feeling particularly homesick…for Spain. I think it’s time for another post about one of my Spanish adventures. This post is about Sevilla (Seville), particularly the Maria Luisa Park. I visit Sevilla for the day with my host family. We drove from Granada to Sevilla in the morning and spent the afternoon in Sevilla. We then drove to Cordoba that evening. It was a whirlwind of a trip with so many new things to see!

Upon arrival in Sevilla, we walked around for a while before finding a horse drawn carriage tour. We spent the large majority of the tour in Maria Luisa Park. Stretching along the Guadalquivir River,  the Maria Luisa Park is a large public park in the heart of Sevilla. At one point the park was used for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and contains several buildings constructed specifically for the exposition. Enjoy the greenery and Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park!

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Sevilla is definitely on my list of places to visit when I return to Spain. As I mentioned, my host family and I only spent the afternoon there. However, there are so many museums and historic monuments that one could easily spend several days in this beautiful Andalusian city. Have you ever been to Sevilla? Do you have any suggestions for things to see? Let me know!

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Photos by Megan Coffroth

The Alhambra

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Over the years, I’ve realized that I am definitely a history buff. The idea of standing in the same spot and seeing the same views as someone who lived over 1000 years ago never ceases to amaze me. Of all of the historical monuments I’ve visited, nothing mystifies me as much as the Alhambra. Built in Granada, Spain during the 9th century, the Alhambra was the royal residence of the last Muslim emirs of the Nasrid dynasty. If you’d like a more detailed history, check out my post My Spain Top 5. While I was thoroughly impressed by Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, I was truly in awe of the Alhambra.

I was so blessed to be able to visit the Alhambra with my Spanish host family. Evidently you must get your tickets pretty far in advance if you want to visit the Alhambra, so thankfully my host mom ordered ours about two months before our visit. The morning of our visit, we took a bus from the center of Granada to the top of al-Sabika hill. We then waited in line for about twenty minutes before beginning our walking tour of the former military fortress. We spent the entire morning walking through the grounds and absorbing the enchanting atmosphere of the Alhambra.

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The Alhambra is by far one of the coolest places I’ve visited. What about you? How do you feel about  visiting historical sites?

“On such heavenly nights I would sit for hours at my window inhaling the sweetness of the garden, and musing on the checkered fortunes of those whose history was dimly shadowed out in the elegant memorials around.”  – Washington Irving

Photos by Megan Coffroth

When all is said and done

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog. As you know, I was in Spain for about three months this fall. I returned home at the end of November, and my life has taken some pretty crazy turns since (but that’s a post for another day). Today I want to share with you the most important lesson I learned while abroad. I learned tons of life lessons during my Spanish experience, but there is one that topped them all: Never stop learning.

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Gandia

My role as an English Language and Culture Assistant was to assist the teachers of the bilingual program with their classes. The students in the bilingual program not only have an English class, but their math and technology classes are also taught in English. These students also have a French class ad their general language (Spanish) class. Trust me when I say it’s pretty humbling to be in a classroom full of 12 year-olds who can speak three languages…and are super excited and motivated about it.

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Granada

The lesson to keep learning was also reinforced through my personal studies of the Spanish language. While volunteering at the school, I also received three hours of Spanish lessons each week. Even though I have a degree in Spanish, these lessons still rocked my world. A large amount of the material was a review from my college courses, but the information I didn’t know was incredible. In just three short months, I learned so many slang terms and colloquial words. I can only imagine how much more I would have learned had I stayed longer. I’m making a conscious effort to listen to music in Spanish, read books in Spanish, and listen to television/radio broadcasts in Spanish so that I can continue to learn.

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Cuenca

Both of the aforementioned experiences demonstrated to me the importance of learning, but the experience that inspired me the most was living with a host family. My host father not only spoke Spanish, but also English, French, and German. He consistently asked me questions about English and American culture because he wanted to learn. He also told me that his next goal in life is to learn to play the piano, and I have no doubt that he will do it. His motivation to learn has inspired me to be a lifelong learner.

It’s really difficult to sum up the experience of a lifetime into one blog post, and I’m sure I’ll draw inspirations for future blog posts from my time abroad, but for now, I’ll keep the lesson simple: Never stop learning.

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Photos by Megan Coffroth and life1nmotion.tumblr.com