I’ve been back in the States for over a month now, and figured I should update my blog with everything I did during my last days in Spain.

Soon after my last blog post, my roommate Amy and I went to a much-anticipated Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotsput (a team from London). If you’ve read any of my previous posts you already know how obsessed I am with soccer, so I pulled out all the stops and got one of my professors (the amazing Nuria, who is a Real Madrid season ticket holder) to get us tickets. Although I am a Barcelona fan myself, I have to admit Madrid played well against the Londoners. The final score was 4-0, and though I had to put up with some anti-Barca chants, it was definitely worth it.

Later that week began what will have to go down as my best weekend in Madrid. On Friday Amy and I decided we wanted some more soccer, so we went to Real Madrid’s stadium, the Santiago Bernabeu, and took a tour of it. I’m pretty interested in the history of Spain’s soccer clubs, so it was intriguing to compare the history of Real Madrid to the one that FC Barcelona portrays, and how they both relate to the political and social history of Spain as a whole.

Later, since the weather was finally starting to warm up, my roommates and I and some friends from the program went to sunbathe and have a picnic in Retiro Park. Dallas definitely needs a place like Retiro – it is a great place to go and just relax and enjoy the Spaniards and the beautiful scenery.

The next day, after a couple hours in Retiro, Amy and I continued our interest in sports in Madrid and went to the Real Madrid vs Regal Barcelona basketball game. While Spanish basketball has nothing on the NBA, it was still an exciting game due to the tension that always fills the air when any teams from Madrid and Barcelona meet. Madrid ended up winning that game (boo) and so Amy returned home quite happy.

The next day our house mom, Maria, taught us how to cook some traditional Spanish dishes so that we would feel a little less “homesick” when we returned to the States. We learned how to make Spanish tortilla (like an omelet with potatoes), paella, and an apple pastry. Yum! Later that day I decided to meet up with a fellow SMU student whom I had met in Paris, Amrita, and go see an event that has turned into quite a controversy in modern-day Spain: the bullfight. While I don’t necessarily endorse the event itself, I wanted to witness a tradition that has permeated the Spanish identity for centuries and see for myself what it was all about.

The arena in which the bullfight is held, Las Ventas, is very impressive; it is probably one of the most prestigious bullfighting rings in history, and its Neo-Mudejar style invokes a very “Old World” feel when you stand in its shadow. At the commencement of the fight, the matadors and other personnel parade around the ring, showing off their brilliant costumes of plated gold or silver. However, when the actual struggle started taking place, it was a bit shocking; the bull is stabbed repeatedly with different lances, swords, and other sharp devices, and the young men (in our case) fighting the bull actually had many close calls with the noble animal. In the end, I don’t think the bullfight is my cup of tea and I definitely wouldn’t go see it every Sunday evening, but I can respect the importance it holds in the history of the Spanish people.

Later the next week I went with some of my classmates to see a zarzuela, which is another distinctly Spanish tradition similar to opera but with talking also. The zarzuela we saw, Luisa Fernanda, was actually written by the grandfather of our program director, Maria Fernandez-Shaw. It was an amazing performance and I hope to see another one the next time I am in Spain.

On Thursday of that week, my roommates, 2 other friends on the program, and I departed on our weeklong vacation during Spain’s Holy Week. Our first destination was the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Immediately we were struck by the beauty of island, and very impressed with our hostel, which was better than many hotels I’ve stayed in. Although the weather was still a bit chilly for the beach when we were there, we found ways to enjoy ourselves. We took an old early 20th-century train from the town of Palma to the port of Soller and grabbed a fantastic seaside lunch (I enjoyed some more swordfish). We even braved the chill and lounged on the beach, and watched the first of many matches between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with other Spaniards in a bar.

After a couple days we departed Mallorca for the eternal city of Rome. Rome is one of the most fantastic walking cities in the world – around each corner is not just an old building, but an ancient one. We spent a whole day exploring the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum, not to mention the wonder that is the Vatican, and spent our nights eating pasta, pizza, and gelato alongside the Trevi Fountain.

Our last stop on our whirlwind vacation was Florence, one of my favorite cities in all of Europe. Similar to Spain’s Toledo, Florence is a small medieval town nestled in the Tuscan hills of Italy. We explored cathedrals, restaurants, got food poisoning, and even visited a distant relative of mine’s bakery. Yet, by the time we returned to Madrid, we were worn out from traveling and faced a week full of finals and our last week in Spain.

It was a fairly depressing week but one also filled with anticipation and excitement to return back to my family and friends in Texas. I successfully completed my exams and bid tearful goodbyes to the people I grew to admire and respect in Madrid. I’ll never forget the friends, places, and hospitality I experienced while I was in Spain, and I look forward to returning soon. Now that I’m back in Texas, I realize that I left part of me in Spain, and that I’ll always have a special place in my heart for a country I now see as a second home.