Exploring Before the Program

6/22/2014 Blog by Elaine Vu-Phan, CUSP, Scientific Explorations of Art and Architecture in France

As I prepare for my study abroad program this summer, I am currently exploring in historic city of Madrid, Spain! Everywhere I go in this dense city, there is always history waiting to be discovered. For example, I went the oldest operating restaurant, Botin Resturant, and it has been running since 1725. Around Madrid you will find unique plaques by old building, like the one attached below. These plaques represent a certification for any establishment that is more than 100 years old. This plaque below belongs to Botin Restaurant.

Historic Plaque

Listed below are some of my favorite historic sites I have visited so for in Spain:


In the outskirts of Madrid lies this beautiful cathedral in Segovia, Spain. Inside there are over 20 chapel rooms that are dedicated to the cathedral’s donators. They helped contribute money for reconstruction of the original cathedral that was destroyed during the Comuneros War. Each specific chapel had the donator’s body buried in tomb underneath the ground. I assume they wanted to be close to God, so they requested to be buried in a church. I felt creped out when I found out, so I tried my best not to step on any of the tombs.


Another unique feature of Segovia is the Roman aquaduct behind Armando (my native friend), my host mom, and I in the photo above. The Roman Aquaduct of Segovia is engineered to bring mountain water down to the city valley.

Buen Retiro Park Pillars

Buen Retiro Park is one of the largest park in Spain. In this photo, I am surrounded by giant pillars that circle around the Monument of Alfonso XII, one of Spain’s king during the late 1800’s. Below are more photos of the park.

Lion Statue Mounted Horse Statue

Another aspect I love about this park is this garden. It was donated to the city Madrid by one of the kings of Spain.  Apparently, in this part of park it is forbidden to step on the grass. Being native, I stepped on the grass. I received strange looks by locals and got yelled at by park officials…. I am such a rebel (hahaha).


I strongly believe the best way to experience a foreign country is to be around locals who are willingly to show you around and welcome you into their home. Currently, I am staying in Madrid with my friend Armando and his family. Armando and I met in high school when he came to the United States as a foreign exchange student. Armando and his family has been more than generous with their warm hospitality and time. J On the first day, we scrolled around the Madrid and they exposed me to all the significant landmarks that represent Madrid. Locals are the best with their knowledge on food establishments that are quality and fair priced. A café they showed me was Chocolate Churros. This café is known for their famous Spanish churros. And let me tell you, this place does not disappoint! As we walked around a couple of squares and plazas, we stopped by a few bars. Since the legal age to drink alcohol in Spain is 18 years old, I had the chance to order my first alcoholic beverage at a bar. I ordered wine and the bartender gave me a free hors d’oeuvre with every glass I ordered (best known as ‘tapas’ in Spain). Sooner or later, I believe I will grow a high tolerance for alcohol if I keep drinking casually with every meal.

I only have three days left in Spain before I fly to Florence, Italy to start my program. I hope to make the best of my last days here in this beautiful country.