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.