Foreign City, Familiar Circles

Xander Mitchell
June 13, 2016
Buitrago Rooftops

Studying abroad in Madrid, I feel like I’m collecting communities. For example, I have my home community in my homestay and my community of Madrileños that I’ve met since coming to this city. I also have my IES Abroad community, a group of people who deserve more attention on this page given how integral they have been to my experience. This was a week of the IES Abroad community at its best, and I want to use this blog post to highlight a few examples of what made it so great.

As I alluded to in my last blog post, I kicked off the week with something that I’ve never had the opportunity to attend before: a beer tasting. My friends and I had discovered the event through one of our favorite websites for Madrileños – a part of Madrid Beer week, the tasting took place at a restaurant in Malasaña during normal dinner hours. Each participant paid a fixed price for 5 small plates and five samples of locally-brewed cervezas. Over the course of two and a half hours the tattoo-clad, bespectacled owner of a local beer vendor walked us through the history of brewing and strategies for tasting. We talked fermentation times, bottling and ingredients – rest assured that while there may not have been a “Spanish Beer Vocab” Quizlet a week ago, there is now. My friends and I were in agreement: between the excellent learning opportunity, Spanish practice and uniqueness of the opportunity, it was the best way we could have spent a Tuesday evening.




The days that followed included both return visits to some of my favorite museums in town and adventures to one’s I hadn’t seen before. I’ve returned to the Prado and Reina Sofía a few times since first venturing through the galleries, using the trips as opportunities to learn with and learn from friends from my program. Likewise, I had the chance to check out the Museum of Romanticism near Malasaña, a spot that is small but worth a visit. The highlight of my exploring the museum scene this past week was my visit to the Thyssen, where I wandered around for nearly six hours with my housemate, Mason. Originally the private collection of German entrepreneur Heinrich Thyssen, the museum is complex in that it features art from time periods and cultures that one might find exclusively in either the Spanish-heavy Prado or 20th-century Reina Sofía. During my visit, we discovered Delauney’s Tall Portuguese Woman, a piece that I’ve come to admire for the way it captures Iberian vivacity while blending abstraction with reality. I’ve included a shot I took of the piece below.

Of course, this past week also featured an IES Abroad-coordinated group excursion. Departing on a bus at 9:15, we started our hour-long journey to Buitrago, a town of 11th century Moorish walls and a beautiful river. Our tour guide took us through the remarkably preserved Buitrago del Lozoya Castle, where our group had the chance to take a few panoramic shots of the city. Buitrago is the home of one of the many Picasso museums of the world – though the collection is small, it was intensely rewarding to view a few of the artist’s lesser-known works. We continued our journey to Rascafria – literally “freezing cold” – where we tanned, kicked around a fútbol and played in the water that lived up to the locale’s name. The pictures capture the beauty of the area better than my words ever could, though you can get an idea of the water temperature by locating your nearest freezer. 


Last (and definitely not least, as many of my friends will insist), I want to mention a spot where our group has done its fair share of bonding: the Spanish discotecas­. The word may sound comically out-of-date but captures the idea of a place in a way other words cannot. Like finding your favorite café, finding your favorite discoteca takes time, and it’s an oddly rewarding feeling to find a spot with a good ambience and perfect music. Nights start late in this city, with most clubs opening well past midnight and closing about the time that the sun rises. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Nevertheless, over the past few weeks, our group’s transformation has been remarkable: starting our adventures through Madrid nightlife timid and out-of-place, we now spend nights belting Spanish lyrics and dancing like true Madrileños – that’s what we tell ourselves, at least. If a journey like that doesn’t bring a group together, I don’t know what does.

I could write a whole blog post about how this experience has changed the way I go about life. Most relevant to this post, though, is how my time in Madrid has changed the way I like to travel. Aside from my last study abroad experience, I’ve been an avowed lone wolf when it came to travel. Now I hardly enter a café without a friend or two to tag along. Exploring a place that from time to time seems to be of another world, I’m eager to welcome a bit of familiarity – even if it happens in Spanish. My friends – both Madrileños and Americanos – have been a huge part of making this experience as great as its been, and it’s hard to believe that I only have a little bit more than two weeks with them. Here’s to making the most of the time that remains.

For the most up-to-date notes on my study abroad experience, follow me on Instagram @tarxander

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Xander Mitchell

<div>I&#39;m Xander&mdash;a photographer, amateur restauranteur, recreational runner and humanities major spending six weeks of&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">my summer in Spain. Traveling notebook-in-hand and iPhone-in-backpack (or maybe the other way around), I&#39;ll be&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">showcasing the best of Madrid culture available to travelers and students on a budget. You can expect photographs of&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">and musings on Madrid architecture, history, literature, food, music and the great people I find along the way. Oh, and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">there will be coffee, too &mdash;don&#39;t forget the coffee!</span></div>

2016 Summer 1, 2016 Summer 2
Home University:
Yale University
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