Modern Caballeros Andantes Discover ‘Pure Magic’ in Spain

By Christopher M. ’20
Photos by Grace G. ’20

Spanish Civilizations and Culture, or Span Civ, is a course that dives into an intense study of the history and culture of Spain. Since its inception, taking Span Civ has also meant a trip to Spain during spring break, a sort of ultimate test of your Spanish knowledge at LCDS. In March, the current crop of Span Civ students embarked for the nation we have been studying since September.

As we killed time at the Newark airport, the energy in the air was anxious but excited. Sure, we had studied the culture and the history, and we knew Don Quijote cold, but we all felt unprepared for our first real conversation with a Spaniard. There wouldn’t be any time to fix confusing the past tense with the past perfect tense. There wouldn’t be any way to correct some grammatical gender slip-up. Everything would be one take, and we were terrified. What we would come to find out, however, was that we had been prepared all along. As the week went on, our Spanish would become more cohesive and fluid, to the point where it felt unnatural to speak English when we returned.

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Our first full day included a trip to a place that would become a favorite for many of us: Segovia. We arrived in the ancient city, beneath the massive Roman Aqueduct that has towered over the Old Town for the last 2,000 years. We continued to stroll until we stopped at el Alcázar de Segovia — a medieval castle where Queen Isabella once stayed. Its beautiful views left us breathless. For many of us, el Alcázar was when it first hit us: We were in Spain.

For all its beauty, el Alcázar wasn’t what we most wanted to see. That honor belonged to the windmill of Don Quijote, or los molinos de viento. The story of Don Quijote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, had captured our hearts, and visiting the iconic windmills was a fantastic way to commemorate our favorite knight errant (caballero andante). We reenacted scenes and took photos, and then made our way to Granada.

Our first night there, we ventured through the old section of the city for a traditional Flamenco performance. Our guide, Ulises, told me before the performance that at really good shows, there is something called “duende” in the air. There’s no equivalent word in English, but it connotes the emotions evoked by a fantastic piece of art. As soon as the performance ended, I rushed over to Ulises and whispered, “I think there was duende at that performance.” His nod told me all that I wanted to hear. The whole experience was pure magic.

The next day, we left for Sevilla, where we saw another Flamenco show and had the opportunity to learn a short routine. This lesson, taught completely in Spanish, left us tripping over our feet and smiling through it all. The lesson was one of many experiences that brought each one of us closer to the rich culture of Spain.

Our next day in Sevilla centered around La Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to the ninth century. La Alhambra is famous for its intricate azulejos, a kind of mozaic, and beautiful gardens, called the Generalife. The atmosphere was illuminating.

From Sevilla, we travelled to Córdoba to visit La Mezquita, a mosque with a Christian cathedral inside of it. We were mesmerized seeing in real life the beautiful architecture that we had studied in class. The smell of the blooming orange trees in the courtyard provided a wonderful ambience that suffused our adventure. After a morning in Córdoba, we boarded a high speed train for our next destination: Barcelona.

Barcelona was the city that many in our group were most excited for. We had just finished our study of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect. His creations dot Barcelona, and we could not wait to see them. We saw Parque Guell and Casa Mila, but the most incredible was La Sagrada Familia. This unfinished basilica has been worked on for more than a century, with the inside only being completed in 2010. When we walked into the basilica, the grandeur of the forest-like columns stunned us all. No other church that we had seen on this trip could touch the wondrous colors and sights of La Sagrada Familia.

Our final destination of the trip was Montserrat, a monastery about an hour outside Barcelona. The almost 1,000-year-old abbey rests completely within the surrounding mountain, and is spectacular. After touring the monastery, we took a funicular to the top of the mountain where we hiked in small groups. During these hikes, we really bonded as a group. Whether through the struggle of making it to the top, or the camaraderie engendered through helping someone find their headphones after they rolled down the side of the mountain, this final trip brought us even closer together.

As we woke up the following day, ready to depart for the airport, the feeling was bittersweet. We were excited to see our families again, sure, but we were dispirited that we would have to leave Spain behind. After bidding goodbye to Ulises and boarding the plane, we assured Señora Heim that we were planning to return as soon as possible.