What motivates me the most about traveling to places that I never been before is the culture of that place. Buildings, monuments and unique constructions are also important to see and admire, but what I enjoy about these is the history, stories and memories that hold within its walls and facades. I think that the main reason why I have only traveled to places that speak either English or Spanish is because the language allows me to interact with locals and learn their point of view and culture of that place through the history of their generations, things that I personally believe you can’t find and feel by reading a book or watching a video. After living in Madrid for 6 weeks, I have experienced so much regarding different aspects of its culture that I want to dedicate this week’s blog to my current home, Madrid, and share my cultural experiences with you.
This past weekend I visited an important building that is closely related to many social, political, economic and religious factors. This famous place that every tourist must visit is called “El Palacio Real de Madrid” or “The Royal Palace of Madrid.” This is known as the official residence of the king, but the Royal family does not live in this palace anymore. The palace’s main function is touristic; however, because of its previous use (home of the richest and most powerful people of Spain) it is used for special political ceremonies. When I bought the tickets to enter the palace, I thought I could enter for free like I do in museums but students just have a discount of the general price. The palace is a good source of income for the city because it does not offer free entrance to many people like museums do, and is one of the main touristic attractions of Madrid. I want to point out that tourism is helping with the economy of Spain and they should keep investing in promoting it because Spain is a country that everyone should visit and experience. When I entered the Royal Palace, I started to imagine kings, queens and princes walking around with their phenomenal clothing, thousands of soldiers and servants in every corner of the palace and in the main plaza royal dances with wine and expensive food. I still can’t believe that I visited a place where it used to be the home of the kings, a place of religious acts, a place where important documents were signed and new laws put in practice, a place that differentiated the poor from the rich. Also, a place that contains families’ generations stories since it has been standing for over four hundred years. When I visited the palace, I walked in some rooms that were open for the public and it was impressive to see that one room was completely different from the one next door. These rooms are decorated with art works from important artists, catholic religious figures, gold and silver, fancy carpets, and what was impressive is that each room had its own functionality. For example, a room was used exclusively for the king to read a book or have some coffee. It was unbelievable to see the amount of money that the monarchy wasted on material objects while their people was dying because couldn’t afford to buy food. Still, they have such beautiful decorations inside the palace that you can only find here and even those objects are highly linked to the history and period of those days. I am speechless that I entered the Palace and saw it with my own eyes. It is a great thing of Madrid’s culture to let foreigners visit their monuments and historical buildings. I always wanted to see castles and palaces in person and I am happy that I could do it in Madrid.
Today, I wanted to visit a place in where I could find a large group of locals and see how they spend a Sunday afternoon. I tend to go to famous places but today I decided to go to a place that is not even mentioned in the touristic maps, but that only Spaniards can recommend. This morning, when I told my host mom about my plans, she told me that I was going to have a lot of fun in “El Rastro” and see how locals make some money and find creative ways to survive during these bad times of Spain’s economy. This is a local tradition of the city of Madrid because my program manager also recommended to go to this place. Near the center of Madrid, in a neighborhood called La Latina, there is this flea market every Sunday from around 10 am to 3 pm. Hundreds of local vendors bring their products to this rustic market to make a living. It was amazing to see that a lot of the vendors were selling similar or even the same products (lots of perfect competition in a small place) but still they were selling them or many people were looking at their booths. I went to El Rastro with some of my coworkers and interns of the office. I wanted to experience this place with students from other parts of Europe to see their reactions and opinions of this place. Also, they are my friends so it was fun to spend some time with them outside of the office before leaving in a few weeks. In Colombia, there is a similar concept called “Mercado de las Pulgas,” but is not that organized and touristic. In my opinion, the buyers in this kind of business are both locals and tourists, and the price is the same as the one you can find inside many stores. I am glad that the price in the flea market is “high” because that helps the vendors to make more profit without the need to have a store and pay a costly rent. They sell a lot of useful products like hats, sun glasses and handmade fans for this hot weather, so as a customer I bought a hat and a fan to protect myself from the strong sun. This flea market is a local tradition because families come here on Sundays to walk around and buy some products. It is a great business, especially for the locals. For foreigner, a great way to see a lot of locals on the same street! I am glad I got a hat from El Rastro this weekend because I will definitely use it a lot this summer!