A group of 22 A Level Spanish students travelled with 3 members of staff to Madrid, Spain. There we enjoyed many opportunities to improve our Spanish, to learn more about Spanish culture, and to see in real life many of the aspects we cover in the course.

On Saturday morning we had a guided tour spoken in Spanish around the city centre. Our tour guide, Ernesto, pointed out many of the main sites and interesting aspects of the architecture, reflecting Madrid’s rich and varied history over the past five hundred years. We walked from our hotel in Malasaña, through the gay district Chueca, where we learnt about what life was like for gay people during the Spanish dictatorship, and how it has changed since the transition to democracy to the Madrid we currently know, as one of the most LGBTIQ+ friendly capitals in Europe and the home of Mado, or Madrid Pride (Madrid Orgullo). From there we went to the Puerta del Sol, where we saw where many of the protests we have been studying have taken place, and in fact we witnessed a right-wing protest of parents against the inclusion of education about LGBTIQ+ rights in schools – something we had just looked at a couple of weeks ago.

We walked on through the old early-modern market streets and learnt how the shopping areas were split up in years gone by, and Ernesto showed us how to choose the best jamón (acorn-fed, if you can afford it!). We walked along the Gran Vía, and noticed how the architecture changed in style according to the time in which the houses were built. We saw many street artists, particularly in Callao, near the Gran Vía, and Kate Cooke was chased by an eight-foot koala bear. In the Plaza Mayor we looked again at the architecture and we saw another demonstration – this time the Chilean women’s song against gender violence and sexual abuse. We visited the famous San Miguel indoor food market, and then we went into a very special church. This church is attached to a monastery where the nuns make a small amount of money by selling homemade biscuits, available only through a turnstile where you do not see the sister you are buying from, you just send your money round the turntable and she sends it back with your biscuits. We bought two boxes between us and scoffed the lot. Dave Bell was particularly excited to see the site where Juan de Escobedo met his gruesome end in 1578.

From there we walked to the royal palace and saw early-modern propaganda with the enormous bronze statue of the horse on his hind legs, designed to show the rest of Europe just how powerful and rich Spain was (when it wasn’t, but that was the whole point). We ended our tour at Ópera, where Ernesto pointed out the café selling the best churros in Madrid.

From there, everyone went off to get some food, and tried calamari, paella, tortilla, chorizo, patatas bravas, and many other things we look at in the gastronomy unit in Year 12. We spent Saturday afternoon shopping, and many of us went to the top floor of the Corte Inglés department store to see the views over the whole city. Some students went to a VR experience and others spent their time meandering the streets being sophisticated and European.

On Sunday we started the day with another guided tour all in Spanish, this time in the Bernabéu stadium, home to Real Madrid. We learnt about their many charity programmes for disadvantaged children, and looked at how the club’s logo changed during the years of the second Spanish republic. We sat in the seats where the players sit, but unfortunately were not allowed to sit on the changing room benches or get in the hot tub. We asked questions of the teachers, each other, and of the tour guide in the press conference room, and got lost in the shop!

Following this we went to the Prado museum and saw some of the masterpieces we study at the end of Year 12, such as Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and Goya’s 3rd of May. Dave provided an amazing commentary of many of the paintings and told us all the early modern Spanish history behind them. We walked down to the train station to look at the monument to those who died in the 2004 train bombings known as 11-M, and from there to the Reina Sofía art gallery. Some people chose to go up to look at Picasso’s Guernica, another painting from our course, and others chose to enjoy the busy square. We met up at the iconic bar, El Brillante, known for its calamari sandwiches, as sampled by Dave.

By this time the square was getting pretty busy. We had inadvertently found ourselves at the start of the enormous women’s march for International Women’s Day. Everyone around us was dressed in purple, and there were people there of all ages, from little girls with their parents to ladies of a certain age with purple, not blue rinses. There were also lots and lots of men. Many of our students had purchased purple neck scarves, and we walked alongside the march back towards the Prado and into the Retiro Park. It was quite moving to be in the midst of so many people demanding social change and justice for everyone and we were all taken aback at just how big the protest was. We can now legitimately say we have taken part in one of the protests we spend time studying in Year 13!

At the park we had free time. Some people relaxed, some hired electric scooters, and some people ended up as part of a magic show in front of the lake. From the park we went back to the hotel and had some time to relax for a while before we hit the town for dinner. The students were able to choose wherever they wanted for dinner. Some even chose to buy some special cakes in Chueca, I’m sure as cultural knowledge for the Year 12 equality unit.

This was a really fun trip, and everybody learnt a lot. ¡Hasta la próxima, Madrid! We’ll be back.