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Elle Rahilly: Spain

By Elle Rahilly

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Read about this trip| See more from Elle | Follow along with other UMass students as they travel across the globe.

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Museo del Prado

Hola! I’m Elle, a junior currently studying abroad in the south of Spain. I just finished with my Chinese minor, and now I am here studying intensive Spanish. So far, my experience has been unbelievable! It all started about a month ago.

On Jan. 23, I arrived in Madrid and began my journey abroad! From the start, I was exposed to so many historical sites and monuments that I felt extremely privileged! Everybody in our program spent the first night getting to know each other, trying several authentic Spanish dishes along the way. I loved the food, my roommates, the city, and all my new peers!

We started the second day, bright and early, with a tour of Museo del Prado, a museum which features one of the world’s finest collections of European art from the 12th century to early 19th century. Based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, there are several famous and unique works of art within this art gallery. I saw the works of Greco, Velázquez, Goya, and Picasso.

Observing these iconic pieces of Spanish art, I witnessed the significance in culture, government, and religion throughout the centuries.

Palacio Real de Madrid

After our visit to Museo del Prado, my group headed to the Palacio Real de Madrid, or ‘The Royal Palace of Madrid.’

Set at an altitude which overlooks the city, this Palace was absolutely breathtaking. Not only did I witness some of the most beautiful architecture and fine art in the world, but I also gained insight into Spain’s storied monarchy.

The interior design represents different periods of time, religious beliefs, royal families, trade, and economy. Decorated from floor to ceiling with incredible works of art by renowned artists such as Velázquez and Goya, I was marveled by the beauty of this palace! I must have looked like such a tourist, with a look of awe on my face throughout the tour.

Although this building is the official residence of the King, the current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, chooses to live in the outskirts of Madrid. However, this building is still used for state ceremonies.

I felt so official! I came back with my friend and took some pictures at dusk, and ended up exploring much more of the city!

El Escorial

On our third day in Madrid, we ventured towards the outskirts of Madrid, to San Lorenzo. There, we toured El Real Monasterio de El Escorial, the Royal Monastery of Spain.

This Monastery holds great historical significance. King Phillip II of Spain created El Escorial with the help of Spanish architect Juan Bautista del Toledo, who also worked on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Putting all his funds and efforts into the resistance of Protestant reformation in the 16th century, King Phillip II had El Escorial built as a monument, representing Spain’s role as a center of the Christian world. Throughout the tour, I saw the former king’s exercise room and study, bedrooms for the monks, iglesias (churches), and the caskets for all members of the royal families.

My favorite part of the tour was the gilded room with golden caskets for all the kings and queens. It was a great experience being able to venture out to the beautiful Spanish countryside!


On our fourth day, our program finally headed to Granada!

Set in Andulacia, a province in the South of Spain, Granada is best known for its clash of Moorish and Christian influence.

On our way, we made a stop in Toledo. In addition to being known as a former capital of the Spanish Empire, Toledo is a place of coexistence between Muslin, Christian, and Jewish cultures. You can imagine the amount of religious influence within this medieval town!

The setting was absolutely breathtaking. The photo includes me with a few of the friends I made since arriving in Spain. The first week was absolutely hectic, given all the sites and traveling along with the culture shock.

Once I arrived in Granada, everything started to fall into place. The start of an ‘abroad experience’ can be frenzied, but there is comfort in knowing all of your peers are in the same position.

Everyone seems to lean on each other for the first few weeks while getting accommodated to our new homes. These friends will always hold a special place in my heart, they were right by my side for all these new experiences!

La Alhambra

During my first week in Granada, our program took a tour of La Alhambra, an Arabic palace constructed in the 14th century.

Set at one of the highest altitudes in Granada, La Alhambra looks out onto the entire city and the backdrop of La Sierra Nevada (a mountain range surrounding the city) is beautiful.

The palace is vast and magnificent. It took us four hours to tour the majority of it! However, it was absolutely worth it.

As I mentioned before, one of the intriguing aspects of Granada is the clash of Moorish and Christian influence. This palace acted as a haven for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain. After the conquest of Catholic Monarchs, some of the palace was used by Christian rulers.

La Alhambra is considered Spain’s most significant Islamic architecture. In this photo, you can see beyond the palace El Albayzín: a barrio of Granada which retains medieval Moorish structure.

All of my professors at La Universidad de Granada live up there. It truly is the most beautiful barrio of Granada!


After settling into Granada, my friends and I decided to take a trip to one of Granada’s finest beaches, Almuñécar.

Set on the Costa Tropical, Almuñécar looks out onto the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. It is only an hour bus ride from Granada and the rolling hills, the vast, sparkling ocean are gorgeous!

There are many restaurants within walking distance to the beach. The temperature was mid 60’s and the sun was shining all day. We had a blast!

After we were done at the beach, we decided to tour a few restaurants and experience Almuñécar’s nightlife. The Spaniards definitely know how to have a great time!

Trevi Fountain

I have never witnessed a city filled with more history than Rome. Now I understand why it was not built in a day!

Although we only had three days here, we made it count! My friends and I made a complete itinerary of points of interest (which I strongly recommend doing if you are abroad and plan to do a weekend trip to one of Europe’s premier cities since there is so much to see and so little time).

We arrived in Rome around 6:30 in the evening and wasted no time experiencing fine Italian cuisine, followed by gelato. After dining we headed to the Trevi Fountain (pictured above).

Talk about a hectic tourist attraction! There were thousands of people gathered around this fountain, throwing coins with wishes in mind. It was a great start to my weekend in Rome!

Vatican City

My second day in Rome was absolutely gorgeous! We started our adventurous day with a full tour of Rome, culminating with Vatican City.

In this photo, my friend Sam and I are standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Vatican city is truly the center of Catholicism and a stunning example of Italian culture. I spent the rest of the day exploring the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Vatican Museum houses ancient Roman sculptures and tapestries. The Museum’s gilded paintings on the walls underscore Rome‘s magnificence.

On this day, I had the privilege of entering the Sistine Chapel, a very holy place adorned with the art of Leonardo de Vinci.

By the end of the day my group was exhausted and overwhelmed, but that didn’t stop us from experiencing the city’s nightlife! If possible, Rome is even more beautiful at night when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.


On my last day in Rome, I got up early with my friends to see the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountain (again!), the Pantheon, and the Colosseum.

This is a shot taken from the second level of the Colosseum, an amphitheatre in the center of Rome. This theatre is said to be one of the greatest works of Roman architecture. What a surreal experience!

Although it was cloudy, Rome was still as beautiful as ever. Some of my friends even went back to the Vatican to hear the Pope speak!

La Sierra Nevada

Recently, two of my friends and I decided to take a trip to La Sierra Nevada, a beautiful mountain range surrounding the city of Granada.

We had a great time hiking the mountain range! As you can see above, the view was absolutely breathtaking!

I promised myself I would go back one of these following weeks to ski because of how awesome the resort is!

Again, I feel extremely privileged to be less than an hour from such a beautiful sight. You can see all the mountains within the backdrop of Granada and it makes for a gorgeous sunset.


3 Responses to “Elle Rahilly: Spain”

  1. Elle on March 4th, 2011 12:10 pm

    It got edited out, but for the record this is Museo al Prado (The Prado Museum!)

  2. Elle on March 4th, 2011 12:10 pm

    ….by this I mean the first slide

  3. maureen brigham on March 4th, 2011 5:11 pm

    Great show Elle……..What a beautiful city Granada is!

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