RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central High School students spent their spring break enjoying a 10-day trip to Spain.
The group included 15 students, some of their parents, Spanish teachers Jan Benner and Tracy Kalbaugh, as well as Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Brandy Cook.
The group recently had the opportunity to reminisce about their experiences overseas.
On day one, the group flew from Chicago and arrived in Madrid, Spain, before exploring various sites and cities in the country.
For their second day, the group met their tour director and began exploring Spain’s capital city. The group was fortunate to get into a hotel that wasn’t far from the city’s center.
“You can’t beat the location,” Benner said. “It was right in the city center with everything.”
In some ways, the area was not unlike many big cities in the United States. With living statues, mascots and street performers wandering around, the students said it was comparable to having a slice of Hollywood Boulevard in the middle of Spain.
This made for many humorous stories, such as when students didn’t realize a “statue” was alive, or they suddenly saw familiar characters from all different areas of pop culture.
“That was a very weird center,” said student Bryce Powell. “Actors come out during the day, and they’re dressed up as Winnie the Pooh; Freddy Kreuger was out there (and) Sponge Bob.”
On day three, they visited the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, before going to King Philip II’s imposing palace, as well as the Valley of the Fallen, where a massive memorial cross is posted in honor of those who died during the Spanish Civil War.
On day four, the group joined a local guide on a tour through several plazas, including a view of the royal palace.
At the Prado Museum, the students were able to see historic paintings by artists such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Student Abbigale Mahan said she was overwhelmed by the sheer number of paintings to look at, considering the limited time they had.
“It’s so big, and there were so many paintings that you couldn’t take more time to appreciate it,” she said. “There was not enough time in our schedule.”
Their teachers agreed that the schedule was a full one.
“Many nights we were out until 11 o’clock, walking around still seeing more things,” Benner said.
Day five was spent sightseeing in Spain’s medieval capital of Toledo.
On day six, the students had professional dancers teach them the history, rhythms and movements of the gypsy flamenco dance, which holds a special place in Spanish culture. This was a day that stuck out to many students after the trip was done.
“We went out to a show (and) they just taught us how to do it,” said student Ben Olson. “It was a different type of dancing compared to what you see over here. It’s not like anything the Americans have. It’s a traditional Spanish dance. It’s been around for hundreds of years. You start to appreciate their culture as you learn things you didn’t know.”
On day seven, the group went with a local guide to see the Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral in the city of the same name, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
Day eight was spent exploring Cordoba with a local guide. Students saw the 800 marble columns of the 1,200-year-old Mezquita.
Day nine was spent exploring Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona, which included sites like the Olympic Stadium, the unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral and the Casa Mila apartments. Day 10 was spent making the return trip.
Cook said she enjoyed going on the trip for the second time. Though they saw many of the same sites and cities, she was able to explore things she didn’t get to see the first time. She also derived plenty of excitement from watching the other students discover the country for the first time.
Kalbaugh recalled how proud she was to hear about the students’ conversations with the locals, while they were trying to find places to eat in smaller groups.
“They had to fend for themselves,” she remembered. “It was so exciting to hear them come back and go, ‘It was so hard to communicate, but we did it. We were able to understand. We were able to figure out what to say.’ Seeing the successes that they would have in communicating, all in Spanish, was super-exciting as a teacher, to experience that.”
Benner also wanted to express thanks to all of the local businesses and individuals who helped to raise money for the trip.