Ciudad Real, in Castilla-La Mancha, the heart of Spain, is a vibrant city and a welcoming home for Honors Program students. From the moment you step off the bus to meet your family until you leave seven weeks later, there isn't a better place to spend your summer learning Spanish.
We found countless ways to pass the time with our friends and families in the city. Most of us spent our afternoons in the Plaza Mayor. All the people in Ciudad Real pass through the plaza at least once a day to shop, visit with friends, or simply pass the time sitting by the fountain. After Spain won the Eurocup, a quadrennial soccer tournament in the summer of 2008, the students (including our teachers!) celebrated by jumping in the fountain with our Spanish counterparts.
After the morning classes and afternoon activities are over, many students hang out together before heading home to their families for dinner. We often frequented Helados Moran, home of the absolute best ice cream in Ciudad Real. Many ice cream flavors such as Pan de Calatrava, Chocolate Blanco con Chocolate, and Crema Catalana are impossible to find in the U.S. My friends and I also enjoyed spending time in Parque de Gassett. The park, with its gardens, fountains, and picturesque walks, is a popular place to pass time.
Also located in the Plaza Mayor is the seat of the city government. This building, although an architectural contrast to the more traditional architecture of the plaza, is an interesting spot to visit. Once a year, a medieval market comes to the Plaza Mayor of Ciudad Real. Fortunately for students, "once a year" often coincides with the Honors Program! At the medieval market, you can visit booths selling traditional Arabic and Spanish merchandise and foods, and get a glimpse into what life was like in old Spain.
Don Quijote is set in Castilla-La Mancha, and the region owes its reputation to this work of literature. The crazy knight tilting at windmills has become known as the symbol of the region. People in La Mancha have a special place in their heart for this fictional character, and in Ciudad Real alone, there are six statues of Don Quijote.
La Iglesia de San Pedro and La Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Prado are two of many churches in Ciudad Real. The churches date from several centuries ago and are a tribute to the past that lives on amid the modern city. Many Honors Program students attend services at these churches with their host families, if only to see the churches on the inside.
Students in Ciudad Real also visit several cities on excursions. The Ciudad Real excursions include Almagro, Madrid, Toledo, Granada, and Córdoba. Almagro is a small Manchegan town, perhaps best known as one of the filming sites of the Pedro Almodovar movie Volver. The highlight of the visit to Almagro is the Corral de Comedias, an authentic and picturesque theatre that has been in use since the 17th century. Almagro is host to a prestigious theatre festival showcasing modern and ancient performances, a festival whose performances take place in the Corral de Comedias.
Students also travel to Granada and Córdoba on an overnight excursion in southern Spain. Granada owes its reputation to the presence of the Alhambra, which was used during the rule of the Moors as a fortress and palace. Although the edifice has been empty for several centuries, none of its beauty has diminished. Along with the Alhambra, the students will enjoy seeing the Capilla Real, or Royal Chapel, which houses the remains of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. On the same trip, the group goes next to Córdoba, a little farther north, and visits the Mosque of Córdoba, which has since been converted into a cathedral.
The excursion to Madrid is a non-stop day of walking and touring in the Spanish heat. The trip is well worth the walk, however, as students visit some of the best- known tourist destinations in Spain. The Prado Museum houses classical artwork, while the Reina Sofia is known for its collection of modern art, including Pablo Picasso's famous painting, Guernica, as well as several paintings by Salvador Dali. Students also visit Retiro Park, the Plaza Mayor, and the Congress building.
Toledo, another Spanish city visited by the students, is the old capital of Spain. This winding city paved in cobblestones is known as the 'city of the three cultures,' as it is home to an interesting mix of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian influences. For example, students visit the Santa Maria la Blanca, a synagogue now owned by the Catholic Church, which was designed in the Islamic style. Another site of interest in Toledo is the Cathedral, an excellent example of Spanish Gothic art, and the Iglesia de Santo Tomé, which houses the famous painting by El Greco, The Burial of Count Orgaz.
Although students always enjoy the excursions, our favorite city is our home city, Ciudad Real! The families in Ciudad Real are friendly and welcoming to Honors Program students. In addition, Ciudad Real's size and location make it an unlikely tourist destination; you won't hear much English spoken there. Students who stay in Ciudad Real will have an amazing experience!