Vamos a Espana! (“JTA” for Titas and Titos) Part 1 of 2

Vamos a Espana! (“JTA” for Titas and Titos) Part 1 of 2

Oct 11, 2017

Earlier this year, Marvin and I decided to have our own “JTA.” JTA is the Junior Term Abroad, a program wherein third year students at the Ateneo go on an exchange study tour for one whole semester. All three of our sons went to Europe – Ecole Superiore de Commerce in Rennes, France; Munich Business School in Munich, Germany; and Audencia SciencesCom in Nantes, France. Away from the family, they applied their lessons in budgeting, self-reliance and discipline. All three were very thankful for the opportunity to travel on their own, not just in their respective host countries but the countries around them on weekends. And boy, did they maximize their travel (of course, within their one semester budget).

Then we realized that because of this, all three have been to more countries than their parents had been to. smilSo Marvin planned our version of JTA. He decided to just visit one country at a time, so we could immerse ourselves more. He picked Spain. Turkey was added because of the stopover in Istanbul. (Click link to read Discovering Turkey.)


Our first stop was Madrid, the capital of what used to be the most powerful empire in the world! I remember back in school memorizing facts in Philippine history –  our country was “discovered” on March 16, 1561 by Magellan, a Portuguese who headed an expedition under the flag of Spain, the moneyed super, power in search of the spice islands and other places to conquer. We were actually named after the reigning King Philip II.

Spain’s colonization of our country for over three centuries did not include extensive teaching of the Spanish language, unlike that of the USA wherein their much shorter stint spanning just decades enabled all of us to speak English because it was made the medium of education. Spain chose not to teach the language to the common “Indios” and their attempt came in too late. I remember what the museum guide at our National Museum in Manila said – when Spain donated Spoliarium (the renowned painting by our very own Juan Luna that won awards) to the Philippines, the condition was Spanish should be taught in Philippine schools as a subject.

But thanks to that provision, we could still pick up a few lines and carry very simple conversations with the locals, who would readily speak to you in their language even if you’re obviously a tourist. It gave me a thrill when I acted as interpreter between the hotel receptionist and a guest. smil In another conversation, this time with our taxi driver, I was asked, “In the Philippines the rich people hablan Espanol, es verdad?” To that I answered, maybe only a few, so he asked, “What do the rich speak now?” and I answered, “English? Chinese?”smil

Museo del Prado. Pictures not allowed inside the museum. But a piece that was unforgettable to me was The Bearded Woman by Jusepe de Ribera done in 1631. I ended buying a reproduction on canvas.


Madrid was where Spoliarium won its first gold medal. And indeed, Luna’s work is of the same caliber as those we saw at this 200-year-old museum that houses one of the world’s finest collections of European art dating all the way back to the 12th century.

It was also a thrill to see our national hero Jose Rizal honored with a monument in Madrid. I recalled how some of our heroes, particularly the ilustrados (Rizal, Lopez Jaena, Lunas, et al) came all the way to this place to educate themselves further. Their “JTA” exposed them to Spanish liberals and other European nationalist ideals that made them come home wanting more equal treatment from their colonizers.

“I travelled all the way to Spain to go to… ‘Luneta!’”
                                            “I travelled all the way to Spain to go to… ‘Luneta!’”


I loved the food in Madrid. During our entire tour of four Spanish cities, this is where I had the best meals. One of them is lunch in Mercado San Miguel where I feasted on the tapas, jamon, queso, even oysters, and many more inside the market.


Another great meal was at El Fontan, where I had the best paella, only to find out that their cook is Pinoy!


One really special lunch was at El Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant. We had their world famous roast suckling pig – a lechon de leche cooked in their charcoal oven. What I like about it is that it is perfect even without “Mang Tomas” lechon sauce and yet not too spicy like the ones we have back home that don’t use sauce. The way it’s cooked is not via rotisserie but on something like a hot plate so all the sauce/moisture from the pig are kept, and I loved it! Guess what? Their trusted cook is again a Pinoy!


What we observed is that, despite their love for meat and very rich dishes taken during their late and long lunches and dinners, obesity is not a problem. I’m guessing, it’s because they still prepare their food using mostly natural ingredients. I compare it to our last trip to the US, just one month earlier, where something like three out of four seemed to be overweight. A lot of their food are prepared using artificial or modified ingredients. Sometimes even their buns looked too glossy and artificial, and were hard to chew.

Probably, it also helps that the Madrilenos seem to do a lot of walking. In some areas, the sidewalk is wider than the street for cars! We saw quite a handful of runners in different parks. On our first Sunday, we even witnessed a marathon that brought back memories to my Honey about his past marathons.


Their churches are also beautiful. This is the Almudena Cathedral, intended to surpass other cathedrals in size and wow factor, and built on the site of a medieval mosque destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI conquered Madrid. The cathedral is relatively new. Construction started in 1879 and was only completed in 1993. I particularly liked the mosaic art inside the adoration chapel but you’re not allowed to take photos inside. It’s a huge structure visited by many tourists but sadly, only a few people attended the mass even on a Sunday morning. In fact, the security guard was also the reader. As in any mass I’ve attended while traveling abroad, I saw Filipinos, this time my parishmates!

The Madrid Cathedral where I saw people from our parish.
                                    The Madrid Cathedral where I saw people from our parish.


Across the cathedral is the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid), the official residence of the Spanish royal family. This was built on the site of a 9th century Muslim palace. It is still used for state functions and is the largest functioning palace in Europe. It’s a place of opulence that contains all the finest things in life you can put in the seat of power of what was then the world’s most powerful empire.

Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)
                                        Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)


An hour with OFWs
On short notice, I was able to get in touch with OFWs in Madrid. They are members of TGFI (The Global Filipino Investors). We listened to their stories about their life in Madrid, their dreams and aspirations. I look forward to their happy saving and investing as they promised.

With us are Cham Abella, Norman Abella, and Percival Madlang-awa who have been working in Madrid for 7 - 15 years.
With us are Cham Abella, Norman Abella, and Percival Madlang-awa who have been working in Madrid for 7 – 15 years.


From Madrid, we took a train ride to Toledo, the former capital of Spain. In terms of awe factor, this is my favorite among the four cities we visited in Spain. The entire city is a museum! It was the first time I’ve been to a place with absolutely no new buildings despite the presence of first world amenities. In 1986 UNESCO declared the entire city a world heritage site.


The city preserved the architectural influences of its early inhabitants – the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Jews, Christians, Muslims. It’s also called the “City of Three Cultures” because of the imprints of the three religions – Christians, Muslims and Jews. When they talk about old structures here, they’re not talking hundreds of years, they mean thousands of years! The Toledo Cathedral (of St. Mary) is one of the largest gothic churches in the world.

 Toledo Cathedral (Catedral Primada de Santa Maria de Toledo) by day and night.
                  Toledo Cathedral (Catedral Primada de Santa Maria de Toledo) by day and night.

Streets are as narrow as our eskenitas that sometimes cars have to fold in the side mirrors to be able to pass. Fortunately, they are impressively clean and well lit, with cobblestones still sturdy as they were when horses and carriages passed through them centuries ago.

 Left: A narrow yet well-lit old street of Toledo; Right: Our quaint hotel which is surprisingly cheap at the equivalent of PhP3,150/night, despite being at the heart of tourist sites.
Left: A narrow yet well-lit old street of Toledo; Right: Our quaint hotel which is surprisingly cheap at the equivalent of PhP3,150/night, despite being at the heart of tourist sites.


This is the Alcazar, a stone fortification located in the highest part of Toledo. It was once used as a Roman palace in the third century. Inside the museum which is interestingly called Museo del Ejercito, you will see the weapons used by Spain to rule the world – artilleries and the Catholic faith. There is a section that contains photos and items about the Philippines.


Toledo is also known for its swords and marzapans. They also have beautiful chess sets and mosaic art pieces.

In 1561 King Philip II moved the capital of Spain from Toledo to Madrid. According to our Toledo-born tour guide, the king’s official reason was that there was no water in Toledo but that was not true. She said that the move was more to give in to the whim of his French queen.

I marvel at how the city kept the look of Toledo intact after all these centuries. It’s a respect for its rich history and traditions.

The last installment of this series will come out next week when I discuss Sevilla and Barcelona – two very vibrant cities, the home of flamenco, bull fights, Gaudi, and more! wallet-icon


  • Watch tomorrow’s short video of our trip to Spain on FQwentuhan at 12 noon.
  • The first batch of the country’s first Fund Management Certificate Course starts today. Call Matt Mabansag 830-2043, (0932)7919190; or register online now poster01
  • Marvin and I will be giving a talk on retirement. October 17, 2017 Tuesday 9am at the Frabelle Business Center; and October 24, 2017 in Cagayan de Oro.
  • Want to know your FQ Score? Take it today. Click link to take the test.
    Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.

ATTRIBUTIONS:  Image from Fund management catalogue, 123rfa, AHDzBooK, All Free Download, Bgfons, Download cliparts and illustrations, dreamstime, fondox, Freepik, FreeVectors, HD Wallpapery, Home Design Image Decoration, iStock, Pinterest, PPT Garden, raisingpinoyboys, Slide Background Image, vecteezy, XsJJyS and Shutterstock used for the cover to help deliver the message of the article.