Scanning the image, I see bomb bunkers, rubble, and even a swastika (yes, that heinous symbol that I can barely bring myself to spell out). My eyes flash to another picture littered with devastated faces and hunger. I struggle to imagine this version of Madrid…my Madrid…a Madrid full of laughter, sunshine and tapas. But this was a different Madrid from some 60 years ago during the country’s civil war.

Several months back, I was invited to participate in this walking seminar with Context Travel. Usually something like this would without a doubt be uninteresting to me – in any city, I shy away from tours and all things touristy (and thus words like “walking tour” are generally not a big interest for me). But when I found out I could learn about “Madrid under Franco” then, well, I knew this wasn’t just your average sight-seeing route.

Almudena, my docent, and I spent the next hours traversing the city from Plaza Mayor all the way to the Reina Sofia Museum, and stopping for an extended coffee and pastry along the way at the famous El Riojano bakery. She described the history in grand detail, relating it to the very sites we were seeing, and even threw in a few shopping recommendations because she’s awesome like that.

As you can probably imagine, the civil war obviously had a huge impact on Spanish culture and the country that it is today. Strong feelings on both sides still pump feverishly through their veins, leaving opportunity for controversy lingering around every turn. To even write about it, I risk severely misrepresenting the situation at hand (especially because I live in Madrid and haven’t had the opportunity to really understand the points of view of those throughout Spain).

I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I was with the seminar – to resist telling you about it would be a huge disservice. Almudena provided insight upon insight, allowing me to pick her brain, ask the tough questions and really get inside Spanish mentality. Those hours changed my view of the country by revealing its history for what feels like the very first time in the five years that I’ve known the city. I keep on finding my mind wondering, contemplating Spain before it was all wine, cheese and sunshine.

All this said, if I’ve bored you at all with my ranting on Spanish history, then perhaps a seminar isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you passionately want to get inside a culture (and not just in Madrid, but other cities internationally) – really examine it and understand what is behind the glossy brochures and guidebooks – then a seminar like this is surely for you. I can easily say that 4.5 hours have never revealed so much to me about this country as those I spent on my Context Tour with Almudena.