Thursday, October 9, 2008

Madrid, Espana (Oct. 1-4)

My adventure is Madrid actually started with me seeking refuge in an airport coffee shop arm chair for a couple hours sleep because I didn't have enough time to go back to campus in between flights. I was actually really surprised how many people were spending the night in the airport. There was a lot of competition for comfortable places to sleep. It turned out to be okay that I stayed in the airport because the next morning was absolutely miserable and rain, and I'm not sure I would have gotten out of bed to go to the airport. Of course, that all changed as soon as we reached Spain and the weather was sunny and in the upper 60s.

We reached the hostel pretty easily and headed off into town to explore. Madrid is a big city with a few million people but it's still really easy to walk to most places and if you don't feel like walking the metro will take you anywhere. We managed to cover most of the plazas we wanted to see in the first afternoon. We also wandered over the Palacio Real and its gardens without realizing it. That night we went to a restaurant at 9:00pm and were the first ones there for dinner. We ordered Menus del Dia where you get 2 courses, bread, dessert, and a drink. Problem: didn't understand the finer points of spanish food vocab so it ended being more random selections than legitimate choices. I ended up with this really good vegetable stew with an egg, and somesort of fish that was covered with breading and sauce so it didn't actually taste like fish. That was the only reason I was able to finish it. Dessert was strwberry mousse or whatever that in in Spanish. The good news is that that meal was the only one were I had an ordering mishap and had great food for the rest of the trip. That night we met up with a friend of the guy I was traveling with and got Chocolate con churros. Fried dough with a coffee cup of melted chocolate-absolutely delicious. Tradition says you're supposed to eat all the chocolate before leaving but Justin doesn't like chocolate so Melanie and I felt a little bad eating it in front of him. After that we went to these two Irish pubs that were actually playing the first round of the MLB playoffs so I saw the Phillies game. At the first pub we went to their were four guys that play baseball at Kalamzoo College, all of half an hour from my parents' house. I really think there were more Americans in the first pub than Spaniards. We went back to the hostel at 1.30am and while the locals were just warming up for the night, we were the lasts ones back to our room.

The second day we started off at the Prado taking in art from at least 200 years ago like Goya and Valazquez and El Greco. The museum took most of the morning to work through. By the time we left there was no way I could look at another painting and have any kind of appreciation for it. We grabbed lunch in a Plaza in the beautiful Spanish sunshine and then headed off to La Corrida at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. I was a little anxious about going to the bullfight because I've heard they can be a little gory. We ended up sitting behind a couple from Chicago who grew up in Madrid. It was nice because they had kids our age and were able to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of bullfights. In the end we saw 6 bullfights, and one particularly mean bull get pardoned. When the one bull was pardoned, they sent in this herd of cows with big bells around their necks to escort the bull out of the ring. The bullfight we went to was a Novillada so the matadors were all 19 or 20 years old going up against 3 year old bulls. The bulls may have been young but they were still over 1000lbs each. The last bull was a nasty one and actually tossed its 19-year-old matador up in the air twice. The entire experience was mind-blowing and a complete culture shock. We left completely blown away, especially after watching a kid younger than us get tossed like a ragdoll. They face their own mortality everytime they go to work and I'm worried about classes transferring. That night we ended up eating Italian and turing in early.

Friday, we went to the Reina Sofia which as more modern art like Picasso and some Dali. As we went through the museum the "art" got progessively weirder. Pretty much everything after Picasso's Guernica was a little too bizarre for my taste. That collection also took the majority of the morning and pushed my appreciation for art to the limit. In the afternoon we toured the Palacio Real which was the official resisdence of the King of Spain even though he doesn't live there. The amoury had at least 30 suits of armour from Medieval Spain. The Place was elaborately decorated and every room with different other than the reoccuring theme of gold and crystal chandelliers. The pharmacy was also impressive with its scores and scores of ceramic jars labelled with some substances that probably helped and some that definitely didn't help anything. We stopped by the Plaza de Oriente on our way back to the hostel to look at the statues that were supposed to decorate the roof of the Palacio but were placed in the plaza because the Queen was worried the roof would collapse. We decided to stop for a drink at one of the cafes with not very good luck. I had a Baileys and instant coffee which was gross and Justin had a coke-colored rum. I almost got a hot chocolate. I think that would have been a much better tasting choice. I miss normal brewed coffee so much its ridiculous. For dinner we went to this awesome mexican restuarant called La panza es primero. I got chicken enchiladas with mole. They were served with assorted salsas of varying strength from nothing to moderately hot. I was so excited to be eating something I recognized and tasted like I thought it would. I also had a margarita with a salt and chili pepper ring. After that dinner the idea of bland English food was slightly depressing. After dinner we wandered around the area because we were in a hotspot for nightlife. The streets were full of people who at midnight were barely starting their night out. When we went back to the hostel the street below us was still crawling with people and we could hear them outside the window until well after 3am. Even with all the partying the streets were spotless in the morning. The street cleaning crews started at about 5am worked for several hours before we emerged after breakfast.

Our last day in Madrid we spent mostly people watching in and around the Plaza Mayor. I did go to the Catedral de San Isidro. It was the most beautiful church I've been in since i arrived in Europe. It was an elaborate church but it wasn't overbearing like some of the churches I've been in. There was a Mass going on so I couldn't take any pictures and felt a little awkward walking past the back few rows of pews. Inside the Plaza Mayor living art is very popular and we were lucky enough to watch some of the acts from arrival to breakdown. There were also street performers. By the end of the fourth day I could understand most of the scripts. Unfortunately ever time someone asked me a question I would stumble and answer in mangled spanglish to the point that by the time we actually left I was speaking English about as poorly as I was speaking Spanish.

Traveling back to the UK was a big reality check. Our plane was almost an hour late leaving Madrid and we arrived at a very cold and rainy London. The plane had to park out on the runway so we had to go through the rain to the bus to take it to customs. But the fun didn't stop there. There was work being done on the tracks we were supposed to take so we had to take a rail replacement bus to Brighton and then catch a night bus in the rain. I was so ready to go back to sunny Spain after 2 hours of English rain. I'm already looking forward to going back to Spain, hopefully to Barcelona next time.

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