Thursday, September 10, 2009

First Off, Madrid

When Brandon and I decided to get married I knew that I would always have to share his heart with his first love, Spain. He always promised that we would go there one day. I really didn't think that day would come while we were doing the whole starving graduate student scene but thanks to a generous grant from the university we were on our way.

The trip started with one of my least favorite activities, flying. We went from Salt Lake to Denver, then to London, and then into Madrid. The good news was that I only barfed twice and only one of those was actually on the plane. We had gotten a really good deal on the airfare so I was very surprised by the luxury of British Airways.
I felt like a celebrity because they had one of those rolling stairways.

When we boarded the plane each seat had the pillows and blankets (freshly sterilized to prevent Swine Flue) and a pair of socks, a travel toothbrush with toothpaste and one of those sleeper masks that movie stars always wear. I kept asking Brandon if we were in the right place because we are the kind of people who usually end up with 'budget' types of services which is the nice way of saying, cheap with no-frills. I was planning on feeling pleased if the airline provided a paper cup of water and was not prepared to have a small bottle of wine served with dinner. They took such good care of us. I was a little surprised when the sandwiches served on the flight to Madrid were a choice of mushroom pate, tomato with spinach, and egg with tuna. I guess they don't have any peanut butter in Europe which is a shame because I think the sandwich was a major contributor to my having to use the air-sickness bags which were also graciously provided. While landing in London the man next to us pointed out Buckingham Palace and the big Ferris wheel at Picadilly Circus.
Upon arriving in Madrid jet-lagged and still on Utah time we were met by our sweet friend Silvia. We had built a friendship with her while she was on a teacher-exchange program and worked with us at the middle school. Originally we weren't planning on going to Madrid at all but it seemed wrong to go all the way out there and not spend some time with our favorite Madrilena. She had a gift of Bolly Caos for Brandon because he had told her how much he missed them.
After Silvia and her brother Carlos made us a traditional Spanish tortilla which is more like a potato omelet Brandon and I basically passed out from exhaustion.
The next morning we spent all day riding around on the tourist bus. Since we had such a short amount of time the bus was perfect because we could get on and off all day and stop at many of the most beautiful spots in the city.

We saw the royal palace and several beautiful buildings and statues.
At a park El Retiro there was a Crystal building, El Palacio de Cristal, which houses art exhibits.
When we went in we saw the stuffed rat and bear which turned out to be the entire exhibit entitled, "Are Animals People?"

We walked around some amazing parks and stopped at Cafe Giron which is where all the best authors used to hang out and discuss philosophy. We also spent some time at the National Library looking through the museum.

I know that some of you are already rolling your eyes at how dorky we are for jetting straight to the library but if you saw this place you would have wanted to go in too.
Brandon wanted to take a picture of a statue of an author he had studied so we ditched the tourists and headed out off the beaten path.

When we found it he caused what he always calls the "Yellowstone Effect." This refers to fact that people will stop and look at anything if there are people taking a picture of it. As he was taking the pictures Spaniards who were out and about on their normal business stopped to see what was so interesting. Some of them had probably passed that statue every day and never seen anything interesting about it until some American tourist stopped to take a picture.
We had a great time despite the fact that riding on the top of the bus all day had pretty much scorched my neck to a dark crimson.

I thought it was pretty ironic that I had made it through an entire week at Lake Powell which routinely hits record breaking temperatures without a single burn but one day in Madrid and I was fried.
That night Silvia had something special in store for us. We went to a Flamenco show.
I have seen clips of Carmen and other choreographed types of Flamenco but we were lucky to see the real thing. The performers were actual Gypsies and they sang and danced straight from their hearts. Flamenco is unlike anything I have ever seen. It looks like pure raw passion and uses rhythms and voices completely foreign to the patterns of music that we are used to hearing. They clap their hands and stomp their feet with a vengeance.
We were there for two hours and I was so entranced that when it ended I had to remind myself where I was.
The show was at a little restaurant called Cafe Chinitas and we were under the impression that the food was included, but it wasn't. As we walked in I knew immediately that the place was not 'budget' and was definitely not British Airways and that if we were going to eat it was going to cost us. When we realized that the cheapest appetizer was 15 Euros or about $22.00 we ordered a water to share and made a meal of the olives that are customary at Spanish meals and the rolls that were already on the table. We got out of there okay because the water was only about $4.50. Those were probably the best olives I've ever had. It makes me laugh because we were in such a beautiful restaurant, but this time we actually had to stick with our starving student reality. The dancing was so beautiful and once it started it was easy to forget that we were hungry.
Even though we spent less than everyone else there we still got VIP treatment, I think it was because we were with the beautiful Silvia. We even got our picture taken with the man who is considered one of the best Flamenco dancers in Spain, Diego Llori y Rosario.

As if we hadn't already had an amazing day Silvia took us to a big neighborhood partyAlcobendas which is just outside of Madrid. We spent almost an hour looking for a place to park and only got a spot because we followed a family pushing a baby carriage for about a mile. We finally made it there about midnight, just in time for the biggest fireworks show I've ever seen. The fiesta, which is the celebration of the patron saint of the neighborhood, San Sebastian de los Reyes, was packed. There were families with little kids and old people. The stereotype about Spaniards is that they know how to party all night long and I quickly learned that it isn't a stereotype. The food stands were selling bocadillos or long baguettes with meat or tortilla inside, which we took advantage of at our first chance.

Everyone was eating, drinking, playing carnival games and enjoying the rides.
There was a huge concert going on as well as a botellon. The botellon was about 5000 young people crowded into a field drinking and hanging out.
We met up with some of Silvia's friends who treated us like we were old buddies. When we left around 2:30, I kind of got the feeling that the party was just starting. They said that they were planning on hanging out until 7 am for the running of the bulls. Everyone knows about the big running of the bulls that happens in Pamplona but I guess that the small communities also have their own. We planned on getting up so that Brandon could get some pictures of himself fleeing from a bull but all three of us slept in and missed it. I guess that's why all the Spaniards knew that they just had to stay up all night. We thought it was pretty funny because they had a lot of raffles and carnival games and in the display of prizes were big legs of pork. This cured ham, jamon serrano is the top prize.

The next day we kind of took a slower pace. We rode the bus and the metro to the Madrid temple.

It was so beautiful and peaceful. The temple grounds also house an MTC. The temple is a miracle to the people of Spain because their LDS population is quite small. A lot of the patrons are from Portugal and other areas. The temple was dedicated while Brandon was on his mission and he said that the members from the entire country made the trip to be there. I was thinking about how I sometimes feel a little bit annoyed that we have to drive 2 hours to get to the Portland temple from Eugene and was humbled by how grateful the Spaniard members were to even have on at all. The spirit at the temple was so peaceful and calm, especially after that wild party we had been to the night before.

We spent the evening swimming at the pool in Silvia's complex and hanging out. At 10:00 we had to say goodbye to our friend and boarded the night train into Barcelona. It was sad to leave Silvia because I don't know when we'll see her again. She was so awesome to take care of us and she is such a fun person to be around. I also really enjoy listening to her speak because her Spanish is beautiful.

With that, it was adios to Madrid.

Luckily after everything we had already done by this time I was so exhausted that I didn't have any trouble sleeping, despite the fact that we weren't in a sleep car, and also despite the crazy woman who was across the aisle and kept emitting loud sighs.

1 comment:

becky rigby said...

"Yellowstone Effect." hahaha I love that story. You two are so funny. The picture with you guys and Sylvia is way cute. You look amazing. Can't wait to come visit.