¡Queridos amigos! I’m terribly sorry that I have not been able to write to you in quite a few days, but I have to admit that I was enjoying myself. Thursday we had class as usual and then went to Karaoke at Hannigans’ at night, but we did not stay very long as the real fun was to begin very early the next morning. At 7:00 am we were scheduled to meet Teresa, Amalia, and the other students at the Plaza Real where we would board a bus set for the destination of Madrid, Spain. Quite excited, yet less than thrilled to be waking so early, we prepared all of our necessities the night before so that our journey could commence quite easily. However, I cannot even remember how, but Pam and I ended up running late! Living in a city, we have become particularly skilled at speed walking and we made it there with four minutes to spare, but once there it took quite a few minutes for us to catch our breath. Five hours, and a viciously uncomfortable nap later (it was like I was doing bus yoga) we arrived in Madrid.
What an interesting city Madrid is! First of all, it’s rather large and has over six million inhabitants, but what really got me was the architecture of the city. You cannot escape the history or the vibrant Spanish culture. We stayed right in the center of Madrid in a beautiful hotel called the Hotel Regina. As we arrived around noon, we were free to have an early lunch- one we had brought from home- and to take a quick siesta. After this short break, Amalia brought us on a little walking tour of the city. Apparently, all of the highways in Spain stem out from Madrid so that, on a map, Spain appears to be a big wheel with Madrid at the nation’s center (does that make Madrid the hub?). We walked through the Plaza del Sol, named such as it is shaped like a rising or setting sun. It is here where much of the shopping is, many of the tourists wander, a number of the street performers practice their arts (a debatable term), and many people tend to lose their belongings to others. Our tour continued on to the Plaza Mayor and eventually to the Cathedral of Madrid. By this point in my life, I have visited my fair share of cathedrals. Anyone who has visited more than three cathedrals (and is not an expert on them, or perhaps is more intelligent than I) will tell you that they start to all seem like the same ridiculously ornate building after a while. I have to say that I was not impressed by the Catedral de la Almudena de Madrid, but it was not only due to grandeur exhaustion. The Cathedral was only completed in 1993 and I felt that it lacked serious historical charm and meaning. When you sit in a pew at Notre Dame, you are amazed to realize that Napolean Bonaparte had sat in the same church and had seized his own crown, but the cathedral in Madrid was too shiny, too clean, and was almost a sad attempt to reclaim the glory of a time now passed.
In a more positive light, I was completely delighted with the Royal Palace which we explored next. I was slightly reminded of Versaille, although the décor and glamour were not quite as excessive (but really what is as excessive as Versaille?) and pleased with the waves of information and history that Amalia washed upon us about the building. When we finished this little tour, Almalia released us to Madrid and we did some shopping (what else is new?). Later on, Pam and I went out to dinner with our friends Mark and John (everyone else went for Sushi- not my thing). We went to this busy little sandwich shop and ate fried calamari sandwiches with potatoes brava. Daddy, you would love this dish! The calamari was delicious and the brava sauce is brilliantly spicy yet delectably tasty. After our dinner, we returned to the hotel to meet up with our other friends and to grab an ice cream cone. As Ms. Badylak-Reals would say, the ice cream was “yum-a-lums!” Finally getting in touch with my friend Tessa, who is studying in Madrid this semester, I arranged to meet her outside my hotel. It was so cool! We really did not do anything, but it was so great to see her and to hear about her semester thus far.
The next morning, we arose for a nice complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, with hot breakfast foods! Pam and I were in heaven. Every single day we eat cereal for breakfast as it is not considered a very important meal in Spain, but both of us agreed that we’ve desperately missed Stonehill’s brunch, and I explained that I missed my daddy’s omelets (I want a tomato and American as soon as I get home please, thanks). After breakfast, our tour of the city continued on, ending at the Prado museum, the most visited museum in Spain and a Spanish art-lover’s dream! It was so cool to see paintings that I have only ever read about or seen photographs of including Las Meninas, La Maja Vestida/Desnuda, El tres de Mayo de 1808, and El caballero de la mano en el pecho. After our tour of the Prado, we returned to our bus and began our short trip to Toledo.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about Toledo. Of course I had heard of it, and could remember that it had some sort of connection to El Greco, but besides that I had no idea what to expect. That is why my jaw dropped to the floor when the bus literally rolled into a medieval castle nestled into a grassy hill. We ate lunch in a little restaurant that overlooked the river and the city itself. The meal began with a delicious assortment of tapas, and then when we felt as though we could not possibly eat any more, we were served a huge plate of fried chicken and french fries which was then followed by a little cup of fruit and ice cream. Needless to say, when we finished, we rolled out of the restaurant and began our tour of the medieval city. We visited the cathedral which hosts more of El Greco’s work and then to a museum that is made of the ruins of an ancient synagogue. So fascinating!
On the bus ride home, Pam and I realized something very interesting. Remember how I said that we bought tickets to go to London this Wednesday? There is also a national huelga on Wednesday, or a national strike. This means that there will be no flying, bus transportation, or even school in the country of Spain because all of the Spaniards will be on strike. As you can imagine, Pam and I immediately panicked. Amalia assured us that we would probably lose all of the money that we had used to pay for the bus tickets and probably for the flight too and that we would have to do some serious arguing to get what we wanted. However, all was not lost! Thankfully, Ryanair (the company through which we bought our plane tickets) recognized that this is slightly inconvenient and offered us a free change of flight time for no charge. I was deeply surprised by this as Ryanair has a terrible reputation for customer service and really everything else (but it’s cheap!). Sunday, Pam and I went to the Granada bus station where we were also allowed to change our tickets free of charge. Huelga won’t get us down! Now, we will be traveling on Thursday instead.
After we figured everything out on Sunday, we attended yet another procession through Granada. This time, however, the whole family went (except Carlos) and we met Ana’s cousin and her daughter there. After the procession Pam and I went with the kids to get frozen yogurt (pronounced “jo-gurt” with a nice glottal hack, it’s really rather humorous) and then we went with Ana and her cousin to get a drink. It was interesting talking to the women and a lot of fun as Ana’s cousin is hilarious!
This morning we took another placement test. It was long, grueling and we did not do anything else all day. Well, I did write this ridiculously long blog post! Hope you enjoyed, now I’m off to eat dinner and then pub quiz at Hannigans. It really is a hard life for the social butterfly.
PS I love you.