This weekend the CIDE group went on a trip to Madrid and Toledo, the capital and old capital of Spain, and what a weekend it was! We left Friday morning at the insanely early hour of 8 am (well, subtract an hour for transportation and 45 minutes for getting ready, now it’s early). Upon boarding the
bus sauna that would take us the 4 and a half hours into the heart of Spain we were informed of the rules of the road. There weren’t many – 1) there were seat belts and we should wear them and 2) no eating. Nevertheless, I believe we all managed to break them, some in a more discrete fashion than others. No one noticed the pack of fruit snacks Elana and I devoured in the back, yet our naps were later interrupted by a chaperone informing us that she could smell an orange – good call guys, good call. Other than that and the few times I smacked my head into Elana’s shoulder as the bus careened around the several cones on the highway – acceptable?? -, the ride was relatively uneventful, and at the much more reasonable hour of 1:30pm, we rushed into the fresh air of Madrid. Outside of our hotel, slight chaos ensued as we tried to divide ourselves into groups of 3 for the purpose of room assignments. Eventually things were settled and we dispersed into the hotel lobby, onto the elevators, and into our rooms where we promptly collapsed onto the beds truly exhausted from… all the sitting we had just done.
But onto the real excitement! Madrid was a big city with people everywhere and it reminded me a lot of a scaled down, cleaner version of New York City. After our lunch and siestas on Friday, we were given a “guided” bus tour of the various buildings in route to the Royal Palace, a marvelous building constructed after the requisition of Spain from the Arabs and the largest palace in Europe. It was once home to the king and queen of Spain but is now simply a place to visit. Once there, we spent about 20 minutes admiring the outside and taking touristy pictures before finding out that we would actually be allowed to walk around inside. The building was huge, and we were only privy to about 18 of its 2,800 rooms. What the heck! Each room was a different color and decorated with several chandlers, gold lions, and paintings of Cherubs – not exactly how I’d always imagined my castle, but still very impressive. Located directly across the main plaza of the Palace was the first of two main churches we would visit during our trip – the Cathedral of our lady the Almudena, which took over 300 years to be fully constructed. I was very impressed by the basic beauty of this church. Unlike some other churches that boast dark and extravagant gothic styles, this one had only a few beautiful stained glass windows contrasted against white arches and strategically placed decorations. After admiring it for a little while, we continued our walk around the city, stopping at a few more plazas – they’re everywhere!! -, a central market full of fruits, veggies, helado, and local pintxos, which all smelled sooooo much better than the fish market we visited last weekend, and finally arrived at la Puerta del Sol where we were shown the nearest metro station and abandoned for our 3 hrs of free time. Main mission = find Starbucks. 10 minutes later, we were happily caffeinated, slightly reconnected with US culture, and game for continuing to wander the streets (clenching our belongings of course). Cue one stuffed metro ride back to the hotel, dinner that consisted of the exact same options as lunch (and would continue to be that way all weekend), and choosing to stay in with the roomies and watch parts of various different US movies with spanish voice overs and that was Friday.
Saturday’s main event was visiting Toledo, the previous capital of Spain, land of the famous Don Quixote novel, and the prettiest city I have ever seen! Before entering the old quarter of the city we stopped at the top of the hills for a panoramic view. It seriously looked like something out of a history book. Needless to stay we all scrambled off the bus and starting posing for every possible combination of photos (again) including sitting, standing, jumping, candid, you name it, we probably did it. Post photo-shoot we made our way actually into the city where we wondered through the streets, saw a few plazas, admired the combination of different architecture representing it’s Jewish, Muslim, and Christian past, and made our way to the Toledo Cathedral – possibly the largest church I’ve ever seen. It had an obviously Gothic/Baroque style with a plethora of decorations and different alters, paintings, and statutes. We spent over 2 hours inside. By the time our tour guide brought us back outside we were starving and, even after a month of getting used to eating times, slightly ticked that lunch was still a half hour away. We were told to wonder the streets where we stared longingly into the pastry shops, mentioning how much we’d love to try basically anything in the window and then holding onto our precious euros, rationalizing that we were getting free food in a matter of minutes. I made my first truly european purchase – a leather shoulder bag !! , which was totally necessary considering that my current favorite travel bag (the every trust worthy USA Ultimate nationals drawstring) was not only obviously American but had somehow managed to rip at the seems in 4 different places, oops. Finally it was time for lunch! We were served veggie lasagna (NOTHING like what you could possibly expect from hearing the word lasagna), chicken, and cheesecake. A very strange combination of foods, if I do say so myself. Somewhat full, we started our trek back to the “sauna”, passing over the Puente de San Martin, a beautiful medieval bridge across the Tagus river and, of course, another perfect photo stop! An hour later we were back in Madrid and Friday night basically repeated itself. But Friday was good, so I was okay with that.
Come Sunday, we were all pretty tired, especially those who decided to party hard two nights in a row – not sure what they were thinking! They missed some really good movies : P We spent about 2 hours on a tour through el Museo del Prado where we were whisked from room to room to look specifically at one photo or another, focusing the majority of our time on paintings by Goya and Velázquez. I’ve mentioned before I’m not much of an art fanatic but I was excited to see Las Meninas in person, definitely a cool painting with the three different portions of light! When our tour finished, we sprinted off to the Parque de Retiro, set on spending our last 30 minutes in Madrid amongst the beautiful gardens and water, something we hadn’t seen much of all weekend. Several pictures later – yes that’s right more pictures. This time in trees and flower beds and near statues, but you saw that coming, right? – we were sprinting again, this time back to the bus. We were treated to yet another meal at the hotel cafeteria, we certainly got to know their pasta salads and coffee machines well, and then it was time to say adios to the capital city. We were Bilbao bound once again.
Upon arriving at the bus station 4 hours later, we were all a little groggy and incredibly happy to be released from the “sauna”. As we waited for our nice clean metro to take us into Getxo, we professed to each other how happy we were to be back home. Yeah, home! It may have taken us a month and a trip to two other Spanish cities, but in that moment we realized just how much of an attachment we have to our new lives here. I now have proof that Spain consists of more than pretty little Bilbao and yet am incredibly happy that Bilbao is the city I get to call home!
Sorry for the delay in posting and for writing a novel! On a side note, we had my favorite meal for lunch today – PISTO!!! Great day! ¡Que tengáis una semana buena! Hasta pronto : )