Miscellaneous Mini Adventures

Fiesta en España

So, I don’t know how exactly I got lucky enough to be that person who gets to go to Spain for Memorial Day Weekend, but here we are.

 

This particular trip was a training tour for EF, the company through which I will be leading a student tour next year. Basically it was my opportunity to “experience a tour” and gain resources and knowledge on how EF works before taking my kids next year. Now, of course, I’ve traveled extensively in Europe, and have chaperoned an EF tour before, but since this will be my first time actually being a trip leader, I got to do it anyway. Hah.

 

I had the option to choose from tours offered in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, and Madrid. If you’ve followed my blog before, you know my thoughts on Italy—I would literally rather go to Iran. France and Germany were countries I enjoyed, but I’d already been to both of those cities. And while China was calling my name, so was the fear of extreme jet lag sandwiched between two weeks of teaching. So, I settled on Madrid. Spain was never a country that stood out to me as a “must see” before this opportunity, but I wasn’t going to complain when it fell into my lap.

 

My journey started like all of my other European adventures: a long, uncomfortable, squished ride on a transatlantic flight. Before boarding these flights, I keep saying, “Maybe this will be the time I successfully sleep on my red eye flight!” but I’ve yet to convince myself to actually achieve that goal.

 

My flight had a transfer in Paris. Now, if you’ve ever flown into Charles De Gualle, you’ll know that it’s one of the worst places in the world. I can’t say THE worst place in the world, because that title is actually held by La Guardia Airport in New York. Scroll far enough back into my blog history and you’ll find an entry title “La Guardia Sucks,” and I stand by that statement. Anyways, Charles De Gualle is also terrible, mostly because the airport is so convoluted and disorganized. First of all, in my experience, no matter where you are arriving from, your connection gate is always on the other side of the airport. Flying in from South Africa and going to Italy? Run to the other side of the airport. Connecting from Venice to Boston? Other side of the airport. Run. Fetch. Transferring from Vienna to Amsterdam? Enjoy your jog. Well, that held true, as I was arriving from Boston but transferring to Madrid. I had an hour to make a connection and spent 45 minutes of it stuck in security, then by the time I’d sprinted to the other side of the airport, my plane was gone.

 

Now, I’ve done a lot of traveling. It’s kind of my thing. I’ve traveled domestically, internationally, solo, in a tour, with family, with friends, to all kinds of places. To my memory, I have never missed a connecting flight. So the first thing I did was panic. I had a tour to catch in Spain, and my first worry was that they were going to leave and go savor all of the best sights of Madrid without me while I took a cab to my hotel in silence. I knew I’d make it eventually but I didn’t want to miss anything! Luckily that panic was brief, and I was able to transfer my ticket very easily to the next flight leaving two hours later.

 

The silver lining of that situation was that I had plenty of time to change clothes and touch up my makeup in the bathroom. I would be getting off my next flight fresh as a daisy. I also got macarons at the Lauderie stand, because when you’re in Paris, you eat macarons. It’s a rule.

 

After two more hours in the air, I touched down in Spain. Now, we were supposed to meet our tour at baggage claim, but considering I was two hours late, I figured everyone else had left. But one of the EF representatives, Sam, stayed behind to wait for me and joined me on the cab ride to the hotel. Along which we shared travel stories and discussed the upcoming weekend’s adventures.

 

We arrived at the hotel and I unloaded all of my belongings. The one positive of being the last arrival was that I was the odd one out for an odd number of people, meaning I would have a room to myself instead of having to room with a stranger. Now, I had originally wanted a roommate just as a way to kick off socialization. However, now having lived through the experience, I’m happy I had some time to myself at the end of each day.

 

After the quick hotel stop, I joined the rest of the tour. On the bus, we met our guide Marcello, a quirky Italian man with a funny laugh. Right away I could tell we were in good hands.

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Soon we were on route to the Prado museum, one of the best exhibitions of paintings in the world. Now, I’m not a huge art person. But one thing that immediately stood out to me in Marcello’s spiel about the museum is that it housed a few famous artists’ masterpieces: Goya, Velasquez, and Bosch. Now, Bosch is one of the artists I talk about when I teach my unit on Renaissance Art, because his stuff is BIZARRE. I’m talking people surrounded by half bird/half man creatures and faces with arms and other weird stuff. And I found out that his “Garden of Earthly Delights,” regarded as one of the weirdest paintings the Renaissance era has to offer, was at the Prado. I had not known this. So I was excited to behold its novelty. Once I got to the museum, it didn’t disappoint. I’d tried to explain it to you, but I have no words. I wasn’t allowed to take photos but here’s one from Google. I got to see this beauty in the flesh.

Garden of Earthly Delights

I will say I wandered around a little bit and saw some of the other art and it was interesting. Spanish art is very dark and morbid compared to that of the Italian Renaissance art. In my travels I’ve seen a lot of depictions of Jesus on a cross, and they’ve all kind of blended into one another in my memory. It’s not super original, he’s a popular guy. But at the Prado I got to see images like crazy Queen Joanna of Spain staring awkwardly at the coffin of her dead husband, and a huddle of nonbelievers joining around a goat-headed man meant to symbolize the devil. There were some gems in there. Again, sadly, no photos allowed. But also again, Google.

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Now, again, I’m not a huge art person. But many people are, and so we were given two hours and fifteen minutes to wander around this museum. I was good to call it in about twenty-five minutes. After a quick glance at Google Maps, I realized that we were really close to the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was the equivalent of Madrid’s Central Park. It was a beautiful day outside, and this park was famous for being gorgeous, so I ditched the flat art in favor of the outdoor space. I floated the idea out to a couple more people in our tour, seeing if I could inherit a companion but no one seemed interested, so I carried on solo. I didn’t mind. It was absolutely gorgeous and I was happy to take in some sights that I really appreciated.

 

Within the park, I got to see both the Alfonso XII monument, which looked very reminiscent of Budapest’s Hero’s Square, but with the added bonus of a reflecting pool and paddleboat fleet. Deeper in the park I also found the Palacio De Cristal, an iron and glass structure built to house a greenhouse of Filipino botanical specimens in the late 1800s. Now it’s just a pretty glass house, and delightful Instagram fodder

 

The gardens themselves were just absolutely gorgeous. The air smelled like fresh greenery, people ambled around, locals and tourists alike enjoying the peace of the day. I came across three street performers along my journey, the first one was an accordionist close to the entrance playing “Hallelujah,” followed by a saxophonist by the reflecting pool playing “Tequila,” and last, a violinist by the Palacio de Cristal playing “Memory” from Cats. It’s safe to say I gave a Euro to the accordionist, but passed on the other two.

 

After the park, I rejoined the group in front of the Prado. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had ventured out of the Prado a bit early. Some others had gone to the bar, and a few had gone to the park as well. Glad I’m not the only rebel on the tour.

 

Dinner that night was in an old traditional Spanish restaurant. Since the building itself was older than the United States by a couple millennia, it was really small, but luckily it had a basement that was large enough to fit most of us. They called it “the dungeon,” but it was painted bright yellow and emblazoned with painted tiles. It definitely did not feel like a dungeon. Dinner itself was a soup and bread course, followed by stewed meats of chicken, pork, and chorizo—Spanish sausages. There were two kinds of sausages, one traditional, one blood sausage. The blood sausage was actually probably my favorite one, even though it grossed out a lot of people. And of course, to wash it all down, we each had a cold glass of sangria, straight from the source. (Photo credit on a lot of food pictures goes to Mike Mozingo, who let me steal a lot of his from Facebook. I often started eating too quickly to snap pictures of my food. Whoops.)

Despite the beauty of the day we left when we traipsed down into the dungeon, at some point, it had begun thunderstorming. Now, the smart people on the tour brought jackets and umbrellas, whereas the dumb people (really pretty much JUST me) packed light and wore a cute sundress. So I had to walk about five minutes in the pouring rain. But no harm. I knew a shower and bed awaited me at the hotel. The shower was rejuvenating, the bed welcoming, and frankly, I don’t really remember what happened between pulling the covers over my body and waking up to my alarm the next day.

 

***

 

We started off day two with a familiar European hotel breakfast and a two hour seminar on being a tour group leader. Now, I’m not writing this to teach you how to be a group leader, so I’m just going to leave it at, “It was super informative and valuable! I now feel more prepared to take my kids to Budapest!” and then tell you to go on your own training tour if you’re curious. I will say that despite the quality of the meeting, I was still very much champing at the bit to get into the city.

 

We boarded the bus and were told that our first adventure would be to survive getting onto the Metro. Now, once you’ve ridden one Metro in Europe, you’ve ridden them all, so I wasn’t worried about surviving. What I was excited to see was the Metro stop we were using for this experiment was the one right in front of Spain’s famous bullfighting stadium, the Plaza Del Toro. Now, there was a crew of people going to watch bullfighting that evening. While I was curious to see the spectacle of the event, I’m too much of a squeamish animal lover to see a guy kill a bull. But I was happy we stopped here for our Metro tutorial because the Plaza del Toro was probably one of my favorite buildings in Madrid. It’s a newer building, built in 1929, but with very strong hints to the Moorish architecture brought in by the Arabs in the 6th century, as showcased by the horseshoe arches, hourglass windows, and geometric mosaics. I was in love.

 

 

I should probably warn you, readers, for those of you who don’t know, that I minored in Middle Eastern Studies in college, and part of what drew me to that particular minor was my love for Muslim art and architecture. I saw A LOT of that this weekend, so I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about it. Be forewarned, there are lots of pictures of geometric tile work coming your way. It’s BEAUTIFUL. I mean I think so.

 

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Also in the courtyard of the stadium was a statue of a Matador saluting a bust of Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin. Seems like an odd connection, yes. But the reason for this was that before the invention of antibiotics, Matadors dropped like flies from bullfights, not because they were violently gored, but because smaller scratches and scrapes would get infected and they would die from the illness that resulted. In comes Fleming, penicillin spreads worldwide, and suddenly Matadors’ life expectancies increase. Yay! Go science!

 

 

Once we disembarked from the smoothly running Madrid Metro (which made the T look like a death trap by comparison), our assignment was to get something to eat, go to the bathroom, and do some souvenir shopping in the hour before our walking tour. We had disembarked from the Puerta Del Sol, which was the equivalent of Madrid’s Times Square. Thankfully it was not nearly as crowded, large, or shady, however there were still creepy people dressed up like dirty Minnie Mouse, Bumblebee the Transformer, Bart Simpson and other nightmarish friends.

 

For something to eat, we hopped into La Mallorquina, which I would compare to Madrid’s Mike’s Pastry. It’s a famous bakery with all kinds of Spanish pastries. Walking in there, you get a nice waft of sugary heaven. We each picked out something tasty and then wandered back out to eat in the sunshine. My pastry was almost like a flat croissant but filled with a light sweet custard and topped with honey glaze and almonds. It was amazingly tasty.

 

 

From there we ventured around the Plaza and did some souvenir shopping. In the center of the plaza is a bronze statue of the symbol of Madrid, which is a bear climbing a strawberry tree with a bird in it…? I never got the explanation as to why it was the symbol of the city but it was cute so we took pictures there. Then we ventured off to find some goodies. One of our Spanish teachers wanted to get some Spanish fans for her classroom, so we went into an authentic fan shop to get some. I didn’t buy one because I knew it would just sit on a shelf, but they were very pretty to look at. We also found a cheesy gift shop where I got my Spanish mini flag and a maroon embroidered shawl that I am determined to incorporate into my regular wardrobe.

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We then needed to hit up the bathroom, so we wandered down one of the streets in search of a coffee shop so we could get some caffeine and use the facilities. On our journey, we first found a butcher shop. There were shops like that all over the city boasting the best Iberian ham. To make it even more adventurous, these places often had a stand that held the pig leg on display on the slicer, hoof and all, to be shaved and devoured. Yep, I can’t handle the bullfighting but here’s a dead pig leg. Anyways, we all grabbed some kind of ham product to much on. I wasn’t feeling too hungry so I just got a little snack cone of ham itself and ate it plain. It was kind of like a really salty prosciutto. Definitely good, but definitely something I couldn’t eat an entire cone of without having a heart attack.

 

 

IMG_0772After, we continued on our coffee shop hunt and came across two Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts. Because, y’know, you go all the way to Spain to have American coffee. After almost caving into the glowing light of the pink and orange Ds, we finally came across a little art café that served coffee. I’m glad we found that place, because it was really cute inside, and the coffee was really good.

 

From there, we returned to the Puerta del Sol to meet the group for our afternoon guided tour. We began the tour on the bus, stopping at a couple different monuments, first a park with a monument dedicated to Cervantes and Don Quixote. From there we parked the bus near the palace and started to walk through the nearby gardens. In the gardens there was a statue of Spanish King Philip IV riding atop a rearing horse. Apparently this likeness was originally a painting, but the king loved it so much that he commissioned a sculptor to make a monument as well. But the way that the weight of the sculpture was distributed made it nearly impossible. The sculptor, Pietro Tacca, had to collaborate with Galileo to get the math and physics of the statue to the specific measurements required to make it scientifically possible. That’s right. Galileo took time away from doing science things to help this guy make a statue of the crazy king.

 

 

From the gardens, we entered the Royal Palace of Madrid, where the royal family resided from 1735 to 1935. This building was absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately I was unable to take photos inside, so I’ll try to use words to do it justice. It reminded me a lot of Versailles, but a lot more eccentric. Every room was posh and glamorous from head to toe, with a million chandeliers imported from Bohemia. And each room was very elaborately decorated around a theme. There was a room that was dark blue and painted with stars on the ceiling. Another was modeled after an Asian garden, with rococo patterns in soft blues and greens with couches that matched. At one point we entered a dressing room and our tour guide said, “Ah yes, this is the green room…” And yep, it was green. Everything in the room from floor to ceiling was a shade of green.

 

Especially impressive was the dining room, with a table as long as a Viking longboat and place set for at least fifty people while chandeliers dangled from all over the ceiling. Our tour guide was explaining the seating etiquette, saying how the king and queen, when holding state dinners, would be seated across from each other in the center of the table while the closest people of importance would sit next to them, followed by the next most important, and so on. Although, she did Freudian slip and say, “So, if the king was to have a visit from President Drunk,” instead of “Trump,” and she blushed eight shades darker than her face, apologizing over and over. Of course, with a tour of twenty-five some-odd teachers, we all just cackled.

 

Another really cool room was the throne room. Leading up to it, there was a crown and scepter in a glass case, and a throne next to them. Our guide explained that none of these items were to be used anymore. The king doesn’t wear the crown, or hold the scepter, or sit in the throne. The power of these items has been passed to the people, and while the king still exists, he doesn’t have power over the people anymore, and is rather just a figurehead of the monarchical era of Spain.

 

In the throne room itself, there were murals all over the ceiling of different peoples, some African, some Latin American, some Caribbean. One of the girls on our tour asked what they were meant to symbolize, and our guide told us they were meant to show the territory of the Spanish empire when it was painted in the 1700s. All of the peoples depicted had been conquered by the Spanish. It was really cool and really illuminating to see just how much they had taken over.

 

Quite possibly the best part of the palace was the view. It sat right on top of a hill that overlooked the surrounding hills of the city. Luckily our tour members had gotten to know each other well enough at that point to ask to take photos of one another. It was like a senior picture photo shoot.

 

Our next stop was the Cathedral of Madrid, which was right next to the palace. Apparently the Cathedral is really controversial because it’s a relatively new structure, and it’s decorated with a much more modern art style than most Catholic cathedrals in Europe. When it was built, I guess there was an argument about whether to decorate it in the modern style of the period in which it was built, or to use more renaissance influences. I personally really enjoyed it, mostly because I’ve been in so many Catholic cathedrals that they’ve all started to blend together in my mind. This one was really colorful and unique, so I liked it.

 

We had a wee bit of time to kill before heading out for dinner, so we decided to hop over to the Plaza Mayor, the most famous plaza in Madrid, and the Mercado de San Miguel, both of which had been explored by the other tour members while I was stress eating macarons in the Paris airport. Both were really neat. The Plaza Mayor reminded me of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, but with less pigeons, and more color and liveliness. And then the market was just a feast for the eyes and nose. Fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, wines, cooked food, sweets, it was all there. You couldn’t get from one end to the other without impulse buying something tasty. We went for the sangria. Because, Spain.

 

Dinner was a traditional Spanish Tapas. Now, the pictures aren’t going to look super impressive, but that’s because I started taking pictures at the beginning, but by the time all the food was actually on the table, we’d started scarfing it down like ravenous lions. For those of you who haven’t had tapas before, it’s a popular Spanish way of dining in which the entire table gets a variety of small plates and splits them. Kind of like when you go out to eat but just get appetizers for everyone to split. But these weren’t your American mozzarella sticks. We had bread, manchego cheese, fried potatoes in spicy sauce, Iberian ham, a fried potato quiche type thing, some other stuff I’ve already forgotten again because I inhaled it too fast, and for dessert, churros in chocolate sauce. It was all so amazingly tasty, and now I want to go for tapas in America, now that I know how good it is. Oh, and also we all got to share a giant pitcher of Sangria, because, Spain.

 

Following dinner, we had some free time to explore, but most of us positioned ourselves to experience the thrill of experiencing the city of Madrid glued to their TVs watching the Champions League soccer match of Real Madrid vs. Liverpool. Me and a group found a table that was outside a pub where the game was being shown. It was perfect because we didn’t have to worry about being mosh-pitted by locals, but we could still observe from afar with our sangria.

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I will say, I was a little disappointed with the post-game ruckus. Real Madrid took home a victory, and while there were plenty exclamations of excitement, the celebration wasn’t as crazy rambunctious as I expected it to be. I was in Boston when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and the entire city went crazy. Strangers were kissing strangers, beer was hurled in the air, there were parades in the street, a bunch of crazy people tried to push over a coach bus… And this was for hockey, one of a bunch of major sports in America. Soccer is LIFE for all European sports fans. While we did see some parading, some shouting, some drunken trains of men singing “Olé, olé olé olé!” it definitely wasn’t the post-victory riot I was expecting. Maybe that party was on the other side of town.

 

A group of us did decide to stay out on the town, but we wound up at the Irish pub close to our hotel rather than staying in the center of town. We’d tried to go into a discoteque near the Puerta del Sol but everyone on our tour was weirded out by how sticky it was. I would have stayed though, there were some cute guys in there, but oh well. Our night ended with shots at the Irish pub and a crooked walk home, so I’ll say it was a good day.

 

***

 

We started our last day with yet another two hour seminar on leading tours. Again, very helpful, very informative, I’m learning a lot. But also we were going on an excursion to Toledo and I wanted to go to there. Vamanos.

 

The drive to Toledo was only about an hour long, and was decently pretty. It was mostly just open fields with the occasional little town or strip mall to pass through. We also noticed fields and fields of red poppies, which stood out really pretty against the blue sky and green grass. Spain is pretty, guys.

 

By about 1pm we had reached Toledo, and just as we were driving up, I was already in love. The city itself sits along a canyon river on three sides, making it look like something out of a fairy tale. From the cliffs to the side of the city, the most striking landmark is the palace which has been used off and on since the Roman Empire. And all around the city were walls and spires and bridges of stone and tile. Upon arrival we were told that the city was decorated for the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi, so the whole city was flying banners in celebration, making its seem all the more colorful and festive. The city is like if Aladdin and Game of Thrones met in the middle. I’m obsessed with it.

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Our first activity was free time, which I was excited about, because I wanted to dig into this masterpiece of a place. I knew I wanted some kind of geometric art jewelry, to showcase again my obsession with Muslim art styles. Pretty quickly I found myself in a jewelry store picking up some of Toledo’s famous handmade craft earrings, made from threading strings of gold into an iron base. I also found a pendant that matched, which wasn’t as high of quality, but it was pretty so I bought it. I almost bought an expensive pendant instead of an expensive pair of earrings, but those had quite the hefty price tag. So instead of spending an obscene amount of money, I settled for a ridiculous amount of money instead. Whatever. I’m in Europe. Money doesn’t count. It’s so colorful. It’s like Monopoly.

 

I also grabbed some lunch as I meandered around, which was a Panini kind of thing with manchego, Iberian ham, and salami. It was pretty good. I also washed that down with a scoop of gelato. At one point I’m wandering these medieval streets lined with tile and arches and hanging lanterns holding my gelato cone and geeking out about the pretty architecture and felt like I was in heaven.

Soon we met our guide, Enrique, for a tour of the city. Enrique was great, and super knowledgeable. Not to mention he knew all the best routes to take to avoid the crowds, and which gift shops had bathrooms in them, so bonus points. We spent a lot of the tour in the Toledo Cathedral, which, was big and beautiful and smelled like incense, but like I said earlier, was pretty much exactly like the Prague Cathedral and St. Stephens Cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica, and all the rest. I get it. The Catholic Church had money in the early modern era and spent it all to build giant churches that glorify Jesus. Boom, just taught my whole Europe curriculum.

One thing I was super impressed with was Enrique’s ability to actually make me interested in art history, if only for five minutes. He took us to the priests’ dressing room in the back of the chapel to show us a masterpiece painting of El Greco. He talked about how this artist was famous for doing a couple things: using color to draw the eye to certain characters, for representing modern (for the time) elements in historical works, and for finding a way to incorporate something white into the painting so he could sign his name so that people would see it. El Greco seems cheeky. And as for historical inaccuracies, you can see that the men represented taking Jesus to the cross don’t look like Romans, they look like conquistadors, which is an interesting choice for a Spanish painting. I feel like that would be kind of like painting American soldiers in a less than savory light. Regardless, it’s a cool painting.

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We then got to go into the Jewish Quarter and see one of my favorite spots, the Synagoga de Santa Maria le Blanca. So, this was build during the period in which the Arabs had control of the city of Toledo. At this point, all three monotheistic communities were living harmoniously in the city, y’know before that whole Spanish Inquisition, “be Catholic or get out” thing. But anyway, the Jewish community commissioned some of the best artists in the world to erect their new synagogue, and it just so happened that the best artists they could hire at the time were some of the Moorish artisans, the Muslim artisans, which gives the building its mosque-esque appearance. When the Moors were finally kicked back out to North Africa, and the Jewish communities converted or expelled, the building was repurposed into a Catholic church. They built pews and an alter and all the other things you needed to conduct mass. However, most Catholic families at that time already had a parish they attended, so the “new church” in the Jewish quarter didn’t draw in too many followers. So it was abandoned until the 1800s when it became a historical landmark. And it’s GORGEOUS in there. I had goosebumps. Tile, guys. Look at the tiles.

 

I don’t really have anything else to say here aside from the fact that this city is so beautiful. I already slammed you with pictures of the synagogue so I feel like I needed another line of text before I whap you with more pictures of Islamic architecture. You good? Need a break? Okay good here you go.

 

We meandered a bit more and ended our tour along the Puente de Alcantara, which is yet another bridge that dates back to Roman times, and again, looks like something straight out of Game of Thrones. And speaking of Game of Thrones, before we left the city, we got to visit a place that specializes in ironworking, specifically with swords and other handicrafts. In the shop we got to watch a guy work metal, another guy thread lace into the iron medallions (much like the ones I bought in town), and then we got to see their showroom where they had tons of swords and knives and other crafts for sale, including Game of Thrones replica weapons and armor, including but not limited to Jon Snow’s sword and the Mountain’s zombie armor. It was really cool in there. And I bought a letter opener that looks like an Arabian dagger so I’m really excited about that.

I can honestly say that never in my life have I wanted to go to Toledo. I actually just recently found out that it was in Spain. I dunno where I thought it was before that. But now that I’ve been, I’m in love. Maybe down the road I could see myself doing a Spain tour with kids. Maybe Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Seville? Maybe throw Cordoba in there for good measure? I have too many things I want to do. It’s an addiction.

 

After the bus ride home, we headed into the city for our paella dinner. I liked the paella, but I wish that more of the chicken and seafood had been in it…rather than on the side…looking at me. Don’t be fooled, I ate both of those suckers’ butts and they were pretty tasty, but I got real sticky trying to get in there.

 

We capped off the evening with a flamenco dance show. This was the thing on the itinerary that made me think, “Ah…Madrid does sound like it might be a good time.” We each got a complimentary glass of sangria and sat to watch the dancing. These dancers WORK. Each one went up individually and performed to two songs, which again were definitely a fusion of traditional Spanish, but also vaguely Arab sounding with the guitar and lilting vocals. The dancing itself was so amazing. It’s so hard to describe. It’s almost like aggressive, passionate tap dancing. Their feet move so fast you can’t even see them. All the while, their arms and fingers are moving so flexibly and delicately all at once. And of course, all this is happening while they are giving off the SASSIEST attitudes. Apparently those are the two rules of Flamenco, you always need to have dancing fingers, and you need a serious attitude. And of course, the pretty dresses are just bonuses.

From there we took one last stroll down the street to meet the bus. I got to see the Plaza Mayor one more time, and the outside of the Mercado San Miguel. The whole city was just settling in, preparing for an evening of dinner and dancing and festivities. After all, it was almost 10pm and the sun had just barely set. No wonder why everything happens just a little bit later than “usual” in Spain.

I had to wake up ridiculously early for my 7am flight, so as soon as we got back to the hotel I just kind of Irish-goodbyed everyone and went back up to my room to pack quickly and get into bed. It was real fun guys, but I somehow drew the short straw of being the last one to get to Spain and the first one to leave the hotel. At 4am.

 

Spain, Spain, Spain. Honestly, this place had never been even close to my bucket list, but now that I’ve been, I’m so happy I’ve seen it. This is just such an incredibly beautiful country with a rich culture that I’m happy to have experienced. As I travel more, I realize that the more I have to learn about a place, the more exciting it is. I came into Spain knowing “sangria and churros” and left with a very real appreciation for Spanish history and culture. I also drank enough sangria to float a boat, so I can’t complain about that either.

 

18 down, 12 to go. You’re next, Iceland.

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