Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Madrid, El Escorio, Segovia and more!

WHEW! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged! I wrote some notes to myself about the past couple weeks, but I may end up remembering things later as well. I’ll post about those when that happens! This is only the first few days in Toledo and Madrid, and is quite the novel, but I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This was the last day of our “intensive” Spanish course. Many kids skipped because we obviously weren’t going to do anything in class that would affect our grades, considering we had already taken our finals. I knew I had done poorly on both of my finals, but I went to class anyway. We watched a movie called Empuje del Sur that was a kids cartoon about Washington Irving and his time spent in the Alhambra. It sort of reminded me of Aladdin mixed with Prince of Egypt mixed with Pocahontas. I enjoyed it even though we had just gotten our finals back right before we started it. To make up for this, all of the Jardines crew (including the Spaniards) went to see Enimigos Publicos (Public Enemies…the one with Johnny Depp) that night. I hadn’t seen that movie yet, and I thought it was really good! I understood most of it, because it was pretty visual (as most movies are…) so good thing it wasn’t a comedy or else I would have really been lost! I packed when I got back to Jardines, because early the next morning the AIFS group was set to leave for MADRID!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I got up rather early to make it to breakfast before running to catch the bus. We met at the Neptuno Mall plaza…where we had gone to see Enemigos Publicos the night before! We left around 9:45 after we had to wait for a few girls who apparently missed their alarms. Paula always says we’re leaving RIGHT on time and that you’ll be left behind if you’re late, but that has yet to happen. I think it’s because she missed the bus once for an excursion when she was studying abroad, so she knows what it feels like to be left behind. So, at least she has some sympathy! However, she ALWAYS says it’s the last time she will wait for someone. Anyway, our bus left and we drove for about 2 hours before we stopped at a little gas station and cafeteria for lunch. The Jardines crew, once again, had to sit back with our frozen bocadillos and watch the other kids munch away at their Subway-esque sandwiches. This time, the cheese had actually frozen to the meat, so I couldn’t even separate the two even after the 2 hour bus ride. I had to make do with nibbling around the edges and eating my apple.

After 2 more hours on the bus we made it to Toledo, where we were to spend the next few hours with our tour guides Carlos and Luis (nephew and uncle, respectively)…not to be called “tour guide” or else they would call us “tourist”. Paula mentioned to us multiple times before arrival that Carlos is the best guide she has ever had in all of her years traveling throughout Spain. He did all the talking on the bus part of the tour, and was VERY funny. I thought he sorta sounded like Triumph the Insult dog (both because of his accent and because of how many jokes he told), so I took a video that, if you’re interested, you’ll have to see when I get home. We got off the bus to make our way around to see the Catedral, Iglesia de Sto. Tome and the Sta. Maria la Blanca (an old synagogue). **SIDE NOTE: On the way into town, I saw a sign for Hotel Christina Maria…or was it Maria Christina?? Anyway, I thought that was funny!** I ended up in the group with Luis, who was also a pretty good guide, but for different reasons. He was VERY enthusiastic, yet serious, about his tours, and always made sure that no other tourists were listening in on his speeches (“THIS IS A PRIVATE TOUR…”). He was extremely knowledgeable about everything, and had a specific story for every place we went. He told us that in 1995 he had the honor of giving a tour to Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, so I guess he’s pretty well known in the guide world! I was a bit upset because pictures weren’t allowed in any of the places, but I did manage to get a good picture of him and Daryl sharing an umbrella once it started raining. I’ll make sure to try and get my pictures up…somehow…sometime. In the Catedral we saw works of Goya, Velasquez, El Greco and other famous painters. We also got to see a blacksmith at work in the “fabrica de damasquinado y espadas”. Here was where the best swords of Europe were made for battles back in the day. In the gift shop, everyone had a field day playing with all the different swords…check out flickr. Paula said that some kids in the past had actually bought swords (I mean, I considered it. Who WOULDN’T want a sword?? They were only 50+ Euros!) but had trouble sending them back home. (No, you can’t take them on the plane.)

After we left Toledo, we headed another hour north to Madrid. We got to our hotel, Hotel Principe Pio and had the rest of the evening to explore. Our hotel was very nicely situated in between Plaza Espana and the Palacio Real—and also pretty close to Principe Pio mall. This is where we found our dinner for the evening. Paula had pointed out a few places that we could try and we ended up at VIPS. It had American-type food…I say American-type because it still didn’t quite taste like home. Daryl and I split a chicken cesar salad and a cheese burger. After dinner we just walked around for a bit to see what else was close by. On our way back to the hotel we ended up walking behind this guy and his “bomb squad” dog. How comforting. Apparently a group of them were staying at our hotel, because in the morning, all of the dogs were sitting in the lobby in their kennels. The people who didn’t put 2 and 2 together had a bit of a freak out session as we boarded the bus the next morning…

Friday, October 2, 3009

BREAKFAST! FREE! Oh, it was wonderful. We had churros, hot chocolate, toast, muffins, fruit, juice (except that tasted a bit funky), cereal and more! I made sure to stock up on the small packs of cookies before we got on the bus to go on our tour of the city! We started at the Prado Museo with our tour guide, Paloma. Again, no photos were allowed, but Paloma did well to tell us things about the different pieces of art so that we would remember them. She called these “gossips”, and seemed really excited about each and every one of them. For example, she called one painting “Homage to Cellulite” and went on to tell us about the different people in the painting and how they were all inter-related to the painter. Drama, drama! After the Prado, we went to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and wandered through only a small amount of the 2800 (!) rooms. My favorite, like Paloma, was the smoking room. “I don’t know what they used to smoke in this room, but it was not cigars. Just look at the wall paper.” It was all bright colors with realllllllly random cartoonish pictures. It really did not fit in at ALL with the rest of the rooms. Photos weren’t permitted inside the palace, but we all made sure to take photos in the courtyard! After this tour, we were set free. We had heard that there was a fiesta starting right next to the Palacio Real to celebrate the announcing of the 2016 Olympic Games. Madrid was up for the bid along with Tokyo, Rio, and Chicago. On our way over to the stage, we were stopped by this lady with a microphone. She said she was from some local radio station and wanted to get different peoples’ views and thoughts on who would win the bid (…in Spanish). She talked to us for a bit, and convinced Will and Merete to stay until they went on the air. I filmed… Will decided to support Madrid, but Merete, from Chicago, decided to support Chicago! Along with those two, other Spaniards were talked to, and also these two ladies from Brazil! As we were walking through the fiesta, we saw the booth for the radio station that was blasting their channel…Will and Merete must have been on there!

For the rest of the day, Daryl, Chryssi, Merete, Will and I decided to go to the Madrid Zoo Aquarium. Though it was a bit pricy, it was a ton of fun. We saw a sea lion show and a dolphin show! The dolphins there understand Spanish! I took lots of photos, mainly because I was in awe of how little shielding they had between us and the animals. For example, the buffalos only had about a 2 foot high fence. The only animals they really kept locked up were the lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). Later that night when we went back to the hotel, the guy at the door told us that Rio had won the olympic bid. That was sad to hear, because it would have been a lot of fun to be able to say I WAS THERE WHEN THEY WON! Oh well…I WAS THERE WHEN THEY LOST!

Saturday October 3, 2009

We hopped on the bus in the morning and headed East toward Segovia. Unfortunately, some of the kids didn’t make it on to the bus because they had been out too late the night before. This really seemed like quite a shame because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this day trip! On the way to Segovia, we stopped at El Escorial, built by Felipe II (King of the infamous Spanish Armada, who was later killed there via a large grill). It is a palace, library, royal tomb, monastery, school and basilica. Photos weren’t allowed INSIDE of the building, but we took some photos in the courtyard (starting to sound like a reoccurring theme?). Palace, walking, pictures, palace, walking, pictures…kinda like in Japan: temple, walking, pictures, temple, walking, pictures. Luckily our group was the first through, because we made it down to the chapel JUST in time. The guard outside told us we could go in if we hurried. At first I didn’t know why, but then we saw the people coming in after us. We were awkwardly standing up by the altar when the doors opened for the guests of a wedding to come in. We hurried out the side, but not before snapping pictures of the beautiful dresses and hair pieces/hats that the women were wearing (I want one!). I only got a photo from pretty far away, but it was funny to think of having your wedding at such a place. I asked our tour guide who has the opportunity to get married there, and she said, “Anyone! You could!” So, start saving for a plane ticket (and a hair piece)…I want you all there.

After El Escorial, we hopped back on the bus and made our way to Segovia. We were dropped off by our bus literally RIGHT underneath the Roman Aquaduct. This is one of the main attractions of Segovia. It was very beautiful there, and sort of reminded me of Siena…not sure why. We ate dinner at this restaurant (yeah, all 57 of us…including our bus driver). It was pasta, chicken and French fries…Spanish style of course. This meant it was a huge piece of chicken that you had to peel off the bone, pasta that had some sort of fishy taste, and very, very oily fries! After our lunch we hiked up to the top of the Aquaduct for better photos, then on to the Sleeping Beauty castle, the Alcazar! It’s called the Sleeping beauty castle because it is said to be the castle that inspired the castle in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty…and I can see why! It was a place for amazing pictures! Facebook profile pic for SURE, haha. However, I wasn’t looking too hot after walking up the HUGE tower, so maybe not. Our tour guide there was amazing, and very informative. It seemed like she had been there…quite a few times, haha (INMA!) Photos were FINALLY allowed, so we all got a bit photo happy…taking pictures of things that really didn’t deserve a photo. Be sure to check out Inma’s favorite room—the pineapple room! We then had a bit of free time once we got back to the main plaza. We wandered around and all managed to find the same bakery…which had wonderful pastries and chocolate. We then headed back to Madrid on our bus. At one of the toll stops, we got pulled over by the police. They had seen into the bus and saw that one kid was sleeping in the aisle, and that almost none of us had our seat belts on. (What? Belts on a bus? Even Paula admitted she didn’t know that one.) Regardless, we had to sit there while our driver got ticket after ticket for different things. Apparently he was being super mean. Inma asked him at one point what the difference between a tourist bus (taking people from place to place) and a destination bus (just going from place to place) was and he just said “the 1000 Euro fine.” SO, needless to say, Paula and Inma were upset, especially since the police then followed us all the way back to Madrid because they didn’t believe we were going where we said we were…or something. It was all confusing. Once we got back, we had the night free, and ended up eating at the Chinese buffet some other AIFS kids had found earlier on the trip. It was good to finally feel full for once!

more coming soon........

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