Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The rest of our trip

Now that we had our clothes the rest of our trip went pretty smoothly... Wednesday morning I woke up early with Jeff and went to listen to first speaker then raced back to take the city bus tour with New York Life. We got to see a little more of the city narrated with a guide that spoke English. Very Slowly. (Maybe he was afraid we wouldn't understand him.) We got out at Retiro park and rode their solar powered boat and walked around a little. It reminded me of Central Park but with more monuments.

This is the soccer stadium in the middle of the city. It holds 80,000 people and has no parking lot. Imagine that logistic nightmare. This is the bull fighting ring. It had a lot of Arab influence in the architecture. I guess Arabs controlled the area for 800 years and even 18% of their words have Arabic roots (who knew)

I wondered if I would've been able to stomach watching a bullfight while we were here just to say we did it. After talking to someone who attempted it and hearing all the horrors they witnessed I knew I couldn't have handled it. They left less than 1/2 way through after seeing blood, torture and a goring. Whether we think it barbaric or not I guess it's still a very popular tradition here.

Getting back to the hotel was difficult because there was a lot of official things going on. There were dignitaries visiting the royal palace, the prime minister was speaking in a government building across from our hotel (lots of double parking going on right in the middle of the street) and this unknown procession in the mideavil plaza that housed the former city hall.

After I got back from our tour I ate lunch with Jeff and then we went on the one and only tour we booked for our trip to La Escorial. It was an ancient monastary to the kings that was about a 45 minute drive from Madrid. Jeff talked to the tour guide lady the whole time in Italian (we was thrilled to use his language) and I tried hard to follow (hard to do). We got to the town and it started sprinkling. When we got to the monastary it started pouring.

We were very glad to go on the tour. It was fascinating to tour the monastary and see the very bed where one of the kings died in the 1500's and was left in the same position all these years. The most fascinating was the ornate crypt where the royal family is burried. It was marble lined with crystal chandeliers, intricately ornate while the rest of the monastary was very simple in comparison. The guide told us that the reason the crypt was so ornate was because it had to do with God. Unfortunately we couldn't take any pictures inside. (like most of the places we visited) Jeff did shoot this picture of these manicured gardens that we took a peek of out of the 2nd story window. (He technically wasn't taking a picture inside).

When we got back we got ready for dinner. We were invited to go to dinner with the company CFO and 3 other couples. We ate at the Jockey restaurant which was very nice though very smokey (they don't have the same smoking law there) By the time we got home I smelled like I was hanging out in a casino all night. The food was excellent, though a little exotic. Care for sea urchin in sea weed anyone? I tried the stuffed chicken. It was stuffed with liver pate and had a side of prunes and raisins. I vowed to try everything I could on this trip so I ate as much as I could but I have to admit Jeff's beef medalions were better. The best of all was dessert!

On Thursday I met Jeff to hear Sy's farewell speach and then we went to visit the Prado museum that was across the street from our hotel. On the way we had to check out these street performers... They looked like statues but then one would open his eyes and startle the audience. As soon as we started walking down the street after watching the street performers I felt a tug on my purse. Immediately I turned around and glared at two women who were walking behind me. I instantly knew that someone was trying to steal something from my purse. I looked at her hands to see what she took but she didn’t have anything in them. I looked into her eyes to see any flicker of guilt or uncomfortableness but there was not even a glimmer. I stared at her as she followed me for a little while and she then turned around and walked the other direction. Once she was gone I looked in my purse and sure enough my wallet was almost completely falling out. That was a close call. I was very lucky, I found out later that 4 women on our trip had gotten their purses stolen that week.

We walked over to my long anticipated and Jeff's long dreaded trip to the Prado. When we first came in we saw this group of missionaries. They were thrilled to talk to us and wanted a picture. They were all Italian except for one Spaniard, again Jeff got to use his Italian. After this picture a museum worker made us put our cameras away even though we weren't anywhere near any art.

So we started wandering the Prado. We were warned by other agents that there were a lot of depressing pictures here. For a long time we only stayed on the first floor and I knew what they meant. There were a lot of odd and disturbing scenes, many of them with religious subject matter. After awhile we realized that most of the masterspeices were upstairs including some that were only featured in the Prado. We saw Goya, Rafael and others . Here we got into more paintings of kings, and princes, mythological subjects and portraits of odd people such as dwarfs and a really overweight girl. After awhile Jeff’s patience was wearing thin so I tried to hurry it up and gloss through what I could and still see as much as I could. I got to see the masters and that was good enough for me so I was happy. Thanks honey for being patient.

After the Prado Jeff and I went back to get ready for the last dinner with the regular council meeting. They took us to a dinner theater place. We were seated in a tight circle of tables that were full of tapas for us to sample while we waited. Our appetizer (or salad) was interesting. It came in a melon half and was a seafood salad with like a heavy mayonnaise cream sauce with melon balls in it sprinkled on top with red caviar. Interesting but I ate it because I had to try everything. Our entrée was beef medallions, they were pretty good but not nearly as good as the ones that Jeff had eaten the night before.

After dinner we were treated to a show of flamenco dancing. The dancing was very soulful and the singing was almost mournful. Again the singing reminded me of those Arabic influences. We found out later that these dancers were supposed to be the best in the world. It was all fun to watch though we had to peek around heads for a good view and we were sitting next to the speaker so the “mournful” singing rang in our ears.

Friday Jeff went to an extra day of meetings. A big group of us made plans to to to Toledo in between lunch and dinner. We went down to the train stations to catch a bullet train. The inside of the station had an indoor botanical garden with banana trees and hundreds of turtles. Beautiful. (Though it was a little unnerving knowing that there was a terrorist attack in that very train station back in 2004)

The bullet train was nicer that many of the airplanes that we have gone on but reminded us of an airplane. The ride was fast and smooth and in 25 minutes we were in Toledo. We had 2 ½ hours to explore as much of the city as was humanly possible.

We took a bus to the central plaza of the city and were immediately enchanted. It was surrounded but a river and a ancient wall. It was very old and looked medieval. This is what we had to pass through to enter into the city.

There was an ornate cathedral, towers, very narrow winding street and archways that had beautiful views. On the advice of former visitors we took a ride on train that toured us in and around Toledo. It was the best way to see the city especially in a short amount of time. It had a narration in Spanish and then English so we were able to learn about it as we rode around. There was some crazy stories and legends like the one about a soilder and a arab princess who were lovers. When she was caught by her family they cut off her head and threw it into the gorge and every time it bounced it created another spring of water. Hence the seven springs. Wonderful. They showed us the spot where there was an outdoor morgue where family members could claim the bodies of their loved ones that had drowned and been fished from the river. Crazy.

We took a peek in the “free” door of the cathedrial because we didn't want to spend 7 more Euros a piece and got to see just how ornate it was. Beautiful, but of course no pictures allowed.

The city was famous for it’s steel so their were tons of swords and scissors for sale as well as marzipan. Since it was our last day we decided to try the churros and hot chocolate that everyone kept talking about, it wasn’t the greatest but at least we tried it. We tried marzipan and it was sickenly sweet but at least now I know what it is.

Our last dinner in Madrid was a lot of fun. When we were brought up to our dinner and were surprised with maracas and castanets on every place setting. There was lively music playing and of course we all picked up our “musical instruments” and joined in. It was a lot of fun and we were even pressured to join a conga line.

As we were dancing and partying we somehow ate our dinner as well (but you had to be careful because they wanted to take your plate if you left the table.) It was a great ending to a great trip.

Things I will miss from Spain
Crusty bread
Their version of orange and lemon soda (in 8oz bottles)
Strawberry yogurt mentos (we can’t get them here)
Beautiful fountains and architecture everywhere
Being forced to use Spanish
Nice, wonderful New York Life people
Good food that I don’t have to cook

Things I won’t miss from Spain
Cigarette smoke
Being forced to use Spanish
No sliced, soft bread
Raw salmon, liver pate and heavy mayonnaise sauces
Having to refuse coffee at least 5 times at breakfast and refuse wine and coffee 10 times or more at lunch and dinner

Just a last note for our babysitters for the week.

We had Tiffany and Daren Gunnell stay with the kids. We came home to happy, well-fed kids who had completed homework, piano practice, soccer practices and more. The house was clean and even the wash was done! They did a wonderful job! Way to go Gunnells!


Anne Marie said...

Sounds like you had a great time. I'm glad your trip ended better than it started.

Kristen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip.
I can't believe your lost luggage situation! And that you almost got pick pocketed...
All the pictures were amazing!!

sjhovey said...

Christine: Your Mom and I have loved reading your blogs and seeing all the pictures from your trip to Spain. That was scarey about you purse almost getting picked!

We wish we could have gone with you to Spain ;-)

Love, Dad

Costa Rica Baby! said...

I LOVE the pictures!!!! They are just beautiful. I'm sure it was more gorgeous in person.

Glad you are back!