Monday, February 20, 2017

Diary of a World Traveler

Madrid Day 1: "You need to be an organized country to have a mafia."

Today, I left for my final trip abroad with the Augustana Symphonic Band. Although bittersweet, I absolutely cannot wait for the rest of this trip to happen. Upon landing in Madrid at 8AM, we toured the city in our bus to see sights like the bull fighting ring, the Prado Museum, Puerto del Sol, and the Salamanca district. The next morning, we traveled outside the city and performed our first concert. Based on my experiences so far, I can tell I am going to love Spain! 

We started off with our flight from Chicago to Madrid, which departed at 4:30PM and arrived at 8AM. We got to see the sun rise over the mountains as we walked into the airport. It was beautiful! Groggy and sore after a relatively bumpy flight, all of us loaded onto the bus and began our tour of the city. We started the day by driving through the Salamanca district of Madrid, which is one of the most expensive areas to live. Then, we made our way to the bull fighting ring, which was built in 1929 in Moorish style—bricks, fancy accent tiles, and lots of arches and pillars. There were bronze statues surrounding the grounds which depict the process and history of bull fighting in Spain. Spanish newspapers put news of bull fighting in the arts section, which makes sense when looking at these beautiful and fluid statues. Though our tour guide thinks the sport will be gone within 50 years, bullfighters still remain very humble and very famous here. 

We made another quick stop to get some coffee or lunch, as most of us were falling asleep at this point. A group of us walked up the hill to find a small bar, where we ordered a caña (a small glass of beer) and a mozzarella sandwich. With this, we received a tapa: two green olives with a red pepper piece and a little bit of anchovy. We then went on to the Plaza de España, where the monument to Miguel de Cervantes sits. There, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza watch over the square as people climb all over them. We also got to see the church (and its exact duplicate!) where Goya is buried, which was incredible.

After finishing the driving tour, we checked into our hotel and went back out to explore before dinner. We decided to explore the Parque Retiro, which is a giant park within a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel. It has a bunch of old buildings and monuments within the huge green space, which hosts endless roller bladers, bikers, runners, and even row-boaters. We stopped by an amazing modern art installation called the Crystal Palace, which is a beautiful old structure made completely from glass. Next, we walked to the Monument to King Alfonso XII, which looks out onto a large lake. We even found a giant willow tree that had a crevice big enough to fit people! To end the day, we walked through toward the Prado museum and had a drink at a bar by the Fountain of Neptune. It was a great way to start our trip to Spain, and I cannot wait to continue exploring the capital within the next four days!

The next morning, we all woke up and traveled outside the city to a community called Alcalá de Henares. Cervantes was born there and his father worked at a local hospital, so the city embraces his memory with a variety of monuments, streets, and squares named after the famous author. A statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza guards the small hospital where his father worked, commemorating his mark on the city. We also got to see a street lined with columns mixed from as far back as the 12th century and as late as the middle ages. It was crazy to see them evolve through time!

One of the most interesting things we learned in Alcalá was the influence of storks on Spain. According to our tour guide, stork nests can weigh up to one ton, and subsequently destroy rooftops or decorative elements on buildings. They nest high up on churches and other delicate places, but the people let them. Storks are such good omens that residents do not move the nests because that would provoke bad luck. Seeing the giant birds fly around and nest in high places, with a beautiful historic backdrop, inspired something magical. If Segovia looks anything like this, I cannot wait to see it tomorrow!

To end the day, we took a tour through the Prado Museum, which sadly did not permit photography. But I got to see works by Goya, El Greco, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Bosch, and the incomparable Velázquez. Seeing Las Meninas in person will be one of the highlights of my life. Walking through time and through so many beautiful pieces of art was a great way to end the traveling portion of our day. After that, we walked to a restaurant called La Casa de Tía Maria, where we had a traditional Sunday night dish: paella. We ordered a seafood pan, complete with clams, mussels, whole shrimp, and crab pieces, as well as a vegtable one. Though the service took a while, it was worth the wait to have a national dish. So far, so good in Spain. Stay tuned for a day trip to Segovia and a walking tour of Madrid in the next few days! I cannot wait to see more of this country.

photo credit Diana Cleveland 

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