We took a three-day trip just a bit outside of Madrid. We stayed in a rural house/hotel that was a renovated farmhouse; it was about 15 km from Segovia and was in the smallest town on earth. On Friday night we went into Segovia for dinner and a bit of sightseeing. Surprisingly, there was a festival going on in front of the Roman Aqueduct with ladies dancing in clogs and using sheets as props. For dinner we had tapas- chipirones (little squids in olive oil), calamares, y gambas (shrimp). For dessert we had a Segovian specialty called “Ponche Segoviano” which was a delicious cake that sort of tasted like a s’more even though there wasn’t any chocolate in it. We actually got more of the cake the next day because we loved it so much.

On Saturday we drove on a medieval town tour. The scenery was gorgeous and we couldn’t believe that we were less than 2 hours from Madrid. Spain is so diverse; I am always shocked at how many different looks it has. We went to Pedraza, Riaza, Sepulveda, and Duraton National Park. Our drive was marked by a lot of blue sky, golden wheat, brown earth, fields of sunflowers, occasional dilapidated castles, and a few sheep.

Pedraza is a walled town with a castle and a lot of charm. We went to Pedraza in the morning and then again at 10 pm because it was “la noche de las velas”(night of the candles). The town’s people put over 35,000 candles out in the streets- windows, sidewalks, plazas etc during the celebration. A classical orchestra played music in the plaza mayor. It was sort of like what I imagine the jack-o-lanterns are like at Roger Williams Zoo during Halloween season in RI… although I never actually went to that because of the long lines. Speaking of long lines- the streets were super narrow in Pedraza and the entrance/exit to the town was actually just an arched doorway.  It was super packed with people when we tried to leave and we all sort of moved as one through the arch. There were two older women, in their mid-80s, who were a part of the group. They were laughing so hard as we were passively pushed through the exit that it made me appreciate the comedy of the situation as well.

Riaza was special because it had a plaza mayor with a sand-filled ground, used for it’s own private bull fight every September. Sepulveda was where we had our second, and best, serving of Ponche Segoviano. Trust me- this cake was good. So good that Sean asked “hey, should I go buy another piece?” immediately after he ate his first. The Duraton National Park was right outside of Sepulveda. After driving through the park, on a really bumpy dirt road where a small car tipped into a ditch ahead of ours, we reached Ermita de San Frutos (hermitage of Saint Frutos (?). This was an “island” of land with ruins of a hermitage on it perched over a magnificent canyon. The water below was eerily green, like the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day.  Huge turkey vultures flew above.

We returned to Segovia on Sunday morning. I was most impressed with the Alcazar, which is a castle (with a legit moat!) that served as inspiration for the Disney Cinderella castle. We walked around the town, went to an art museum, cathedral, walked up the tower of the Alcazar, and then drove back to the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Our Spanish home.

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Intercambio in a cafe

July 10, 2011

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Inma and I have had our intercambio since November. We meet twice a week at a random cafeteria that we selected on the first day we met. The cafeteria is quite ugly, with the smell of jamon wafting in the air and mirrors lining the walls, but it has been the perfect spot to chat. The workers are always very supportive of my language learning; they even try out a few phrases of English to experiment. T he place is usually filled with worker-men and everyone says good-bye to us as we leave. Adios- hasta luego! Adios- hasta luego! Adios- hasta luego! It is nice and I will miss them.

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El Escorial with Inma

July 1, 2011

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Last week Inma took me to El Escorial, which is a small town about an hour outside of Madrid. Inma is my dear friend and intercambio partner. We meant to do an “intensive” language outing, whereby we speak only English for 30 minutes and then only Spanish for the next and so on. We were pretty good about sticking to this in the beginning but the hot sun took our energy and by the end of the day we didn’t talk as much.

Escorial is a world heritage site because it is a historical residence of the king of Spain. There is a monastery, royal palace, and royal park grounds. There is also a very old library that has over 40,000 volumes, many of which are from the early 17th century.  I tried to snap a photo of this but the security guards caught me. The town is surrounded by mountains and was very peaceful. Up on a cliff there is the “chair of King Philp II”, which is actually stones carved into a bit of a seat that overlooks the small town. It is quite nice.

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On Thursday, Madrid celebrated another Puente (holiday on Thursday so they extend the vacation to include Friday as well- like a “bridge”. Makes sense to me!).  We took a four-day trip to Asturias with Daniela and her boyfriend.  Asturias is one of the most beautiful areas of Spain. It is in the Northwestern area, and it borders the Cantabrian Sea. It is a very green, mountainous area with beautiful water views.

We always have a great time when we are with Daniela because #1. she is a darling, and #2. she is a native Spanish speaker and we eat very well when we know what we are ordering.   Asturias is famous for cider (Sidra) and the waiters have a fancy way of pouring the liquid. They hold the bottle high over their heads and only look at the liquid as it falls into the glass. A lot of it splashes on their pants. They pour about a sip worth at a time, because it is best to drink immediately. If you have liquid still in your glass when they return to refill, they throw it on the floor (even indoors!).  This is in keeping with the tradition because originally cider was use to be consumed outside and the leftover liquid was fertilizer for the earth, plus sometimes they only give you two glass to share and the thought is that it is more hygienic to get rid of the last sip.

Our hotel was in Oviedo and we were in for a surprise the first night. There was a special celebration with a huge bonfire in the middle of the city. People wrote things they didn’t like about their lives and threw the paper into the fire. It was magnificent. On Friday we went to a small town called Congas de Onis, which has a Roman bridge with a large cross hanging from the center. From Congas, we went to see the Covadonga (virgin Mary) in a chapel built into a cliff and the surrounding lakes. We took a taxi when we went to the lakes because the windy road was very narrow- not to mention occupied by cows.  The area seemed enchanted because it was so green and fresh, and the air was filled with the sound of cowbells, which the cows wore around their necks. Someone told me that people drop the cows off in the area in spring to let them graze free until the end of the summer, then they collect them once they have been fattened. It seems like a nice alternative to a factory farm I suppose.

On Saturday we went up the Sella River on canoes.  There were many people there because the weather was warm and the water was cool. We saw about 15 boats flip because of the rapids but luckily we were safe. After the river we drove to the beach town of Gijon. The seawater was so warm compared to the coast of RI but it is supposedly quite cold for Spain.  And lastly, on Sunday we went to my favorite place, Cudillero. Cudillero is an old fishing town built on a cliff. The houses are quite charming. We had delicious seafood there and, of course, more cider. One of the best things about Spain is that the people eat a huge meal for lunch instead of at dinnertime. The restaurants serve a “menu del dia” which is usually 8-12 euro. It includes bread and wine/beer/cider, a first course (salad, pasta, paella, etc), a second course (fish with a side veg, ham, chicken, etc), then a dessert and café con leche). All for VERY cheap.

Asturias was suppose to be our last big trip before we return home but we are considering squeezing in one more… maybe… Asturias will be hard to beat though!

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Sevilla

March 23, 2011

Sevilla started off with a six hour overnight bus ride.   Two women in front of us, yapping and enjoying each other’s company, as is their right, as is their right.  But dag: hay que dormir, chicas.

We arrived to Sevilla’s bus station. Bus stations all over the world are melting pots of unusual.   There was a woman, maybe sixty-five, and a man, maybe thirty, who looked to be romantically involved.  They were whispering into each other’s ears and doing an odd mutual neck caress.  You can’t hate: the heart always has its reasons.

Then there was this guy who was wearing a four piece suit, but with sweatpants.   He was a trendsetter, a smoker, maybe fifty-two, also owner of earth’s most violent cough.  Tough dude: the cough would kill any weaker man instantly and the sweatpants you have to repect when accompanied by a four-piece.  Sweater vest, tie, Brooks Brothers jacket, smooth blue button-down, cuff links, and sweatpants from Russell Sporting goods.

He was friends with another guy who would just yell.  Not curses, not prayers, just loud and primal noise from the gut.

We left the station thinking our trip was already good enough.  But Sevilla surpassed all expectation.  It was infused with the splendor of good temperature and striking architecture.

One night we walked through a couple plazas that had hordes of people drinking sangria.  Am impromptu party outside, but the best kind of party: when you only know only one person and you can enjoy the feel of the crowd without interacting with it.  B and I toasted our good fortune, and I began coughing and screaming as a testament to my old friends.

Recommendation: go there.  It’s a tourist spot but don’t hate: you’re a tourist too.  Financially, it’s easy to do cheap.   Just get gritty and take the bus.   Don’t stay in a pricey hotel but do stay in the center. Lots of good restaurants and a giant Starbucks where you can hide and sleep if you didn’t on the overnight bus ride.

My highest recommendation outside of the bus station is Plaza de Espana: it’s half-park, half-castle.  It reminded me of that scene in Aladdin when the Genie advised our hero to ‘beeee yourself’ when they were on top of Jasmine’s castle.

 

Pictures from Pais Vasco

March 11, 2011

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Madrid Football Soccer

February 14, 2011

Lover of moderation David Brooks recently wrote something about ‘whoosh’ moments, or how people experience intense elevation when at a sporting event or a concert.  He was saying that this how the modern man seeks fulfillment in place of church or prayer.

David Brooks also has a strange NY Times picture.

No city seems to understand the ‘whooshing’ effect better than Madrid, where people gather in crowds of fifteen just to have coffee.  Life is appreciated, small moments are made large, family time is valued, whatever.

With that in mind, I could not wait to go to a football soccer game here.

right before game time

Football Soccer is the Spanish deporte of choice and Madrid sports two professional teams.  One- Real Madrid- has worldwide popularity and a bank account that rivals the Yankees.  The other- Atletico- has more devoted regional popularity and a field that feels like a bigger McCoy stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

dag

On Saturday I landed at an Atletico game, which I lucked into by befriending someone with enchufe, or connections.

It didn’t disappoint.  Although they lost the game, the fans support their team with aggressive devotion. No one was late. No one was on a cell phone.  A few guys nervously chain-smoked throughout the game.  There was anger- real and unbridled- when things weren’t going well.  There was also joy, people hugging and sharing sunflower seeds.  It felt like an activity designed for solely for Madrid, an excuse for everyone to get together and experience something communally .

I was with James, who has season-tickets, and his little brother Louie.  Both are bilingual and were able to translate some of the profanity we heard.  Always fun to hear old guys cursing at referees.  ‘Cabron!’ (bastard) seems to be a local favorite.

Also, there is a section in the stadium where people sing for the entire ninety-minute game.  It’s not exactly chanting- it has more rhythm- and it is very strange to the outsider.  I’ve seen passionate fans.  I’ve been to Celtic playoff games.  Even went to the NCAA tournament once.  Fenway definitely has people who treat sport like a religion, but I’ve never seen people so committed to their fandom that they felt the need to sing for 105 straight minutes (including halftime) in an effort to boost morale.

They didn’t sound like Aaliyah, but it was still pretty good.

aaliyah

Madrid Cave Bar

February 11, 2011

Not to front but it’s getting warmer out here.  Most days are turning jacket-free.  And it’s funny because a couple of months ago B said ‘get a jacket boy.’  I said ‘true it’s cold,’ and then bought one.  But now it’s like man maybe I should’ve just waited. Winter’s only two months here.

Taking the wait-and-see approach with a pair of shoes that have a few holes in them.  Sure it’s unprofessional when students can see your toes.  But I wear black socks to camouflage.  It’s fun and it’s like you’re in on a shoe secret.  ‘Shoe Secret,’ the movie, starring Eric Scott Geraghty.  Plus you’re saving that forty euro and then subsequently wasting it on coffee and tortilla.  It’s a win-lose-lose-lose situation.

Tonight we walked to a cave bar with our friends Ron and Hagrid.

It was hidden to make foreigners feel good about finding it.  You walk through a room of mirrors, down the steps, and to this place filled with young people drinking sangria.

There’s also a guy playing piano, passionately.

We had fun man.  There were quotes written on the wall in French and in Spanish.  One of them was ‘La felicidad está en la ignorancia de la verdad,’ kind of like ignorance is bliss.

Got me thinking.  Sometimes following the Celts is easier than following Mubarak developments in Egypt (congrats through Egyptians!).  Need to step up my citizenry.  But then you look at all the information and all the books and it’s overwhelming.  So you go back to espn.com or sewing or ‘The Fugitive’ clips on youtube.

Need to learn though.  Need to inform myself.  I once met Spike Lee at a book signing and he wrote, ‘Educate your mind.’