Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spanish Holiday

We arrived Thursday morning, May 6, in Madrid. After taking a break from the flight, we took a trip to the Metro station “Sol.” The old part of Madrid is great- as is the Metro. It’s extremely easy to get around. The 3 day tourist pass let us jump on and off the trains like a breeze. We attended a milonga on Thursday evening (Milonga Abrazo) which I’ll describe in another post. On Friday, we went to the Prado museum where we admired Diego Velázquez “Las Meninas”. During the evening, we attended the first of 2 wedding parties. The event was held in the basement level of a restaurant. We were served a seemingly endless supply of drinks and various tapas. It was a great way to meet everyone in a casual setting before the wedding.
On Saturday, the 14 hour wedding started with the ceremony at noon. After the ceremony and flower petals were thrown, a bus took the guests outside of town to a beautiful estate that appeared to be specifically designed for receptions. A horse coral was at the entrance. Nearby, three canopy beds covered with pillows promised guests rest if needed. Behind a row of trees was a large yard that had 2 bars set up serving drinks. At another table was a man carving jamon- dry, thinly sliced ham. As guests chatted in the yard, plates of appetizers were continuously brought out- pates, gazpacho, fish, and others. A table near one of the bars displayed a beautiful collection of cheese. Everything was so delicious. After an hour or so, we were beckoned to take a seat inside. Tables were set up with flowers and labeled with different city names. We sat at Reykjavík. Dinner was not a light affair- a 3 course dinner followed served with both red and white wine. After eating as much as possible, we danced the night away.
On Sunday, we continued our tour of the city via metro. In the evening, we hopped on a train to Toledo. The train station in Toledo is a beautiful building built in 1919. We had booked a hotel that Lonely Planet suggested. With address in hand, we started our walk. After a very uphill hike with our luggage, we stopped and took a break over coffee, fresh lemonade, and churros con chocolate. We then entered the gates into the old part of the city- which is surrounded by a tall wall. Our journey continued to be uphill. The buildings become more beautiful and while the cobblestone didn’t make dragging my suitcase any easier, it added to the charm of this city. With the help of several locals, we found our hostel- a charming little place called “Casa de Cisneros”. The room was small, but had a lovely wood beamed ceiling and newly remodeled bathrooms. That night we had dinner at a nearby bar. I ordered a tasty ration of Pulp Gallego, Galician style octopus. At the bar, we watched the last 20 minutes of the Euroleague basketball championship which was played this year in Paris. The two teams were Barcelona and Olympiacos (a team from Greece). Barcelona won, which made us happy since their player Ricky Rubio has been drafted by the Timberwolves. We stayed 2 nights in Toledo. Lots of tourist shops selling the same things- swords, pottery, plates. The narrow streets and beautiful architecture make this a rewarding destination. The Cathedral of Toledo was built between 1226 and 1493. The cathedral’s massive presence and intricate detail is jaw dropping.
On the third day, we took the train back to Madrid and then got on a train to Segovia. Due to the lack of signage, we took the wrong train. Luckily, we quickly found this out. After having to go back to Madrid and buy another ticket because the Renfe train company does not reimburse tickets when passengers miss the train, we eventually made it to Segovia in time to see the setting sun shine on the Aqueduct. What a site to see. The Aqueduct was built sometime during the 1st Century by the Romans to transport water into the city. Next to the Aqueduct is a very modern tourist center. The staff wasn’t allowed to recommend a place to stay or eat, but they gave us a helpful map and showed us where hostels and restaurants were located. While we quite liked Toledo, Segovia was even more special. It’s full of shops, narrows streets, bakeries, restaurants, and beautiful architecture. In the near distance, the fields are very green. At one end of the walled city is the Alcazar which dates back to around 1120. The Alcazar is said to have influenced Walt Disney’s design for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

While in Segovia, we had our favorite meal at the traditional restaurant Duque. We ordered the “gastronomic menu,” a three course meal which included a very savory cochinillo. Across from our hotel, I found what quickly became my favorite tapas restaurant- Casares. Their bar serves gourmet tapas- I tried them all- at reasonable prices for the quality. Inside the restaurant and next to the bar is a mini library section with two tables. This was a great place to read my book over a glass of vino tinto (red wine). There is plenty of walking to do in Segovia. The Alcazer is a must. The rooms that are available to the public each display beautiful paintings and spectacular ceilings. The ceilings are the highlight actually, so don’t forget to look up! The cathedral in Segovia is similar in architecture to the one in Toledo, but it is worth seeing as well.
We stayed 2 nights in Segovia and on the third day we took a bus to Salamanca. We were able to find a simple hostel with the help of the Salamanca tourist center. We took a long walk around the city which contains several monumental churches and a university. Most of the shops sell the same tourist items as Toledo and Salamanca, but we came across two notable places- a meat & cheese shop and a bakery. We bought several types of cheese and feasted on them paired with chorizo from Segovia and a can of gourmet mussels. If I were staying in Spain longer, this way of eating would definitely become a staple. The bakery I most enjoyed in Spain I found in Salamanca. I ordered this incredible dessert. It had a chocolate shell base with a thin layer of a honey-like filling topped with surgery meringue shaped like an ‘ice-cream’ scoop and covered with a hard white chocolate shell.
We spent our last night in Madrid. We attended a bull fight- which I will write about in a separate blog post. We then searched for another tango milonga and took the metro to the stop “Tribunal”. This is quite a bustling area on a Friday night. Lots of bars, including an “Australian bar”. We found a small bohemian creperie. The food was delicious. The train ride home- around 1 AM- was very crowded. As I stood holding onto the hand railing, I looked down to see that the small pocket on the front of my purse had been unzipped. I had never been pick-pocketed before- at least that I know of- and it’s a horrible experience. I’m 99% sure the man in front of me with widened eyes staring at me was the culprit, but I couldn’t be sure. This uncertainty contained by strong desire to angrily react. Sure enough, he and the woman he was with exited on the next stop. Luckily, nothing was stolen. This incident did not taint my Spanish experience, but provided the lesson to keep valuables safe.  
As I write this, I’m in the air on my way home to MSP. My trip to Spain was wonderful. I’ve renewed my enthusiasm to improve my Spanish and I look forward to visiting again.

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