Tour Guide Barbie

Trip Start Dec 17, 2010
Trip End Apr 26, 2011

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Flag of Spain  , Madrid,
Monday, March 14, 2011

I got back from Madrid this morning.  So far it's the best vacation I've ever been on and my favorite city in the world.  Really, I can't stop talking about it, so brace yourself for a long one.

We left Alicante on Friday afternoon.  Rain in Alicante, rain in Madrid.  We landed and went straight to the hostel to get ourselves organized.  It was my first time in a hostel, and I loved it!  We got there and found out that we were sharing a room with some Americans and Argentinians.  The Americans were there when we got there.  Turns out that two of them go to the same school as my friend, Carolyn, who was with me.  They spent some time discovering mutual acquaintances and repeating over and over again that they couldn't believe the coincidence.  Then they headed to see the museums and we went to the tapas place they recommended (We stopped at one Starbucks and passed 4 more on the walk).  

The tapas bar was called El Tigre.  Apparently everybody in Madrid has heard of it and loves it.  It was already crowded even though it was just mid afternoon.  I've heard that it's out of control once it gets late.  We got some drinks and ate plates of delicious unhealthy food that we didn't have to pay for (not paying for food, as you will see, became one of the main themes of the weekend).  

I was the only one in my group, (Me, Carolyn, and Felicia) who had studied a map of the city so after dinner I led them around to a few of the important places.  I couldn't believe how quickly I figured out the layout of the area.  Definitely made me feel more confident about the three weeks of traveling I'll be doing at the end of the semester.  We saw Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, did some shopping, ate some cake, and took a ton of pictures.  Then we went back to the hostel to get ready to go out.

We met up with the Americans again.  Started a pub crawl, but left early to go to McDonalds.  I got a happy meal.  Happy meals here come with fries and ice cream! both!  The toy was a Barbie check book.  Thanks, McDonalds, for making sure little girls learn early that if they don't have money, they can just write checks.  After McDonalds, we went back to the hostel for a little bit.  It was still pouring, or pouring again, I don't remember.  We weren't ready to call it a night, so we went out one more time.

When we were at El Tigre we had met a guy that works at one of the discotecas, Moondance.  His name was Carlos and he told us that he could put us on the list for the night if we wanted.  It was a fun place.  You couldn't walk anywhere without stepping on shards of glass, so good thing I bought new boots for this trip.  We danced some and talked to Carlos for a little bit, but he was working so he couldn't talk much.  We went home at 3 or so because we had so much to do on Saturday.  Got back to the hostel and knocked out hard.  

I got the girls out of bed early on Saturday.  We went for the free walking tour of the city.  If you ever visit a city that has a free walking tour, do it!!  We decided to do the Spanish language tour.  It was nice because that was basically the only time all weekend that people spoke Spanish to us.  It made me glad to be studying in a city that's less touristy, because in Alicante people don't automatically switch to English when they hear my accent.  (I'm calling it an "accent" instead of "bad Spanish" now.) 

The tour goes through a lot of well known and important touristy places, but also passes some of the places that we would have otherwise missed, like the oldest restaurant in the world.  There were also lots of history lessons thrown in between stops.  This made me realize how much I've actually learned this semester.  

 The classes that I'm taking are called Español a través de la literatura and Español a través del arte.  This means that the primary purpose of the classes is for us to learn Spanish.  Depending on the class, we learn Spanish through talking about art or literature history.  The teachers correct our mistakes and give little grammar lessons when they notice a mistake that people make a lot.  The classes are cool, but there is such a variety of Spanish skill level in each class, so it was starting to get frustrating to hear grammar lessons that I had in high school.  Some days I didn't feel like I was learning about art or literature at all.  The tour, however, made me realize how much Spanish history I know just from the classes I've taken here.  My Spanish history knowledge is so much better than my American history knowledge, but then again, there's more to know.  Here's something I didn't know before the tour though.  The origin of tapas:

King Alfonso X of Spain, was called el Sabio, or the wise.  In his infinite wisdom, he figured out that if people eat a little when they're drinking, they don't get drunk as fast.  Therefore, restaurants started providing some free food with drinks so that people would keep buying drinks.  The world back then was a dirty place.  There was always dust in the air, so people's drinks would get gross.  Restaurants would counter this by covering (tapar=to cover) the drinks with the plates of food.  The food then became known as tapas.  Y ya está (that's it).  You have permission to use that awesome story when you want to impress someone.

Among the touristy things we saw on the walking tour was the Almudena Cathedral (a Catholic church with an Arabic name and Stars of David in the facade, not to mention that there are actually two facades, one in Neo-Gothic style and the other in baroque and the interior with decor that is, you guessed it, pop-art).  You can tell that several centuries passed between the start of construction and the end.  We also saw the royal palace, not actually where the king lives, but still a cool building.  The weather, by the way, was awesome for the whole tour.  Especially sweet because I knew that there was still rain in Alicante.  I had a McFlurry for lunch (I know, I know, but I hadn't had Micky D's since January.  I earned it.)  

On Saturday afternoon we went to the Prado Museum.  (We stopped at El Tigre on the way there and again on the way home.  Really, that place is good.)  The Prado is one of the best collections of Renaissance and Baroque art.  We saw some paintings by El Greco and Velazquez, including Las Meninas which is so pretty.  There were also several rooms that were just dedicated to Goya.  Probably close to 100 of his paintings.  We were definitely going by the checklist method of seeing the most famous ones because there's no way we could have seen everything.  Definitely go to El Prado if you're in Madrid.  It's free from 6-8 every day.  

On Saturday night we went to Kapital.  At first, I was pretty cranky about having to spend 17 euros to go to a nightclub, but then I decided that I might as well have 17 euros worth of fun.  For those of you who don't know, Kapital has 7 floors.  It's a very touristy place.  Definitely something to do if you're just in Madrid for the weekend.  I can't imagine that anybody goes there regularly.  I had a good time, but again didn't want to stay out too late.

On Sunday morning we went to the Reina Sofia museum.  It's free all day Sunday.  There's not as much to see there.  I was most excited about the Guernica.  It was awesome.  Bigger than I thought it would be.  There were also several other Picasso's and a few rooms full of Dali.  

Some of the Argentinian guys at the hostel offered to cook for us, so that took care of lunch.  Afterwards, Felicia and I went to the Parque de Buen Retiro.  It was so big and beautiful.  It really made me wish I lived in the city.  Then we went back to El Prado to see a few of the things that we had missed the night before.  As soon as the museum closed and they kicked us out, it started sprinkling and then pouring.  We spend half an hour leap frogging between bus stops looking for a cafe to stop at.  As soon as we chose a place and went inside, the rain stopped.  It was a cruel joke.  We bought dinner (chocolate cake and wine, because we're on vacation) and then sat and talked for a while.  Suddenly it was midnight and they made us go home.  They gave us all of the leftovers from the pastry case because they had to throw them away anyways.  

Our plan was to spend the night on Sunday at the airport because we had an early flight today and didn't want to pay for the hostel.  After dinner we went to pick up our backpacks that we had left at the hostel and they told us not to go to the airport, they had some empty beds.  People are so nice.  My host mom says to not get used to getting free stuff.  It's not how the world normally works.  We went out one more time with the people from the hostel, my first time going out on a Sunday, and then we got a few hours of sleep before the mad rush to the airport.  We got back to Alicante just in time to go to class (injustice I tell you.)  Now I'm dying to take a nap, but I just had to get all of this written down first.                       

Note:  after I wrote this yesterday, I decided to take a nap while the pictures uploaded.  My host mom woke me up for school this morning.  I slept 17 hours.  



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Suzy on

OMG Elaine, you have made me so homesick for Madrid! I would live there if I could- I love it so much. You mentioned so many of my favorite places. Isn't Kapital just insanity...and you are right, its ok for a once in awhile dance party but we could not go there every night.
Retiro is such a beautiful park and I spent so much time there. I am SOOOOO happy you mentioned Las Meninas...isn't it spectacular? Everything in the Prado is spectacular as well as the Reina Sofia. Sol is a great place to spend the day although if you ask the older generation they will tell you to stay away as its very dangerous. At least thats what we were told back in the day. We ignored them of course. Did you see the Bear and the tree (the symbol of Madrid) in Plaza Mayor?
I am so glad you got to spend some time in my home away from home and that it welcomed you with open arms just as I knew it would. So now we can plan a return trip to Madrid together! I seem to go back every six years, so I am due next year if you are game! ;)

Maria on

I've only read half of these because I'm still on Spring Break and been super busy, but wanted to make sure you knew I was still reading and hadn't forgotten about you!

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