'Chilly' Excursion and Seco Cinco at it's finest

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Jun 07, 2009

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The majority of the week wasn't too exciting as I told myself I was going to take it easy and try and save a little 'dinero' ($) for Spring Break. For the record, I think I was very successful.

Saturday was the more action-packed / only substantive day of the week in my mind. We had an excursion for which we had to wake up at 7:45am, which obviously made me ecstatic...On this day, we would travel roughly an hour or so outside of Madrid for an interesting afternoon on a relatively cooler day. [The weather was down from about 65 to 45-50 ish (esque) on this day]

Stop #1: El Escorial

El Escorial is a historical residence of the Spanish king as well as a monastery, royal palace, museum and even a school located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

Background information:

El Escorial comprises two architectural complexes of great historical and cultural significance: El Real Monasterio de El Escorial itself and La Granjilla de La Fresneda, a royal hunting lodge and monastic retreat about five km away. These sites have a dual nature; that is to say, during the 16th and 17th centuries, they were places in which the temporal power of the Spanish monarchy and the ecclesiastical predominance of the Roman Catholic religion in Spain found a common architectural manifestation.[1] El Escorial was, at once, a monastery and a Spanish royal palace. Originally a property of the Hieronymite monks, it is now an Augustinian monastery. [Thank you Wikipedia]

Much of the site was pretty majestic at some points even with the babbling of Pepa, our excessive tour guide who continued to occasionally bore us with a surplus of information. One of the more intriguing (for lack of a better word) parts of the monastery was the fact that all the kings that had ruled in this palace are also buried in there as well. It was a little unnerving I guess you could say upon viewing just a room full of tombs that inhabited Spanish kings of the 16th and 17th centuries. But hey, this is a cultural experience, right? Of course.

After our lengthy visit to El Escorial, we hung out in plaza and enjoyed our packed lunches. At 1:00pm, we gladly put it into perspective that we had still 5 or 6 hours left on our excursion for 2 sites that were no more than 20 minutes away at most. Here we go...

Stop #2: Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

I had heard many things regarding this valley as it commemorates those who perished during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. This gigantic monument, originally conceived by Franciso Franco (the terrible Spanish dictator of 39 years who is often compared to a Mussolini or even a Hitler), is also the location of his own grave. This monument proves to be controversial to this day due to the fact that it is the largest nationalist or fascist monument in Europe let alone the world. According to Franco, he meant for it to be a "national act of atonement". However, as a surviving artifact of Franco's rule, the monument and its Catholic basilica remain controversial, especially due to the manner and circumstances of its construction (built by political prisoners).

It's just pretty ridiculous to see this monument still exists especially since there is a literal church inside where people can actually pray in order to honor the horrible, horrible man that Franco was. At the same time, here at this valley lay rest to the remains of 40,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War, while above the valley stands the tallest memorial cross in the world, rising to 450+ feet! Unbelievable. This site remains a huge debate among the Spanish people, the government, and even all those who endured the oppressing dictatorship under El Caudilllo, Franco. Regardless, I think it was important for us to see albeit relatively depressing at the same time.

Stop #3:

La Granja (Farm)-Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso

This palace, which also feautes normally lush gardens, is the site of the baroque palace set in gardens in the French manner and sculptural fountains, that was built for Philip V of Spain.

I use the word normally above since on a normal March 28, the weather would have been beautiful, providing a majestic viewing of the gardens and the palace. However, when we got off the bus, it was literally snowing [bullets] and felt like we just cranked up the DeLorean to 88 miles an hour and traveled back in time 2 months or so when it was snowing in Madrid. Thus, we rapidly fled the bus and trudged up a few hills while freezing pellets of snow smacked us in the face. (Okay, I exaggerate a little bit given the fact that I had a jacket on and I shared an umbrella with some one. Still though, it was cold and snowing hard and I felt like it would make a better story). Finally getting to the central viewing point of the palace's façade, we rapidly snapped some photos and headed back towards the bus. Freezing and upset that we didn't witness the Granja at its best, Ramiro and Pepa decided to 'treat' us to either some hot chocolate, tea, or coffee. (I am not sure if this was out of their pockets or Ramiro was simply swiping "the WashU card" in this little café. Whichever it was, we enjoyed our treat. I had the hot chocolate, which has more of a soupy consistency but very flavorful nonetheless. Finally, we made our way back on the bus where I enjoyed a nice hour nap (typical) on our way back to Madrid.

On this night, the Játivadores (a named I coined for the 6 of us that live on Calle de Játiva) were scheduled to go out with the girls' host mom Maria since 3 of us helped construct a dresser for her bedroom about 2 months ago. Our initial plan was to go to Seco Cinco (since her brother owns the bar), then another place, and finally culminate at a dance club called Morocco. However, things did not shake up exactly as they had planned. We got to Seco Cinco around 9:30. We met up with Maria and met her close friend Sancho, her cousin Benito, and her other twin brother Vitor and his wife. They were all very welcoming and I enjoyed talking to them for an extended period of time as we watched a soccer game at the bar. It was an excellent way for the practice my Spanish.   

Jon and I had not eaten anything because we knew we could feast (for free) at our place. About 5 minutes after our arrival, all of the following food was presented to our own personal eating table:

- 1 tapas sized plate of Queso manchego
-2 plates of Spanish Tortilla
-1 huge serving of Patatas Bravas (potatoes with a semi-spicy tomato-ish sauce)
- 2 small plates of different types of ham-one like pepperoni and the other bologna-esque)
- 1 enormous plate of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and grilled jamón Serrano [This way my favorite)

As I like to say, comimos un montón de comida-translates roughly to "We ate a mountain of food. I was stuffed and on the verge of exploding! But, as I hope many of you know by this point, Seco Cinco features a beer tap literally on your table. Therefore, I was essentially provided bottomless beer for about 3 hours.

As I continued making friends with Maria's family, we began to discuss more plans for the evening since Maria was feeling nauseous for whatever reason. Consequently, we hitched rides with one of Maria's friends and brother to a bar not too far away from Pácifico (my metro stop). We went in this small "disco-pub" and chilled out for a little, showing some of them our American dance moves (including the fistpump-but not in doubt since I am trying to phase it out. After a while, feeling only slightly out of place, Sarah, Eric, Jon and I embarked on our way home, which was only about a 10-12 minute walk. Overall though, I felt like the night was more of an authentic Spanish experience since we hit up some small bars with only Spanish people and only obviously speaking their language. I definitely would like more of these experiences in the future.

Total Amount Spent Last night: 3 euros.

Not bad, eh?
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