OK so this is kind of a late recap of Madrid, sorry guys… and I also have Morocco as well. However I can’t do both at once, Morocco deserves its own entry! I’ve been a busy little beaver (or is that a busy bee? I can’t remember the expression) the past few weeks and updating my blog seemed more like a chore. But I don’t want to fall too far behind. Before I get to Madrid, I need to mention the election. If you just want to read about Madrid, skip the next 3 paragraphs.

Disclaimer: I have not registered to vote yet so I did not vote in this election. Yeah ok, spare me the lecture about social responsibilities, and the fact I’ve had over 2 years to get around to it. I know it’s my fault, but this past summer was kind of crazy. I was trying to get my French citizenship to avoid visa application (if you’ve got an EU passport, you don’t need visas to study in another EU country) and then I was working at Quinipet… and then I had to come home and pack and had a bunch of medical appointments and what not. So if you’re going to rag on me about how I didn’t participate in the most historical election of our generation, I’m just going to retort that I made history by not participating. So there! Ok moving on.

Can I just say how proud I am to be an American again! For the last 8 years we’ve been subjected to the Bush Administration, or should I call it the Bush Circus? I’m sorry if you’re a Republican and voted for McCain (I don’t understand how any of you were able to take him seriously after he chose Palin as his VP), but he’s old (I’m not an ageist but if he were to die in office, Palin would be our President… a nightmare I don’t even want to consider). And supports wars obviously because he was a POW. We need to focus on our economy and fix our country, not try to fix other countries! I never understood why we invaded Iraq in the first place… I called it when Bush was elected in 2000, that he’d try to finish what his dad started… oh and look, he did!

Before I go on too much of a political tangent, let’s just say I am very happy that the incredibly photogenic Barack Obama was elected and I hope he becomes a president to be remembered in the history of the US. He is already a dynamic speaker… at least he won’t get made fun of for butchering the English language. God knows how many times SNL lampooned Bush’s speech over the last 8 years…

OK. Madrid. Alright. The trip took place between Oct. 30th and Nov. 3rd (seems like forever ago). We left again at the ungodly hour of 5:45 AM (no joke). The bus actually had to make several stops through El Palo into El Centro because the buses don’t even run at that hour, unless you count the sporadic N1. Let’s just say none of us were thrilled to be awake at that hour.

Before we arrived in Madrid that night, we made a few stops along the way. The first was at the Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. This place with a very long name is a mix between a monastery and a palace. It’s about 40 km outside of Madrid and it is a site of royal and historical importance. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of it because I had left my camera in my bag in the storage compartment underneath the bus. It is massive looking on the outside and our guided tour inside the palace was definitely very interesting. I may be mixing the inside up with La Granja, but I seem to remember there being a lot of tapestries inside it. Also at one point, there were these stairs you could climb up and see a very impressive mural on the ceiling. In fact, all of the palaces we go to, I am always in awe of the ceilings of all the different rooms we visit. The cupulas, the paintings, the designs… I just can’t get over how long it must have taken to build, all the small details that had to be incorporated into the design.
El Escorial is also the burial site of about 500 years worth of Spanish monarchs. The crypts are downstairs and there is one circular room in particular with all the tombs of the actual kings and queens who reigned Spain for the last… oh god, several hundred years. There were also a bunch of other rooms filled to the brim (no joke, it was several rooms of just tombs) with tombs of various members of the Spanish royal family… mothers of kings, sisters, brothers, cousins, royalty who married into the Spanish royal family… It was impressive to see so many generations in one building. Oh and the palace’s location was decided by Philip II. Juan Carlos’s (the current king of Spain) parents are also buried there.

After El Escorial (and lunch), we headed to El Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen). This actually wasn’t a planned stop but we had talked about El Valle de los Caidos in our culture class so we were all curious to see it in person. And indeed, it is impressive. El Valle de los Caidos is a monument from Franco’s regime, and Franco commissioned it to be built himself. It is basically a very long stone building with a basilica that was literally built into the side of the mountain. The monument took 19 years to build and political prisoners were used for its construction. In front of the monument, there is a big esplanade with an amazing view of the valley. You could see snow at the top of the mountains–the scenery literally took my breath away.
We were able to get inside the VDLC before it closed. Inside, it is very dark, very somber, very stoic (kind of like Franco himself). After a long dark hallway, the basilica opens up into a churchy type place with two chapels off to the side. There is an altar and pews so I’m assuming masses are held regularly (according to wikipedia, priests from the Benedictine Abbey on the other side of the mountain hold masses in memory of those who died during the Spanish Civil War). El Valle de los Caidos was meant to be a monument in memory of those who died for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, however Franco amended it to all those who lost their lives. The remains of some 40 000 people who died are buried either inside the monument or outside in the valley, I’m not too sure… they aren’t exactly on display for tourists to see.
Franco is buried inside the basilica right behind the main altar. It really is nothing much to look at… a rectangular marker on the floor that says “Francisco Franco”, a very simple grave for a man who became a very infamous Spanish dictator. Opposite his tomb on the other side of the altar lies the grave of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the man who founded the Falange party, the only political party allowed during Franco’s rule.
Above the basilica stands a HUGE cross at a height of 150 meters, flanked by 4… I dunno, holy Catholic men/angels/saints? The whole place was unreal. And a stark reminder of how much Spain suffered during the Franco years.

So we didn’t officially get to the hotel until Thursday night (Oct. 30th). After a quick dinner at a cantina, Kim and I tumbled into bed… And then it was Friday, which also happened to be Halloween. We went to El Prado, which I’ve been to before and saw many works of art by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and many others… including the very famous Las Meninas. It was POURING that day as we were waiting to get inside the museum, there are some very amusing pictures of us on Facebook waiting outside with our umbrellas. After El Prado, I rested that afternoon in our hotel as did other members of our group. It was raining too much to really go out and enjoy the city, though I did go to a free exposition on Etruscan art. That night I ended up going to a Thai restaurant for dinner and wandering around with a bunch of people from our program looking for a place to go out. Problem was we didn’t know where to go so we ended up in an expensive cafeteria place, before walking back to the hotel. It was all really confusing since none of us really knew where we were going! I was also disoriented by the fact that I was in Madrid on Halloween and people had actually dressed up… though it seems Spaniards take Halloween to heart and dress up in really scary outfits, as opposed to all the college students (well the girls in any case) who try to find the skimpiest outfit possible.

Saturday we set off to visit La Granja de San Ildefonso and Segovia. La Granja was less imposing than El Escorial and reminded me more of the countless French castles I’ve visited as a kid. The castle was built for Philip V and there were some very beautiful views to behold. I was so thrilled to see leaves changing colors! In Malaga, there is no color changing/leaves falling. I honestly did not think I would miss this because I hate fall in general as a season, but the beautiful fall colors made me miss this natural phenomenon I usually take for granted. In Malaga, there isn’t much vegetation on the surrounding mountains and palm trees aren’t exactly known for its changing colors. The castle is beautiful inside, but the real attractions are the gardens which probably rivals Versailles. Extending over 1500 acres, there are many fountains and walkways and I even saw a bunch of roses growing. In late October! Apparently the gardens were designed by some Frenchies and you could really tell (or well I could at any rate! The French love manicured gardens and elaborate gardens).

Then off we went to Segovia. I was a bit frustrated in Segovia for personal reasons I won’t go into, however I was still able to enjoy this little town. Segovia is very cute and it has this Roman aqueduct running threw its central plaza which I understand is still working today. Manolo led our group around explaining this and that and we were all confused when we went by the cathedral and did not go inside. Turns out we didn’t have enough time to visit it. I don’t think anybody in our group really minded.

After we walked around Segovia, we ended up at the Alcazar which legend has it is the very castle that inspired the famous Walt Disney logo. Not going to lie, there is a strong resemblance between the two! The view from the castle was fabulous as well, and inside there was a lot of suits of armor statues and also horse armor. A lot of weapons from different time periods were on display, along with a bunch of canons. All of the Dickinson kids climbed the tower to the top for a spectacular view of Segovia. However walking up and down the stairwell was not fun. It was very narrow and there was no banister. It was tricky maneuvering the steps going down with people trying to go up, I was getting very dizzy!

Back to Madrid we went. The next day we went to the Reina Sofia, the contemporary art museum near El Prado (also named after Spain’s current Reina Sofia, Juan Carlos’s wife). Saw lots of Picasso and Salvador Dali (what a weird guy he must have been). The most famous work of art in the museum is without a doubt Picasso’s Guernica (again I’ve seen it before when I was in Spain in 2004). Guernica is huge and represents the Nazi bombing of the town Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Only black and white, the painting is impressive in size and content. If you have never seen a picture of the painting, I suggest you google it because it really is something worth seeing. I also saw Dali’s famous The Persistence of Memory (the melting clocks painting), which was probably the least sexual painting of his.

After Reina Sofia, I walked around Madrid with a group of girls and it was really nice (also a lot of walking). We went to El Retiro parc, kind of like Madrid’s version of Central Park. I was content when all I saw around me were fall colors. I really had missed that without even realizing it! We also walked around Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor and made sure to stop and take pictures of El Palacio Real. We didn’t go inside though because it was about to close. I also experienced my 2nd time on the Madrid subway, which I have to say is very clean and very easy to use. All in all, I really enjoyed our free time walking around Madrid because even though the weather was chillier, it wasn’t raining.

The next day (Monday Nov. 3rd) we said good bye to Madrid and headed to Toledo. Toledo is known for marzipan, a local specialty, and the several stores that sell knives and other similar weapons. I did try some marzipan and it was very good. We also visited a church, a synagogue, and the Cathedral. For the life of me, I cannot remember any of these buildings. But that’s ok, this entry is already long.

And then we endured the 6 hour bus ride back to Malaga. We got back after 9 PM and we all had to take the 11 bus line back to our respective houses.

And there you go that was Madrid and other associated places which took place over 5 days…

I realize I still have Morocco to cover. I’ll try to post that asap but no promises!