Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Chris and I had the chance to go visit my parents in Spain in May this year. It was the trip of a lifetime! We decided since we were there that we needed to see a few other cities in Spain to get a good taste of the country, as well as Paris (because we were just so darn close to it!). We left on Thursday, May 16th.
Before we got on the airplane. We were just so excited to go! Chris's parents were nice enough to watch the kiddos for us while we were gone. It was so great to know they were in good hands so we didn't have to worry. They actually were having so much fun at Grandma and Grandpa's house that they didn't even really want to talk to us when we called. They were too busy playing!
The airplane. It was giant!
Right before takeoff. We had personal TV screens on the seats in front of us, which Chris was super stoked about...until we took off and the flight attendants announced there was a problem with the TV system. We flew 5 hours of a 10.5 hour flight with zero entertainment, ha ha. Such a bummer! Then they finally got it fixed and we each watched a movie and a half before we landed. Neither of us slept a wink (and I tried taking a unisom to encourage my body a little bit). Just couldn't get comfy enough I suppose. Either that or we were just too darn excited for what was to come!


We took the direct flight to Paris, which left SLC around 5 PM and landed in Paris at around 10:30 AM. Here's Chris in the Charles DeGaulle airport, which was lovely, waiting for our connection and enjoying some free wi-fi.
Then we hopped another plane to Madrid for our first stop. By this time we were SUPER exhausted. We managed to find our luggage, get through their customs and change some money into Euros. On our way to the bus stop towards our hotel we passed some homeless people sleeping underneath the escalator in the airport. For some reason it was hilarious. Or maybe we were just slap-happy?  Either way, we were still having a good time.
When we packed for the trip the weather report looked like it was going to be cool in Madrid but HOT in Southern Spain and fairly warm in Barcelona and Paris. However, looking forward 18 days into a weather forecast is never reliable. Sometimes even 18 hours isn't reliable either. We packed some shorts/capris, shirts, two pairs of pants and one jacket each. So if it looks like we're wearing the same outfit in almost every picture...it's because we are! :)  When we landed in Madrid the pilot announced the temperature was 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit). Oh man, did it feel cold! Standing outside on the sidewalk watching the rain pour and waiting for the bus in the shivering cold, I was starting to wonder what we'd gotten ourselves into. 
We had a difficult time finding the right bus stop (lack of sleep?). In hindsight, we would have just taken their metro (which is simple and amazing and efficient and CLEAN), rather than the bus which was twice the price, very crowded and so steamy inside we couldn't even see out the window. Hilarious! Live and learn.

We finally got to Atocha train station and we walked all around it with our luggage to explore it a little bit. We needed to find the luggage lockers for when we came back there on Sunday. The train station was HUGE. They had an open-air section with palm trees and birds that felt like an indoor jungle. In the basement was a food court and tons of shopping. We walked past a candy shop with the most amazing assortment of gummy candy and 3-foot licorice ropes in every color of the rainbow. I made a mental note to come buy one when we came back there on Sunday.
From Atocha we took a cab to our hotel in Puerta Del Sol, right in the heart of Madrid. On our way we got a little taste of the amazing architecture in Madrid. Every building was beautiful. Turns out our cab driver had absolutely no idea where our hotel was, even when I gave him the street address. He spent most of the drive verbally berating me that "no es Calle, es Plaza!" He thought I was giving him the street name of our hotel incorrectly, but in fact it was Calle Carmen that our Hotel was located on. He ended up circling around and dropping us off in the middle of nowhere, and pointing to where we should walk to get to it. So $12 euros later we basically got a great view of the city and a half mile walk with all our luggage down cobblestone roads following Chris's cell phone GPS to find our hotel. It was actually pretty funny and we laughed about it even in the moment. (And again in hindsight, we could have taken the metro right to our hotel, but we didn't know that at the time.)

But as a side note, Chris's map app on his cell phone saved our bacon on numerous occasions (especially while we were driving), but even while we were walking. It was so nice! We never felt lost because we could always turn it on and know exactly where we were.
Walking towards our hotel with our luggage.
We stayed in Hotel Europa, right in Puerta Del Sol. Our room had a fantastic view out over the plaza. It was right in the center of everything. Such a great location!
We were so awed by the view that we almost forgot how tired we were.

The room itself was very simple on the inside. Almost every room we stayed in had two single beds pushed together as a "double." But it was clean and comfortable and such a great location. I'd stay here again in a heartbeat.

The bathroom was spacious and marble, with a bidet and a toilet and a great shower.

After we checked into the hotel it was already 5 or 6 PM, and we knew we needed to stay awake for another few hours so we decided to explore. We followed a historic Madrid walk outlined in my Rick Steve's book and it was super fun. It took us past all sorts of monuments and interesting buildings.

This guy on the horse is Charles III, whom Spaniards affectionately call "the best Mayor of Madrid." He's the one who beautified the city and cleaned it up. As a result, they put statues of him on a horse in just about every roundabout and plaza in Madrid. Seriously. It's almost comical.
The statue of Charles III in Puerta del Sol with our hotel in the background.
Charles III with our frozen smiles. It was cold!
I couldn't get enough of the cute streets and buildings. I loved the rod-iron balconies on all the buildlings and the uniform building height. Everything was clean, clean, clean! (We didn't realize how clean until later when we got to Paris.) We fell in love with Madrid right away.

Plaza Mayor. This plaza is lined with outdoor cafes/restaurants and street performers at night. On Sundays they have a farmer's market here.
Oh hey, there's Charles III again in Plaza Mayor.

We stepped out of Plaza Mayor down a few more amazing streets and on towards the palace.
There was a HUGE cathedral right next to the palace. (More frozen faces in front of the cathedral.)
This was our first cathedral encounter in Europe, so we decided to venture in. It was huge inside.

The stonework was lovely and it was just. so. big. We read a few plaques and discovered this cathedral was finished in 1993. Ha ha ha! It's a newborn baby cathedral compared to what we were about to see! But still, it was beautiful.

We walked next door to the palace, which was closed to tours by then. It was ginormous and stately. We decided to come back and tour it the next day if we had time.

We wound our way back towards our hotel through a few more plazas. Oh hey there Chuck III. Good to see you again. This was the plaza near the back of the famous Opera House in Madrid. It was a beautiful square.

We hadn't eaten dinner yet, but our book informed us we were about to pass the best hot chocolate and churro cafe in Madrid...so we decided we should partake anyway.

The hot chocolate was thick and dark and the churros were fresh and hot. Amazing. And it was so rich we couldn't finish it all.
The sun set as we walked our way back to our hotel. We ended up stopping at a small restaurant for some bocadillos (sandwiches) for dinner. They were disappointing, and we found out later it's because we were there waaaaay to early for dinner. Most restaurants don't open for dinner until 9PM. So we were probably eating yesterday's sandwiches, ha ha.

On Saturday we woke up and walked to the Prado Museum first thing, by way of the pedestrianized Huertas. I think it would have been a cooler street if all the Spaniards hadn't still been asleep, because none of the shops were open yet. We also discovered that spaniards don't really eat breakfast. Coffee and a pastry is it.

We got to the Prado right as it was opening and surprise, surprise -- it was free admission day! Score. I don't have pictures of it because they didn't allow photos. But we saw some amazing sculpture and paintings inside. They even had a special room with altar pieces from very old churches all around Spain, which I found fascinating.

Right behind the Prado Museum was another very old, cool looking church so we took a peek inside for a minute, but choir practice was happening so we didn't stay long.
Next we walked up the street to Retiro Park (one of Charles III's additions to the city -- he opened it to the public). It was a huge, beautiful park.

By the end of the trip Chris grew a little tired of the "selfies" I was constantly requesting. But for the first week or so he did great! :)

As we walked deeper into the park we began to hear singing. The closer we got to it, the more we recognized the music -- it was a hymn! We stumbled upon a group of missionaries singing in the park. They were the first familiar faces we'd seen, and the first Northamericanos. We spoke to a companionship of sisters and found out they were from the MTC. One of the sisters was heading to Barcelona in 3 weeks and when I told her who I was she almost gave me a hug, ha ha. It was so cute and she was SO excited. Then we introduced ourselves to the MTC president who was with the missionaries, and who had just stayed at my parents home in Barcelona the week before. He was so nice, and even offered us a place to stay at the MTC (which would have been so cool!) but we politely declined since we already had accomodations.

He told us they sing in the park every Saturday with a group of missionaries and they get quite a few referrals from it. The Saturday before we were there he had a companionship threesome in the group at the park, none of whom spoke English and only about a week's worth of Spanish, and after singing in the park for an hour they had somehow gotten FOUR referrals. Amazing!
We sat down at a small cafe near the lake in the park to eat lunch. The cute little birds kept us company, since there was literally no one else eating yet. Spaniards eat their main meal of the day mid-afternoon and then a late, late dinner. "No es la hora para comer." (It was not the hour for eating.) But our American stomachs told us it was, so luckily the cafe was open and we ate anyway.

The view from lunch was amazing!

Hey there, genuine smile.

If it hadn't been so overcast and rainy I think we would have loved to ride a paddle boat on that lake. But it was drizzling on and off and I didn't want to push our luck. We had so many other places we needed to walk so I figured we best be on our way.

We exited the park and headed across a few streets towards the metro. Just look at this architecture. So beautiful!

We took the metro up to Hard Rock Cafe Madrid to buy a pin for Chris's mom & aunt who collect their pins from all around the world. Then we headed back to Palacio Real (the palace) to take a tour.

There were only two times on this trip that we bonafide got poured on, and one of them was while standing in line to buy tickets to tour the palace. We put on our ponchos like a pair of dopey tourists while everyone else pulled out their sophisticated, fancy umbrellas. But it only last about 5 minutes and the sun came back out.

When we got to the front of the line we discovered it was free admission day at the palace as well. Yahoo! Our lucky day. We toured the palace with the audio guide that explained each room. This palace is considered the third-greatest palace in Europe, after Versailles and Vienna's Schonbrunn. It has 2800 rooms, amazing tapestries, chandeliers, frescos and murals, etc. Good old Charles III was responsible for much of the interior decor. Two of my favorite parts were the royal armory, which displayed suits of armor and weapons through history, and the royal pharmacy which was stacked with jars and jugs of beakers, herbs, etc. Very, very cool.
View from the palace courtyard.

We hopped the metro back towards our hotel, and began to wonder why we hadn't take the metro all along. The metro in Madrid is very easy to navigate, has fantastic coverage and is SO clean. It was great, and gave us a lot of confidence that we'd be able to figure out the public transit in bigger cities (like Paris) as we went along.
Waiting for the metro.
CLEAN metro stop. So clean you could practically eat off it.
When we got back to our hotel, there was a spontaneous parade and party happening in Puerta Del Sol. There had been a big soccer game the night before, so the team came down to the plaza on the top level of an open-air bus with music blaring, and then hopped off into the crowd giving high five's and dancing. The players were like celebrities. What a party!
Later that day we also witnessed the police arresting somebody at a big department store near our hotel. For some reason the crowd was really upset about it, but I couldn't ever hear much or understand much about what the fuss was. We watched it for a while, fascinated, while we held onto our valuables tightly. :)
That night we went to a flamenco performance at Last Carboneras. Before the performance we decided to eat some tapas in Plaza Mayor. We were a little bit nervous about how to do it, but we wanted to be brave. So we found a restaurant whose menu looked good, and requested a table inside (since it was chilly out). We happened to get the most wonderful waiter. I ordered two things of tapas and he threw in two more tapas dishes on the house, because he knew we would like them and he understood that we were new to this. Everything we ate there turned out to be amazing, and we were so glad we'd stopped and been so brave. We gave our waiter a big tip on our way out, even though you don't tip much at restaurants in Spain.

Then we headed to Las Carboneras for our flamenco.
It was a fairly small place so our seats were great. They gave us some olives and drinks while we waited for the performance to start.

Their soda bottles are so cute and tiny, and all of their glasses are so tall and skinny.
The flamenco was very different than I was expecting. Perhaps I've watched too much Dancing with the Stars? I was expecting a lot of hip action, but it's much more stomping and spinning and clapping. And their faces are VERY serious while they're doing it. (Which Chris thought was hilarious.)

There were three female dancers, one male dancer, and then two guitarists and a singer. The guitar music was lovely, and the singer would pipe in periodically. I almost got the impression that the dancers were improvising and the musicians would have to keep up. It was hard to tell. But it was fun to see a traditional flamenco dance and relax and enjoy a show after a few long days of travel and sight-seeing.

After the flamenco was over we were ready for some more food so we stopped into another small bar for tapas again, since we were feeling brave. This time we had gazpacho, some amazing ham pizza topped with blue cheese (whaaat? I'm gonna have to try this at home. So good.) and then some sort of a potato croquet I think. I don't know, but it was all delicious.
Then we meandered home through the streets and stopped into another little restaurant for some dessert and a view of the plaza at night. Madrid is a lovely, romantic city!


The next morning we had to check out of our hotel so we took a few pictures of it before we hopped on the metro. We were so sad to be leaving Madrid! We wished we'd had an extra day to go see the soccer stadium or the bull fighting ring or Segovia or El Escorial. (So maybe two or three more days? :)

Our window was on the top floor, third window down.
We hopped the metro back to Atocha with all our luggage and locked it up in their baggage lockers. Then we hopped two more metros to get to church.

The MTC and the temple and a stake center are all located on one plaza. The temple was beautiful. And apparently there is like a 1000 year old olive tree on the temple grounds but I forgot to look for it while we were there. Supposed to be cool.

We attended a sacrament meeting, which was perhaps the longest high-councilman speaker I've ever heard. Most likely not because his talk was boring, but because it was in a foreign language and I was seriously jetlagged. I had a super hard time keeping my eyes open! They had two youth speakers who were actually great and I was able to follow most of their talks, but by the time the high council rolled around I was a gonner.

Still, it was a lovely place and the ward was enormous - much bigger than I was expecting. It was great to see the church thriving there.

After a few pictures in front of the temple, we hopped the metro and headed back to Atocha train station to get our luggage. As our subway started to move I noticed a Spanish ad for Norwegian vacations on the wall. Hilarious. I had to take a picture to send to my mom & Amy.

When we got back to the train station, the first thing I did was head back to that amazing candy stand I'd seen a few days earlier. Chris and I each bought a 3-foot stuffed licorice rope. They were amazing! It took me like 2 days to finish it all. Yum.

We had a few hours to kill before our train so we meandered a bit. There was a pond in the train station filled with cute little turtles.

And the open-air section of the station with palm trees and a jungle feel.
Finally it was time to board our train. We took the high-speed AVE train to Malaga, which travels 300 miles per hour! It was amazing and smooth and quiet. We were super impressed.
I booked our train tickets a little too late and I was forced to buy first class because the rest of the train was sold out, ha ha. But it turned out to be delightful, and they fed us an amazing, full meal on the train.
And for the first time on this trip we both got comfortable enough to take a little snooze on the smooth, smooth ride. (Did I mention it was smooth?)

I couldn't get enough of the countryside as we made our way south.
Peace out, Madried. On to the South coast! To be continued in Ojen...

1 comment:

mpace said...

Tell Chris I am honored that he would choose the tie from my wedding to wear in Spain.

I'm ready for the next installment!