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!
FRIDAY, MAY 17
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! :)
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!
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.
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!
Then we headed to Las Carboneras for our flamenco.
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.
SUNDAY, MAY 19
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? :)
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.
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.
And the open-air section of the station with palm trees and a jungle feel.
I couldn't get enough of the countryside as we made our way south.