Friday, April 27, 2012

Spain Part 4: From Barcelona to Madrid and Segovia!

When I left off, my mom and Martha were packing and on their way back to NY! Kristen and I stayed in Barcelona one more night before heading over to Madrid. We stayed in an adorable hotel called the Hotel Girona that had an old fashioned elevator (the kind that you have to slide the gate open), pink walls, and old furniture and paintings. We had a cute little room with two twin beds. The room had a TV (with CNN International!) and a SHOWER! Yes, that’s right, a shower right in the room. Too funny. There was also a really nice shower down the hall. The hotel made me feel like I was in a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The only complaint I have is that the walls in the hotel are thin and there is a window above your door so when anyone else gets up early in the morning, it will wake you up. But it was cute and cheap and I’m young so I can’t complain too much. Kristen and I were pretty tuckered out from all the travelling with mom & Martha, so we had a little siesta. After us sleeping beauties awoke, Kristen had an appointment at Barcelona University because she is interested in studying cognitive linguistics there. I went along with her to check out the campus while she had an interview. The campus is absolutely gorgeous. The university was established in 1450, making it twice the age of the United States. Amazing! The university is similar in respect and history to the Sorbonne in Paris, but the Sorbonne is not so easy to visit and Barcelona University (UB) is completely open to the public. The university technically has several campuses around Barcelona, but I believe we visited the original site of the university, and thus it is quite old and beautiful. The campus had beautiful trees, ponds, and plants for me to wander around in. When I was tired of the plants I went into the buildings. The halls are stone and have beautiful wooden doors, and in the hall where the president and other administrators have their offices there is beautiful art and architecture. The library reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast, with old books in wooden cases. After her interview, I showed Kristen the library. I think she could get comfortable studying in the leather chairs in this library! The next day we took the seven hour bus to Madrid. Arriving in the evening, I met up with my friend Matt who is teaching English in Madrid (just like I’m doing in Le Havre). We went out to dinner at restaurant called Casa Mingo. The atmosphere is stereotypical Spanish and I could tell a lot of tourists go there. The food to get is the chicken roast, chorizo, and cider. Delicious! The food was also reasonably priced and comes in a large quantity. The next day (International Women’s Day!) I met up with Kristen after Matt headed to work. We met at the Plaza del Sol and popped into a bakery called La Mallorquina. It is one of the oldest bakeries in Spain! I had a napolitana, which was an amazing pastry with cream in it. Before leaving, Kristen demanded I try a yemas. A yemas is actually a candied egg yolk. When you look at it, it’s pretty firm and yellow and you can see its sugared coating. They are super dense and delicious. They look small, but don’t be deceived by this traditional Spanish pastry: it’s very heavy, so only eat one! Afterwards, we met Matt and ate nearby at La Finca de Susana. It was a restaurant that had been recommended to Aunt Martha by a co-worker who lives in Madrid. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it with Aunt Martha, but I was still determined to find it and try it. It is known for being absolutely beautiful and classy but also really reasonably priced and it lived up to its expectation. I had a creamy tomato soup for a starter and shrimp, mussels, and cod with potatoes for the main dish. So, so, so delicious!!! Afterwards, Kristen, Matt, and I wandered through the Malasaña area to look at really cute shops and boutiques. Kristen knew some specific shops to look at and from there we wandered around. The shops ranged from reasonable second-hand shops to extraordinarily priced boutiques. They had some really interesting things and beautiful clothes. In the same area at the Plaza Dos de Mayo, Kristen and I then went to get our hair cut at a very well known hair dresser, called Corto y Cambio. It’s the same hairdresser where Penelope Cruz apparently got a hair cut! At night, we met Kristen’s friend Jessica at a bar called Richelieu. Kristen’s friend Jessica is teaching English in Madrid as well and it was great to meet her. Jessica is absolutely hilarious, and I loved that she pronounced Richelieu (a French cardinal that was very powerful, pronounced “rish-lee-oo”) as “Richie Lou.” The bar was really classy, with a lot of older men in suits sitting at the bar and well dressed women sitting on the leather couches. The drinks are a little expensive by Spanish standards, but they come with endless tapas. They kept bringing out more and more peanuts, sliced sausage, chips, and pinxtos (tapas on small slices of toasted baguette bread). Every time we finished one plate, a new one came along. Finally Jessica burst out, “WE NEED TO STOP EATING!” We looked around. None of the other Spaniards were touching their plates, which were all mostly full. A hilarious culture difference I find between western Europeans and Americans is that western Europeans see food as a decoration, meant as a courtesy and politeness to the guest, but in the US we are raised to eat all the food in front of us, it would be rude not to. Thus, without realizing it, we were going through plates of tapas, thinking that was polite and what we should do, and the server kept bringing us more, because he thought that was polite. The next day (Friday) I went to Segovia. Segovia is a beautiful medieval town with a castle that is rumored to be what the Disney castle was based off of. After arriving by bus, I headed to the tourist information office and was floored by the sight of a massive Roman aqueduct. My first thought was, this is the aqueduct I have seen in all my history textbooks in high school, I’m sure. Its unbelievably huge, I can’t even fully describe it. It cuts the main square and makes the bold statement that the Romans wanted it to make: permanent power and strength. Despite thousands of years passing by, the aqueduct still stands tall and strong. I walked up the stairs on the side to reach the top and look out over the aqueduct and into the distance to see beautiful snowcapped mountains. This was my favorite moment in Segovia I think. I then proceeded to walk through the city. Unfortunately it was very cold that day. I paid to go into the cathedral, but it was even more cold and, after seeing the one in Toledo, a bit lackluster. Continuing through the town, is walked through the Jewish quarter, which was essentially wiped out during the inquisition and is more nominal (in my opinion) than anything. There was a church that had once been the site of a Jewish temple, but that was all. This part of Spanish history is very depressing and upsetting. When I made it to the castle, I was a little disappointed. There is a lot of hype about the castle at Segovia, so I had a really high expectation for it. But in the end, all I could think was, Cinderella’s is better. Inside there isn’t a great deal to see. There are some nice views of the brown countryside from the windows in the castle, and some armor and art in the exhibits. There was some kind of military history museum inside as well, but it was mostly all in Spanish and, to me, very boring. The best part is going up the tower. The tower is a stereotypical Rapunzel tower that makes you feel like prince charming might just be below, or perhaps knights and their army are rushing towards you at top speed in attack. From here you have a breathtaking view off the city at the foot of the beautiful mountains. I then headed out of the castle and walked on a footpath that follows beneath the walls of the city. Yes, they still have the old fortified walls! Crazy! It was nice to do a little hiking outside of the city- in many ways, all of this city seeing, I was starting to miss the earth! I then had lunch at a restaurant called Le Tunnel that was not so good, but I had a beer at the bar while waiting, and for only €1.30 I had a small beer and a slice of Spanish tortilla. Finally returning to Madrid, I met Kristen and Jessica at Jessica’s apartment. It turns out that Jessica has an amazing apartment with a balcony! We sat and had wine in the warm sun with a beautiful view of the city. In the evening, we met up with Katie, a friend of Kristen and Jessica, and had drinks at a work collective that she interns at called The Hub. The Hub is a really cool concept that started in the US (surprisingly), where they collaborate on new ideas and help (mostly young) entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. I was speaking with one guy who wants to start a social network that is around books. It was interesting to see, and I really liked the concept. My last and final day in Spain was sad. Kristen, Matt, and I wandered around the Chueca area of Madrid. The area is famous because it was the spot where a lot of gay culture in Spain takes seed, and is apparently the largest gay community in Spain. We stopped in the Mercado San Anton which was similar to the Mercado San Miguel. This seemed a bit more upscale, as it was indoors, though on the roof there is a bar with couches and chairs, so we stopped to have a drink and enjoy the sun. After, we ate at a trendy restaurant called Ojala. In the basement, there is sand and at night it is open and you can enjoy your drinks in a beach-like setting. During the day, however, the basement isn’t open, though the upstairs is also quite cool, with neon pink and yellow lights and yummy food, such as guacamole and a yummy wrap. In the evening we ate at a new restaurant called Mérimée, which has the slogan, “Fancy Food & Cocktail Club.” Funny slogan! The food was quite fancy, and yummy, and the atmosphere was definitely on the fancy side as well. We then wandered through the Malasaña area, checking out all the fun bars they have there. Because it was a Saturday, a lot of them were so packed you couldn’t really have a drink or anything. But what was great about them is they were all so different. There were bars with old toy memorabilia on the walls, a books and wine bar, and a bar with all repurposed materials that were made into new furniture. The next day, I returned to France, completely exhausted from this epic two week adventure. It has actually been about two months since this all went down. Since then I have visited many other places, but this Spain trip was by far the most exciting and action-packed, so I wanted to take the time to write about it fully. I will update soon about some of the other things I have done and the places I have visited, but this Spain trip was one of the highlights of my year. I hope you enjoyed and I didn’t drag it out too much!!! Also, I’m sorry I have not posted more regularly. I have started working on a friend’s blog, Sensible Reason, where I help write and edit posts. Please feel free to check it out at It is an anything blog, though it is mostly about music and the arts. Hope you enjoy! Pictures: