Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Madrid: Final Day!

Today was my last full day in Madrid. I am sad to leave this culture that I have come to love, but am very excited to get back to my friends and get my life back on some sort of schedule. It has been an incredible eleven days, and I am so thankful that I have been able to experience and see so much in such a short amount of time.

Today was a much more relaxed, and typical Spanish day. I woke up and had coffee with my sister and her boss, which was quite the treat. Then, my sister and her fiancé went to work and left me and the rest of the family to explore the city on our own. We took the metro to the palace, where we had visited yesterday, because we were told that we needed to take the tour. So, we got there and saw tons of security guards, two of them on horses, and snipers up on the roof, and the museum was closed for the day. I'm still not sure what was happening, and I was very disappointed that I didn't get to tour this palace (I heard that it is the third largest palace in Europe).

The palace with the guards and horses out front.

From there, we solemnly walked to San Francisco el Grande Basilica, another recommendation by my sister's boss. We walked in and a tour guide-looking man asked me, in Spanish, if I spoke Spanish, and I said "un poco" and he laughed and told me to come to where the crowd was standing and he was giving a tour. Turns out, he was a tour guide. We walked into the first chapel (I think there were six) and started explaining who painted what and what everything meant. He talked in Spanish... a lot. I picked up fragments and kind of understood what he said, but was a little lost. After he told us to move on to the next chapel, he asked me if I understood what he had said and I said, "un poquito." Then, he explained it to me in his fragmented English. He continued to do this for the rest of the tour. It was really nice having a tour guide that knew so much and wanted everyone to really understand what was going on. The coolest thing about this basilica was that the paintings behind the altar were painted by Goya! That is the reason we absolutely had to see this place. They were nothing like the Black Paintings, because he had been hired to paint these and they weren't out of his own mind, but of someone else's. They were still beautiful and I felt honored just being in their presence.

The altar paintings by Goya.

The exterior of the basilica.

After the basilica, we took the metro back to the apartment and took a little siesta before our next activity. Then, we got a surprise buzz at the door, and found my sister who decided to skip class to spend more time with us. She took us to her favorite park and we saw a procession of government vehicles (maybe from whatever was going on at the palace?), the rose garden (filled with rows and rows of roses of all colors), and a glass house, before heading home for dinner. The glass house was very pretty. It was built in 1887 after a similar building in London and was used to house exotic plants, but now it primarily holds temporary art exhibits.

The rose garden.

El Palacio de Cristal.

I am all packed and ready to go once morning comes around. I can't wait to get home and get a full night's sleep before returning to my stomping grounds in Illinois. It has been a delight to get to spend so much time with my family, namely my sister, and I have been blessed by all of the things I have experienced while I've been here. From Barcelona, to Madrid, to Toledo, to Segovia, to La Granja, I feel like a real Spaniard, and can't wait to return here someday. I hope you have all enjoyed reading my blog. It has surely been a pleasure to write.

Much love,

Aden and Jorge

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Madrid: Day 4

Today was an extremely long, yet amazing day! I started off with a nice, long trip to Museo del Prado (Duh! You already know this, since you read my previous post). I was so excited to finally see those paintings, and it really was one of the top three highlights of this trip.

After the wondrously amazing time I spent studying the Black Paintings, I came back to the apartment and took a nap to bring my brain out of mushiness. Then, my Mom and sister brought hot dogs back to the apartment for lunch. They were quite delicious. One was plain with ketchup and mustard and the other had french fried onions and a mixture of sauces. They were fillings. And since we bought like a gagillion hot dogs, the owner of the restaurant gave us a bunch of free suckers! Free dessert for the win! Then, we left to check off some of the biggest and best tourist spots in all of Madrid. We went to Plaza del Sol, which some of us had been to (see Madrid: Day 2), but that was the closest metro stop to our next destination. While grandma was checking out some of the staples of the square that I had already seen, I went to the Haribo gummy store. One of my favorite foods in the world is gummy bears, and shortly behind it, any other gummies. This was a sight to see. I got to meet the Haribo bear when I entered the store and bought just about everything in the store (exaggeration alert). From there, we took a stroll over to Plaza Mayor, where all of the executions used to be held. It was quite the social gathering spot back in the day, and it still is. It is full of overpriced restaurants and specialty shops, but it is quite the experience just being there and experiencing the history that the place holds.

Me and my good friend, the Haribo gummy bear.

Plaza Mayor: Execution Central.

Our next stop on this wonderful scenic tour was the Mercado de San Miguel, a food market in the heart of the city. It was quite lovely, but I didn't really enjoy it because my legs were starting to feel the pain from standing on marble for three hours this morning. I'm sure if I went back when I was feeling good and was hungry, then I would fall in love. We stepped outside the market and sat down at a café to drink our afternoon cup of coffee. It was very fast and slightly refreshing.

Shortly after leaving the café, we approached the Cathedral of Madrid. It was very beautiful, but not quite as impressive as the other cathedrals I've seen this past week. It was built between 1879 and 1993, so it was quite a bit more modern than the seventeenth-century cathedrals I have gotten used to. Right next to it was the royal palace. It was beautiful and had wonderful views of the courtyard, gardens, and basically all of Madrid.

The entrance to the Cathedral of Madrid.
The courtyard and entrance to the royal palace.

Our final stop on this historic tour of Madrid was Debod Temple, Egyptian ruins that had been donated to Spain many years ago. Egypt donated them because they would have been destroyed from the construction of a dam and the Spaniards didn't want them to go to waste. They were transported and installed in 1972 and sit on a bluff overlooking all of Madrid. We sat there and watched the sunset while eating cheese, bread, and olives, talking amongst each other, and seeing who could spit their olive pits the farthest. It was quite the charming evening. This was really the perfect ending to yet another great day in Spain. We only have one more day and I am really going to miss this place. I have really enjoyed spending this time here and learning about the people and their culture. 

Debod Temple.

Two of my friends sitting near me in the park and watching the sunset.

Aden and Jorge


I decided to give this a post of its own, since this is kind of the reason for my whole trip to Spain and stuff. Enjoy, but don't get too depressed, Goya's a dark dude.

Today is the day I had been waiting for this whole trip! I finally got to see the paintings I have been studying for the past three months. The first thing we did today was head over to Museo del Prado and started the my study. I worked my way to the room that contained the Black Paintings, not stopping anywhere else so I could have as much time as possible to study my main man, Frank Goya. It was nice going into the room knowing some background information. I knew that the paintings were written at the end of Goya's life, he had gone deaf due to a debilitating illness, and he had been exiled to a house on the outskirts of Madrid called La Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man), where he painted the paintings straight onto the walls. I found out from a plaque on the wall that the paintings were carefully transferred from his walls to canvas and were donated to Museo del Prado in 1881. I have no idea how this process works, but it I'm sure glad they figured it out. I would love to go into detail about all of the paintings and the symbolism behind them, but you probably don't care that much about it, so I'll save that for my research paper. Getting to see the collection in person was a very surreal experience. I was kind of angry about having to wake up, but as soon as I stepped in the room and saw Goya's masterpieces, I was like a kid in a candy store. The emotion in the faces of the subjects of the paintings were so clear, something that separates Goya from artists before him and even during his time. The reason the emotions were so clear is because they were his actual emotions and came from his mind. The subject matter is extremely dark. I was actually depressed once I left the museum because of what I had seen. I can understand why his mind was so messed up. He knew that he was dying, he lived by himself and didn't have anyone to come see him, and the world rejected him because he chose to paint what he was actually feeling, not just what people wanted to see. He had a rough life. Needless to say, I spent three hours standing in that wonderful room, and wrote ten pages of notes/sketches. The faces and the details hypnotized me and I could not step away. Never in my life have I been so entranced by something that I lost track of time and had such a desire to learn more about it. I could have spent all day in that room, but my Dad and grandma had already left to go home, and the stragglers were starting to get impatient (and hungry). When we finally left, my brain was mush. I felt like a zombie. For one, I had just spent three hours standing on a marble floor in sandals, and two I had been looking into the incredibly dark mind of Francisco Goya. I didn't want to think. I got some ice cream from a street vendor on the way back, and once I got back to the apartment, I laid down on the couch and slept until it was time for lunch. I was filled with joy yet depressed, excited yet exhausted, slightly angry yet fulfilled. It was a wonderful morning and I have been looking forward to it for months now. I hope that one day I will be able to return and see them once again.

Aden and Jorge

Monday, May 9, 2011

Madrid: Day 3

Today was very different from last weekend. One, we didn't leave the city and two, my parents and I got to spend some time exploring the city on our own. This morning, we took the metro BY OURSELVES to Calle Fuencarral, a very trendy shopping strip in Madrid. They have all the latest fashions and anything that  a trendy hipster like myself would want to buy. We stopped at a nice soap store (not by my choice) so some of the ladies could buy some trendy soap, then we stopped for coffee and snacks at a trendy coffee shop called Café y Tapas, where our waiter was very rude, but I guess that's the trendy thing to do. When my Dad was trying to order a pastry in English, Mr. Waiter appeared to have no idea what he was saying, so my Dad took him inside to point our what he wanted in the display. When they got inside the man asked my father, "Do you speak Spanish?" "No," my Dad replied. Then the waiter said "Well, I speak English." Well why didn't you tell us when we were trying to order!?!?! You gotta love Spanish people! Anyway, after we finished our mid-morning coffee, we went to a very trendy store called Skunkfunk. No joke. They carried all of the latest fashions, and almost had me sold on a nice hat until I saw THE wallet. I knew that it was the one right when I saw it. I'm sure no one back in Illinois has one like it. After completing my retail therapy, we kept walking until we arrived at Plaza del Sol, a very famous square in the heart of Madrid. Literally, the heart. In the square, there is a gold tile on the floor that marks the center of the city. I took a picture.

The view of Fuencarral from the bottom of the street.

The plaque in the middle of the Plaza del Sol
Bob Esponja (Spongebob Squarepants) in Plaza del Sol!!

After this wonderful morning excursion, the family headed back to the apartment to reconvene before our next adventure. Once calmed down and refueled, we went to my sister's landlord's apartment to drop of the rent. I didn't know what to expect, but it was a cute old lady and her husband, both in their late eighty's. They were very funny and Spanish. The spoke absolutely no English, but I managed to follow most of their conversation. They forced us to stay for coffee and cookies (it is rude to turn it down in their culture) and we stayed and talked and laughed for an hour. I think they really connected with my grandma...

After that nice break, we went to the other end of Madrid to my sister's university. She really wanted us to see it and for us to be there to accompany her on her commute after class. It was a very nice campus and we ate a surprisingly good meal in the cafeteria. Nothing too special, but much better than what I'm used to when it comes to cafeteria food. When we finished eating, we went to a little courtyard and waited in the shade until my sister got released from class.

Then, we had a nice twenty minute commute back into the heart of the city and we went to my sister's apartment for the first time. It was much different from when I had seen it before on skype. It is a very nice place, a bit of a tight squeeze for four people, but I think they really like it there. There is also a really nice park a block away, and it is always filled with old people playing cards and walking with their friends. We ate at a little restaurant across the street from said park. It was very cute and is a favorite of my sister and her roommates. They know the wait-staff on a first name basis. Legit. I ate some potatoes with peppers and meat of some sort and a calamari sandwich. Delicious! I am really going to miss the food here. And the eating schedule, I suppose.

Tomorrow, I go to the Prado to see what I came to Spain for, Goya's Black Paintings. I am very excited to finally see them in person and to be able to brag to all of my artist friends that I've been to the Prado. It's been a wonderful trip and I have been blessed to be able to see all that I have seen and experience it all with my lovely family.

¡Hasta mañana!

Aden and Jorge

Sunday, May 8, 2011


¡Hola! I would like to start off this post by wishing all the mothers I know a very happy Mother's Day. I love my mother very much and am very glad that I was able to spend this beautiful day with her in Spain.

We started off today by going to an outdoor market called El Rastro. It was quite the experience! We got there relatively early, so the crowds weren't too bad at first. I got pretty nervous after awhile, once it got more crowded. I found a couple of great souvenirs to bring home and got to enjoy the wonderful weather, so it was definitely a good start to the day.

Shortly after, we boarded the train to Toledo. It was a nice, short ride and before we knew it, we were off the train and ready to explore this beautiful, historic city. We started with lunch and ate menu del día, of course. I had Gazpacho (basically, a cold tomato soup), and tortilla (egg with ham) topped with some pork. To finish it off, I had some delicious rice pudding.
My tortilla with pork. !Qué delicioso!

After that delightful lunch, we started out to explore the city. We stopped in many sword stores (the city was COVERED in them...) and just took our time looking down the beautiful cobblestone streets. Absolutely everything in this city was beautiful. One of the most interesting things about Toledo is the cultural diversity that has lasted for centuries. In most towns, when they were taken over by another empire, all of their previous structures were destroyed, and they built the new town right on top of it. In Toledo, things were different for some reason. The city has had a Moorish temple, a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and a Jewish Synagogue at the same time for pretty much its entire history. Somehow, they have all been able to live in peace throughout the centuries. This has given the city much diversity in both the people and in the architecture. The city was stunning, but what made it better was the panoramic views of the Spanish countryside from the edge of the city. We spent 7 hours there, but I could have easily spent two days. I would love to go back some day.

 The view from the wall surrounding Toledo.

 The Roman Catholic Cathedral.

One of the beautiful streets we walked down.

Toward the end of our adventure in Toledo, the group split up and the young 'uns took the long way around the city to see as much as we could. We stopped at a statue of Don Quixote and took some pictures, then picked up some marzipan, a Spanish treat made from sugar and almond meal, and ate it on the outer wall of the city, overlooking the river. We spent the remainder of the day enjoying Toledo and left at 9:30 PM. We got back to Madrid, ordered a pizza, and took it back to the apartment. I really enjoyed today and I cherish the time I get to spend with my family this week. I can't wait for more adventures tomorrow.



Saturday, May 7, 2011

Segovia and La Granja

I love this country more and more every day! Today was just what I needed to get re-energized for the rest of the trip. We took a day trip out of the city to Segovia and La Granja. This boy can only take so much of the big city before I go crazy, so it was nice to get a break from the hustle and bustle.

We woke up early and took the metro to the train station. Then, we got on the train to Segovia. A short twenty minutes later, and we were in the lovely town of Segovia. It was a little chilly, but the town was beautiful, so I decided to ignore the cold and take in the sights. Segovia is one of those cities that you see pictures of or see in the movies, but never think you'll get to see. It is full of tiny, brick streets with little shops all over the place, and charming restaurants everywhere you turn. The two things that make Segovia famous are it's cathedral and the Roman aqueduct placed in the city center.

The aqueduct was built by the Romans between the 1st and 2nd centuries and it's purpose was to bring in water from the mountains, about nine miles, into the city. It is one of the oldest, best-preserved monuments on the Iberian Peninsula. It has 36 arches and is huge, as you can tell from the picture below. The entire structure is held together with no mortar, just being held together by the weight of the rocks themselves. I could have stood there all day and stared at it, but I was wearing shorts and sandals and the rain was slightly nippy. So, I found a nice coffee shop and warmed up before moving on to the next stop of the tour.

After getting sufficiently warm, we walked to the Segovia Cathedral. It was definitely one of the biggest and oldest cathedrals I have ever seen. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was built between 1525 and 1577. The inside consisted of more than twenty chapels around the outer walls that were paid for by rich families from the are when it was built, an altar, and all the other staples of a Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was beautiful, and I even got to light a candle in one of the chapels! That was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

The exterior of the cathedral, taken from the main square.

After our tour of the cathedral, we decided that it was time for lunch. We left the main square in search of a restaurant more off the beaten path and found this quaint little place that was serving my favorite. You guessed it, MENU DEL DÍA! It was delicious. We had a type of sausage stew, lamb steak with fries and a pepper, and rice pudding.

The rice pudding. It had a cute little heart made of sugary stuff. YUM!

As soon as we finished lunch, we met up with some friends who came late and got on the bus to La Granja. This is a small town just outside of Segovia. I thought of the two towns like Quincy and Canton. La Granja is important because it has a huge palace and the gardens are modeled after the French style. It was built in the 18th century for Philip V and the town around it was built in the years after. The land the town was built on was once farm land, but the Spanish royalty decided that they liked the land, so they took it. It was a beautiful palace and a perfect little town. We even got to see a wedding procession for two kind young gentlemen in the main square...

After catching the bus, we returned to Segovia to wait for our train back to Madrid. We drank a delicious cup of coffee and conversed until we saw the bus pull up. While we were at the train station, the rain finally let up and a rainbow popped up right over the station. I could see both ends of it (no gold, though...). Eventually, a second rainbow showed up and we had a little rainbow celebration on the train platform. Upon returning to the big city, a couple of us kids went out in search of some dinner. We found a sandwich shop and some chips and soda, and headed back to the apartment. It was a nice, relaxed dinner. It was truly a wonderful day, and I am looking forward to see what the rest of the trip has in store.


Aden and Jorge

Double Rainbow!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Madrid: Day 2

¡Hola! I have now been in Spain for two days and I'm definitely starting to get used to this place and how it works. I was dragging a bit today because I stayed up a little past my bed time talking to people from back home. I miss them so much! Today was a pretty relaxed day, so it all worked out.

My sister had to work this morning, so a couple of her friends volunteered to be our "tour guides" for the day. They took us to the botanical garden and we spent two hours looking at flowers, herbs, bonsai trees, and cats (?). After this wonderful tour, we met up with my sister and had some lunch at this lovely restaurant right next to the Reina Sofía, one of the biggest art museums in Madrid. This restaurant is famous for their fried calamari sandwich, and there is a good reason for that. It was delicious! Then, we went across the street to the Atocha Train Station because they have a "turtle pit." There was a little pond and some trees in the middle of the station and there were hundreds of turtles swimming around and sun-bathing. It was pretty awesome. Then, we came back to the apartment and I got a nice siesta before our evening activity.

During my siesta, the ladies went to a dress shop to look for a wedding dress for my sister, and they found one! This was very exciting! Afterwards, around 8:30, they met up with us guys at a restaurant/bar that had a flamenco show. This was our big night out for the trip, celebrating my sister's engagement. It was really a lot of fun. We ate some tapas (basically appetizers) and watched the flamenco show. Flamenco is a form of music and dance that originated in Andalusia in the 18th century. It is made up of three main parts, the dance, the singing, and the guitar playing. It is a very colorful, exciting dance that involves a lot of stomping for rhythmic effect. I found the guitar player to be the most fascinating part about the show. Being a guitar player myself, I was very interested in his technique. He didn't use a pick, but strummed faster than I can even with a pick, and his chords were very bright and happy-sounding. Toward the end of the show, the female dancer chose me to come on stage and dance to a song. I followed the male dancer and kept up for the most part. It was an exciting evening spent with great company.

We are traveling tomorrow, so it should be another exciting day. I am really enjoying what I am learning about this culture and am finally getting to practice my Spanish. It is fun being able to apply the things I've been learning since I was 6 years old. Well, I hope you all are doing well and enjoying this life that has been given us. Until tomorrow!

Con Amor,

Aden and Jorge