Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

Sometimes when there is nothing going on, like this past weekend for example, I like to supplement this blog with my past travel experiences.

I went to Madrid almost six months ago as part of a business trip to France with my old job. It sounds so hoity-toity, doesn’t it? My business trip to France. It’s really not that big a deal; I’m just an average Jane, not some executive who makes big business deals. Six months ago this blogging business was way too complicated to me, and it still is in many ways, so I have been “catching up” by writing about these past trips to preserve my memories of the place.

I visited Madrid with my friend (and former co-worker) Erin. Erin had already been to Spain during a trip to Europe after college and can speak fairly good Spanish. Apparently, I am a closet Spanish speaker myself, but more on that later. Also, there was sangria and paella to feast on during my visit.

We flew out to Madrid on a Friday night after work, and got there around 10 pm. Erin’s fabulous (and well-traveled) friend Melanie and her boyfriend Kevin were staying in the same hotel as us and met us there. We stayed at the amazing Westin Palace Madrid, located in the heart of the city, right next to Retiro Park and mere steps away from the Prado museum (which would be the equivalent of the Getty here in LA).

We hung out with Melanie and Kevin the first night, and visited a bar down the street. Spaniards love to party, and even though it was already 1 a.m. by the time we got there, the party was just getting started. We talked, watched the locals get their groove on, and called it a night around 4 a.m. This party lifestyle wreaked havoc on my Grandma ways, and I spent the whole morning sleeping. Erin and I did not venture out of the hotel until 2 p.m. because we were so sleep-deprived.

The next day (Saturday) we walked around the city and visited Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is the central square in Madrid, filled with old shops and cafes within its walls. Historically, the square has witnessed the Spanish Inquisition, and people convicted of heresy were actually executed in the square. I had a late lunch with Erin, Mel, and Kevin at Plaza Mayor. I had bread and cheese while everyone else had something that looked like salami. This was during my period of not eating meat, so while everyone else was having Spanish delicacies (mainly of the pork variety) I stuck to my guns and had ate bread and cheese. We washed our meal down with sangria, which was delicious. I tried to have Sangria as much as possible during that weekend.

Erin and I had plans to visit the shops and walk around Madrid some more after lunch; unfortunately the weather did not agree with us. After alternating between sunshine and overcast clouds all morning, the sky turned gray and unleashed big fat rain on us right after lunch. We walked back to our hotel in the rain. The downpour did not let up until after 5 pm and dashed our plans; it also ruined my flats, which was way worse in my book. I stayed in for a few hours, surfing the internet and watching Spanish television, then made my way to the Prado museum after it stopped raining.

I had to stand in line to get into the museum. Fortunately the line moved quickly and I was inside within 20 minutes. As expected, the museum was crawling with tourist (ahem, like me). Eager to see the master works (Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Titian, etc.) before the museum closed for the day, I consulted the map and made a beeline for the second floor immediately. I have a one-hour attention span when visiting museums – it’s not something I am proud of, but after a while everything starts to look the same or have the same themes. Sorry art lovers out there! I felt satisfied after seeing the artists I wanted to see. My favorite paintings were from Velazquez, particularly the ones with midgets (is the PC term “dwarf”?). I think that during his time a lot of the prestigious art was religious in nature, and it was nice to see portraits of something other than religion displayed in the museum. For some reason it did not occur to me that midgets would be part of the court that as jesters or buffoons.

On Sunday Erin and I made plans to visit the local shops. The problem with our plan was that all shops (except those that sell food and restaurants) are closed on Sundays. Being American and spending many Sundays at the mall, this was a big surprise for me. It didn’t even occur to me that a staunchly Catholic country would close down its shops in observance of the Sabbath, so we went across the city trying to find shops that were open. Five train stops and hours of walking later, we came to the conclusion that no shops were open. Thankfully, cafes and restaurants were open for business or else we’d starve.

We ended up visiting Retiro Park, located near our hotel. Retiro Park is a big space, filled with families, puppet shows, fortune tellers, and musicians. It looked like the place where Madrilenos came to hang out during Sundays, and it was fun seeing a slice of their lives. Erin and I had a mid-afternoon snack there and watched the people interact. Afterwards, we went back to our hotel and gathered our things for our flight home. The best part about getting to the airport? We took the train and it cost only one Euro!

Throughout my visit, I kept thinking about how Spanish culture is so entwined with Filipino culture. This is because the Philippines was colonized by Spain, and was even named after Phillip II of Spain. The Spaniards brought their language, customs, and most importantly religion to the island nation. Until the Philippines were liberated by the US during the Spanish-American War in 1898, the locals spoke Spanish. What’s more, a lot of Filipino surnames are Spanish in origin: Santos, Legazpi, Gonzalez, Garcia, and Vergara, my family’s name. Erin was surprised to find that I understood Spanish in some capacity, not entire phrases but one word or a set of words in a sentence to figure out what somebody was trying to communicate. Tagalog has lots of Spanish words in it – zapatos, mesa, bano, ventana… the list goes on. It would be great to revisit this place with my family and compare notes on their experiences. Of the European countries I’ve visited (except for the UK), I’ve felt most at home here in Spain because of the language: for once, I can figure out what someone is trying to say (well, not all the time, but sometimes). Perhaps I should’ve taken Spanish in high school instead of French.

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