Day 36 - Mon May 9 Madrid
(Chris) Adios Toledo, hello Madrid. We grabbed a bus back up North and then used the metro to get to our hotel. We've taken the metro extensively in every country we've been in with no end in sight. They're really quite handy.
Our first real day in Madrid was pleasant and relaxed. We found the very prominent store chain El Corte Ingles ('The English Court' I think), which is like the Bon Marche (er, Bon Macy's) on top, with a QFC in the basement. So grocery shopping we went and had a nice picnic in a park.
The main tourist attraction of the day, other than walking around town, was to visit the Royal Palace. We toured the palace, with room after room of 30' ceilings, ornate wallcoverings / paintings and various antique and important artifacts. It was nice. Then we headed to where the real fun was, the armory. I must say, the Spaniards know how to put together an armory. The amount of armor they had on display took up a giant room, with probably a dozen sets of riders on horseback (life-size with horse armor as well of course), and then another 2-3 dozen standing. It was extremely cool (see pics). As far as weapons, there were almost as many as in Venice's Doge's Palace, but not quite. Hard to say because the security guards were rushing us out of there, even though they didn't officially close for about 15 more minutes. This seems to be a recurring theme in Spain, stores/offices tend to close earlier than stated or at a minimum on the dot. Even in the nearly American Corte Ingles, last night at 10pm they turned off the escalators and dimmed the lights at 10:00 exactly. (Jen) One of the horses was missing his armor and the notice stated it was on display in the Seattle Art Museum. I thought that was pretty funny considering we see so many 'on loan' signs, happy to see Seattle isn't being left out.
On the walk back from the Royal Palace we did some exploring, through some downtown streets and squares. There are a lot of pedestrian-only streets which is nice.
On my suggestion, we went hunting for a Mexican restaurant that night. The hotel desk clerk sent us to a 'very good' one that turned out to be probably 10 km away. Two subway connections later, we were at Si Senor, which was interesting. It was 10:15 when we got there, and almost empty. We felt lucky that they seated us so late. But as it turns out, the place didn't really get busy until 11:00 or so. You'd think we'd be used to this by now! Also, chips and salsa weren't on the menu, but I asked anyway and the waiter was happy to bring them. Unfortunately, the salsa was hot... temperature-wise! So anyway to date I can't really recommend either Greek-Mexican or Spanish-Mexican. Perhaps we'll learn our lesson.
Day 37 - Tue May 10 Madrid
(Chris) Today Jen and I decided to visit the Prado art museum. We went via subway, and on the way dropped off our laundry, E6 wash/dry/fold, not a bad deal at all, and much better than we could do on our own! The Prado thankfully didn't have a line so we went right in. We started off with a healthy dose of El Greco, moved on to Velazquez (not bad), and finished with Goya. I think Jen and I are probably not sophisticated enough to fully appreciate many of the pieces. Somehow the Uffuzi (in Florence) was almost magical, but the Prado not so for us. (Jen) If it wasn't for Reeek's Mona Winks book that walks us through the big museums like the Prado and explains the art, we'd both be hopelessly lost. It's really quite good.
We arrived back at the hotel with lots of time left in the day, so decided to grab a nearby showing of the movie Sahara (based on a Clive Cussler novel - we read lots of them) in V.O. = voice originale = English. Yea! It was corny but not too bad and we had a good time. (Jen) We had popcorn and soda too. Yumm!
To end the day we got to fulfill a small dream of mine. When I was in high school Spanish class (84-87 for those of you keeping score), the books we used were entitled "Churros Y Chocolate." Which is a Spanish dessert, sort of a deep fried pastry with chocolate sauce that I've never tried. Well we went to a shop that specializes in them and they were great! Kind of greasy but lots of fun, I highly recommend them.
Day 38 - Wed May 11 Madrid
(Chris) This is our lazy day. We have 5 days in Madrid, with only 4 days of itinerary, so we decided to relax today. We slept in, went window shopping at Corte Ingles, and walked around town. Jen did some internetting while I walked around downtown. We caught another movie, "El Gran Gulpe," (I think A Grand Plan in the US) featuring Pierce Brosnan, Selma Hayek and Woody Harrelson, and found it to be very entertaining.
Dinner was at a fondue restaurant just North of town. Quite good. (Jen) We had salad, cheese fondue, and then chocolate fondue for dessert. I bet the restaurant proprietors had never seen two people scarf an entire bowl of cheese fondue as fast as we did. Yumm!
Day 39 - Thu May 12 Madrid
(Chris) Did I say the fondue was good? Oops. I was married to the toilet for the first few hours today. At least I finally got to put a bidet to good use! (Jen) I think it was the salad (which I didn't eat), because I wasn't as lucky as Chris to be sick ... either that or he suddenly developed an allergy to cheese which would be a shame. ;-)
After my double-dose of Pepto, we got on a bus and headed out to El Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen, about an hour NW of Madrid. El Escorial is a giant palace where all of the deceased Spanish royalty are entombed. While large to be sure, it wasn't really all that impressive. It was plain and dark. For our regular readers, you probably figure we are spoiled on the good stuff, and you may very well be right.
We hired a cab to take us to the supposedly relatively minor attraction about 10km away, The Valley of the Fallen. This is an incredible monument to about 50,000 deceased (of 600,000 total) from Spain's bloody civil war in 1936-39. The end of the war was the beginning of Franco's rule, who stayed on as dictator until his death in 1974. We asked our cabbie, who was about my age, what the difference was between Franco and post-Franco, and he said that while there was more money these days, that the old days were better, in part because the youth were better educated and behaved. I was surprised at his answer.
Anyway, the Valley of the Fallen comes in 2 amazing parts: a 500ft tall granite cross, which is absolutely mammoth. It's on a scenic hilltop, and there are large, impressive sculptures at the foot of the cross (see pics). The second part is a giant cathedral directly under the cross, formed from digging in the hillside (to get the granite out for the cross). Per Reeck the cathedral is even longer than St. Peter's, though I suspect it's not as big overall. But still darned big. It is fairly plain but an amazing tribute to the deceased - built with prison labor. And the plaza out in front of the cathedral is similarly gigantic. All out in the middle of a lovely pine forest.
Day 40 - Fri May 13 Madrid
(Jen) We checked out of our hotel in Madrid, left our bags at the hotel, and caught an hour bus ride to Segovia for another day trip before we caught our night train to Paris. Segovia is relatively small with about 55,000 people. The main attraction is an ancient Roman Aqueduct (2,000 years old) that is about 2,500 feet long and 100 feet high. It was pretty impressive but they didn't have a way to look down on it so we couldn't see exactly how it would have worked which was a bit of a bummer.
Segovia also has a Cathedral (you never would have guessed, would you?) as well as the Alcazar, a castle that burned in 1862 and was then rebuilt to be a bit more impressive than the previous one. We didn't go in, but the outside was pretty cool - our first "hey that's a castle" site.
At 7 PM we caught our 'hotel train' to Paris - a 13 hour ride. The Tourista class sleepers that we are in have four beds and are divided up by sex - so Chris is two rooms down the hall from me. There are three other girls in the room with me, one from Japan and two from the US who did a semester abroad in Seville. The room is about 10x6 feet with four beds that are folded into the wall (two on each side) and four chairs that fold down when the beds come out. One of the girls told me she's been throwing up for the last 24 hours - yeah, I hope I get what she has.
We had dinner on the train which was quite an experience. The train isn't nearly as smooth as I anticipated - I have no idea how the waiters don't just drop everything all the time. Dinner was pretty good and not horribly expensive surprisingly.
(Chris) I'm rooming with 2 French guys, who are pretty nice though we have a steep language barrier.