Monday, July 26, 2010
8 days in España
I have just returned from Spain, contrary to how I thought I might feel about returning to Texas... I'm ecstatic to be home.
Spain has a VERY different culture from anywhere I have visited before. The urban folks in Madrid have a very chic and proper look to them during daylight hours. In the summer it is bright outside until well after 9 pm. From these same demure figures emerge night creatures more wild and flamboyant than their daytime counterparts. Men here make no secret about their attraction for the opposite sex, hollering, licking their lips, even pinching girls they find attractive. Women seem to behave much the same way.... more on that later..
Aside from the Prado and Plaza Mayor, I found Madrid to be rather lackluster. Maybe it was just that I stayed in the modern side of town and did not have as much time to explore the city as I would have liked. Still, Madrid was my first taste of Spain and exposure to the different pace of the Spanish. First, the Spanish truly do have siesta time. I thought maybe this was an antiquated idea, nullified by the modern era where most work indoors with air conditioning. Wrong. Stores promptly closed around 2 or 3 pm, office workers hurried home not to return until 6 or so. I suppose it is because of this break, that they do not eat dinner till 10:00 or 10:30. I saw many children out with their parents well past 1 am in the plaza.
If you are a ham lover, Spain has got it. No matter where you go, gas station or fancy eatery, you will lift your chin to find charming pig carcasses hanging from their hooves in endless rows above. Seriously. Sit back, have a glass of wine and behold the skinned swine legs. Pieces will be stripped off for you on demand. On our first night in Madrid, My mom and I stumbled into what I will refer to as an extremely authentic eatery near plaza mayor called The Boheme or something like that. Not a word of English was spoken anywhere in the place, but we got by. We spent nearly $90 on steamed garlic mushrooms, an iceberg lettuce salad and a plate full of floppy bacon/ham and cheese.... oh yeah and my one glass of red wine. We did enjoy our time there though, it was a bustling and happy place; clearly a family cafe, cave like, decorated with old family photos and images of the city's past. From what I could tell, there isn't really such thing as what we think of as a typical bar in Spain. You have cafes, some Irish pubs (thank you Jesus), lounges and discotheques. I made sure to find an Irish pub within walking distance of every hotel we stayed in. I literally had Google maps printed out ahead of time. I'm not sure how I foresaw my desperate need for the Irish pubs, luckily Jameson was quite popular in Spain. :)
From Madrid we visited Granada, and the magnificent palace gardens of the Alhambra. Granada was the last a Muslim stronghold in Spain before the Christians drove them out. The gardens and palace were breathtaking.
I had never before seen Muslim architecture in person and the intricate carvings and mosaics which covered every inch of the palace. After the Christian invasion, King Charles V did not destroy the chambers of the Nasrid Dynasty but instead elected to build onto the Alhambra in his own European Renaissance style. It was a stark and fascinating transition literally from one room to the next. Our guide walked us past the Court of the Lions, which was covered by scaffolding, plastic and walls which he said was "under renovation." A couple that I met on the tour who knew a lot of Alhambra history was puzzled by this and had expected to see the fountain of lions, twelve to be exact. They pulled the guide aside to ask why the fountain was not visible. As it turns out, the lions were opened up to see how the water flowed to them. Modern archaeologists did not understand how the water flowed through each lion's mouth. In trying to discover this, they broke them and have not been able to figure out how the Moors achieved the marvel. The guide clearly wished to gloss over this bit of information as he turned off his speaker to answer the couple's questions and whisked us quickly by. In the Alhambra, I was fortunate enough to stand in the very room where Christopher Columbus was chartered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to discover the new world.
After Granada, we ventured on to Costa de Sol to a charming tourist beach town called Torremolinos. The food was amazing, the mood was relaxed and the beaches of the Mediterranean were immaculate. I could have done without the rows of topless overweight senior citizen ladies.... but hey. Torremolinos was my first contact with the Gypsies. Yes actual Gypsies. Our guide made definite sure to tell us ," You justa do not makea the eye contact with them, they will try to offer you rosemary and reada you palm for your future. But you already know your future. It tis on the itinerary. So you justa keep walking." To which my Mom tugged on me saying, " You hear that Kirsten?! Don't talk to the gypsies." The first gypsies I saw were just as Pedro, our guide, had mentioned. Holding rosemary and asking to read my palm. There was another though, next to them on the beach, a young sand castle artist who was making a Sponge Bob castle. I made a point in front of my Mom to talk and flirt with him a bit. Pedro also mentioned chocolate. He colorfully said , " You may be offered to buy what they call chocolate, it tis drugs. Not even good drugs, justa powdered sugar or baking soda. So do not waste your money." Well advised ha ha... I was never offered the chocolate anyhow. With some other young tour members, I visited the discotheques of Torremolinos. They were posh, on the beach with lounge sofas and beds outside, surrounded by curtains. Some had go go dancers, always a good DJ (some of the music was Spanish, some trance/techno but mostly American hiphop and pop). Seemed no matter where I went I could not get away from that miserable Katy Perry tune about California hussies. As I mentioned before, guys made no secret about their attraction for girls. Many brushed up against me, grabbed me, blew kisses (ick). What I found most entertaining was the behavior of one female in particular. When a buddy and I went down to the bathroom, we were waiting in the inevitable female pee-dance line and we noticed a hysterically drunk Spanish chick in front of us. She was doing that Spanish wavering holler thing and molesting every dude that walked into the bathroom. The advised ones were cupping their balls when they walked past to avoid being accosted. Right before she got her turn in the ladies room, she dropped her martini glass, shattering it on the steps in front of us. Funny role reversal... the dudes actually looked a little scared! The clubs in Spain rage on from 1am to daylight. I turned in at 4:30 that night and could not bare going out the next.
From Costa de Sol, we visited a sherry bodega. What a treat that was. You could smell strong fragrances of sweet sherry wine fermenting in the oak barrels. At the end of the tour we got to sample 4 different types of sherry ranging from dry to very sweet. We sat at a table with some rambunctious Aussies and Kiwis who had to be dragged from the sampling room by their wives when it was time to leave. The tour bus was a riot for a few minutes after leaving the bodega and then everyone had a nice nap. We were on our way to Seville. Easily the most charming city we visited in Spain. What an incredible place. We toured gardens with large phycus trees and a huge cathedral with Columbus' tomb. Columbus was buried several places before his final resting place at the cathedral in Seville, it was said that he traveled more after his death than before. Picture below.
At night we went to a nice dinner and flamenco show by the Plaza de Toros or bull fighting ring. Rarely have I seen dancers with such passion. One of the male dancers feat moved so quickly I could not even see them. We were told that the dancers were gypsies also. I suppose they were the lucky talented ones. When we passed urban housing (actually almost every city we visited), Pedro spoke begrudgingly about the Queen building housing for the gypsies. The buildings looked like asylums or hospitals with tiny windows. Tapestries and clothing hung on lines outside each one. Just as Pedro was talking about their housing, unemployability and lifestyle the coach passed by a gypsy man unzipping his pants to pee on a tree (facing the road and waving to the bus). Yippie! Culture! Spain was different than I imagined , a culture shock for sure. Fun, disgusting, and filled with history. Not sure if I will ever return... but it has left an imprint.
I am exhausted now, suffering a bit from jet lag. Spain is 7 hours ahead of Texas. I actually threw up on the last leg back to Texas and went back to work today on 3 hours of sleep. Yes. yes. poor me. Screaming toddlers next to us were a delight, but in their salvation, their mommy handed me a baby wipe after I used a couple barf bags. Lucky kids. Mommy saved you. This time...
This last photo is for you Brandi! You would have killed for these shoes.
I'm going to Lady Gaga tonight, so no rest for me yet! Peace kids!