Monday, December 10, 2007

Untraditional Thanksgiving

Well actually it is kind of becoming 'traditional' for us the last few years. Since we had a nice big block of time free for work and school we hopped on an airplane and went to see someplace new. This time our destination was Madrid Spain. We actually stayed in a little village about a half hour south of Madrid called ChinChon in an apartment that has been there for over 500 years on what some of the guide books call the most beautiful square in the area.

A few times a year they even put up fencing and bleachers and hold bullfights here. Other times there are markets, outdoor restaurant seating and of course parking. On weekends the square is filled with people who come in from Madrid and elsewhere to enjoy the fine cuisine that the restaurants in the area are famous for. Some of what we tried included suckling pig, roast lamb, lamb stew, garlic soup (special to the area) and roasted partridge.

Our first day we drove to Toledo to explore that city. Toledo is perched on a hill with a river that curves around the bottom of the hill so you must cross bridges to enter the old part of the city. We wandered the medieval streets until we got to the cathedral, said to be among the greatest gothic structures in Europe. We easily spent over an hour exploring the building and its beautiful cloister. One treat that surprised us was that the church contained several masterpieces by Goya and El Greco.

We explored more of the city and Colin was pleased to find that some of the old gates showed some Moorish influence. He really liked this kind of architecture when we visited Spain before and hoped to find some. After stopping to get some photos of the city from the other side of the river we headed back to our apartment.

Our next day was the big city of Madrid! We found a town on the map that was on the subway line, but not too far into the city and left our car there and rode the train in rather than brave the traffic. Our first destination was the Royal Palace of the King of Spain. We have visited many palaces and castles and all agreed that this is way up there in our list of favorites. What amazing rooms and furnishings. When we went inside there were signs with a camera and flash crossed out so assumed it meant no flash photography. One of the tour guides stopped me from taking a picture but I thought it was just that room. A few rooms later a security guy came up to me and told me no photos and made sure my camera was turned off and said if he saw me again he would invite me to leave! I didn't want to see if he was serious or not so I behaved myself....he WAS moving from room to room and we saw him lots of times as we went through so I don't doubt he was watching me.

After we finished seeing all the parts of the palace, including the armory we headed towards the National Archeological museum to see the Altamira cave exhibit we read about in our guide book. It is a fullsize replica of the caves with the ancient paintings of animals on the ceiling. The museum is right next to a huge plaza called Plaza de Colon that is commemorating Christopher Columbus. We noticed many busses parking nearby and people walking around carrying Spanish flags and a big stage set up with a bunch of balloons that we figured they would release. Not knowing what the gathering would be or how peaceful it may or may not be we were pleased to head out to our next museum..the Reina Sofia museum. We had originally planned to visit the famous Prado, but in looking through our books learned that Picasso's famous "Guernica" is on display at the Sofia museum so chose to visit there instead.
Coming up out of the subway station we were kind of concerned to see groups of police in full riot gear all over the place. Nothing seems to be going on so we wondered if this is 'normal' for that area. After enjoying the museum for a bit it began to get dark outside and we decided to bring our Madrid experience to a close. The old Atocha railway station is right across the street from the Sofia museum so we went to the subway through there. This is the largest and the first train station in Madrid. The old part of the train station has been renovated and has a massive tropical botanical garden in the middle of it.

When we got back to our little apartment and had finished our dinner we saw on the news that there had been a HUGE demonstration that evening beginning in the Columbus Square, with 10s of thousands of people marching in the streets remembering victims of terror. I guess that explains all the riot police!

The next day was our last day and Bill didn't feel up to braving the big city again so we did some poking around and discovered that we weren't all that far from some of those cool Spanish windmills that are in the Don Quixote novel. Every time we have been to Spain Bill wonders if any of those windmills are nearby, and every time the answer has been no...until this time! How could we pass up this chance? So we hopped in the car and headed south to the village of Consuegra. We were not disappointed at all! The crest of the hill overlooking the town has 11 restored windmills as well as a castle. For most of the time we were there we were pretty much the only people out there and the views were amazing and it was a treat not to have to dodge tourists and keep them out of our pictures.