I guess a lot has happened in the last week or so.
Firstly, I would like to say goodbye to my beautifully tilty rat, Mako. She was put to sleep on Friday after many months of a debilitating sickness and over a year of tiltyness. Tom and I bought Mako and her sister, Ami, from a pet store in Bowling Green on February 5, 2007. My brother said that she was given anesthesia so she wouldn't feel any pain and they had her cremated. I'll really miss her. She was adorable. She was my tilty rat.
Saturday, over a week ago Saturday, my parents arrived in Madrid. I waited for them at the Puerta del Sol where their hotel was located and tried to study a bit. An old Spanish man sat down next to me on the bench and began speaking with me. Granted that I only followed about 1/2 to 3/4 of what he was saying, it was a pretty good conversation. He saw that I was studying about bull fighting and launched into this long story about bull fighting back in the day, complete with the singing of songs that they used to sing about various bull fighters and during certain bull fights.
My parents must have walked right past me on their way to the hotel, but we didn't see each other. It was so nice to see them again, and my brother and Isha. We started Saturday with a walk around the Puerta del Sol and then to the Plaza Mayor. Lunch was bocadillos de calamarie, which no one enjoyed, but it was real Spanish food, so it was okay. We then walked to the Parque Retiro. The temperature had to be around or above 60, a beautiful day. The park was filled with people and performers. We took pictures of the flowers and lake and rested in the sun near the pool. After a quick nap in the afternoon, we decided to go get some dinner. That weekend was the weekend of Carneval, the last huge party before Lent begins and Spain celebrates Carneval with style. People dress up in costumes and stay out all night. On our way to the Hard Rock, we ran into a huge gathering of people, all of the way down one side of a main street through Madrid. Apparently, they were setting up for a parade. At the Hard Rock, we were seated near a window and got to watch some of the larger floats go by, including a large dragon that breathed fire and had people on its back. That night, our Pub Crawl was a little pathetic. One of the suggested places was only serving dinner and we couldn't find another, but we had some fantastic sangria nonetheless.
That night, I was going to stay at the hotel with my family, but I ended up getting kicked out by the hotel staff because we hadn't paid for an extra person. My parents had already gone to bed and I didn't think it was a big deal, as I had originally planned to go back to Alcalá for the night anyway, but after going the wrong way on the metro and then attempting to backtrack, I ended up getting kicked off the metro when it closed down and emerging onto some street in north Madrid around 2 or so in the morning. As I don't understand the bus system and had no idea where I needed to go, I walked around for a bit, getting even more lost, and it really didn't help that I was still a little bit tipsy from the Pub Crawl. I didn't have a map of Madrid on me, so I began relying on the huge metro maps that they have at every metro stop to tell me where I was. When I realized, upon arriving at a stop, that I had walked quite a ways in the wrong direction (further north), I began trying to call people to tell me where I needed to go. No one was available here and I only had a few euros left on my Spanish phone. I didn't have the number to the hotel and I still have no idea how to call information. I ended up getting ahold of Tom's brother who found me on Google Maps and began directing me to where I needed to go, the bus station. It took a good 30 some minutes to get around this huge circular intersection of construction and then be sure I was going in the right direction, which likely adds up to about a $70 phone bill.
I finally found a metro line that I could follow from stop to stop all of the way to the bus station, but I was so far away that it was after 3 by the time I got there. The buses for Alcalá leave every hour on the hour at night, so I would have had to wait for the 4 o'clock bus, which means I wouldn't have gotten back to Alcalá until around 5 and wouldn't have gotten in bed until around 5:30. I was supposed to meet my family back at the hotel around 8 or 9, which means I would have gotten a total of an hour of sleep before I would have to get up and return to Madrid, so I decided to just walk back to the hotel. After 3 hours of being lost by myself in Madrid, 2 hours straight of walking, and 4 in the morning, I was exhausted and drained and emotionally a wreck. I got to the hotel, called my parents from the front desk, we paid the 38 euro to have me stay the night, even though it was already 4 in the morning, and I finally got some sleep. It was a bit of a nightmare, but it wasn't as terrible as it sounds. The walking was terrible, but the streets were filled with people out celebrating Carneval and I didn't fear for my safety at all. I did see at least 3 men urinating on random buildings though throughout the night.
Sunday was another gorgeous day. We slept in quite a bit (I really needed it) and after a slightly disappointing breakfast of McDonald's (the Spanish aren't much for breakfast outside of a cup of coffee), we headed for the rastro, a giant flea-market type held every Sunday near the Plaza Mayor. I was wondering how to get to it from the Plaza Mayor and after asking a man, he said just go down one of those streets and you'll find it. He was absolutely right. It is huge. Streets and streets are filled with vendors and people. It was wall to wall people the entire time. You could barely move, but I thought it was amazing. I bought myself a scarf (bufanda) that I have been wearing ever since. I wanted to pick up some earrings, but I couldn't find anything that I couldn't live without. I'm definitely going to go back at some point to pick up some more things, find gifts for people. My mom went a little crazy buying things, which made me very happy. We both love a deal. After the rastro was another nap, which none of us really took. I stood out on the balcony of my parent's room and watched the people in the Puerta del Sol. The hotel was really fantastic. It had an amazing view of the Puerta del Sol and as it was Carneval and just because it is the Puerta del Sol, there were mariachi bands playing and street performers out, including human statues.
We headed, on the metro because we were all a little sick of walking and my body was killing me, to the Reina Sofia for the afternoon. We stopped to have lunch first, at Burger King (again disappointing, but there wasn't a good, available restaurant within sight, though I have since learned that we were not too far away from the Bohemian district and could have had some Indian food), and then headed to the Reina Sofia, which just so happened to be closed by the time we got there. I was a little disappointed because, with midterms and everything else going on that week, I wasn't going to have time to come back to Madrid to see the Reina Sofia before my family left. But, undeterred, we headed to the Prado, and considering that this would be my third visit to this museum (fourth in my lifetime), I was more than prepared to lead a guided tour. My mom was pretty excited to see so many of the paintings that she had studied in her History of Western Art Class and dad got bored and left to smoke a cigar in the sun. It was a pretty good visit overall.
We were all pretty exhausted by this time and my brother wasn't feeling too well. After a quick stop at the Corte Ingles for some snacks (cheese and crackers), we headed back to the hotel to pass out in my parent's room. We all watched a movie dubbed in Spanish (I was so proud of them all) starring Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood, which I have since learned was called "Perfect World". I slept through the majority of it and I wasn't all that impressed, but everyone else (except my brother, who I think slept through all of it) seemed to really like it and expressed interest in seeing it in English. My brother went to bed while my parents and Isha and I went to an Italian place near the hotel to have some pizza. It definitely wasn't the best pizza I've ever had and it couldn't compare to Marco's Pizza, but it wasn't bad and hit the spot quite nicely. And, we finally learned how to ask for water without receiving bottles of water that you have to pay for.
After dinner, my parents helped me to find the bus station so I wouldn't have another night of aimless wandering in Madrid. I barely made it onto the midnight bus (seriously, it left in less than a minute after I had sat down) and I got back to my piso around 1am, where I commenced studying for the midterm I had the next day. Endlessly exhausted, I studied my heart out until Tuesday morning. My family had gone to Toledo on Monday while I was at school (I really wish I could have gone with them, spent more time with them) and the plan for Tuesday was to come see Alcalá. I met them at the train station around 10:30 or so and took them to see the big sights of Alcalá (nothing really amazing, I promise). We walked around the plaza for a bit, went to the house where Cervantes was born (though we didn't tour it, not really worth it), then to the church. Returning to the plaza, we still had a bit of time before we were going to meet my host mom, so I took them to buy almonds from the nuns that you aren't allowed to see, except for an eye apparently. We all munched happily on delicious sugar coated almonds (these things are amazing, I promise) and I took them to the Chinos by my house. My dad got a pair of sunglasses (he had broken his) and my mom bought some washcloths because they don't provide washcloths in Spain (Europe, I think). Then it was time to meet my host mom.
The meeting went extremely well. Much better than I had hoped. I was very worried about translating properly and expected that there would be many moments of absolute uncomfortable silence, but it wasn't bad at all. So much can be communicated with simple hand gestures and my host mom was just fantastic. Everyone was very relaxed. She put out food for us to eat and handed out beer and drinks. She forced my brother to have a second beer after he had finished his first, which made me so happy because then they could see how she forces me to eat all of the time. My host mom called me a "good girl" numerous times and we discussed me, Spain, the people, impressions. It was a fantastic meeting.
After the meeting, we decided to head back to Madrid, where the scene is a bit more lively. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. I had bought a bono-tren, which is a ten trip train ticket from Alcalá to Madrid or Madrid to Alcalá. I had used it once to get to Marid when my family came, left it with them to bring the four of them to Alcalá Tuesday morning, and then the five of us used it up on the way back to Madrid. Now, Alcalá is the only train station that I've encountered that doesn't require you to show your ticket upon leaving, so my brother, who had the ticket had no idea that he was supposed to keep it, and being that there were no more trips on the ten trip ticket, he threw it away. I didn't think to tell him to keep it. When we got to the train station and we all realized what happened, I thought, "no big deal, they'll just open the gate and let us out". As I went to find someone to open the gate for us, I passed a gate that was already open and thought that we could all pass through without problem. However, it closed behind me and I was stuck outside while my family (who all speak less Spanish than I do, were stuck inside). So I found a guy who told me that he couldn't open the gate and led me to another guy who apparently could. However, because we didn't have proof that we had only come from Alcalá and not from some place far far away, the man insisted that we pay the maximum fee to travel on the trains: 10 something euro a piece. I was very very angry to say the least. I had paid for the ticket. No one was cheating anyone and it was a simple mistake through miscommunication. Why should we have to pay 10 something euro a piece for a 2 euro 50 train ride? I was all ready to get back on the train and travel back to Alcalá for 45 minutes, buy a new 10 trip ticket for 17 euro, and come back, saving us all 20 some euro and having an extra 5 trips on top of it, but my parents wouldn't hear of it and they paid the money. It was all very ridiculous and I was very upset about the whole thing. I still am, kind of.
Well, after that debacle, we went to find an Irish Pub in order to eat our lunch. Unfortunately, or fortunately because it was all very interesting, that night was the night before the Real Madrid-Liverpool soccer game and those Europeans love their soccer. The Irish Pub was not serving food at that time because they were expecting a large crowd of drinkers that night. We decided to eat in the Plaza Mayor, outside, instead. The food wasn't too bad and it was a really nice experience. I was glad to have gotten to eat in the Plaza Mayor without having to pay the bill.
I headed back to Alcalá after that because I had three exams the next day and needed to get really serious about studying. I studied and studied and studied and dropped into bed completely exhausted, only to get right up and take exam after exam after exam. The school day finally ended and I rushed, bookbag and all, to the train station to get back to Madrid. I arrived around 7pm. My family had gone to the Reina Sofia that day and had split up. I hung out with my brother and Isha until my parents got back and then we went to find a masquerade mask for Isha, had a drink at a bar, and went to dinner at a place that I forget the name. I had some kind of pancake filled with something I forget, a word I didn't know, like corquette or something and it was absolutely terrible. Isha and my dad had ratatouille, which I had never tried before and decided that I kind of liked. Jimmy had some spinach-manacotti type dish and my mom had a salad. Overall, some people were happy and others weren't, but we ate everything and even had some dessert: the best vanilla ice cream I think I've ever had with raspberry sauce. Amazing. We made our way to the plaza mayor for a drink, but we chose this place that must have been closing because it had the strongest lysol smell ever and it made my drink taste awful.
We called it an early night because they had to leave in the morning and we paid the 38 euro again and I stayed at the hotel. In the morning, we got some breakfast from a small cafe by the hotel, packed everything up, and headed to the airport. I went in a taxi with my mom and dad while my brother and Isha took the metro. It was a sad leaving. I wished they could have stayed a bit longer, at least another day after I finished my exams, but they couldn't. I took the metro back to the train station and the train back to Alcalá and then I collapsed in bed. I was exhausted after such an emotionally charged week of exams and my parents and traveling and getting lost. I slept for a few hours until it was lunch time and then after lunch, I still felt tired, so I went back to bed. Next thing I knew, my host mom was knocking on my door telling me that it's dinner time. I was astounded. I had napped for 7 hours in one day! And I felt like I could still sleep!
Friday, I went running with my roommate. She destroyed me. She was like, "Let's jog really slowly" and then took off. I was dying. We managed to get lost in some back park near the river and it was a nice hike all of the way around the southern end of Alcalá. I think we walked for a good hour and a half. I'm sure getting a work out here. My brother said that he lost 3 pounds with all of the walking that he did. I haven't seen a scale since I left the states though I can't imagine that I lost any weight with all the food that I eat, especially right before bed.
Saturday, I got up early with my roommate and we went to this place called El Pardo, where there is a palace where Franco used to live. My roommate wanted to go because her family name is Pardo. It didn't take long to get there and it was relatively inexpensive, less than 4 euro total. Unfortunately, the palace was closed for a state function, so we didn't get to tour it. We then walked 1 km uphill to the Pardo church. It was not as grand as most of the churches that I have seen here, but it was very solemn and felt much more "religious" than the tourist filled churches I've seen.
We walked back down the hill only to learn that the mountain that we wanted to see was back up the hill, so we made the trek again, only farther and came to a nice park area. I think it might have been one of the national preserves. We found this little area that had a bunch of goats and I got to pet a few. Goats can be adorable.
After walking around for a bit more (my legs are going to be amazing), we headed back to Madrid where we found an Indian food restaurant. I was horribly disappointed with how not spicy this food was. Indian food is supposed to "melt your face off" (according to Isha) and this was like rice pilaf. Barely even any flavor! So we asked the server if he had some spicy sauce and he brought out this stuff that was like a kick in the face. One drop of it was more than enough to keep me chugging water. It was amazing. It was the first intense spice I've had since I've been here. After Indian food, we headed to the Plaza de España. In this plaza are giant statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Carla and I took all kinds of pictures on them, but I forgot my camera, so they are all on here camera, which I'll need to borrow at some point. I ended up climbing up on Sancho's donkey and getting a picture. I can't wait to see it. How fantastic is that?!
Sunday was a very lazy day. I got up a little late, opened the door to my room, and found a bunch of men milling around the piso. Apparently, they were changing the windows on the back patio, but it was unnerving enough to keep me shut in my room all day. My host mom was very upset with me because I left the house so little this weekend. She says that I need to hang out with friends and spend time having fun like young people should do. She's convinced that my parents coming and going made me really homesick and now I'm shutting myself away, which isn't really true. I'm just very very tired. I still don't think I've recuperated from this last week.
I might run again tomorrow. If I can. I plan on completely filling my time until it's time to leave. I have already planned a trip for every weekend, as follows: Toledo, Granada, Valencia, El Escorial/Salamanca, two weeks of Spring Break (Rome, Paris, London), Segovia, and some beach somewhere to study for finals (maybe Cadiz or Ibiza). And then I have a million final projects to finish before I can even begin to think about studying.
Well, I seriously can't write anymore, though I do have more to say. I might write again when I'm procrastinating tomorrow. It will definitely happen (procrastinating, I mean).
Sorry about no pictures. I'll have to steal them from my mom and Isha and Jimmy when I get a chance. Someone remind me to ask my mom to upload them to my computer when she's feeling better. The flight killed her ear. Also, there is no way I'm going to check this for typos. It took absolutely forever to write.