I only have one more day of classes! I then have finals next week, depart for Lisbon, go to Northern Spain after that, and finally return to Madrid for my final weekend here! It’s so crazy. I would have to say, though, that this trip has not entirely flown by, I have really done a lot and enjoyed the city as much as I could. I am constantly finding something to do here, and if I cannot find anything, I go to the Buen Retiro, which is the Central Park of Madrid. I have been to six museums and I have plans to do two more this weekend. I’m fairly certain that I have done everything I wanted to do and so much more, but I guess I should look over my guide books to make sure. Also, I might go to a bullfight on Sunday, but I cannot make up my mind….

Also, it has been in the 80s, so my classmates and I have been wearing shorts, tank tops, and flip flops, and we are still sweating, but the Madrileños are still wearing sweaters, scarves, and boots! They look at us like we are strange for wearing such clothing, but I cannot even comprehend how they put up with the heat! I understand that I am acclimated to colder weather, but boots in 80 degree weather?! Unbearable.

On Thursday and Friday, I went on a trip with my school to Burgos and then to Peñafiel.

Burgos is a tiny village, home to the Gregorian chanters whose album, “Chants,” hit Billboard’s #1 record in the 90s. It was raining when we were there and there was only one paved road in that whole little town, so that was fun [sarcasm]. The only thing to do in that pueblo was tour the monastery and watch the singers, both of which we did. It was interesting because they didn’t give a concert, they were in prayer, so they weren’t facing us, but the acoustics in the church allowed us to kind of hear them. They didn’t really harmonize at all, the ‘performance’ was just 15 monks in traditional robes singing prayers. It was certainly a unique experience.

Luckily, we went to Peñafiel for the night, because even though it was also a relatively small town, it there were at least signs of modern civilization, such as a gas station and a supermarket. The next morning, we toured the castle complete with a Museum of Wine. After the wine museum, we went to lunch where the only thing on the menu was lamb. I told our program director, MariCarmen, that I don’t eat lamb, and she said, “No, but it’s baby lamb, it’s really good.” And I was like, “Yea… I don’t eat it.” There are three vegetarians in our group, so I would have been perfectly happy just eating whatever they were going to eat, but three other people in addition to the vegetarians felt the way that I did and did not want to eat the lamb, so they made us steaks, which wasn’t necessary but still pretty good.

After the lunch, we went to the Protos wine factory and it was SO COOL. Their underground storage system was huge; it just went really far in every direction with rows and rows of barrels. Then there was this other area with huge cages of bottles, I think they said 3 million, which is a year’s worth of work. We got to sample a glass of white and a glass of red at the end. The white was fantastic and the red was just ok. We then returned to Madrid!

Courtyard of the monastery in the rain

Castle in Peñafiel

Protos Wine Factory

That title doesn’t summarize my experience of Paris in the least bit, those are all just aspects of my trip worth mentioning. I guess it is worth mentioning that I loved it!!! Paris was tres magnifique! It was a delightful city and a gret way to spend some of my spring break.

Unfortunately, the weather was pretty miserable the whole time I was there. It was mostly annoying because it was constantly going in and out of sun and rain. I’d have to put on my sunglasses, then pull out my umbrella, then put my umbrella away… It was crazy.

I got there Friday, March 26 and I just went right to bed at my (mediocre) hostel. I got up first thing in the morning and, after a free breakfast at my hostel that was composed of coffee and a hoagie roll, was one of the first people in line at the Musée d’Orsay. Upon entering the museum, I was supposed to have gone to the left and then loop around, but I noticed that the Impressionists were off to the right, so I went off course and got to enjoy Impressionism completely alone, it was perfect. After spending a long time in this section, I wandered around the rest of the museum, eventually ending up in the “Decorative Arts” section, which is a fancy term for furniture. And I got lost! In the furniture section! It was my worst nightmare. The rooms connected in an illogical way and then just stopped, so I was supposed to have turned around and gone back, but I got confused. It was awful.

It was about 11:30 a.m. when I left, and the restaurant my book told me to go to wasn’t open until noon, so I shopped a little bought and ending up buying a cute little dress that I’m really excited about.

Anyways, I went to Montmartre after lunch and it was really cool. It’s really high on a hill, so I could see a beautiful view of the city from Sacre-Coeur, which is this big cathedral on a huge hill. This cathedral also had a carousel in front of it. It’d be pretty cool if all churches had carousels outside of them, it’d be like a little reward for sitting through mass.

I went to Place du Tertre, which is where Toulouse Lautrec and a bunch of other Bohemian artists lived and worked. It was this little square with a bunch of artists trying to sell their paintings of the famous Parisian sights. There were also these portraitists that Rick Steves warned me about that convince you to let them draw you then charge anywhere from 100-200 euros for them. From here, I walked to the Red Light District to see the Moulin Rouge. It was very exciting (seeing the Moulin Rouge, not the area..)

That night, I went on a night time bike tour that was run by Americans and included a boat tour. It was expensive, but it was a good decision because I had a lot of fun and met a lot of really cool people there. We agreed to meet up at Versailles the next day, but that ended up failing because they were LATE (we agreed to meet up at 12:30 p.m. then wait up to 15 minutes before just going in).

The next morning (the morning of Versailles), I was really lucky because there was a flea market right by my hostel! It was mostly fresh, delicious looking food that make me really wish I had a kitchen there, but there were some jewelry stands as well. After this, I went to the palace, and after waiting for my amigos, I saw the long lines and followed Rick Steves’ advice and went in town to the Office of Tourism because they sell tickets there. Sure enough, there were no people there and (I found out on the bike tour) I talked to the woman about getting free admission with my visa. She said she didn’t think I would because it was a Spanish visa, not a French one, but she told me to go to the security line and try it. So I went back to the palace and waited in the security line, which I was really nervous about because if I waited through this long security line and got rejected, I would have to go wait in the really long ticket line then get back in the long security line.

When I reached the front of the security line, there were two options to go to: an angry looking woman or a jolly looking older man, so I chose the guy obviously. As I was handing him my passport, this other Versailles lady comes out of nowhere and grabs my passport, and she looked even stricter than the other lady! I was thinking, “Aww man…” But after she looked at it for about 5 seconds, she shrugged and said, “Ok.” Yay! Free admission! I went through the metal detector, but I forgot my umbrella was in my pocket, and I told them that, but they still pulled me aside for a thorough frisking session.

Anyways, the palace was ok. And at first when I was in the gardens, I was like, “This is just OK, the Retiro is better…” But the beauty of the garden is definitely it’s size. It keeps going and going and going… Literally, all of the people in line and in the palace just disappeared in the garden. I would walk around for about 15 minutes or more and not see anyone.

I didn’t do anything else that day because I was exhausted after getting lost (I seem to have a penchant for that). But I was SERIOUSLY lost in the garden, nearly to the point of tears because I thought I was heading back towards the palace and there was nobody around. I ended up on a farm with a thatched roof and animals (I found out later it was the ‘Hamlet’). When I went back to the train, I heard my name being called, and it was the friends I was supposed to have met up with! They were probably walking paces behind me the whole time, but didn’t actually want to hang out with me all day, so they didn’t say anything (I’m kidding). So I spent 20 minutes with them on the train then we went our separate ways again.

My final full day there, I hit up the Lourve first thing in the morning. Rick Steves told me about a significantly less crowded back entrance, but I thought, “It still hasn’t opened, I’m early enough, I’ll just go to the regular entrance.” But I accidently ended up at the back entrance, and sure enough, it was nearly empty and definitely worth it. The Lourve is a huge museum. I spent half a day there and didn’t even realize it. After grabbing some lunch, I went on the Rick Steves walking tour detailed in my book, except I did it in reverse because I was coming from the opposite direction, but it still worked out. I went to the Concierge, which is a big prison where some 2,600 people were held during the Revolution (and it’s pretty small), and I showed the ticket lady my visa. And she was going to charge me the student price (4.50), and I was like, “It’s not for free?” and she replied, “You’re a resident from the U.S. even with a visa.” And I said, “Ok, thanks,” and I walked towards the exit. And then she called, “Well, don’t go!” and gave me free admission. I was then going to go into the Sainte-Chapelle, but the line was way too long. So I went across the river to the Notre Dame, and that line was also too long, so I just enjoy it from the outside (flying buttresses!).

My last morning there, I went to the Rodin Museum, which was another good decision. He was an excellent sculptor, his most famous work is the Thinker, and it was on this beautiful property.

Random notes: luckily for me, there was no border patrol when I arrived at the Ryanair airport. Also, the metro doors open before the train comes to a complete stop; that freaked me out a little bit. And the toilet paper is pink (but it didn’t burn, Mom).

Oh, and a hostel story: On Sunday night, I was EXHAUSTED after spending all day at Versailles and couldn’t wait to just get in bed, but everyone had left my room, so I figured I would get new roommates. Sure enough, there’s a knock on the door (my hostel did this weird thing where there was only one room key, so you left it at the front desk when you left and if someone was already in the room when you returned, you knocked). I was like, “You have the wrong room.” And there were like, “Oh sorry.” Ten minutes later, these guys were back, like, “No, this is our room.” And I was like, “Well, that’s a mistake…” I reserved a room for girls only, so I grabbed my confirmation and went down to the front desk and explained the situation. And he looked it up in the computer and realized they made a mistake when they reserved only and marked themselves as females. And he says, “Well, I could move you to another room, but it would just be for the night then you would have to move back to your current room. And they’re just there one night, does it really matter?” I was like, “Um, yea, it does. I reserved a room for women.” I was exhausted and guys snore, hell if I was going to put up with that. I must have called his bluff because he stared at the computer for about one minute, not moving. Then he clicked around and told me that if I didn’t tell anyone, he could put me in a private room with it’s own bathroom, but it was only for the night. That was fine with me!