Monday, February 15, 2010

Carneval in Cadiz

This past weekend we took a group trip to Cadiz, about 8 hours south of where we live. About 100 college students, both spanish and american, loaded onto two coach buses for a weekend of "Carneval" or, as our tour guide said in broken English "To Make Party". Carneval is essentially Mardis Gras -- it's a 2 week celebration leading up to Lent but the largest fiestas are on the weekends. Cadiz is the most famous place to celebrate Carneval in all of Europe!

our itinerary was as follows:

12 pm leave Alcala for Madrid
2 pm board busses in Madrid for Cadiz
-- realized i sat next to a bunch of kids from Amherst College who think my dad is really cool and they don't even know him. They think I'm cooler because I know part of the Amherst fight song. I, however, did not think they were that cool.
10pm arrive in Cadiz, check into hotel
11pm board busses for Downtown Cadiz. Friday isn't the big fiesta night but our tour guide arranged with a bar to let us all in for 12 euro and 2 drink passes -- it was essentially like being at an american bar becuase it was with my american bus.
4:00am leave for the busses.
4:30 am arrive at hotel.

**side note, i'm not a party animal -- it's very normal in Spain to stay out as late as 6am**

10 am: wake up for the free breakfast at the hotel
10:30 am: went back to bed
2:00 pm: my friends and I woke up for the day, spent some time back in Cadiz shopping and looking around, worked on some homework.
9:30 pm: boarded the bus for Cadiz
9:30-4:45 am -- crazy crazy Carneval in Cadiz. It is what is called "botellon" -- party in the streets. 10s of thousands of people partying, completely in costume. it wasn't just young kids either. the ages ranged from about 18-65. the bars closed their doors and opened their windows. they served drinks into the streets and food vendors were everywhere selling ham, hot dogs, sausage, nuts, candied apples, etc.

we boarded the bus around 1pm and arrived back in Madrid at 9:30 then hopped on the train back to Alcala -- where we witnessed pickpocketing for the first time!! it was a group of four people, one tried to touch my purse but I kicked her in the stomach! i'm always alert ha-ha. Unfortunately for the American tourist next to me, they took $300 out of his pocket.



we asked him for directions, he seemed to know where he was going!

table of wigs and masks for sale by gypsies!

one of my fav. costumes of the night -- matadors with their "bull". (their carrage was full of Mahao -- spanish beer)

some classmates

it's difficult to see but this is a huge plaza crowded with people.

notice -- doors of bar closed, but alcohol for sale outside.

every street was as crowded as this one!

a marching band of clowns -- to some people, a very scary nightmare.

-- a very old tradition of carneval, choruses performing satirical songs about the national government and poking fun at recent news. However, the accent in Cadiz is very different from Madrid and I really couldn't understand them!

again it's a little hard to see, but this street goes uphill. The carenval starts at the bottom of one hill, goes up the top and down the bottom again (on the opposite side) and ends at the beach. this street is PACKED with people playing music, singing, etc.

anyone want a midnight snack?

El Escorial

A few weekends ago my friends and I visited the palace called San Lorenzo del Escorial. It was the palace of King Philip II (El Rey Felipe II). This palace was COMLETLEY different from El Palacio Real. Nothing about this palace was ornate, except the monestary where the kings are buried, the library, and the church. This is because Felipe II was a control freak, who had terrible difficulty delegating tasks and dedicated 20 hours of his day to working. He had no time nor desire for ornate luxuries, but as always, the royal family and God came first -- thus those rooms were ornately decorated. Per ususal we were not allowed to take pictures inside the palace, so the ones you will see are from outside. However, my friends snapped a few photos inside while I stood as teh lookout so I'm copy and pasting some photos they took as well.

One cool thing about this castle is it's about 2 hours away from Madrid in a tiny little sleepy town. Felipe preferred this because he had fewer distractions and could focus on his work. However, imagine if you were a messenger from the city and had to travel to El Escorial -- it would take a full day! The town really looks like it's stuck in a time warp. It's very small, mountainous and cold!! you can check out more about the town here:

The palace is at the base of a mountain but at the top of a hill ... if that makes sense. it was about a 2km walk up hill from the train station to get to the palace and we had to walk up the path of the prince -- it looked like something right out of a shrek movie!

walking up the path ... wishing we had super powers to get us there more quickly.

buried in the monestary is Don Juan, Felipe's brother. THE DON JUAN. the don juan all other don juan references regarding womanizing and chivalry have related back to. he's just been chillin' inside that box in the basement of the unused palace -- for the past 400 years. oh did i mention the palace was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING. i forgot insulation did not exist in the 1500s.

part of the monastery -- this is as ornate as the decorations get. Like the marble floors? built by hand circa 500 years ago.

the bottom of the path. playing with the close - up feature on my camera. The tree bark was very unusual! also the trees leaned to the left. as you will see in the next few pictures.

looking back from the top of the path.

quite a view!

i took these pics from a 2nd story window -- look how far you can see ... even on a cloudy day!

and finally ...

these were taken from the patio in front of the palace ... as you can see everything starts climbing up the mountain behind the palace.

one thing Felipe did quite like was Art. Velazquez was his private painter and among the palace are works of art from many many famous spanish artists. Some works of Goya, Velazquez and others are not originals though, those hang in the Prado which I also visited last weekend, but I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Colors of Madrid

The past two weekends my friends and I have taken day trips into Madrid. Most of the buildings are very ornate, but very plain in color, however here is a selection of some really colorful sides of the city. Although very old, the city is very much alive. I love how quaint it feels, it lacks the skyscrapers and flashing billboards of America and feels very walkable and friendly. My friends and I have walked for seven hours each weekend just trying to get lost in the culture and eventually we find our way back to the train station! Hopefully by the time the trip is over, I'll know Madrid like the back of my hand and be able to fit in in the less touristy areas.

its hard to see, but there's a mural painted onto the side of this building.

colorful gov't bldg near the royal palace.
in Boston, the city drains its fountains for winter. In Madrid it's not supposed to be cold enough that your fountains can freeze ... i think this little lady is definitely frozen solid!
close up of the street performer. The head in the middle was a real guy, the other two were puppets on his hand. they'd scream at you when you walked by, and sometimes they'd stay nice and still and then wait to catch you by surprise!

Also, here is a video of Plaza Mayor (Main Plaza) conveniently located off Calle Mayor (Main Street). It's alive with street performers and tourists, but is a really lively place to pass through during your day.