Week 12: Thanksgiving Dinner and Madrid

For Thanksgiving, our program put together a Thanksgiving style dinner for all the people from my group. The restaurant kind of missed the mark on the food–I didn’t really have high expectations anyways–and they seemed to take a lot of the traditional foods very literally.

(Squash soup)

For example, we had turkey that was literally stuffed–with mushrooms–and then it had a potato puree and some cranberry-like liquid poured on top. On the other hand, it was topped with this crispy thin green beans that were AH-may-zing.

(Stuffed turkey, potato puree, and cranberry sauce/liquid)

Dessert, which y’all know is my favorite meal, ended up being the strangest interpretation of pumpkin pie. It seemed to have been made of some shredded squash/pumpkin/carrot (pumpkin and squash are the same word in Spanish, so it is hard to be sure what ingredients they used) and then had crush nuts mixed in, giving it a crumbly texture. Luckily, it is hard to go wrong with chocolate ice cream, and that part of the dessert was amazing.

(Mystery pie and chocolate ice cream)
In spite of the questionable Thanksgiving food, I had so much fun spending the holiday in Spain with my friends from my program.

The other funny thing about dinner was that when we got there our program director told us that a Spanish news crew was going to film us eating for a segment about Americans celebrating the holiday in Spain; so, as we all are eating these interpretations of thanksgiving food, the Spaniards were all at home watching us and our foreign tradition.

If you want to see my Spanish TV appearance, here is the link! Our segment comes on when there is about 2:20 left. You can’t really see me, but I’m there at the far left end of the long table!


(Thanksgiving dinner being filmed by Spanish news)

The day after Thanksgiving I woke up bright and early to catch the bus to Madrid where my friends and I spent the weekend. The bus ride is a long 6 hours, so we left Sevilla at 8 in the morning and made it into Madrid around 2 or 3 that afternoon. After a minor hassle trying to figure out how to use the public transportation–we bought a ticket, tried to get on the metro, got denied because we apparently bought train tickets, then asked random people how to get to the plaza we needed–we finally made it into the centro and to our hostel.

(Street on the way to Prado)

After settling in at our hostel we got straight to touring and headed to the Prado museum. On the way we ended up passing a bunch of plazas with Christmas markets set up and with Christmas decorations everywhere. It was so fun finally seeing some holiday decorations because Sevilla hasn’t started decorating yet, plus Madrid is a lot colder so it really felt Christmas-y.

Visiting the museums in Madrid was really cool because we saw a number of pieces that we have seen and studied a lot before. In the Prado we saw Las Meninas and Bacchus by Velasquez, the Shooting of May 3rd and Saturn Devouring his Son by Goya, a number of pieces by El Greco, and a piece by Picasso–Acrobat on a ball.

(El Corte Ingles Christmas decorations)

After visiting the Prado we walked to get tapas which were delicious and then we headed in search of dessert (obviously). While walking around we passed so many pretty Christmas light displays and a giant lit Christmas tree that reminded me of the Trail of Lights tree in Austin!

(Me, Sheila, Maribel, Marisa, and Sarah in front of the tree)

We ended up having churros con chocolate for dessert at Chocolateria San Gines (recommended by my pal Rick Steves–he never leads me astray with food!). Churros here are different from the ones I am used to eating in Texas that are covered in cinnamon sugar. In Spain, instead of eating them covered in cinnamon sugar we dip them in hot chocolate that is so thick that it is more like hot chocolate pudding.

(Churros con chocolate)

After churros we headed back to the hostel and called it a night. The next morning we walked over towards the Plaza de Espana and the Palacio Real. Our route to the Palacio went through the downtown part of Madrid that is like a little New York; along the street there are tons of giant signs in lights and there are a lot of play advertisements on the buildings and we passed a number of old-style looking theaters.

(Retiro Park)

The downtown and big city feeling is probably the main difference between Sevilla and Madrid. The way my friends and I described it is Sevilla is the quirky hometown whereas Madrid is like the sleek and awesome big city you move to once you grow up. So while I feel a kinship with Sevilla, I admire Madrid and its high tech, sleek awesomeness.

Here are a few short anecdotes to further explain what I mean: First of all, I frequently got caught up in reading my travel book while walking around, which at one point caused me to step into a giant hole in the ground full of water, despite being warned by all of my friends.

Another time I wandered in the street following a bubble and after I reached out and popped it, I turned and saw a taxi headed straight at me! I managed to get out of the way before dying from chasing the bubble–thank goodness because that would have been embarrassing–but it definitely made me realize that while I love Madrid, the city and I are kind of two different breeds; I am not quite ready to move on to the big city yet.

(Sheila, Maribel, Me, Marisa, Sarah, and Aaron)

After wandering through some more Christmas markets and taking a tour through the palacio real–said to be the third greatest palace behind Versailles and the palace in Vienna–we headed to buy picnic supplies! We first stopped at a market I had read about in my guide book and it was packed with people and delicious looking food, but it was a little our of our price range, so we headed to the supermarket where we bought a few baguettes, ham and cheese, a giant bag of potato chips, and some cookies and chocolate for dessert.

(Pond in Retiro park)

We took our supplies to Retiro, the giant public park in Madrid, and inhaled everything…really. It wasn’t a pretty sight. After the short break to eat we wandered around the park which was probably my favorite part of Madrid. Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe, so it was a lot colder than in Sevilla and it really felt wintery. Also, it looked a lot more like fall/winter in Madrid with all of the golden colored trees and the piles of leaves that had fallen on the ground.

(Retiro park)

After the park we headed towards el Museo Reina Sofia, and on the way we stumbled on a really cool book market with tons of pretty, old Spanish books.

(Rose Garden in Retiro)

At Reina Sofia we didn’t mess around; we headed straight to the permanent exhibitions to check out the famous, big-time pieces. The headliner was Picasso’s “Guernica”, a piece I studied a number of times in Spanish and History classes. Seeing the piece in person was a whole other experience and it really did express the fear, chaos, and pain that I imagine a war and an air attack causes.

The most interesting to me, however, were the “practice sketches” (they hardly looked like sketches to me) and the photos of Picasso painting the mural with different phases of the project. In these photos I saw how Picasso actually changed the painting significantly as he went.

(Random book market)

Picasso and modern art isn’t normally my style because I like for paintings to be pretty and to look so impressive that I couldn’t imagine creating something like it in my lifetime. Some of the modern paintings in the museum were the exact type of modern pieces I just can’t stand: a white canvas with a doodled asterisk and crooked line, a black painting with one white line, or my FAVORITE, a framed blank white canvas.

I probably don’t like these pieces because I don’t have sophisticated taste or enough knowledge of art to truly appreciate them, but I just don’t like it when I see stuff in a museum that I (or probably Aunt Bee even) could do! What makes one skewed line and poorly drawn asterisk better than another?

Aaaanyways, sorry for my rant that probably just highlights how ignorant I am, but I have a point! I can appreciate Picasso’s craziness more than others because when I went to Barcelona I saw Picasso’s earlier works and he actually was a really good painter and he made pretty things. Although this mainly made me wonder what happened to him, it is nice to know that he isn’t some crazy who can’t paint straight so he does modern art.

(Christmas tree)

After visiting Picasso’s works we went and saw a gallery of Salvador Dali’s paintings–talk about more paintings I don’t understand–but overall the art experience in Madrid was really impressive and cool, especially because I got to see so many famous paintings! It felt like I was in a dream world and that I couldn’t actually be visiting these monumental works.

(Centro Madrid)

After the museum we rested up at the hostel before heading to a little hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant called el Pez Gordo (the fat fish). The next day Marisa, Sarah, and I decided to take the earlier bus back to Sevilla to study (Blech!), so we just went over to Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning to have breakfast before walking to the bus station (in my defense, this is the only time I’ve eaten American food since coming here!).

(Sunset on the bus ride home)
Madrid is probably my favorite place that I have visited since coming to Spain, and I hope I can go back again soon. Next up on my travel plans are Prague, Munich, and Salzburg, and Christmas markets. Sarah and I leave bright and early Thursday morning and are gone for 10 days–I can’t wait! Hopefully I will be able to survive the cold (high is in the 40s!).

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