Saturday, July 16, 2016

Spain, Day 8

Easily our best day in Madrid.  We got up this morning to the hotel breakfast again, and took a cab downtown to the Prado Museum.  Rebecca and Rob walked over from their hotel and our guide met us promptly at ten, as arranged.  I'd gotten the Prado tickets online, but the Bosch special exhibit had shown "no capacity" at that time.  As I'd hoped, our guide immediately took the tickets, jumped the line, and squared that away, getting us timed tickets to the Bosch part too.

Hernan took one look at Lyle, who at that moment was downing the ibuprofen Rebecca had brought him, and suggested we could get him a wheelchair.  Lyle tried to wave that off, but Hernan was quite concerned, and we had to really reassure him Lyle could manage the walk.  Lyle, needless to say, did not immediately love Hernan.

We got an excellent tour of the "best parts" of the Prado, including lots of stuff by Goya and Velazquez and some notable pieces by El Greco and Titian.  Along the way, we got excellent personal commentary, and "Don Roberto" and "Don Leo" got big props any time they answered a question correctly.  Hernan would frequently say, "Please be so kind as to follow me."  Don't ask me why, but I loved this.  Clearly, our best guide in Spain.  For me though, the chance to see Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" in person trumped everything else.  Super, super awesome.

We could have spent several more hours, if not days, at the Prado, but unfortunately we didn't have the time.  Hernan brought the BMW around to pick us up and suggested we take a siesta on the way to Toledo.  Rebecca and I did, though I believe the boys stayed up and chatted.  Hernan dropped us off for lunch at a place he'd arranged, and we enjoyed our best meal in Spain.  The cheese plate appetizer alone was noteworthy, and the salad was enough even I ate about half of mine.

After lunch we went back out into the heat, and walked around the Toledo sights.  Toledo is a World Heritage Site and the cathedral there was the most impressive conventional cathedral we saw in Spain (Sagrada Familia is in its own category).  We enjoyed the sights and the history, and then got back in the car and drove out of town to a small hotel across the river for a final beer and a panoramic view back at the city.  Hernan dropped Rebecca and Rob off (who were planning to go out and enjoy the nightlife) before taking us back to our hotel so we can crash.  

We've had a great time in Madrid, and in Spain as a whole, but we're ready to head home tomorrow and get back to our own space and routines.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Spain, Day 7

Hotel breakfast was the best one on this trip.  Hiltons for the win.  We were rushed, so we didn't get to take full advantage of it, but it was still very good.

We met Rebecca and Rob at 9:45 for our first walking tour.  This was a new experience for us, a "free" walking tour (really, pay what you want, but don't be a jerk and stiff the guide).  Our guide was a very entertaining American expat who lives in Madrid with his husband.  We walked around for about three hours and saw the Royal Palace, the world's oldest continuously operating restaurant, Segovia's aqueduct, and the Puerta de Alcala.  We were quite pleased to take a break at the end of the walk to sit down for drinks and snacks.

The day's second tour was "Majestic Madrid", again with the same guide, which focused more on the various kings and the things they did.  We were interested, but also pretty tired by the end of it, and there definitely came a point where we just wanted to sit down for a beer.  Which we eventually did, for maybe an hour before we dragged ourselves off to the next tour.

The next tour was really the highlight of the day, two and a half hours on the Spanish Inquisition.  We learned quite a bit about the politics behind it, the mechanism of it, and why it was eventually stopped (again, politics).  Our guide for this tour was FANTASTIC and we were only disappointed we hadn't had the whole day with him.  

We got ice cream afterwards and chatted about Inquisition politics and contemporary American politics before we split up to return to our hotels.

Tomorrow, we visit the Prado.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)

Spain, Day 6

Unlike yesterday morning, this morning I slept in and dragged myself out of bed with my normal lack of enthusiasm.  We met everyone, including a somewhat tired Rebecca and Rob - who'd been out partying until the wee small hours, in the lobby and went downtown for the run.  I was noticeably more nervous the second time around, a fact I attribute to three factors.  First, obviously, I knew exactly what I was getting into.  Second, we'd decided to start from a different location to try to have a slightly more exciting run.  Third, Rebecca wasn't running, and therefore she wasn't there to absorb all the nervous energy in the city.  

Rob took a position slightly above Deadman's Curve, and I went a little past that.  This time, when the bulls came by I was actually running, not terribly close to them, mind you, and certainly not in front of them, but at least running.  Yesterday when the bulls came by, the crowd surged to the right and I kinda got pushed toward the wall.  This was still over very fast, but it was slightly less anticlimactic.  When the bulls were past, Rob and I jogged into the stadium again for the Running of the Cows.  I was significantly more circumspect this time, but Rob managed to make contact again and was none the worse for wear.  Rebecca and Lyle watched the run from the stadium, and watched us, but we didn't see them.  

We all met back at the rendezvous bar one last time for drinks, and then shuttled back to the hotel for a quick breakfast, last minute packing, and then a shuttle to the train station.

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I left my razor in Pamplona, and I am not too happy about it.  I appreciate the suggestion that one follow the native traditions when traveling, but Amazon will have a new razor waiting for me by the time I get back to the townhouse.

Most of us slept on the train to Madrid.  We're still not entirely sure what the deal was, but the train stopped several times in the middle of nowhere and wound up arriving about forty minutes late.  Our rudimentary Spanish was insufficient to figuring out what was happening.  Lyle and I are staying in a different hotel from Rebecca and Rob this time, so we each got a cab to our hotel to meet up later.

We're staying at the Hilton (of course) and it meets with our approval.  Once we were checked in and had a few minutes to relax, we cabbed back into town to the Real Madrid stadium.  This was probably the top of Rob's list, but I enjoyed the tour quite a bit and was extremely impressed with the Minority Report-esque multimedia presentation.

We found another cab from the stadium to the Flamenco show we'd lined up for the evening, and grabbed tapas and drinks beforehand.  Let me just say that Flamenco, much like bullfighting, is a Spanish tradition that I don't understand, and having seen once, I feel no special desire to revisit.  Funny story though, during the show, Lyle kept tapping my foot.  It was driving me crazy and I kept giving him the "stop it" look.  I even held his hand so he wouldn't feel like I didn't want to be connected.  Super irritating.  I also thought it was a little strange that one of the breaks between acts, the (American) woman sitting at the table next to us asked Lyle if he knew what was going on.  I mean, we are clearly gringos... and we were all looking at each other in confusion and dismay.  Well, after the show, Lyle asked me, "Was that guy limping when he left?"  I was like, "Huh?"  "That guy trying to play footsie with you.  I stomped on his foot."  Oh, the joys of travel.  Having only just barely survived the experience, we all went back to our hotels to recover.

Tomorrow we have walking tours all day, so looking forward to some rest.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Spain, Day 5

We're all alive and we had a great time.

Nerves this morning weren't as bad as expected.  We met the group in the hotel lobby and got shuttled into town and then walked into the bull run area.  It was still early and we hung out and watched all the people for quite a while.  Lyle and Ryan came down and said hello.  Spyns takes really good care of their runners.

We went down to the alcove where they put the statue of San Fermin, and did the prayer with the locals and the rest of the crowd.  Luckily, they brought around newspapers with the prayer, because otherwise we'd have been totally hopeless.

Lyle watched from another balcony while the three of us found positions along the course.  For me, the run was anticlimactic.  People were panicked, running, shoving each other, I had a quick glimpse of the steers and then everything was over and we just jogged into the stadium for the running of the cows.

Once the bulls have been corralled, they release a cow to come out and let the runners taunt.  One cow at a time teaches the runners to show some respect.  They release five or so cows.  Rob got close enough to get bumped, and a lot of other idiots got tossed around a bit.  The only real problem we saw was a girl that didn't get out of the way and seemed to hit her head on the ground when she fell.  She was carried out quickly and passed over the wall to (presumably) get help from the waiting EMTs.

As each cow is released, a group of runners lies down in front of the gate to let her jump over them.  Rob and I did this and got a lot of attention from the rest of the group who thought that was crazy.

When the fun with cows was over, we found our way back to the rendezvous bar, checked in with Ryan, had a quick drink, and then headed off for hot chocolate and churros on the way back to the shuttle.  Once we'd gotten back to the hotel we had a mediocre breakfast here and then showers and naps.

We met the shuttle again this evening to ride over to the bullfight.  Having seen this once, I think I have seen enough, but it was an interesting cultural experience and I don't regret having gone.  We did see a matador perform well enough to be awarded both ears, so I guess we got a good show.

After the bullfights, we walked over to where Spyns had arranged dinner and had a very nice several course meal and also saw the fireworks.  Rebecca and Rob stayed downtown to enjoy the festival, and Lyle and I have retired to the hotel.

Rob and I are running again tomorrow before we depart Pamplona for Madrid.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Spain, Day 4

We got downstairs this morning just in time to be picked up for our shuttle to the downtown area.  We met the rest of the group at the headquarters hotel and split into three groups - those going to run, those going to watch from balconies, and those going to watch from the arena.  We were all watching from the balcony, and so we wandered out through the bull run area and up to the office that had been reserved for us.  It seems like most businesses close up and most residents leave town during the festival and everyone just rents out their apartments/offices/balconies.  

We watched the police walk the course, removing everyone who hadn't lined up in the approved gathering area.  After that, the shepherds - responsible for actually moving the bulls - came down from the bullring to the cheers of the crowd.  Note the stick, used to herd bulls or whack runners as necessary.

We watched the runners wait as the police let them move farther up the course.

We watched as the runners lined up along the route.

And finally, we watched as the Bulls came through.  It was over very, very fast.  There was a pile up of runners in front of us where one guy went down and everyone wound up on top of him, but at the end of the run they all got up, dusted themselves off and went to get drinks.

We watched the recap on tv, and then met back at the rendezvous bar to be taken over to the super luxury hotel for breakfast.  It was fine, but not necessarily super luxury.  After that, we came back to the hotel for siesta!

After everyone was better rested, we took the shuttle back into town, walked around, got chocolate and churros (and beer), enjoyed the festival for a bit, and then sat down with Ryan for "runner's camp" where he goes over things to know and think through before you actually get in there.  It was really helpful and now we're all amped up for tomorrow.

When that was done, we meandered around town, got more beer, some dinner, more beer, and eventually watched the fireworks before coming back to the hotel.  Not sure how much sleep anyone's getting tonight, but we'll see.  Tomorrow is going to be a very full day.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)


Monday, July 11, 2016

Spain, Day 3

This morning we got up, had another very acceptable hotel breakfast, and took a short cab ride to the train station.  Trains in Spain are easy and straightforward and we followed what appeared to be a giant group of middle schoolers through what passes for security and onto the train.  Our ticket agent didn't get us seats together, which was a tiny bit annoying, but since at least half of us slept the whole way, not a major problem.  Lyle reports he was unable to sleep because the beastly woman sitting next to him (reminder, we were NOT sitting together) kept elbowing him in the side the whole trip.  So far, the only Spanish Lyle reliably knows is:  "My wife is very, very crazy."  He says this whenever he finds English insufficient to his task.

The only drama we had on the train was that the exit we'd lined up by didn't seem to open, and we we (and a bunch of other people) had to hustle back through the train car to another door before we accidentally went on to the next stop.  We walked out of the station and immediately saw a guy sitting on a fence holding up a "Spyns" sign.  He already had a Canadian family with him, and he picked us out with no trouble.  "Henry" walked us over to the van, gave us ice cold waters, and drove us to our hotel.  He went over our package with us, reviewing our agenda, and then left us to settle in until our walking tour later.

We had enough time to find the local supermarket and buy pastries and water for lunch before the van picked us up again and drove us from our hotel (which is situated a ways away from the part of town where the partying goes on) to the headquarters hotel right in the middle of it.  The festival feel was immediately apparent.  If Barcelona smells like NYC, Pamplona smells like RAGBRAI.

We met the rest of the group and Ryan - Spyns' owner - took us on a walk around the bull run and festival area.  The bulls will start in the holding pens and then make the approximately half mile run to the bullring for the fights that evening.  Here's us at the pens.

The walk ended at the entrance to the bull ring, where he left us with these instructions, "Give me a five minute head start and then find your way back to the rendezvous bar.  This is a test."  After the runs, everyone has to be back to this bar by 9am for a headcount.  Not being able to find it is not an excuse.

We wandered back through a small taste of the partying that is to come.  Still wall-to-wall white.

At the rendezvous, we did the beer and sangria thing.  Lyle managed to get sangria on himself, so now he looks like an official festival goer.  Rob and Rebecca decided to stay and actually enjoy the festival while the sticks-in-the-mud went back to the hotel.

After a nap, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Although Ryan actually recommended the restaurant here, and although we are in no way above eating in hotel restaurants, this one was only so-so and we probably wouldn't eat there again.  Oh well.

Tomorrow we'll be watching the bull run from a balcony above it.  The shuttle picks us up at 0645, so goodnight for now!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Spain, Day 2

Our day here started with a reasonably comfortable 8 o'clock wake up, and a very reasonable breakfast here at the hotel.  It wasn't the most amazing hotel breakfast we've ever had, but it was included with the room and the croissants were excellent.  

We met Aleksandra, our guide for the day, in the lobby at 9:30 and walked over to Old Town to begin our tour of the Gothic Quarter.  We saw the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia.  As near as I can tell, Saint Eulalia was a thirteen year old girl sacrificed for being a mouthy brat who deliberately ignored her parents.  So pretty much, patron saint of all thirteen year old girls.  My favorite part was the cloister with the thirteen white geese (one for each year of bratty Saint Eulalia's life).  

We checked out several small squares, including one that had the mayor of Barcelona giving a speech welcoming refugees, while protesters did there thing, in front of a collection of antique cars.  Surprising no one, Lyle knew more about them than our tour guide did.

What remains of the Jewish Quarter is within the Gothic Quarter, and Aleksandra shared some information about that, including that the fact the Christian population blamed the Jews for poisoning the water and causing the Black Death led to them quarantining the Jewish Quarter and thus far fewer Jews died of the Black Death than Christians.

At some point we found ourselves in a small museum containing a collection of "giants" - paper mache  figures 10 or 12 feet tall that are worn on the shoulders of performers during big festivals here.  Rob was not a fan of my impromptu performance of "These Are The People in Your Neighborhood".

We had lunch at a tapas place Aleksandra recommended, and the boys had beer.  We were all very happy to take a break from the heat and get off our feet for a while.  

After lunch, Aleksandra picked us up and we met our driver who took us to see the Gaudi masterpiece Sagrada Familia.  Rebecca had told me that she thought it looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book, and I certainly can see that on the Nativity Facade.  We all agreed that the interior was even more amazing than the exterior.  Gaudi was famous for his use of light, and that was incredibly apparent here.

When we'd finished the tour there, we got back in the (Mercedes) van and rode over to the Park Guell. The mosaic work here was amazing.

Our Gaudi education continued with exterior visits to La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.  Both of these were designed as private homes and continued with his Modernist style.

Aleksandra took us from here up to Tibidabo for a quick view of the Sagrat Cor church and amazing panoramic views of the city.

We thought we were about done, but we made another stop at Montjuic.  Unfortunately, we were too late for the Palau Nacional museum and too early for the Magic Fountain, but we enjoyed excellent views of the city, and particularly of the old bullring that is now a shopping mall.  Bullfights have been banned in all of Catalonia since 2012.

We finally got back to the hotel about 8:30, pretty wiped out, but definitely feeling like we'd made the most of our day and accomplished the "must see" list.  

The Euro Cup final was tonight, and we went out to watch the game over a late (by American standards, quite normal by Spanish standards) dinner at an English Pub.  Rob said we were quite the global crowd tonight:  in Spain, watching France and Portugal compete, while at an English pub drinking Irish, Scottish, and German beer.  

We're now back in the hotel for a short night before we catch the train to Pamplona tomorrow.

MartyandLyle (and Rebecca and Rob)