We caught the night train from Paris to Madrid. I had never been on a night train before, and it was a lot of fun! We had a little four bunk bed car, and it felt like a slumber party. I slept really well, too, which surprised me, but the motion of the train was calming, and it rocked me right to sleep. We woke up in time to cross the border into Spain and catch our next train (the night train only took us to the border; apparently the trains in Spain are on a different gauge, so you have to transfer at the border). The next train took us all the way to Madrid, and it was a long, long ride. The scenery was beautiful at first, when we were in the mountains, but then it all started to look the same: yellow field after yellow field, punctuated every so often by a crumbling stone wall. It was all pretty, too, but it just went on and on. We finally got there, though, and I was welcomed to Spain by an old woman on the train attacking me. She apparently thought that she should be allowed to walk through the line instead of waiting with everyone else, so she started yelling and then just started slapping me. Looking back, I guess it`s sort of funny, but at the time, it was not very pleasant. It took us a long time to get out to our campsite south of the city, and it was freakishly hot once we got there, but once the sun finally started to set and we bought some picnic food, things were much better.
Our first day in Madrid, we slept in a bit to recover, then went into town and had paella and sangria for lunch in the Plaza Mayor, which was beautiful and calm, and which we later found out was the place where the Spanish Inquisitors executed heretics. Delicious. Later on, we went to the Museo Reina Sofia to see some modern art, including lots of Miros, Dalis, and Picassos. They have Picasso`s Guernica painting, and it is really quite moving. It takes up an entire wall, and at that scale, the emotions on the faces in the painting are gut-wrenching. I`m really glad we got to see it. At night, we went back to the campsite for another picnic under the stars. The picnics in Spain were so much fun and such a relief after the heat of the day.
We had to stay in Madrid an extra day because of the train schedule, so on our last day we had the time to be a little relaxed. We walked around the plaza in front of the Palacio Real, picnicked in the Retiro Park, and tried to go to the Museo Prado, but it was too expensive because they wouldn`t accept our student IDs. Spain was a lot more work than France because only Christina knows any Spanish and the whole culture seems a lot more foreign. We were tired, so we went swimming at the campsite and had one last Madrid picnic.
The next day, we caught the train to Barcelona, walked through the city a bit, found our campsite, and went down to the beach. It was Bryan and Andrew`s first view of the Mediterranean, and it was a gorgeous beach. As the sun was setting, we walked back and had a late tapas dinner at the campsite restaurant. It was on a terrace filled with happy people drinking and eating and laughing, and there was great music playing, and the food was delicious. That dinner will be my abiding memory of Spain.
Our day in Barcelona was great, too. We went to the Sagrada Familia cathedral to check out the construction progress. We couldn`t understand why it is taking so long to build until we saw it. It is the most elaborate building I have ever seen, and if they ever finish it, it will be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. We spent the afternoon wandering through the elegant streets and parks and marvelling at the houses designed by Gaudi. They were really crazy looking but beautiful and natural, too. Very difficult to photograph, though. We tried to go to the Boqueria market, but it was closed. I guess I`ll have to go back some time.
Our leaving Spain was, unfortunately, similar to our entering Spain. We got stuck in traffic on the bus and missed our train, and when I got in line at the station to try to sort things out, I got attacked by another old lady. I kid you not. I don`t understand what possesses a person to be so rude in the first place, but to continue yelling—and hitting!—when I obviously don`t understand the language just seems dumb. I was infuriated, but Bryan and Christina, with their level heads, saved the day by finding a different line and figuring out an alternative route. It took all day, but we finally made it out of Spain and into France and got to glorious Nice. That`s where we are now, and we are loving it. More later. Au revoir!