Countdown to Graduation

Countdown to Graduation
One senior scrambles to cram in all things Carolina before heading out into the real world. 

posted 3/24/2009

Spring Break [Vol. 5]

I'd like to say I've saved the best for last, but I really can't decide what the best day of our trip was. It sounds cliché, but they were all great days. We were scared at the beginning of the trip that we'd both be getting down as the trip went on with my looming departure, but in fact we were just as chipper the last day as the first. My friend Lauren had spent a semester in Spain, so she gave me a list of things to do in Madrid. You'd think Gabe and I would have done some more planning, but we both claim we were just too excited to think clearly.

First thing on her list was El Retiro Park. Like I've mentioned before, I am a park person so that's the thing I was most excited about. We were going to head to El Prado first, but after we realized it's free to get into after 5, we changed our plans. Six Euros isn't a big deal, but traveling gets expensive! So, off to the park we went. The best part about this particular park was how full of life it seemed, both with vegetation and with the crowds of people that were there. It's probably not always that packed, but on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon it looked like every tourist and resident of Madrid had the same idea we did. We just walked through the park for a while, stopping to take pictures of strange-looking trees or in front of especially picturesque views while dodging rollerbladers and dog walkers. Because I was going to miss my ultimate Frisbee class the next day, I figured I better do some makeup work by throwing some disc in the park. The ground was packed with sunbathers and families, but we found a patch of grass we thought was suitable. After about 10 minutes of some pretty accurate throwing, we both got lazy and silly and started to try more interesting throws. That didn't end so great for the sunbathing woman Gabe's errant throw surprised by hitting her in the stomach. I apologized, but she was less than amused and started yelling at me in Spanish. All I caught was hombre and cuidado. She apparently wanted the man, Gabe, to be careful. I couldn't really do much in the way of respond, so I bolted. We then decided to face another direction because this woman was scary. Well, another direction, another woman hit. She didn't yell, but she was also not very happy. That was the end of our Frisbee throwing.

All that exercise and getting berated made me hungry. It was time for a snack. There were tons of kids milling about all sticky fingered from popsicles, and I thought to myself, no way am I too old to enjoy a delicious sticky popsicle, so that's just what we did. After some laying and basking, we decided to get back to the Prado so we could spend a substantial amount of time there before it closed. Apparently, three-fourths of the tourists in Madrid had a similar idea and, as we kept walking to find the end of the line, the line just kept getting bigger and bigger. It was moving swiftly though, and there was even a guy playing guitar for money to keep us entertained. He was great, but like I said, traveling gets expensive! The Prado was great and full of masterpieces. So many of the images were religious ones dealing with Adam and Eve or the crucifixion, which was especially interesting to me because my outside concentration in school is religion. I just took a fascinating religion class about Heaven and Hell and learned about so many religious stories being told in paintings from our past, so it gave me a whole different perspective. I'm definitely glad I went because it's just something you have to do if you're in Madrid, but I wished we had time to go to the modern art museum as well. I think I would have enjoyed that better overall.

Lauren had also made me promise her I would try Cruzcampo beer because it was the best beer she's ever had. When I asked her why her only response was, "It's just so good, you have to try it." Well, our time was winding down so I had to fulfill my promise to her. We stopped at a bar on the way to our hotel and asked for a pint. It was just what we needed, we had been on the go all day, walking everywhere. We stopped in to a nice-looking bar with friendly patrons and bartenders, and Lauren was right – the beer was delicious. Gabe and I had an awesome conversation about journalism and its supposed demise, something we both have a vested interest in, and just overall did some relaxing. A lot of times that's hard to do while traveling because you're worried about missing out on something. The beer combined with the massive amounts of walking led us to enjoy one last nap for our vacation.

When awoken from our nap, we were ravenous and set out to find a place to eat dinner. It was late, even for Spain, so we had a little trouble. Gabe wanted to make sure we had a nice romantic dinner for our last night together, and the more we walked and the less options we saw, we got a little worried we'd never find the perfect place for our last meal, or any place at all. We also wound up walking through what looked like some sort of impromptu party, where there were massive amounts of people drinking on the streets and trash everywhere. I'm all for a good party, but it made me sad to see all of that trash combined with the unfortunate potent smell of urine. They looked like they were having fun though, but we had a mission to attend to. About 45 minutes later, and walking back to where we started from, we stumbled on a bar/restaurant. There were a couple of men drinking at the bar, and no one eating. They let us order food, though I'm sure they didn't like it, and we had the entire dining room to ourselves with service from two waiters. The meal was great with fish and veal, and it was just as nice and romantic as we had originally hoped.

Back to the hotel to pack and wishing I didn't have to pack and leave. We set the alarm probably earlier than necessary to make sure I didn't miss my plane. Gabe left me in the airport and, though I was sad to see him walk away, I was still riding pretty high from our amazing trip. The trip back to the States was pleasant enough. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before because we had stayed up late talking and I took in a quick nap in the Madrid airport. The plane entertainment was also great. I watched Twilight, Four Christmases and Edward Scissorhands while reading almost an entire book Gabe had lent me. My time in New Jersey was spent calling family members and gushing about my trip. It was a long layover, but I think everything just seems longer in the hell hole that is Newark Airport.

Back to RDU and back to reality. It's been over a week now since Spring Break, and it seems even longer. Before I left, Gabe asked me how I was feeling about my last spring break before the real world. I responded that I hadn't really thought of it that way and now I am sad, thanks a lot. Honestly, I'm not thrilled with the prospect of not having a week allotted for the sole purpose of taking amazing trips. I guess I'll have to learn about this vacation time thing, I can't say I'm that excited about it.

posted 3/24/2009

Spring Break [Vol. 4]

So, I've either bored or entertained you all with my adventures in Spain, and now we're coming to an end. This has definitely been a self-involved week of blogs, but I promise just two more. Saturday, I packed all my bags to head to Madrid. My flight was leaving from there Monday morning, so we figured it'd be best to get our sightseeing in Madrid done close to leaving time. We wanted to get there Saturday afternoon so we could get two days of Madrid because there was a lot to see.

Getting out of bed Saturday morning was a chore. The whirlwind traveling and the time change all seem to hit at once, at about 8 a.m. Saturday. We stopped to get a much-needed coffee to go with a warm and buttery croissant. I wouldn't call myself a morning person necessarily, but I do enjoy getting up and starting my day at a reasonable time – but coffee has to be involved. We were going to take the bus, a longer ride than the train, but also a lot cheaper, so we took the familiar walk to the bus station. We arrived with a couple of minutes to spare, only to realize we were looking at the Madrid-to-Pamplona routes, not the other way around, and had arrived about an hour too late. After some sulking and discussing, we decided the extra money to take the train was worth it to catch some Madrid daylight. We then caught a cab to the train station to try to catch the train. Turns out, there weren't any trains 'til 7 p.m. and the train station guy was not the friendliest fellow. So, back to the bus station we went.

Now, all of this wouldn't have been so bad, but we woke up extra early to make sure we made the bus, so our eyelids were drooping, plus, being the gentleman that he is, Gabe was pulling along my gargantuan bag the whole time. Gabe was more annoyed than me with all the running around, but there was a nice grassy area around the bus station, and it was a pretty nice day, so I suggested to Gabe a nap, and maybe some discing (got to keep the Frisbee with me at all times). He agreed with my assessment of the situation and even let me use him as a pillow. It was honestly the best sleep I've had the entire trip. I kept doing the "5 more minutes line," and finally about an hour and a half later we awoke our senses by throwing the disc, then we went to find someplace to eat lunch and made sure we got to the bus station early this time.

The bus ride to Madrid was pretty uneventful with some cat-napping, Sports Illustrated reading and a heated discussion about the validity of the movie Pretty Woman (Gabe contends Richard Gere would never need a hooker). We found a metro to what we thought was near our hotel, and stepping out of the metro station was an experience I'll not soon forget. There were police officers everywhere, just standing around, presumably to make sure the hundreds of people milling about were kept in line. Every free space of ground was packed with every different kind of person you could imagine. Though just a bus ride away, Madrid is definitely a whole other universe compared to San Sebastian and Pamplona. After talking to some polite police officers, we decided a taxi was our best option – pulling that suitcase through a sea of people to a semi-unknown location wasn't the best way to start our mini-vacation-within-a-vacation.

Finally to our hotel, and though it didn't have the character and cuteness of the place in San Sebastian, it did have a bed and a shower. We weren't picky. We got a great suggestion for a dinner spot from the woman at the front desk, took a left out of the hotel and there we were. I had a suspicion the woman just told us that place because it was close and she was friendly with the owner or something, and that still might be true, but man, that meal was tasty. Gabe was almost out of his mind ecstatic with his bull tail stew. I stuck to what I considered a safer choice of swordfish and was not disappointed. After our three-course meal, we walked down to the Palace de Real de Madrid and a nearby cathedral. Both buildings weren't short on extravagance, and it was cool to see all the architecture without tourists milling about since it was so late. We pledged to see it in the light of day and spent the rest of the night just strolling about Madrid, constantly finding beautiful corners of the city.

Though we had a big day of sightseeing ahead of us, we compromised on a semi-late wake up time of around 10:30 with snooze button hits sure to be taken advantage of in the morning. Next, our last day in Madrid, and my last day of my wonderful vacation.

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