Category Archives: My Summer Abroad

These posts were imported from on the occasion of Windows Live Spaces being shut down. They were originally posted during a summer 2007 spent abroad in Madrid.

La Biblioteca Nacional

I spent this afternoon in Spain’s National Library (which, now that I’m here, is reminiscent of the Library of Congress in many ways).  I decided to come here on a whim to use my computer and get some papers done for next week.  It was hardly a walk in the park to get inside.

After ascending a huge staircase in the blinding sun, I had to get a yellow visitors sticker at the information desk.  Then I had to put my stuff through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector to get inside.  After I was inside I found out that you can only take a notebook, pen, and computer into the library (no books, food, drinks, CDs, scissors, coats, hats, umbrellas, magazines, cameras… etc. allowed).  Everything else must be checked in to a storage area (ie coat/bag check).  As I tried to check my bag in I was informed that it was too big and I would have to get a locker for .50 cents on the other side of the hall.  The smallest change I had was a 20 euro bill, so after unsuccessfully asking everyone I had already talked to on the way in (5 employees by then), I was directed back outside to the bookstore in the basement.  Thankfully I didn’t have to go through the metal detector again (the security guard just waved me through) and I went straight to the lockers.  The security guard told me that I’d need to get a library card before I could bring my computer inside.  I got the forms from the information desk and had my card made on the spot (picture and all) at the card desk.  After changing from a yellow to blue sticker, I could then go back to my locker, get my computer, register it with the guard (which involved scanning my card and giving the computer a bar code), and go back inside.  There’s one large reading room in the middle of the library to work in.  Desks are numbered and assigned by the librarian at yet another information desk.  The system to get a book is to look it up on the computer, fill out a request, and turn it in.  When your book is ready to pick up, a light of the desk flashes.    It’s all quite complicated with lots of paperwork, but now that I’m hear it’s comfortable and very quiet.  Perfect for in-depth research (or just writing a couple of blog entries).  I filled out the form to get a book about the Guggenheim in Bilbao for a report and sat down at desk 217.

In all, it took 14 employees to get me inside the building, give me change, store my stuff, get me a library card, register my computer, assign me a desk, and bring me the book.  Thank goodness everyone was helpful.

After I finished up some work I wrote some entries to try to catch up.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write about Lisbon yet, but other than that most of the major events are now posted.

Tonight at 11:00 I’m taking a bus to Barcelona (it arrives at 7:15 tomorrow morning) to tour the city with some others from the program this weekend.  I’ll be back very early Monday morning.  Next week is my last week in Madrid; I leave a week from tomorrow for a few days in London before going home.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get all caught up on my posts before I get home, but if not I’ll keep writing until they’re done.  Thanks for reading!  As always, let me know if you have any questions, comments, or the like!

Campeones! Campeones! Ole, Ole, Ole

Our train got back at 8:30ish and we each hurried home to have dinner, promising to meet up to watch the game at a bar.  As the game started at 9:00, by the time I got back to eat it had already begun.  I watched some over dinner then met some (other) people from the program to watch the game outside a bar, as there was no room left anywhere, watching with a crowd through the window was the best we could do.  Barcelona, the opponents for the championship scored first.  Throughout the remainder of the first half Real Madrid didn’t score and things started not to look good.  After the half time, Real Madrid game back to score three goals and block all of Barcelona’s attempts to make the final score 3-1 Madrid.

As the game ended I met back up with Stephanie, Sam, and Albina (Tanya was too tired to come) and we followed the masses towards the Plaza de Cibeles, not really knowing what to expect.  As we were fairly close to the plaza (just a couple of blocks down Gran Via), we got there rather quickly and secured a nice view (albeit a little far away) of the fountain and statue from a median strip (yes, the roads were closed; Gran Via, a huge street designed by many of the same people who put together Times Square, was closed for many blocks to allow fans to walk in/watch from the street).

I had read in my guide book that in the past, fans had stormed into the fountain and repeatedly broken  off appendages of the statue so that now the police barricade the fountain to keep people off.  They certainly had walled it off this time.  The whole fountain had been drained, then surrounded by a huge circular wall and topped with a platform featuring patrolling officers.  We weren’t really sure what was going to happen in terms of events, so we just watched as the plaza and surrounding streets filled with people.

We stood around until 12:30ish, then exhaustion set in.  We started to kind of head toward the subway, but with so many people, the progress was slow going at best.  By 1:00ish we had meandered across the street and almost to the subway when a double-decker open-air bus drove into the middle of the plaza and started doing laps around the fountain as the song "We are the Champions" filled the air.  The team was waving from the upper deck of the bus.  The bus then stopped and the team walked across onto the top of the barricade as one by large groups of white balloons were released into the air.  Next thing we knew a crane carried the team captain to the middle of the fountain to drape Real Madrid gear over the statue.  The crowd went wild.  Then fireworks soared above as "We are the Champions" played yet again (it was more like a continuous loop).  As the last firework faded, we attempted to hurry out of the plaza and got caught in sea of people (fortunately going the same direction we were).  The city was filled with people honking horns, screaming Real Madrid cheers, and celebrating.  We also saw some people in fountains, on street lights and lampposts (and one fall off a traffic light bringing the light down with him), and in trees.  It was quite the experience.

We didn’t know how fortunate we were to get out so quickly and uneventfully until the next morning in the papers.  Different newspapers estimated the number of people gathered at Cibeles differently, but there seemed to be some sort of consensus around 600,000.  It also turned out that after we left, the people who stuck around too long for the liking of the police were made to leave with tear gas.*  All in all 108 people were injured in the rush out of the plaza.

The next night I went back with Stephanie to take pictures of the statue.  The barricades gone, the streets cleaned up, and the broken traffic light repaired, you’d have never known what had occurred there just the night before except the fountain remained off and the statue was still decorated.  Two important lessons: 1) leave large events quickly and 2) never underestimate the loyalty and excitement Spaniards have for soccer.

*I would like to add that the area where we stood was very calm, filled with people taking pictures of the proceedings.  Had there even been a hint of the need for police intervention (or a hint of the police planning to intervene), we would have left immediately.

El Escorial

On Sunday, June 17 we took an afternoon trip to El Escorial a palace/monastery an hour’s train ride from Madrid.  Because it’s been so long since that date, I figured I should offer a little context to get you in our frame of mind when we visited.  That Sunday was the day after the trip to Segovia and canceled bullfight/flash flood.  As we were all kind of tired (and as Tanya had to take her friend Jess back to the airport to go to back to her program in London) we opted to go after lunch, meeting at the Cercanias (commuter rail) station at Atocha at 3:15.  It proved to be quite an interesting trip.

It only cost 6 euros for a round trip train ticket and we got on the 3:30 train.  We arrived, right on time, to the city of San Lorenzo de El Escorial at 4:30 and headed out of the train station to catch a short bus ride to the actual palace.  While we waited at the bus stop, it began to pour.  Luckily, though, the rain wasn’t quite as bad as at the Plaza de los Toros the night before.

After about 25 minutes we were relieved to see a bus finally pull up to the stop.  We clambered on, glad to be dry and on our way, but then a funny thing happened.  The bus driver turned off the bus.  And we sat. And we sat. And we sat.  After a little while the driver stirred, stepped outside (it had stopped raining by now), and took a smoke break.  We continued to sit.  The bus didn’t pull out of the station until after almost an hour of waiting, at 5:30.  And the best part? El Escorial closes at 6:00.  By the time we ran from the closest bus stop to the palace, it was 5:50.  We got our tickets and hurried inside.  Though tickets are not sold after 6:00, the palace stays open until 7:00, so we at least had some time to look around.  In short (pardon the pun): it’s amazing.

The palace was built from 1563-1584 for King Philip II to be used as a residence, monastery, and burial  ground for the monarchy.  The tour started with a small museum of architecture in the basement that explained how the building was designed and constructed.  To construct the large stone walls, the builders used the same clamp tool used by the Romans to make the Segovia aqueduct many centuries earlier.  Also in the basement was a small art museum representing some of the significant artwork from the monastery and palace.

Next was the palace tour.  Though it was mostly uneventful (probably because we were rushing), it had nice views of the mountains and everything looked very royal and comfortable.  By far the most interesting part of the tour was the Pantheon of the Kings and Princes of Spain.  Most of the ruling monarchs and their family members since Phillip II are buried in this solemn area of El Escorial.  In the darkened rooms, the polished marble and gold tombs take on an ethereal glow.  Just a few inches of marble separate you from the actual royals who governed Spain. Very cool.

We finished the tour, working our way toward the monastery.  While the monastery itself is not open to the public (it’s still a functioning monastery, monks and all), we were able to get a glimpse into the Basilica where the monks hold services.  By the time we got to the last sight, the building’s library, it had already been closed off (it was only 6:50ish but the guards subscribed to the Spanish philosophy of business: open late, close early, and take lots of coffee breaks).

The next train back to Madrid left at 7:30 and rather than wait for the bus, we hurried down to the train station on foot (it really was all downhill) to just make it on time.  We had to rush because back in Madrid, the Real Madrid championship game started at 9:00 and we couldn’t miss that…

Lots to write, little time

As usual I’m a little behind on posting, but as I’m leaving for Lisbon early tomorrow morning with some friends, I’m going to try to get some sleep and catch up another day.  Coming Monday (or maybe Tuesday…): El Escorial and Real Madrid from last Sunday, an update on my class and internship, and, of course, all about Lisbon.

Thanks for reading!