This post was written about four days ago, but I was unable to post it before the WiFi cut out.  Oops.  In the intervening days we’ve traveled to Bern, Switzerland; Brussels, Belgium; and Amsterdam, Holland.  More on those later.

Mandi and I are in Barcelona, after three days in Madrid, two in Lisbon, one in Porto (home of the heavy-hitting Port wine), two in Santiago de Compostela, and two in Madrid.  During that whirlwind week-and-a-smidge, we managed to miss two trains, and we came much too close to missing a third yesterday.  Here are the highlights of what else we did:

In Madrid, we visited the Thyssen museum, where there was an exhibit of Van Gogh’s last works before he walked off into the woods one day and shot himself in the chest.  Apparently he knew the end was near, because he was absolutely churning out art at the end of his life – something like 70 paintings in as many days.  We also visited the Reina Sofia, home to Picasso’s Guernica, Salvador Dalí’s El Gran Masturbador, and a really interesting set of self-portraits using costumes as disguises. 

Afterwards, we found a small grocery market with “granadillas” for sale.  Since “granadas” are pomegranates and Mandi and I love pomegranates, we bought the granadilla and ate it.  It looked like alien eggs about to hatch and tasted like slimy grapes.  It’s surely my last granadilla.

granadilla

That evening, we went to El Parque de el Buen Retiro and found the absolute coolest playground ever.  Mandi and I had no qualms about waiting our turns in line behind five year olds, and it was worth it.

Playground

In Lisbon, we took a local train to the town of Belém, as suggested by Rick Steves.  Gorgeous, old, red-roofed buildings, laundry on the line.  Amazing pastry shop.  Nice shoreline.  And in the local cathedral we stumbled upon the tomb of Vasco de Gama, world-famous explorer!  Thanks, Rick!  Then, we returned to historic Lisbon and got completely lost in the maze of tiny streets.  We ended up in a very sweet, rather poor, residential neighborhood, where a pair of incredibly kind 60-year-old locals directed us back toward our hotel.

Lisbon landscape

The next day in Lisbon, we skipped the 10 Euro aquarium for the nearby Pavilion of Knowledge.  There were rides that made me really, really jealous to have already grown up.  One was a harness that let you bounce as if you were on the moon.  The one pictured below is a Velcro suit that kids could wear and jump onto a Velcro mat on the wall, and they’d stick there!  Jealous!  We made up for it by riding this bicycle across a tiny wire stretched dozens of meters above the floor.

Bicycle

In Porto we pulled another Lisbon by getting lost in the residential area of town and taking photos.  It’s an incredibly nice way to spend an afternoon.  We spent the evening at the hostel drinking Port and talking late into the night with folks from Canada, Poland, Switzerland and Texas.  We spent the morning pissed off that we missed our train back to Spain.  Oops!  We took a bus instead, where the man next to us insisted that we could not possibly be twins.  Hmm.

Santiago de Compostela was full of Christians from all over the world who had just made their pilgrimage to the holy city.  It was also home to dozens of clown troops from all over the world who had assembled for the annual FestiClown festival.  With the church bells clanging ominously in the background, we watched one clown bounce on a trampoline and flip over the head of an innocent audience member.  We also met a nice local woman and her dog Pin (pronounced “peen”).  She said he’s the second dog she’s called Pin.  The first had the full name Ping Pong, and the current one is named Pink Floyd.

Santiago de Compostela was also home to an interesting food pyramid sign that had dedicated the lowest, largest rung of the pyramid to beverages.  A compelling thought, but the illustrations showed pictures of water, juice, and — to any nutritionist’s shock — soda cans.  It turned out that the pyramid, which was taped onto the display window of a pharmacy, was produced by Coca-Cola.  Sketchy!

pyramid

Back in Madrid we spent nearly two hours trying to send Mandi’s gigantic (22 kilo) suitcase to her host family in France, so we didn’t have to tote it around everywhere.  Small problem: none of the boxes were big enough to fit the suitcase.  Answer: after much thinking, the postal workers used two boxes, some packing paper, and a TON of packing tape to cover it.  Bigger problem: we didn’t realize that the suitcase weighed 22 kilos until AFTER we had it all wrapped up.  France will only accept packages that weigh less than 20 kilos.  Oops!

The postal workers cut the box open, we took some heavy stuff out, and then we sealed it all back up and packed another box with the heaviest goodies.  The postal workers (Miguel and his compatriots) were the most amazing I’ve ever dealt with.  In the United States, there is nothing like that.  They told us it helped that we were pretty young ladies.  Thank god I had showered that day, or we’d never have gotten it sent!  As it was, we arrived to the train station five minutes after our high-speed train to Toledo left.  Oops again!

We waited two hours in an incredibly long line and got new tickets to Toledo.  Although most of the museums were closed because it was Monday, we were still glad to have persevered.  During the course of our four-hour stay, we spoke with two local artisans, a paraplegic Spanish woman, and a pair of ticked-off Israeli Jews.  We learned how the typical Toledan jewelry is made (teensy gold threads are pressed into soft steel, and then the piece is heated until the metals fuse).  We also learned that the thin, hilly, cobbled streets of Toledo are less than ideal for a woman in a wheelchair.  Lastly, we learned that if you come all the way to Spain from Israel to see the Sephardic Museum in Toledo, you want to come on a day when it’s open – a.k.a. not Monday.

Yesterday we missed another train to El Escorial, and instead of waiting for the next one, we decided to camp out in the airport, recharge the cell phone and computer, reserve all the train tickets for the rest of the trip, and book hostels.  A quick metro ride back into downtown Madrid for some dinner almost cost us our fourth train, but we made it!

In Barcelona, we spent the day largely passed out in the hotel, after an overly bumpy night train from Madrid.  We also indulged in some pizza — the first hot food I’ve had in days.  Our usual m.o. is to buy nectarines, apples, bread, peanut butter, and whatever else looks cheap, tasty, and easy, at local super markets.  It’s cheap and pretty healthy, but it’s not momma’s cookin’.  I miss you momma!  I miss you all!

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