On Tuesday morning, at 5:45am, my alarm went off. Stumbling, i felt my way to the light switch, and got ready to leave. At 6:30, we said adios to our host mother and made our way through the pre-dawn darkness into the waiting taxi cab. It was so sad leaving my new family and life in Europe, and I did shed a few tears in the elevator. But I had known all along that this adventure would be as short as it was sweet, and all good things must come to an end.
At 6:45, we arrived at the hotel where few of our classmates were waiting. By 7:00, the bus had arrived, and we began the delicate game of gently cramming all of our earthly possessions into the tiny space under the bus, a game also known as Jam Pack Jam. Trust me, the game’s a lot more fun when the only things at stake are some plastic toys and your pride, not when you’re sleep deprived and it’s 7am and you’re leaving your new favorite country ever. Somehow, we made everything fit and took our seats on the bus….and waited. And waited. Of course, everyone except three individuals had made it on time. And we were stuck waiting for them. And of course, they had ran out of minutes on their phones, so calling them was impossible. 30 minutes later, they finally arrived, and we were able to head out to Toledo.
I slept the entire 6 hour ride. It was fairly smooth, that is, until we actually entered Toledo. The streets are so tiny that the bus had to run over every curb, an experience that probably resembles running over small school children again and again.
Once we had unloaded and hiked up the hill to our hotel (of course the massive charter bus couldn’t drive up the tiny little road), we had an hour to relax and unpack before walking down the street to a church that doubled as a museum for some world famous painting by El Greco. It was a beautiful scene depicting a saint’s death and his ascension into heaven. We sat for a few minutes contemplating the beauty of the church. That’s when Suzy pointed to a poster on the wall…an anti-abortion poster. Anti-choice wingnuts consider microscopic cell bundles sacred enough to protect at all costs, but a beautiful, historic cathedral is not sacred in the least and merely a place to put political literature.
After the painting, we had the afternoon to ourselves. We explored a little bit, visiting souvenir shops and playing with swords and buying jewelry, and then we stopped for some ice cream.
That evening, we ate in the fanciest dining room I’ve ever seen. For our appetizer, we had tortilla de patatas, which brought back memories of all the delicious ones Teresa had made us. Then we had fresh salad, followed by the biggest, fluffiest, most delicious salmon I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was all so scrumptous, I can’t believe I forgot my camera to document the deliciousness.
That night, I had wanted to have a relaxing girl’s night with some wine and a movie, but everyone was tired, and the internet was too slow to stream anything. So I settled for drinking the rest of my champagne at midnight and watching Anatomia de Grey with Pippa in our room.
Wednesday, we packed up and headed on a tour of the cathedral. Yes, a cathedral is exactly how every girl wants to spend her 21st birthday. But I relished the fact that it was the last cathedral I’d ever have to tour for the rest of my summer, and of my life if I could help it, and that was enough of a gift. After the tour, we loaded the bus, leaving tiny, cultural Toledo for Madrid, which is quite possibly the biggest, loudest city I’ve ever been in…besides NYC of course. There were tourists and natives and business men and protesters and beggars and more street performers than I’ve ever seen.
Wednesday afternoon, we had our final Wednesday special at 100 Montaditos. I am dearly going to miss the greatest Spanish fast food restaurant in existence. Where else can you get a sandwich, french fries, and a pint of Tinto for 3 Euro? I guess the tinto counts as my first drink as a 21 year old. After, we made our way to the Palacio Real, the massive, historic, 2800 room royal mansion. The heat was brutal, so we cooled off by jumping in a fountain. While most in our group were eager to take the tour, Erica, Mark, and I didn’t want to spend 5 euro on yet another tour. So we settled for taking pics of the outside and then making our way back to the hotel. I took a lovely siesta before heading out right before dinner to take pics and buy a few souvenirs. We ran into a musical protest, and we stayed and talked to a few of them before they formed a circle and played a few songs.
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant right beside the hotel. We had fresh salads, steak, french fries, and yet another delicious cheesecake. I assume they were trying to get of us back in the swing of american food. It was a lovely meal, and it was nice unwinding from a hectic four weeks of classes and four weekends of trips to just relax with the group.
That night, I refused to spend my 21st birthday doing nothing. And even though they made us go on a walking tour of some of the historic (boring) parts of the city and we didn’t get back till midnight, Erica, Laura, and I got all dressed up and headed to the discoteca. We were going to go to one a few kilometers down the street, but we didn’t feel like waiting and paying for the metro, so we just walked to a much closer one. It was classy buy empty, so we went to another place with free beer and sangria. It was less empty, but the music was way better, and the guys from our group were there. We realized that the booze was only free before 1:30am, and as it was 12:55am, I said:
We sat in a booth and drank and talked for a while before hitting the dance floor. I of course broke out several of my Just Dance 3 moves. By 2:00am, the guys were ready to roll out to Joy. I chugged my last drink, and we headed out. Unfortunately, while girls were free, it cost $12 for guys to get in, and they didn’t wanna spend the money. So we ventured in without them. It’s amazing how things can change in an hour. The club was packed! The music was blasting! And we found other girls from our group and our old Texas Tech friends: Handy Manny and Monty Python! It was so nice getting to have one last celebration with them. And we danced on tables. It was Laura’s idea, I swear! I was told later that I had a full conversation with a guy in a spongebob shirt, but honestly I have no recollection of this event. We danced and met people until about 3, when we decided it was bedtime (since we had to leave for the museum at 930).
Thursday morning, I had the worst hangover of my life. It was brutal. Free sangria does not a hangover-free morning make. Somehow, I dragged myself the 20 minutes down the street to the Prado museum. I made it about halfway through the visit before needing to pray to the porcelain goddess, but that’s better than getting kicked out for puking on priceless paintings. My praying was not overlooked: we were granted the post-birthday blessing of getting an hour break before tackling the Reina Sophia Museum of Modern Art. After napping in the cafe and drinking plenty of water, I felt a lot better. The second museum was so much easier to handle, most likely because Picasso and Dali are my favorite modern artists, and Fernando was told to abbreviate his lengthy explanations about every exhibit.
After the museum, we went to BK and had the most (surprisingly) delicious chicken sandwich plus fries and a drink for only $3.30. Gotta love coupons. We made our way back to the hotel, and I took the greatest hangover nap ever.
After my siesta, we made a trip to a supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine to bring home. I almost bought one called Sangre del Toro, but it sounded a bit too bitter for my taste. I settled on a pink, rosy wine with an old white dude on it. White dudes know what’s up. We made our way back to the hotel, right as a massive protest was starting. This time it was the UGT, the labor unions, and the CCOO, the coal miners.
At our last dinner, Carlos made a toast, and he called us the biggest and best group he’s ever taken to Spain. It was a delicious dinner of salad, potato wedges, ribs, and the best rice pudding I’ve ever tasted. It was bittersweet, sharing one final meal with my friends, but I knew the upcoming school year would have plenty of reunions and new memories.
Thursday night, we went back to Palace. We went at 12:30, and it was pretty empty, but it was oddly relaxing just getting lost in the music and only ONE glass of sangria. 10 of the junior and senior girls from the trip joined us around 1, and we stayed and danced with them for about an hour. Around 2, Erica went to see if we could re-enter if we left, and she never came back. Alison and Laura were worried, but I figured Erica was fine, and we left. On the way back, we found her. She had gotten side-tracked talking to people, and she told us the reason all the clubs were so dead is that all the international students left that day. Talk about perfect timing for my birthday. We linked arms and went back to the hotel, where I got a full 3 hours of sleep before catching our taxi at 6:45am…