Thursday, December 07, 2006

France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco Part I

The next two essays cover 16-day trip that I took with my wife and the kids to France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. During the trip, we were in 9 different countries (and 2 continents) and drove almost 5,000 miles. In Part I, I will focus on France and Spain, and I will cover Portugal and Morocco in Part II.

Part I

France

Day 1, Saturday, April 8, 2000 – We left about 1 hour later than I had wanted to. Our plan was to reach Normandy in France today and have time to look around. We had arranged the kid’s seats in the minivan differently than normal. I had the backs of their seats up against the backs of our seats so we could reach them easily. Normally, I have them sitting all the way in the back watching a movie on a small TV/VCR combo that we have. My wife drove the first couple of hours while we were in familiar territory. Other than this, and a short stint in Paris, I drove the rest of the trip.

Driving across Belgium, we almost caused a wreck, but we never figured out exactly what happened. My wife was driving, and moved to the right out of the fast lane into the middle lane. After she moved over, there was a semi to her right. We heard tires screeching and we looked back to see a car almost run into the back of the semi. After a few minutes, two mad guys pulled up alongside my window, and started making a motion to say “Didn’t you see me?” I just shrugged my shoulders at them, because I had no idea what had happened. I think they were coming up very fast behind the semi, and went to move into the same lane we had moved into. When we got there first, they had nowhere to go.

Driving in France is tough. The French drive more recklessly than the Germans. Most of the French cars were also in worse condition than the cars on German roads. I took over the driving before we crossed the border. I had a mapping program that told me that driving through Paris is the quickest way to Normandy, but I was skeptical because it looked much closer to go cross-country. So, I decided to avoid Paris. But, the French don’t always put decent signs along their roads, so I never came across the turnoff I needed. Often, in France, it is impossible to know exactly where you are on the map because you don’t know which road you are on. Many times all they have are indications directing you to a certain city. But, if you only need to take the road part of the way to the city before turning onto a different road, good luck. There is no guarantee you are on the correct road. The French autobahns are usually clearly numbered, but they are very expensive. We probably paid $70 to drive on the autobahn for 6 hours.

So, having missed our turnoff to go cross-country, we proceeded into Paris. I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we were coming into Paris, but no sign of the road we needed to turn onto. We ended up lost in downtown Paris with no indications pointing us in the general direction of Normandy and no numbered roads. I finally asked my wife to drive so I could navigate us out of there. I finally spotted a sign for a town in the general direction we needed to travel, so we took it. But again, we had no idea what road we were on. Traffic was also extremely heavy. It was bumper to bumper for at least five miles, and it took us over an hour to get out of there. It was also hot. Our air conditioner in the van had stopped working before the trip (we actually got a recall notice on it) but I never had time to get it fixed. I didn’t figure it would be that warm in April anyway.

Finally, we passed the Palace of Versailles, and I was able to place us on the map. We were on the south side of Paris, but I had thought we were on the north. That is the problem with their shortage of numbered roads. It can be impossible to pinpoint your location.

We finally cleared Paris, but we were way behind schedule. I had planned on being in Normandy by 2 p.m., but it was that late by the time we got out of Paris. Then, as I was pulling into a tollbooth I heard my daughter say she was sick. She was hot and carsick, and we had to pull over for a while to clean up and let her recuperate.

As we entered the countryside of Normandy, everything was so green. It reminded me of Ireland. There were rolling hills, and sheep everywhere. We passed lots of old castles. As we got closer to the coast, we decided to visit the American Military Cemetery first. We pulled into the cemetery at 5:04, but they had closed at 5:00. So, we would go back in the morning. But, where we parked was directly above Omaha Beach. We made our way down from the hills toward the beach. Most of the people we came in contact with were Americans. My son heard people speaking English, and he told my wife, “We used to be English, but now we’re German.” My wife explained to him that we were and still are Americans.


The American Cemetery in Normandy


We saw a number of old German gun emplacements and bunkers. We went inside several and looked around. Heavy shell damage from the U.S. ships which bombarded the shores was evident everywhere. Looking out of some of these gun emplacements I was amazed by the coverage the Germans had of the beach. It would have been terrifying to land on that beach.

Finally, we walked down to the beach. I was actually standing on Omaha Beach. My mind flashed over and over to the opening battle scene from “Saving Private Ryan.” I looked up at the gun emplacements and imagined the scene that the soldiers faced as they landed and tried to make their way across the beach. There were several hundred yards of open beach they had to run across while being steadily shot at. I looked out at the water and imagined all the battleships firing rounds at the shore, and all of the boats with soldiers constantly coming ashore. I imagined all the bodies on the beach, and thought about how scared those guys must have been. I felt very overwhelmed looking at all of this. It was so difficult to imagine what had actually taken place here. I also thought about what it must have been like for the Germans in their bunkers. They were facing overwhelming odds and constant bombardment. The scene that they looked out of their bunkers and saw must have terrified them as much as it did the Americans.

After we spent some time on the beach, we decided to find a place to camp or a hotel. We drove a short distance down the beach to Vierville-sur-Mer, and found a hotel, Hotel du Casino, directly overlooking the beach. We paid only about $40 for a room with 4 beds and a view of the beach. Directly outside our hotel was a sign that said “Omaha Beach – Dog Green Sector”. This was the precise location for the opening battle scene in “Saving Private Ryan.” I almost had to pinch myself, because it just didn’t seem real. About 50 yards from our hotel was a memorial to the National Guards. It was built on top of a gun emplacement that still contained an enormous (but very rusty) German gun. I still couldn’t believe what the guys in the small boats had faced as they tried to make their way onshore. Also outside our hotel were remaining pieces of an artificial harbor that had been built in Britain and dragged across the English Channel on D-Day.
We were all starving, but the hotel restaurant didn’t open until 7:30. I don’t like to eat this late, but we were soon to find that this was early by Spanish standards. To pass the time, we played games with the kids. We would ask them what country we were in, where we were going, and what language the people spoke. My son loved to say Portugal and Portuguese. My daughter almost always got the answers right.

At dinner, I had a French dictionary, and we tried to translate the menu. I ordered a five-course meal. The appetizer was a dozen raw oysters. Now, I like raw oysters with cocktail sauce, but these didn't come with cocktail sauce. I squeezed a lemon on them, and they were not too bad. After the oysters, they brought me a scoop of ice cream in a glass of something like whiskey. That was disgusting. Finally, I had a steak. It was not as good as a Texas steak, but it was O.K. After the meal, the waitress tried to explain to me that breakfast would be served between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. A Frenchman at the next table, wearing a T-shirt from the Superbowl, overheard and translated for me. After dinner, we all went upstairs and everyone else went to bed. But I stayed up for a long time and looked at the beach.

Day 2, Sunday, April 9, 2000 – We got up early, and I took the kids down for breakfast. A typical French breakfast may be nothing but bread. They eat croissants, toast, and rolls with a little jam or honey. The kids ate well, and I took them to the beach while my wife ate breakfast and relaxed in the hotel room. I ran around with the kids for a long time out on the beach. It was pretty cold out there. We climbed a hill and went into another bunker. We walked out on the pier, and then went back on the beach and picked up a few shells.

After that, we drove to the cemetery. The cemetery is on a hill overlooking the beach. There are 9,387 soldiers buried there, many of whom died on the beach below. There is also a wall containing the names of 1,553 soldiers missing in the region. The white crosses are all perfectly aligned, and there is a memorial to the fallen and a chapel in the middle. In the memorial area, there are huge maps depicting the military operation. We wandered there a long time, looking at the names, and thinking about the families of the men who died here. The cemetery gave me an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Hitler had caused so much sorrow for so many people.

I expected the cemetery to be full of Americans, but there were not that many. It was, however, full of French people. I was very surprised by this. There were student groups, groups of French soldiers, and families. There was a group of French soldiers taking a guided tour. The tour guide was standing at the edge of the cemetery which overlooked the beach, and was apparently describing the landing. It made me feel so good to see this. I had always heard that the French were ungrateful for all the Americans who lost their lives to liberate France. If not for the Americans and British, France would have continued to live under German rule. But, here I saw lots of French people paying tribute to America’s soldiers.

After signing the logbook in the visitor’s center, we drove to Point du Hoc, which is 8 miles west of the cemetery. On the way there, we saw lots of old building and walls with obvious bomb and artillery damage. It must have been pretty horrible being a civilian in this area on June 6, 1944.

Point du Hoc is the place where James Earl Rudder, a former Texas A&M graduate (also president of the university from 1959 to 1970), and his 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the 100 foot cliffs to neutralize a German artillery battery. Only 90 out of 220 men survived the battle, and Rudder was injured twice. There is a memorial to these men at Point du Hoc. There is also a 30-acre area that has basically been left untouched since the war. There are bomb craters everywhere, and the kids enjoyed playing in them. We looked around the German bunkers and gun emplacements, and then looked down the cliffs. I don’t know how anyone could scale those cliffs under fire. That was quite an achievement.

After we left Point du Hoc, we wanted to get some sand from Omaha beach. The day before, my son had found a nice shell on the beach, but we wanted to get some sand, too. When we drove back down to the beach, the entire thing was under water. It was high tide, and we had a really tough time finding sand. Finally, we got some, and headed to St. Mere Eglise.

Ste. Mere Eglise is famous for an event that happened on D-Day. An American paratrooper got his parachute hung up in the steeple there. Actually, all of the guide books and history books say the steeple, but it was really one of four concrete points sticking out of the roof of the church. He played dead for two hours before the Germans took him prisoner. This incident is depicted in “The Longest Day.” There is a parachute and a life-sized model of a soldier still attached to the church. We saw this, took some pictures and video, and headed south.

Next, we drove south to Mont St. Michel, which is a huge abbey built on a rock out in the ocean. It is one of the biggest and most recognizable tourist attractions in France. We could see it looming for miles before we got there. When we were parking, the people directing traffic were wearing almost the exact same coat that I was wearing. I was wearing my coat from work, which I admit is not very pretty, but it is very warm and waterproof. My wife joked that I could probably blend in if I got out and started directing people to parking places.

We went inside and toured the abbey. The top portion is probably 15-20 stories high, and you have to walk up. The abbey was built in the 11th century, and is very impressive. The view from the top was fantastic. There is now a causeway all the way to the island, so it is no longer isolated from the shore at high tide. But, in previous times people would try to make it across from the shore at low tide. Many of them drowned as the tide came in very fast.

We left around 5 p.m. Since we had a long drive the next day, and we had not reserved a room for this day, we decided to go ahead and start heading toward Spain. After we drove about an hour, we came to a fairly large city, Rennes. We couldn’t find a hotel with parking available anywhere. We wasted an entire hour there, before I decided to move on to the next town. I wanted to try and find a smaller town that might have a hotel with parking.

So, we headed toward the next large town, Nantes, but we were looking for a small hotel or a campsite with bungalows. We stopped at several hotels and campsites without success. It was now getting late, and I was getting pretty worried. It was also starting to rain. The situation was looking so grim that I told my wife that I was ready to take my chances at the Bates Motel. We were in the absolute middle of nowhere, with nothing but farmland around us. I was afraid we were going to end up sleeping in the van. Finally, I exited at a sign indicating a hotel. It didn’t look to be open, and when I tried the door a man came out from the bar next door. He said the hotel was closed. As I turned to leave, he said, “Wait. I will make a call.” He made a call, and put me on the phone with the owner of a Bed and Breakfast. The owners were an English couple, they did have a family room available, and they were only a few miles away on a farm.

When we arrived, I could not believe how our fortunes had changed. A few minutes before I was considering the possibility of sleeping in the van. Now, we had a room with four beds in a farmhouse in Brittany. The B&B was called the Le Moulin Chere, and a small river (the Chere) flowed outside our window. The house appeared to be very old, and our room was great. All of this and breakfast for about $40. The owners were great, and we visited with them for a while. We decided not to leave right away in the morning and let the kids relax on the farm. We had skipped lunch and snacked, and then we had missed dinner due to our rush to find a place to stay. So, we snacked again and went to bed in the most comfortable bed of our entire trip.


Le Moulin Chere - Our B&B in France


Spain

Day 3, Monday, April 10, 2000 – As is usually the case, my son woke up early. I took him out of the room to let the girls sleep a little longer. Directly below our bedroom, there was a large parlor with lots of books, videos, and antiques. I took my son down there to look around. I saw a B&B guide laying around and found Le Moulin Chere in it. We were really lucky to have stumbled onto this place. I would like to go back there sometime and stay several days.

We all went down for breakfast. I was hoping for an English breakfast – ham, eggs, bacon, etc. But, we got another French breakfast of breads. I needed some protein.

After breakfast, we walked around the farm and let the kids play. There were goats, chickens, ducks, and geese, and the kids really had a good time. Finally, though, we decided to head toward Spain. I had reserved a hotel on the French-Spanish border in Bayonne, France.

As we headed toward Spain, I started to feel bad. It had been over a day since I had eaten any protein, and I thought my body was reacting to that. My stomach was really hurting, but we had a schedule to make so I kept driving.

We had troubles again with the highway system. Occasionally, we would come to a sign directing us in a certain direction. Then, later, the road would split or we would come to a roundabout and there would be no indication of the city we were traveling to. So, we would have to pull over and study the map. We repeated this ritual multiple times every day of our trip.

I started to feel worse, and at times I was basically slumped over the steering wheel. The kids were entertaining themselves by playing “Oscars” in the back. I could hear my daughter back there saying “And the Oscar goes to – Mom!” She was really cracking me up. Sometime during our drive, a bolt or something flew off the vehicle in front of us and hit our windshield hard. I could not believe it didn’t break it, but there was not even a chip.

In the early afternoon, we stopped at a McDonald’s so we could eat and the kids could play. We like McDonald’s when we are traveling, because we know the kids will eat and they can play for a while. I ate, but I didn’t really feel like it. My daughter played with a little French girl. The girl said something in French to my daughter once, and my daughter just looked at me, shrugged, and smiled.

We drove on through Bordeaux and Cognac. We passed dozens of fields planted with yellow flowers. I later learned that this is rapeseed, and we have it in Germany too – acres and acres of bright yellow flowers. South of Bordeaux the country started to change. It became more arid, and we started seeing lots of pine trees.

We pulled into Bayonne and found our hotel. I had booked a familiar name this time – Best Western. When I am traveling in a foreign country and don’t know the language, it is a comfort to stay in a place where I know they will speak English. So, I booked Best Western several times on the trip. But, most of the time we stay in a B&B or a small, family-owned hotel.

In the hotel room, everyone was hungry, but I was feeling really bad. I tried to get my wife and the kids to go downstairs to the restaurant, but they didn’t want to. They ended up eating pretzels and chips for dinner. I was started to run a fever and became chilled, so I took a Nyquil capsule. My wife was convinced I had food poisoning from the raw oysters, but I would have thought that would have hit me sooner. I had a very rough night’s sleep. It felt like I had the flu. I tried to figure out what we would do, but I decided that no matter what we would push on. It didn’t matter, though, because I woke up feeling almost normal.

Day 4, Tuesday, April 11, 2000 – We had breakfast served in our room – ham and eggs. I was very hungry, but filled up fast. I wasn’t feeling quite 100%; I was a little dizzy. While we ate, the kids watched Franklin and Little Bear in French. The different languages have never bothered them; they just like to watch the cartoons. After the cartoons, the kids spent the morning coloring and drawing while I rested a little more.

Finally, we checked out and headed toward the Spanish border. We had survived France despite speaking almost no French at all. Every time I had to speak with someone, I would try English, then German, and finally just gesturing with my hands. Despite their reputation for rudeness, we found the French to not be rude at all. Almost all of the people that we came into contact with were very nice to us. Many of the French also have dark complexions, like the Spanish. I had not noticed this the other times I was in France.

We crossed the border into “sunny” Spain and encountered heavy rain for the first couple of hours. We started to see lots of white adobe houses, which we had not seen in France. The roads were also much more winding than in France, and they were not as well maintained. But, we still had to pay tolls to drive on the roads. Sometimes, we would have to pay $5 to drive 10 miles on a bad road. That is literally highway robbery.

We climbed into the Pyrenees Mountains. When we were driving, my wife said, “Look, that looks like a bear climbing that mountain.” I didn’t see it, but I started laughing and told her there were no bears in Spain. I told her it was probably just a big dog, but she insisted it was a bear. I thought maybe she just hadn’t gotten enough sleep, or maybe her contact lenses were giving her trouble. The kids asked what it was, and I laughed and said “Your mom thinks she saw a bear.” We all laughed. Then, when we got back I saw a story on CNN about sheep farmers complaining about bears in the Pyrenees. I had to laugh.

The plan for today was to drive to Segovia, which is an ancient town in the mountains northwest of Madrid. There is an ancient Roman aqueduct there, a medieval castle, and a 500-year old cathedral. On the way, I made a mistake that I rarely make. I missed the turnoff toward Madrid, but didn’t realize it until almost an hour later. At that point, we had driven along the coast of Spain with the ocean out the window for over an hour into Basque country, but then we turned south along a different route than we had originally planned. We ended up driving through lots of little Spanish towns, and climbing high up into the snowy mountains. We saw almost no other cars and we saw no tourist buses. We were far off the normal tourist path. We bought gas at a little town high in the mountains. The kids got out, and the man working there pointed to my daughter and said “Frio”. I understood this, and got her coat because it was very cold.

After gassing up, we stopped at a picnic area next to a roaring river and let the kids play for a while. Then we continued through the mountains. When we started to descend, the scenery began to change. We saw lots of canyons and scrub brush, and it was more arid. It looked just like the American southwest. We finally intersected with our originally intended path, and got back on the freeway. After an hour or so, we made the turnoff onto a small road leading to Segovia. It was like we had stepped back in time. We passed through miles and miles of barren, deserted countryside. We saw no people or houses anywhere. Occasionally, we would come to a small town that also looked deserted. The towns looked like something out of the old West, or maybe Mexico. The buildings appeared to be a few hundred years old and very run down. The roads were very narrow, and usually cobblestone. There was nobody on the streets; there were no dogs – there were not even any cars visible. The towns looked completely deserted. We probably passed through a dozen towns like this.

Because of the indirect route, we were in the van much longer than we expected. We arrived in Segovia at 6 p.m. There were no parking places near any of the downtown hotels, so we drove outside of the town to a campsite I had read about. We got a bungalow with a shower and bathroom for about $30. There were snow-covered mountains all around us, and it was pretty cold. We decided to get something to eat, because we again skipped lunch and just snacked. At that point, we found out that the Spanish eat later than the French. All of the restaurants we checked did not open until 8:30 p.m. That is past the kid’s normal bedtime. We also had trouble finding parking anywhere, and the traffic was really bad. So, we stopped at a supermarket and my wife went in and bought a few things. She bought olives, Brie, and pudding – about $10 worth of food in Germany - for $3. We were beginning to see that things were much cheaper in Spain. We went back to the campground, ate, and hit the beds.

Day 5, Wednesday, April 12, 2000 – As soon as we woke up, the electricity went out and we were in complete darkness. It also started to get cold quickly. I went outside and opened the shutters so we could get dressed. The power eventually came back on, and we all ate and headed downtown. We had a tough time finding parking, but eventually found a parking garage near the center of town. We walked the length of the half-mile long aqueduct. The aqueduct was very impressive; our guidebook called it one of the greatest surviving examples of Roman engineering. At one end, it was actually at street level and the kids climbed inside it. There was also a playground there, and we let the kids play for a while. While they were playing, we noticed that several of the houses had large nests on top of them. We figured out that these were stork nests, and some had baby storks sticking their heads out.


Inside the Aqueduct in Segovia


We then walked down to a big square, the Plaza Mayor. The cathedral stood at one end. There were some older Spanish women selling white hand-knitted tablecloths. My wife wanted a couple so we haggled with them a little and bought 3 for about $40. I was actually able to understand some of the things they were saying.

Next, we walked uphill to the medieval castle, the Alcázar, on the edge of town. The origins of the castle are believed to date back to Roman times, and the castle is very unique looking. Isabella (of Ferdinand and Isabella, who sent Columbus to America) had her coronation in the castle. The view from there was very impressive. The town was in full view below us. The roads walking up there were incredibly narrow. A couple of times, we had to squeeze into a doorway to let a vehicle drive pass. The town was very hilly, and I ended up carrying my son on my back for probably a couple of miles.

At lunch, we ate at Candido’s, which is reportedly the most famous Spanish restaurant in the world. It is actually a national monument. There were pictures of celebrities everywhere, including heads of state. Princess Grace was one of the people who ate there, and Jimmy Carter’s picture was by our table. The specialty was “roast suckling pig”, but I saw a picture of it and it was a whole baby pig. Since it had a face, I didn’t think the kids would want to eat it. So, we got a variety of foods off the menu. We found that Spanish food is not like Mexican food at all. Spanish food consists of lots of different meats, fishes, rice, and fruits. It is not spicy like Mexican food.

Coming out of the restaurant, an older Spanish man stopped us and tried to sell me something. I said “No hablo Espanol”, but he just started talking faster. We finally just walked away from him, and headed back to the van.

We left Segovia and headed toward Madrid. The scenery was beautiful. I had to stop once and get some video. It looked like the Texas hill country, with snow-covered peaks in the background. On the way, we had to go through a tollbooth. The guy swiped my card really fast, then got irritated when it didn’t work. He was one of the few rude people we came into contact with in Spain. Then, immediately after the tollbooth there was a tunnel. Someone had had a wreck in the tunnel, and we had to wait on the highway for 20 minutes while the wreckage was cleared.

When we arrived in Madrid, we had a little trouble locating our hotel (Best Western again), which was near the airport. We finally got there and settled in. I started cleaning out the minivan, which by this point looked like a tornado had ripped through it. The hotel restaurant didn’t open until 8:30, and there was nothing else around. We talked about how ridiculous this was, and contrasted it with the U.S. If we were staying near a major airport in the U.S., we would have had our choice of 50 places to eat, and they would have been open any time we were hungry. Anyway, we stayed up late, ate a little, and prepared for Madrid the next day.

Day 6, Thursday, April 13, 2000 – I woke up at 6:30 and went down to breakfast – a piece of toast and a glass of orange juice. I spoke with the guy at the front desk about the best way to get into downtown Madrid. He told me to take the bus to the subway station, then take the subway in from there. So, we packed our backpacks and caught the bus. I explained to the driver that I didn’t speak Spanish, but showed him on a map where I wanted to go. He told us when we got to our stop, and then we switched to the subway. I noticed on the subway that the Spanish were more diverse than I thought. I had thought they all had dark complexions and black hair, but I saw plenty of people who didn’t fit this description. We did get some glares on the subway that made me uncomfortable. An older woman got on and just stood directly over the kids and me. I felt like she wanted me to give up my seat to her, but both kids were leaning their heads on me and were comfortable. Then, she coughed directly in my face without covering her mouth, or saying excuse me, or anything. Her glare never wavered. I was glad when she got off.

We got off at the Royal Palace. This is one of the largest palaces in all of Europe, and is very luxurious. It’s origins date to the 1700’s. It is very similar to Versailles, outside Paris, except without the gardens. First, we let the kids play for a while at a playground outside the palace. Then we all got in line to enter the palace. The line was not very long, so we thought it wouldn’t be long before we were inside. However, I noticed pretty soon that the line was not moving. I went to the front and saw a sign that said there were too many people inside and we would have to wait. There was a separate line for groups, and they kept letting them in.

We ended up waiting a total of 2 hours. I hated to wait this long because our time in Madrid was limited, and we had lots of other things to see. The kids were also very impatient standing in the line. We kept moving up in the line because people were giving up and walking away. We met a middle-aged couple from Tennessee in front of us in the line and talked to them a long time. Their 20 year-old daughter was doing missionary work in Lisbon, Portugal, and they were there with her touring Portugal and Spain. We shared lots of travel stories with them, and they recommended a few things for us to do in Lisbon.

We finally go to go in. The girl from Tennessee walked with us and translated a lot of things for us. She told my daughter all about the different rooms we were going through. my daughter was fascinated. She told me she wanted to live in a palace. One room had a 2-ton chandelier, and another had a table that could seat 140 people for royal dinners. At the end of the tour, we parted ways with our new friends from Tennessee. My daughter hugged the mother and daughter and said “I’ll miss you”. They thought it was so cute.


Outside the Palacio Royal in Madrid



After that, we left the palace. We let the kids play for a while longer and then we grabbed a bite at a Burger King and headed to the Puerta del Sol. This is the center of Madrid. There is a plaque in the plaza that says “Kilometer 0”, and is the spot from which all distances in Spain are measured. Entering the square, we saw hundreds of students, and dozens of police in riot gear. There was some type of student protest going on. The students would all chant something together loudly. We saw a few running from the police. Then, about 20 feet away from us we saw one yelling at the police, and they just waded into the students and started clubbing him over the head with a billy club. We saw the police do this to another person as well. We had no idea what was going on. There were news crews there and a police helicopter flying overhead. We joked about the news crews catching the bewildered looks on our faces. I told my wife we should yell “Viva El Presidente”, but I didn’t know whether we would have been clubbed by the police or yelled at by the students. We saw all of this later on the evening news, including a tourist that looked as bewildered as we were, but we never figured out what it was all about. We finally got nervous about having the kids in there, so we left before revolution broke out.

From there, we walked to the Plaza Mayor, which used to be the site of bullfights and executions. I don’t know what Plaza Mayor means in Spanish, but we had also seen one in Segovia. The plaza was huge, and had beautiful paintings around the borders. There was a crazy man standing in the middle of the square yelling at people.

From there, we walked toward an art museum, Museo del Prado. We ended up walking all over Madrid. I had to carry my son on my back, but my daughter walked the entire day without complaint. I started to feel badly for them, because I knew we were wearing them out. We got to the Prado, then let the kids play outside for a while before going in. The Prado has been described as the most beautiful art museum in all of Europe. We saw many masterpieces inside, including works by Rembrandt, El Greco, Goya, and Velazquez, to name a few. The only problem was that all of the captions were in Spanish only, so it was impossible to read the history behind the paintings. The paintings held the kid’s attention for a while, but when they became bored we left.

It was getting late, but we decided to let the kids play in the city park near the museum. The park was huge, and reminded me of Central Park in New York. There were some Spanish children there having an Easter egg hunt. When they were finished and had left, I let my daughter and my son go look and see if they could find any eggs that had been overlooked. They weren’t able to find any, though. When they were finished playing, we had an ice cream, then caught the train and bus back to the hotel.

....to be continued....

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1 Comments:

Anonymous elen said...

Hi.i was been in Portugal last summer. i think that here ther are the most beautiful beaches i ever seen! I was with my boyfriend, we came from England by car...it was very exciting! just we arrived i seen the beautiful sea and beaches! we also did the Algarve tours and we played golf a lot too ( one of our passion).

9:17 AM  

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