Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tips for walking the Way of St. James

Heed my advice... you'll thank me later:
  1. Be sure to bring along- good socks, sunscreen, a hat, a bandana to cover your neck (to protect yourself from the sun), fast drying undies and shirts (NOT COTTON), a jackknife (just don't keep it in your carry on while traveling by plane), and toilet paper. 
  2. Cut off all of your hair- This is not mandatory, but cutting my thick curls to just above my shoulders kept me cooler, allowed me a little more time to relax because I didn't have to spend so much time attempting to style it, and I also used less shampoo per shower, thus making my tiny travel-sized bottle last longer.
  3. Bring along a reusable water bottle- Spain has AWESOME tap water... is that a weird thing to say? If you use a reusable bottle, you will be saving yourself money as well as saving the world from plastic bottles. Almost every restaurant/hotel along the Camino is used to filling up bottles, so don't be afraid to ask for the tap. 
  4. Get comfortable with peeing al fresco- You may not want to think about it... but there will be a time where you will have to "go" and there will not be a bathroom for miles around... find yourself a nice tree off the path and away from a water source and enjoy the beauty of nature as you become one with it.
  5. Beware of poles and bikes- You are sure to face both of these challenges while on the Camino de Santiago... In most instances, nothing will happen, but there is a high percentage of pilgrims who do not keep track of the other end of their poles, and the pointy part may end up sticking you in the eye or gashing out your kneecap... Bikes just whizz by you at top speed, so just watch yo' back.
  6. For the love of God, break in your shoes before departure- You are bound to get blisters, regardless of how much you train, but knowing your shoes are the right fit and the right style for hiking is a good way to deter major damage. 
  7. Drink water before you are thirsty- Keeping hydrated is imperative, so sip often and refill whenever possible. 
  8. Leave your makeup and dressy clothes at home- Ain't nobody got time for that. 
  9. Carry "business cards" with your name and email- This really worked out well for me... I met some really great people from around the world while walking the Camino, so this was a super easy way to keep in contact with them. 
  10. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good backpack- make sure it has straps that go across your chest and waist to balance out the weight. 
  11. Keep a journal- trust me, even though you may be too tired to write in it every night, you'll want to remember your trip and the experience you have had. 
  12. Eat lots of carbs- It's a non issue cause you'll work 'em right off! 
  13. Leave your earphones at home- Instead of zoning out to Drake, listen to life around you and be present in the moment... you never know who you may meet. Get ready to share your life story a few times.
  14. Do not overpack- it is soooo much easier said than done, but do not bring more than you need and be open to doing a bit of laundry every night.
  15. Smile and say "buen camino" when passing/being passed by other pilgrims- The Camino is not a race, it is a journey that every pilgrim takes individually, for different reasons. This greeting brings a sense of community and solidarity to each pilgrim, and really makes the journey something special. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Places to relax in Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro: 
Retiro Park is the most well-known park in all of Madrid, and it offers fountains, shade, and even a man-made lake to row boats on.
Above is the Crystal Palace, which is located inside the park and is free to enter. I did not go in, because I heard that it gets brutally hot in there on summer days, but it looked like an interesting place to visit.
You can see a surprising amount of wildlife in the middle of Madrid... In just a short time in the park, I saw more turtles in one pond than I have ever seen before, ducks, fish, and frogs... also, all sorts of dogs. It was like a mini safari or something.
 In the middle of the park, there is a statue of a fallen angel; presumably Lucifer... Now, some people find it disrespectful to keep a statue of Lucifer in a public park in a very Catholic country, but I do not really think it is meant to be taken as devil worship.
The Palace Gardens:

After visiting the Palace on a nice hot Saturday afternoon, my friend and I decided to venture to the Palace Gardens, which are open to the public. The manicured hedges and trees offered us the shade that we so desperately needed in order to hide from the sun, and it also provided cover for canoodling Spanish lovers...Beware.
Plaza de España:
Although not my favorite spot to sit and rest, Plaza de España is a nice place to pass through. There are places for photo ops, as well as nice shady spots to walk through.
 I often passed through the plaza on my way to the main shopping street, Gran Via. My friends and I also found a little market that was set up in the plaza on a Thursday afternoon, which sold handmade goods and clothing. I bought a pair of "Jasmine" pants, which look a lot like the pants that Jasmine wears in Disney's movie, Aladdin.
Parque del Oeste:
This group of photos is from one of the nights where my friends and I went to Templo de Debod to watch the sunset, along with half of Madrid. Apparently, this is a very popular place to hang out after dark, and people bring picnic blankets and romantic bottles of wine.
It gave us a beautiful view of a city as well as a stunning sunset. During the daytime, Parque del Oeste is a massive patch of land with lots of paths for running, a rose garden, and a cable car that can bring you all the way to the other side of the park, on the outskirts of Madrid (I covered this in a previous post).

Monday, August 4, 2014

My favorite Museums of Madrid

I am now back from my two-month-long adventure in Spain, and have realized just how behind I am on my posts. I had a great time, and learned a whole lot about the culture and the city of Madrid, as well as about myself. Much of my time was spent in class or hiding from the heat, but I also found a good amount of time to be a Madrileña and a regular tourist. I visited many of the city's museums, so here is a quick guide and synopsis of what I found there:
Being one of the world's most famous museums, the Prado is a must see even for the quickest of visits to Madrid. Since I had a whole month in Madrid, I did not need to rush to see the entire museum in one day; instead, I went a total of four times. During regular hours, the entry fee for the museum is €14, but each day from 6 pm to 8 pm, entry is free. This is no secret, so it is best to get to the museum around 5:30 pm, and just wait in the line for a half hour. It is very likely that you will be standing in the shade, so there is nothing to really worry about. 
The Museum holds some of the most famous works of art, including sculptures and works by Spanish painters such as Velazquez, Goya, and Ribera. There are also paintings by Tintoretto, El Bosco, and El Greco.
 During my final visit to the museum, I was able to see the El Greco exposition titled El Greco and Modern Painting. This exposition included many of El Greco's famous works, as well as others that were inspired by his talent and style. There were paintings and sketches by Picasso, as well as others by Jackson Pollock, Modigliani, and Manet. The beauty of this exposition, which goes until October 5th, was in the comparisons done for each of El Greco's works and the others that were similar to them. Walking around this exposition took me about an hour and fifteen minutes, and I definitely recommend going. 

This is one of Madrid's hidden gems. I learned about Joaquin Sorolla while visiting Valencia, where he was from. His works are housed in his residence, and include many of his family vacationing on the Mediterranean. Most of his paintings of the sea include beautiful blues and visible brush strokes. They are incredible to see in person.  
The gardens outside of the house are beautiful, as pictured above, and the inside of the house is decorated with many of his works as well as furniture and items from the period when he was alive. I visited the museum on a Sunday, which meant that I got in for free!
This museum is located very close to Parque del Oeste and Palacio Real. It is also in the former house of the Marquis of Cerralbo, Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa. He was a collector of famous paintings, artifacts, books, and clocks. The entire museum ticks, and its walls are filled with lesser-known works by artists such as Tintoretto and Van Dyck.
The house has a beautiful ballroom and a surprising amount of rooms to go through. I really enjoyed visiting this museum because it was very different from others that I had been to.
I was also able to visit Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which holds Modern and Contemporary art by artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro as well as the Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza with all different kinds of art. It is smaller and more intimate than the Prado or the Reina Sofia, which is a nice change.
Every one of these museums are fantastic and worth visiting if you ever visit Madrid.