Friday, August 1, 2008

Madrid Trip

After finishing our exam, our entire Space Studies Program (SSP08) took a trip to Madrid. The trip was a lot of fun, but a bit hectic. We were staying pretty far outside the city, and there wasn’t any site-seeing time built into the trip, so I really had to work hard to find ways to see things.

We arrived in Madrid around 8pm on Monday and got to our housing and checked in by around 10pm or so. We were staying at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, about 22 km from Madrid. There weren’t any bars, restaurants, or stores of any kind open on or near campus, so we decided to take a train somewhere for a drink. We thought it’d take too long to get into Madrid, since the last train left at midnight, so instead we went two stops farther from the city, to a little suburb that had some cute little cerveserias (bars) with outdoor seating. We relaxed outside in the warm, dry, central Spain evening until about midnight, and then headed home.On Tuesday, we didn’t need to catch the bus to our event until 1pm, so Jaisha, Nadine, and I decided to meet up at 8:45am and head to Madrid. The program had discouraged people from doing this, because they didn’t want people to miss the bus, but since this was our only chance for sight-seeing, we decided we’d better go.

The difficulty in getting to the city wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. We had to travel 10 minutes on the train (2 stops) before getting to the Madrid metro system. Then it took about 15 minutes to get into the central part of the city. (Though actually, we got some bad directions and had to back-track a bit, so it took us longer.)

We got off the metro in Plaza Espanya, which is a pretty square in the city with fountains, trees, and little walkways. There are statues of Don Quixote and Pancho. We walked around there a bit, and then started walking up Gran Via, a major road through Madrid. Gran Via has lots of shops and restaurants, and also big theaters, playing things like “La Bella y La Bestia” (Beauty and the Beast). We stopped at a restaurant there to get some café con leche (coffee with milk) and churros. This helped us perk up and continue our speed-site-seeing.
We continued our wandering down Gran Via and saw shop after shop with clothing on sale that was very inexpensive. Finally we gave in, and went into a shop, where we each bought a shirt for 3 Euros ($5). We took a detour and arrived in Puerto del Sol. It is a square in the middle of Madrid, also with shops and restaurants.
Then it was on to Plaza Mayor - one of the most famous plazas in Madrid. It’s surrounded on all sides by similar looking buildings with pretty balconies. The main building is covered with murals.
After that, it was about time to head back to catch the bus, so we grabbed bocadillas (sandwiches on baguettes - I had bocadilla de queso manchego) for lunch, and hopped on the metro. We got back early - around 12:20, and were able to stop by brunch and grab some fruit.

At 1pm, we caught the bus to the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC). It was really hot out, so we didn’t do a tour of the facilities. They gave a talk about the organization and activities of the center, and then another talk about the European Space Agency (ESA) missions. The talks were interesting, but weren’t very specific to Madrid or to our location at that center, which made me wish we had more sightseeing time instead. After those talks, we had some snacks and then a panel.
The panel was about Lunar exploration. The U.S. representative spoke first and gave a very good presentation about EVA (Extra-vehicular activity) planning for the moon. He was leading the team designing the new spacesuits and transportation vehicles we’ll use on the moon. The European representative went next and gave a short presentation on Europe’s plans related to the moon - mostly focusing on science missions. The Indian representative gave a presentation that includes more technical information about current Indian Lunar science missions. Finally, a representative from Japan talked about the two Lunar orbiters from Japan.

After the panel, the bus took us to Madrid. We were dropped off in Plaza Espana, which was familiar territory from my morning expedition. We walked to Palacia Real - the former royal palace, and then onto Plaza Mayor again. We had dinner at a cute restaurant in the corner of Plaza Mayor - enjoying the outdoor seating and all the evening activities. I had a good Spanish meal, consisting of sausage, fried green pepper, and croquettes - along with patatas bravas, a tapa I shared with a friend.
Following dinner, I went with Stephanie, Eric, Jaisha, David, and Kris to a bar in the old city area of Madrid - it was a really cute bar. We had some Sangria to really get into the Spanish spirit. After leaving there, we walked to Puerto del Sol to meet up with other people from our program. Some of the group had taken the bus home at 11pm, but this group decided to stay out exploring. (In Spain, dinner is around 9 or 10, so 11pm is still fairly early.) We found a disco and ended up dancing until 4:30am. When we got there at midnight, we were almost the only people there, but despite all logic (this was a Tuesday night!) It got progressively more busy until 3am and was packed by the time we left.

We left for our second professional visit at 9am on Wednesday. My group went to Hispasat. Hispasat is a satellite operator that specializes in Spanish and Portugese-language TV and radio broadcast. They gave a very interesting presentation about how operations are run. They talked about what happens if there is interference, and how experience helps you figure out who might be doing it (it’s usually an accident by one of your stations). They can also de-modulate the signal and listen to it to figure out who/what is causing the interference. They took us on a tour of the facilities, to see giant satellite dishes and their operating rooms, as well as a room with tons of TVs for monitoring the quality of the satellite TV feeds. Unfortunately they didn’t allow pictures.

After the talks and tours, we had lunch there. I think it may have been the best lunch I’ve had in Spain so far. All of the food was in small portions - little round appetizers, mini pieces of bread with the fancy iberian ham, tiny salmon sandwiches, etc. There were little plates with chopped up asparagus, a cherry tomato, a lemon slice, and shrimp - I think I had 3 of those. Another plate had chicken and rice that was both sweet and a little tangy. Everything tasted so great, I even dared to try my first anchovy - which was on top of a tasty looking appetizer with bread and tomatoes - salty, but good. There were little cones filled with soft cheeses - I also had more than one of those. And then there were the deserts - chocolate mousse topped with apricot, fruit tarts, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, and lots of other little mini-desserts that were amazing. Despite the miniture size of everything, I got to the point that I had to refuse the new things the waiter would bring around, since I was so full. On top of this, there was wine and cava - very nice. Not surprisingly, we ended up staying later than planned, and had to rush a bit to checkout and be ready for the bus to the airport.

As it turned out, we had to hurry up and wait, since we got to the airport around 5pm and our flight didn’t leave until 8:30pm. I filled my time sitting in the airport hanging out with people in the program, like my GWU friends and some potential astronauts from Canada - who all happen to be medical doctors, so there was lots of interesting conversation. Gregor, another ISU student, showed us his bands’ music video - Quantum Physics Girl, which was pretty funny. The band, Zen Finger Painting, already released two albums.

By the time we got to Barcelona, took the bus to our new residence, found our stuff, and got into our rooms, we were all exhausted, so it was straight to bed.

1 comment:

daveagp said...

Sounds like a pretty awesome adventure, I'm glad your Extra-Schedule Sightseeing (ESS) met with success. Now I'm hungry from reading about the food...