Those of you who know Picnic Day at Davis, think about what all it entails. You have the picture in your mind? Now take that and multiply it by about a bazillion times, then translate it from all day to all night. That’s kind of what Noche en Blanco in Madrid is like. (Those of you who don’t have Davis’ awesome Picnic Day as a point of reference, try imagining the largest city-wide gathering you’ve ever been to) The streets in downtown are completely filled with people; there aren’t any cars to be seen, although sometimes some crazy person tries to wind their way through the mob on bike. There’s a program with different events, concerts, and expos lined out in nice order for thousands upon thousands of people to choose from, most of it starting around 9 and ending around 2, with some areas stretching out the revelry until 5. The main goal of this event is to bring the average citizens into closer contact with all the arts and whatnot that the city has to offer, to build a sort of solidarity within the community, and if the turnout I saw on Saturday night said anything at all, I think it said that the people where completely up for that sort of thing.
Marisol and I left the apartment around 11 and hopped on the Metro, which got really full as we got more into the heart of the festivities. When we emerged from underground, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a sea of people. On top of the throngs of young folk, there were old ones pacing along and families with small children and babies, a few of whom were fast asleep in strollers. Needless to say, it was a bit of a task finding the girls we were going to hang out with, but it eventually happened. The eight of us tried to go to an event in the Planetarium, but it was completely packed out, so we ended up talking with some Spanish guys that were friends with one of the girls before deciding to head over to Complutense (major university) because one of the girls had heard that there was a huge party thinga-ma-bobby going on there. The only thing is….Complutense is a really long walk away from downtown, and the metro closed at 1:30. So we walked. A lot. When we finally got to the party, we found ourselves once again the in middle of a seething ocean of humanity in a space roughly equal to a football field (I’m really not sure since it was night and all). It was sort of like an outdoor Rave – think DJ, really loud music, crazy kids being crazy kids. It was kind of strangely energizing to be in the middle of the crowd, the bass vibrating in your chest, trying not to lose track of the rest of the group, the occasional strobe light making everything look instantly way cooler. There was one happenstance that kind of made me grin: That first night we stayed out until 6 we met two Spanish guys, and wouldn’t you believe it, they were dancing a couple of people away from us at this ginormous outdoor party in the middle of even more ginormous Madrid. Not that we could talk very much, what with the music taking up pretty much all of the aural space, but it was fun anyways.
By the time Marisol and I made it back to the apartment it was just about 6. And we had to get up at 8:30 for a day trip to Toledo. Yup, just over two hours of sleep. I woke up feeling like I was drunk. But we made it to our respective modes of transportation on time. (Marisol on the bus with the rest of the group organized by a club on campus, and me in a car with two other girls who, like me, hadn’t made it in time to buy a bus ticket) The driver was a girl from Germany, so it was really fun talking Spanish with her, since she speaks it with rather a different accent than either Hilda (who made our group three) or me.
Toledo is beautiful. It almost feels fake; there are so many old stone buildings, fortified gates, towers, and stretches of city wall. And yet it’s completely real….well, once you look past the plethora of tourist shops that line the streets of the historic section. The three of us in the car got there a little before the bus did, so we went into a little museum to use the bathroom and ended up looking around for a while before heading out to meet the group. I don’t know what the building used to house, but it had gorgeous wooden ceilings with a delicately intricate pattern in something like white stone coming down sides of the arches, providing a lovely background to some tapestries that were on display. After meeting up with the rest of the group, we visited a museum that I think all you testosterone-fueled males would have liked – El Museo del Ejercito. It has tons upon tons of exhibits showcasing the development of the army in the Iberian Peninsula through the ages, starting with weapons from the really ancient ancestors and ending with a display on Spain’s modern army. We only had an hour to spend there, so we didn’t get to see everything, but we did get to spend a few minutes resting on the stairs of a beautiful courtyard inside. Apparently, the museum is housed in the Alcazar, a massive building that was used for government purposes since the time of the Romans, and we got to see a bit of the regality of the place when we were in that quiet little courtyard.
I ended up spending the rest of the day with a friend from our program, Diana. We visited the tourist shops, then found our way to the cathedral. That place is huge! And really, really richly decorated. We rested in there for a while, gazing around from a bench and trying to soak it in. What a place to worship. After that we went on a hike following the Rio Tajo as it curves around the city. (The river used to form part of the natural fortifications of the city, protecting over half of the perimeter) It was rather a warm day, and we sweated a fair amount, but it was lovely. The scenery was idyllic, even if the drop down to the river from the path was a bit precipitous, and the sky and all of nature was putting forth its best face.
We all met up at 6, then as the rest of the group got back on the bus to go back to Madrid, my carmates and I trekked out to our cute little green car (which was parked a ways away to avoid hefty parking fees), rolled down the windows, and hit the road. As I took off my hat in the back seat to let the wind cool the sweat on my forehead and blow through my hair, my eyelids began to close. I didn’t go to sleep though, not yet. That waited until I went to bed later that evening, then I slept hard. I guess you could say I was exhausted. What with walking around the entire night and day with only two hours of sleep in the middle, my feet hurt and my body was more than ready to hit the sack. It was really good though. Night became morning and morphed into day, and it was good.