Yesterday on the bus I saw a girl with the same Christmas socks I just had to throw away in the garbage because I wore them too much. A hole had formed and despite my hopes that it could defy the rules of physics and wear and tear, the hole grew. They were bright red socks, with green, gold, and blue presents on them, atop each present was a different bow and white snowflakes covered the ankle joint area of the socks. The snowflakes made me think: BAM! Christmas time! Needless to say they were pretty cool. 

My grandmother and I had a habit of giving one another holiday and destination themed socks and this happened to be a pair she had given me several years back. When I saw the girls socks peaking out from the cuff of her jeans I became a little excited. I know that is strange, really strange actually, but I couldn't help but think how wonderfully random and coincidental it was that when I just threw a pair of my favorite holiday socks away, another person was sporting them. My grandmother obviously had great taste if a female Spaniard had the same socks and decided to wear them when it was still light out. But then my excitement hit a roadblock and I found myself asking: Do they have Macy's here? That is where Grandma Fran always purchased them...

After mulling over where the girl purchased her socks my stream of consciousness brought me back to the dinner table Monday night with Irene. How are the two related? I'm not quite sure myself yet. 

I was not having the best evening and for the first time in my whole time here I just wanted to be home with my family but Irene had a uncharacteristically sad look on her face that made me snap out of my own stupor. Monday, December 10, 2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of Irene's husband's death. When she told us tears began to swell in her eyes and she tried to discretely wipe them away with her black sweater that had red roses on the sleeves. A peculiar choice for a day of such significance. My roommate and I had no idea what to say to her. My thoughts switched back and forth from English to Spanish and I became frazzled. I didn't want to see such a wonderful women be so sad. At this moment she reminded me of my grandmother when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. Grandma Fran never let it show, but inside I knew she was torn to pieces each St. Patrick's Day. Irene, unlike Grandma Fran, showed her emotions and wanted to talk about it. So, after my brain became less frantic I muttered out the most pathetic thing possible: Lo siento. I have been here four months and all I could muster up was an "I'm sorry" to my favorite señora in the world? It was a shame but she smiled and was glad we cared. 

Irene is a strong women and adores her children, even her unofficial children like myself. When she began to talk about the memories her and her husband shared I couldn't help but smile. She explained how he died, how the following months were hard for her, and how she just had to keep busy otherwise she would become overwhelmed with sadness. One reason why she began hosting foreign exchange students was because she didn't like how the house was so quiet after her husband died. She said he brought so much life to her life, and then she smiled that big smile and chuckled. Clearly she was having an internal dialogue or recollection of memories. After dinner she didn't do the dishes, nor did she hum a happy tune per ritual, instead she talked on the phone with her daughter for a few minutes and headed to bed. It was disheartening to see her in such sad spirits and not like herself. 

The next morning Irene was up bright and early gabbing away on the phone with, what I am assuming was her daughter who lives in Switzerland by the conversation. She had a smile on her face and sipped her coffee as she sat on the couch. As I left for school Tuesday morning I was relieved to see her in a happier mood. That night at dinner we then shared memories we had of Christmas and what traditions we had. Irene became very excited when she was talking about all the toys she had purchased for her two youngest grandchildren and how she has to go to Zara to look at for a nice piece of clothing or accessory for her niece and then a jewelry store for a necklace for her daughter. 

After telling me all of the things she had to do in preparation for the holidays I told her my sock story. She laughed. 
She asked how something so simple can make me think about such unrelated things. I didn't know the term for stream of consciousness, but I think she understood what I was trying to get at. At one point I honestly just told her I was weird, and she said everyone has their quirks. She continued to laugh for a bit and said she was feeling much better today. She said it is much better to talk about how she is feeling with someone than to let it bottle up inside. She is 100 percent right, something my grandmother and I could learn a lesson or two in. Suddenly the sad disposition I saw the night before came back and Irene quickly explained why - she didn't want us to leave. She looks forward to having the new girls in January and is thankful that the weeks between our departure and their arrival will be busy, but it still eerie to be alone in her apartment with no one there to talk to. 

Not long after reassuring her that the holidays will be fun Irene asked me if I was ready to go home. I couldn't lie to such a sweet woman so I said yes, but that I was going to come back and see her and while I was back at school I would write to her. She understood that I needed to go back home, she is a mother after all. So then, after I finished my clementine at the dinner table in the kitchen she bid me goodnight, but not after saying she liked the pair of Christmas socks I had on. I told her they were from my grandmother. She laughed. 

Man, I'm going to miss her. 
 
Nothing screams Christmas season for someone who isn’t living in a winter climate like 30-degree weather and hailing snow. My short journey to Brussels, Belgium was a nice wakeup call for what I will be facing in just thirteen days when I am back home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I was told Brussels was an ugly city by many people, including travelers I have met who live in Belgium and even some who live in Brussels and I can’t say that they were wrong. They were absolutely correct. In Brussels there is not a ton to see and the main reason I wanted to go was to go to their world famous Christmas Market, if that wasn’t there I don’t think I would have gone, and I don’t think I will ever return...

We arrived late Tuesday night and were greeted by a sharp wind and dropping temperatures. It was a flashback to a normal winter that we haven't faced in Madrid, Spain. Upon arriving at our hostel we decided to go grab a quick dinner and rest up for the fun-filled day we had planned for tomorrow.

On Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. sharp we began our search for Belgian waffles and we found a restaurant called Grandmother’s Waffles, also known as Mokata, online and on our map that was supposed to be cheap and authentic. So we set out in the freezing cold to find us some good eats. Much to our demise it began to hail, then snow, then rain and after an hour of searching for the restaurant we ducked into the nearest, most authentic looking restaurant that advertised breakfast food we could find. This was a bad decision on our part as everyone was going into the same restaurant and we ended up waiting an hour and a half for our waffles. They were OK, but not quite as warm as I was hoping they would be. The chocolate was to die for though. 
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Andrea with her first real Belgian waffle in Brussels, Belgium.
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The result of waiting an hour for your first Belgian waffle.
After our breakfast turned lunch we headed to the Musical Instruments Museum and learned about the evolution of each musical instrument through geographic region and era. The main reasons the majority of the group wanted to go were a.) the cost: free every first Wednesday  and b.) the temperature, everyone wanted to warm up. I wanted to go because I am an Orch Dork and former Band Geek who played the alto saxophone and bassoon. It was really interesting as we had a cassette tape with us and each instrument you stepped up to synched with what would play in your ears. One thing that was very different about this museum was the fact that there were no English translations or explanations. I absolutely loved this because it reminded me of my time in Budapest, Hungary where I literally had to communicate with hand gestures. Before this trip my experience with language barriers was minimal and it was hard to adjust to the fact that there have been several language barriers but, as I said before, it is actually fun not knowing the local language because it really stretches your brain and makes you step out of your comfort zone. 
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Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium.
After about an hour in the museum we left and headed towards the main attraction: the Christmas Markets. The maps for Belgium are not the easiest to follow so we wandered for a bit towards the general direction and soon bumped into the delicious smell of vin chaud (hot wine), bratwurst, hot bread, and grilled onions. The smell was overwhelmingly mouth-watering. Everyone was filled with joy when we saw the Christmas decorations and the colorful lights. We don’t have the merriment in Madrid like they do in Brussels and all of us couldn’t help but become a little giddy – even the boys. 

Once we became filled with the Christmas spirit we began to look for those unique gifts – the boys opted out from this for the most part. Along the first street were multiple vendors selling ornaments, winter clothes, and food. When we reached the end of the first street we were a little concerned that this was all there was going to be. We knew there was supposed to be an ice rink and Ferris wheel, but we couldn’t find it. After speaking with a vendor, who had the most gorgeous Indian ornaments, we walked a few blocks and came upon a winter wonderland. Four rows of shops lay before us and the Ferris wheel, lit up in the jolly green and red,  towered over the ice rink at the very end of the streets. We took our time in making our way to the end, wanting to look at all the vendors, weigh our options, take in the sight of Christmas, and embrace the sensation of the vin chaud on our cold hands. I am proud to say I found some wonderful gifts for my family and friends at the market. They were pricey but all handmade and one-of-a-kind. Cross your fingers they like them. 

After making a few purchases we splurged and went on a Ferris wheel ride. It was so incredibly cold and anyone who knows me I am fine with heights. Until I get up to the top. I was a little afraid and hand to hold on to my friends while we stopped at, wait for it, the top. The view was incredible though and we all were put into the Christmas spirit even more. After the chilly and fearful ride we ate dinner and Rachel and I, the true Minnesotans that we are, shared a ginormous bratwurst with fried onions, ketchup and another spicy sauce. It was gone within ten minutes. You could say we were a little hungry. 
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Rachel Arneson at the Christmas Markets in Brussels, Belgium.
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Amanda, Emily, Alissa, Tor and Rachel with their vin chaud.
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View of Market from Ferris wheel.
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Rachel and Andrea with their joint bratwurst for dinner.
By this time we were a tad bit chilly, the only time we had inside was at the museum and lunch so we decided to head to Café Delirium, a famous bar that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most choices of beers at a single establishment. The total number of beers they offer, you may ask? The answer is 2,004. The bar even has a syllabus that lists all of the options of beer. Emily, one of the girls who seems to have friends studying abroad everywhere, was told by a friend who studied in Brussels that the tradition is to close your eyes, open the book to a random page, point to a beer without looking, and when you open your eyes the beer your finger has landed on is the beer that you order.

Apparently this isn’t the wisest decision according to the bartender. When I went up asking for my beer he asked how I had chosen it. Little to my knowledge he said my beer was really old and had the chance of tasting bad. Instead he brought out his favorite beer, Gouden Carolus Classic, and gave it to me. I am a big beer fan so it was an enjoyable experience. 
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Café Delirium, Brussels, Belgium.
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Larger than life beer caps on the ceiling of Café Delirium.
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Signs in the upstairs of Café Delirium.
Information on Gouden Carolus Classic*:
This Mechelen Emperor’s brew is a traditional beer of the fox hunting of Charles Quint but named after his golden coins, is still being brewed with dark, very well-balanced malts according to the classical infusion method. The aromatic malts and high fermentation process combines the warm roundness of wine with the light freshness of beer. Because of its high density of 19° Plato, the Gouden Carolus Classic is classified under ‘special beers’. It’s also highly appropriate for culinary purposes like stew, game and even sabayon. De-li-cious!

Type of beer: Dark special beer
Colour: Ruby red
Alcohol: 8,5% VOL
Hops: Exclusively Belgian hops

* Information from Brouwerij Het Anker  
We relaxed for about an hour, sitting in the old basement of the bar with larger than life beer caps on the ceiling and gabbed about our remaining time in Europe. It is still hard to wrap our minds around the fact that we are leaving so soon. Some of us are ready, some of us aren’t. I fall within the former. I haven’t seen my family in four months and spend the whole summer away from them. It is time to be reunited. 

The day took its toll on us and we decided to call it an early night and headed back to take warm showers and bundle up under the covers. The next day we repeated Wednesday due to a lack of a game plan. We headed back to the Markets, the only difference in the day is that we actually found Grandmother’s Waffles and it was delicious and cheap and went on a scavenger hunt for chocolate.

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The great Grandmother's Waffles Belgian waffle.
After devouring the waffles we went on a search for inexpensive chocolate for our family and friends. Some of us chose to purchase the expensive chocolates that are more like delicacies for locals and others, such as myself, stuck to the more affordable but still good quality chocolate. It will just have to be a surprise as to whom they are for! After the hunt for the perfect chocolates ended we made our final stop at the Christmas Market and called it quits to relax at a small café where it was warm for the remaining few hours until our flight later that night. 

All in all, Brussels was a great place to go for five things: waffles, chocolate, beer, the Christmas Market and a wake up call for the weather back home. I wouldn’t say it was good for anything else. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of money, that would be rather harsh, but part of me thinks that at times it kind of was. However, after talking to my father and listening to his wise words of wisdom, I realized that not every place I am going to travel to is going to tickle my fancy. Case in point: Brussels, Belgium.
 
Thanksgiving was hard to celebrate away from our families, but it was also difficult to celebrate this year with the Madrid family because we were missing one key member, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle. 

After Femy's death in September we all grieved in different ways. Some liked to talk about it, others kept their feelings quiet and some were upfront and said they didn't accept the fact that she was gone. I think I had a mixture of all three. For the past two months we all have been going about our daily routines and remembering Femy for the wonderful person she was when the topic came up, but none of us dwelled on her death and I think we all have moved on from it as best as we have been able to, however after receiving a comment on a blog entry I wrote on the death of Femy, the emotions could not help but come flooding back. 

Her name is Jackie Curbishley and she met Femy when she was an au pair in London, England. Curbishley shared a story that none of the students knew and after conversations with faculty here I don't think they did either. 

Excerpt: 
I first met her through one of my Spanish teachers when I was studying the language as a mature student in London. I was married with two children and a working mum. My teacher, Teresa Rubio told me she had met a young Spanish girl in Bourne & Hollingsworth (a famous old London store, now long gone,) one lunchtime. She said this girl had come to London via an agency in Spain as an au pair, for the purpose of learning English. The family she had been placed with were Indian, they spoke no English at home and wouldn't allow the girl to attend any classes. They had taken away her passport and she was allowed only one day a week off. 
This to me seemed like modern slavery, and ever the campaigner for liberty, I decided to free her.
I was in the music business in those days, managing bands like The Who, so I had access to some pretty heavy security men. That night I sent one of them to the address Teresa had given me with the express orders not to leave without the girl and her passport and if necessary, to call the police.
To cut a long story short, he had to call the police, but Femy arrived at my house that night, aged 23, nervous and bemused as she had no idea how this miracle had come about. 
So began a lifelong friendship. 

Not a single soul in our group knew this about Femy and I never would have expected it. When I first received the email with the blog comment I planned on reading it back at my piso, but decided to read it while I was around friends. As I read it aloud to Emily we both couldn't help up and think about how strong of a woman Femy was. No matter how difficult the situation was she never complained, she never let anyone know how she truly felt if she did not like something and she always turned a horrible situation into a positive one. 

As I continued to read the letter aloud to Emily we kept learning things about our dear Femy that we never knew. She lived with Curbishley and her family in England for three years, becoming fluent in English while she taught them Spanish; Femy was forced to withdraw from her education in Salamanca, Spain because her college grant was taken away due to austerity reasons; she thought the best way to learn English was to be a stewardess but she decided to be an au pair instead; when her college grant was reinstated she went back to her university in Salamanca and never mentioned how she was doing until she told her family and Jackie that she was getting her doctorate and heading to teach in Michigan as a professor. 

Emily asked a good question, how could we have known Femy so well but not have known all of this? Our minds were racing with questions but then we came to a conclusion: we were meant to receive this comment on Thanksgiving, when we all would be together later that evening and be able to process it together, just like we had two months earlier. 

I am not one for fate and I will be honest, I don't know if there is a higher power or not, but you can't help but think we were meant to receive this on a day where we would be missing our families and be leaning on one another already to help us forget about missing a family orientated holiday. 

When I posted the comment in our group Facebook page the responses were positive, one student even said they had chills. We all knew we lost an incredible women but we never knew she could continue to amaze us without even being present in our lives. Curbishley said it best in her closing statement:
 I will never forget her and we have all been touched by her to greater and lesser degrees. That was Femy. Always loving, always giving of herself, and always a shining example of the best of humanity. She will be sorely missed.
- Jackie Curbishley.

 
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It is perhaps the most acceptable holiday to refill your plate more times than you care to remember and still gorge out on pie afterwards all while being surrounded by family and friends. You eat, drink, tell stories and laugh that hearty laugh and the delicious aroma of hot, homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie, biscuits (I could obviously go on) fills the home. It is Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday. 

This year Thanksgiving Day was quite different than what I am used to, and what many United States citizens are used to. While students back in the United States have part of this week off to celebrate the holiday, us here in Madrid, Spain still have classes, and while you watched football, the 2012 National Dog Show, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade we, or rather I, watched the season finale of Covert Affairs. Needless to say, the beginning and middle of my Thanksgiving were no match to the customary holiday music, family-filled day I have had since I was just a wee little kid. However, the day took a turn for the best when Dani, my intercambio, and I walked around the city of Madrid and he showed me a breathtaking view of Madrid from the top of a hotel. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at the time. It was a pristine view. While I was with my intercambio I couldn't help but think that there was something about speaking Spanish on Thanksgiving that made me miss home even more, but it helped that Dani was intreagued by the American holiday and asked why we liked our potatoes to be mashed. Several confused faces and cheerful laughs were shared while I tried to explain that phenomenon.

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After chatting for a few hours he walked me to Sol where I met the rest of the Marquette University  students were dressed in our finest attire, that we brought with us that is, and we headed to have our Thanksgiving dinner at Restaurante Botín. For over 30 years Marquette has celebrated the holiday at Botín and it was a pleasure to carry on the tradition, even if it meant swaying from your own, and it was an incredible experience to eat a meal at the world's oldest restaurant opening in 1725, according to the Guinness Book of Records

What made the dinner more special was the presence of Femy's brother and sister-in-law who came to have dinner with us, he said they came in honor of her. It was very sweet of them and made all of us reflect on how we are grateful for the time we had with Femy before her death. In addition to Femy's family a few of our professors from the semester and orientation class came. The table was segregated with profesores on one side and estudiantes on another. It was a blast to see them outside of the classroom, share our traditions, and watch them be confused over why we thought this meal was the best meal of the year. Needless to say our plates were spotless by the end of the meal and they had barely touched theirs.

We did not know what to really expect. Paloma and Lilliana told us it would be an authentic dinner, but we did not really know what their version of authentic would be. But when we saw the turkey, and the vegetables we became overjoyed and could not wait to dive into the meal. 

These were the best parts of the evenings delicacies: 
  • Potatoes, they were not mashed but they were very good.
  • Cranberries. They were from a can, but that did not bother me because I love cranberries mixed with turkey mixed with gravy. It was delish
  • The turkey. Oh my goodness gracious it was heavenly. I like dark and white meat and they gave me both by chance and I could not believe how wonderful it tasted. 
  • Last but not least, the pumpkin and apple pie. To die for. I am a big fan of cinnamon and there was a strong taste of the spice in the apple pie. And the sheer fact that the restaurant served pumpkin pie made my heart melt of happiness.
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We were served one plate of food, going back for more was not an option, but it was plenty to eat. We could barely finish our pie, but we obviously did. While enjoying our pie we also were serenaded by local university students who sang "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and classic Spanish hymns that our professors sang along to. It was an evening full of sharing stories, laughing at jokes and embarrassing moments and our professors and directors witnessing some of us dance to the live music. All in all, it was a success don't you think? 

So, that was my Thanksgiving experience. It was different than what I am accustom to but it turned into one of the best nights I have had in Madrid because I was surrounded by my friends who are like my family. We all are grateful for this opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, and as fate would have it Thanksgiving marked the beginning of our last thirty days. Studying abroad has been one of the greatest gifts given to me but I wouldn't be able to do it without my parents, so I give thanks to my parents Elin and LeRoy Anderson; to my brother and sister-in-law and their new son, Nolan (he is such a cutie); to my friends I have back home who are as solid as rocks; to the new friends I have made here; to Paloma and Lilliana for being there for us after Femy passed away; to my health; to all the traveling and cultures I have been able to experience; and my education. I hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day, we sure did.

 
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Christmas wreath outside Starbucks entrance.
Sitting in a Starbucks is far from what I would call a cultural experience, but sometimes you need a little taste of home. So as a treat from studying since nine this morning at the apartment (it is now 7:30 p.m.,  almost eleven hours of straight studying) I decided I needed a pick-me-up and a Starbucks apple crumble latte sounded like it would tickle my fancy.

After walking around the neighborhood for a bit and printing some things for class I ventured to the Starbucks a block away from the apartment in Arguelles and saw my first Christmas wreath in Madrid hanging on the door. I entered and what greeted me? "Jingle Bells," possibly my favorite Christmas song ever. OK, maybe not ever it’s a close call between "The Christmas Song" by James Taylor, "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey and any version of "Jingle Bells." 

I know, I know, it is not even Thanksgiving, but it’s midterms and I love Christmas because it is the one time my whole family is together and the bickering is at a minimal. Sorry mom, it’s true. 

Now, back to Starbucks. 

If you have never had an apple crumble latte you absolutely need to try one. It’s everything about Christmas in one sip: the apple, the cinnamon, the whipped cream, a smile can’t help but spread across your face when the hot milk reaches your tongue and you taste the delicious taste of, dare I say it again… Christmas.

As I type this The Beach Boys's "Little Saint Nick"  just came on and another smile can’t help but creep onto my face, you can’t not be happy during the Holiday season. Music tells you to be joyful (and triumphant), you are close to spending a nonstop, possibly too much, amount of time with your family and you get to eat delicious food. That all sounds incredibly wonderful, I don’t know what there is to be grumpy about. 

Currently, my cute, red, Christmas Starbucks coffee cup that contains my delicious apple crumble latte, is sitting on the table next to my computer as I plow away on Theology. My once disgruntled face is now relaxed as I recall all the unforgettable holidays I have had in my life and the fact that I am very lucky to be abroad and to have had the experiences I have had in my life. It was almost a year ago to this day that I was processing my visa applications to go to India with Diederich College of Communication, and now after a great journey there I am here. It is crazy what the world has in store for you. 

I leave you with a question posed by the great Charlie Brown:  "Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know what my answer is, but do you?   

That being said, as I take my last sip of the Christmas-in-a-cup-latte, I sign off from this blog post and wish you a happy start to the week. Christmas countdown: 37 days. 


 
When people say they are bored in Madrid, Spain my nose and lips become scrunched  together and my eyes become a little narrower, it's a look of confusion and wonder. I ask myself, how do people get bored in Madrid? 

Last Friday I was guilty of being bored. I was tired of studying, I was sleepy and I really just did not want to learn anymore about the book of Judith in the Old Testament. I'm all for an empowered woman, but three hours was enough time with her for one day. Luckily, it was puente (an official three-day weekend holiday) for the Festival of the Virgen de la Almudena, the female patron saint of Madrid, and two other girls and myself decided to immerse ourselves one step further into the Spanish culture and see what a religious festival in Madrid was like. 
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Virgen de la Almudena exiting the Catholic cathedral.
History:
The Virgen de la Almudena (Virgin of Almudena) is the icon of the Virgin Mary and is the image of the advocation, or summoning, of the Virgin that also is the patroness of Madrid. The devotion to la Virgen de la Almudena began in the 11th century and is celebrated every ninth of November. 

According to the history of Our Lady and the history of Spain under the ruling of Dom Alfonso VI it was when Alfonso reconquered Madrid in 1083 from the Moors, who conquered the city in the eighth century, that Almudena made her presence known in a rather spooky manner. King Alfonso VI wanted the Catholic cathedral, Santa María la Real de La Almudena, to be purified after being neglected and misused by the Moors. The statue of Our Lady, placed by the Apostle St. James in Santa María, had disappeared and the King, along with other religious administrators and powers, held a procession to find the statue. They walked throughout the city and around the walls praying to God for help in order to find the statue of Almudena. They sang and prayed while waving scents along the way until at one point part of the wall fell and they found the statue of la Virgen de la Almudena, which had apparently been there, hidden, for over 300 years. The even more spooky part is that next to the statue were two candles that were still burning. At this point in history the statue was named Our Lady, not Almudena. It was when Alfonso and his religious authorities found the statue that they named her Almudena, meaning market or granary, because she was hidden near the Moorish granary.

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Madrileños watching the procession in front of Santa María.
Experience:
When we arrived at the metro stop Ópera the number of people walking around the area was greater than usual. The holiday was only for Madrid and with a number of banks, shops and museums being closed as well as schools and other employees being off for the holiday the streets were buzzing with traffic. 

We headed to Santa María la Real de La Almudena next to Palacio Real where the mass, celebration, and procession were taking place. Along the way were vendors selling flowers, people young and old, the occasional newborn babies dressed in all white and bonnets on their heads, and whole families in tow were at the festival. I had never seen so many Madrileños in one place, except for a Real Madrid game. 

When we arrived at Plaza de la Almudena the square was full. The service, traditionally held outdoors at Plaza de España, was moved inside the cathedral due to the rain, drawing even more people to the plaza. We ventured towards the end of the square farther from the busy streets to watch the offerings of the flowers and listen to the service. Though none of us in our group of three are terribly religious, we found it nice to follow the service while standing in the crowd and take in the aroma of the thousands of flowers that were continuing to fill the temporary wall that was built for the holiday. As we stood for an hour or so we watched people pray, sing, gab and really just be happy to pay respects to their female patron saint. I was in awe with how many people were coming and going, if they had to work they paid their respects to the Virgen de la Almudena and quickly left after saying a prayer, others arrived before us and left after listening to the mass over the speakers. 

After watching the flowers multiply we moved closer to the cathedral to watch the procession that would begin soon. I am not sure what I expected, but seeing hundreds of people exit the cathedral in black dresses and vales, alter boys and priests in white cloaks and superbly dressed people of importance (though we couldn't tell you who they were or why they are of significance) was not what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be an intimate crowd that would exit the church and that maybe they would also say a few words to the crowd outside in the rain, and even walk over to the wall of flowers and give an offering, but none of that happened. I'm not saying it is good or bad, it's just not what I expected. 

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Wall of flower offerings before the mass began at 11:00 a.m.
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Number of flower offerings grew until it filled that evening.
Following the beginning of the procession and the first round of incense being swayed into the air and wafted by the public the heavily decorated gold wagon with a statue of Almudena was brought out from the center isle of the church and down the red ramp for the Madrid community to see. Suddenly the crowd began to clap, then the clapping turned to singing lead by the priest inside the cathedral. While the singing continued the clapping regained momentum and I watched as people in the crowd began to radiate happiness with their smiles. Those who were close to the ramp stretched out their arms to touch the flowers on the wagon and reached further to wards the top, as if every inch that was closer to Almudena would change their lives. The passion during the entire festival was profound. I have never seen so many people in one place to pay respects to a patron saint, or any saint for that matter. At this point I felt really lucky to be a part of a community celebration that I would never get the chance to experience in the United States or possibly ever again. 
The statue of Our Lady and the entire procession then left the Plaza de la Almudena and walked through the streets of Madrid. The street procession went through the standard route of Puerta de Sol, Plaza Isabell II, and the Plaza Oriente. As we left the streets were beginning to become less crowded but people followed the patron saint down the street at a gradual pace. One last glance behind me showed the flowers adding a brilliant hue to the overcast sky and an aroma that reminded me of newly blossomed flowers in my garden at home. All I could wonder right then and there was , Who could ever be bored in Madrid?