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We got up nice and early(ish) and headed for the city center of Madrid, where we saw this apparently famous statue of a bear and a tree. It was cute.

I expected certain things from Spain and I was ready to be surprised as well, but I did not anticipate the number of people dressed up like Disney characters who lurked in the plazas.  And they would come up to you and try to talk to you and everything.

I am not a fan of puppets or masks or other creepifying things of that sort, so I was not a fan of this practice at all.

We found the exact center of the city.  Rachel was pleased.

When we reached Plaza Mayor, there were even more of the strange, creepy people in odd costumes hoping to gain a few euros for a picture with them being creepy.  We, of course, would have none of it.  We tried to avoid eye contact, though they still approached sometimes.

Our favorite, though, was the weird, colorful, swaying goat thing.  We decided that it must be one of Anubis’s crazy cousins – the one he doesn’t like to acknowledge in public.

Our next stop was the Cathedral of Almudena.  I love cathedrals with gorgeous interiors.  This one had lovely painted walls and ceilings.

Across from the cathedral is the palace.  We liked the palace.  We especially liked the sunshine that appeared when we were in the palace courtyard.  Contrary to what everyone told us, Spain has not been terribly sunny or warm.  But it had its moments.

Inside the palace, we were forbidden to take pictures.  This, of course, is absolutely horrid for someone whose main joy in touring is to capture her favorite bits with a camera.  So, in a fit of rebellion, I daringly took one quick shot of the ceiling as we climbed the stairs before entering the first room.  After that, the camera was put away and I concentrated on enjoying the tour, resenting the silly rules, and mentally redecorating some of the rather overdone room decor.

We went out to the gardens behind the palace and enjoyed a bit of sunshine, but it didn’t last long.  The rain came.  And with the rain, there was wind which made umbrellas impossible to use.  Come on, Spain! What is this?

Some famous guy.

We thought our luck had turned when we got back to the Plaza Mayor.  By then, it was sunny again and the sky was so clear, we thought we’d have lunch outside with the sun to warm us a bit.  That was before

Not long after we sat down and ordered, we began to feel precipitation.  Rain, you ask?  No.  It was hail.

Yes, pebbles of ice began falling from the sky.  We abandoned our bread and olives and escaped under the umbrellas.  Our waiter kindly replenished our appetizers and we spent the rest of lunch hiding under the umbrella.  Even when the sun came out, we knew better.  And we were right.  It hailed twice more.

We came to Spain for scenery and cathedrals and castles.  I did not expect to enjoy the food quite so much.  I admit, I’m not much of a food person.  I don’t like risking new things and I’m picky.  So far, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve ordered.  This was my fried cod and prawns.  It was delightful.

We finally left the plaza (not before spotting Puss in Boots) to head back to the hotel and get our suitcases and walk to the train station.  Our next stop was Avila.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw snow-capped mountains in the distance as our train reached Avila.  It was freezing cold and raining and dark when we got out and after some confused wandering in the city, we decided a taxi was in order.  It was the best decision we’ve made so far on our trip.

This is the view from our window in Avila.  More on that soon!