The women’s tennis team departed rain soaked Swarthmore on Friday, March 7, and arrived in sun-drenched Madrid, Spain on Saturday. Clearing customs is generally a tedious process, but on this day the authorities seemed to happily welcome us to their country. We passed through without a glitch, in record time.
Madrid has a comprehensive, well run transit system that we immediately took advantage of. Purchasing an unlimited metro pass, this will be our primary mode of transportation for the week. On to the metro and off to the Hotel.
The hotel (hostel) sits at the Plaza De Mayor, the principal square in Madrid. Built in 1590, the most prominent building on the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panaderia, the seat of the powerful baker's guilt. The square is a people watcher’s dream, as locals and tourists alike flock there throughout the day and night for dining, entertainment and relaxation.
After a brief respite to recharge our batteries, it was off to a soccer match featuring Real Madrid, one of the most storied soccer clubs in the world. The match gave us an opportunity to see soccer outside of the US and feel the passion that the rest of the world has for the game. Real was down a bit (possibly suffering from an upset defeat earlier in the week that eliminated them from a European tournament) and the 90,000 plus fans sensed it. The tense crowd was not the typical dancing, singing, chanting crowd that one would have expected, but it was amazing to watch those that did. While some of the more recognizable names did not play, the match was great fun and a perfect way to introduce us to the culture. Real prevailed, 2-1 on a PK.
Appropriate with the culture was dinner after the game. Our 10:30pm reservation was at the oldest restaurant in the world. The Restaurant Botin has been in operation since the early 18th century. The food was a little fresher than that. We were surprised at the number of people still sitting down to eat, even after midnight as we were leaving and heading back to the hotel.
Monday, March 10th:
Madrid turned cold and blustery today as we shook off our jetlag and set off to the Tenis Club Chamartin for practice and a couple of exhibition matches. Our access to the club came courtesy of a woman who spent two weeks at the Swarthmore Tennis Camp last summer and a gentleman who played his college tennis at Haverford. The Tri-co connection is indeed international. Madrid’s public transportation system is quite comprehensive, so we arrived at the club via public bus. As we have no rental vehicles, we walk or take public transportation everywhere.
The surface at Club Chamartin is red clay as opposed to the hard-court that is mostly used in the States. For just about everybody on the team this was a new experience. Players have to change their style of play to suit the softer, slower surface. Lobs and drops win out over power strokes in this game. The surface and windy conditions provided quite a challenge at first, but the ladies managed to prevail in each of their matches against women from the club. Today’s matches were all doubles. Tomorrow, singles matches will be the order of the day.
The cost of everything here is further evidence that our dollar is struggling. One hundred dollars will get about 60 Euros. Gas is over six dollars a gallon. A pair of Levis cost about $60. In spite of the cost of things, restaurants have been busy every night and stores seem to be doing solid business. While many use the public transportation system, the number of cars on the road doesn’t seem to be dwindling. I wonder if six- dollar -a -gallon gas would have as little impact on drivers at home.
Smoking, it seems, is as much a part of the culture as anything. It is almost fashionable. On the streets. At the soccer match. In the restaurants. Just about everywhere. Clearly, they don’t have the same concern for the dangers of tobacco use or second-hand smoke that we do in the States.
We are getting accustomed to the tradition of late night dining. Madrid restaurants are at full capacity late into the evening. Our dinners have tended to end at around midnight on most evenings. Our reservations tonight are for 11. Killing time until then can be a bit of a challenge….
Tomorrow, it’s back to Chamartin and then possibly the Museo Prado.
Wednesday, March 12th:
Today we say ‘Adios’ to Madrid. It has been a week full of cultural education, competition, and valuable bonding for this team. Madrid is a city rich with art history and we took advantage of that today, visiting one of the more recognized museums in the world, the Reina Sofia. Our time schedule limited our opportunity for museum viewing, essentially ruling out a trip to the much larger Prado, another of the world’s greatest museums. The Reina Sofia is smaller, but just as rich in art history. On this day, we were treated to an enormous Picasso exhibit including the famous Guernica. It was amazing to see his transformation from his works in the early 20th century to the powerful and haunting pieces of the 30’s and 40’s, as well as his post war projects. The guides were masterful at introducing the multitude of grade school groups snaking their way through the galleries to the history of art. They managed to captivate the children with their descriptions of the masterpieces through humor and interactive education. Had we all had a better working knowledge of the language, we could have benefited from following one of the groups.
After too short a time at the Reina Sofia, we stopped for a very quick lunch at one of the many “Museo de Jamon’s” that dot the city. Sandwiches here consist of a slice of meet, maybe a slice of cheese or tomato (if requested), between a hard roll. Not what we know sandwiches to be in the States, but a good lunch, nonetheless. Ham is the prominent meat in Madrid, and stores stock legs of the pig, hanging them by the hoof throughout the stores. They are preserved in such a way that they do not require refrigeration. The ham is sliced to order, right from the leg, and resembles thick bacon.
Before we had time to digest, it was off to tennis. We hopped on some cabs to Club de Campo one of the largest sports clubs in Madrid. The Club sponsors many competitive sports in addition to tennis including soccer, equestrian, golf, and field hockey for men and women. Like most clubs in Madrid, this one also has paddle tennis, which is very popular here. As there is no intercollegiate sports program in Europe, teams compete through clubs in various regions, playing for championships against other clubs throughout the country.
Today, the team played on some beautiful red clay courts including the stadium court where Bjorn Borg once competed in the Madrid Open. It was a beautiful 65-degree day and the doubles matches were well contested with most going to 3 sets. Afterwards, our hosts treated us to drinks and homemade pastries. After a brief shopping spree back around Plaza Mayor, we had our final dinner (11:15pm reservation) at the famous Casa Lucio. Not only is it very well reviewed but the King of Spain is a frequent patron and Melanie Griffith reportedly loves the rice pudding. Some of the team had the specialty of the house “patatas con huevos” or potatoes and eggs. It is a specialty of the house which people flock to the restaurant to order but we find quite common in the States. We finished off a fabulous meal with a café con leche and some dessert (surprise, surprise) and then made our way back.
Including the visit to Casa Lucio, the team can now cross off three places in the book “1,000 places to see before you die” (Restaurant Botin and Corral de la Morieria. Tomorrow morning it’s a final breakfast of churros and chocolate and then off to the airport. See you back on campus. Buenas Noches.
Swarthmore Director of Athletics Adam Hertz is in the Garnet women's tennis travel party, traversing Spain over the course of the 2008 spring break.