Spring Break – Düsseldorf/Easter

Düsseldorf, Germany

It was important to me that I returned to Madrid on Saturday to properly recognize and celebrate Easter on Sunday.  With this restriction, there were only two flights from Florence to Madrid in our price range, and both had long layovers in Düsseldorf, Germany.  Düsseldorf, then, became our sixth and final city!

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Views of Rheinwiesen State Park from Altstadt, across the Rhine River

After some difficulty with the cab drivers at the airport, prompting the information desk attendant to advise us not to let “those bastards toss us around,” we secured one of the sleek, black, Mercedes Benz taxis, operated by a woman who had to be older than 70.  She brought us to Altstadt, or the Old Town, honking the horn and grunting German frustrations along the way.

Altstadt is a pleasant part of Düsseldorf located on the Rhine River waterfront.  Crowded with people, from bikers and runners to families and elders, the Rhine Promenade was the perfect place to take a travel break.  The Altstadt district also boasts the “longest bar in the world,” (which should be clarified as the longest avenue of bars in the world), so we strolled down the street in search of a restaurant where we could relax.

Aiming to fill our stomachs with hearty German fare before our next flight, we chose, at random, Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel, for lunch.  Restaurant in the front, brewery in the back, and filled with people, it seemed like a good option.  I ordered pork schnitzel, which I had never tried before, because it sounded like German thing to do (and it is one of Julie Andrews’ favorite things— has she ever led you wrong?).  The schnitzel, as it turns out, is simply breaded meat, and mine was most certainly frozen before it was served to me.  The side of roasted potatoes, however, was delicious, definitely the best potatoes I’ve ever had.  Corresponding with our get-in/get-out sprint to make the most of our layover, our waitress was also a no-nonsense lady, embodying the stereotypical German way.  Like the taxi driver, she was one of the best women to work with on our hasty schedule.  After paying for our meal (and 6€ for a bottle of water!), we headed back to the airport and flew home to Madrid.

 

Easter

With a long week of travel preceding my Easter Sunday, I was happy to slow down and appreciate the special day.  While away, I had missed most of the traditional Spanish, Semana Santa proceedings, but there was one event left for Pascua.  Performed every Easter in Plaza Mayor, the Tamborada del Domingo de Resurección is a drumming display that symbolizes the trembling of the Earth as Jesus died on the cross.  A different representative group is chosen to play every year, but the musicians customarily don purple, the color of Lent.  I was entertained by the joyful cadences and was impressed by the group’s professionalism, especially considering the age range of performers.  Though it seemed like I was surrounded by more tourists than madrileños, the encompassing presence of God was what mattered most.

After the Easter drums, my roommate and I enjoyed brunch at a restaurant that I had had my eye on for weeks.  La Rollerie, just outside of Plaza Mayor, had attractive decor and an alluring menu.  Too cold to dine outside, we ate in the whitewashed front room adorned with fake but festive flowers and fruit.  I ordered La Rollerie salad of fried Brie and teriyaki vinaigrette, and my friend and I shared the cheese fondue.  Though pricey, the dip was worth it, as we almost ate the entire dish, bread bowl and all.

To end our Easter Sunday, we stopped in La Mallorquina.  One of Madrid’s most popular bakeries, La Mallorquina’s two-story building is always crowded, and so for me, avoided.  For this special occasion, however, we took home a mona de Pascua, or a Spanish pastry bread holding a hard boiled egg, served only on Easter.  I did not eat the egg with the pastry, and my experience has me questioning if anyone actually does…

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Though a holiday church service, preferably closed with the Hallelujah Chorus, is my typical Easter Sunday, I did my best to experience Pascua like the madrileños.

Fun Facts

  • The mother of the girl that I tutor is from a small village outside of Madrid.  When I asked her what she did to celebrate Easter, she explained that she revived a fading Spanish tradition with her family.  The night before Easter, she, her siblings, and their children filled an outfit of old clothes with straw, just like a scarecrow.  This being symbolized Judas.  On Easter, they burned the straw man, punishing him for his betrayal.  I found it an odd practice, especially to promote among children.  Perhaps this is why it is no longer as common as it once was…

 

Destination Locations

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.

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Real Madrid v. Roma

If you know anything about Spain, you know that attending a fútbol game is a must.  High on my list of things to do while in Madrid, I made sure to pursue plans to watch the greatest in the game play.  If you know anything about my sister, you know she was incredibly jealous.  I have to admit, I felt a little guilty going to a Real Madrid Champions League game before the head of the U.S. Women’s National Team fan club did, but, with my sister’s soccer spirit with me, I truly appreciated and enjoyed the event.

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Because this was a UEFA Champions League game (tournament involving teams across Europe), tickets were sold differently than those for the Liga BBVA (seasonal play of teams within Spain).  For Real Madrid La Liga games, general public tickets go on sale five days before the match, and you have to go to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to purchase them.  For the Champions League, tickets were slightly more expensive, and went on sale a month before the game, both in-person and online.  My friends and I could not purchase tickets digitally, however, because of problems with American cards in foreign transaction systems, so we had to make the trip to the stadium weeks before the game to secure our seats.

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On the night of the match, we took the metro to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium stop.  Even at 2 1/2 hours before the game, fans for both Real Madrid and Roma, that night’s opponent, packed the train cars.  Emerging from the tunnel with a sea of white versus maroon, we made our way into the stadium and up to our seats on the east side.

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After a last-minute surge of fans arriving in suits, directly from work, the stands filled and the teams prepared to play.  As each player was introduced, the announcer simply called out their first names, and let the crowd of dedicated followers shout the rest.  With the energy and excitement of thousands of madrileños, the stadium was ready for the match to begin.

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Without goals from either team in the entire first half, the game started off slow.  The playing, though, was anything but.  Though I my soccer I.Q. is greater than your average girl’s, I am no fútbol expert, and even I could recognize that this level of play was superior to any that I had ever seen.  From passing, to control, to ball handling, each player executed his skills at a master degree.  Even though they appeared a fraction of their size from my base-price seats, I knew I was watching some of the best players in the game.

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In the opening minutes, both teams seemed evenly matched, each with equal shots on goal and opportunities to score.  Slowly, though, Roma’s speed declined and the team struggled to maintain possession.  In the 63rd minute, Renaldo scored, and the stadium broke out into cheer and song with the canción de gol, or the Real Madrid Torhymne goal song.  Just a few minutes later, James Rodríguez scored, and the Real Madrid fans, after praising their players, breathed a sigh of relief at a solid lead.  The game ended 2-0, Madrid, guaranteeing us a spot in the next round of the Champions League tournament, the quarter-finals.

The Real Madrid game was one of my favorite experiences abroad so far.  I love the energy, camaraderie, and healthy competition that sporting events bring about.  Fútbol fan or not, watching a soccer game in Spain is a recommended excursion.

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The next time I will be rooting for Real Madrid will be on April 2, from outside of Barcelona’s Camp Nou for the game of all games, El Clásico!

 

Travel Tips

  • If you would like, bring food to the game.  Because the event started at 8:30 p.m., Spanish dinner time, we were curious if we could bring our own snacks, and how much stadium food would be.  As it turns out, you can bring your own food and drink into the venue.  The items sold there, like in all other stadiums, are overpriced.  Even if you’re willing to spend, I wouldn’t rely on the supply.  My friend and I spent halftime waiting in line for popcorn and hot chocolate, just to arrive at the counter and be told that they ran out of everything except potato chips.
  • The ladies are in luck!  The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is one of the few places on this Earth where the line for the men’s bathroom is longer than the one for the women’s.  And when I say longer, I mean that the line for the ladies’ room was nonexistent, while the men’s line snaked down the hall.  Score one for the women!
  • Think it’s a little cold for an open-air stadium soccer game?  Real Madrid is one step ahead of you.  The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is equipped with massive heat lamps to keep you warm all game.

 

Fun Facts

  • Players are not restricted to their last name as the identifier on their jersey.  Rather, they can propose to wear any name on the field.  Needless to say, we were confused to observe the inconsistency, seeing Marcelo Viera da Silva’s first name (though I understand why), Cristiano Renaldo’s last name, Sergio Ramos’ full name, and simply “Isco,” for Francisco Román Alarcón.

 

Destination Locations

 

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.