Last week I was at the annual European Society for Biomaterials conference which took place in Madrid, Spain. This would be my last conference before the PhD defense, or shall I say, conference/vacation. Since the thesis rush began in May, I haven’t been travelling much during the summer. That was why I decided that I should make the best out of this conference and take some time to relax before the defense creeps in.
And yes, I have finished writing my thesis, the preliminary draft, at least. Copies have been sent out to the jury and now I am just waiting for October 14, doomsday AKA the pre-defense in Belgium. (I won’t go into detail about the pre-defense and public defense, but just know that the pre-defense is much much much harder than the public defense.) I really should start preparing, but after sending out the thesis, I was hit with a feeling of “now what?” It almost feels like I’m denying the fact that the defense is coming up so soon, sort of like how I was in denial of ever having to write a thesis. Let’s hope this denial phase disappears soon.
Anyway, about the conference, this was my third time in Spain in three years. As it turns out, it was not only an academic experience, but I met new friends and more than anything, this was an unexpected trip of gastronomic indulgence, as you will soon see.
We started our sightseeing around Puerta del Sol, an area in the Madrid city centre. Nearby Sol was the gigantic Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.
The Retiro Park in central Madrid is a nice place for an afternoon walk when it is not too hot out, and if you’re in the mood, you can rent a boat and hang out in the pond in the middle of the park.
Retiro was right next to the Prado Museum, which was the next stop on my itinerary. While looking for the exit that would lead me to the museum, I saw this beautiful building that seemed to have come right out of a fairy tale, surrounded by a gorgeous, colourful garden.
And before I entered the Prado Museum (where photography was not allowed), I saw St. Jerome Royal Church, situated right beside the museum. Very white, just like the royal palace and the city hall of Madrid, which I unfortunately didn’t take a photo of.
Here we are at the Plaza Mayor, one of the major hangout points in Madrid. This photo does not do justice to the grandiosity of the plaza, which is surrounded on all sides by buildings like the one shown. The plaza itself actually reminded me a bit of the Capitole area in Toulouse.
My spontaneous walks led me ultimately to the Temple of Debod, which was an ancient Egyptian temple built in central Madrid. It was quite refreshing to see something different in such a modern city.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnd food. Friends suggested the Mercado San Miguel, which is an indoor market with stalls selling a variety of Spanish foods, including tapas, beers, and wines. With a colleague from my lab and some new friends that we met at the conference, we set off for the food adventure, which is always my favourite part of any travel destination ❤
At the top left, we have our first tapas, angulas, which are apparently European eels. I had no idea what it was when I had it, and only found out later on. At the top right, we have the pimientos de Padrón, salted fried green peppers. I cannot stress how delicious this is. I mean, they’re just green peppers, right? Then how do they taste ridiculously delicious??? It is seriously beyond my understanding. Next, we have the patatas bravas at the bottom left, potatoes with ridiculously tasty sauce. I actually can’t decide whether I like this or the peppers more because they are both way too delicious. Finally, we have a unique fish dish at the bottom right, bacalao a la Riojana, fish with a variety of vegetables.
For dinner one night, we decided to try some traditional Madrid-style dishes at a sit-down restaurant. Spanish people certainly do eat quite late, as some restaurants open at 9pm, which is usually when I finish dinner! Here on the left we have callos a la madrileña, tripe stew madrilena style. On the right we have rabo de toro, bull tail stew. Very meaty and filling, but as a Chinese, I gotta say that a bowl of rice (instead of bread) would certainly have been the cherry on top of the cake 😉
Meet my companions, Yi-Shiang, a Taiwanese IDS-FunMate in the same lab as me in Bordeaux; Hsiu-Hsin, a girl working at ITRI in Hsinchu, Taiwan (which happens to be where I did one of my co-op terms in university); and Chia-Fei, a girl in her first year of PhD studies in Taipei, Taiwan. Yup, somehow I managed to hang out with lots of Taiwanese people last week, and I’m not even Taiwanese myself 😛
Hsiu-Hsin suggested that we go see a flamenco show, and everyone agreed that it would have been a great authentic experience in Madrid. So we looked up tickets and finally decided to see the one at Cafetín La Quimera. It was my first (and probably the only) flamenco show in my lifetime…in Spain itself! I had no idea what to expect, so I was super excited to see what it was all about. The show started at 10pm and it was a solid 1.5-hour dance galore. The dance was like tap dancing itself, only with very intense facial expressions on all of the dancer’s visages. Also, singing was a huge part of the show, and what a powerful and stunning voice the singer had! Of course, we can’t forget about the delicate Spanish guitar that weaves the entire show together. Such a unique experience!
This was the main female dancer, with a look of intense focus on her face. It’s too bad that none of us understood Spanish, as I was sure that there was some story behind the flamenco dance. It was nevertheless very enjoyable and worthy of the visit.
Finally, there must be an obligatory “I actually went to a conference” photo. Three years of PhD studies and this was my first (and probably last) ESB conference. Next up: thesis defense!