After nearly three weeks of mostly sunny weather in Valencia, Barcelona and Ibiza, the view from the airplane told me a change was about to take place. Snow on the ground near Valencia?
The snow didn't reach as far north as Madrid, but the TV stations in Madrid included coverage of the rare snowfall in Valencia, showing how the residents were coping with the unusual event.
This was my first look at Madrid after stepping out of the Metro station near my hotel. Madrid's Metro system is impressive -- fast, clean, efficient, and cheap.
Other than the fact that the city was beautiful as the sun was about to set, the second thing I noticed is that the weather was C-O-L-D.
Before dinner, I made a visit to El Corte Ingles, the major department store chain in Spain, scouting out the possibility of buying a coat and gloves. When I left the store, a quartet of street musicians was filling the narrow street with Vivaldi.
Next, dinner. I was seated next to a table with three businessmen from Galicia. One of them was generously sprinkling his potatoes with Louisiana hot sauce, a reminder of the USA. The coats on the shelf on the back wall are another sign that it was cold outside.
Friday was not only cold, but cloudy and windy, too. Thermometers read -1 degree (centigrade, of course) but didn't factor in the wind chill.
When I went to the Prado, one of the great art museums of the world, on Friday afternoon, it was too cold to even take a photo, so I stopped back by on Saturday after the wind died down and the sun came out to take this photo.
Before going to Spain, I wouldn't have put "visiting art museums" on my list of favorite things to do, but the visit to the Prado may have changed that. If you ever go to Spain, "Visit the Prado" should be on the top of your "must do" list.
Even on a cold winter day, there were plenty of people enjoying Retiro Park, one of the great city parks of the world, and even a few hardy souls renting boats on the lake.
In Jenni Benningfield's first season in Spain, she played for the Club Baloncesto Estudiantes. The Estudiantes field a women's team in the top division of women's basketball, and also a men's team in the top division on the men's side. On Saturday night, I went to see one of the men's games at the new Arena Madrid.
The general rule in Spain is that the basketball clubs field teams of all ages and levels. During timeouts and halftime of the men's game, teams of chicos took the court.
PDV, Jenni's team in Spain this season, was in town to play the women's team of the Estudiantes on Sunday. After practice on Saturday, the Estudiantes gave them tickets to the men's game on Friday night.
Sitting next to Jenni in this photo are two of her teammates. Julia Melina has grown up on the island of Ibiza and has worked her way up through the younger levels to the women's senior team. Fatou Dieng was born in Senegal and before signing with PDV played in France.
At the game, Jenni told me that the Estudiantes' gym would be freezing cold, so be sure to dress warmly.
On Sunday morning, the Fountain of the Dolphins greeted me when I got off the Metro. When the Estudiantes qualified for the Copa de la Reina, the midseason tourney, in Jenni's first season in Spain, the team and fans joined the dolphins in the fountain in the traditional Estudiantes celebration of big victories.
On Sunday, however, there was ice in the fountain and icicles hanging from some of the dolphins.
The name "Estudiantes" comes from the school that's immediately adjacent to the club and that shares their gym.
When Jenni played for the Estudiantes, the billboard outside read, Pasion por el baloncesto -- Passion for Basketball. Two years later, with a new sponsor, the billboard now reads, Territorio de baloncesto -- Basketball Territory.
Jenni's warning that the gym would be cold proved to be correct. The walls of the building protected the court from the wind, but sitting in the gym felt more like sitting at a football game in December than a typical basketball game in the USA.
On Sunday, the word "warm-ups" took on a new meaning. Players could wear long-sleeved shirts or jackets during warm-ups while spectators wore heavy coats, hats, and gloves.
At tip-off, the fans still were wearing their coats, but the players were wearing only their shorts sleeveless jerseys.
The game was an important one for both teams. In a tightly contested league, PDV needed the win to stay in a tie for third place.
The stakes were even higher for the Estudiantes. At the end of each season, the two teams that finish at the bottom of the standings "descend" to the second level of women's basketball (the LF2), while the top two teams from the LF2 "ascend" to the top level, the Liga Feminena. In 13th place going into the game, the Estudiantes also had a lot at stake.
This game featured a pair of former college rivals from Texas colleges. Sancho Lyttle, center for PDV, graduated from the University of Houston in 2005. Sandora Irvin, center for Estu, graduated from Texas Christian University in 2005
After halftime, Irvin returned to the court with a long-sleeved undershirt under her jersey, but the officials made her take it off before play started.
For Jenni, it was a return visit to the court in which she was first introduced to European basketball.
After PDV amassed a double-digit first half lead, Estu rallied in the second half, and the game became a nail-biter. Down the stretch, Silvia Morales was clutch for PDV.
With the 68-57 victory, PDV maintained their tie for third place in the league. For Jenni, this handshaking line had special meaning because of her continued friendships with her former teammates.
Then on Monday morning, it was time to return to the United States. On the way home, I voted the Amsterdam Airport as the Best Airport in the World. The laptop bar not only provides a comfortable place to work on your laptop; it also provides outlets so you can recharge the batteries before the long flight across the Atlantic.
With the unforgettable trip to Spain now behind me, it's time to return to our regularly scheduled program, as the Dores take on Kentucky in Lexington on Thursday night at 6 p.m Central Time.
Photos copyright 2007 by Whitney D for VandyMania.com.