Day two in Spain was supposed to be the day I traveled to Consuegra and Toledo in the same day, though I decided I didn’t see everything I wanted to see in Madrid, I was so in love madly, passionately in love with the city, and I’d lost my bus ticket. Do you remember all the (over) planning I did? It all was a lost cause when I left my precious folder with all my precious documents on the plane. That will teach me to be more spontaneous, I guess.
I had only been in Spain a day, and I’d already settled into the low key, laid back attitude of the Spaniards. And I was exhausted. Laura, my friend with whom I was staying in her small European apartment, gave me the key to her apartment with the giant wooden door that featured a small Jesus medallion, and we made loose plans to meet back around 10:30, when she would be done with her evening plans.
I headed to the Reina Sophia museum, which was completely magical. Seeing Guernica, my favorite Picasso painting, was an incredibly moving experience. They don’t let you take pictures, but it’s a massive painting. It’s curated fantastically well, and I could have stood in that room and stared at it for hours.
Instead, though, I saw what I needed to see and left to head to Parque Del Retiro. It was just getting ready to rain, and everything was that beautiful gray color. Contrasted with the bright, spring green hedges, I couldn’t help but feel I was finding my own little secret garden in the city. So much of my trip was spent not only traveling alone, but actually being alone. In gardens, museums, on top of mountains. It was pleasant, eerie, and comforting all at once – but surprisingly never lonely. Everything in the park was magical, and I walked slowly and quietly, the rain drops falling on my skin every now and again. When I met with my friends later that night, I mentioned Retiro and they both sighed. It was, indeed, as magical as I thought – even to locals.
I headed up Gran Via, the main shopping street in Madrid, with intentions of finding a bite to eat. Though I was in a country that is known for their incredible food, I’m historically bad at remembering to eat while traveling. I’ve been known to survive days on hotel muffins. But instead of food, I stumbled upon a giant palace where I noticed people going in. I assumed it was some must-see site and headed in as well to dodge the rain. It was the Palacio del Cibeles, and it was beautiful, had free wi-fi, and an incredible view of Gran Via from the top of a tower that I naturally climbed.
Thanks to twitter, I got in touch with Shana who met me at the Palace, and we strolled down Gran Via and she gave me an incredible tour of this new part of Madrid. We went to Sol, where the origin of all roads in Spain is, Plaza Mayor, El Barrio de la Latina, Marcedo de San Miguel – stopping for tapas and red wine along the way.
At the Market, we ate blue cheese croquettes and drank rioja with an Aussie couple at the communal tables. We had pisto – sautéed veggies and bacon (which, even as long time vegetarian I did not necessarily pick out) served on bread with a fried egg on top. And my personal favorite, thick toasted crusty bread with tomato, caramelized onion, and goat cheese.
In the words of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, Everything was tapas and nothing hurt.
After a not-so-pleasant overnight flight where no amount of ambien could quell the anxiety from the serious turbulence, I landed in Madrid at 8:30 in the morning. With my giant bag that I thought wasn’t that heavy until I had to tote it all over Madrid, I caught a train to Atocha knowing they had locker storage until I could meet up with my friends that evening.
Even though it was just the train station, Atocha is beautiful. I spent probably 30 minutes just wondering around it, partially because it’s huge, but partially because it’s magnificent. We spend so much time and effort making buildings that are transient locations so gorgeous, and that is endlessly fascinating to me. It was also the site of the 2004 subway bombings, and there’s a nice memorial to the people who were killed during that tragedy.
After checking my bag (in my bad, broken Spanish) and losing a quick 40 pounds, I found my way out of the train station and over to the plaza in front of the Reina Sophia museum, where I watched a huge group of school kids in little red hats pour out of the building on a field trip, a dad play a game of futbol with his son, who used their bags and sweatshirts to set up a goal, and two women chase their dog with a cone on it’s head. The museum was closed that day, so I explored on foot – stopping for a café con leche and tortilla – which, in Spain, is like a crustless quiche filled with potato and onion, not the flat flour wrap of Latin America.
Eventually I found myself strolling through an open air book market on the edge of Parque Del Retiro, where I paid 5 euro for an old Spanish map. The whole thing was delightful and wonderful, and old men were gathered to talk smack and young people rode their bikes. It’s only a block (uphill) in length, so I meandered up and explored some more, somehow ending up at the Prado Museum. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of renaissance portraits so the Prado wasn’t really my thing, but it was really neat to see Las Meninas in real life. My favorite Spanish teacher in high school used classic Spanish art to teach us vocabulary, so many of the paintings there were by artists I’d studied many years ago. Aside from that, it was kind of an ‘eh’ moment for me, though it’s entirely possible I’m just not cultured enough.
By this point it was around 3pm, and having not slept and flown across the sea, I was exhausted, not showered, and generally feeling icky. I picked up my bag and caught the metro to my friend’s apartment – clutching the tiny piece of paper with her address the entire time. Without a cell phone and with very limited Spanish, I was terrified of getting lost, though I did anyway. Eventually I asked a non-threatening woman and a baby and she pointed me in the right way, though I only understood about half of what she said.
Shana and I then headed out for a quick tour of Madrid and cañas, where we walked around some cute neighborhoods and saw Plaza del Toros. Though the idea of bullfighting makes me uncomfortable, the building itself is undeniably beautiful, being heavily influenced my middle eastern architecture.
Cañas are the best thing in the world, and I hereby move that we bring them to the United States. They are tiny, cheap, beers, about ¾ of a pint, served with some mysterious set of snacks to be determined by the whim of the bar or restaurant. In my time in Madrid the following things were served with our drinks – olives, pickles, ham, tiny chocolate with cats on it, corn nuts, peanuts, fried eggs, toasted bread with cheese on it, and potatoes covered in cheese.
This is the plaza where we had our second round of cañas! There’s also an amazing mural here that I didn’t get a picture of.
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