The symbol of the city of Madrid which stands at the center of town at Puerta del Sol.
So here I was embarking on my first major trip in almost 3 years and my first trip alone. I knew that because of my job, this was going to be the most traveling that I will do for the next few years, so I was going to have to make the most of it. I wanted everything to start off smoothly but of course, the "travel-gods" had other plans. Upon getting on my flight from NY to Madrid, I realized that the flight was going to be significantly delayed. After the pilot explained what the problem was in spanish and I heard all of the "oohing" and "aahing" from the Spaniards, I finally learned that apparently the plane had an "engine problem". The pilot said it in such a calm and aloof voice, as if to imply that this is minor and we'll be off the ground shortly.
.. I don't know, I'm not a airplane mechanic, but a problem with the engines seems pretty important to me. The pilot promised to update us on the situation every 5-10 minutes, but I realized after awhile that we weren't going to be hearing from the pilot until everything was fine and we'll be taking off. In the next 1.5 hour I got really confortable in my economy-class seat while being entertained by the conversations of some of the Spaniards on the plane who were adamant in voicing their opinion to the stewardess that "as long as 2 or 3 of the engines work, the plane is perfectly fine and that we should be in the air!!". Finally, all the engines were fixed and we were off to Madrid.
As soon as I left the airport, I quickly realized that Madrid has the cleanest, most efficient and most accommodating subway system of any city that I've traveled to.
Traveling around the city for 3 days, I don't quite understand why New York cannot produce a metro system that would be even half as good with all the money that is put into it... Well on with my trip. Madrid is a beautiful city full of culture and magnificent sights... all this is well and good but was put on the back-burner for a bit while I was busy getting to know my fellow hostel mates and enjoying the Madrid nightlife. I stayed at a Cat's Hostel, full of young and vibrant travelers from all around the world many of whom came to Europe to experience the luxuries that they were deprieved of at home (mainly drinking alcohol) and who was I to stop them. So in our pursuit of the perfect party, I went out and joined my new friends in a "pub crawl".
Cathedral of Almudena
A good time was had by all, but needless to say that after visiting 4 or 5 pubs/clubs and countless shots and drinks that night, I was pretty drunk as were most if not all of my friends. I have to say that stumbling along, drunk out of your mind, in a foreign country where all the streets looks seemingly the same not knowing where you are or where your hostel is, is not fun. Luckily one of people in the group knew his way around Madrid and guided all of us back to our hostel. From there it was off to bed so that we could wake up, eat and do it all over again the following night.
The next day, as my liver was resting from the night before, I thought I'd be more productive and see what the city has to offer.
Cathedral of Almudena
I started out by walking to Plaza Mayor. A great place to sit and "people-watch", Plaza Mayor is a 17th century square filled with cobblestones and containing a statue of Phillip III. Sitting and drinking your coffee at a place that was the site of bullfights and events of the Inquisition, you cannot help but be amazed and just take in the history. I then headed down to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real). The plaza in front of the Royal Palace is an exquisite site full of beautiful large lampposts with the view of the grand Cathedral of Almudena in the background. King Philip V based the design of the royal palace on the palace at Versailles as he was born there and was the grandson of Louis XIV.
Honestly, having seen the palace at Versailles, the royal palace in Madrid although beautiful does not come close. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed after exiting the palace. The rest of the day I just spent walking around the quiet streets of Madrid, taking in the culture and enjoying myself immensely. Still it took me a couple days to get used to the eating schedule of the Spaniards. Being from NY, I was used to having dinner between 7-9 pm. In Spain, they like to have small meals (little sandwiches, tappas, etc. ) after work anywhere from 6-9 pm and then restaurants serve dinner from 10-11:30 pm. For the first few nights I was so hungry and to my dismay all I could find were little shops that sold hot/cold little sandwiches.
Prado Museum. A painter is copying a masterpiece.
That was until I found a kabab stand near by to my hostel that made a Doner Kabab the size of my head which was cheap and tasty as hell... having a slight cash-flow problem and being hungry as hell in the evenings, this delicacy was exactly what I needed.
The next day, I thought that while in Madrid I should enrich my palate with certain local cuisine. So for I chose to have the Spanish Omelette for breakfast. After thinking "how bad can it be, it's just an omelet?", I took my first bite and realized that I would not have fond memories of this breakast. Maybe I should have asked the ingredients as I am sure that some people enjoy lots of oily potatoes mixed with onions, peppers and eggs into a huge big mess, but I sure didn't.
After my second orange juice in an attempt to erase the taste of the Spanish Omelette, I continued my exploration of Madrid. I usually do not visit museums when I'm in Europe but I figured that Madrid has at least 3 of them that everyone says I have to see, so I must see at least one. I chose the Prado Museum. I was especially fond of the Goya Exhibit that they have marking the 200 year anniversary of the protests of Madrid's citizens against the French occupation. The 2 paintings that Goya is probably most famous for (May 2nd and 3rd, 1808) are amazing in person but it was the collection of 80 of Goya's pencil sketches that really impressed me, mainly because I've never seen them before. The sketches were filled with great emotion, vivid imagery and told great tales of life in Spain in 18th and 19th centuries.
Unfortunately, they did not let me take any pictures. After exiting the museum, I visited the Retiro Park which is right next door. Retiro Park is beautiful and majestic with many trees and bushes cut into various shapes and is just a good place to walk through on a nice day. Plus at one end of the park lies a little pond with what has to be a group of the fattest ducks on the planet. I don't know if it's because the tourists are feeding them french fries or what, but I just could not believe the size of these ducks. One of them even had trouble swimming to the other end of the pond, deciding to return back to our side after getting half way there and nearly drowning.
Overall, Madrid is a nice, quiet European city with lots of charm and full of culture.
Obese ducks of Retiro Park
Everything just looks magnificent especially at night when the many lamps and lampposts across the city are lit up. Many people take in a bullfight while in Madrid but after seeing one on TV, I figured that I see enough gruesome things at work and chose to pass on the bullfight. I could definitely see myself living in Madrid once I master the spanish language a bit more. From there it was off to Barcelona