5.7.09 Magnificent Madrid

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5.7.09 Magnificent Madrid


We love Madrid!  It is gorgeous with lovely architecture, parks, trees, sparkling blue skies, warm breezes, sunshine and generally nice people (even for those of us terrible at Espanol).  The people here are much more casual than Paris, wearing some jeans, shorts, and practical clothing. 


There seem to be just as many cafes and outdoor eateries as we found in Paris, but the prices are very reasonable.  Spanish Omelette (3E), ham and cheese croissant (4E), and the Spanish wine that Orla and Keiran told me about, Rioja, for 2.40E per glass.  That is less expensive for wine than for any soft drink (2.50)!  Can you believe that?  Well, I like to save money!


We pay just 3E per washer load of laundry at the campground.  There are 2 washers, no dryers, so we use the large drying rack and octopus from Sugar.  Works great, but “work” is the key word.  We finally took the 2 loads from last night outside and they dried all day in the sun.


Last night, after checking in the campground (she needed my passport- I guess they have to “register” us), we walked the very short distance (1/2 mile) on easy sidewalks and nice bike/walk path over a pedestrian bridge over the highways to the Metro. 


The Metro is great and is just 7.40E for a book of ten rides!  That is so inexpensive per ticket!  So we took it in at about 6pm last night to get a look around.


Jazy had done research for us and took us to the main square, Playa Major, where everything of historical and cultural significance has happened for centuries.  We enjoyed tapas at an outdoor café around the corner- delightful!  We used our “Top 10 Madrid” book and tried to order Spanish specialties- things like potatoes, omelets, cured ham sandwich, etc. 


It was a beautiful evening with the moonlight and we did the Spanish thing by staying up late.  Did you know they don’t even think of eating before 9pm and 10pm is better?!  Food is tapas before that (little appetizers).  Since siesta is from around 1-5 pm when things close and sunset isn’t until 9:30pm, this is understandable.




We slept late and finally got into town by 10:30 am and had a great day.  All the flowers and trees are blooming, sending copious amounts of pollen into the air, so that sometimes it looks like snow.  Everyone is sneezing and coughing, but Jazy is truly suffering.  She’s miserable, but was a real trooper today.


First we started the day by sitting in the sunshine at an outdoor café along cobblestone streets, eating chorros (doughnut-like sticks about 10’ long) with hot chocolate.  This is not your normal hot chocolate.  No- better.  This is *melted chocolate*!  Oh yes!  It’s a full cup of chocolate served with a little spoon.  The cup and saucer are one piece and painted to look like your chocolate has already spilled some, I guess to make you feel better about the mess you’ll make as you dip your chorros.  Wow, it was sinfully delicious!  We couldn’t eat all the chocolate, even with extra orders of chorros.  They made sure we had plenty, but it was too rich for us to drink.  Delicious!


Then we wandered an artists’ market near the old monastery, where we bought beautiful earrings.  We decided not to go into the monastery since Mass had started.  We enjoyed 6 floors of a huge department store, but only bought an empadrillo and eclaire from the takeaway counter in the basement deli.  A huge food supermarket was located in the basement and although we didn’t stop there, managed to accidently ride the escalator to the parking garage exit. 


Found a phone card at a Newspaper stand, which was near the lottery stand and a tobacco stand, which really did only sell tobacco products.  Usually, in other countries, we have found those 3 functions served in one booth.


Lia got a flamenco dancer’s dress and some castenets!  She’s adorable in it, but I won’t let her practice the noisy castenets yet. 


Finally we made it to the Prado Museum, considered one of the top 3 museums in the world!  It was free for the kids and 9E for me- on some days it is free (Weds, Sat, and Sun afternoon?), but I think that is only for EU citizens.  There was no line for tickets and we made it through the intense security and bag check fine.  We remembered to pick up a map at the info desk as we entered (which we missed at the Louvre in Paris).  We also marked our entrance on it, which later turned out to be a smart move as we had to ask twice to find our way to the right bagcheck area and exit.  It is a massive place.


The kids were terrific troopers and armed with Rick Steves’ Mona Winks info on self-guided tours of Europe’s best museums and the info in the Top 10 Madrid book, we coordinated as best we could with the map of the Prado to find the key pictures and read about their significance and what to notice.  It is very hard work!  


We had to take a café break as the natives were getting restless.  Prices were reasonable although the 2 diet cokes totaled over 5E.  We take some water bottles with us, but ran out.  It is not easy in cities to find reliably potable water with which to refill one’s bottles.  We did buy a big 1.5 liter water (1.5E) today, but had coat checked it.


Back to the Prado- fabulous!  We really enjoyed the Goya, Velázquez, Raphael, and Murillo paintings.  We have seen a lot of naked people lately in the paintings and statues.  The kids seem unfazed by it all, although some of the violence in the pictures can be disturbing.  Europeans have been through some horrific wars, dictators, kings, and uprisings!   Reading the story behind the paintings creates context for learning about history.


By now poor Jazy is feeling cold chills and Charles now has a cramping stomach pains.  We lay on the grass outside and enjoy the perfect day.  A man plays delightfully soft music nearby on an amped acoustic guitar while children dance nearby.  Lia tips him twice.


One of my best moves was to give Lia all my small change, 10 & 20 cent coins.  She spends much of her time trying to decide which busker or charitable opportunity she should provide for and deciding between the 10 or 20 is a real debate.  I finally suggested last night that if Charles could do it, then the busker probably shouldn’t be tipped much.  But if it required real skill, talent or work for that person, then maybe that is worthy of tipping.  We laughed hard about the busker who had his head down in his shirt and a hat on a clothes hanger up above, as if he had no head.  Some of these folks just need a little more practice, but you have to give it to them for trying.  Others really add terrific atmosphere to a place.  Madrid seems to have a nice selection of such entertainment. 


Such buskers and any begging was forbidden in Paris.  We saw police stop one time on the bridge by the Eiffle Tower to get a guy selling little trinkets, but his display is designed for the one-handed grab-and-run technique and he took off running, so the police got back in his car and left.  An interesting technique to avoid the police are these women who work the Eiffle Tower tourist area.  They work the area by saying, “Speak English?” and if you respond, they hand you a paper on which a very sad story is written about their life and ask you for help financially.  See, that way they cannot be called down for begging- they have only spoken to you with 2 words.  “Speak English?”  Your response should be ignoring this, as if you don’t speak English.  They worked the area every day we were there. 


Back to our day:  We walked- rested- walked the few blocks to the metro, but had to stop for a bathroom break because Charles was so sick.  While waiting for him, we ordered wine and chips under the trees, then more food for dinner.  Although it looks like 4pm, it is now almost 7pm and dinner time for us.  A little bread gave Charles the energy to get on the subway, although we made sure to put him in a seat and give him a bag just in case.  He made it to the camper fine thankfully.


Madrid:  We loved it!  We did not get to see enough of it- 2 nights is far too short.  But we walked the beautiful old city.  The feeling is relaxed, the food and wine delicious and well-priced, the weather was gorgeous- this seems like a great city!  I would love to return and spend more time here.  We have identified not a single American here other than us.


I take that back.  Just before our stop on the subway home, I gave our ticket book to the nice family beside us since it had 4 rides left on it.  It turned out that the father was from Boston and their daughter was born there!  Everyone is surprised we are from Texas, as most people guess England, since it is closer.  Spain does seem interested in the U.S. as I’ve read- one whole floor of the department store was labeled for Estats-Unis!


Must go- battery low.  A lovely day in exotic, beautiful Madrid!

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photo by: vulindlela