Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One really long, satisfying ramble: the rest of Madrid

I'm not sure if it is a thing that happens but when I upgraded my phone's software, a huge amount of notes that I kept in there just disappeared. Unfortunately one of those very, very long notes, contained my travel blog outline. And because I rely heavily on writing things down and because alcohol is a bit of a hobby of mine, the memories are fuzzy and I have tried to piece together the rest of the week as best as I can. So if it sounds a bit disjointed, blame apple, inc. Also, the day to days might start to bleed into each other so I might just make the Madrid blogs one really long, satisfying ramble. It has been months. And I'm still drinking, so there's that. A lot of the details of particular days have been lost to the cloud. I know everyone wants to see every single slide in the projector wheel while sitting my sunken living room, sipping cocktails and eating gherkins but I'm afraid I'm full of disappointments. Let's move on.

I should also mention that I think I've figured out why the Madrid portion of the trip has been so hard to blog about and break down. A lot of the highlights of the trip were due entirely to conversation and the company I was in and after Paris and after Barcelona and Sevilla, I felt old hat at being a local in a city I've never been in. Insofar as ANY of this is of any interest to people who were not there, the least interesting parts of it for, you know, everyone but myself and my traveling companions would be what we spent most of our time doing: drinking together and talking about our lives. Having said that, I'll just consolidate the rest of the trip in this post and hope it is read and enjoyed. Madrid was one of my favorite places I've ever been to and I feel drawn to go back and eat peppers and drink wine and have dancers perform flamenco for me. It's good to have dreams.

I mentioned in a previous post about my affinity for and subsequent surrounding myself by really exceptional ramblers. Well, I just so happened to find myself in Madrid with two of the best ramblers I know, Rowan and Lorraine. I knew from the moment we started planning to meet up in Madrid, it would be one really long, satisfying ramble, we being who we are and Madrid being what it is. The weather was perfection and we decided to walk around to find the royal palace and get our bearings. Madrid has the kind of feel to it that draws you outside, day or night. I was getting that feeling from the moment we woke up and stepped out on the balcony and saw the city awake and populated with beautiful happy people.

After doing one of my top five favorite things in the world (taking a long time in the morning to walk around one's space aimlessly in order to mentally prepare to do just about anything), we left the apartment in search of the Royal Palace. It turns out we were about five minutes away by foot, crossing through the Plaza Mayor in order to get there. We'd actually be crossing through the Plaza Mayor to get anywhere we were going which was always an exercise in diversion. On the first day, and every subsequent day as a matter of fact, we saw Fat Spiderman and his mini me statue. Here's a picture that I did not take.

I don't get him or why he has his own little statue but everyone seemed to love him. He did call me guapa but we've already established that everyone calls everyone else that in Madrid. Why should fat spidey be any different? Also, if I'm going by my internet search just now for images of fat spiderman, everyone who goes through Madrid makes note of him and he may as well be an official attraction of the city.

We made it to the outside of a large palace looking building but it wasn't really clear if it was in fact the Palacio Real or not because there were also large signs advertising the latest art exhibit at the Prado. It was not our intention to actually visit the Palacio Real that first day but rather to just get our bearings so it didn't really matter but I did notice that everyone else was pretty confused about it as well. It wouldn't be an old city in Europe if it didn't have confusing signs.  We walked around to the side of the building and saw a beautiful garden with manicured hedges and plenty of places to wander through so that's what we did. I got some photos.

The hedge homage to Marge Simpson and Kid from Kid n' Play.
After spending a short time in the labyrinthine hedges, laughing uncontrollably about some past jokes and ridiculous new ones, we started wandering around the streets and ended up in different neighborhoods, trying to figure out where to return for drinks later that night. It was just about siesta time and apparently the people and businesses in Madrid observe this tradition in a bigger way than I had noticed in Barcelona. Though that could definitely have been me. Everything was shut down and not a lot of people were out on the streets while we walked through. As a result we pounced on the first open sidewalk cafe and sat down to have more pimentos de padron, more wine and more people watching in the best city for people watching (after New York of course). After lunch, we walked through the Latina district to scout out places to go out for the evening. The city was coming back to life after siesta and things were starting to look lively.

We somehow ended up back at the Plaza Mayor but we came around the "back" way and spotted a Belgian beer bar and sat down for a drink. (At least I think that is what we did on that day but like I said, it all blends into one.) The Cafeeke had a great beer list and was such a cute little place that it became one of my favorite spots.

I just fantasized that I was back there.

I had a nice Kriek and then we went back to the apartment to rest from all the leisurely walking and beer drinking and to get ready to go out for some more leisurely walking and drinking.

As I was getting ready I looked up through the open doors of the mini terrace in the apartment and saw the moon so clearly, maybe more clearly than I can ever remember seeing it. It stayed that way for every night I was in Madrid. I think I will probably always think of Madrid at night as a result. The photo I took doesn't really translate but here it is anyway:

It becomes apparent why I borrow photos from other websites. But still, lookit the moon!
I do remember leaving the apartment and the rest is pretty much hazy. From the photos on my phone (not showing you those) it seems like we went to a tiny red bar, then an outdoor cafe that closed shortly after we ordered a drink. We ended up in another bar where there was a toddler dancing and that had to have been around 2am. At some point I started substituting cocktails for vino tinto because there is photographic evidence of this but I would not have believed it. It would explain the almost total absence of memory of the details of the evening. I am very glad to have caught it all on film, however.

The next day we understandably awoke late. Apparently we were all passed over by the hangover fairy which is quite the phenomenon that occurs during most European vacations in my experience. A visit to the Prado was on tap. I probably mentioned this in the Paris blogs but it is worth mentioning again: Rowan is a super traveler. She is able to find her way around almost everywhere with relative ease and she is just downright pleasant to follow around blindly, which is basically what I do when she's around. My memories of getting from point A to point B are fluid, easy and aggravation free. I keep meaning to ask her if she has the same memories of if or if she is always quietly stabby about figuring it all out. I wish for the former. Anyway, all that to say is we arrived in the general vicinity of the Prado and when we exited the subway we thought this was it:

It wasn't.
But it is a lovely building nonetheless, no? We walked a bit further and found the Prado right where Madrid left it.

The building is not as ornate as the one I'm calling the "Not Prado" but considering the fantastic art work it holds inside, it doesn't really need to be. I had a lot of notes about the artwork I saw inside actually but now what sticks out in my memory are the portraits by El Greco, particularly this famous one, which is very striking in person:

As well as the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch which was, of course mobbed by a large crowd of picture takers. Grumble, grumble. After spending about six hours in the gift shop trying to decide what to buy (I actually bought an El Greco t-shirt) we sat outside the Prado for a bit, making plans for the evening. The evenings start to muddle together at this point in our trip and what I believe happened is that we went to have a drink near the apartment, then had dinner in the Plaza Mayor which, surprisingly, was not a tourist trap and then called it an early night. But I could be wrong about the sequence of all of that. I know. A thrill a minute.

The next day we made it back to the Palacio Royal, inside of which was one grand room after another with no photography allowed. It was a damn shame too because the textures and patterns were so vivid and well preserved, likely due to the no photography rule. After touring the grounds for a few hours we decided to have a nice three course lunch as the Spanish do right before they nap and close up shop for two hours. This particular meal was a highlight for me though if you were to ask me what I ate, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Pork chop? Yes! Pork chop!

Later that night we went to see some flamenco at a place recommended to us by one of the guide books. It was possible to get dinner while you watched the show but we opted for (wait for the shocker) just drinks! Again, we were not allowed photographs or video and I'm actually kind of glad for that since it allowed everyone to just experience the show. The flamenco was incredible. I had only ever seen it during that night in Sevilla and was not certain what to expect. And if I'm to glean from this show in Madrid what to expect from a typical flamenco show, I would draw the following conclusions:
  • Flamenco is one of the most beautiful, passionate forms of expression I've ever seen
  • There is a sense of community among the dancers that, even when they are sitting on the sidelines and not dancing, is evident with the near constant vocal support they offer each other. 
  • I know I have said over and over and over again how beautiful the Spanish are in the cities I visited but the most beautiful Spanish man I saw danced flamenco for us that night. Honestly, he was it, in its entirety. I was under the spell for the length of the show, so much so that it was jarring to see him in a tracksuit, ordering a drink shortly after the show. A bit like "wait, you drink booze and wear leisure wear like everyone else? That's totes weird."
After the show, we walked back towards the apartment but stopped when we passed this alleyway which was populated with a young and lively crowd, drinking and eating outside. We got a table and proceeded to drink and eat and talk and look at the incredible moon. It was a beautiful night (I defy you to name one that isn't in Madrid) and we somehow, accidentally ordered an entire bottle of wine and then got drunk by mistake. The waitress was frantically running around and she wrote our order down right on the tablecloth. It felt like a communal night out. If it were possible, I'd like to transport that place to New York and its environs; we don't really have that community here or if we do, I have not  yet found it. Oh and here was the moon that night.

Or it could have been a comet heading toward the earth.

We took a trip the next day to the Reina Sofia museum which is the modern art museum in Madrid. It was probably my favorite one, after the Dali museum. You know by now how loathe I am to take photos of art but I did it in this instance because when I first walked into this room, it scared the crap out of me and I wanted to remember that.

In fact there were a few exhibits there that scared the crap out of me. They were showing a lot of art films in these little blackened rooms that connected to each other via heavy velvet curtains. There was a room with just old film equipment that had the air of someone having just left a few moments before. I don't know if you know this or not, that feeling of a "presence"in a museum is a creepy one. Of course another highlight was seeing Picasso's Guernica in all of its glory. It is a truly remarkable work of art that lives up to its reputation and I count myself lucky to have seen it up close.

After the museum I remember eating a large potato tortilla which I am actually craving as I type this over two months later. We then went back to the same cafe as the night before, so good was the feeling. And guess what? We got drunk under another gorgeous moon. And in a shocking change of events, we ate peppers. Only these had camouflaged jalapeno peppers and I bit into one and my head exploded. This is the second time in my life that I have done that, the first being in Montreal when I thought they might have to cut out my tongue. It was the last time I was ever going to eat those Padron peppers in Spain and it depresses me still that my tongue was numbed. VACATIONPROBLEMS.

On our final day in Madrid, after a long and leisurely lunch in the Plaza Mayor, we spent the day at the Parque del Retiro, napping away our "hangovers" and people watching and enjoying life before actual life invaded once again. It very nearly mirrored our final day in Paris when we napped away hangovers in the Musee Rodin. I think if my vacations had portraits with quotes underneath them a la high school yearbooks, mine would read: Napping away hangovers in every European city. Here's a photo of our farewell dinner, consumed inside our fantastic vacation apartment:

Rowan and I went to the little Belgian bar down the road while Lorraine stayed in to pack and organize before our flight the next day. I had a pretty great conversation with Rowan and had what we used to refer to back in college as "a moment" which really just means a pause to smell the roses and appreciate everything going on. Before I knew it, it was time to go to home before going home. We left early the next morning, so early it was still dark and managed to get a taxi to the airport. On our way there I fantasized that we were boarding a plane to another plane to another destination that wasn't home. Can you tell I didn't want to leave? Times like that morning and times like writing about it now remind me to always travel; I only ever feel at home when I'm far from home. O. Spain. O the humanity!

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