Sunday, September 12, 2010

Madrid, and it's over!

After a whole hour or so of sleep, we all woke up and went to an early breakfast. I said goodbye to David, and we hopped in a cab to catch a train to Madrid. Kelly, Corey and I arrived and got off the train with no semblance of an idea of where to start. We wandered past the Reina Sofia Museum and up a busy street. After poking our heads into a pet store (which house ferrets, hedgehogs and groundhogs), we found ourselves a hostel on a side street near the Prado called Hostal Cervantes. Our landlord Fabio hooked us up with a key, and after giving our tuckered out legs a much needed rest, we took off to explore the city. Per suggestions of Jon Brown, a friend of mine who had just studied for several months in Madrid, we went to Plaza Mayor which is one of the biggest and most popular plazas in the city. There are all sorts of artwork and souvenir shops and restaurants in the area, and it was very cool to look at the old architecture and paintings on the walls of the buildings.
From here, we walked down to Plaza del Sol, another very famous old part of the city that was busy and loud. This led up a shopping path to Plaza de Callao, so we shopped a bit and stopped for food. From here, we went to check out the Royal Palace, as Madrid is the capital of Spain, but it was closed for the day so we saw the Cathedral instead. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at El Mercado de San Miguel, which was absolutely amazing. Like an upscale farmers market, each vendor had a permanent shop selling fish, beer, wine, cheeses, desserts, etc. We each picked a vendor and got 3 of a small dish to share with each other, so it was a fun little potluck of sorts. Paired with wine, the food was good enough to distract from aching feet and tired bodies. Shortly after dinner, we all crashed and were in bed and asleep by 9:00 pm.
We woke up at 8 am the following morning, ready to take on El Museo del Prado. There was no line because of our early arrival! We went right in for just 4 euros, and picked up audioguides for 3 euros each. I was SO in my element, and it felt very cool.Kelly and Corey had their own personal tourguide, and the audio parts were only there for reinforcement! :) Thank you, Art History classes! Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and Velasquez's Las Meninas were probably my favorite. It was an amazing comfort to feel so at home in such a foreign place because of this common love for art. It was just.. great and possibly my favorite sight we saw.
After this ,we went to El Parque del Retiro, which is next to the Prado. We picked up some bocadillos (small cheap sandwiches) and sat on a park bench overlooking the paddle boat lake as we ate. We got a paddle boat and rotated rowing it ... it was hard, but a total blast and well worth the 4,55 Euros.
I went back to the hotel to nap while the other two explored, and we met back up at the hostel to explore the palace. Ran into some SASers on the way and said hello, and continued on to see the official Royal Residene of the King himself! (Even though no one really does live there.) It was enormous, very baroque/over the top, and very beautiful. Every room was themed. One king had a room to himself and was painted into the ceilings in addition to paintings of himself hanging from the wall (how awkward!). The ornamental designs and wall embroideries were beautiful, and this possibly rivaled the Prado visit. We left here, grabbed some grub, and headed back to shower. We each picked up a bottle of wine for 1 Euro, and finished them off before hitting the clubs. On our wandering path to nightlife, we ran into our SAS friends from earlier and stuck with them for the rest of the evening. Even though we ended up in a bar/club that played American classic rock tunes, it was nice to have a slice of home after having been away for so long.
The morning was rushed as we were not in good shape for travel. We woke up late and hadn't packed yet, and ended up missing our train. Because of this, we got on the next one, which broke down after an hour in the middle of nowhere. It finally got fixed, but put us in Cadiz to catch our boat 25 minutes after dock time. This means I acquired dock time in the following port: 3 hours restricted to the boat for every 15 minutes we are late. As we arrived in Morocco the following morning, I was sick with a fever and glad for the excuse to stay on the ship the entire day.
Overall, I really loved Spain. Even with the bland food and not loving Madrid, the culture was vibrant and the general vibe and way of life relaxed. Children are out until 1 am with their families, and everyone is laid back. Sevilla is full of color, and definitely a place I'd visit again, and I learned the importance of solid footwear (flip flops are not the way to go!) as Europeans walk everywhere!

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