Monday, June 14, 2010

Madrid: rocky arrivals and perfect endings.


I arrived in Madrid on Dec 19, 2007 at 3 am. The first question was: Do I pay a cab to get to the hostel or do I wait for the metro to start operating at 6am? I decided to get to the hostel. I had to crash on a couch until 8 am in the common area of Cat's hostel so I would not have to pay for the night, I had a budget to keep. Cat's hostel is a restored Arab home with beautifully intricate geometric designed walls with a fountain in the middle of the courtyard. After getting my bed in the dorm, I stepped out of the hostel and it was raining. I headed to the Prado museum trying to stay dry. I prayed for better weather. Once inside the museum, Velazquez and Goya, along with the best of 16th - 17th century art, were represented in a display of baroque and religious art unparalleled anywhere in the world. The best thing about the Prado was that I got in for free with my international teacher card :-) My friends had to pay 9 euros. By the time we walked out the rain had stopped. We walked to the Plaza Mayor and enjoyed an evening amongst thousands of Christmas shoppers and tourists taking pictures.

Next day more walking around the center of Madrid. Narrow streets, ample boulevards, people shopping, beautiful architecture, historical buildings and little plazas around every corner. First stop was the emblematic Puerta del Sol. I was taking some pictures and I got lost from my friends, so I ended up spending the day by myself. No worries, I enjoy solo travel very much. I stumbled upon the museum devoted to the history of Madrid. I loved it. After about an hour walking I finally found the Palacio Real. Another free entrance with my ITIC. I was overwhelmed with its portentous rooms decorated from floor to ceiling with carpets, paintings, sculptures, furniture, and wall hangings.

On the third day I stepped back in time visiting a medieval small town an hour away from Madrid called Chinchon. A lovely respite from hectic Madrid. A day of wandering aimlessly in narrow streets where life seems to go a the same pace as it did 1000 years ago, just don't pay attention to the tourists with cameras and shopping. On my way back to the Cats hostel we decided to go to the Reina Sofia museum with its amazing modern art exhibit. I has just found out that it was free from 2 to 9 pm on that day. The originality of Picasso, the audacity of Dali, and simplicity of Miro were the perfect ending of a perfect day.

Early Sunday morning it was time for shopping. I went to El Rastro, the biggest open air market in Europe. You can buy everything, from antiques to gas masks. After lunch I took a nap and relaxed at the hostel to recover from so much walking and exploring.

Bus to Toledo on the fifth day. A walled city with Roman, Jewish, Muslim and Christian edifications. I walked around its ancient narrow streets in awe. A couple of times I to step onto a step of a door to make room for a car to drive through, since there are no sidewalks. We spent 6 hours trying getting lost but laughing all the time. I had a map and I am usually pretty good at finding my way, but not here. At every turn there was a beautiful building or plaza or little street awaiting, so it was okay. As we were walking back to the train station at around 7 pm, the most lovely moon bid us farewell: a perfect amber circle against a dark blue sky. Another perfect ending to a magical day.

A leisurely walk to and around Parque el Retiro on the last day. I took the mandatory picture at Puerta de Alcala, where you have to take turns with the rest of the tourists to get the best view. Sitting on the steps of Parque Retiro, people watching, taking pictures, chatting with new friends was the perfect ending of my fun week in Madrid.

Pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/aranamario/collections/
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