Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What I did in Madrid

The short and sweet: Madrid, capital of Spain, is pretty nice. True it's a big city, but it's got a huge old section with at least six cafes or restaurants on evey block and four more in every square. The biggest plazas, like Plaza del Sol and Plaza Real (Royal), have many more and shops galore, and are must-sees. I love the "Tio Pepe" sign at del Sol, it's like the neon cowboy of Vegas.
Of course I had to visit the Prado, touted as "One of the great art museums of the world". The local fliers claimed it was "possibly the best in the world." That's debatable, especially as the vast majority of paintings there are Spanish, and the Louvre is probably twice its size, but it was still a nice afternoon well-spent. It was pretty cool to finally see the originals of some art I had long admired, such as Bosch's fantastical "Garden of Earthly Delights", that masterpiece that was centuries ahead of its time. I never realized it was created in the 1500's; it looks so amazingly modern. It was done back when most other artists were still painting the same, tired old Madonna and Child scenes they'd been doing since medieval times. Even portraits of nobles hadn't yet really come into fashion. We're talking truly radical thinking here. There were some others too, and I'm pretty sure I saw every single one that day, which is more than I could ever accomplish at the Louvre.
Another highlight I didn't want to miss was the San Miguel Market, but it was closed for renovations. No problem, it was right around the corner from the Plaza Mayor, an elegant square that once held auto-de-feys of the Inquisition and even bullfights. Today it's a bit more civilized, with street performers and (mostly) charming little shops and restaurants beneath the arcaded perimeter. (Unfortuntately the huge Rastro flea market which I had read about is held only on sundays-- I wasn't there for that).
I spent one evening conversing at a cafe with an American couple from Philly, I think it was. The mddle-aged man didn't even know the Spanish word for beer (cerveza) and was having trouble ordering. Same with his dingy wife who kept asking for water, and hadn't bothered to learn that it's called agua here (and lots of other places, like the other half of her continent-- ever heard of South America, lady?). It annoys me when tourists don't take a little time to learn a few basic words of the local lingo; I make a point of learning hello, please, thank you, yes and no, and goodbye at the very minimum. If you can't even say bon jour when you walk into a shop in Paris you're immediately seen as a clod and a bumpkin (and the prices will immediately rise accordingly). Anyway I helped them out for which they and the perplexed waiter were grateful, and we had a nice discussion about Spain. When you travel alone you tend to remember the few conversations you have in English.
I also spent an afternoon walking the huge Retiro Park with its beautiful ponds hosting ducks, geese and other birds, one lake fronting the all-glass crystal palace (disappointingly empty inside), and the nearby botanical gardens, an impressive collection of trees and plants from all over the world. On the way back I found something quite a bit less appealing: in a local pet shop there were cages overflowing with mice who were all desperately clinging to the inadequate air holes, obviously because the overcrowding was makind the air stale and foul, and probably hot as well. I waited a while to speak to the store clerk about it (not that I expected anything to be done, but just to let him know people notice such things), but here was a line that seemed to be going nowhere while he yakked on the phone. I left frustrated and angry. As usual, even if I was to complain to the authorities I had no idea who, and was certain in Spain nothing would be done anyway. And I was also due to leave in an hour anyway. Just one more example of animal neglect (bordering on abuse, really) ignored by the very people who were supposed to be taking care of them.

The rest of the time was spent wandering the old streets, perusing shops and stopping occasionally at a cafe. By the way, I don't really party much at all while traveling; I'm less like those young Globetrekker people who look for the discos that have bubble-dancing and more like the Savvy Traveler, that greying guy who at the end of a day of sightseeing, relaxes at a table with a glass of wine. That's more my speed. Only it's more often beer, or just hot chocolate. I searched for that ultra-thick cocoa that Samantha Brown touted on one of her shows--where she rested a spoon on top of it-- and found some fairly thick stuff (along with delicious churros to dip in it) but it was never quite like what was shown on tv. Maybe I didn't order it right; next time I'll be sure to research it better before I go.

Next: Back to England and then-- who knows?

1 comment:

Marisa said...

Hi Dave, I know you from YouTube, we briefly exchanged views about the evil bullfights and how we Spaniards feel about them (we´re against!), or at least the majority.

Just VERY quickly browsing through, read about the horrid shop with the mice in dreadful conditions and how you don´t expect any complaints to get anywhere. Although I totally understand you, never underestimate the power of a single complaint. You never know who you might bump into, and there are many, many caring people here as well as way too many uncaring ones, but it´s best to try your luck just in case. Keep up the excellent work, and I´ll try and visit again with more time. Hugs.