Madrid, October 4-8
As this is my first entry for the Web site, I will explain a little bit of how this works. The entries here are written by both Andy and Liza, in the case they were written by one or the other, authorship is indicated..
I began a journal in Madrid, but I had the misfortune of having it stolen, along with my jacket and guide book, in the Madrid train station. What follows here, is an attempt to recreate the entry about Madrid.
As I write this, the bus we are taking from Valencia to Barcelona is pulling out of the station. I will try to relate a few of my thoughts from Madrid, contained in the lost journal. Madrid, I admit, was not my favorite place. I had heard so many great things about Spain, and I had hoped to experience it. In a way, I guess I did. Madrid is, after all, a very beautiful city. We stayed in a great little hotel, Hostal La Macarena, right next to the Plaza Mayor. We walked around and saw the Palacio Real, as well as timeless paintings by Goya, Rembrandt, Vasquez, Picasso, Dali and others in the Prado and Reina Sofia museums. Still, the people and the culture seemed distant and inaccessible. It was like the Madrilenos no longer bothered to try to be friendly. Maybe it is the result of constantly dealing with tourists, who generally leave sooner rather than later. Maybe they are so assured by their own beauty and that of their city that they do not bother trying to make an impression beyond that. At any rate, I felt like trying to get at Spanish culture - the real, day-to-day stuff - in Madrid would be like trying to dig a well with a spoon: the spoon would be long-gone by the time you hit water (pardon the metaphor)!
To me, Madrid has been always a place to remember and will always have a special place in my heart. Even though since our arrival here I was fighting a pretty miserable cold for a couple of days, I was happy to finally make it back here.
Many years ago, I met Teresa when riding a train from Bilbao to Madrid and as we waited a couple of hours for our broken train to be fixed, I first learned about how people from Madrid our very so proud to be Madrileños. I remember it was a Friday night and as the train was running behind, we got to Madrid around 1:30 a.m. When Teresa realized I was traveling by myself, hoping to find a hotel to stay in Madrid at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, she thought I was crazy and immediately decided I had to stay at her place and met her husband (Fernando) and son (Javier) in order to be safe and to learn more about Madrid. They showed me the best of Madrid, so although I had always heard that the people in here are a little colder compared to those form other places in Spain, I was fortunate to find out that that is not always the case. Walking on the streets and going to many of the places I have seen years ago brought back sweet memories of the time I spent in Madrid.
Madrid is a very interesting city: cosmopolitan and traditional at the same time. You can find it all depending on where you go, where you stay and who you meet. As many of the big cities in Europe you can enjoy musicians playing on the street at all times of the day and the night and it is kind of cool to walk around observing a mix of people from all parts of the world, some of them running around to get to all the museums on time, some of them enjoying the parks or the tapas at the many bars and restaurants that you find all over the city, and of course some people having their normal lives in the middle of the chaotic mix of tourists asking for information and taking pictures of everything they can. Although there are beautiful classic buildings, you can observe a huge contrast between the old and the modern constructions pretty much everywhere downtown.
We stayed in this cute little hotel in the old part of Madrid right by Plaza Mayor, which was a very pretty place in the midst of the tourist beat, but having breakfast at Plaza Mayor and waking up to musicians playing right under our balcony definitely was a plus that I wouldn't trade for anything else at this time. Seeing the Prado museum and seeing Dalí and Picasso's paintings at the Reina Sofia is always priceless, plus we enjoyed tasty Rioja wine and very good food in between our outings and the other places we visited. I really enjoyed the violin concert by the Botanic Garden and really loved eating the yummy “Gambas al Ajillo” (garlic shrimp) and “Vino del Chato” (Wine served in Chato style glasses) at the “Casa del Abuelo” (Bar Grandpa's House). The “Barrio Santa Ana” (Santa Ana neighborhood) was also a really cool place to hang out and to enjoy the precious tapas and other musicians playing a variety of instruments on the street.
A few years ago I visited Toledo, a fantastic medieval city (known as the Ibéria's Rome) about one hour from Madrid. Toledo is an absolutely amazing place and a must-see when coming to Madrid. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to go there this time, which will give us an excuse to come back again.
I had a great time in Madrid and was happy to get some good rest while enjoying the great places we visited and the great food we had. Now is time to go on to our next stop: Valencia.