Thursday, November 3, 2011

Half-term hols in Spain: Madrid

(Waay belated final post on the holiday that was, in reality, less than two weeks ago but feels like two months.)
I think Madrid was my favorite city of the three we visited, and a lot of that could stem from the excellent hostel experience that we had and the fact that we were finally getting used to the Spanish way of life.
We started our first day with a free, hostel-organized walking tour of Madrid. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable and hilarious Argentinean turned Madrileno and the morning was the perfect introduction to Madrid’s history and city plan.

Madrid's Cathedral

By the time it ended at 3.30 we were all starved and so our tour guide recommended a place for lunch. It’s usual in Spain to eat a set-price lunch, so for €10 we got two courses (which we all shared, like we do), a drink (agua), bread, a dessert, and a cafe con leche. Ahmazing. Finished eating at about 5.00, so it really felt like the true Spanish lunch experience.
That evening, we went to the Prado Museum with some of our new friends from the tour (two boys studying in Geneva who had literally no travel tips for my semester We only covered the highlights—Velasquez, El Greco—because we knew we were going to go back later. #museumnerds

After a night filled with drinking games at the hostel and lots of temporary American friends, we woke up early the next morning to see the Palacio Real de Madrid. It was lovely, although all of the ornate rooms did sort of run together. A highlight was seeing five Stradivarius instruments from the seventeenth century that are still used at royal functions, and the ornate chapel.

Armed with the most. delicious. gelato, we stopped at the Caixa Forum, a free contemporary and performance art space where, a little confusingly, the exhibits were on Delacroix (French Romantic artist, nineteenth century) and Teotihuacan (ancient Mexican city). Not what I was expecting, but nice nonetheless.

We napped in the sun at the Parque del Buen Retiro and then ended our day at the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s world-class contemporary art museum. This is the home of Picasso’s famous Guernica, and what a sight was. The exhibit included a fascinating photo series of the painting’s progress over time, as well as his preparatory studies in pencil, paint, and clay. We mostly wandered through this museum with only a very basic agenda, which was great and exposed us to some great pieces of art we might not have found otherwise.

Our final day in Madrid was spent solely at the Prado. Four hours, and we still only saw the highlights. Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya’s The Third of May...all sorts of paintings you see in textbooks and on PBS travel shows (ahem, Rick Steves). I literally walked around with my mouth open in disbelief at the amazing art around me. So beautiful. What a perfect way to spend our last day in Spain.

A cafe con leche at the Prado as an adios to Spain

After some more of that gelato, we packed up, caught the Metro to the airport, and landed in London a couple hours later, never happier to hear British accents and smell the Tube. (The air in the tunnels has a very distinctive smell. Not bad, just distinctive.) What a trip, what an adventure, what an experience!
Still, Spain has nothing on England. This country truly has my heart. xo

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