Day 1: I arrived in Madrid on Wednesday morning after an overnight flight from Newark. One of my friends (Pete) has been teaching English in Madrid all year and offered to let me stay with him, so I once I landed, I took the metro (which is astonishingly clean and modern, compared to Septa or NYC) to his school and picked up the keys to his apartment. After I dropped off my stuff and changed out of plane clothes, I set out for the day.
First I found a little cafe to have some lunch, since it was already about 1pm and I hadn't eaten anything since the croissant on the plane. I had a nice little salad and some 'pan.' Once I had some food in me, I went to the Palacio Real - an outrageous royal palace. The line to get in was really long and didn't appear to be moving, so I took some pictures outside instead and walked across the way to the museo de catedral, for which there was no line. This turned out to be a really cool little self-guided tour. The cathedral museum housed a lot of the traditional garb for the royal family, which is outrageously delicate and ornate with rich gold fabrics and thread. Sorry, no pictures allowed. I soon found myself following a winding, narrow staircase to who-knows-where. First, the stairway let me off on a little balcony that overlooked the palace, which was a really neat view of the courtyard. I kept climbing (there were a LOT of stairs, which was probably not the smartest activity on jet-lag day,) and soon found myself at the TOP of the cathedral! Wow. The 360 degree view was spectacular. In one direction I could see all the red-tiled rooftops stretching for miles until they blended into the horizon, in another direction I saw green fields and hills - it was breathtaking. I spent a little while taking pictures up here before heading back down. At the bottom, I was escorted into the ACTUAL cathedral, which was beautiful and had a really stunning and colorful design on the ceiling.
After my vertical journey, I took a little respite at the wine cafe across the street. I ordered a glass of blanco from the Rueda vineyard, which I later read was a top recommended white wine right now. It was only 2 euro! They also gave me a little plate of olives, and the wine had a refreshing hint of melon, so I was happy as could be. It occurred to me that my only responsibility for the next 3 weeks is to enjoy good food, good drinks, good people and good sights. I tend to take full advantage of this time, since an opportunity like this surely comes along very rarely in a lifetime.
After my drink I toured the city center some more. I really adore the architecture in Madrid. I'm in love with the colorful buildings with all the little balconies. I stumbled upon the Plaza Mayor, which is one of the most renowned architechtural landmarks in Madrid, and I felt like I was in my personal heaven. Cobblestone courtyard surrounded with outdoor cafes and vagabond musicians. So lovely.
A little while later, I decided to treat myself to sorbet, too, just to prove a point. Yay for no rules on vacation. Around 4:30 the jet lag really started to hit me, so I walked back to the apartment and took a little nap until Pete got home from work. When he got home, we decided to go to gym and he let me use his guest pass. After a good workout and refreshing shower, we headed out for tapas and canas (glasses of beer). In a lot of places, if you order a cana, they give you a little tapas dish for free. Again, heaven? We had some patatas with a spicy sauce, which were kind of like gourmet french fries. Next, Pete suggested checking out a Cideria. I have never seen anything like this place. They give you a huge bottle of cider (which is about 4 euro and the size of a large wine bottle) and you hook it up to this little contraption on the wall with a long skinny tube in the bottle. Then, you hold your glass about 4 feet below the bottle and press a pump, and the cider squirts out of this little spout. (I have a picture of me trying to do this - it's pretty hard work and takes several pumps just to get a few sips.) Apparently, this process oxygenates the cider or something. I dunno - Dad? It was good, but a very different taste than I was expecting. It's not like the kind of cider you would normally get at a bar - it's a little ly more tart. It's probably more pure apple without the added sugar. Anyway, we had no problem polishing off the bottle as we munched on chorizo y queso on bread. Finally, we went to a Chocolateria where I had my first taste of churros y chocolate. We split an order, because any more than that and I thought I would have a heart attack on the spot.
Speaking of heart attacks: can we talk about the diet of this country? Explain to me how the Spanish subsist on meat (and NOT lean meat), cheeses, white bread, eggs, ice cream, fried dough and liquid chocolate and are neither morbidly obese nor dropping dead on the streets of cardiac arrest. I seriously would like to know. I'm doing research on this when I get home.
Day 2: Museum Day! First I went to the Museo del Prado, which is basically the Met of Madrid. It's ginormous, but houses some unbelievable masterpieces. They have an amazing El Greco exhibit, which I would guess is one of the biggest collections in the world. Adjacent to the Prado is the Jardin Botanico, so I splurged the 1 euro to check that out. This was really a spectacular collection of plant and flower life, but I was very thankful that I had taken a Claritin this morning as I stared at the inch-thick pools of pollen spores on the ground. I decided that irises are my favorite flower because they're kind of sassy. Roses are a little too prim and proper for me. The irises also have these crazy multi-color variations with names like "poem of ecstasy." In the garden, I mastered the art of the self-timer by balancing my camera on some stone ledges. People may have thought I was crazy, but I'll be damned if I come home without any pictures with me in them (coughDublincough).
Next I went to the Centro del arte Reina Sofia. If Prado is the Met, Reina Sofia is MoMA. They have an excellent Picasso collection featuring El Guernica, which is basically the main attraction of the museum. They also have a ton of the works of Miro and Dali.
After a quick lunch of jamon con tomate, I found this awesome park ("park" is not really an appropriate word because it does not convey the magnitude of this green oasis.) Inside the park/forrest is a little lake which reflects the Palacio del Cristal. It's essentially a giant birdhouse made almost entirely of glass windows. It's also part of one of the exhibits at Reina Sofia right now, which was an unexpected coincidence.
After a long day of walking around, I came home and showered and now Pete and I are getting ready to go to a Belgium-themed wine and cheese party in honor of one of his Belgian coworkers. Then, I will go in search of the perfect pitcher of sangria.
All in all, I really loved Madrid, and it supports my theory that I could be happy living anywhere. I already feel like I've adapted well to the city - and I've even been practicing some of my rusty Spanish! If I could just do something about the diet here, I think I would love living in Madrid. Maybe the Spanish can live on meat, bread and cheese, but I'm absolutely certain that if I maintained that diet for more than a week, I would have a heart attack.
Tomorrow morning I'm flying to Barcelona! Hasta luego!