Crazy, in Madrid they speak Spanish also, isn’t that neat! I fell in love with Madrid very quickly. I arrived at the airport at 5pm after a very short 45 minute flight. The hostel is in a great location right by the Opera and Sol stations. I took a nice walk through the town and have come to realize that I am still infatuated with the hanging hams. I can’t take enough pictures of them!
I walked down Calle Arenal to Palacio Real a beautiful Palace surrounded by gardens, statues, fountains and adjacent to a cathedral. I then walked towards Plaza Mayor and stopped into a touristy little shop and bought a SuperTorro t-shirt. I also purchased a Spanish flag badge so when I get home I can start to refurbish some of my cloths with badges from the places I have been. The sweet shops are wonderful around here, the smells are of sugar, almond, ham and cigarettes which oddly enough attract my senses in a positive light. I then arrived at Puerto del Sol and quickly left as the entire area was surrounded by cops and a chanting mob. There is a small little stretch of street which I would describe as the funniest Chinatown I have been to yet. Ladies sitting on their haunches selling fans and at the corner a hoard of aggressive Chinese massage enthusiasts. One lady grabbed me and started massaging my back and then shoved me into a chair and said Chinese massage, “good for you, boost sexual vitality?” I said no and got up but looked around and saw about 10 Chinese women massaging the feet of several tourists. They do everything with such vigor, kudos to them for that. I am trying to book tickets for Plaza de Toros (the bull fights). Apparently the locals buy all the tickets up the day they go on sale for the summer and sell them for 500 euros! I hope I can find some cheap tickets somewhere as I don’t want to miss this cultural phenomenon.
This morning I choose to indulge in Spanish high art. I was out the door at 9am and took a great walk to Sol under the shade of the green trees on the sidewalk. The sky’s were baby blue all day and the sun was shining throughout the city. The morning was cool and started with a visit to the Prado Museum. The following were my note able highlights: German: Albrecht Durerr self portrait and others. Flemish: Bosch triptych was magnificent and has fantasy and oddity throughout. My favorite image of the painting is the man putting a flower in a women’s bottom. Pieter Brueghel, Van Dyck and many Ruebens were also located on the main floor. Italian: Frangelico, Mantegna, Botticelli, Tiepolo and some beautiful Titians.
The Spanish art was fantastic. Notably the Goya and Valazquez rooms were mind blowing. I took several pictures of many famous pieces of work. The final room I ventured into was basically an Ode to El Greco. I love how his subjects are positioned over dark backgrounds, yet they glow with a light yellow citrus hue that expresses an odd sense of hope. I made one of the art gallery employees laugh as I set up my camera with a timer at the end of a bench and started posing by some of my favorite paintings. Apparently people don’t top model in the Prado very often.
Leaving the Prado I walked through Parque Del Buen Retiro a huge garden that reminded me of Versailles. My favorite location in the park is the huge man made pond which has a gigantic sculpture and fountain on the north side. People rent row boats for an hour and paddle along the pond. It is beautiful to take in and just stare at under a looming shady tree. The gardens are beautiful with ornamental shrubs, roses, tulips and cactus. Walking through the eastern side of the park I ran into several locals playing chess and cards in front of a cafe, they live a great life of relaxation over here! My final stop in the park was the Crystal Gardens a building made completely of glass which overlooks a small pond. In the center of the pond you can find a giant fountain spraying into the sky which pleasantly provides a cool refreshing mist to those gazing over the bridge. I walked up to Plaza de Cibeles and headed west to find the shopping district. I found the most amazing thrift stores on earth. The best location was a large three floored circular shaped building which had private vendors throughout. The place smelled of incense and the sound of Indian pop music was beating overhead. A very cool local hangout indeed. The bottom floor had a chilled out bar and crazy fashion salon where people have their hair cleaned into marble basins. I have never seen so much thrift. None of it was second hand but it was all locally made and original as can be. The center of funk was where I stood for that short hour of integument. I found three stores that sell Munichs. They are the most amazing shoes when you look at them up close. One of them was made of Indian pillow cases and I saw one made of Zebra hair as well. The prices range incredibly from 110 euro to 180! I will be buying a pair in the next day or so as I have no shoes to get into the bars and clubs over here, style is a must. I have also fallen in love, deep love for Diesel and Energie. It seems that in Europe you need zippered decorated with studs and acrylic painted flowers and birds on your jeans to be cool.
At 4pm Helen Voss arrived, my new best friend from Glasgow. I was famished and had sorted out a place to grab a bite on the map. Sen Gines Choclatieria a 110 year old Spanish style chocolate house. Inside it looks somewhat like an old 80’s diner yet classier and decorated with marble and gold trimmings. We ate the traditional churros with a coffee cup full of the most wonderful silky substance: hot chocolate like never before, the consistency of hot pudding but tastes as if you had melted solid Belgian chocolate and decided to dip long tube like deep fried doughnuts. As I say the Spanish are doing something right. We then found the local super market which I always love to visit to check out how they package different foods and what sorts of things they have here that I can’t get back at home. I picked up a one litre bottle of Nestle water for 35 cents! Lugging it around didn’t really bother me, but I knew I needed to have it on me as I was just about to have a life changing experience at the bullfights, which I had heard tend to be rather sweltering hot.
We took the metro from Opera station to Teras and the metro was full of eager bull fighting enthusiasts. As we came up the stairs Helen and I were just shocked: stands full of local vendors selling street meat as well as local sports treat such as roasted nuts, chirros and Spanish candies. The entire place was packed and we ran up to the gargantuan torros building which looked like a coliseum. We had heard tickets can be really hard to find. One of the people in our hostel had gone to get some the day before for the evening and was told they were sold out. It all depends on who the matadors are that evening. It was explained to me that it is the equivalent of coming to see Tom Cruise or Helen Hunt. The Tom Cruise show would apparently have been packed, we saw the Helen Hunt style show. As we stood in line for tickets this wide eyed crazy women came up to us offering us tickets. Helen speaks fluent Spanish as she has lived in Spain for the last two years so she was a great help in getting around for the day. The lady had two tickets for 5 euros each and we thought that sounded reasonable. We had given her the money when a cop grabbed us and freaked out. I was a bit terrified we were going to jail as I didn’t know it was illegal to purchase tickets for the exact same price from someone else. Non the less I played the stupid tourist card and was able to get away from that mess. As we entered the stadium and walked up the stairs my heart was beating like I never thought it would, I was incredibly excited. Sort of like that feeling you get when you are just about to get on a ride at a theme park that you know is going to be fun but also a little terrifying. The entire place smells of cigars and beer, I noticed this as we walked up the three flights of stairs. For 2 euros we got some nice seats at the very, very, very top of the stadium in the sun. People pay more for seats on the shady side of the stadium, up to 100 euros a seat! We sat for about 20 minutes in our designated seats right in the sun and started to feel as thought we were dripping and melting away. Just before the show started I suggested we move over a bit in a shady area as it seemed like the show wasn’t completely sold out. Needless to say we enjoyed the show in the shade much more than we would have in the safari like sun.
The show started with the now familiar sound of tooting horns and thudding drums. The gates opened and several matadors come out prancing like ballerinas in pink tights and their very fancy outfit and hat. Followed by armed horses and a parade of men who do a lot of waving. They walk the circumference of the stadium and everyone cheers enthusiastically. The bull fight starts rather instantly without any big warning (I expected to have to stand for the Spanish national anthem). The first bull, which was blond in colour, darted out onto the ring right for the matadors. I know realize the show progresses to different levels. Initially several men dressed as matadors entice the bull with their bright pink coloured cape things. The object of the first part of the game is to bring the bull as close to the standing horseman as possible. The horseman is equipped with a huge spear…and once they are able to bring the bull close enough to the horseman, the spear is jabbed into the bulls back. Helen was squeamish the entire time and I felt more pity for the horse who gets lamb basted by the bull and is sitting their unknowingly with a blindfold on and surrounded by heavy armor. The next stage is when the 5 or so matadors take the harpoon like things and taunt the bull to run at them. They quickly jump to the side and jam the decorated harpoons into the back of the bull. Finally the STAR matador comes out and all the others leave. This matador uses a dark red cape rather than bright pink, I assume this gets the bulls attention even more. On a side note of education, I assume that bulls can see ultra violet light similar to bees as red in their spectrum is incredibly bright. So the red cape actually acts as a bright object that the bull wants to chase. The matador now has a long sword and the crowd starts to chant OLAY (not the body wash) as the bull continually chases the cape and fails. The matador reads the bulls movements and behaviors, at this stage the bull is heaving and looks very tired. The matador stands RIGHT in FRONT of the bull with his sword pointed directly at its head. The red cape is waved once more and as the bull approaches with great speed the matador jabs the sword into the bulls back. The bull is now at the end of its rope and is heaving, the final stage of the show the matador tires the bull out until it just slumps over for what looks like a nap. The matador comes right up to the bull with a knife and JABS several times right into its head. This effectively kills the animal no doubt. Believe me the entire experience is surreal. The bull is then dragged away by a horse drawn carriage looking thing and everyone madly cheers. Bull fighting is of dying interest. The entire stadium was packed with locals from the age of 40 to 80. Lots of older Spaniards love this stuff but the young up and coming locals don’t ever go as they are more PETA conscious. They kill a total of 6 matadors at a show. We left after an hour which amounted to two bulls, the Blondie and a big angry black one.
Leaving the bull ring I didn’t know that I was just about to experience the most wonderful gastronomic evening of my entire life (thus far). Helens friends met us at the Opera metro station. The three of them are nurses in Madrid but spent a year in Glasgow trying to learn English and met Helen that way as she placed an advertisement to meet Spaniards at her University. I effectively was taken by locals all across town to the best bars and specialty restaurants in the city! First stop was a cute little spot in town that specializes in potatoes bravas (the restaurant actually advertises on their menu that their bravas sauce is patented). Potatoes bravas are basically a potato cut in quarters and deep fried topped with bravas sauce which is a tomato cream spicy sauce. To die for I tell you. We also had a large jug of Sangria between the lot of us and ordered the best tortilla I have had since arriving in Spain (melt in your mouth gooeyness). It was now 9pm and the group was down to 3 people as the other two nurses had a night shift to look forward to. Helens best friend then took us to another place up the street that looked like a little fantasy bar, something from a pirate movie. The bar specializes in Spanish apple cider which is produced in the northern areas of the country. The cider was excellent (and I do mean the alcoholic sort) and we were also given a free tapas of our choice. We chose spicy chorizo sausage which was absolutely divine. I had a chat with her friend about what tapas are exactly and he said Tapas are truly supposed to be free bites of food given with your drink order. Today in many large Spanish cities you can’t hope to get free tapas at a bar as they have become somewhat of a meal alternative to tourists and locals alike. Apparently in smaller cities you can find bars that give you a free plate of tapas with every drink you order. He explained that if you find the right place you can order 5 well priced drinks and leave the bar full from the tapas you are given! Another ingenious Spanish idea!
It was now after 10pm and the night was just starting. The streets were packed and restaurants and bars were a bustling. We walked past a neat outdoor patio spot that specializes in one euro panninis (over 100 on their list!) with every purchase of a drink. I don’t know how the restaurants make money here, possibly at home they are just taking advantage of us! We met up with the local girlfriend who had a car and drove outside of the city to the most amazing restaurant. Arriving at 10:30 we had to wait a while to get a seat as it was packed. We sat right in front of the kitchen as we were waiting and Helen I had great fun watching them busy in the kitchen. This place specializes in a dish attributed to Madrid called Huevos de lucio. French fries topped with mashed eggs (about 3 eggs fried and attacked with a knife so they goo all over the frites). What a wild idea for a french fry topping! Once we sat down we ordered and ate in the great style of Spain which can be described as copious amounts of food shared between friends. We started with an order of the Huevos de lucio but chose to get a topping of fried Spanish ham on top (melt in your mother yumminess). Other varieties were bacon, raw ham and stewed green peppers. I had a glass of white wine with a bouquet reminiscent of fruit punch. It was so fruity and lovely; I detected pear, pineapple and peach. We then ordered the best home made croquettes which I found out are béchamel sauce with chicken and ham chunks rolled in crumbs and fried. These could potentially be my new favorite snack food. Our final food for the evening was a divine platter of about 8 pork tenderloin medallions on the edge of the plate topped with apple sauce. The center of the plate had about a cup of caramelized onions, I was exhausted at this point from continually moaning and going on about how I was so happy. This was by far a great night, the best way to see a city is from a local and I am so glad Helen hooked us up. I have invited the gentlemen to Toronto any time to visit so I can treat him to a tour as well.
I woke up the next morning for the first time feeling completely rested as if I had slept like a log. We first made our way to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid’s Spanish Modern Art Gallery. I enjoyed this art gallery more than the Prado. There was such a wide selection of beautiful and quirky modern art from many Spanish artists I had never heard of. I was absolutely horrified to find out that the GUARNICA was not being shown as the room was being renovated! I fell over in a slump and cried. Oh well, you win some, you tie some. The employees at the gallery are like photo Nazis as well. Photos without flash aren’t even allowed which is abnormal for European galleries. The staff are dressed in common cloths such as jeans so they hide in the crowd looking for photo thieves. I managed to take a few using my vast array of techniques, sneaky I am. We then took a stroll to the grocery store and bought an Onion Baguette, Manchego Cheese, Chorizo sausage and herb encrusted salami.
In the late afternoon the three of us (me the Canadian, Helen the lady from Glasgow and Serian our new friend from North Wales) went to the Palacio Real de Madrid. We took some really nice pictures overlooking the courtyard. On the way to the metro we stopped into a gelato shop and I had two scoops: banana and hazelnut chocolate, excellent to cool down a hot evening. We made it to Pueblos Inglais easily and I was very impressed at how fancy the office is. The company has been running for 5 years now and has grown exponentially. In their first year they ran 10 sessions and this year they are running 80 or so. We arrived early and met all the employees who were incredibly friendly. We then went into the tapas meeting to introduce ourselves to all the Anglos on the trip. We had incredible cheese, corn and red pepper empanadas and about 5 glasses of white wine. I must say I was definitely tipsy during the get together but I met some great people from Alberta, California, New Mexico and Washington. The offices really impressed me as they were very regal and you can tell the company is doing very well for themselves. The Spanish folks pay 2000 Euros for a 7 day intensive Spanish immersion program that people like me provide free of service! I have heard great things about our accommodation in Salamanca. The accommodation is set up so that each house has a Spaniard on the top floor and an English speaker on the bottom including a nice ensuite. I can tell I will be eating well, drinking well and talking my mouth off, all activities which I excel at.
The odd event of the evening: Helen invited a lady from San Diego to go out for drinks with us after the meeting. On the walk to her hotel she told me that she just got out of prison! She spent 2 years in “club fed” as she called it. She smuggled illegal Mexican immigrants and hash into the states and got caught. I was a bit timid to say the least but it was an interesting conversation anyhow. We then parted ways with her and grabbed a drink in the amazingly popular and exciting gay district of Madrid. We had a glass of wine in a stand alone bar, then had a glass of wine outside on a patio, and finally had a glass of cava inside a nice little tapas bar on the corner of the square. I was pleasantly buzzed and enjoying myself immensely.
I leave tomorrow morning for one week, free vacation in Salamanca Spain at a 5 star resort. Please, please check out the site bellow as I think I will be RAVING about my experience there. Until next week, eat well and take care amigos!