Day #11 and Stop #4 – Madrid
Shout out to the Man in Seat Sixty-One for helping me to navigate renfe and purchase a sweet train ticket. Madrid’s metro system is much simpler than Spain’s train system. Well, with the exception of reaching the airport as I’d later discover b/c that is tricky.
For such a large city, Madrid has surprisingly tortuous streets in terms of layout. I missed a turn at some point and ended up near San Andrés, a pretty church next to a café which served me stinky eggs on a sandwich. I am nauseated just thinking about it. Down the street is the unkempt San Francisco garden. But heading north, you find Almudena Cathedral, a both unique and colorful find, then the royal palace, more gardens, a different plaza españa, and then an Egyptian temple. Yeah, I went to Spain and saw some hieroglyphics.
Continuing on, more parks and finally a tower and an arc. After so much walking, I happily ducked back into the metro and across town to catch the free evening hours at the Prado museum. A couple hundred other people had the same idea, so it would probably help to get in line at least 30 minutes early. Still the line went fast enough, and I was able to see the extensive classics collection, especially enjoying the Las Meninas that inspired Picasso and, of course, the bearded lady.
I know I was harsh on the hostel, the Hat, and I still don’t recommend it. But I nevertheless did make travel friends and partake in rooftop drinks (before coughing myself to sleep).
After fueling up with breakfast at the hostel, I wisely started my day at the Reina Sofia. Remember when I said the best museum was the last one I visited? This one is so so so much better than all the others. Yes, it also has free evening hours, but I don’t think that that would have been enough time for me.
They try to walk you through the art movements of the early 20th century, then Picasso’s Guernica, and the decades that follow. My route was all kinds of out of order, and I still loved it. Yes, Guernica is amazing but the decades just after it (fourth floor) should not be missed; they are beautiful! with whole rooms of visual poetry.
After the traumatic lunch that I was served the previous day, it should come as no surprise that I ran to the safety of pad thai. Plus, the restaurant was between the museum and the Reitro Park. Reitro is large enough to forget you’re in a metropolis, and it’s universally recommended by all travel guides. In mid-March, the park hasn’t quite recovered from winter; I’m no horticulturist, but give it another 2 weeks and I’ll bet its in bloom.
Back at the hostel and back onto the subject of food, google maps pointed out a famous churro place, San Gines chocolateria, near Plaza Mayor and so that and the random flamenco musicians in the hostel lobby made for an odd night.
As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I rearranged the whole Spain trip in order to go to Las Fallas and to see La Cremà. But my cold had me doubting that I’d actually make it even as I dressed and ate breakfast that very day. I was so doubtful that I paid for another night at the Hat in case I really did back out. Instead though, I sucked it up, left my bags with the hostel staff, and took the metro to the City Life group meeting point.
No wonder the City Life website never posted that the trip was sold out: rather than setting a finite number of spots for the bus to Valencia, they just kept adding buses! Renting at least 13 buses for more than 700 people! It was clear to me that many were local students (City Life is a group for international students new to Madrid, not tourists). I don’t think the festival would have been especially fun if I had had to spend hours alone. Therefore, I am so very grateful that a seat was open next to Shaniqua and her friends. The three of them turned out to be Americans in their early-mid 20s (actually, it was Shaniqua’s birthday!) who were teaching English in Madrid. I spent a good part of the bus ride peppering Shaniqua with questions about living in Madrid. For her, it was really an excuse to travel. Dan and Jillian were ready to move on to graduate school, except Dan loves Madrid so much that he was enrolling in a school in Spain.
I quickly learned that these three know how to do a festival right! Solo me probably would have walked my feet off and eaten very little. My group, on the other hand, was all about exploring but also making numerous stops for snacks, and food, and drinks, and more snacks, and more drinks!
I can’t actually tell you much about Valencia itself. But Valencians put together wicked sculptures.
I am not at all exaggerating when I say yes, La Cremà is awesome but unfortunately the burning of the specific sculpture that we watched was a dud. Any other sculptures’ burning and I’d be singing praise upon praise on the festival. Here’s a smoke-filled photo of our chosen sculpture not actually burning:
Well, that’s it – I’ll spare you all the details of the 24 hours of travel back to the U.S. – thanks for reading about my journey and all its ups and downs! Special thanks to all my travel friends; feel free to look me up if you’re ever in the States.
For more on visiting Madrid, refer to our other Herrwego visit!