Im heading for Spain. Well, no, actually Im back home on rainy Vancouver Island, but Im posting as if I'm travelling to Spain, using notes and photos. So here goes.
Our plan: fly to Madrid, spend a few days in Madrid, then head south through Andalusia, west through Portugal, and then, four weeks later, end up in Lisbon.
The worst part of travel is of course flying. At least between books and movies and meals and sleeping and drinking the time on a plane passes quickly, if not forgetfully. Today I watched an HBO show and part of a movie. I couldn't hear most of the dialog. There were three trips through security, each different. The US I think has the most border security layers. Newark security featured a photo-based control which I think I failed as I got extra questioning. Newark airport is terrible, worse than Dulles: no signage, no maintenance, horrible food selection, it looks like a dump. I read a Ben Marcus short story and Rick Steves and then I started an Othello audio book. I popped a calming pill on the last leg, Newark to Madrid. Too snug, too far back in the plane, I started thinking there is no place to land between Newark and Madrid. I started a recent Helen Mirren movie. I fell asleep.
Our flight arrived Madrid an hour early, 9 am. We took the express bus to Atocha station, which is near the apartment and museums. A transit station that's in a great neighborhood.
Next we walked ten blocks to the Apartments Las Letras, on Plaza de Matute. We are there by 11 and check in. A bored young woman sat at the hotel desk. The apartment was disappointing and, we'll discover, will tie for worst with the hotel in Evora. The window opened to a light shaft and the sound of jackhammers. The rooms were run down. The couch looked retro stylish like it was pulled from a '55 Cadillac, but small and hard and uncomfortable. No comfortable place to sit. The bathroom was modern and light though the toilet seat was loose, which we found to be a chronic problem among our choices of accommodations. There was also a sign warning no tp in the toilet. Great location though. Cafes, museums, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, all are just blocks away on pretty car-free or car-controlled streets.
After a rest we walked to a cafe for churros and coffee then explored the nearby squares. Dinner was pizza and pasta at a cafe nearby.
Today's pictures are all about food because today was largely about food though there was also art and murder and mayhem. But I've only pics of food.
We started our first full day in Madrid by getting out of the somewhat depressing apartment to do Rick Steves' Madrid walk. Steves is good at hitting the major sites and sharing his thoughts though as I learn more I don't always agree with some of his choices.
As we approach each site we stop to look around and then read the text. While we'd already seen two, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, as they are just short blocks from the apartment, we revisited them to learn more about their history. And there is a lot of history here, under foot and all around. It's the same story we will hear over and over again, Visigoths, Moors, Christians, battles, inquisition, torture, heathens made to convert, Jews killed, blah, blah, blah, the oh-too-familiar story of humans behaving badly. In fact, the same story is still playing today.
Along the walk we purchased a bag of simple cookies (10€) from the cloistered nuns at the convent of Corpus Christi. You ring a bell, are buzzed in, then wander until you find an old wooden lazy Susan embedded in a wall. No one speaks English - more common in Spain than in Portugal, we will find - but somehow we managed to place an order. The cookies were simple and a bit dry.
Lunch is at a great find, the wonderful but super crowded tapas market Mercado de San Miguel. A gold star to Rick Steves for including this place.
The highlight this afternoon was seeing the room-filling ominous Guernica at the Reina Sofia, one of Madrid's big three museums. It is across the street from Atocha station. While there we also saw a number of works from artists such as Dali, Picasso and Miro.
I know, I was in Madrid and should've been hanging at patisseries, which are everywhere, but instead my desayuno was nuns' cookies chased by a couple of cappuccinos from the little red machine down the hall which made a surprisingly good drink for 0.80€.
Today was spent shopping and walking. We walked through the Corte Ingles at Puerta del Sol. A huge department store, they've a building with nothing but shoes. There was a line of people waiting patiently to enter the Apple store next door. Border security, err, Apple security managed the crowd with calm competence. I think they were only letting beautiful people into the store.
We walked to Atocha station to pick up train tickets for tomorrow's trip to Toledo. On the way back we walked down the street of outdoors stores. Reminded me of the outdoors stores in Vancouver, all grouped around the giant MEC on Broadway. A pair of pants at Barrabas caught my eye...
Dinner was tapas and paella at Taberna el Arco on Huertas 7, about a five minute walk from the apartment. The only complaint I've got with Madrid is the apartment, and fortunately the weather and city are such we have little reason to be there.
Our last full day in Madrid. I really like Madrid. I found the historic center where we stayed, the oldest narrowest most touristy area, felt pretty relaxed. Thanks perhaps to some combination of buildings, plazas on almost every corner, few cars, and countless cafes.
Today we walked through wall-to-wall people at the street market, el Rastro, which snakes along several blocks on several streets. Along the way I stopped at Barrabas to buy a pair of pants; I bought them for their warm tan color.
Later, the Prado. The block-long line to get in is worth it, it's a huge beautiful museum, but best to have a strategy. I didn't, still I remember enjoying the opportunity to see works by Velasquez, Bosch, and Goya.
For dinner, delicious little works of art at the tapas restaurant around the corner VI Cool.