Monday 30 May 2011 - Wednesday 1 June 2011
On the way to Madrid, we finally got things right. We were able to book a high-speed train in advance, so the journey from Barcelona to Madrid passed by in a blur – literally. Our train flew through the practically uninhabited rough terrain between these two major cities at almost 190 mph. I was surprised to see that until we got to the city limits, the landscape was fairly desert-y. All dry and covered in scrub brush. No suburbs – that’s for sure.
Madrid was gorgeous. Larger than Barcelona with almost 7 million inhabitants, it had a more regal feel. The buildings were older, more ornamental. The streets held fewer beggars, fewer tourist shops. When we first arrived, however, we emerged from the metro right into the middle of another protest! We were in a tent city that has been in place in the Plaza del Sol since the recent elections. The entire plaza was filled with banners, and the tall buildings around us were plastered in messages of protest.
We spent a chill evening wandering the streets around our exceptionally centrally located hostel. The next morning we joined a walking tour of the city that showed us around some of the older areas and gave us background on the city’s history. I always forget what a young country America is! None of the city’s in America have such a rich history. The tour guide regaled us with stories of conquests and rebellions that stretch back more than 1000 years. Madrid has such a rich cultural history as a mix of European and African rule, Christian and Islamic.
After getting in the educational bits, we switched back to American mode… shopping! Gerst and I ventured a try at some of the more prominent European fashions (full length rompers!) and we were pleased to see that Nick and Noah were both almost more interested in shopping than we were. During this time, I even got to have some conversations in Spanish with various people in the city and in the shops, which is exciting. In Madrid they actually speak Spanish (in Barcelona, the language is Catalan).
Yay! With bags in hand and shopping successes all around, we went back to the oldest chocolatier in the city (which we had seen on the tour) to get some churros con chocolate – yum!
With much of the area surrounding our hostel already explored, we retired to the hostel early to relax, chat, and enjoy a few beers.
The next morning started sunny and warm. The room of our hostel even had a small balcony overlooking the main road right near the center of town, so we were able to enjoy the nice morning from the comfort of our own room. After stocking up on some rations (durem kebabs and a 2 liter of coke of course) we set off into the city to explore the giant, Central-Park-like green space at the center of the city. Mostly tempted by the vastness of this area on our already vast map of Madrid, we were excited to find some good space to relax with our books and play some frisbee!
The park really was huge. We spent the afternoon getting lost in the maze of criss-crossing paths dotted with foutains, huge stands of trees, and even a “crystal palace”.
We almost lost track of time in the park, forgetting that we had plans to go see the famous flamenco show Carmen that evening. We quickly found our way out of the park and into some nicer clothes, then walked the short two blocks to the theatre (our hostel really had an EXCELLENT location!). The next two hours were absolutely fantastic. I cannot express what a great show it was! Flamenco is such an energetic, passionate dance. The dancers taunted each other with the loud stomping of their heeled shoes and each flick of their hands, the swirling and flipping of long skirts and the clatter of cassonets. Backed by the frantic strumming of guitar strings and high piping flutes, the dancers twirled and pounded across the stage until they literally threw auras of sweat into the air with each flick of their heads. It was such a captivating show – even in another language, we were all caught up in the drama of this gypsy queen and her tragic loves. When the curtains closed, we all rose to our feet in loud applause. Gerst and I left the theatre singing the show's main theme in high, dramatic voices all the way down the main road while Nick and Noah took turns pounding their own heels and sashaying around us. Mmm, flamenco!
After such a wildly wonderful evening show, we completed our true Madrid experience with another delicious dinner of paella – done right this time! The pan was enormous: a true paella for four. Topped with shrimp, pork, and mussels and accompanied with a nice red wine, the dinner was a delicious success.
We wandered home through the streets of Madrid, still breaking into bouts of song and a flamenco stomping of heels, and prepared for an early departure back to Barcelona the next morning.