Karie on Jun 16th 2008 09:48 am
As much as I’m a city girl, I’ve found that the biggest cities (or capitol cities) are not always my favorite, just because there is more of everything… more to do, more commercialism, more traffic, more slums, more expenses, etc. I am glad to report that this was not the case in Madrid. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the city. It had some beautiful architecture (although I must say that Barcelona still takes the cake on that), lots of interesting sites, and really friendly people.
One thing I really loved about Madrid, is that people let me try to speak Spanish to them. Even if they could tell that I’m American, and they know how to speak English, they still humored me and allowed me to butcher their language. One guy at a café even tried to help me by correcting my pronunciation, which I think is way cool, except that to my ears it all sounded the same. Jamón. Jamón. Yeah, that’s what I said.
A few of my favorite sites/activities in Madrid were:
Finding Scott’s Twin
We were walking down the street, when I noticed a guy walking the other direction that was dressed EXACTLY like Scott. I suggested taking a picture of the two of them together. Of course Scott disagreed, but after a few minutes of my mad persuasion skills (aka, bossiness), he gave in. We were walking in opposite directions, so by this time Scott’s twin was a good distance away from us, so we took off in a sprint. At the moment we caught up to him, my thoughts finally caught up to Scott’s hesitation, as I wondered how I was going to approach a stranger and ask him to pose for a photo with a random person who was dressed like him, without looking like a weirdo. So, I employed my acting skills and used the surprised technique of, “Oops, I’m sorry I just bumped into you… Oh… Hey! Well, wouldya look at that! What are the odds of running into someone dressed exactly like my husband?! Hey Scott, look! This man is dressed just like you! Come on over here and smile…” Click. The guy was actually really cool (how could he not be with such a great sense of style), and we all got a good laugh out of it. Even though he didn’t speak any English and couldn’t understand my whole routine anyway.
Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and gardens
This is the “official” residence of the King of Spain, although he doesn’t really live there. However, it’s still used for some occasions. Beeeaaauuutiful. We didn’t even go into the largest section of the Oriental Gardens, but the palace is surrounded by smaller gardens, fountains, courtyards, etc., which are all free to enter… Unlike the palace itself, but it was worth the price.
Parque del Buen Retiro (Park of the Pleasant Retreat)
The place lives up to its name. I don’t even know how much time we spent here, but it was a good long while. It’s a huge park with a beautiful lake right in the middle, as well as a few smaller lakes/ponds throughout the grounds. Normally you can rent little boats on the lake, but for some reason the boat rental booth decided to close this particular day. There was just a hand-written sign posted over the normal business hours, so I guess the owner decided it was too nice a day to spend it in a little booth. Gotta love Spain.
Free Museum Sundays
In Barcelona several of the museums are open for free on the first Sunday of the month (same in a few other cities around Europe), but in Madrid, there are free hours EVERY Sunday. They are typically just in the afternoon or evening, for example, the famous Museo del Prado is free 6:00-8:00pm. You can imagine that the line gets very long, so get there early, but it does go pretty fast.
We spent our last evening in Madrid doing one of my favorite travel activities – picnic in a square. We picked the beautiful Plaza Mayor. This plaza has a long history of being used for anything from markets to bull fights to executions, but these days, it’s used for sitting. Overpriced restaurants line the plaza, and in the middle, people sit. There are no benches, but that doesn’t stop people from congregating in little groups on the ground. I love it. It’s beautiful, social, perfect for people watching, and the only thing the people in the restaurants had that we didn’t was the fat bill… and chairs, which are so overrated anyway.
There’s a pretty new AVE highspeed train system that connects some of the major cities in Spain, so we were excited to travel from Madrid to Sevilla in style. We’ve been on our fair share of trains, some nicer than others. Some of you might remember the one with the bottomless toilet where you could see the tracks wizzing by as you wizzed… This was NOT like that. The bathrooms were civilized, and the seats were like first class on an airplane (or at least how my Coach status would imagine first class to be). At a speed of about 170 mph, we got to Sevilla in no time… but honestly, I wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time on the train. Of course it costs a little more than taking the slower train, but I justified it as the cost of entertainment, as we headed into Andalucía.