Trip Start Nov 24, 2009
Trip End Dec 09, 2009

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Carlos & Tory's Pad

Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Madrid,
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I arrive at Barajas Airport in Madrid, claim my baggage, exchange for some Euros and await Tory, my friend whom I met in Vietnam two years ago. We had hit it off while on a tour together in Halong Bay (please check out the blog The Impromptu Southeast Asian Adventure under Hanoi Rocks! for more on Tory) and have kept in touch ever since. She recently moved to spain with her boyfriend Carlos and has always prompted me to visit her if I find myself nearby...so I took her up on her generous offer.

After some confusion about the arrival location and a phone call later we finally connect. Be both remark how it is kinda surreal that we're together again since we've only really been around each other for two days, but familiarity sets in very quickly and we both are glad to be there. I follow her to our ride where I finally meet Carlos, her beau, whom I have heard so much about. Carlos is a Madrid local wo has lived abroad in both the US and Ireland. His English is perfect and he is kind, humble and very respectable. We hit it off immediately as we drive into the city center for a night of Tapas and drinks while showing me a bit of the city.

Madrid is a very large and noteably modern city in camparision to the others I had visited on this trip. It is much more westernized for obvious reasons and really doesn't feel that far away from home, apart from all the historical architecture which we in North America just don't have. It is very lively and feels like a cross between New York and San Francisco. There's always something going on in Madrid and I seriously doubt one would find themselves easily bored in a place like this.

We land in the Centro district and stop at a bar where we get Claras de Limons (beer with lemon soda...very tasty!) and some basic free tapas. In the Spanish tradition we move on to an crowded open marketplace (very similar to The Marketplace in Emeryville) where we get fresh fish tapas and more claras, and finally to a film-themed bar where they both serve alcohol and rent movies while playing films projected on screens. Here I grab my other Spanish fav...sangria! At about 1am we call it a noght and head down the Gran Via out of town to their apartment on the outskirts of Madrid. I say apartment, but let me tell you...it's the lap of luxury! Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, marble tile floors, a loft, large outdoor balcony and lots of open space. This place would easily rent for 3k here in the Bay, and I'm not even talking about in SF! Tory set up a beadroom and bathroom for my use and let me use her iMac to catch up on my blog.

The next morning we head out for hot chocolate and churros for breakfast per my request nearby in the neighborhood. I had eyed this Spanish delicacy on a travel show and have wanted to try it ever since. Basically it is very thick hot chocolate that you dip churros into and very scrumptous...a perfect Sunday morning breakfast! (Thank you Annie for your donation of my hot chocolate breakfast!) Later we head out to Toledo for a day trip (check out the entry Holy Toledo! in this blog for details) and end up back home for a quiet evening with Italian takeout. Despite the Spanish cultural norm to eat and party late into the night Carlos' work schedule is more standardized and adheres to the all-too-common 8 to 6, so he gets to bed early as Tory and I chill and watch a movie. It actually is a nice break and gives me a chance to relax and get a real nights worth of sleep in a real bed.

Monday morning Carlos heads to work and Tory and I head to the city center via the bus and metro. Tory's Spanish is actually worse than mine and I manage to get us two bus tickets with less than the money required since we didn't have enough change and they wouldn't take a 20€ bill. We get to what we think is the central station and temporarily part ways. The plan is for Tory to check into her Spanish language school downtown as I was heading to the del Prado Museum where we would eventually reconnect. The only problem here was that I had no idea where I was, but it was obvious once I emerged from underground that it was not at the central station. After studying the maps in the guidebook I had I still had no idea so I decided to use my Blackberry's GPS. It turned out I was nowhere near the del Prado so I wait for Tor to return and we figure out how to get to where we needed to be. Finally we arrive at the right station, get a bite of lunch and strut up to the del Prado's entrance...only to find it closed!?! Of all the luck! Instead we do a little walking tour around Retiro Park and the other nearby sites. It was a good time as we got to catch up on the past two years and Tory was all to happy to have someone to chat with in English.

We eventually get out of the misty rain and cold and sit down for some tapas and sangria (Thanks Kim for the awesome sangria!) The tapas were actually asian influenced and hardly traditional, but our choices obviously reflected out preferences for asian foods as well as asian travel! We keep the sangria flowing and 3 hours later Carlos eventually arrives from after working for the day. We change venues and catch dinner at trendy looking restaurant for mediocre hamburgers and nachos. (Yes, I should've known better!) We walk around the area checking out the street vendors and the festive street lighting before returning home for the evening.

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in Spain where everyone gets the day off and goes out. This was great because it meant I got to spend more time with Carlos. The plan was to hit the del Prado museum today to make up for yesterday's loss. None of us had been there before so it would be a new experience for everyone.  The bad part about the holiday was that it was likely everywhere would be completely crowded. We pull into the public parking garage nearest to the museum which also was near the Titian museum, where the queue was all the way around the block!?! Being that the Del Prado was the most popular and significant museum in Spain we feared the worst.

We stopped at Starbucks for coffee and breakfast and let me tell you, if you think their prices are high in the states you've got nothing to complain about. The prices were pretty much the same numbers, but instead of dollars they were in Euros, which at a good exchange rate is $1.50 to 1€. Basically my venti praline mocha and breakfast sandwich ended up costing me over $12! You won't hear me complaining again. We walk across the street to the del Prado enterance where only yestday we were denied, expecting a massive line, and behold there was nothing! Either this museum was so big it didn't need a line or everyone in Spain had already seen it. Either way we felt blessed and headed on in.

As far as museums go the del Prado is amazing. It is considered one of the finest art museums in the world with over 1300 paintings on display, not to mention 7800 total in the collection. It's collection is almost entirely European paintings from the 14th to 19th centuries absolutely and as one would expect the emphasis is on Spanish masters. It has a huge selection of Goyas, El Grecos and Velazquezes, but also had many other pieces by Rubens, Botticelli, Raphael, Durer, Titian, Rembrant and Bosch. I absolutely loved it and was moved to see so much humanity and beauty in one place. It really is amazing to see these masterpieces in person when you have only ever seen them previously in art history books. I particularly loved the famous Bosch triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya's The Third of May, 1808 and nearly lost my composure seeing the Botticellis in the collection. I could have spent all day in there but I didn't want to bore Carlos and Tory with my indulgence and I did actually get to see nearly the entire collection. (Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museo_del_Prado to see what it's all about.)

After leaving the museum we headed towards the Royal Palace, the biggest palace in Europe and residence of the king. We walked through the Oriente Square where kids were watching a puppet show of the Beatles and various other street performers were out doing their schticks. It seems the people were starting to come out as the crowds of the day were consistantly increasing in the streets. Settling down at one of the outdoor cafes overlooking the palace we rested our feet and enjoyed a light meal. It was nice to just be relaxed after trying to squeeze so much out of our time at the del Prado. Once finished eating we headed on back through the crowded streets in search of desert...hot chocolate and churros once more (thanks fo a donation from Josie!)

We stop by one more bar for a final nightcap...a final sangria for me and claras for Tory and carlos before we headed back through the lit up streets of Madrid in our return to the suburbs. Tomorrow I head back home but my memory of Madrid will be fond...a place where I got the chance to visit friends old and new and decompress after the hectic schedule of the earlier stages of this journey. Madrid is certainly a place I would like to discover more of, as I feel I've only scratched the surface, but then again so is all of Spain. That being said I most certainly look forward to the day I return here and pick up right where I left off.

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Kevin on

Madrid seems more interesting than Prague, from my limited perspective.

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