Spain 2- Madrid

Trip Start Jan 14, 2007
Trip End Jul 05, 2007

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Friday, April 27, 2007

I woke up, had breakfast at 8 in the hostel (which was good) and then walked up La Rambla to Plaza Catalunya to catch the bus to the airport.  At 9:55am my plane left for Madrid.  I opted for a plane rather than a train because it cost less and was a lot faster.  On this flight, they made me check my backpack, which sucked a little, but oh well.  And when I went to the desk to check-in, the woman looked at my Italian passport and then gave me directions to the gate in Italian, which was pretty cool.

The flight was not eventful.  There were lots of Italians on the plane, but by then I was expecting to hear Italian every day.  (And, I did.)  I arrived in Madrid, then took the metro to a stop 10 minutes from my hostel that night.  Madrid has a fantastic metro system.  It costs a euro to go anywhere, and the metro goes straight to the airport.  I didn't really need to use it though, because I basically walked everywhere.

My stop was at Gran Via Station.  I climbed the stairs and came out to one of the main streets of the city, Gran Via.  After making a couple of wrong turns, I finally made it the hostel.  There was a nice old man who showed me which keys opened which doors. The hostel was very nice.  I was in a room with 4 beds and a sink.  The showers were down the hall.  I put my backpack down and then went back out, because I only had a day to see the whole city.  On the plane ride, I'd made a list of what to see and in what order.  My first stop was the Prado, but I took many pictures on the way.

I had one of my best "meals" on the way to the Prado.  I stopped in a dinky shop on a little side street and got a crossaint with meat and cheese in it and a yummy, sticky apple tart.  It was great.  And on the way an American stopped me.  He looked like he was in pretty bad shape.  He had a cane and was shaking and scratched up.  One of his legs was bandaged.  He had a long story about having been in a car crash and going to the hospital and not having any of his documents, etc. etc.  And his friends were still in the hospital.  Anyway, I was a little sceptical but figured he had to be going through some hard times so I gave him 3 euro.  (I know, I know.  Maybe I shouldn't have trusted him at all.)

Madrid was pretty amazing just because I didn't pay to see any museums that day. I got into the Prado for free, because I'm an EU citizen studying in an EU country. It's normally 3 euro.  It was an overwhelming museum.

Lots and lots of paintings and sculptures in over 50 rooms.  I walked through most of the rooms, but could only absorb so much.  My favorite paintings were the ones I'd seen pictures of previously, in Spanish classes.  The best was Las Meninas by Velasquez, because I'd seen that several times in classes, and had had it explained to me.  So, I stared at it in awe for a couple of minutes.  There were also some Goya paintings that I'd seen before.  But, overall, I didn't spend much time in the museum.

Next, I went to the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was nearby.  It had rained while I was in the museum, so the park was a little creepy at first because there was hardly anyone there.  But then, I got to the huge lake, and it got better.

These two pictures are funny. I don't know why, but this crane was a lifting a huge vehicle from a platform on the lake and bringing it back to land.

I walked over to the Crystal Palace, which was gorgeous  I walked around, taking pictures of it, until I realized I could go in for free!  I couldn't take any pictures inside.  There was an exhibition on "homes," so there was a teepee and an igloo and shiny metal and mirror and glass box things.  It was strange, but really cool because everything either reflected the sunlight coming through the glass of the building, or let it pass through.  There was also a pretty lake and a fountain in front of the palace, and lots of green grass and trees.  There was another palace nearby that was also free, but it was closed that day.  On my way out of the park I walked through more pretty gardens. A Spanish girl about my age asked me if I would take a picture of her, and of course I said yes. Then she offered to take a picture of me. But of course my batteries chose that moment to give out. :sigh: Oh well.

Next, I got to walk across practically the entire city, because I really wanted to see an Egyptian Temple that was the only one in Spain.  On the way, I got to see a lot.  I walked up the Gran Via to the Plaza de Espaņa, which was pretty amazing.  Here's the picture I took while aproaching it. You can see it through the arch at the end of the street. It opens up into a huge open area surrounded by tall brick buildings and then one beautiful colorful building.

While I was in the Piazza, the weather turned decidedly worse and I realized I hadn't put my umbrella in the small bag I had with me.  And, I wasn't wearing many layers and the wind was cold.  But this was my only day in Madrid, so I decided to ignore the weather for now and just keep going.  I walked to the Royal Palace and, on the way saw this building, which I had to take a picture of.  There was a group of Italians on the other side of the street who shouted, "Ciao Italia" (or something like that) to the building.  I considered peeking in, just to see what there was, but decided not to.  The Royal Palace was beatiful looking and huge.  I didn't go in because it was expensive and close to closing, but took pictures of it anyway.  You can see from the pictures that the sky was very menacing at this point. By the time I'd taken this third picture, it was starting to rain. I took out my map, found the closest metro station, and walked very quickly to it, because it really started to pour. Spaniards, like Italians, seem to always have an umbrella with them, so I was the only soaked person on the metro. Oh well.  I made it to the hotel, switched into my sweatshirt, grabbed my umbrella, and headed back out.  I walked back up Gran Via and, of course, the sky cleared up again.  On my walk, I saw this cool statue.

Then I went to another piazza, that had a fountain and several statues.
Of course, I took a picture of the Don Quijote and Sancho statue. My professor who taught a Cervantes class that I took would have been proud. Actually, that professor was really helpful. I e-mailed him about a week before going to Spain, asking if he had advice of which cities I should see. I sent me a list, the address to the Cordoba program in Granada, and told me to e-mail him if I had any other questions. It was great.

I finally made it to the Egyptian temple, which was free!  It had lots of hieroglyphics on the walls and explanations in Italian of them. There was also a short movie on the temple, and fun places to crawl through. I didn't spend much time in there, because it was small, but I'm very glad I went. Just behind the temple was a great view of the Royal Palace so I, of course, took a picture.

I was almost done for the day!  As I was walking back over to Gran Via, a man came up to me, asking if I spoke English.  I said I did, and he was very happy.  He didn't know where he was, so I let him look at my map to orient himself.  I found out that he was from Israel, but had been in Germany for the past few years.  He was a theoretical mathematician who had flown into Madrid for a couple of days to participate in an international conference.  I told him I was headed to Puerta del Sol, which is the "0" kilometer mark in Spain.  The major highways in the country start counting distances from that point.  He asked if he could join me, and I said that would be fine.  I didn't feel weird about it at all, because it was light out and there were lots of people.  Also, he was a theoretical mathematician.  I really didn't think he would do anything bad.  We walked down Gran Via to Puerta del Sol, where there was no marker or anything that we could see.  It was very disappointing.  It was still a nice walk though, and it was good to talk to someone for awhile.  We parted ways, and I went in search of dinner.  I was on the street that my hostel was on, which didn't have much.  I ended up going to three little stores and bought a yogurt drink, 4 small yogurts, and a bready thing.  It was a pretty awful dinner actually, but I survived.

I ate in my hotel room and then one of the other people who I'd be sharing a room with that night came back.  Her name was Stephanie and she was really nice.  She had been an au pair in Germany for a couple of months and now was traveling around Europe.  She'd been traveling for almost a month and had 15 days to go.  She was young, just out of high school.  We talked for a long time, until the other two people came back.  They were two men from Brazil; a man in his 20's and his father.  That was a little weird, but I was glad Stephanie was there.  They were both very nice though.  The dad didn't speak English, but the son did, so the three of us talked.  Then the two guys drank a couple glasses of wine and went out the clubs.  Funny.

The woman who helped run the hostel was great.  I hadn't brought a towel, so I asked if I could rent one.  At most places, it costs about a euro to get a towel for the night, but she just gave me one and apologized that she didn't have a nicer one.  She explained that, because of the rain, the other towels were still wet.  I thanked her several times, just happy to have a towel.

I went to bed and set my alarm to 8 because I needed to find out how to take a bus to Granada the next morning.  I wanted to arrive early because Granada was the one place I hadn't found a room for yet, and I was a little worried.
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