Parks and Palaces

Trip Start Jan 06, 2011
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Flag of Spain  , Madrid,
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Tuesday morning, Rachel and I woke up at 3:00 a.m. to go to Ciampino Airport for our flight to Madrid a little after 6:00.  We started our day off with a minor panic.  We were planning to share a taxi with two French girls, but they ended up leaving early and we were stranded at the hostel.  I frantically called the taxi service for the area, but I was running out of cell phone minutes and the operator put me on hold for ten minutes.  The train station was literally thirty seconds down the road, so we ran over and tried to see if anyone was there yet so we could use their phone.  Miraculously, a taxi driver was waiting outside the station and we jumped in and he took us to the airport.  We kept saying, "Grazie mille!" or "Thanks a million!"

After waiting in Ryanair's check-in line and security, we boarded our flight.  Ryanair is a low-cost airline so it's different from the traditional airlines that I was used to.  Seats are not assigned and flight attendants read advertisements over the loudspeakers throughout the flight.  Also flight attendants sell all sorts of snacks for outrageous prices.  In addition, the flight was a little bit more bumpy--to quote a guy from my school who studied abroad a year ago, "Sometimes the pilots drive drunk a little."

We made it safely to Madrid, landing in the main airport there since they don't have a low-cost airport like Rome.  We rode the subway into the city center and located our hostel.  The first thing I noticed about Spain was how warm the weather was!  Rome had been rainy and chilly, so it was wonderful to have sunshine and warm weather.  We left our bags locked up in the hostel, along with our winter coats, and wandered back out to find Retiro Park.  The park is huge, at 350 acres, at includes gardens, statues, fountains, playgrounds, monuments, and a large pond.  It has been around since the early 1500s, undergoing many different changes over the centuries as different royal figures came to power.  Rachel and I had a great time exploring the park and playing and just enjoying the sunshine.  Finally around noon, we got hungry, so we left the park to find a restaurant nearby.  I had a delicious tuna dish with country vegetables, and Rachel ordered a cheese platter.

After finishing, we headed back to our hostel to check into our room.  Madrid is very economical for travelers looking to save money--we paid 16 euros each per night for a private room, and our meals were around 10 to 12 euros each. 

Once we settled into our room, we went back out into the center, passing through the beautiful Plaza Mayor and heading for the Cathedral de la Almudena and the Palazzo Reale.  We visited the Royal Palace, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The palace is still the official residence of the king of Spain, but now it's mainly used for tourism and occasionally official ceremonies.  Some of the rooms were open, and we got to see all the beautiful furnishings and even Stradivari string instruments on display.  One of the neatest things was the royal pharmacy, where hundreds of chemicals were kept on hand for the royal pharmacists to whip up a remedy at the king's beck and call.  Another interesting part was the royal armory, where many armor from many different eras was on display.

After the Palazzo Reale, we got some frozen yogurt and then passed through Plaza a Puerta del Sol, which reminded me of a quiet little Times Square.  Lots of people were hanging out in the plaza and enjoying the nice weather.  We were feeling tired, so we headed back to the hostel to rest until dinner.  We headed back out around 7:30, only to realize that many of the Spanish restaurants were starting to close up from dinner--I guess it's just the Italians who like to eat dinner as late as 10:00 p.m.  We found one place that was still open, and the most adorable old man served as our waiter.  He was very patient with Rachel's little bit of Spanish and my nonexistent Spanish, and he even gave us free drinks.  I ordered a plate of fried calamari, and Rachel got fish and vegetables.  We were really tired after being awake so long, so we headed straight back to the hostel to go to sleep.

The next morning, we slept in some, then went out to explore Madrid's art museums.  First we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which is dedicated to works from the 16th century on.  There are many Flemish, Dutch, German, and English pieces there, and I recognized works from Chagall, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Picasso, and Van Gogh.  There were lots of school groups there and the children were so adorable.  I thought it was interesting that Europeans think it's important for small children to learn about art--back home, art history is a subject for high school students and college students. 

After thoroughly exploring the museum, we headed out for lunch.  I got a fried veal steak and Rachel ordered Spanish sausage, eggs, and black pudding.  At the time we figured the black pudding was some sort of rice pudding, but when Rachel got home, she realized that it was actually a traditional dish made out of pig's blood!  Rachel enjoyed it when she ate it, but I didn't try it since I was full already.

That afternoon, we saw even more art in the famous Prado Museum.  This museum was even larger and there was no way we could see everything, so we went through and found the 50 or so important works listed in their brochure, including paintings by Caravaggio, Velázquez, Goya, and Bosch.  Seeing so many of the pieces that I had studied in my art history survey class at PC just blew my mind.  I couldn't stop pointing them out to Rachel and telling her details I remembered from my class.

For dinner that night, we took a break from local foods and went to an Indian restaurant.  I was so excited to get some ethnic food, since it's very difficult to find in Perugia and usually very expensive when you can--I paid 18 euros for a sushi dinner in Perugia that was not very filling.  This Indian food was under 10 euros and absolutely delicious.  I had a dish with rice and vegetables and Rachel ate this sort of hummus made from eggplant and a salad made with cucumber, tomato, parsley, crackers, and a pomegranate dressing.

We headed to bed early again on Wednesday night, just like Monday, since we had another 6:00 a.m. flight for Paris.  Sadly, our hostel had an organized outing to go see flamenco dancers, but we couldn't make it and get some sleep too, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone else staying there.  Later that night, we woke up ready to catch our plane to Paris.
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