Monday, November 12, 2012

And Now Onto the Capital of Spain - Madrid

Before I left for Europe I reserved a spot on the AVE express train from Sevilla to Madrid. It's about a 2.5 hour train ride, and if you book early enough you can get cheap tickets. I have to say it was quite an easy and nice travel option. You can arrive close to your departure time unlike airlines and hop on your train and go. The train station in Sevilla was clean, which in my head I don't think I was expecting it to be. There were a few cafes, shops and chess tables to pass the time.

I hopped on the train, which was quite comfortable with plenty of leg room. The train felt much quicker than I was expecting and it was cool to see some of the country side of Spain. I'd def recommend the train!

I arrived in Madrid and transferred to the Metro downtown. I got off at Puerto Del Sol, the center of Madrid, which to me was the equivalent of Times Square in New York. It was quite crowded with street performers, tourists, Mickey, Minnie, and Smurf Characters. I quickly found my way to my hotel at Plaza Santa Cruz. For those that know me it was a bit much for me, as I'm not one for crowded locations.

I had read that the Prado Museum was free on Saturdays after 6, so I decided to take advantage and venture that way. The Prado Museum is an art museum containing many pieces of work by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, etc. While it was cool to see some of these famous pieces of work, it was mostly the Old Christian type of paintings dating back to 1700-1800's. Those typically aren't really much of an interest to me. I'm glad I went during the free time!

I was getting hungry and tired so I ventured home and stopped in a few tapas places along the way. That is one of the things here, people just tend to stop in and grab a drink and bite along the way - a pub/dining crawl of sorts.

My hotel was situated in Plaza Santa Cruz, right by Plaza Mayor, a famous square built in 1619 (another tourist trap). Going to sleep fairly early on a Saturday night was a bit difficult! There was so much commotion outside, as the Spanish tend to stay out late.

The next day I woke groggy and made my way to the Royal Palace. I did stop for some Churros con Chocolate, a big thing in Madrid. The Churros were a little different than I'm used to. I was expecting more of a sugary donut type thing, but they were not really sugary or sweet alone. They were still pretty good.

The Royal Palace is one of Europe's great palaces, behind Versailles and Vienna's Schonbrunn. Just outside of the Palace is a cathedral and some gardens. I took the tour of the Palace, which was interesting and quite Ornate. The Throne room was pretty cool to see. I always wonder what it must be like to be royal and live in such a grand place.

After the palace I stopped at a cafe for a drink and a bocadillo (sandwich). After, I was so tired that I took a 2 hour nap, which was amazing since I didn't sleep well the night before due to the commotion. When I woke I made my way to Calle Cava Baja, south of Plaza Mayor. Per Rick Steves, this is a street that fills with mostly young, professional Madrilenos "prowling for chic tapas and social fun," right up my alley. I stopped in a modern, poshish establishment for a glass of wine and a pincho (bite size tapa). There was another solo tourist, a girl from New Zealand, who came in and sat by me. It was nice to have someone to chat with, and exchange travel advice. We decided to try a few other establishments along the way. It was a fun night. I made my way home and had a much better night sleep. Sunday night is not quite as lively as Saturday!

This morning I woke and decided to checkout Gran Via, the area my brother's colleague recommended I stay. It was a little more modern and reminded me more of Michigan Avenue/Gold Coast area in Chicago. I then decided to head back to the area by the Prado and make my way to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the modern art museum and house of some of Picasso and Dali's works. My New Zealand friend recommended it. Plus Picasso is one of my favorite artists. I'm hoping to hang out and go later in the day when it is free. I'll kill some time hanging out at Retiro Park.

All in all it's been a great trip, but I'm excited to meet up with some familiar faces in Bristol, UK tomorrow. My Spanish has been rusty and communication with others has been minimal. I'm also excited to see a new city through a local's eyes versus doing the super touristy thing.

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