A week ago I flew home from a 24-day solo trip to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, and Lisbon again. I'm blogging excerpts from my travel diary and illustrating from memory the memorable and not-so-memorable meals I had...Start from the beginning here.
Day Five - Madrid
After spending the better part of 12 hours in a bed I was more than ready to go out exploring. I got up early, pored over the map, chose a vague route - not too specific, with lots of opportunity to wander off track - got ready and booked it to the Metro stop up the street...and realized I had left my Metropass at home. So, I got to practice unlocking and locking up the apartment a second time. Then back to the Metro, and on my way.
I love, love the espresso, the cafe solo you get here in Europe. Let me just say that first. Generally I try to avoid American chain stores when I'm travelling, though not for any deeply-held political reasons, but because I just want to try something different, something I can't get at home. I only went to Starbucks this morning because I actually had a craving for an amount of coffee; I wanted a very tall, nearly bottomless cup of cafe americano, and they make it with espresso anyway so it wasn't exactly cheating. So I tell myself.
My Spanish is still pretty spotty (the barista at Starbucks switched to English pretty fast when he heard me ordering) but I'm amazed at how much I can understand by just paying attention to body language. Like, when you're trying to buy a veggie-wrap thing from a small store that costs 4 Euros and you pull out a 50 Euro note and the girl at the cash laughs, shakes her head and pulls out her cash drawer and shrugs her shoulders, you do catch on rather quickly. Thank goodness for 1 and 2 Euro coins.
First stop in Madrid was the Museu Thyssen-Bornemisza in all of its marble and salmon-coloured stucco glory. A few great pieces, some that were not (a whole room devoted to paintings of flowers in vases) and the portraits of the Baron and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza were certainly highlights. They are hung very prominently in the lobby, just around the corner from (but the same size as) the portraits of the King and Queen of Spain. And, yes, her small white dog was included, of course!
Next, a walk through the incredibly packed and bustling Plaza Sol and on to the beautiful Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Villa. Stumbled upon the amazing Mercado San Miguel.
I walked around the market three times before I could even begin to choose - everything looked so delicious - and I loved how there was a mix of fresh market produce, fish, and meat as well as tapas counters, wine bars, bakeries, chocolate shops, even a pizza place. It was lunchtime when I was there, so it was full of people enjoying the food and wine, and I was happy to soak it in and finally order (in Spanish!) my
shrimp & artichoke and jamon & fig skewers.
I worked on the last of the fig seeds as I walked past the Palacio Real, hopped back on the Metro and zipped over to the Museu Reina Sofia.
Oh, what a collection! Got a whole new list of painters and illustrators to research, plus I stuck my head into a very, very dark room in the basement of the museum. (I was supposed to). Very creepy installation piece that takes its inspiration from the fact that the museum used to be a hospital, and the basement is where the insane were kept. Effective. I'll say it again: very creepy.
Afterwards, I chomped down a bocadillo de calamares at El Brillante (deep fried calamari rings in a baguette. Why? No idea, and sadly not as delicious as it sounds.) wandered my way up Paseo del Prado and home for a night in and a meal from the grocery store.