December 8, 2005:
We arrive in Madrid (at the Chamartin station) right around 0830...on a Thursday...which also happens to be a major holiday (a fact we will not completely figure out for about a day. Thanks for the help Lonely Planet. You too, Fodor’s. We didn’t REALLY wanna know about Constitution Day). The Metro isn’t running this morning so we’re forced to hop in a cab and set off for (what we believe to be...) our hostal – which I reserved online yesterday morning through Hostels.com.
The hostal is in a great location – just a few blocks away from Puerte del Sol and right on top of a Metro station. It looks great. Clean, quaint, a little bit funky. It also doesn’t have room for us. The owner/manager explains to us that he e-mailed me immediately after receiving my reservation request from Hostels.com to refute any claims of vacancy. He refunds the 5 or 6 Euro down payment usually due to Hostels.com and calls a hostal down the street which, he assures us, has much lower rates.
All goes (almost...) well: we end up getting to our NEW hostal (Cervelo), and discover too much quaint, not enough clean, and a heavy dose of funk best personified by the sagging mattress and musty bed cover that immediately begins to bother Mel’s allergies. Welcome to Madrid! Hey, it’s only one night. We toss our bags in a corner and start a-walking...right?
Of COURSE not! This is Spain, dummy! We settle in for a couple hour siesta in an effort to develop a better feel for the culture and THEN set off for Madrid’s famous modern art museum, Reina Sofia.
By the time we get to the museum, my hunger has overwhelmed my civility. Mel pulls me into a half-Italian place next to the museum and shoves a few breadsticks in to get me back on track. It seems to work and we proceed to the museum.
Now I’m not really a big fan of modern art if it doesn’t showcase the artistic talent of the artist. Sticking half a fluorescent light bulb into a block of concrete isn’t art. Smearing bull’s blood all over a big tarp isn’t art. Filming yourself jumping into a brick wall isn’t art. It’s pretentiousness personified (“I’m so important that you should watch me jump into this brick wall…and subsidize it as well.”). Hey, blogging is ALSO, to a large degree, pretentiousness personified but I don’t expect anyone to read what I write because it is shocking (thus proving my ability as a blogger). If you like what I write and what I write about then it’s there for you to see…and I’ll even let you take photos of it if you like. Something that is strictly off-limits in the Sofia (phooey).
ANYway…Mel loves Picasso and he has a large display here. I like a lot of Dali’s works so we look at those as well. We check out a couple of the temporary exhibits (some good – i.e. created by talented artists – and some bad – i.e. created by guys who shove light bulbs into concrete…).
After finishing up at the museum, I notice the botanic gardens are right across the street. Yeah, I know...it’s winter. We can’t really expect much from the gardens, right? Well, we’ve been spoiled by exposure to some fantastic gardens (most notably Wellington, NZ) and Mel enjoys taking photographs of flowers and unusual plants – so off we go.
Um...yeah. Note to self: don’t go to botanic gardens in the winter, moron. Note to self, don’t go back to Madrid’s botanic gardens anyway. But as long as we learn our lesson, it’s not time wasted, right? Right...?
The gardens are situated about midway between the Sofia and the Prado, Madrid’s other major museum of art. We head in the direction of the Prado with a clear understanding that I will NOT be going into another museum today. Too much culture spoils the Petri dish. Or something like that.
Instead, we buy two-day tickets for the hop-on/hop-off bus tour that departs from near the Prado and jump on the first bus we see. Skipping the Prado to ride around Madrid on top of a tour bus? Some would call this sacrilege. Ah well. We just call it "our vacation."
As usual (or at least as is BECOMING the usual), we get some great shots of buildings, statues, and sights that we really can’t locate on the map or the tour guide. So look and enjoy! Sort of like us. Who likes those snooty intellectual-type vacations, anyway? Bring on the sangria!
There are a FEW sights we can identify...La Cibeles, the football stadium, and Independence Plaza, sculptures near the Museo Arqueoligico and Biblioteca Nacional, being four of those. Remember that comment about the need to hop OFF of tour buses to get the full effect? Yeah...we didn’t do so well on that one this time around. We only jump off as the bus slows to a crawl in traffic building up around Puerta del Sol (which has become a MADhouse, by the way. Again...the mysterious holiday strikes). Notice there are two links within Peurta del Sol...one to the Wikipedia entry and one to a blog from an American living in Madrid.
We wander through the crazy masses and finally manage to squeeze into a small tavern right off the square. The house red, olives, and some ham (they do love their ham) serve to settle us down and warm us up before we make a break for Palacio Real and the nearby Almundena Cathedral for some impressive night shots (or at least I think they’re impressive. But it’s my wife taking them…what ELSE am I going to say?).
Having finished our night shots we fight our way through throngs of merrymakers and finally get back to the hostal. It’s early and we really haven’t had dinner yet, but we’ve both had enough of our first day of Madrid. Lights out on day 1 of Madrid.