First off, everything’s going well here in Spain. I know my parents haven’t been thrilled I’m traveling alone here, but so far, so good. Hopefully it will stay that way. Today I arrived in Sevilla, where I’ll be staying for three days. My friend from Pitt, Alicia, is studying here, and we’re hoping to meet up a few times between her classes.
As for Madrid, it already seems like a blur after the 9 hour bus ride to Sevilla. But it was great. I flew in Saturday afternoon via RyanAir. It was my first RyanAir experience, and I’d heard horror stories, but it seemed like Southwest for Europe to me, no big deal. I took the Metro into the city and found my hostel, got settled in, and then met my Abroadco friends Haley and Karinne at the Museo del Prado. Nothing like a world-class museum to welcome you to a city. We got through a good bit of the museum, including what felt like 200 pietas and crucifixion scenes. Usually painting from about the 17th century and older doesn’t interest me that much, I prefer the ‘pretty’ stuff. But it was such an impressive collection, and the Spanish art especially was incredible. I especially liked the Diego Velazquez pieces and some of the Goyas, and of course there was a lot by El Greco, too.
After the Prado I took a power nap to prepare for the late eating schedule that is popular here in Spain. When a group of Abroadco girls went to Barcelona a couple weeks ago, they said people were just arriving at the restaurant when they finished eating at 11! Haley, Karinne, and I found a Middle Eastern restaurant and had a leisurely, not too expensive dinner, accompanied by a belly dancing performance (we had no idea that was included). Then we found a crowded bar and sipped mojitos (what else?).
Over the course of the night it became clear to us how silly our previous complaints about French smokers were. Spain, unlike France, doesn’t have a law prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants. And besides that, it seems even more popular here. Maybe it’s the difference between a big, bustling city like Madrid and a small, bourgeois city like Aix, but the smoke was unavoidable. Later, when I was waiting for my bus out of Madrid, I found it odd that some people were waiting outside way before their buses had arrived at the platform. Then I noticed the sign “Prohibido de fumar” (smoking prohibited) in the indoor waiting area. It was barely 40 degrees out!
My second day in Madrid I struck out on my own for an ambitious walking tour…or wander. First, I found the El Rastro flea market, a huge weekly event where vendors sell clothes, electronics, books, housewares, everything. It was drizzling when I left the hostel, and when I was approaching where I thought the market should be I was a little anxious that the weather might discourage vendors. I shouldn’t have worried. They were there in full force. It was the biggest market I’ve ever been to, stretching the length of probably 8 city blocks. I managed to buy a few things (sorry, can’t tell you what) even with my absolutely awful Spanish–Combien? Y ésta?
Next up was the Plaza Mayor, where on nice days well-to-do locals sit out at cafés and restaurants in the grand square. I, however, grabbed a cheap lunch of grilled shrimp at a cafeteria on the periphory. It’s too bad the weather wasn’t nicer, but it was still an impressive square.
I got a little lost on the way to the Royal Palace, but eventually found my way there. I’m really glad I decided to go there; originally it wasn’t on my must-do list. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside (this seems to be a trend in Spanish museums and tourist attractions), but it was incredible. Walls covered with silk and damask, even a room constructed completely with perfectly joined pieces of sculpted procelain. Too many chandeliers to count, all suspended from what appeared to be silk ribbons (okay, they were actually just steel rods covered in beautiful fabric, but the illusion was convincing). Then there were the humongous area rugs, the tapestries on the walls, and the gorgeous furniture. Definitely worth the time.
On my way to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, I walked right into the bustling heart of Madrid. A girl in my IEFEE group who had been to Madrid before said it might be dead on a Sunday, but that’s not what I found. Ever since I’ve seen it, I’ve been trying to think how to characterize Madrid. Comparing it to any American city wouldn’t be accurate or just, but it is definitely grittier than the other cities I’ve seen in Europe so far. Every city has its not so great parts, but at least architecturally, the beautiful and old bumps up against the unrefined and new in the center of Madrid, more so than in Paris, I think. Also, it’s the first city I’ve visited so far this trip that hasn’t been a Mediterranean city. So no more yellow and orange buildings with blue shutters, more brickwork and mansard roofs.
My last stop for the day was the Thyssen-Bornemisza. I highly recommend this museum, because it works for art officianados and us laypeople. The collections cover all the major periods. They have the famous pieces of minor artists and the relatively unknown pieces of major artists, which makes for a less predictable experience. I enjoyed the impressionist selections, of course, and some of the expressionist stuff. Also, they had a good amount of North American painting. I know absolutely nothing about North American painting, but I came out of this museum wishing I did, wanting to know more.
Before I headed to the bus station for my 1:30am bus (don’t ask), I made myself a pasta with pesto dinner in the hostel kitchen. Then checked out, hailed a cab, and prepared for a loooong ride to Sevilla. But I’m here! It’s gross and rainy, but I’m here in a very nice hostel, in what seems to be an interesting and beautiful city.
Stay tuned! More adventures from flamencoland to follow. And pictures, once I get back to Aix on Thursday.