It’s been a Loco four days in Madrid! The Doctor, Marcus and I met up on Tuesday afternoon and managed to work our way through a good portion of the massive city in the little time we had. We ate traditional Spanish cuisine and tried the city’s special wines (not as good as France’s varieties, in my expert opinion). We heard classic Spanish music, got a taste of the Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim cultures, and experienced a much different lifestyle than what I’m used to in France.
On Wednesday, we walked to the Royal Palace and stumbled upon the Changing of the Guard. About fifty soldiers in various uniforms rode by us on horses in full regalia. It was interesting to see the different styles of military dress and behavior, even though I don’t understand much of it in American culture and thus really didn’t understand Spain’s version!
After the guard finished doing its thang, we walked through the Palace to see the original furniture and artwork of the building. It was beautiful, not to mention entirely excessive. The former kings and queens of Spain owned everything from typical paintings and decorative home furnishings to countless sets of crystal, silverware, and even a few Stradivarius instruments. Investment pieces, you know.
Next, we walked across the street to the Royal Cathedral, which was completely unlike any other cathedral I’ve ever visited. Covered in bright tile mosaics, the church combines gothic style architecture with traditional Spanish flavor on the interior. Very, very, very cool. I could have spent all day staring at the geometric patterns on the ceiling and altar pieces.
For our resident opera nerd Marcus’ sake, we bought tickets to a zarzuela performance, a type of Spanish operetta/musical theatre show that is always based on classic Spanish themes and jokes. We couldn’t see much from our terrible seats, and we didn’t understand most of what was said, but the voices were really strong and we enjoyed it. It was worth it just to see the differences in customs in Spanish theatre versus American behavior. When a man’s cell phone rang during the show, the patrons around him heckled him until he was escorted out by the ushers. That needs to happen in the States!
One of my favorite moments of the trip was that evening’s trip to a tapas bar, where our understanding waiter simply brought out all of his favorite dishes for us to try. It’s a pity that I have no idea what anything was, so I’ll never be able to find it again, but it was amazing! For an indecisive girl like me, the best thing in the world is to have lots of little appetizer-type dishes to munch on all night rather than committing to one plate, and that’s the whole point of tapas. Lord help me if I ever need to make any major life decisions beyond a restaurant order.
On Thursday, we took a train to the neighboring city of Toledo for a little day trip. The Doctor insisted that it would be a great place to visit, but, unfortunately, we failed to realize that it was a Feast Day for the Catholic church. Everything in town (including, for some reason, the synagogues and mosques) was closed, and we were reduced to wandering around the hilly, narrow streets without much to do. We did happen upon a small Leonardo da Vinci museum exhibit that showed models of some of his lesser-known inventions, which was neat, but the rest of the day was lost in the heat of the sandy streets. Alas, traveling can be unpredictable.
On Friday, we headed to the Prado Museum to see some of the world’s greatest Spanish masterpieces, including Velasquez’s Las Meninas. I didn’t realize how vast the museum’s collection was until we got there and saw the guide. It took us all morning and part of the afternoon to navigate our way through the fifty-odd rooms, but it was worth the effort. By the time we left the museum, I was ready for a nap, but we continued on to the city park next door in the hopes of finding some street musicians or a cool market. While we didn’t find either of those two things, we did enjoy relaxing in the shade of the park’s beautiful trees and people-watching.
For our last night in Madrid, we had dinner with one of our director’s colleagues, a maestro from Bulgaria, at a Paella restaurant. Paella is pretty much just rice mixed with whatever else is on hand, from seafood to beef or veggies and sauces, but that’s all you need to make a fabulous gumbo-esque meal. I was stuffed, both physically and mentally, after a few hours of noshing and talking about music, but it was a lovely way to end our time in Madrid.
The next morning, the Doctor left for Italy, and Marcus and I continued on to Barcelona. Our first day here has been great-I’ll tell you all about it in my next post. Until then, viva la vida en España!