Posts Tagged ‘Madrid’

Day 38: Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Madrid, Travel
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Day 38: Madrid

Our last day of the trip 😦

We all woke up very tired this morning. The room was really hot last night (until I figured out how to work their air conditioning system – then it was too cold for Marie and Caitlin) and I couldn’t sleep… And the noise from the square and in the hotel (Saturday night is definitely party night in Madrid) was too much for the ear plugs… Then around 6am we were rudely woken to shouted insults and angry swearing then the sound of police sirens… And the beds were too hard…When I went out on the balcony to check what it was all about there were 6-8 cops there and it appeared they’d broken up a fairly large fight… What was surprising was there must have been 150 people milling around in the square (many looked like they were just heading home from the bars).

Bleary eyes and aching bodies notwithstanding, we started our last day in Madrid early with a trip to El Rastro – the largest flea market in Spain (and one of the largest in Europe). It was a shopper’s paradise and Caitlin and Marie did some damage to their pocketbooks. Apparently there’s a limit of 3500 stalls scattered over an area encompassing about 10 square city blocks. Parts of it are a decent quality tourist market (lots of scarves, patchwork pants, etc.) with decent enough prices… The rest is true flea market with lots of antiques and odds and ends and DVDs, etc. There were lots of cool, funky things for sale but we’re pretty limited on the amount of stuff we can bring back and the packs are pretty full as it is… So lots of looking but no buying for us. Marie may also significantly damaged the image of Canadians in Spain forever in one stall… Her “who is this Renaldo guy anyways and what does he play” caused the guy to cough and sputter like he was having a seizure.

The guidebooks mentioned this place would be a zoo by 11am so we got there early (just after 9am) when a lot of the sellers were just getting set up and it was pretty quiet (lots of police around – presumably to check the sellers’ licences). By 11am it was wall to wall shoppers. We stuck it out until around 12:30 then grabbed a bucket of cold Radlers (those yummy low alcohol content, beer based drinks I mentioned in an earlier post) and some tapas for lunch… Then it was off to the Museo Reina Sofia – home to Picasso’s famous painting Guernica – considered the most important Spanish painting and one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world – and a bunch of Dali’s and other modern artists’ works. Turns out admission is free after 1:30 (good timing for us) but they close some of the exhibits so we weren’t able to see all of the art (Marie cried inconsolably at this turn of events) but did get to see the biggies.

Then it was back to the Plaza del Sol area to shop for some souvenirs… At one point I discovered a chain restaurant called 100 Motaditos (or something like that) where they serve pints of beer for 1.50 euros (about $2.25 cnd) and all the tapas are 1 euro… I made myself comfortable while Caitlin and Marie finished their souvenir shopping… Then it was over to the more swanky shopping area to check out a store called “Lefties” that we’d discovered earlier in our wanders… Marie and Caitlin did some back to school shopping (and stretched the limits of our packing space to their very max) and then we headed back to our stomping grounds for a final dinner in Madrid.

We settled on the place next door to the restaurant we’d eaten at the previous two nights (you can only take completely indifferent service so many times). They had a fixed menu where you got 4 tapas and a main plus bread and dessert for 16.5 euros (reasonably priced for Madrid). The food was good, the sangria was good and the shots of Madronos liquor they gave us for free (not sure if that was intentional or not but they weren’t on the bill) were also good… By this point it was almost 11 and we still had to pack for tomorrow so it was back to the hotel room (a whopping 20’ away from our seats) and off to bed.

Hard to believe that 38 days have gone by… although, we’ve been traveling for so long now and seen so many countries and cities that we’ve all kind of forgotten the first days of the trip…

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The picture above is called “Girl at the Window” or something along those lines. It is by Salvadore Dali (as is the picture below which is more along the lines of what he’s famous for)… I include this picture because it is quite noteworthy… Mainly because it is one of the few (as in quite possibly none) pieces of modern art Marie has ever said “I like that” in response to… She likes it so much she bought a copy of it to put in her office…

 

 

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Day 37: Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Madrid, Travel
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Day 37-38: Madrid

We started off with a quick breakfast of yogurt from a mini-mart near the Plaza Mayor and then headed to the Palace to beat the hordes. When we arrived there was virtually no line and once inside the palace we found it significantly less busy than many of the sites we’ve visited on this trip. Technically the royal palace of Spain (although the royal family now lives in a different palace somewhere else), it was built in the 17th century replacing the wooden one that used to be on the same site but burned down in the 1650s…  Apparently having your wooden royal palace burn to the ground is good incentive to make sure the next one is built entirely of stone so that’s what they did.

This palace is very similar in design and look to Versailles but the part open to the public is much smaller (we spent 8-10 hours at Versailles where this one took about 90 minutes). Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in most of the spaces so you’ll have to take my word that it was very elegant and extravagant – one positive difference between this palace and Versailles is that much of the furnishings are intact as it’s been continuously used since it was built (where a lot of the furnishing in Versailles are copies or period pieces as the originals were stolen or destroyed during the French Revolution).

After the palace we checked out the Royal Armoury (included with admission to the palace). Your usual collection of swords, muskets, etc. and a great collection of model horses in full tournament and battle armour – very impressive. Some of them were so heavily armoured that seeing one of those bearing down on you at full speed must have been like watching a small tank come at you… It would have taken a brave pike man to stand and hold the line in the face of one these things coming at them.

After the armoury we paid our 8 euros to enter the cathedral… Well technically to enter the museum and the cupola – the cathedral itself is free to enter. First time on this trip that Caitlin was denied the student rate because she didn’t have her ID… Can’t say the young guy behind the counter was particularly friendly either… It seemed ironic that he was working in a church. In any case, this was probably the most disappointing site we visited on this trip. The cathedral is quite modern (it was actually finished in 1993) and is built to modern safety standards so you have a glass wall keeping you from being able to look down from the cupola on the cathedral below and everything is modern. You do get some nice views of the city from the cupola though. The cathedral itself is decent enough albeit a bit bland and modern after all the old churches we’ve visited.

After the cathedral we walked back to the Mercado de San Miguel and sampled some of the tapas, paellas and other food we’d seen there the night before. It was all quite tasty but quite expensive by our standards (our whole lunch came to 28 euros – about 42 cdn – which is 2-3 times what we we’ve been paying for lunch in most of the cities we visited).

After the Mercado we walked over the Museo del Prado – the Prado Museum – one of the best art galleries in Europe. It was very big… Some of the highlights included “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch – that dude was so far ahead of his time and the inside of his head was a scary place, some very nice and some very disturbing works by Goya, a fascinating exhibition on the way El Greco (who I always thought was a modern painter but was really a Renaissance-era painter) influenced modern painters like Picasso, Pollock, Dali, etc. It was quite interesting and El Greco’s works are amazing (another painter light years ahead of his contemporaries). After a while, though, our feet were hurting (the hills and cobblestones in Lisbon had pummelled all of us pretty good) and our eyes were glazing over a bit… But we did backtrack to make sure we saw the Raphael’s we’d somehow missed earlier… In all we spent about 3 hours in the museum – enough that Marie was wondering again where all the art comes from and Caitlin was reprising her suggestion that there be some kind of spay and neuter program for artists… The part that gets me about art is that aside from the truly great artists (put a Picasso or a Dali or Raphael or El Greco in a room with hundreds of other paintings and even the most neophyte viewer would be drawn to them – their works really do stand out that much) much of the art is sort of ho-hum… Unless you’re an art historian, it’s hard to tell the difference between a nice painting you could pick up at a garage sale and a museum quality piece (the really old stuff being an obvious difference).

After the Prado we walked through some of Madrid’s swankier areas and visited the famous city gate (I’m typing this on the plane without WiFi and the name escapes me) and the Fountain of Cibeles (I think that’s the name) – a couple of famous Madrid landmarks. Then we headed back to the Plaza del Sol and Plaza Mayor areas to find some souvenirs and explore… Marie even paid money for one of those cheesy tourist pictures where you stand behind some kind of costume (must have been something she ate). We also stopped for some tapas and drinks at one of the places near the mercado… Turns out Marie still doesn’t like mojitos so Caitlin ended up drinking both of them… Good thing they were pretty weak (you can’t expect much when they’re 2 for 8 euros I guess) or we’d have been rolling her home.

We decided to eat at the same restaurant we’d eaten at the first night (lousy service notwithstanding) because the food was good and the prices were better than the rest… Then it was off to bed for an even earlier start the next day (our last in Madrid and the last of the trip).

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I don’t usually take the time to comment on the pictures (just takes too much time and it’s hard to keep up with the blog as it is with all the stuff we do during the days) but I had to point out that this photo is of Caitlin – completely exhausted – after we left the Prado… And it was her idea to go there!

 

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Day 36: Lisbon to Madrid

Posted: August 25, 2014 in Getting Around, Madrid
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Day 36: Lisbon to Madrid

Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3pm-ish but we got up early so we could stop at the Oceanaria de Lisboa – the Lisbon Aquarium…

Our landlord (Pedro) met us at the apartment at 9:30am to handle the checkout and returning our deposit (100 euros). Very friendly (and chatty!) guy – we learned all about his business plan and operation – he has 3 apartments currently being rented out (he rents them from someone else and sublets them to tourists) and has just signed a lease on 3 more… He was telling us that a flat in the Alfama area the size of the one we rented (about 25 square metres) was selling for about 8000 euros two years ago but is now selling for over 100,000 euros! Given that he pays about 800 euros a month to lease the apartment he rented to us and he’s full 85% of the time at 60-70 euros a night, he’s not doing too badly but he’s got a ways to go before he can quit his day job…

After chatting with Pedro for a bit, we headed over to the Santa Appolonia train station to catch the Red Line metro to the aquarium. We navigated our way through Lisbon’s excellent underground system without any trouble – it’s weird how we can figure out the subway system in countries where we don’t speak or read a word of their language but figuring out the SkyTrain system in Vancouver is almost impossible…

We hopped off at stop nearest the aquarium and – as it used to be the end of the line until they pushed the airport extension through in July of this year, took advantage of their convenient luggage storage facilities (4.5 euros to store all our bags for a couple of hours) and then made the 10 minute trek to the aquarium.

It cost us about $70 cdn to get in and was mostly worth it – they have a huge central tank that links all the various ecosystems of the aquarium and is full of sharks and rays and all kinds of other fish. Because you can view it from multiple angles, you get to see every kind of fish up close and personal through the floor to ceiling viewing spaces. The rest of the aquarium is set up around the central tank and is based on various oceans and ecosystems… It’s actually pretty cool and kind of made me want to get back into diving again… The only downside was the three resident sea otters (the only marine mammals they have at the aquarium) were sleeping while we were there so we didn’t get to see them… Kind of a bummer for Caitlin who thinks they might just be the cutest critters on the whole planet (after her dog Ladybug of course).

After the aquarium, we piled back onto the metro and traveled the three stops to the airport. Once there, we hopped the shuttle bus to the right terminal and entered the line to check-in (we’d already checked in but needed to drop out checked bags and EasyJet – like other low-cost airlines we’ve flown this trip – doesn’t have a separate baggage drop for people already checked in… It was a big line up… After standing in line for about 5 minutes, though, a guy came along calling for any passengers flying to Madrid… That was us so we followed him out of the line to his check-in counter where he got us all squared away… Best airline customer service we’ve had in all our flights thus far (on any of our trips). He explained we’d have to consolidate our carry on bags down to one each (Marie and Caitlin were carrying small “purse” size bags in addition to their backpacks) or we’d have to pay 55 euros at the gate and got us all set up for our flight…

After leaving the check-in counter we immediately headed through security (they’re less than 2 minutes apart)… Along the way, Marie slammed the little bottle of Licor Beirho that she had in her carry-on (we all got quite a kick out of her hustling along with all her bags taking little sips of liquor from her tiny little bottle). Security would turn out to be all kinds of fun… You see, at this point in the trip, we’ve accumulated a lot of souvenirs (more on this trip than previous ones) and some of them are quite fragile. So we carry them on the airplane instead of putting them in our checked bags. So going through security in Lisbon, Marie and Caitlin were carrying two medium-sized day packs full of assorted souvenirs – soaps in tins, canned sardines from Lisbon, vacuum packed bags of teas and spices from Turkey, scarves, magnets, mugs and other stuff from the various countries and cities we’ve visited… You get the picture… I think the security guy manning the x-ray machine had a small seizure when Caitlin and Marie’s bags went through… Not surprisingly they were both pulled aside (by a very polite and friendly security screener) and asked to unpack their bags… This was no easy task as these bags have been packed for days and days (Caitlin kept exclaiming “I forgot I bought that” as she unpacked her bag) and they were packed very precisely to maximize space and cushion the fragile items… It was all good fun as they’re pulling all these items wrapped in bubble wrap or plastic bags or paper out and handing them to the security screening who’s looking at the items (and us) with a “what the heck is this?” kind of look… The best part was when the security screener finished with Caitlin’s bag, she turned to Marie and said “I’ve forgotten why I need you to unpack your bag.” It all turned out fine in the end. We’ve seen enough people having to throw out toiletries, aftershave, food (I especially remember the elderly woman in Turkey who had to throw out huge tubs of hummus or some other kind of quite runny dip she was trying to smuggle onto the plane), water, etc. that we’re pretty careful about what goes into our carry on bags and the staff were very friendly and positive. What could have been a very lousy situation was no big deal at all.

After security we made our way to the loading gate… which more appropriately should have been called a cattle gate as we all got packed into these loading areas waiting for the doors to open… Again, EasyJet demonstrated good customer service as they had a couple of guys going up and down the line tagging any overly large carry-on items to be “sky checked” (moved into a hold instead of the passenger cabin) so that it didn’t have to be done at the gate proper. Once everyone was loaded into the holding pens, we waited for about 15 minutes (this would have been more comfortable with something to sit on or lean against) before the doors opened and we walked over to our plane… No concourses or buses for EasyJet – just good old-fashioned foot power. We boarded our plane (an older but well-maintained AirBus A319) and settled in for the short hop from Lisbon to Madrid.

The flight passed without incident and we were soon on the ground at Madrid airport – although we made quite possible the longest “gear down” approach we’ve ever made (the landing gear came down so early that at one point I actually worried that the plane’s altimeter was off and we were going to try landing at 15,000 feet). Once we landed, we also taxied from one time zone to another (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but it felt like we taxied forever to get to our arrivals gate). Then it was pick up the bags and figure out how to get from Terminal 1 (where we landed) to Terminal 4 (where the train to the city leaves from)… We eventually found our way to the shuttle and made it to the terminal… From there we had to figure out where the trains were (took a minute or two but we found them) and made our way to the right platform. The train arrived right on time and, following the helpful instructions from our hostal, we made our way to Plaze del Sol in the heart of Madrid. Using Google Maps’ awesome offline navigation features we found the correct street and made the 5 minute walk to our hostal.

After that it was check-in, dump the bags and head out for something to eat (EasyJet doesn’t feed you unless you pay for it so we all shared a chicken sandwich we’d bought at the train station but other than that had not eaten anything other than some yogurt since breakfast). We wandered around for a bit before settling on the restaurant attached to our hostal (which by the way seems to be a Madrid of Spanish thing – sort of midway between a hostel and a hotel). Our hostal was situated on Plaza Angel which has a bunch of “tables with umbrellas out in the square” sort of restaurants – most of them were pretty pricey (especially after Turkey which was cheap for food and Lisbon which was quite reasonable). Our hostal’s restaurant was reasonably priced and the food was good. The service on the other hand was exceptionally poor – they managed to elevate indifferent well beyond Paris standards (which is quite an accomplishment).

After dinner we wandered around a bit more and found Plaza Mayor (one of the major squares in Madrid) and the Mercado de San Miguel – a happening market with a Granville Island sort of vibe with lots of different tapas and drinks and exotic foods to sample. We decided we’d eat lunch there the next day! We also found a Madrid specialty – chocolate churros – yup… your good-old-fashioned churro dipped into what is basically a cup of thick gooey hot chocolate… They’re delicious… After a bit of wandering around, it was back to the room toff to bed so we could make an early start the next day… Our room was on the third floor of an older building that looked out onto the plaza below (we even had one of those cute Parisien style wrought iron balconies). The hostal has made a good effort at soundproofing the room (installing a second set of soundproof sliding doors) but we could still hear a bit of the noise from outside (and quite a bit of noise from inside the hotel as the kids and family in the room next to ours sounded as if they were right in the room with us). Otherwise, the room was very cute with high ceilings and a lot of character…

I’ve also include a picture below of Caitlin and Marie bundled up in their blankets at the restaurant in Lisbon the other night… Yes, they’re wrapped up in blankets in 26° weather… Caitlin definitely inherited her mother’s “I’m cold all the time gene”

The other picture is of the box of meringues Caitlin and Marie bought for 1.5 euros on one of the days we were in Lisbon (I think it was the same day I bought my bottle of port) – the guy obviously took a shine to them as he packed the box so full of meringues it wouldn’t close… He kept peeking over at the other people working in the store then stuffing more meringues into the box. When he passed it over he made sure no one was looking and kind of gave Marie and Caitlin a conspiratorial look and a big smile… They’ve been eating meringues for days… They’re so obsessed that when one fell on the ground as soon as they opened the box for the first time they both looked at each other with a “oh no, did that just happen?” look then shouted “5 second rule!” and picked it up off the street (the dirty Lisbon street no less) and ate it… Sugar is a dangerous drug kids…

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