08.23.2009 - 08.26.2009
The countdown was on. I only had 10 days left.
Throughout my travels, every time I have mentioned that I was finishing up my trip in the land of tapas, folks were quick to push the Barcelona button. It was a must. A can't be missed. The architectural mecca. The promised land of art and Spanish culture. But that was too much pressure. It had been built up, placed on a pedestal and veered as the golden city. I decided to let it simmer out there on the Mediterranean Coast. Maybe next time. Maybe next trip.
When I finally dropped from the sky, I was in Madrid, the heart of Spain. But again, I hadn't done my homework. The only thing I did know was that it was going to be hot.
I navigated the crisscrossing metro into the city center (Puerta del Sol). I had to make three transfers from the airport to get there, so by the time I had surfaced during the mid-day heat, backpack sweat-marks were distinctly formed. The hostel gave little refuge even though they claimed 'AC' as a selling point. Back to the streets I went.
I loved it. There were no rhyme or reasons to the winding narrow streets. They flowed from one direction to the next, bending around cathedrals and monuments and dead-ending into an assortment of plazas. Getting turned around and lost was part of the fun. It's the only way to see a city.
Madrid felt good.
Me and my flip-flops hiked it all, from the Royal Palace and gardens to the iconic Don Quixote and Sancho Panza statues to the picturesque Parque del Retiro. Minus some central construction, as Madrid gets a face-lift in anticipation for the 2016 Olympic Games bid, the city was spotless, pulsing and crammed with culture.
But no one was in a hurry. What a concept. Lazy mornings, 2-3 hour lunches and nights that disappeared into the next day. The reason? It has to be the food. A new friend and I discussed life's mysteries under an umbrella at a plaza butting cafe, sipping on rich cortados and picking at deep fried churos. I pulled out a book and made myself comfortable at a cliff-side terrace scattered with tables and chairs for an extended lunch. I ordered a hand-squeezed glass of orange juice and a tortilla espanola. I took my time and enjoyed every bite. And to top it off, like the locals would do, a few of us hostelers sampled some tapas, got down on some gazpacho and piled in the paella, washing it all down with glasses of sangria in the midst of Plaza Mayor. The nights were cool and comfortable and long.
As an artist, I had a mission. Picasso's infamous Guernica painting makes its home in Madrid (at the Reina Sofia Museum). This enormous painting interprets the destruction and pain left after German and Italian planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. It was intense. A huge gallery room dedicated to this one painting. Security on each side and a fifteen foot no-step zone keeping the scene at a safe distance. The chaos, the devastation and the agony of dying civilians honestly conveys this larger than life part of history. Truly impressive.
I had just the right mix of social interaction and me time, an equation that worked well to maximize my Madrid experience.
Train station decoration.