Friday, April 18, 2008

More Madrid

So much fun to share I´m not even sure where to begin. We´ve been here for 2.5 days now, and we´ve been exploring the city non-stop since our arrival. We´ve taken a gazillion pictures, but unfortunately, I cannot upload them until I get home, so have no current visuals for you to be able share in our the beauty we´ve been enjoying.

Day1: We hit the pavement running (ok, walking, but I swear we´ve been walking ever since) the moment we got here to get out to see what this beautiful city had to offer. First off, we serendipitously ran into the royal palace (Palacio Real de Madrid) , which was absolutely magnificent. Ornate would be an understatement to describe the size and decorative style, definitely very impressive. According to one of the locals, the palace is the largest palace in western Europe.

Since we´re on a budget, staying and eating as cheaply as we possibly can, we grabbed some cold & super cheap empanadas (1.65 euro) and a soda for dinner from a tiny little grocery store. They´re pretty tasty, but certainly nothing fancy. As Brian likes to call them: gas station food. They´re not really that bad, but it´s no gourmet sit down scrumptious meal either. With all this walking, we´ve been hungrily staring down all the tapas and other fancy restaurants, jealously eyeing the yummy food being served up inside.

Day 2 (yesterday): We headed out early (around 10, which is early for me, but late for Brian, the future surgeon who´s practicing sleep deprivation in preparation for residency. Meanwhile, the jet lag that was making me so tired also gave me a major anxiety attack as it reminded me of how painful my life is going to be in a few months when the reality of being on call and constant sleep deprivation sets in - repress, repress those thoughts while on vacation. Repress I say! Anyhow, off we went to explore the two gardens of Madrid. First up, the garden surrounding the Royal Palace. Again, the royals did not disappoint. A mighty impressive surrounding oasis in the middle of the city. We wandered about and enjoyed the scenerey while horse drawn carriages trotted by and peacocks wandered the grounds and called out for their mates. Brian desperately wanted one of the male peacocks to show off his plumage. He stubbornly refused. Brian thought that he could just wait him out. Finally, I had to pull him away as we´d be there all day waiting for the two stubborn men to see which one would fold first. However, a few minutes later we ran into two males and a female peacock. The female turned out to have been the missing ingredient and we got lucky and got to see one of the males spread his most impressive plumage and hold it up on display for us. It was quite the show!

After this, we high tailed it over to Plaza Mayor for a free walking tour of the city. We were hungry, but decided that a free tour was better than a costly lunch. It turned out to be a wise decision as we got to see and learn a great deal of the city. The only thing was that it rained intermittently (according to our tour guide it only rains 30 days out of the year, so what are the odds that it would rain while we´re here? Need I mention that it also rained again today? Calculate out those odds and tell me if I don´t have some sorta dark cloud over my head?) After we were done with the walking tour, we decided to have lunch with our new French buddies we just met on the tour to enjoy one of the local favorites: a calimare sandwich. It´s basically just fried calimari on a baguette, but very delicious and the price is right (2.15 euro). Score!

With our newfound energy and friends, we headed off to the other large city garden to go for a boat ride on the lake and check out the crystal palace in the middle of the garden. The hike there turned out to be quite a bit longer than we had anticipated as the garden is absolutely enormous. The crystal palace was pretty neat, but the boat ride didn´t quite pan out as it was just too rainy and windy.

Back to the hostel we went, where I to my own great joy and amusement, discovered a beer vending machine! Yippee!! Our hostel has a bar, so we could purchase drinks, beer, and wine there, but did I mention that we´re on a budget? Everything here is expensive. It wouldn´t be so bad if the exchange rate between the dollar and the Euro weren´t in the crapper, but it is, so just looking in the store with the intent of buying something is akin to highway robbery. But, there it was - affordable beer, within reach. Right next to the snack and soda machine was a beer vending machine. Stupendous!!! For the grand price of 1 euro (about $1.5), I purchased an Estrella (chose that over Budweiser, ha!) and sat back to appreciate life. Once I finished that one, I thought that I really deserved a second one for being so thrifty to discover a beer vending machine and not purchasing anything extraneous.

Day 3: Today we got a little bit slower of a start as we´d been up a little bit later trying to figure out our next move, how to get around Europe, and to make some travel arrangements. Of course, none of the computers were working right and crashed every time we thought we´d come up with a plan. This morning we finally got moving on it and made some sort of head way. Then, we headed out again. Today, we went to the place that has been my Mecca since I was a teenager and began appreciating art: Prado. Oh, my holy Colbert, what a spectacular museum! It is by far the most impressive collection of grand masters I have ever seen. It was a truly amazing experience that every art lover should have at least once in their life. It was also the first time on the trip that Brian distinguished himself in the way I had thought he would, in some shape or form. For those of you who don´t know Brian, some might call him enterprising and ingenius. Others might call him mischevious or devious. I dunno. I rather like the kid and I was intrigued to see what it would be like to have him as my travel partner. Today, I finally got to see that enterprising side of him that I had been excitedly anticipating and secretly fearing at the same time, and it was great!

We were at Prado, enjoying all the beautiful art when we came upon the ´Goya exhibit´, for which you apparently needed a ticket. The ticket was free. All you had to do to get said ticket was to go and stand in line, downstairs, at the entrance, to get your free Goya exhibit ticket. Had somone mentioned that to us at the entrance, we probably would have stood in line, but no one did. Now, we were half way through the museum, filled with people, who much like ourselves had no idea that they needed another ticket to enter the Goya exhibit. We asked what the purpose was to have a FREE ticket to enter the exhibit and according to the security folks, it was because they needed to count how many visitors they had to the exhibit. We wanted to see the exhibit. However, it seemed too laborious to venture all the way back downstairs, stand in line, get a FREE ticket, come all the way back upstairs, just to enter the exhibit. We were tired. We had been walking for two days, were half way done at the museum, and had not yet eaten lunch. We were not expletive walking back downstairs to get a free ticket! Another tourist started yelling at the guard. Some people were trying to reason with the guards. All to no avail. This is when Brian´s genius surfaced: we´ll ask someone exiting the exhibit to get their used ticket! So simple, and so brilliant! Yet, so gutsy I would never have thought of it. But, he did and we did. And it worked great! To top it off, we paid it forward by passing our tickets along to someone else after we used the previous `owners´´ tickets.

Phew, this is getting long. Are you still reading? Well, if you are, you´ll learn that after the museum and all this walking it was getting onto 4:30 and I hadn´t had anything to eat since breakfast (10 a). If you don´t know me well, you may not realize that I apparently turn into quite the cranky rhymes-with-witch when my blood sugar runs low. Uh oh, the internet place is closing so I won´t be able to finish this one or proof read what I got. I´ll post more when I can. Salud!

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