December 6th is Constitution Day in Spain, and the 8th is the day of the Immaculate Conception. Because these holidays are always celebrated on those particular dates, whichever day of the week they may fall on, this year made for a highly irregular schoolweek with Tuesday and Thursday off. Many Spanish people skip an extra day to hacer puente, or make a bridge, so that these holidays create a long weekend. In an effort to assimilate, I took Monday off and went on a quick trip to Madrid and Toledo!
After an overnight bus ride I arrived at the Mendez Alvaro station bright and early on Saturday morning. I intended to go straight to the hostel to make sure I had a warm bed for the night, but got lost almost immediately! It was difficult to get back on track as I continued to be amazed by one monument after another.
|el Oso y el Madroño|
The Bear with the Strawberry Tree is based on a thirteenth century coat of arms and is considered emblematic of Madrid.
Egypt donated this UNESCO monument to Spain in thanks for their preservation aid.
|la Plaza Mayor|
|el Mercado de San Miguel|
This market was completely agotado with people enjoying sweet and savory tapas.
|Museo del Jamón|
The Ham Museum, because Spain. Not a monument, but I was excited for my first encounter with this restaurant!
|la Real Academia Española|
|el Palacio Real|
The Spanish have definitely mastered the "off with their heads" look. If anybody around the Royal Palace were to ask me, I was prepared to profess to be a devout Catholic! After a day of wandering, I finally stumbled into my hostel at around eight o'clock, completely exhausted. Thanks, Mom, for emailing a copy of my passport! (Who knew that you needed a passport to travel in a foreign country?)
By Sunday I was better oriented. I spent the morning at the Rastro market—a large flea market known for various districts of wares, including clothing, books, and antiques. One of my favorite sections was a little alley full of pet supplies, and pets! There were a lot of noisy and slightly unconventional critters! I also spent a good half an hour digging through recycled fur hats with a bunch of señoras. It was easy to recognize my fellow shoppers and share a smile as we tipped our furry hats when we bumped into each other in different parts of the city.
From the Rastro I made my way to the Reina Sofia museum, but on my way something curioso happened. I approached an old señora who was feeding the birds to ask for directions, and before I could present my question she started into a sob story about the poor little birds (ugly pigeons and mean sparrows) and their struggle to find food and survive. I began to evaluate this woman. No, she didn't look homeless or crazy. Her clothes were nice. Although, to me, her story wasn't a normal reaction to an approaching stranger poised to ask a question, I tried to sympathize with her feelings and commented how nice it was of her to feed them. She commented how nice it was for me to listen to her, and smiled and parted ways. I continued the search for the museum on my own.
At the Reina Sofía I got to stand before Picasso’s famous Guernica painting. No photos were allowed, so I tried to take a mental picture. I sat with the small children (until a docent told me not to) and contemplated the complex perspective and the faces of the other starstruck onlookers. It was pretty cool.
The museum itself is a work of art!
From the Reina Sofía I made my way through Retiro Park. This is the place to be on a weekend or holiday! The park was full of people relaxing, roller blading, and boating. It’s also the locale for some temporary art exhibits, and, I am told, the only statue the features the devil.
My next stop was the Prado museum, which I absolutely loved! In roughly two and a half days in Madrid, I went to the Prado three times! The impressive collection of art seems to include a piece by every classical master, not to mention extensive exhibits by the most renown Spanish painters such as el Greco, Velasquez, and Goya. It is nearly impossible to see everything in one trip. We frequently discussed these paintings in many of my Spanish classes over the years, so it was powerful to finally see them in reality.
By the end of my trip I was completely exhausted, but I felt comfortable in Spain's capital city. I hope that I make it back someday!