Madrid

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
1
46
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Trip End Feb 04, 2008


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The trip through beautiful, balmy Spain continued, and was rounded off with visits to Sevilla, Cordoba and the grand finale, Madrid.  Word of caution to any future travelers to Spain:  severely guard your pockets on the Metro, as we had our camera pick-pocketed, and we were incredibly vigilant during our entire trip.  This vigilance didn't mean a thing on the Metro unfortunately.  Put locks on your pants if possible!  Ok, that may be uncomfortable, but you get the idea.
Sevilla was the first time since arriving on the European continent where we took a breather by staying in one place for 3 nights!  Whoa, 3 whole nights, just imagine our elation!  By this point in our 4 month trip Scott and I started to get a bit tired, or better yet, lazy.  We just didn't want to HAVE to go out and do something, which is why Sevilla was perfect.  I have no specific sights to report, and no flamenco shows to rave about because we made the conscious decision to just hang out.  Sevilla is a gorgeous city though, lined endlessly with orange trees, shopping to make you weak at the knees, restaurants and cafes, medieval buildings, gardens, cathedrals...  such an incredible Spanish city to visit, even if you are just being lazy, choosing to only hang out.  However, with a bit more energy there is so much to see and do in this traditionally Spanish city, you really can't go wrong.  Time for a sigh:  Ahhhhhhhhhhh........
Off to Cordoba!  Officially, after some discussion, Scott and I have decided that this is our favourite place in Spain and where we would live if we were Spanish citizens.  Which we are not.  Cordoba is best and simply described as cozy, medieval and fun!  We could not get enough of the Moorish influence on the city. The intricate mosaic work we saw in the Alhambra was also present throughout many buildings in the city, including our gorgeous guesthouse.  There is something about Cordoba's casual eateries and little streets that make you feel comfortable, like you should linger a little longer and take in the relaxed, historical atmosphere around you.
The Mezquita, built in the late 700's is one of the most unique places we saw on the trip.  The inside is cavernous and comprises of two-tier arches made of white and red brick and this continues along the entire place.  However, very oddly in the 1600's a Roman Catholic Cathedral was built inside the Mezquita and so a giant centre section was destroyed to make way for this church inside a Mosque.  A very, very, very strange sight.  The entire Mezquita is fortressed, and within the walls there is a courtyard saturated with orange trees.  Having seen orange trees lining the streets in Granada and Sevilla, Scott and I could resist no more!  Scott jumped up and plucked a couple of oranges (we had spent our time just hoping one would happen to fall conveniently in front of us).  After peeling through the two-inch thick peels we finally reached the juicy orange, took a bite and... spat! Ugh!  Sour, sour, sour, sour, sour!  And not in a good way.  Sour.  That would be why you don't see the locals plucking oranges, maybe we should have taken their cue.
As we were wandering the lovely streets and the main centre of Cordoba Scott noticed a little market stand down a small alley.  We made our way there wondering what it was and found a little square with several tables set up selling the BIGGEST cotton candy we'd ever seen, hand-made jewelery and odd crafts.  But wait, how strange, the vendors are dressed like medieval peasants.  We continued to walk, following banners hanging over the streets and discovered a yearly, massive Mercado Medieval, or Medieval Market!  The main square of Cordoba was riddled with stalls selling everything imaginable.  You could barely move there were so many people.  It was ridiculously crowded but too much fun to miss.  Acrobats juggled, beautiful women belly-danced, "court jesters" cracked jokes and purposely wreaked havoc, and knights in armor jousted.  It was mad, it was fun, it was a total accident that we found it, even though it was enormous.  The mulled wine made us a bit weak at the knees as well as the soft loaves of bread being baked in an outdoor stone oven.  The line up to buy the bread was at least 6 people deep by 8 people wide, and understandably so, could bread possibly look more appealing!?!?  We also tried a stiff shot called Aliento de Dragon (Dragon's Breath) which had vodka, scotch, honeyed rum and chili flakes.  You downed it and then breathed in the fumes left in the shot glass, and let us tell you, we did breathe fire and choke a bit.  My eyes began watering it was so strong, what an insane drink.
Happy to have discovered a bit of Cordoba (remember, it's our favourite Spanish city!), and sad to leave it so soon we took the lightning fast AVE train to Madrid, the grand capital.  We arrived at our hostel to discover that the centre of Madrid is measured from a statue of a bear at the base of our pedestrian street, Calle del Carmen.  We were literally at km zero in Madrid; it couldn't have gotten more central.  Madrid is a beautiful city; it's clean, open, modern, people friendly and accessible.  More importantly though, it may hold the unique title of being the only city on the planet to house the "Museo de Jamon", or in English the "Ham Museum". Huh?  "The conversation went something like this:
Scott: "Um, does that mean Ham Museum?"
Jenn: "Huh?  Where?  Oh!  Yes, bizarre.  There's no way it's really a ham museum!
Scott: "Ah, of course, ham museum must be a metaphor for something, surely it is not a museum of ham!"
Jenn: "Surely not, that would be ludicrous, ha ha ha!"
We arrive at the window of the ham museum
Jenn:  "Ew!  There are pig legs hanging everywhere!"
Scott: "Hmm.  It really is a ham museum, ha ha ha!"
 
Essentially the Museo de Jamon is a large deli, specializing in ham if you didn't get that bit yet, and there are pieces of pig hanging from the ceiling, mainly legs.  Mmmm, weird.  But, in fairness to the Museo de Jamon, many restaurants have pig legs hanging from hooks, it is obviously a very Spanish thing.  The Ham Museum, however, just takes it to the next level.
Apart from the ham museum which really captured our imagination, we did a self-walking tour of Madrid and saw many of its sights, the highlights being the Palacio Real and another lovely urban park (Spain is very good we notice at creating amazing public spaces) called the Parque del Buen Retiro.  Over a lake where families and couples paddle, successfully and unsuccessfully in rented rowboats as the sun sets is a giant pillared monument where people lounge and sun-bake (yes, even in January, Spain has incredible weather) and picnic.  It's such a beautiful park, we said we'd spend lots of time there if we were Spanish.  Which we're not.
The diamond of Madrid however, was the Museo Nacional del Prado which houses a world-renowned art collection.  Visiting it was overwhelming, there was so much to see and how do you discriminate between seeing one masterpiece over another?  The painting that really caught our attention and we have not forgotten is Fusilamento de Torrijos y sus companeros en las playas de Malaga, 1888 by Antonio Gisbert.  You can check it out on the Prado Museum website.  Seeing it on there won't do it complete justice so keep in mind this painting is 3.9 m x 6 m in size, so the reality of that painted moment in time is almost tangible.  You feel like you can read the thoughts of the condemned men. Incredible, incredible painting.  Another fantastic one is El Jardin de las Delicias, h. 1500 by El Bosco.  You can check that one out as well on the Prado Museum website.  AND, last but not least are the more surreal paintings by El Greco.
Two anecdotes before signing off Spain:  as we wondered the streets we came across a Colombian coffee shop (I found so many Colombian foods in Spain, Scott sometimes had trouble controlling my excitement) where they were selling pandebono and almojabanas (I don't know if I spelled it right).  I bought four, I was beside myself.  The second anecdote is the adorable little old man that stopped Scott on the street and said to him (I'm translating obviously), "A girl like her (he points at me), you have to hold and carry, like this (he puts his arms up like he's carrying, well, a woman)."  And then he says to me, "If he doesn't do this for you, you hit him!  Give him some sense!"  How funny was that?  Just out of the blue, very random, and very sweet I think.  Sweet for me anyway, not for Scott as I was instructed to hit him if he didn't carry me.  Anyway, it's a nice comment/compliment to take away...
So, in short, here is what we feel about Spain.  If we were European and could live there, we'd have lived there yesterday!  It is easily our favourite European country.  If you can't live there and you haven't visited, go!!  And make sure to visit the Mirador de San Nicolas in Granada as mentioned in the last blog, one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
Canaussie rating:
 
Museo Nacional del Prado: 5, but you need more than a day to see it all
Ham legs on hooks: 2, ew
Shopping, or wishing you could shop in Sevilla: 5
Mercado Medieval in Cordoba: 5
Mezquita: 5
Oranges plucked from the tree: don't bother, they are nicer to look at!  Or make a juice and add 20 cups of sugar.
Parque del Buen Retiro: 5
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Comments

starlagurl
starlagurl on

Cool!
That medieval festival sounds just awesome. Stumbling onto cool things like that is the best when you are in a new place! Keep up the great work!

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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