Mecurial madrid

Trip Start May 12, 2005
Trip End May 14, 2006

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Saturday, February 4, 2006

hola....we had a really good time in Madrid, very dynamic place, awesome food, world class galleries, bustling markets and shopping neighborhoods and a few friends to catch up with.

Rickard (our Swedish travel buddy from china, Tibet Nepal and India) met us in Puerto Del Sol on our first afternoon...the complete centre of Madrid. The subway system is cheap, easy to understand, safe and it goes everywhere including the airport so we zapped in to see Rickard and his mate Miche (also from Sweden but living in Madrid for the second time as well). Accommodation isn't cheap, we found a nice little hostel, but it ended up being a bit too claustrophobic for us and we moved after two nights...

Very walk able capital city, pounded the pavement everyday, always the best way to see what's going on and be tempted into a quick tapas fix. In fact in Madrid when one orders a glass of beer (canya) the bartender chooses a plate of complimentary tapas. Back in the day a king was displeased with drunken behavior, so he passed a law that alcohol must be served with food..... Like Barcelona, there is a real street culture with buskers, performers, old ladies winding music boxes, smooching couples, artists, etc.

We aren't great architecture aficionados but Madrid has some wonderful modern and not so modern buildings; we especially liked the main post office, a grand building in its own right.

day one
Rickard and Michae promptly invited us to their apartment (well Rickard was just crashing there for a while) over for dinner and drinks on our first day in Madrid. Rickard cooked up a ripper risotto; we got stuck into a few wines and met an assortment of Swedish and Spanish friends. Everyone was very relaxed welcoming and encouraged our tentative Spanish. Had a really nice night, very different to an Australian house party, for one thing, it didn't get started until pretty late (in true Spanish style) and the conversation and food were the focus, not the grog!

day two
Don't have the energy to compose a day by day account of Madrid (collective sigh of relief acknowledged!), but must also chronicle our second day here. Sundays sees the area surrounding the Puerto de Toledo explode into a flea market of epic proportions; El Rastro. Lots of permanent stalls as well as street-side garage sale stuff as well. Very vibrant and fun as well as extremely busy. We bumped into Elen and Hannah, Swedish girls from the previous nights' party, and they invited us to a picnic. Meet up at Michae's apartment with a few supplies and after listening to the gypsy band below the balcony and eyeing off some tasty looking boccadillos (sandwiches) we marched off to El Retiro, the biggest park in central Madrid. Every Sunday, the action hots up by the big lake in El Retiro. Troupes of drummers lay down the beat, entrepreneurial individuals sell beer, people relax in the sun and an assortment of twirlers and jugglers practice their skills. We had great weather and relaxed soaked up the laissez-faire attitude so unique to Espana. As if we hadn't had enough excitement for one day, the crew invited us out for tapas later on. Met up on Gran Via (close to our first hostel) at 10 pm (early by Spanish standards!!!) and headed to a jam packed, smoky, marvelous tapas bar. Had a few rounds of canyas accompanied with some tasty treats and capped of a truly excellent day in Madrid.

Madrid is THE place in Spain (Bilbao is also known for its art scene) for galleries, visited the Prada on its free day (also our second day in Madrid; gee we packed in the action that day!!!)> It has lots of morose religious and classical art but is super-impressive in its sheer size and layout. Mark liked the Goya and El Greco stuff. Because we didn't pay for it we didn't feel obliged to peruse each and every picture, our least favorite gallery.

The Thyssen has a mixture of modern and classical art. Another huge gallery, we enjoyed this ones layout and spent a good while wandering around.

Madrid's modern, massive public gallery, Renai Sofia was our favorite of the three big galleries. A newly opened exhibition of Adolf Schlosser's wonderful organic creations was a real highlight. Quite a few Picasso's, some wonderful stuff by Miro and lots of other big names are spread throughout this immense space. We really had to restrain ourselves in the bookshop at the end of our visit.


Just for something a bit different we checked out the Archeological museum, the biggest of its kind in Spain. Clare was hesitant to say the least, but we both really enjoyed the exhibition which chartered human endeavor from pre-history all the way through to the Renaissance. Some fantastic roman mosaics, Moorish arches, ancestral fossils, Greek was a very comprehensive retrospective.

Checked out the natural history museum on our day with Livia and Tolo. Lots of stuffed/preserved specimens from all over Spain and all over the world. The snow leopard and Tasmanian tiger were two of the highlights.

Day tripped out to this hill top, medieval town, famous for its steel. Fantastic cathedral, winding, zig-zagging, overhanging backstreets. A great 5 euro lunch in a locals bar (the bar tender drank more beer than the customers). A fascinating second church, with a mixture of Moorish influences in the tiles and architecture; a real treat. Toldeo is well worth a day trip and one could easily spend a coupe of days here.


Our second day trip destination, famous for its massive Roman aqueduct. Not quite as compact and old-world as Toledo, but still plenty of charm. Another massive Cathedral, this time set against a backdrop of snow capped mountains. We were in town on a Thursday, market day in one of the old squares, picked up plenty of yummy produce (some fiendishly good field mushrooms) to take back to our youth hostel and devoured some jamon, cheese, tomato and bread on a park bench in the sun; good weather can makel the difference to a budget traveler. Checked out the Alcazar (Moorish fortress) which towers over the surrounding plains and returned to Madrid with our medieval curiosities sated.

tapas crawls

The title is pretty self explanatory; start late with plenty of room for food and beer and try our as many different little places as possible. Gave the bars a decent nudge twice; once with Rickard and then again with one of Mark's oldest friends, Livia. One place in particular came up with the goods; no frills, popular with un-trendy locals, family run, massive serves, draped with bullfighter portraits and €1.10 per canya (tapas included). Planned to meet up with all our new found friends on our last night in Madrid; unfortunately we rolled up for a third night in a row to this favorite joint and it was closed; devestating.

Livia and Tolo

Livia has been living in Europe for around 4 years now; fluent in Italian and Spanish (she's pretty good at a few other languages/dialects also!!!) she came to Madrid for a trade show and some sightseeing. It was fantastic to catch up and to meet here Mallorcan buddy, Tolo. Day after our tapas crawl we had an action packed sightseeing session. Food was the central theme; awesome lunch and dinner with a few snacks in between and after of course. Lots of walking around Madrid, through malasanya, north in the main business district to check out the bernabau stadium (home ground of real madrid, capacity 100, 000 raving mad lunatics!!!), natural history museums. Had a really fun day; Livia and Tolo very generously got Mark a real madrid tshirt; perfect fit, best team in the world (or they were a few years ago anyway!!??).

Fun last night with everyone, it was hard to leave Madrid, this place really got a hold on us....great fun! Changed our spain plans and decided to pick up a bus to portugal, travel within the EU is so flexible; no visas, direct buses, relatively small distances...
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