I thought it'd be best to break down the story of our trip to Spain into parts, making it easier on myself and on whatever possible reader there might be. So this is part one of, I expect, three: Madrid.
- I liked Madrid, but not as much as Barcelona. It certainly has a big city feel to it, though the main older part is quite walkable. It was hillier than I expected, and it wasn't fun hauling uphill in 35 degree weather. But it was a dry heat
! I knew that the natives eat late, and I've seen that in other Mediterranean countries, but I always had a hard time falling into the late pattern myself. This time we did fall into it quite easily. Because it was so hot, we didn't feel like eating much during the day, so we just ate a snack here and an ice cream there, took a nap and relaxed in the hotel from about 2-4, puttered about some more and, yeah, didn't really feel like having dinner til it got dark around 10. I found it a great rhythm to live in.
- Our first night in Madrid we ended up eating dinner at a rather crap touristy place on the Plaza Mayor. The food wasn't so great, but we were treated to a light show when it got dark. A large white circle was set up on the building across from the projection area, the circle being a big screen for certain parts, while other images were just projected directly onto the buildings of the square. It was all put on by some organization, I never really figured out what they do, but the images were very much in a "celebration of humanity" vein with videos of people dancing and happy babies and bustling cities being shown on the white circle. Meanwhile, the other images projected were things like various Atlases holding up the world, shapes of a hand, and mythological-looking figures from different cultures. It didn't totally make sense, but it looked pretty.
- Madrid has a lot of great museums, but we only went to one, the Prado, because it has a lot of great Flemish paintings that I wanted to see, namely most of Bosch's works, including The Garden of Earthly Delights
which is one of my favourite paintings. It was brilliant to see for real, though barriers kept you from getting too close. O and I were looking at the details of it for a good while, but as I kept saying to him, you could look at it every day for years and probably still miss some little detail that you suddenly see one day. There were other works of his, but they were less impressionable. There was, however, The Triumph of Death
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which was similar to The Garden of Earthly Delights in its gruesomeness and amount of detail. I quite enjoyed that painting as well. To be honest I don't remember much else that we saw in the museum, there were a lot of religious paintings, sometimes by a painter I knew, but you can only see so many images of Jesus and Mary and the Magi before it all becomes a blur. I do remember suddenly being face to face with the Deposition
by van der Weyden and going "Oh, I remember that one from art history!" It is a quite bright and well-composed painting and the actual size of it is very large, so it was impressive.
- I had read that it was recommended to check out the Atocha train station (where the Madrid bombings took place) because in the older section of the station there is a whole tropical garden. At first I was skeptical, like did we really want to especially visit a train station, but I'm glad we did because it was beautiful inside (and it fortunately was near our hotel). This part of the station (which has no trains in it) is high and light and, yes, mostly filled with a tropical garden with palm trees and leafy plants and ponds. There are little paths going through it with many benches for travellers to relax on. It has to be one of the prettiest train stations in the world. We started at the higher part of the station and when we got down to ground level we found a large pond that had tons of turtles in it. I swear we were there a good 15-20 mins watching the turtles (and it's not as if they're that active), counting the turtles, and playing spot-the-turtle-in-the-water-plants.
- One day we decided to relax our feet a bit more so we headed to the huge Parque del Retiro, which was also handily close to our hotel. We had to walk quite awhile just to get to what we were looking for, the Crystal Palace, which sits in front of a pond and which I thought would be really pretty to see. I noticed that this park is quite different from my idea of a park based on ones I know in Amsterdam or even Portland. There were less big areas of grass and more plants and trees. People hanging out in the park weren't there with picnic blankets lounging in the sun or shade, but rather sitting on one of the many benches. It was a bit different, but still really pretty and all the shade was very welcome. We found the Crystal Palace and were in luck to find that a temporary art installation was going on. An artist designed a mirrored floor for the building and you could go in, for free, and enjoy the space and light and reflections. You had to take off your shoes and put on socks which were provided for you, but then you could pad about with this massive mirror under you (it is not recommended to wear a skirt in there; I happened to be wearing one, and you and others can see straight up the skirt, plus it's just not very flattering seeing your legs from that angle). Some people chose to lay on the floor for awhile and look at the reflections. The coolest thing about the mirror being there though was that it reflected light from the building's own glass ceiling and created all these bits of prismy rainbows floating around. You could see this even outside of the building and it just looked so awesome.
Ok, I may have to do at least 4 parts of my story. I left out one main part of what happened in Madrid because I don't have time to type it out right now. So, stay tuned and I'll get that part up soon.