Have you ever heard that song "I'm in love with a stripper?"
Okay, so take "stripper" and replace it with "Madrid."
Today was our first full day in Madrid, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. We arrived yesterday with plenty of time to explore and see the city, but after sixteen hours of travel and four xanax neither Zac nor I had the energy. Our arrival day in Madrid consisted of walking around the immediate neighborhood of our hostel, eating at a nearby taqueria (que deliciosa, FYI), and falling asleep before 6 pm. There had been discussion of a possible disco nap, but neither of us felt confident in our ability to follow through with the possibility of waking up just four hours after head meeting pillow.
As it turns out I woke up at 10 pm and could have easily gotten up for an evening of debauchery, but Zac was out cold. In Spain 10 pm is prime dinner time, but alas I was stuck without a travel buddy and decided to force myself to sleep until 4 am. I know, I know, "force?" Sure, we'll stick with that...
Anyway, sure enough I woke up at 4 am, bright and bushy tailed. Zac decided he had a few more hours worth of sleep in him, so I took the laptop into the bathroom and waited until he was up for the day. Around 8 am we were decidedly ready to head into the heart of Madrid. The sun had hardly begun to make an appearance and for a good hour I wasn't sure my phone was giving us the correct time. We went out anyway, and my heart rate monitor reflected the same time as my phone. By 8:30 we were well outside of our hostel and heading toward the train station to purchase tickets. We literally walked for fifteen minutes before seeing another person.
There was something eerily unsettling about walking the streets of a major metropolitan city with no one around and the sun well on its way up. Was this the start of a zombie apocalypse? Would we be bombarded by a ravenous horde of zombies without even having a hint of what's to come?!
Eventually we crossed paths with a few dog walkers and cigarillo bumming youth, which settled our nerves a bit. By 9:30 am we were at the train station, attempting to buy tickets to Granada for the following day. There was no line in the normally busy station, and we freely walked through the gorgeous arboretum that doubles as decor along the marble walkways of the station. Alone. Again.
We were told that there is only one train available to Granada due to a strike (we'd encountered residual strike traffic as we'd taken a taxi into the city the day before with a flustered cab driver), and on that one train there was only one seat remaining in tourist class. For an extra thirty euro each we could take premier class, and hey hey hey--dinner is included! That's one expensive dinner, my friends. In the end we realized we have to be in Granada on the 17th, we waited far too long to book tickets, the strike poked us in the bum, and taking a bus would not be nearly as comfortable. Spanish buses generally have no toilets on board, though I was assured they stopped every 3-4 hours. Now, I'm not sure if you're aware of not, but I have what's called Infant Bladder Syndrome, or "the other IBS." My bladder is about the size of a pea and can hardly hold any liquid before I need to relieve myself. Combined with an above average dose of anxiety and I'm a peeing machine. We sucked it up and paid the extra money for the fancy pants first class seats, having decided we'd drink our fill in free wine and spirits to make up for extra cost of the ticket. If we're not shit housed by the time we arrive in Granada then something is seriously wrong.
Now, for those unfamiliar with Spanish culture, eating is a somewhat structured dance of patience, timing, and specificity. In my day to day life back in Seattle breakfast is my biggest meal of the day. I load up in preparation of burning off the carbo-loading done in the A.M. In Spain, however, breakfast is a false advertisement. When a cafe (which doesn't open until 8 am to begin with) says it serves "desayuno," or breakfast, what it means is that it serves coffee with a pastry. For the most important meal of the day these Spanish folks sure don't give it much weight. My stomach was roaring by the time we finished at the train station and we were on the hunt for an open cafe to sit our bones and chit chat over a decent cup of brew and maybe even a little bit of eggs and toast. We found our coffee, but there were no eggs and no toast to be had. Instead Zac had some glazed pile of dough and I had CHURROS! Oh, the excitement that fried dough sticks can bring. Nonetheless, this breakfast was far from filling and I had to pretend to be okay with it until lunch, which is the big meal of the day here in Spain (and not until 2 pm-ish).
What did I do until I could eat again? Why I passed the time slowly and on my feet (trying to burn off some of that fried dough) at the Prado, one of Madrid's major tourist attractions and one of the country's most famous museums. I've been to many museums in my day, and the Prado certainly was far from overwhelming. We opted to go more out of obligation than interest, and the touring Rafael exhibit was mighty disappointing (especially without Leonardo, Donatello, and Michaelangelo). Filled mostly with paintings and a few sculptures, the Prado was quite crowded for a Sunday and held our (my) interest for about an hour. After that I'd seen enough of portraits of stuffy royal family members and mothers squirting breast milk into the mouths of babes and priests. Zac humored my ADD and we moved on to exploring the neighboring park and gardens, which were beautiful and (in my humble opinion) timeless.
Madrid is a large city, but certainly walkable and incredibly beautiful. Narrow streets wind between stunning buildings lined with statues and picturesque shutters and flower beds. Colorful paint laces detailed trim along historic apartments. People dart between sidewalk posts and through busy traffic circles while cars skillfully avoid collision (with said sidewalk posts and pedestrians). Spending the day walking the streets of Madrid would be an easy activity to loose oneself in, and we certainly found ourselves in the enviable position of strolling hand in hand while taking it all in. This is a city with so much history, so much life. It lives and breathes with its own ferocity and passion, and simply being in its presence allows for an absorption of these traits. People gesticulate wildly with their hands, conversations are rapid and seemingly unending, kisses are shared with no apology.
Walking for hours was easy to do, but as I mentioned before, my stomach was feeling pretty unruly with only cafe and churros in it. We walked through Parque de Retiro, one of Madrid's largest and most popular parks, deciding that we'd stop and get lunch somewhere along the way. Well, let me tell you friends, this park was so impressive that I completely forgot how hungry I was. Instead we wandered around the gardens, saw the Palacio de Velazquez, walked around the boat lake (filled with row boats of enthusiastic tourists, of course), and watched a variety of street theater along the way. This park was seemingly endless, and so central in Madrid that I found myself envious of this city's treasure. This park blew Central Park out of the water, and is so pristine and well groomed.
We (me) could finally take it no more and had to leave to get food. There were plenty of small park cafes along the boat lake, but the crowds and prices left us (me) less than enthusiastic about lunch options. Instead we continued walking toward the Palacio Real and opted to stop at a small restaurant along the way. By this time it was 1:30 and Madrilenos were out and about for lunch. Lunch is a good time to fuel up with a big meal to hold you over until dinner (with tapas in the afternoon should you feel peckish). Unfortunately we picked a restaurant that wasn't much to write home about (yet here I am). Nonetheless, I enjoyed a tortilla espanola all the same.
Off to the Palacio Real we went, stopping in Plaza Mayor and Plaza del Sol. After the Palacio we strolled through the Jardines de Sabatini, the gardens that belong to the Royal Palace. We rested on a bench for a short while and enjoyed the warm summer day. It was a pleasant heat, not overwhelming or humid. A nap would not have been out of the question, but you know what they say, keep on keepin' on.
More walking ensued, followed by a stop for drinks and tapas. Many restaurants give free tapas with drinks, and that's just peachy keen by me. Zac wasn't as big of a fan of the ham that came with the drinks, but I certainly took it down. Ham, or jamon, is a point of pride in Spain, and Iberico ham is a deliciousness that should be shared by all (excluding Zac). In fact, there's a restaurant here called the Museo de Jamon, and there was always a line outside each location we passed, and ham, ham, ham galore.
After tapas we headed back to the hotel, stopping at a pasteleria along the way. This place would have my dad in a tizzy. I honestly walked in and was paralyzed with overwhelming indecision. How to choose what dessert to eat?! There were hundreds (literally) of different treats behind four or five counters. It was packed with customers, and when Zac asked what I wanted to get I could only stare, mouth gaped and pointing at my all my surroundings. In the end he chose something with sugar, custard, and yumminess.
Once back at the hostel we changed, grabbed a blanket and books, headed to the mercado for some bread, cheese, and beer, and went back to the Parque de Retiro to picnic until the sun went down. The evening was beautiful, and the company enjoyed.
After the sun fully set it was time for dinner. Madrid really comes alive after 9 pm, with old and young flooding the plazas, restaurants, and tapas bars. Getting a table can be difficult at more popular restaurants, but there is always an open seat somewhere, and sure enough, we found one. The restaurant we stopped at had atrocious service (we literally had to ask for a fork four times before I got up and hunted someone down to physically hand it to me so we could eat our food) and mediocre food, but the wine was good and people watching plentiful. The air wrapped around us like a warm blanket, my company was entertaining, and I fought so hard to shake my sleepiness. I wanted to stay up all night and enjoy it. Alas, that was impossible, and sleep has come.