Tuesday, April 14
Skipped breakfast and headed straight to the Royal Palace. Kept hearing Cinderella’s song in my head, from the Into the Woods musical, ‘He’s a very nice prince…’ Though since his father, Juan Carlos, abdicated last year, the Prince is now King Felipe VI, and his heir presumptive is his eldest daughter Leonor, Princess of Asturias. Here’s a photo I like of the three generations of Spanish royals. Yeah, she’s got this.
It’s pretty much grandeur, everywhere you look. Here’s the view from where I’m standing –
There were swarms of humans buzzing around the palace. The first guard I approached shook his head at my Spain museum card. I walked on to another entrance and the security guard looked at it and waved me through. I still paid admission, happy to, but I wasn’t in line behind the sixty zillion tour groups of Asians and school children. Win!
Asked at the ticket counter about a tour in English, and as luck would have it there was one in twenty minutes for an additional four euros. What a deal. It turned out to be a nice young woman guide and a young couple from Brooklyn. A private tour, basically.
Sadly no photos permitted, except in the front entry, the grand staircase, and a corridor.
Just to give you a sense of the scale.Again, looking upThe guide’s English was so-so, but her enthusiasm and patience were stellar. At one point, after the over-the-top state dining room (formerly three rooms of the Queens and rococo as all get out) she gave us a number of personal recommendations for places to eat. Apparently, Clinton was the last President to officially visit Spain, and he is still highly regarded for this in Spain. Maybe Clinton will be the next President to visit, too. Just putting it out there.
We toured around twenty rooms of the palace and there are thousands more. It was built after a fire on Christmas Even in 1734 destroyed the former Alcázar (they threw Las Meninas out of a window to save it).
There is so much freaking splendor, it feels both aggressive and oppressive – behold the power and might of Reino de España – it’s clearly more suited to be a national heritage museum than any place you’d want to raise a family.
If you are like me, you wonder – who cleans this stuff? I mean, they’d have to have high-level security clearance to start, and arcane cleaning skills to cope with silk wallpaper and walls decorated with 200-year-old porcelain bas-reliefs, not to mention miles of Spanish marble floors, gilded carved wood frames, French crystal chandeliers by the score with a thousand lights a pop (currently halogen). No mop and go. King Charles IV was another clock aficionado, like our friend the Marquis de Cerralbo. Clocks were the latest in technology and science, the iPhone of their age, said the guide. Dozens of these clocks are in the palace, all in working order. Who winds them? For that matter, who dusts the collection of Stradivarius? It’s got to be a highly paid, niche career.
The guide explained that the King and Queen never sit on the thrones, they stand on the steps because the monarchy no longer rules the people. Interesting but I’d bet cash money King Felipe sat on that throne at least once when he was a boy.
A family portrait, recently unveiled and decades in the painting, has an interestingly retro /modern feel – the lightness of the background, the brushwork varying from loose to precise, the dated clothes (oh why, Queen Sophia? Why shoulder pads and big florals?) the visible grid. It’s no Las Meninas, but it’s interesting.
The current monarch is impossibly handsome, not often the case for the prior job holders. I wonder if he ever takes his daughter to the office on Bring Your Kid to Work day, or when Mom has to open a fête. Queen Letizia is a beauty, if frighteningly thin. I wish her future highness all the best. Go ladies!
Dropped some ducats in the gift shop. As souvenirs go, they were classy. Afterwards strolled through the garden to a restaurant our guide recommended, Taverna Botin. The smells of the grilled lamb and roast beef wafted out onto the street – alluring. Ordered the menu del dia – soup, stew, wine and apple fritter. I did the reverse of Christ at Cana, replaced wine with water, but otherwise ate what came. I had forgotten what nutrition tasted like. The soup (broth, thin noodles, chickpea) was delicious, and the stew, to my surprise, tasted like really, really good Brunswick stew.
The last thing I expected was a southern Georgia flavor. I could feel my body cheering for protein after two weeks of mostly pastry, jambon, and café con leche. I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish the fritter.I was seated in the foreign tourists’ room – all Austrian, Asian and Americans – but the food was tasty and satisfying so it mattered not. Read Grace Burrowes’ latest, The Duke’s Disaster (also tasty and satisfying) on my iPad, leisurely ate my meal, and afterwards embraced my first siesta.