Blown slightly off course by the start of my trip, I’m posting the first two days as one post.
I wish I always looked this good.
Watched the sun come up over Spain through my aircraft cabin window. Iberian topography looked flat and treeless, entirely different from home. The few hills looked like weathered, half-buried bones. The phrase ‘the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain’ sprang to my mind. I watched the shadow of my giant plane race over the fields and houses below. When it touched down there was a brief, mild stutter of the landing gear as gravity took an interest, and the rest was smooth as cream.
The nice taxi guy gladly took my Visa, as has everyone else, from my landlady to El Corte Inglés, and the Prado museum. So far, no charge is too big, no charge is too small but most want my ID and I’ve hauled out my passport more today than I did the whole time I was in Paris. I’m going to see if they accept my driver’s license as ID. Much easier to tote around, and easier to replace if it came to that.
My landlady met me at the apartment. She’s the architect who remodeled the building in a very intelligent and comfortable way that respected the history while making it efficient and comfortable.
Unpacked, changed and geared up to find milk and buy the Museum card I expect to use every day. Put on my Madrid music mix and walked down Carerra San Jeronimo to the Prado. That street is my idea of hell – seedy, crowded, tourist-infested, the length and breadth of it lined with beggars and their dogs. One armless man shook a plastic cup in his teeth. There were the ubiquitous street mimes in spray-painted costumes. Musicians I appreciate, and try to keep change in my pocket to drop in the hat, but I’ll walk a different route to the Prado tomorrow.
There are cops in wide legged stances and swat vests carrying worn, well-used rifles and big ass machine guns straight out of Call of Duty. I see them in front of government buildings and banks and museums and all the big plazas. Yowser.
Spent too much time staring at my iphone, turning the cell off and on, messing with Wi-Fi, trying to access Gmail for previously downloaded emails and use Google maps. Walking in circles trying to start off in the right direction.
Started at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. It did not sell the museum card, but the three young women at the desk called to find out who did (answer: the state museums – Thyssen is private). Having the website page printed out was invaluable. Good strategy. Yes, everyone is speaking Spanish. English is halting but deliciously flavored with musical vowels and rolling r of Spanish. The famous Castilian lisp is prevalent and charming. French sound like birds twittering, Spanish sounds like a fountain of water. Warm water.
When I bought my museum pass at the Prado, the nice lady handed me an entrance ticket for that day so I figured it was Fate, though by then I was footsore, crazy tired, and starving hungry.
I passed though the security to commune with whatever drew my eye first. This is the beauty of my plan. I don’t have to plot it out and or rush through. I have all the time in the world to make the Prado’s intimate acquaintance.
Immediately fell in love with a special exhibit by Roger van der Wyden. His anguished expressions are incomparable, and the face of James the beloved is as chiseled as romance cover model, but with profound gravitas. I sat and drew the folds of the virgin’s white cloak and elaborate wimple for half an hour. Heaven. No photography means I will have to look long and hard, and draw often.
I stumbled on to a room with old monastery walls and marble statues of popes, kings and queens. The men were all swagger and conquest, the women haughty. I’ll be back to draw. My landlady suggested I visit a room of Greek statues purchased by Velasquez for the King. Nobody knows it was Velazquez, she confides. Ah, the secrets the locals know.
Lunch was crap at the Prado – dry bread and tired ham. I’ll only snag coffee there from now on. That was fine.
A couple of hours later I started limping back, struggling with Google maps and Internet connection again. Saw a line of taxis by a hotel with doormen and grabbed one. Worth every cent of the six euro fare. A woman driver, who, yes, took Visa, and didn’t drive me around the city, but let me off half a walking block away.
I wandered through a couple of El Corte Inglés, – like Target with a food section in the basement. Got milk, jambon, melon, Nutella, an apple tart and éclair. The basics. Couldn’t find sugar, decent cheese, or alas, crème Englaise in a box. I yearned for an independent cheese monger/bakery/green grocer like in the Marais in Paris. I’ll keep my eyes open tomorrow.
Tomorrow I’m also going to try using a paper map.
The part of the city I’m in turns out to be like the French quarter. Seedy, noisy, crowded. Tourists looking to get a little wild. I’m gonna need bigger earplugs. I think it will be fine, as tired as I’ll be. Or I can get up and join the throngs and learn to eat dinner at 11, like the locals.
In bed it’s not quiet by any means, but not unpleasant. There’s a horn playing a jazzy version of the theme from the Godfather. It’s like staying on Bourbon Street in NOLA. The horn just segued into When The Saints Go Marching In. I rest my case.
I can hear the rattle of dishes and glasses, the murmur of voices, and the clink of cutlery in use. It feels like falling asleep in your bed upstairs while your parents host a big party. The apartment is across from a restaurant/bar. They open at 6am, so they may know my name in a few days.
Dinner was delicious; jambon, half a chocolate éclair, bread with olive oil, a piece of an almond croissant.
Later that night…
Passed out before 9pm. Woke three or four times, trying to figure out if the chatter and clatter was still going on or in my head. It was still rolling. Woke up wide awake at 1:30am and thought a soothing cup of herbal tea would not go amiss. Heading back to bed with decaf chai, heard a marching band. Wait, what? I opened the wooden shutters, and the glass window to my balcony. Yep, some kind of brass and drum marching band in full cry in the plaza a block or two away.
They finished at 1:45am, and people swarmed back down the street, I suppose to finally go home, but maybe not. Listened to dumpsters rolling out over the cobbles to the curb, and a random truck at 2am. Heard a garbage truck at 3:30am. Just heard someone hammering/tapping on the wall upstairs. 3:38. Oy.
Okay, the band; maybe it’s for Easter,’ cause it’s sure not a weekend. No sleeping through those drums, I could feel them through the floor.
I will have to change my liking, as Rick Steve says. Madrileños and tourists in the center are loud and rowdy until the wee hours. I realized, standing on my balcony under a fat round moon on a pleasant spring night, watching people of all ages and genders stroll down the street, I could have walked up to see what was happening without fear or worry. The streets feel safe. That’s a good thing. Secondly, I may become diurnal, sleeping in the early part of the evening, going out at ten and sleeping again. No idea when I’ll wake up tomorrow, and no worries.