I’m on another travel adventure with Sanford. This time we are traveling for two months and covering Morocco, Spain and Portugal and I will then spend three months in Australia before heading home.
To start off the adventure we met in the airport in Madrid, Spain. Normally Sanford goes ahead by a few days and gets us settled in a place before meeting me at the airport, but this time we just planned to arrive as close as possible to each other’s flights and go into the city together. My last leg was from London and his from Amsterdam; I arrived about an hour before him and once through passport control found the terminal and gate he would be arriving at. We met as planned and it was wonderful to see him!!! He feels like home, whenever we are together, without home, if that makes sense. I wish I could say I originated that thought but I heard it recently on television and identified with it immediately.
Madrid is the capital of Spain is located in the geographical centre of the country. It is the third largest city in Europe, just after London and Berlin, and has a population of 3.3 million. Wandering around, it reminded me of Paris because of the architecture of the buildings, the abundance of statues and the beautiful iron-work on the balconies, but without the grittiness that is Paris. Some cities seem to have a colour to them and when looking over the landscape from a height Madrid’s colour is brown.
Our first night was a bit of a bust. We arrived late afternoon and decided to grab a bite to eat before heading back to our room and retiring for the night. We went to a popular square, Mayor Square, and had a classic Spanish dish – paella. The restaurant we chose and the meal itself were quite a disappointment. Sanford and I both ordered a drink – him a beer and me a glass of wine – the waiter and I had a long conversation about the wine and I don’t know how he misunderstood, but I ended up with grape juice – a disappointment. The paella too was a disappointment as it was very watery, the meat in the dish seemed undercooked, and it was not very flavorful. In addition, there was an accordion player that came over to us and started to serenade us. We tried to get him to move away as we were carrying no change or small bills at the moment, as we had just come from a bank machine. He was very visibly displeased when we did not give him any money. It was uncomfortable.
I have to say that all food after that experience was wonderful! The next morning we started with breakfast at a nice restaurant close to us with the Spanish equivalent of an egg McMuffin. It was two slices of grilled bread between which was cheese and a sunny side up fried egg. A hole was placed in the bread to show off the yolk. It was delicious.
After breakfast we headed to Parque del Retiro, Park of the Pleasant Retreat. It is one of the largest parks in Madrid and at one time belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. There are many features in the park; a large artificial pond, a rose garden (not in bloom while we were there), a glass pavilion called the Crystal Palace, and many wonderful statues and fountains.
I will always remember the park for two things. First of all, at the small man made pond you could rent boats with oars and paddle around. There were a surprising number of people doing that. But to my amazement, there was also what appeared to be a “cruise” tour boat loaded with about 20 people doing the perimeter of the pond. The pond couldn’t have been bigger than at most two football fields….I just didn’t get the appeal of that.
The second remembrance is as we were nearing the Crystal Palace, a bird flew by and pooped on Sanford!!! A small amount of poop landed on his shirt, but by far, the vast majority of it hit his camera. All the dials on top and the side of his lens were covered. It is amazing just how much poop it dropped. We were carrying water and Sanford managed to clean his camera and shirt pretty well. Thankfully no damage was done. (The pictures below are of the Crystal Palace.)
From the park it was time for lunch. We were now wandering off the beaten path and stopped in a small pub. We each ordered a Spanish staple – Tortilla Espanola – which is essentially a potato omelet (no tortilla anywhere to be seen). It was delicious. Even better, in my opinion, was the free appetizer provided. In all eating places, they bring small dishes of different things to munch on before your meal is served. Often it is a plate of olives, but we have also seen peanuts and potato chips. In this restaurant they gave us a small serving of ham and chickpea stew – it was so good, I’m going to start looking for it on menus to have as an entire meal.
It was time to go home for siesta time. Most stores and businesses close down between 2 – 5pm so it was a good time to sleep away some jet lag. The evening was more walking around and we went out for a tapas meal, another common eating experience in Spain. Almost all restaurants serve either full portions or tapas size portions. In places that serve exclusively tapas dishes there is very limited seating, most people eat standing up, ordering one dish, then another, and then another. We found a great place near our hostal and enjoyed tapas servings of paella, nuts, fruit, ravioli, and meat on crackers. It was wonderful and tasty and you could have as little or as much as you liked.
On the second day, friends of Sanford from Warsaw, Poland, flew in to spend the day with us. I had met them during our honeymoon and in the meantime they had visited Sanford in Australia and now we were getting together in Madrid. We took in the Royal Palace and then went to a toy market in a train museum in the afternoon.
In the evening we partook of the Spanish custom of el paseo also known as “the stroll”. This traditionally takes place during the early to later evening and is common throughout the country. Family and friends walk around at a leisurely pace with no real destination or purpose. The streets are absolutely packed with people and there are lots of buskers entertaining everywhere. Along with the strolling, people stop and enjoy tapas meals, having a drink here, a small sampling of paella there, a tray of ham further along and maybe a hot chocolate with churros (deep fried batter sticks) to finish the night off. It was great fun being out and about in the crowds. We started walking around at about 7pm and parted ways with our friends around 10pm, which was early, for it seemed like the crowds were still getting bigger and not diminishing.
Madrid was our starting off point and will be our finishing point for the trip. The few days we spent here were just an introduction to the country. From here we are flying to Morocco and then in about four weeks time we will be back in the south of Spain for a few days, then travelling through Portugal and finishing off in northwestern Spain and finally back to Madrid from where we will head to Australia.