Friday, June 4, 2010

Aliens Abroad

This post is from June 2, but again, the internet thing.
Spain has been a roller coaster for me thus far. There have been times, like right now, where I feel just so joyous at being here and doing this, and there have been times when I’ve really truly felt like I was going to throw up. Yes, I’ve been that kid screaming “I want off the ride! Now! RIGHT NOW! LET ME OFF!” But, I am not currently that kid, so life goes on.
Where to begin...well, yesterday, I slept in, then went to the Museo del Prado, which is kind of the museum people talk about when they talk about Madrid. It’s full of old paintings by “masters.” No lie, it’s cool that I can say “Hey, I’ve seen a painting from 1370,” but beyond that, I just didn’t find the art as fascinating as the Reina Sofia was. I guess it just reaffirms what I already knew about myself—I really prefer art since 1900. There was one painting by Sorolla of some nude kids playing on a beach, and I was happy because I thought “Hey, there’s an old painting that I really like,” but then I find out it’s from right around the turn of the century, so not very old at all. Oh well, I tried. And I guess there’s something to be said for knowing what you like, right?
So, after that (I spent something like 5 hours in there. I saw every freakin’ room in there, so be impressed everyone...if I know any art history geeks, you should now worship me, just saying), I walked up to the Parque del Buen Retiro, which is a huge park, with a big lake that people can rent little boats on. I wandered and sat in the grass, and had this odd old Spanish man talk to me twice, despite figuring out the first time that I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English. Despite that, he made some small talk which I sort of understood and responded to. I got the feeling he just wanders through the park and talks to young women because after the first time he talked to me, I saw him sitting with a younger woman, and then after he passed me again and talked to me, he wandered over to talk to a woman who was tanning in the sun. Yeah. Yet, he was much more charming than most of the old men I’ve met who would do that¬—perhaps because of the Spanish thing.
I wrote a bit there, and wandered some more, and saw the Puerta del Alcala, which is a big gate that apparently is kind of symbolic of Madrid, and then I went to Sol to go to El Corte Ingles (I need here to thank my friend Rob for recommending it. I wouldn’t have known about it without his help. You rock, Rob), which is a big department store with a supermarket in the basement. I bought apples because I seriously miss fruit, and cookies, because cookies are just awesome, and Kleenex because allergies are, well, not awesome. Oh, and Sunny D, because apparently it’s what Real Madrid drinks, according to the ads.
After that, honestly, I went back to the hostel and stayed there. I wasn’t feeling good, and I was just feeling sort of overwhelmed by the prospect of eating at a table alone, so I wimped out. But keep reading. I make up for it. ;)
Today, I woke up a bit earlier (still after 9) and headed out to see the Palacio Real (royal palace). I took the metro to Opera and then walked through the Plaza de Oriente, which was really beautiful, and I had a moment there, that I think started this good mood I’m still in. As I entered the square, I heard an accordion player and he was playing “La Vie En Rose,” and from that moment, I’ve been smiling, basically. Suddenly Madrid didn’t feel so impossibly alien anymore. It feels a little more like home (and by home, I apparently mean Vienna, because that’s what it reminded me of—walking through Stadtpark). It helped too that the weather wasn’t quite as oppressively hot today as the previous two. It was slightly overcast, so it wasn’t so “I’m going to melt”-y. I caught the very end of the changing of the guard, which happens on the first Wednesday of every month, so how lucky was it that I happened to have planned to go there on that day, right?
And the Palacio was beautiful, inside and out. It’s got Schönbrunn beat for exterior beauty, definitely (thought Schönbrunn’s garden definitely beats out the Palacio’s), since it’s all stone and gorgeous where Schönbrunn’s a kind of puke yellow (chosen, apparently, because it was the cheapest paint colour available at the time. The more you know). I only wish I could have taken photos in there because the interior has the kind of grandeur that I could not have imagined before this trip. I also spoke to a couple American girls in line waiting to get in. We talked about being in Europe and they said they would have guessed I was European because I didn’t look totally touristy (which I’m choosing to take as a compliment for me instead of an insult to Canada).

Since it was literally 100 feet away, I went through the Cathedral and went all the way up the cupola and looked down over Madrid. It was very cool, and going up there included their little museum, and all I can say is nobody, but nobody, does finery like the Catholics. Robes covered in jewels, huge ornaments and crowns and...ridiculous.
Then I wandered towards the Basilica because apparently it’s older, and better, according to the guy here at the hostel who told me all the stuff to do. It’s closed between 1 and 4, so I had about an hour to wait by that point, so I kept wandering, stopping to write, then wandering more. I meandered all the way to the Puerta de Toledo, then back up the Basilica, and waited until it finally opened. They only do guided tours, but it’s only in Spanish, so I paid my 2 euro and listened, and caught more than I would have expected, though still not that much. I even answered a question asked to me in Spanish about the church. My new favourite sentence is “Hablo un poco de español, y intiendo más” (I think that’s grammatical even. Maybe?).
I walked back to the Cathedral and down the hill into the Campo del Moro, basically the royal gardens. Very pretty and I walked around for a while. Then around to the Plaza de España. Finally, I hopped the metro home for a break and to figure out what to do about dinner. After much procrastination, I picked a place out of my guidebook to try and walked there. But when I got there, I chickened out; it was super crowded and intimidating looking. So I wandered and felt like maybe I was just going to come back to the hotel and feel like crap again, but I spotted a place called Apolo that had outdoor tables free, so I looked at the menu, and decided to try it. I ordered gambas de ajillo (prawns fried in garlic and oil on a little ceramic plate—very Spain, apparently) and patatas ali oli (weird...cold, boiled potatoes covered in garlic mayo, but there was so much of it, it was kind of gross). The waiter also brought me a tapas, and I was feeling very awkward, stupid Canadian who doesn’t know how to eat, so I just ate some of it. It was (probably) boquerones fritos (fried sardines)...I’m relatively certain, but he never said, hence the probably. It was not as disgusting as I would have expected, but I don’t think I’ll be recreating that one at home. Not my thing.
I had just finished, when I spotted a guy in a UBC t-shirt and decided I had to say something. Turns out he’s from Kelowna, and this was his first day here. I asked him to sit with me, and he ordered dinner and we talked until after midnight (did I mention Spaniards don’t eat dinner until after 9 at the earliest?). Anyway, he was a really nice guy, and it was nice to just be able to talk to someone in English and not feel awkward about everything. And I’m kind of super proud of myself for going out of my shell to connect with someone. It was worth it if only to talk about Universities and strange food and travelling.
And now it’s almost 2 am, so probably time to sleep. But, I think I’m getting the hang of this Spain thing. A good day will do that. :)

No quote, just listen to Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” because it’s awesome.


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