Imagine. It's about 45 minutes past sunset and the thinly clouded skies turn 4 shades of blue. We're walking up the sloped street heading away from the large dome-illumitated church of San Francisco on our way to the Plaza Mayor. Occasionally, we stop, only to look back at the church and find myself in utter amazement that I'm in Madrid again. My city. The city in my heart.
We entered the plaza after making our way through many narrow, winding streets and sit ourselves down at one of the many terrazas, or patio bars. Ordering a café con leche for me and a cortado for her, I look around the softly lighted interior and study the frescos on the north wall while sipping my hot coffee. What an incredible and romantic place this is.
The following is a daily journal I "kept" by sending it directly to my webserver while in Madrid.
I thought people might like to 'go with me' to Madrid in some small way and share my experiences.
[3/31] Packing, packing, and more packing. Making sure I have everything
I need, but will probably forget something. Got the camera and camcorder all fired up and ready to go too.
Would you like a video? I'll be peddling them after I return. Stay tuned for details.
[4/2] Whew!! What a great trip! The flight was smooth and without problems. Upon arrival I went to house of my friend and her family, we all talked and then I took a much needed nap. Didn´t do much today, only took a walk around Atocha area and nothing more. Kind of a lazy first day.
[4/3] Slept long and late and spent part of the morning walking around one of the older neighborhoods across the river from Madrid. This is the older, working class part of Madrid and the streets were bustling with adorable, ¨mature¨ women doing their daily food shoping. Had a wonderful lunch of croquetas, tortilla patata, soup, and beer with the family. Like yesterday, it´s still cloudy, windy, and very cool. Still waiting on a good, sunny day for video and photos. Tomorrow begins Holy week and so things should be getting exciting. Still recovering from the trip, but I´m enjoying ONLY speaking in Spanish. I´m proud to say, I really have improved! I missed the mail today so I hope those who are expecting postcards are willing to wait a little longer.
Later in the day, I took the bus to Plaza Mayor and then walked to Puerta del Sol. This was at about 5pm and the plaza was full of people. Of course, Puerta del Sol is the center CENTER of Madrid and Spain. Sol is the point from which all other locations are measured in distance. After, walked as the sun set along the Gran Vía to the Plaza de España. It was a shame the entire Don Quijote/Sancho Panza sculpture was covered in the typical renovation shroud. Then to Plaza de Oriente which has been totally changed to a pedestrian ¨park¨ as well as the street between the plaza and the Palacio Real. It was strange NOT to see cars zipping by. Then to some of the older, more typical neighborhoods in central Madrid with ¨houses¨ (house-buildings) all with balconies and beautiful sculptures about the windows. Through the night, we must have gone to 3 different bars for a beer or coffee and the necessary tapa of either boiled squid in olive oil, tortilla brava, and patatas bravas. At the end of the evening at about midnight (early by Madrid standards), we spent a half hour at a terraza (patio restaurant) in the Plaza Mayor drinking café con leche and un café cortado (strong, smally coffee) with a spectacular view of the illumiated houses which make up the walls of the plaza.
What a great day! Nice and cool and sunny. Woke up late (again!) and met with family of my host and had a typical afternoon eating tapas in a wonderful penthouse house with an incredible view of the city. We had anchovies (of which I´m not a big fan), ham, mussles, olives, and a few other things with wine. Then sat down for the lunch/comida of beef and puré (potato sauce) with wine. After the meal (about 2 hours), we had café con leche, a port wine from Portugal, and cuban cigars. We spoke for hours and then took a siesta (not all together). After more young (in their 30s) people/friends came, we went from one bar to another and drank cañas (beer in a glass) and ate pulpo (octopus), un bocadilla de calamares (fried squid sandwish), gambas a la blancha (grilled shrimp with salt - shells/legs/heads we threw on the ground--it´s the way), and a few othe little things I can´t remember. The whole night was spent walking from one full bar to another. The night finished relatively early at about midnight, but we had to leave for our road trip the next day.
[4/5] It´s RAINING!!! Can you believe it? It´s the first day and hopefully the last for weather like this. It´s also still very cool, but this doesn´t bother me in the least. Today we´re leaving for a small town south of Madrid called Almadgro, the next two days for Córdoba, and then two more days in Sevilla. I understand we´re obligated to stay up all night Thursday night with the other thousands of people who watch the pasos/processions and eat and drink until dawn. I expect to be very tired. More when I return on Saturday, April 11. Hasta entonces.
[4/6 written after returning to Madrid] Spending the first night in the small town of Almagro, walked through the old Plaza Mayor, visited the oldest theatre in Spain, and walked through the narrow, flowered window boxed streets. It´s a nice little town in which to stop if going to Andalucía from Madrid.
[4/7: written after returning to Madrid] From Almagro, we spent the afternoon in another pueblo called Carmona where I watched the first pasos/processions of Holy Week. Arrived in Córdoba in the late afternoon and I´m already impressed. What an incredible place!! Spent the first part in the sun walking under the orange tree lined streets to the jewish quarter and went to the Mezquita and marvelled at the millions or Arabic arches inside. This was especially incredible with the rays of sun passing through the ¨sky lights¨.
[4/8: written after returning to Madrid] Left Córdoba for Arabic city ruins of Medina Azahara which was incredible. It rained, but nevertheless it was impressive. Now, we´re on our way to Alcalá de Guadaira, a city near Sevilla. We´ll be staying in one of the houses of my friend´s family while here. This city is about a 20 minute drive from Sevilla. We watched the pasos here the first night.
[4/9: written after returning to Madrid] Slept too late and took the bus into Sevilla. BIG mistake. It took us an hour and a half to make the 20 minute trip by bus. The first thing we saw was the HUGE Plaza de España. During the day we also saw the Plaza de Toros, Torre de Oro, La Giralda, and spent a lot of time walking through the old Barrio Santa Cruz (neighborhood) with its narrow streets, small plazas, balconies full of flowers, and some wonderful food.
[4/10: written after returning to Madrid]
Decided to drive into Sevilla and it was a good thing. I took video of many of the things we´d seen the day before, took a bus tour of the city on the top of the open upper deck of a double decker bus. It rained HARD for about 15 minutes during the tour and we got wet despite our one umbrella. I walked up the ramp to the top of the Giralda and got some video of the city and spent more time in Barrio Santa Cruz. We returned to Alcalá de Guadaira to sleep a few hours and returned to Sevilla at about midnight, walked through the moonlit streets of Barrio Santa Cruz again and then made our way to the Cathedral in the city center where all the pasos (prossesions) enter and end. We had rented chair along the path and it was a good thing because we were there from about 1:30a.m. to 8:30a.m.. Of course, we took breaks, maybe three, to leave the processions for café con leche, a beer, or some wine in some bar AND to warm up because it was freezing, at the freezing point and SO windy. There were SO many people there and the processions were impressive.
[4/11: written after returning to Madrid]
After sleeping until about 2:00p.m., we said our goodbyes and made our way back to Madrid and I was happy to return. Afterall, I am the MadridMan! People think I´m crazy for wanting to return to Madrid and having my preference here, but this is how I feel. Upon entering Madrid, we encountered the city traffic of a soccer/fútbol match between one (Atleti) of the two Madrid teams and one of the two Sevilla teams (Sevilla).
Slept relatively late on this relatively cloudy day. Took some video of Retiro Park, Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles and Palacio de Comunicaciónes. Spent some of the rest of the day visiting with the relatives of my hosts. That night, went to a fantastic and somewhat famous restaurant on the outside of Plaza Mayor called Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas. We entered below the Plaza Mayor and walked through a maze of underground "caves" of dining rooms. The decorations of this fine and pricey restaurant was wonderful with it's rounded, curved ceilings and rooms and the food (I had cochinillo ) was out of this world. The meal was topped off by a whiskey flavored ice cream, café con leche (coffee with milk), and a CUBAN CIGAR!!!!! Can you believe this? I'm not a smoker, but like cigars every now and then and was fortunate enough to smoke, I think, at least 4 cuban cigars while in Spain.
Woke up early, and almost literally ran from site to site to videotape as much as possilbe on this, my last full day in Madrid. I "grabbed" Calle de Alcalá, Gran Vía, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de España, Plaza de Oriente, Palacio Real, and that was it for the morning/afternoon. I returned later in the early evening to record the after sunset sites of Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol again. How wonderful these two places are after dark with all the lights and the people strolling about. At about ten, I ate my last homecooked meal of torilla patata (a.k.a. tortilla española) and smoked another cuban cigar! What a great end to a wonderful trip. Stayed up until about 3:00 a.m. talking and got about 4 hours of sleep after that.
Got up early, packed, and took one last walk around the neighborhood. My final spanish breakfast was a deliciously typical baguette-style halved hot toast with olive oil on top and café con leche. Mmmmm.... Left for the airport at about 11:30 a.m. and flew out at 2:30 for Atlanta and then arrived in Columbus, Ohio at around 10:30, got only a little sleep and then went back to work the next morning and then was half asleep.
What a wonderful and exciting 2-weeks in Madrid, Córdoba, Sevilla, and countless little pueblos and what incredible food they have. I've always been in love with the squid, octopus, tortilla patata, gambas a la plancha (grilled and salted whole shrimp), chorizo (sausage), croquetas, cochinillo (suckling pig), jamon serrano (ham), and a million other things that make my mouth water with every memory. Madrid is my city. I felt VERY comfortable with both the people and the language and feel I could live there easily...but with some difficulty finding work.