Part 4 – Madrid, Action Packed

on-the-bus

[Previous Chapter Here] Well we knapped the afternoon away and I woke up in the darkened hotel room that was heavily cooled by the air conditioning. It was actually a little to cold and I stumbled out of bed to turn in down or up or whatever you call that. I was a little perplexed at first of where we even were. Oh ya Madrid that’s cool I thought. Denise and Noah were still asleep and I new that letting them sleep much longer would mean an extremely early wake up and that would not be fun at all. So I made a lot of noise and switched on the tv. Let’s see, spanish channel,  spanish channel,  spanish channel,  spanish channel, BBC News,  spanish channel,  and spanish cartoon channel. Yep we were in Spain and the realization that they spoke spanish here was further realized in my exploratory run up and down of the TV dial. So I guess there was no satellite from the UK then. So I watched the BBC news for a bit and only now do I realize that they were months ahead on this whole real estate meltdown thing.

So we got dress and I coxed the family out the door for a little exploratory walk around the hood. Guidebook, map and gps in hand we made our way out in the direction of a place to grab a bite to eat. Down the winding medieval streets we went in search of café con leché. I had actually been off of coffee for the last six months due to ‘stress’ issues but was fully ready to get hooked up on the habit again now that I really had nothing to stress about. And the sweet memories of the coffee in Spain were far too strong to resist reliving. I can tell you know it’s been six months back on the coffee and looking back at my ‘stress’ related issue with the tasty brew I realize it had nothing to do with coffee and more to do with the job I had.

We found a little place called Café & Té just near Madrid’s famous Plaza Mayor that looked good and had enough of a choice that would satisfy our need for sustenance and we parked ourselves at the coffee bar. As we walked in I realized that smoking indoors was still aloud here and that we would either have to just get used to it or make a big harry tourist scene about it. No we were gonna let ride, that whole “when in Rome thing” seemed to be the way to handle this situation. Besides for some reason the cigarette smoke didn’t smell that bad. I am not sure if it was the blend or the romance of Madrid either way we were more focused on the coffee and eats.

We shuffled back to the hotel and on the way picked up some Mahou beer and wine. Denise and I then sipped our beverages while we took in the sights and sounds of the city from the deck of the hotel.


Night one Madrid from John-Paul Holecka on Vimeo.

Day two in Madrid started at 3am when Noah woke up and was ready to greet the day, or night in this instance. Having realized that there was no English satellite TV stations that he could watch I grabbed the bag of DVDs that we had packed. Looking at the selection of DVD’s it became apparent quite quickly that we really underestimated the amount of portable entertainment required to make it though the summer. So on went the the old school version of the Transformers and that kept him entertained until oh I guess around 5:30am or so.  I then got up and made the little man a light breakfast of yogurt and juice that I had stashed in mini bar fridge the night before. Ok so now it was 6am and Denise is not an early riser at the best of times and now with jet lag in the mix I knew that I would have to get Noah out of the room for a bit.

The two of us trundled out of the hotel in near darkness around 6:30am. Unlike North America, there are no 7/11’s or other shops open before 8am. So we wandered around looking for something that would entertain us at this early hour. I was still coffee-less and somewhat more groggy than usual do to both jet lag and the beers I had consumed the night before. As Noah and I turned a corner we spied a little urban playground. As we approached the brightly coloured to Noah’s great excitement but as in Vancouver there where some homeless folks sleeping there so we reluctantly had to pass up the opportunity for some early morning slide action. So we turned and went up Madrid’s big street Grand Via in search. Surely there had to be something up here it was the cities’ biggest street and had all of the international chains on it. Well no luck here either so I made a sharp right hand turn down a smaller to get us back on track to the hotel. At first glance the street looked fine and there seemed to be more folks that the other streets but then I realized that we were now walking down the hooker section of town! Great I know I was looking for entertainment but not adult entertainment. All of the girls looked at me like I was a bit looney to be cruising with a 4 year old and I don’t really blame them. Lucky for me they all kept there distance and I tried to double time it out of there without looking like I was trying to double time it if you know what I mean.

Coffee in Europe is not a “to go” kind of thing and our mission was to get some to take back to mum in the hotel room. Alas the only coffee joint that was open and did “to go” was Starbucks! Crap I did not frick’n quit my job and fly to Spain for the summer to have Starbucks coffee for breakfast! After you have café con leche the thought of Starbucks is quite un appealing and seems like a cop out. But there we where ordering a grande cappuccino and a slice of banana bread to go. There was one huge difference between out Starbucks and the ones in Spain…and that was the price. All in our order with exchange came to around $20 CAD. Oh, oh I hope this is just an expensive part of town otherwise pulling off the summer at these prices was going to be tricky!

After returning with the coffee we got ready and headed out as a complete unit this time and had a Spanish fry up at the local cafe. The Spanish seem to like their greasy breakfast just like at home and for today at least it was a good thing. I am not sure though that we could eat like this the whole summer.

We noticed that the playground nearby was now clear of the homeless and could get that morning slide or two in for Noah. The city was still cool but was heating up and that pungent smell of European city was in hot pursuit.

We decided to head over to the Royal Palace to catch the tourbus and to see the gardens that surround the palace. We found another large playground and I headed off to find tickets for the tour bus. The ticket booth was easy enough to find and I returned with tickets in hand ready to explore the city. We could see the a double decker open air buses driving past the palace and the map we had indicated that there where two stops near by. The funny thing was that the buses did not seem to be stopping anywhere and there was no indication that the bus stops where designated for the tour buses. I would attempt to flag them down and the drivers would point to the fictional bus stops in any number of directions and we would then head off into another direction sweating under what was now becoming a very hot day. We finally figured out the riddle of the stops and got on our first of many rides that day. Noah passed out on the bus, remember the 3am wake up, and we did two rounds of the city in the un-air-conditioned bus watching Noah sleep away the hour or so.

When Noah finally woke up we jumped off the bus for lunch and some air conditioning at Cortes Ingles, the massive Spanish department store chain. It may not be glamorous but did hit the connivence and cool factor on the head.

From there we jumped back on the bus to go to yet another playground for some afternoon play. If you have a five year old boy you will understand the continual trips to the playground throughout any given day. It is a good thing that the Spanish seem to have playgrounds sprinkled throughout as it does make travelling with a four year old just that much easier. The one thing that Noah finds frustrating though is that none of the kids in the park speak English….that will change when we hit the meditranian coast and we are surrounded with the expat brit families.

Now because our family does not like to do anything in half measures it was now time to hit the Museo del Prado For those that are not familiar with the Prado it is:

It features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture, it also contains important collections of more than 5,000 drawings, 2,000 prints, 1,000 coins and medals, and almost 2,000 decorative objects and works of art. Sculpture is represented by more than 700 works and by a smaller number of sculptural fragments. It is one of the most visited sites in Madrid. Source wikipedia

The museum had been seriously upgraded since my trip in 1991 and is a must see for anyone that like art museums. It is usually quite crowded and I recommend that you get there early because waiting for hours in the hot sun can be a real drag. [Website here]

The American writer Ernest Hemingway was a great fan of the museum. As he writes in his 1932 non-fiction delights-of-Spain book Death in the Afternoon, what he admired was the museum’s simplicity and clarity:

“If Madrid had nothing else than the Prado it would be worth spending a month in every spring, if you have money to spend a month in any European capital…The Prado is altogether characteristic of Madrid. From the outside it looks as unpicturesque as an American High School building. The pictures are so simply arranged, so easy to see, so well-lighted and with no attempt, with one exception, the Velasquez of the small maids of honor, to theatricalize or set off masterpieces that the tourist looking in the red or blue guide book to see which are the famous ones feels vaguely disappointed. The colors have kept so wonderfully in the dry mountain air and the pictures are so simply hung and easy to see that the tourist feels cheated. I have watched them being puzzled. These cannot be great pictures, the colors are too fresh and they are too simple to see. These pictures are hung as though in a modern dealer’s gallery where they are being shown off to their best and clearest advantage in order to be sold. It cannot be right, the tourist thinks. There must be a catch somewhere.”  Ernest Hemingway

We then went on to our hotel and nap for an hour or so. Then it was on to dinner. Formal dinner this time as Noah was quite fond of this sea food restaurant that was near the hotel. I suspect because they had a fancy display of the fish on the menu. When we entered the restaurant it was soon realized that we where the typical North Americans and completely under dressed! The staff were very polite and served us none the less. It was quite the formal affair with well dress older men serving on us hand and foot. I felt like i was in some movie form the sixties and that we were some garish cheesy tourists that although the staff were friendly to our faces that was not the case behind the kitchen door. As we muddled through the meal with very poor Spanish Denise was accidentally interpreted as asking for the bathroom [baño] when what she really wanted was a glass of white wine [blanco] this was quickly sorted over giggles and pointing to the bottle of wine.

Wow what a day. I can say that day two was even better than day one…

To be continued…[nggallery id=4]

Photos copyright JP Holecka

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