September 19, 2013

Towards Basque country: Madrid

A short walk from the bus an the drowsy Busabouters streamed into uHostel but I had other plans. This was another place I decided to avoid and down the road, I found the state run Hostel with the name I couldn't say which was immaculately fitted out. The internet had perfect reception in the rooms and the bathroom was refreshingly luxurious, making Madrid the top hostel so far.

After the general move in to the place, I joined the rabble once again on a trip to this tapas place called 100 Montaditos. This place was the best place for cheap drinks and was a bit of a franchise take on Tapas. We came to learn that Madrid was much more of a place for it than Barcelona not that this was the best place to find that out. Beers were 1.50 and the 100 different tapas varieties came in packages with names like "The Destroyer" and "Classica". Aside from the lame naming the place was a good start to the evening and the evening ended up kicking on way in to the morning with a trip to Maccas just around the corner from the 360 hostel belonging to some new found friends.


I went to catchup with Elenore, Katie and Lydia on another Sandemans walking tour. We walked around the city with Jose, out of Placa de Mayor, down towards the oldest restaurant in the world and then to the local 24hr chocolateria. Onward to the Royal palace and the opera before taking up Jose on his recommendation of a place called La Tiacebola. I guided the girls as the map reader and just as they thought all hope was lost and that the place was never to be found, we spotted the little old sign by the door. This was undoubtedly the best Spanish meal we had had up till then. Not only had Jose delivered on the tour but he had gone on to make the day for us. We dusted of a decent carafe of house wine and found our merry way to the Palace for a closer look. This, surprisingly, was actually the biggest Palace in Europe and offered some real treasures.

While it wasn't as consistent as say Versailles, it bettered the place in variety with the occasional instance where crazy creativity had taken over. Some rooms would fake it and some were over the top in a way that made you think that budget was low but that some artists would take it upon themselves to make a masterpiece. The highlight for me was definitely one relatively small room that we found where the wall wasn't covered in fresco, stuco or tapestry. It was covered in countless ceramic works, adorning the walls and coming out of them with green and turquoise leaves and cantilevered cornucopias. The roof was rich in texture and shape, changing shape as I moved around the room. The dining hall had a table to seat something like 100 people with the table settings immaculately measured. It was near closing time so we had just enough time to see the old school, in house palace chemist. Shelves stacked with elegant jars full of exotic spices and 'erbs made for a rather strange sight which had a weird sort of clinical feel. That evening was another tapas haunt with a rather different food policy.

All drinks came in 500mL plastic cups and there as really only one rule: If you still have something to drink, they'll get you more taps. I got one super sized beer and the surges of food started to come. It was clearly a good student and young person hang out as the food got noticeably more filling as the beer dried up. A great way to catch up with  a big group of friends as when you finish eating, you've all already bought your drinks. No skwabble on paying for shared food. It was already built in to the drinks costs (and a beer really wasn't expensive anyway).

The main event of the night would be a flamenco show. We didn't get there particularly early which may have been an oversight as we got shunted down to a table down the end of one of the wings of the room. The rhythm was exquisite and the guitars looked a bit like they'd done that show a thousand times but the sound they made was still everything one would expect. Unfortunalty, the singer pitch didn't really satisfy but out of two singers, there was still plenty to love. It finished late so something brilliant came to mind: 24hour Churros. We made the trek across the town with hot chocolate in mind, not leaving the place till 2am.

I took a moment by myself the next morning to check out the famous Prado Gallery, walking just 20 minutes across this rather small capital city. The place was just choc-a-bloc full of Renaissance Spanish religious art and after that, it was full of the more crazy brand of art, edging closer to the surrealists. One curious work was a prelude to the Mona Lisa but a student of Leonardo. It had all of the hallmarks including the pose and the face but did not draw any attention. It was interesting to think of how close that painting was to the real deal in time and space. Of course there was a whole wing devoted to Goya which was packed full of tours and students alike. I had less than an hour to explore what could have consumed days but such is the beast of short term travel.

I joined the girls in the Parque del Retiro for lunch, taking in the warming sun and the space and silence afforded by an expansive city park. The sweet sound of unaccompanied violin filtered through the trees to compliment the last throws of our picnic. She played Bach's violin sonatas and partitas from memory and it was exquisite, I had been starved of good street music for so much of my time in Spain (a marked drop in quality when entering Spain actually) and she provided relief.

I talked to her after she played and learned about her move from Latvia to Spain and now to Switzerland where she had been playing in the orchestra belonging to Gideon Kramer, one of the true virtuosos of our time. I went bank to the group and they said I was obviously more interested in the music than them. They said I should ask her out which didn't really seem like a bad idea at the time. I said that I was going to see the Barber of Seville that night and that she may want to join. Funnily enough, she already had a ticket and was going with some friends. I had no phone and no method of contact but we arranged a place to meet at interval but having not been to the opera house before, soon after we said goodbye, I knew that we wouldn't meet again.

I headed down to the Teatro Real in time for 4pm to buy my last minute ticket as they sell them at 90% off in the hours before curtain open. I made it to the hostel to change and back in time to get a bite before the Opera started. Of course you have Largo al Fatotum in opening with Figaro boasting his wears. The house was big an although Figoro's voice was nice it didn't carry. Unfortunately he cracked a couple of times towards the end, setting a precedent for a relatively ordinary performance. The colours were bright and though the set was sparse, rainbow colours featured in the costumes and the final cast call was pretty. The orchestral pit was quite high and open, leaving me to wonder whether the fact that vocals sounded soft was due to the singers or the building, I did try to catch up with my Latvian friend at interval that night. Our rendezvous was to be on the second floor balcony facing the royal palace. Little did I know the size of this balcony. A VIP event consumed a segment of the balcony and the floor's bar, making it difficult to see all of the faces around the area. I thought of many reasons why I would not see her there, as it was a bit of an absurd idea in the first place and with half of the interval left, I went to explore the rest of the house. The interval food options being tapas rather than chips etc. looking like quite a good idea for the longer operas.

I left the opera feeling a little unsatisfied having not been impressed with the performance as I had been by other European performances and I had also missed the representative of those wonderful Bach violin sonatas. I decided to go and join a pub crawl at that time, the Spanish night still being young, I tried two venues I knew from adverts but those Madrid bars composed of this weird mix of bar and club where the music was too loud to talk but the light didn't seem right to dance. I was clearly more sober than many others at that point and couldn't really make friends or maybe just didn't want to. Some pub crawl guy tried to recruit me in to the crawl with a free armband, staying for a couple of free drinks before deciding that I just didn't seem in the mood for a night out.

I jogged up a couple of main roads, heading towards the hostel, not being a victim to those I saw prowling on the main road out of placa del Sol. The similarity it bore to La Ramblas in Barcelona the week before brought on an instinct to raise my senses and keep good distance in my jog home. It wasn't a time to be kind or friendly.

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