Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ramona in Madrid!

Thanks to the infinite hospitality of my Swiss friend, Ramona, and her family, I've been fortunate enough to have visited Switzerland twice now. Until this week, I had been unable to really repay her the favor (and I still don't feel like I've repaid her enough!). Although I lived in Spain for a while before, Ramona never made it to visit (though I did visit her). But this time around, as we are living in Madrid, it was much more convenient for her to stop by for a few days.

I went to the airport to meet her. Thankfully, her flight arrived in the afternoon, so I didn't have to get up and rush to the airport early in the morning. She had come from Switzerland in what looked like about five or six layers of clothes, as it was 40-some degrees and raining there. By comparison, Madrid was in the upper 70s with not a cloud in sight. Needless to say, she was excited to shed a few layers and get some sun.

I led her back to Getafe on the train and we decided to get something to eat. I wanted to take her somewhere really Spanish and get some tapas, but Ramona is a vegetarian. Typical Spanish food is almost entirely meat and seafood, so it proved difficult. We ended up just going to the cheap Turkish restaurant on Calle Madrid and getting something simple. She loved the falafel, so it worked out.

When we got back to the apartment, Susan had returned from working, so we decided to go for a walk around Getafe. We ended up getting some delicious ice cream and heading to the park (Los lagos) and walking around for a while. We discovered that the park was much, much bigger than we had previously thought. Susan and I had been there several times before, but we had never explored it as thoroughly. It has miles of running and bike paths, which I took note of for later. The only downside is it is kind of inconveniently far from the apartment compared to our normal running spot.

In the evening, Ramona and I met up with Dani, one of the friends that Susan introduced me to (the guy that drove to pick me up from the airport!). We went to a bar called Home. It has a lot of vegetarian-friendly options and has a special license so that you can bring your dog inside and chill. It's not exactly a typical Spanish venue, but I loved it. I wasn't hungry enough to try one of their burgers, but I saw Dani's and it convinced me I'd have to come back another day. Dani was nice enough to pay for all of our drinks and tapas.

On Thursday, Ramona and I headed out in the morning and got breakfast at Pannus, one of the local bakeries. Ramona was astounded by the prices of chocolate-filled croissants and coffee. Switzerland is a very expensive place to live, but Spain really does have some high quality coffee for pretty cheap. We then took the train to Atocha to begin our long trek around the center of Madrid.

Ramona only had a couple of days to experience Madrid, so we didn't have much time to go inside museums or anything. Instead, I planned a little route so that we could see a lot of the major sites (and some not-so-major sites) in the center. We certainly missed out on a lot of things, but I think we did alright, given our restrictions.

Our first stop was more of a detour, actually. There is a street near the Museo del Prado where vendors set up tents to sell their books, many of them used. The only thing that really kept me from buying something was that I would have wanted to buy a modern Spanish classic, and I'm still not really sure what that would be. I'm not well-versed in Spanish literature and the main book people mention seems to be Don Quixote. However, I've been fairly successful at reading Game of Thrones in Spanish thus far, so I may be looking for some native Spanish literature pretty soon.

Before you applaud my self-restraint, though, I must mention that I ran into an old man on the way back to our original route. He was selling poetry books and he started reading some samples from a book he had in his hand. I was surprised that I actually understood it fairly well. He then went on to explain that many of the poems were written after he saw a picture of a young woman that he had never met. It was then that I realized he had written these poems himself. I have a soft spot for bohemian poet types, so I bought two of his books from him.

Our next stop was the Museo del Prado, although only a short glance from the outside.

Artsy selfie

We next headed to Parque del Retiro, just out behind the big museum. We also passed a big church. The park is a big, beautiful area and it was full of street performers and people out running and biking and walking their dogs and/or kids.

After exiting the park, Ramona and I headed up Calle de Serrano and did a little window shopping. As it was a holiday in Madrid (in celebration of San Isidro, I believe), a lot of the shops were closed. It didn't really matter, as most of the prices were so exaggerated that they seemed a distant fantasy to me. One of the simple dresses had a 400 euro price tag on it...

We ended up in the Plaza de Colón, which was a strange memorial to Christopher Columbus. Artistically, it was pretty interesting, but I have a hard time taking any memorial to Columbus seriously. I pretty much despise the entire narrative surrounding his "discovery" of the "New World" and am embarrassed that my own country has a holiday that celebrates him. But, here I am prolonging his horrible legacy with pictures of his memorial square:

On the way back down toward the Gran Vía, we cut through a bunch of smaller streets and got pretty lost in some of the beautiful little streets in Madrid. We ended up passing through Chueca, known as the "gay quarter" of Madrid, which was actually one of the nicer commercial areas I've seen in the city. Susan has told me that the area is something of a point of pride for the madrileños because it supposedly shows how open-minded they are. I guess it never dawns on them that having a sort of quarantined area for a minority group isn't exactly an ideal picture of equality. Maybe it's better than some of the alternatives?

We ended up on Calle Pez, looking for a place to stop for tapas. There weren't many shops open and a lot of the promising restaurants were packed. We ended up going down a few random streets and settled on a cute little bar where we got cañas and a few snacks. Their selection of vegetarian options was limited (they only had one thing Ramona could eat), but I got my fill of delicious ensaladilla rusa and croquetas.

After filling our bellies, we headed down towards Puerta del Sol. I showed Ramona some of the monuments there and pointed out the 0km mark on the street (the point from which all roads in Spain are measured). There were some massive banners hanging in celebration of two of the Madrid soccer teams, who are going to face off soon. I don't follow soccer a whole lot, but from what I understand, it's the first time that two teams from the same place will be competing in the championship (I would not take my word on that). I generally tend not to bring up soccer in conversation because I would hate to reveal my sacrilege here in Spain...

We made a stop at the Plaza Mayor and took a little detour down to the market of San Miguel. Ramona really enjoyed the market, though there were a lot of hanging pig legs and entire squids and fish laying around. She ended up buying a creme-filled dessert from one of the little stands.

We ended up at the Palacio Real, right next to La Almudena Cathedral. We decided to go inside the palace, since it's a beautiful little tour. I cannot even imagine what it cost just to decorate the place. It was covered in gold and velvet and fancy-looking clocks, and each room had its own completely different style. Of course, we couldn't take any photos on the inside. In fact, there were a couple of Italians who didn't understand this rule and were nearly escorted out by the guards.

La Almudena Cathedral

El Palacio Real de Madrid

We took a little stroll through the nearby gardens afterward and then made our way down toward Príncipe Pío, where I thought there was another park that I remembered from a couple of years ago, but we didn't find it. I may have been mistaking it for someplace else. I think Ramona was okay with ending our journey there, as we had walked a solid five or six hours with just a small tapas break in the middle. We were beat.

When we got back to the apartment in Getafe, we were greeted by the delicious smell of vegetarian paella coming from the kitchen. Susan must have known we needed it. I think we all had two plates of it... We ended up calling it an early night because we wanted to get up early and explore some more the next morning. 

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