16 November 2012

the spain series: episode one

I'd had a busy week, followed by a busy weekend.  I spent Monday morning, 6th November 2012, packing my suitcase and making sure I had everything I needed while anxiously aware of the countdown to catch my flight. I worry more than I need to though.  I made my flight easy enough.  I landed in Barcelona, collected my baggage and followed the signs to the train station.  Thankful for being able to select 'English', I purchased my ticket and boarded the train to Barcelona Sants. From there I caught my first overnight train. Combining travel and accommodation saved me some money but I didn't sleep a lot this night.  I didn't figure out how to tip my seat back so it was a little uncomfortable on my neck.  I got too warm somewhere in the middle there too and ended up escaping to the carriage behind which was like a bar area and sat on the cool floor for a good hour.  Come 7:30am I was in Madrid.  I hung out at the station and had some breakfast while I waited for the tourist information centre to open so I could get a map and hopefully not get lost.  

When I got to the centre of town I wandered around the streets browsing in the few shops that were open (most seem to open about 10am in Spain).  At 11am I joined a Brazillian lady for a guided bike tour of the city.  It was interesting to discover that there exists Brazillians who are not loud and crazy and energetic.  A pleasant Dutch fellow lead us around Madrid who was very informative.  Unfortunately there's not a lot I recall.  Just various bits and pieces.

In the Parque de la Montaña there are remnants of an Egyptian temple, the Temple of Debod.  A gift for helping UNESCO save some heritage sites.  From the park you can see across some of Madrid and our guide pointed out a massive park/green area within the city.  Apparently Madrid cheated when they did a city pollution test to see which cities were the cleanest environmentally.  They put their smog-o-meter in the middle of this huge park.  The park also contains a rollercoaster.

We also stopped by Palacio Real (Royal Palace) with a ridiculous 2000+ rooms.  The royal family don't live there though and only use it for official stuff, and maybe to pop in and do some work.  I wonder if most of the rooms are simply unused.  It was designed to have a statue of each of the kings of Spain that would sit atop the roof.  You can see some of them up there.  But apparently the list was 204 statues long.  They didn't complete this aspect and I'm not sure if they made all 204 but there's a bunch of statues scattered around the city and I maybe beyond.

We visited Plaza de Mayor which is a popular one.  I can't remember much of what was said there but it looked great.  The painted section (section with painted pictures) was where the royals or something similar used to watch the events in the square.  You know, the trials and hangings and other community events.

About half way round out 3hr bike tour we stopped in a cafe for a drink...included in the tour.  Us girls chose hot chocolates and our guide said they were different in Spain than we might be used to.  He was right.  They were super thick.  In fact, I was convinced I was eating a teacupful of hot chocolate custard.  We had cake as well which was yummy.

Another place we went was to Parque del Retiro.  We only saw a small section of it but it was interesting and pretty, especially in the autumn colours, and I saw a red squirrel.  It's the largest park in central Madrid and used to be a part of the Palace grounds.

We also saw Puerta de Alcalá, one of the ancient gates to the city.  Apparently one of the king's requested designs and a whole bunch of architects did so.  The king rejected all of them and then contacted the architect who built the palace and asked him to design something.  This guy, knowing all the others that had been rejected, decided to provide two designs so the more likely one would be picked.  The king liked both so did one design on each side.  I don't think I actually ended up taking a photo of the other side though.

Puerta del Sol was not actually a stop on one of our tours but I frequently traipsed through there in my walking about.  Wikipedia says it's one of the busiest and most well known places in Madrid.  I found that to be true in my one day there.  It was the place I trained to from the train station (the overnight train ended at a station further north) and it was a place I kept coming back to to orientate myself.  It has the statue of the bear and the tree which I know nothing about but was on lots of tourist trinkets.  And it was most certainly busy!  Aye.  Packed with germans!  Crazy soccer fans who'd travelled from Germany to watch a game in Madrid--with a German team playing of course.  They were busy shouting and chanting and singing and drinking.  Game preparations.  We saw the black and gold clad people everywhere we went but concentrated in this area.

And speaking of the sun (Sol is spanish for sun), I saw it.  Yay!  It wasn't that warm but it was sunny that day as you can tell.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the city with Natália (the brazillian from the tour).  Mostly we just explored the shops I think.  We also went to a pub for tapas.  Now tapas in Spain are a little bit of something to eat for free with your alcoholic beverage.  Well, you can also buy them if you want.  The place we chose didn't have very good ones.  We got a little chicken ball and cold fries.  Lame.  I've heard some tapas are pretty spectacular.  I had a sangria which was ok I guess.  The handmade sangria I had on my Scotland tour by the two spanish chics was way better.

Natália and I exchanged email as we were both heading to Barcelona that night.  She then had to go to make her flight and I wandered around town for hours in the cold until I got sick of doing that and headed to the train station early for my second overnight train.  This time, being tired from the lack of sleep last time and also figuring out how to lay my seat back a bit, I managed to sleep most the night with just a few random wakes. I was even woken by the train guy as we pulled into Barcelona Sants Station.  I happily grabbed my stuff and left the train.  Madrid was ok but it was really just another big city.  The Barcelona part of my journey, however, was the biggest and most anticipated part.

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