Well, as promised, here is my final installment of photos from my trip to Spain a few weeks ago. I spent the last few days of my trip in central Spain, in Madrid, Avila, Segovia, and Toledo. Madrid (literally the center of Spain, there’s a plaque in the sidewalk near Plaza del Sol I think it was that marks the absolute center of the country, where all roads lead to) was our homebase – we took day trips leaving from Madrid and came back each evening.
First impression of Madrid: the airport. Efficient, modern, clean and shiny, and welcoming. I think Madrid's airport is the best I've seen to date aesthetically speaking. This is just the luggage pickup area, but the rest of the airport was really pleasing to the eye as well with a clean palette of greys and whites with punches of warm brights hues. Definitely impressed me.
After checking into our hostel we set out to find lunch, which proved to be more difficult than you'd imagine. No restaurants were open - one waiter told us that most people were still sleeping - it was 12pm on a Sunday! We finally found a place open for lunch near Bilbao station around 1pm. I got the paella to start - pretty good, felt very authentic and homemade.
For my main, steak.... this was not all that great.
After lunch we set out to find our way to the Prado, one of the most famous museums in Spain. Along our walk the buildings I saw really showed how Madrid is the capital of the city, as well as the financial center, with tons of grand neo-classical buildings showing the city's wealth.
I loved how major junctions and roundabouts all had fountains in the center.
Finally, we found our way to the Prado. Here's the main entrance. It may not look large from the front, but this building is huuuuge! The main entrance is really just on the very edge of one of the wings of the building, with the actual front of the building looking much more imposing. Luckily for me and Debbie (not so much for April and Diana), admission was free for students under 25. I really enjoyed this museum, which housed numerous works by the who's who of Spanish artists. My favourites were "Saturn Devouring His Son" by Goya, "Las Meninas" by Velazquez because of Picasso's collection based on the painting, and "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Bosch, which looked just so fantastical and surreal and full of symbolism that I had to buy a poster.
Puerto del Sol - you can see the clock in the top left corner where locals gather on New Years Eve to eat 12 grapes in the 12 seconds leading up to the new years.
Plaza Mayor, found right next to Puerto del Sol. What a tourist hub. The plaza is surrounded by residential and commercial buildings with restaurants, cafes, and souvenier shops, and the center of the plaza houses numerous little stalls with vendors selling different sweets and cheeses and meats and knick knacks. Dotted in the open perimeter of these stalls are random street performers - I don't know why they bother because I didn't see anyone give them money but it must be lucrative somehow because every major Disney character was milling about in one area or another.
That evening we did a tapas tour of Madrid. Our Sandeman guide was young and fun, and she was really energetic which made for a great tour. Our first stop we had this black pudding and sausages. What was the black pudding you ask? Well I asked too and it turns out its made from basically everything you wouldn't normally eat from a pig (unless you're Asian, so I didn't mind the idea of eating intestines and whatnot, but some the non-Asians on our tour were a little nonplussed about it)
Little empanadas and croquettes
Jamon and monchego cheese - always good
The name of the first tapas bar was some along the lines of "Zapateros" or something like that (zapato is shoe in Spanish) so the place was decorated with all sorts of shoes on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. Cute!
Second tapa bar. Salami on bread and spanish olives. I hate olives normally, but these ones were so good! They had a really mild taste and were perfect to nibble on.
THIS WAS SOOO GOOD. Basically marinated pork kebabs, but absolutely delicious.
We then stopped at bar to try a madrono berry shot. The madrono tree with the bear is the symbol of Madrid. The tree grows berries, so we had to try some of the madrono berry liquer, which they serve in little edible chocolate coated waffle cups, almost like a little ice cream cone. So yummy!
Last stop - this tapa bar was by far my favourite. These were roquefort cheese rolls with avocado and sweet onion. Absolutely incredible, I'm definitely going to try making these when I go home.
Cream cheese with sweet onion in a flaky pastry shell. I could eat a bowl of the sweet onion just on its own, it was so sweet and savoury and just amazing.
Lastly, chicken lollipops with curry, herb, and sweet vinegar and mustard sauces for dipping. Super cute presentation and they tasted deelish.
The next day we did Sandeman's "free" walking tour of Madrid. Our guide was again really enthusiastic and was a great presenter, she made it feel as though she was telling a story. We hit all the major highlights in the city. Here's a picture of a restaurant Ernest Hemingway used to frequent during the Spanish civil war.
The cross marks the boundary where Madrid used to have walls separating itself from the not-so-savoury neighbourhoods next door. The wall had a big gate that was locked, with the cross just inside (or maybe outside? I forget) to remind all of the alcoholics, gamblers, and prostitutes in the nearby neighbourhoods of their sins, and basically remind them that they were going to hell.
The royal palace, the biggest in Western Europe. Too bad we didn't get to go inside, apparently it's gorgeous but the lineup was just too long.
Our guide used this cathedral to tell us about the Spanish world "manyana". It means tomorrow... or the day after, or maybe the week/month/year after. If you ask someone to do something for you in Spain (ie. a cathedral) and they reply that they will do it manyana, don't expect it to be done right away. Case in point: Ideas to build this cathedral started in the 1600's... Construction didn't start until around the 1800's... and the actual completion of the cathedral didn't happen until 1993.
We got a little break and we decided to get some CHURROS. So delicious, they're like thin little Chinese doughnuts that you dip into chocolate. Absolute heaven.
The royal opera house. Our guide told us that for people under 26, if you go after 4pm on the day of a show you can get tickets with a 90% discount.
The home of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.
The site of the attempted coup in 1979 after dictator Franco died.
Lunch at the Museum of Ham.
We chose to eat upstairs in the salon... here's my starter: melon and jamon. I was soo full just from the melon!
For my main I had this really tender chicken with peanut sauce and chips. (or fries. I feel like I'm becoming a little more British now, I think of fries as chips and soccer as football now when I talk)
Dessert was rice pudding with lots of cinnamon. Yum yum yum.
That evening we returned to the Royal Opera house to watch the show that night, Pelleas and Melisande. Here's a pic of the lobby.
We got amaaazing seats in the front row for which we paid 17.20 euros. I felt pretty underdresed in my jeans surrounded by men and women in cocktail dresses and tuxedos who paid 172 euro for their seats. Oh well.
The royal opera house is known for its fantastic acoustics. I didn't get to put that to the test being in the front row with the orchestra in front of me though. Oh but something funny: turns out the opera was actually in French, not Spanish. So I understood about 1 in every 10 words or so...
The next day we did a day trip to Avila and Segovia. The weather was absolutely horribly cold, I think it was like 7 degrees and I did not pack for that kind of cold so I was basically miserable. After we left we stopped on a hill to take a panoramic picture of the city. The walls built in the 11th and 12th century are the main draw of Avila, the city itself is filled with lots of beautiful old cathedrals and buildings, all of which I was too cold to really enjoy. After snapping this picture I booked it back to the tour bus to try to warm myself up. OH. Biggest highlight of Avila: visiting Convento de Santa Teresa where they have a small museum, which has her ring finger on display. Really. Her flaky dried up finger, still wearing a ring, is there preserved in a glass box for all to see. Strangest thing by far on this trip.
The main draw of Segovia was the roman aqueduct.
We also had lunch in Segovia. Here's my bean soup to start, which was perfect for the freezing cold weather.
For my main was this incredibly tender beef with vegetables. It was really well cooked and tasted really authentic.
For dessert... take a guess at what this is. Cheesecake? That's what I thought but nope, a block of icecream. I had warmed up enough by this point that I happy to eat it though.
Just to get an idea of the size of the aqueduct, here's a comparison of me (5'4) vs. the aqueduct (93'6).
We then did a walking tour of Segovia, which was nice. You could really feel the Moorish influence on the city like in this cathedral here.
To end the day we went to Segovia's Alcazar, the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.
The ceilings inside were so intricate and luxe.
This room was my favourite. The ceiling was covered in golden pineapples!
One last look at Sleeping Beauty's castle.
Dinner was at a random pub. I got the steak, which wasn't bad. I'm definitely craving the Keg's filet mignon though after all these thin pan fried steaks.
Another look at the Museum of Ham. It's like the Spanish McDonald's, they're everywhere!
We then headed over to the Museo Reina Sofia, where all the modern art is held. The glass elevator was pretty cool. No pictures in most of the rooms, including all of the rooms housing Picasso's works. His piece, "Guernica", and all his preliminary studies are housed in this museum - really interesting to see how much thought and preparation went into his final painting.
Lots of Dali in this museum - this is his piece entitled "Hitler's Enigma".
Indistructable Object by Man Ray.
Afterwards we stopped to rest our tired feet at a cafe. Here's my pu-erh tea - trying to lose a little weight since I ate so much on this trip!
The next day we headed to Toledo. The weather was just uncomparable to the day before, still cold, but at least it was sunny so it felt so much warmer. I really enjoyed Toledo's narrow little streets and ancient architecture. We were in the old part of town, which is walled in up on a giant hill that you take a series of outdoor escalators to get up to. I think we took at least 5 or 6 escalators to get up here!
Toledo's main catheral.
We then visited El Greco's home, now a museum. His sculptures were really beautiful and decorated the outside patios as well as the inside exhibits.
Another sculpture. It was a really lovely place that felt so serene and peaceful, I really enjoyed my time there, and can imagine why El Greco built his home and studio there.
Next up was the cathedral commissioned by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Really gorgeous cathedral. Here's a picture looking out into the cloister, which was filled with orange trees.
I forget the story behind this cathedral... It had something to do with the Moors vs. the Catholics. I think the handcuffs decorating the facade make for a really striking image.
A look at the entrance to the old city center of Toledo that we came out of.
It was really windy once we came out! I tried to take a nice picture but obviously failed... Also, you can use this picture to see just how elevated the old city of Toledo is - we had to walk all the way down to bottom from here, no escalators down unfortunately.
We spent our last evening in Madrid shopping and walking around. One of the places we visited was this market, similar to Granville market with dozens of different little vendors inside selling all sorts of artisan chocolates and pastries and fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to look around. It was definitely a feast for the eyes inside.
Some more characters in Puerto del Sol. Oh hey out-of-proportion Pooh and Tigger.
Here's the statue of the bear and the madrono tree, the symbol of Madrid in Puerto del Sol. I bought some beautiful black suede wedge booties a little earlier, which are in that green bag :)
Having a bit of fun at the airport before we left... Hey, I can pretend.
Toro toro! We didn't get a chance to watch any bullfights in Spain because the season is over, and I really don't know if I'd want to. I learned more about it while in Spain and it seems like such a horrible, sadistic sport, where you're basically just watching a bull get slowly tortured until it dies.
The Last Supper. A massive portion of penne bolognese with cheese at the airport. Unfortunately, it really was not as "mmm" as the napkin would have you believe.