31.10.2009 - 02.11.2009
Returning to Europe with stories and wonders from the new world I assumed I would be welcomed in much the same way that Columbus was. Alas all that awaited me was a seamless border transaction and a readily available subway to my hostel location. However given the fun that I had at my last border crossing and the fact that a taxi from the airport is usually the only way to get from the airport to your hostel in South America this was more than welcome enough and it felt nice to be in a more civilized society.
After I arrived at my third hostel chasing but one bed (apparently there are people in Spain now) I finally found somewhere to setup not as cheap as I wanted but this is after all Europe. This turned out to be a very strange hostel that had an abnormally large selection of stupid rules that were inconsistently enforced and therefore largely ignored. Surely the stupidest rule though had to be the prohibition of drinking alcohol bought outside the hostel inside without the hostel having a bar of its own.
After asking the front about their recommendations for what to do she basically highlighted the entire map of Madrid, not the specific help that I was looking for but I must admit that it is quite a nice city to walk around with plenty of the architecture well worth seeing. The other advantage is that the city has a fantastic metro system that is easy to access however it is rendered nigh on useless for tourists by the fact that it is so easy (and beautiful) to walk from place to place.
Madrid is a city that is famed for art museums, architecture and also for its all night parties – indeed it has/had the title of the city that never sleeps (although New York now disputes this). The city curiously also uses the symbol of a she bear eating from a strawberry tree which caused me a quick double take as regards to where strawberries normally grow but I later confirmed that the tree does not actually produce strawberries.
As with every European city Madrid has its own castle and cathedral that despite their commonness they are always on the list of attractions to see. The palace site here has been occupied since approximately the 9th century when a Moorish king decided to build a small palace overlooking the river. From modest beginnings this palace has been embellished by further monarchs to become the largest royal palace in Europe (it is however no longer utilized by the royal family for residence). Immediately next to the palace lies the Almudena cathedral a modern cathedral due to it being built as recently as the 19th century, very young by European standards. This is mainly due to Toledo being the capital until the 16th century.
My first night in Madrid just happened to be Halloween instead of the early night that I should have had I attended an organized pub crawl until 4am. Yeah this city does love its parties with the opportunity to eat tapas and drink pretty much all night but things not really beginning until well after 2am. The best thing for me was seeing ¾ of the population dressed up and embracing Halloween, needless to say I felt very under dressed for the occasion. Annoyingly here the dress standards are ridiculously high and not to the point where in Perth they will not let you in here you can get in wearing anything but it affects the cover charge that you will pay severely as well as the time you need to wait in line. Needless to say bouncers on a power trip and a floating cover charge are close to the worst inventions in the world especially if you are a guy – damn you girls that don’t even get a cover charge half the time.
The next day it was off to wander around the bien retiro the most famous and visited park in Madrid earning the local name “the lungs of the city”. It is common for people to just be wandering through the park at any time of the day along with musicians to play there after sunset particularly on Sundays. In the centre of the park is a nice lake in front of a large semi circular monument to Alfonso XII, this is probably the nicest monument I have seen as far as how it is laid out and if you want you can even take a row boat in the lake in front. The park also includes a rare statue of the devil and a crystal palace that is exactly the place where someone should not throw stones if you catch my drift. When I was there it was empty but it looks destined to be an open art gallery of some sort. All it made me think of was choosing the arch window on play school. The nicest thing about this park is its wide expanses and semi organized roads that make it equally easy to find your way around or simply get lost.
The best way to eat through Madrid is to utilize the “menu del dia” or the menu of the day which generally includes a couple of courses as well as desert or a coffee with a glass of wine for 10€. Here the food is quite nice with plenty of fresh ingredients. After some varieties of pasta and steaks to get through the day it was off to find something a little bit different. Something different involved a bar which seemed to be populated only by college students and us. This served up some of the oddest food at very cheap prices. With the largest ham and cheese sandwich you could imagine, seriously this could feed a family of four comfortably. We would share a sandwich and some salted green peppers between two people and with a beer to wash it down, both be full. A Dutch guy we met tried one on his own which predictably ended in failure and disappointment. Not exactly typical Spanish fair but great value none the less, I am saving tapas for the south of Spain where it is supposedly perfected.