Our last day in Lisbon found us wandering about aimlessly, with too much time on our hands to not do anything and too little to go to Fatima. We finally settled on going to mass at a church we stumbled upon in Lisbon´s city center. Even though it was held in Portuguese, we both agreed it was a highlight of our time in Lisbon. We took our first sleeper train to Madrid. I was in a car with two women from Kazakhstan (I withheld all Borat comments) and one from Portugal. We found our hostel just off the bustling Puerta del Sol with relative ease.
We were ready to begin our short tour of Madrid and the exploration of the great idea of preservation.
Madrid: P is for Preservation
P is for Post Office: Self-Preservation
Our first transfer of many between Lisbon and Madrid was enough to ensure us that we had packed far, far too much. So, we did what we had to do—dumped all our stuff on a bed, argued about who got to keep what, what was necessary (Guys, hairdryers ARE necessary. Never, never argue this point), and filled one of our suitcases with a load of stuff to ship home. Procuring mapas from the desk clerk, we made our way to the Palacio de Comunicaciones (yes, their post office is in a palace) where no one spoke English. While we had practiced the ´´pretend like you are ordering something in a restaurant´´ scenario in Spanish class, we had never practiced the ´´pretend like you over-packed and now your luggage is too heavy, so you want a price quote on how much it will be to ship some of it home¨ scenario. Nevertheless, through my broken Spanish and (I should say) artful charades, we managed to come away with what we needed and returned the following day to rid ourselves of the excess weight and ensure that the rest of our transfers didn’t kill us and annoy everyone else.
P is for Pablo Picasso: Cultural Preservation
After getting turned around a time or two, we found our way to the Museo del Reina Sofia, one of the museums in Madrid’s great trifecta of art museums. The museum, an old converted hospital, had carefully preserved the history of art in Spain, but still maintained the very clinical feel of a hospital. The museums holdings were most concentrated with more modern artists like Joan Miro, Robert Mapplethorpe, etc. But the highlight, hands down, and the reason we went in the first place, was to see Pablo Picasso’s wall-sized painting, Guernica. The twisted figures and dull greys and dark blacks of the painting conveyed the sense of horror and abomination the people felt from the bombing of the little Basque town of Guernica at the hands of the Germans but at the bidding of the Spanish dictator Franco. Reportedly, when questioned by the Nazis about who was responsible for this work, Picasso tritely answered ”you are.” The painting hung safely in New York’s Metropolitan Museum until democracy was restored in Spain. We particularly enjoyed the exhibit, which, while including the main work, also displayed Picasso’s preparatory sketches and photographs of the work in transition. The delineation of his creative process showed Picasso’s genius in not only creating one of the world’s greatest works of art but of creating a cultural memory of the pain and devastation unleashed by war.
P is for Paella: Bodily Preservation
We enjoyed paella a marisco for our first dinner in Madrid. This delicious traditional Spanish fare of mixed rice, vegetables, crawfish (or crawdaddies as we down South like to call them) mussels, and clams was a flavorful feast that really hit the spot. Accompanied by a caña of the house white, which tasted like a pinot grigio to me, the meal was rounded out to perfection. We enjoyed the paella much better than our bocadillos mixtos we had the next day. Fabulously Spanish, these sandwiches comprised of cured ham and stinky cheese served on hardened baguettes were okay, but did not surpass our paella enjoyed in the dying afternoon light and quiet bustle of a sidewalk café.
P is for Parque: Natural Preservation
The next morning found us on the efficient metro system headed out to the Parque del Buen Retiro, or ’nice retreat.’ Several acres of beautiful woodland, groomed gardens, fountains, two lakes, and two palaces (one made completely of glass), were beautifully preserved in the heart of Madrid’s urban landscape by the kings and queens of Spain, who in another time used the park as a private, royal retreat.
P is for Palacio: Royal Preservation
We were all set to visit the opulent rooms of the Palacio Real when we noticed several blue signs saying cerrado for closed and a few bewildered tour guides with their equally bewildered tourists in tow. Apparently the government had closed the palace that day for ‘official ceremonies.’ Did they think they were like royalty or something? That this was a palace? So, perhaps p here better stands for pouty. We wandered through the Playa de Oriente with its statue garden full of statues meant for the roof of the palace but placed there after the queen’s nightmare of the roof collapsing.
P is for Prado: Artistic Preservation
The Prado, another museum in the great trifecta, was our Plan B after our disappointment at the palace. After being harassed in Spanish several times and Brett having to check our water bottle at the cloak room, we made it into the famed museum. The portraiture of the Prado were really our favorite pieces. I loved Velazquez’s Las Meninas and the Prado’s one Rembrandt, as well as all of the pieces by Goya who served many years as the royal portrait artist. We also were enchanted by the Rafael pieces. Rafael, renowned today, distinguished himself in his own day by being credited with painting the most realistic portraits of any of his compeers. Apart from preserving some of Spain’s greatest artistic treasures, the Prado is still nurturing current artists. We loved seeing the art students with their easels set up next to the great masterworks, their Ipod earbuds in place, trying to copy the techniques of the masters to preserve a tradition of artistic excellence.
P is for Passes: Financial Preservation
A word to the wise–if you are ever in Madrid, spring for a 1, 2, or 5 day Abono Transporte Turistica. This pass lets you ride any of the city’s metro or bus lines an unlimited amount of times. You can get everywhere you want to go without paying point to point tickets, which cost a fortune!
P is for Postres: Okay, so there is no preservation here. P is just for pure indulgence
On our last night in Madrid, we couldn’t quite hand with the Madrileños who party into la madruga (read 4 a.m.), but we did decide to dessert like true Madrileños. At a little corner cafe in the Plaza de Somewhere, we ordered chocolate con churros. Ladies, it is like they melt a Hershey´s bar and serve it to you with a spoon. You dip your cylindrical, horse-shoe shaped churro pastries into the thick chocolate and enjoy. I would vote on brining this little tradition back to the States if I weren’t concerned with the preservation of my waistline.
Now we have taken a high speed train across the Castillian steppe to the ancient city of Barcelona. We had no luggage mishaps this time, save our little carry-on dislodging itself from the luggage rack and rolling down the aisle. I woke up to cries of “esta maleta roja,” or this red suitcase, and had to chase after it. Our hostel here is a little sketchier than our one in Madrid, but situated very near Spain’s own Arc de Triomf. Once we get to Paris, we’ll have to tell you who has done it better.