Thu 19 Jun 2003
Madrid sure turned out to be an 'interesting' experience. Unfortunately not nearly as enjoyable as the rest of the places we visited. Of course, there were still plenty of great things that we saw and experienced.
Our trip from Toledo was easy and quite effortless. The train leaves every two hours from Toledo to Madrid and is the only trip out of Toledo as far as I could tell. Finding the hostel we had reserved was not a problem, but trying to find a way to enjoy the hostel was much harder! For starters it wasn't in a particularly good part of town. When we first walked up, Janelle noticed the sign on the outside saying 'no prostitution allowed in here' - not a good sign. We managed to count about 20 or so prostitutes on the street that evening! Of course, these things can be easily ignored, but unfortunately there were too many things wrong with this particular choice of accommodation! A rabbit warren of grimy looking hallways led us to our tiny room, with views of the piping and grime in the back alleyway and other people's open windows. I killed a huge cockroach while Janelle wasn't watching and waited till the next day to tell her. All these things I could usually get over, but for the fact that it fell through on the one thing that to me is essential, a place to SLEEP! There was very little sleeping that night, as wave after wave of people arrived drunk in their rooms shouting and giggling right outside our door kept waking us up. The morning was started by someone who decided he needed to knock on everyone's door to start wake everyone up for breakfast. It was all too much. We got up, but instead of having breakfast, we started looking for somewhere else to stay the other two nights. We found somewhere only a few blocks away which was only 4 euros extra a night and a far more enjoyable experience - it had hot water for one!
Okay, enough whining for now. The Puerta del Sol, the major square in Madrid wasn't far, so we took a stroll down there to get started. The place is throbbing with people at all hours (at least all hours we saw it). One time we walked down there we saw all the hawkers being raided by the police. People set up sheets on the ground and put all their goods for sale, like sunglasses, cds, belts, etc.. on the sheets. As we were walking past, someone let out a warning and all the sheets turned into bags within seconds and everyone was on the run! Quite amusing to watch really, although the police in Spain with their leather gloves do make for a scary sight! Strange though, we saw several other times when police cars would drive straight past without taking note at all.
Madrid is a rather 'new' city as we overheard a Madridian describing it. 'New' in this case means anything less than 500 years old! The city was chosen as capital when it was only a small village. As a result, the architecture and feel of the place is quite different to all the other places we visited. Nevertheless, it has its fair share of interesting things to do! There are several world-class and famous art galleries that we of course visited: The Prado, the city's most famoust museum, houses a large collection of older artwork, with some very famous pieces by the likes of Velazquez and Goya. The Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia has a very enjoyable collection of modern art and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum has a chronological collection from about 500 AD to now, with all the rooms curated so that you progress through time - a very interesting experience. Each day we were in Madrid we visited another of these museums, which generally take up at least a few hours of slow shuffling.
In a lot of ways Madrid was very reminiscent of Melbourne. The general street culture seemed quite the same and it one thing in common which made it seem particularly similar - a festival! As much as Melbourne loves its festivals, so it seems Madrid does too. While we were there at least there was a photography/contemporary art exhibition going on. The beautiful thing about it was that there was a free show on one evening which we of course strolled down to see. It was basically a projection of some excellent photography and some not so excellent 'video art'. Something to keep us busy anyway. On that particular evening, we then went on to go and see some free jazz at Popular, a bar that has bands on every evening. The drink prices of course made up for the free entry, but the music by the jazz quartet was remarkable!
We spent a lot of time as usual walking around the city, having coffees, etc.. and enjoying the warmth. On the last of our three days when we planned to visit the Palace, we were stopped from doing any more of that though. Janelle sprained her ankle rather badly on a bit of uneven paving and basically couldn't walk anymore that day (and not very well for the rest of the holidays really). That pretty much was the end of Madrid. Time to move on to Rome!