¡Bienvenido a Madrid!
You haven't done whirlwind until you've tried touring 230 square miles of city and nearly just as many in exhibition spaces in four days. I've been back in London three days. I'm still tired. Remember that pedometer on my phone? We walked 38 and a half miles and 18 of those hours were spent asleep and another 8 in airports or on the plane. I lost my favorite purple scarf. I wore through a pair of shoes. Wear sneakers to Madrid. Even to go out at night. Trust me, your heels and your wallet and you sanity left intact will thank you.
The Spanish sky is this unbelievable and endlessly blue that I couldn't quite accurately capture with a jury-rigged Nikon point and shoot. We first saw it's beauty from the sky, coasting over the yellow and green patchworked farmland leading into Madrid Barajas Aeropuerto. It was a little after 8AM, and because the taxicab picked us up at the entrances to our chilly London dorm at 4:15AM, I hadn't slept but for the determined two hours on the plane before the lights came up like good morning hallelujah and please, the flight attendants insisted, open your window shade so the pilot can see where he is going while we land. Or was that inane rule just in place so we could have front row seats to disaster if we crashed? The sun was rising, it was hot on my face and the aircon was blowing a tundra across my legs. I had nothing but upright sleep all night, and I was cranky. Sleep is important EasyJet, don't you know? But really, what can you expect when your ticket cost you less than £45? And really, can you complain that much? (I can.)
Spanish customs was almost as lax as Italian customs, though I did actually have to remove my passport from my bag to get into Madrid. (I'm looking at you, Rome.) We popped by the apartment, swooned over the view off our terrace. Why oh why did you outlaw AirBNB, New York City? 78€ per night for a four bedroom penthouse overlooking the Viaduct? It's a dream come true. And then we were ushered out the door on three hours of sleep (and I was one of the lucky ones who brought a hippo-shaped neck pillow on the plane and actually got some shut eye) while Claudia finished cleaning from the last tenants, and we got lost (a theme of the trip, apparently reading a map is a skill much harder to com by than I thought) until we ended up at Plaza Mayor, a cobblestoned tourist trap of pretty. One drink on the plaza will run you something like 20€ and a floating street performer will wink at you and nudge his cap full of money in your direction before you manage to walk through one of the arches to continue on your way.
The Prado has this nifty little policy of You Musn't Photograph the Masterpieces, not because they're fragile, but because they're encouraging something called Living in the Present, so you can feel the weight of the works you're looking at without being continually limited by the veiwfinder on your camera. It's a novel idea, and I did love standing before Velazquez's Las Meninas without fighting my way around careless tourists and their iPads. Until you look up to fully appreciate the grandness of the ten foot tall painting, and there is a giant white glare over Velazquez's face. And that's unforgivable, that your lighting means I have to stand fifteen feet back from a masterpiece in order to see it. I want to get up close and see how he did it. I want to practically lick the brushstrokes. Your lighting designer should be fired then tarred, feather, drawn and the quartered. Especially when all I want to do is gawk over the detail in the hair in Caravaggio's David and Goliath, and I cannot unless I am across the room, with my back up against another masterpiece some clueless tourist wishes he could photograph.
(I just googled Las Maninas to double check my spelling and the first suggestion was las meninas picasso. Sigh.)
We were exhausted, Pamela could tell. But when she lead us up and through the bowels of the Prado, we hit a wall. Calle de Prado was roped off for Euromaster--the Spanish version of the Tour de France, and we were trapped on the wrong side of Madrid for another hour unless we walked two miles out of our way to go around it. I don't know about the rest of the group, but my feet were screaming, and I ran away.
Into the arms of biggest, most beautiful glass of heaven I have ever come upon. I was skeptical, I admit, when Pamela told us gin and tonic was the unofficial cocktail of Spain and she wanted us to have a try. We slipped into our second outdoor eatery (I don't think I ate a single meal outside in my four days there) and she asked us what we wanted as if she wasn't going to insist upon doing the ordering for us like she had at breakfast (though the woman didn't steer us wrong. I will be in love with Spanish tomato picante for the rest of my days until I track down a proper recipe). And there we were, with fishbowl sized glasses and a generous helping of Gin. I eyed it skeptically. Could something this beautiful be bad? Echos of drunken friends at tiny Manhattan apartment parties rang in my head. "Gin is gross. I don't go near that stuff ever."
I sipped. I rejoiced. I decided never to drink anything else ever again. I am deeply, irrevocably in love and you will never ever change my mind.
Get it straight, Manhattan friends. Gin is beautiful, Vodka is disgusting.
We meandered back to the flat long after the Euromaster had passed, buzzed and determined to find a decent Spanish grocery. We stumbled upon the world's largest avacados and Pamela practically keeled over and died at the suggestion that we make guacamole back at the apartment. She bought us some pimientos, little green spanish chiles that cost an arm and a leg back in London, but run her a little over a euro for a kilogram of in Madrid. Did you know tortilla chips really aren't a thing in Spain? I mean, I could have guessed, the same way we Americanize Chinese food. But for the love of god, they were selling Old El Paso taco sauce, which our Texan friend calls to gringo to eat, and there wasn't a bag of Tostitos in sight. We were going to have to stoop to guac and potato chips? ¡Que horror!
We mashed and we diced and sauteed our way to a tapas style meal our first night in Madrid, shared with everyone on our giant terrace as we watched the sun set over the viaduct and Alumdena Cathedral. All well and delicious after an exhaustive first day, but if I didn't get my teeth into some authentic paella soon, I was going to have a fit.