Many buildings are architecturally lovely, there are spacious public parks, graffiti- everywhere, chocolate con churros, soccer fans, flamenco dancing and big partiers... As well as an Egyptian temple. Templo de debod was given to Spain in return for help they provided against a flood in the 60s. When I visited the temple on Saturday morning, the park it's in was covered in beer bottles and empty liquor bottles. Quite the sight and, in my opinion, quite disrespectful. (and i have no idea how the one city worker was going to clean it all!) Spain is something though. The people are passionate and full of life, or at least that's how it sounds when they speak. My attempt at speaking any Spanish basically failed.. but I survived.
When I arrived at the hostal my first task was to kill the 2 cockroaches I found. Luckily none appeared again! It was uphill from there lol. I visited the Prado museum, seeing Goya and Velasquez paintings, toured the quite incredible Palacio Real (lots of marble, porcelain and beautiful ceilings), and the cathedral of Madrid. I also took a gondola ride over the city, which has more green space than I realized! A great view.
On the Friday I took a day trip out of the city to Toledo, the previous capital of Spain. I sat next to an American guy on the train who i ended up touring the city with. Sometimes it's as easy as that to find a touring companion in Europe! Toledo's historical centre is walled in and it has several gates in which to enter. The city is on a hill so it's a bit of a hike but- get this- on one side there is an escalator to the top! We found it a little late in the day, unfortunately.
The Cathedral of Toledo is one of the most amazing cathedrals I have ever seen! Beautiful. Amazing altarpieces, a Processional Monstrance made of gold ( worth 1 million dollars!), and a painted dome with sculptures of angels peaking out over the cathedral. My descriptions don't do it justice.
We also viewed a museum (for free!), which had very old tombstones, colourful mosaics and arches. Just outside the walls is a castle that looks more like a fortress. For some reason it doesn't allow visits but we are castle people so that didn't stop Will and I. We climbed over the fence lol. Just to get pictures! We were there for like 3 minutes. The funny thing was there were 2 Asian girls walking up with us and they just walked in (we didn't see how- the gate was locked!) When they came out they had luggage... Needless to say it confused us and we were ready to use them as an excuse if we got in trouble lol. It was fun!
Back in Madrid, I checked out the crysal palace in Parque de el retiro, the rose gardens near temple de Debod and the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin. Apparently it's quite the tourist trap, so i settled for a picture in front of the restaurant.
After passing up a Flamenco dancing show in Barcelona years ago, I figured I had to go in Madrid. I went to a small place called Las Tablas. There were two female dancers, one male and 4 men playing guitars and singing. I liked the intimate atmosphere. I had a front row table at the side of the place so I had a pretty good view. All the dancers were fantastic. Their legs really move! The beat is very important so when the dancers were each taking their turn, it was up to the others to tap their feet and clap to keep the beat with the great music. The hand and arm movements are also a big part of flamenco. All in all I thought the costumes might be more flashy but I was impressed with the music and dancing. The 2 singers were great as well and all the performers were very passionate. It was fun, classic Spain.
Afterwards I went to a famous little place called Chocolateria San Gines where I got a cup of melted chocolate and deep fried churros. Step 1- dip in chocolate step 2 -without dripping on yourself, eat said chocolate-y churro! It was very good! A perfect way to end the night.
Before I left Madrid, I visited their Sunday flea marked called El Rastro at Plaza Mayor. I bought a lovely antique bracelet for 4 euros (bargained down from 5, maybe I should have tried 3? Lol). Then it was time to leave from Puerta del Sol- the main square and kilometer 0 from which all distances in Spain are measured. My hostal was near the square, which really is where all the action takes place. I have never seen so many people in one area (well ok it rivals times square)... I even heard people partying til 7 am Sunday morning! (I told you there were partiers!) Oh and I saw at least 3 rallies in 4 days that ended up at the square. All the Spanish I caught was one banner protesting privatization. Maybe Canadians could learn something from the Spaniards lol.
So this morning I grabbed a train to Barcelona and had an hour and 20 minute layover til my next train... So I sort of had a spontaneous moment. I threw my stuff in the consignment lockers and took the metro to Sagrada Familia! Of course there were cranes behind the still-incomplete church. The strange facade at the front of the temple is apparently very different than what Gaudi had in mind and I must say it is strange. From a golden-looking scull, to the fact that the forms are, as my guidebook puts it, angular and abstract. (I'm not sure the crucifixion looks like that anywhere else..) Still it's quite something to look at and sooo worth the stress of getting back to the train station in time. Luckily- or not, depending on how you look at it, the church was closed for a special celebration so I couldn't go in. Strange that there were still large tourist groups going in... Lame...
Well I'm headed back to France. I'm on the train to Montpellier now and it has been a gorgeous ride alongside the ocean at times. I can't wait to see the French riviera. Here's to hoping I see some famous people in Cannes during the film festival!