December 10, 2007
Calle Duque de Lira, 3, Madrid
On Saturday, our first full day in Madrid, we toured the Royal Palace in the morning. It’s full of richly decorated rooms with painted ceilings, painted or inlay walls, and marble floors. Nice and impressive. In the afternoon we went to the Reina Sophia museum, the new modern art museum that houses Guernica by Picasso. It was the free Saturday, and the museum was crowded but not overly so. We managed to see the whole 2nd floor before Maeve got tired of not being able to touch anything, and we took a break in the central courtyard (the museum is housed in an old hospital) where Maeve could check out the fountain. We liked various pieces of art – I particularly liked the way Guernica was shown, with a number of sketched Picasso did working out particular pieces of the work or the overall composition. A number of the sketches showed brutal faces with pokey teeth, protruding tongues, and bloody tears. Almost none of this made it into the picture, as the faces in the final composition are more primitive. There was also a display of 8 photos taken in the studio while he was working on the piece and showed how many parts of the composition changed over time. Some ideas, like the lightbulb in the eye, weren’t in the original sketch for the composition, or the horse was a different direction etc. It’s neat to see how the artist was making choices over time. Maeve of course most liked the sculpture.
Sunday AM we had two things on the agenda – checking out the Rastro, the flea market held only on Sundays, and checking out the paseo in the Retiro park. We headed out about 9:30 for the Rastro (despite trying to get on Spanish time we still get up ungodly early and are always out before 10 AM, when everything opens). The Rastro was pretty much a very big but not interesting flea market selling junk. So after a 10 minute cruise through, we headed out to the plaza Mayor, in route to either the Retiro or the Prado, as Sunday is free Prado day. The plaza Mayor is an enclosed square with arcades all around, and a very impressive location. In December, however, it’s filled with the red stalls of a Christmas market selling junk, wigs, and neat figurines for the Belen, the nativity scene that adorns many Spanish homes at Christmas time. We’d seen tons of people wearing wigs – afros, purple punk styles, long and flowing pink wigs, as well as many reindeer hats. I’m not sure what the wig thing is, but certainly lots were on sale in the plaza Mayor. Maeve’s favorite thing was a bunch of mylar balloons that had gotten caught in the Christmas lights hanging overhead. We looked for Christmas ornaments, of which there were very few, and checked out the Belen figures, which were either scrawny baby Jesuses or very expensive. Again, no sales to us.
From the Plaza Mayor we headed out for the Prado, walking as there didn’t seem to be a convenient Metro path. The Metro here, by the way, is great. I don’t think we’ve waited over 5 minutes for public transportation in all of Spain. Barcelona metro is awesome and easy to use. Valencia we used buses, and again they ran frequently and were easy. Madrid same thing, easy, clean, nice. And Maeve loves the trains, she gets excited, waving her arms around and grunting every time one comes into the station.
When we got to the Prado, we saw that there was a line around the building of people waiting to get in. The line was clearly not an option with Maeve, so we walked to the Retiro, a big park that used to be royal hunting grounds, and had a snack there. We then detoured by the parque infantil, or playground. In Valencia, there was a parque infantil near our apartment, and Maeve figured out how to sit down and go down the slide on her on. So, she’s enjoying that here in Madrid as well. We then walked to the estanque, or pond, in the middle of the Retiro, which is where the Madrilenos come out for their pre-lunch paseo. There were a number of people out walking, as well as boats and kayaks on the lake and mini-puppet theaters that were just getting started at 11:30, as were the shops still setting up to sell gum etc to the walkers. Maeve was seriously into the water, fish ducks, and boats, while Mike and I enjoyed looking around at the people. We then headed home for lunch and an early nap, as we wanted to hit a veggie restaurant before it closed at 4:30 – early dinner for us and late lunch for the madrilenos.
Maeve got up early enough for us to walk to the restaurant, which as on Plaza de la Paja, a depressing little patch of cement going uphill. Most Spanish plazas have some life – a fountain, a patch of green, or at least an open sidewalk café that bring life to the open area, but this was just a couple of empty park benches and closed storefronts. At 4 pm most stores are closed, but there’s usually some life around. When we got inside the restaurant, they showed us to the non-smoking section, which was a balcony overlooking the smoking section. The air was dark and dense, and Mike started swelling up with allergies and just couldn’t face sitting in there for long enough to eat. So we headed back out to the depressing square and gave Maeve an emergency snack – we’d at the last minute thought to add a zip-lock of crackers to the backpack. We then headed back up to the Corte Ingles on Calle Princesa, one metro stop past our apartment, to look for books and go grocery shopping. When all restaurants are smoky and/or closed, we say cook!
Seriously, restaurants are open for lunch from 1:30-4:00. This is prime nap time. Then they aren’t open for dinner until 8 or 9 pm, prime going to sleep time. We’ve got Maeve on a late schedule here – we get up at 6 AM in the states and are sleeping in until 8 or 8:30 here, with a correspondingly 1-2 hour later bed time, and we’re still much earlier than the Spaniards. A couple of times in Valencia, Maeve got a 1 hour nap before lunch just to make it through. One day she just didn’t nap and went into hyper-active drive. We haven’t figured out quite how to work the schedule yet. Today (Monday), Maeve got an early nap and we tried another restaurant, El Granjero. We got there about 3:30, they stop letting people in at 4. It was non-smoking, had a menu del dia (set menu with a first, second, and desert that includes bread – definitely the cheaper way to eat here) for 9,50 Euros. A great deal, and had good food, no smoking. The soups we ordered for the first were especially good. So we had an early dinner. Maeve ate again at 7, with a nice appetite although Mike and I weren’t really hungry. We’ll see if we do that again or try to keep Maeve up until 3 or later when we eat at 1:30. That was our strategy in Barcelona and it sometimes ended up with cranky baby. Hmm.
Monday the 10th was a slow day. Mike’s down with a cold, so Maeve and I went out to look for books for both of us in the AM– I’ve read everything we brought with us and just want to get some good books for Maeve in Spanish. We checked out La Casa del Libro, a big book store on Gran Via near Plaza Callao. It’s nice. Then we went to buy train tickets to visit Toledo on Thursday – it’s the day trip we really want to make from Madrid, and Mike will hopefully be better by then. If he’s better tomorrow (Tuesday), we’ll do a half day at El Escorial, if not, then more wandering around Madrid. Not a bad fall back plan.