13-17 November 2003
The lights went out as soon as we put our tokens in the MARTA turnstile in Atlanta. No kidding. We waited and called and when we saw the southbound train using the northbound track, we bailed.
The rest of the trip to Madrid was easy and worth it. We use our frequent flier miles to make travel great -- first class makes one forget hassle and coast into the next country. Once there, an easy ride by AeroCity shuttle takes us to the Hotel Europa at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Perfect. The hotel is just the right mix of Europe: remodeling and value.
We take a spin through the area as our room was being readied... so good, calm. A morning jet-lag rest and then out by 1:00pm to walk the streets of Old Madrid.
From the hotel, Wade went to the SuperMercado at El Corte Ingles to buy in-room eats. Great prices and in the basement of a large department store, just like Monoprix in Paris.
A walking tour through Plaza Mayor where the sun was crisp and the sites inviting -- with the usual interference of homeless (three guys) and the aggressive (three Asian women selling massages who physically touch us while handing us flyers explaining - in English - what a massage is).
Winding on through the streets to Palacio Real and the many people who come to the area from all over Spain and elsewhere. We sat in the sun with others enjoying coffee and the thought of where we are.
Back out at 7:30pm and the streets are packed. We make our way to La Trucha for dinner - tapas - and dine virtually alone, too early for the dinner crowd. The activity in the street is amazing. We take a slow walk back and around the streets near us, finally sitting at the sidewalk tables of our hotel restaurant.
"El Condor Pasa" is heard with yet another South American panflute band -- just like Olympics '96; Portobello Road in London; and all over Europe. We retire at 10:00pm -- sated.
A decent night's sleep in a good hotel (better than we had in Paris or London and less money). Internet cafe is next to a Starbuck's three blocks away: 1.30 Euros gets 37 minutes; 1.50 Euros gets a cup of decaf.
Today is El Prado -- museum loaded with important work, heavy with Goya and Velazquez. Many are in line for a special Manet exhibit, but we opt for the resident collection.
Another wonderful collection, important to see and perfect activity on a rainy November day. Back to the hotel in the afternoon for another adjustment nap.
Out by 6:30pm for a stroll and shopping at El Corte Ingles' Supermercado for breakfast and wine. We then walk with the rest of the crowd in Puerta del Sol and beyond. We make our way to Plaza Mayor again and pop into a place purporting to be an Irish pub called "Moore's and Company". We like it and plenty were there at 7:30pm.
Relaxation has begun to settle in on us. Our conversation reflects our realization that we are finally here -- just we.
Back we walk and take in more of the atmosphere. Since it was wet late int he day, many restaurants have no tables out. But the people are thick as can be, though there are certainly more in warmer weather. There are the usual street musicians, but a very unusual pianist is playing in the arcade of Plaza Mayor. Wearing a sweatshirt that says "Cumberland", the lady plays difficult Rachmaninoff, earning applause and tips (us, too).
Rain sprinkles in the courtyard below our room -- another day for a museum! Cheese, meat, and water for breakfast in the room, topped with coffee in the hotel restaurant -- very nice.
Off to the museum we go -- Thyssen-Bornemisza -- which is laid out in the modern and easy-access way. Starting on the top floor, one simply circles and descends, moving chronologically through iconography and all things triptych to completely riotous twentieth-century visual noise. A great museum with important artists represented in compelling fashion. Worth the trip for any floor, but nineteenth-century European and American artists are the most appealing to us, prejudiced as we are.
Yet "museum legs" do get the best of anyone. We completed all floors, but we were so relieved to be walking with some speed, even in the rain. Lunch at the hotel was copious and fair in price and taste -- a good deal.
Wade went to try for opera tickets, but the box office was closed. Stopped in a small cafe and saw a lot of people out on a Sunday, making work for a single girl whose boss hid out of sight most of the time and barked at his help when he deigned to show up. Does it mean anything about the culture or just about these two?
During a brief stay in the room, we see some CNN World wherein there are multiple, reasonable discussions about world events and dynamics. The U.S. is the focus; wish we saw this sort of journalism at home -- long stretches with no commercials and polite dialogue.
Out we go -- one more try for the opera. A man at the head of the line offers his two -- not together -- for 38 Euros each. We pass and also find nothing at the box office that we feel is worth $250 (!) this evening. So, happy, we walk in the dusk, as the clouds thin and the night comes on. Past the Plaza de Villa and very nice homes and apartments; again around Plaza Mayor.
We finally choose a fairly nice spot and have Manchego cheese and deep-fried peppers with water and wine. The room is lively, the night is young, and we are satisfied.
Back to Puerta del Sol and Hotel Europa. Walking back this way, we see the best view yet of where we have stayed. The lights and the people make a great picture. A glass of wine outside the Hotel again, watching people walk as we talk and discuss what we see.