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Madrid, May 2010
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Madrid... The hardest thing about flying to Madrid was the timing of our flight. We left Chicago at about 4:30 pm, flew for 8 hours and landed in Madrid at 7:30 am the next morning. We had missed an entire night. Going a night without sleep is no big deal when you are in college, but tends to wear on you a bit as you get older.
We stayed at the Ritz Madrid. This is an incredible hotel, built a hundred years ago by the king of Spain with intention of making it a centerpiece of Madrid. This was done in an effort to make Madrid a city to rival any in Europe. The hotel is truly a masterpiece. Marble floors give way to inlaid wood while walls run seamlessly from curved statued alcoves to gilded mirrors.
But really small. The elevators held three adults, or two and a couple of bags. The rooms had enough room to get around the bed but no more and a small desk at the end. The dressers were antique wood and the bathroom, of course, featured a bidet. Europeans are very civilized in this way.
We didn’t explore very far the first day, mostly we tried to rest since we had a 5 am call the next morning. We couldn’t set up the night before because there was a wedding in the ballroom that night.
5 o’clock I got down to the ballroom to discover that the last of the wedding party was just leaving. These people take their parties very seriously. They also like late nights. In fact, many restaurants did not even open for supper until after 8:30, and some as late as 10. That’s when they opened, mind you.
The ballroom was incredibly tight, as they packed people into it, but the performance went great. Everyone loved it and there was already talk about having us back.
Now we had a couple of days to explore Madrid. Madrid has that classic old European architecture. Mostly narrow roads, none of which ran straight, with old buildings painted earthy hues of rose, yellow, orange and tan. The sun found its way through the buildings to make one side of the street sparkle and the other settle into a comfortable glow of reflected light. Like most European cities, Madrid is beautiful. In fact there are numerous artists in the various plazas painting scenes from the city. I have one such painting now hanging in my office.
And so we ventured out into the city. We were armed with a few euros and just enough Spanglish to get ourselves into trouble. Fortunately, we did not.
Our first order of business was to find food. We found a couple of restaurants that looked promising but they didn’t open until much later. Then we found it.
As far as we could tell this was the most popular chain of eateries in Madrid. It was simple, inexpensive and pretty tasty. It was called Museo del Jamon.
In English that would be, the Ham Museum. No, I am not making that up. You could have whatever you wanted, as long as it was ham. Don’t get me wrong, the ham was very tasty. They served it very thinly sliced, and only a slice or two, on a small baguette. This cost about a euro, or just over a dollar.
Something else we had discovered on our journey around the city was that nearly all of the restaurants had exactly the same menu. And from what I could tell the same photographer (bad photographer) took the pictures that they posted in their windows. It seemed they went out of their way to make the food look bad. They didn’t really have to go far though. Basically you could get some form of ham and bread, pickled or fried fish and octopus. That was pretty much it.
After a few meals of this, in desperation I got a hamburger at one small bar. I should have stuck with the ham.
There was no bun and while I am sure the meat was, well meat, I could not have identified the animal it came from.
Madrid is a beautiful city but it did take a little getting used to. For instance, I am not sure I understood the Spanish sense of humor. In the Plaza Mayor there are a lot of various street performers and there were many that I simply did not understand.
There was Fat Spider Man, Scary Deer/Ram, Dead guy with an Axe, Head on a Box and a few others. These are the names we gave them, I have no idea what they called themselves.
Take Scary Deer for instance. This was someone wearing a deer’s (or maybe a ram) head, apparently kneeling down, and the rest of their body was covered with a mylar “rain curtain”. The mouth moved and when it did it made a loud clapping sort of sound. It did this any time anyone got too close. This had the general effect of scaring people away. People would try to get their kids to stand next to it to take a picture and this thing would start clacking and shacking. The kids would jump and scream and try to run away, while the parents would be trying just as hard to drag them back over to get their picture taken.
I am sure this cut back considerably on the tips the performer was able to get. I pictured them looking at a nearly empty jar at the end of the day and thinking to themselves, tomorrow I will just have to make the head clap louder!
We found a bar on the plaza that didn’t charge much for wine or beer and whenever you ordered they also gave you a small plate of something. One time is nuts, another time it was pickled sardines. The bartender never smiled but he remembered what we were drinking whenever we walked in.
Eventually we relaxed into the scene that was Madrid. We sat in the Plaza Mayor with our wine, ate our ham and bread and laughed at the tourists that got too close to the Scary Deer. And as the sun would begin to go down the buildings would start to glow and the old artist’s eyes would come alive. Later that night we knew we would wander out and have supper, sometime around 10, and the ham would be just fine.
We somehow, at some time, found the rhythm of Madrid.