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Spain

Madrid: Art, anthropology, El Rastro flea market and more

Madrid


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Off to the airport soon...

These are the highlights of the last couple of days in Madrid.

- The Museum of Anthropology - quite small but interesting, especially because it concentrated on countries that were formerly owned/controlled by Spain or at least had a significant Spanish presence; for example Latin America, the USA, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo. It also contained a mummy discovered in a cave in Tenerife in the eighteenth century and the skeleton of a 'giant' who was born in Spain in 1849.

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Andean masks



- General street scenes and beautiful buildings that I've passed - Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, colourful buildings in side streets, a busker playing a set of glasses (running his finger round the rims with water) outside the Royal Palace, the grandness of Gran Vía (the main street; I came across a National Geographic shop there where I bought a lovely t-shirt on special offer at a 40% reduction)...

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- El Rastro, the enormous street flea market held every Sunday morning. I didn't buy anything but it was lovely to browse all the same.

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- The Museum of the Americas. There were lots of really interesting exhibits, just as I guessed there would be; highlights for me were the pre-Columbian objects, especially the exquisite gold figures from the Quimbaya culture of Colombia, a carved wooden statue made by the Chimú culture of Peru, and a Peruvian mummy with the gold jewellery she'd been buried with. There was also a 19th-century Guatemalan violin and sheet music which I was very taken with.

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There was a lovely little park opposite the entrance, too, with a statue of Simón Bolívar, one of the liberators of Spanish South America.

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- A special weekend lunch deal of a starter, main, dessert and drink for 13 euros at a Thai restaurant. It might seem strange to have Thai food in Madrid, but I suddenly had a craving for it. Hadn't had any Thai food since January, after all. I had stir-fried vegetables in a really tasty sauce for my starter, stir-fried chicken with a vegetable and peanut sauce and rice for the main and tapioca for pudding.

- Reina Sofía Museum, where I saw Picasso's 'Guernica', lots of works by Salvador Dalí, Miró and other artists, plus a Richard Hamilton exhibition. I bought a fridge magnet of Guernica in the shop. I've always liked the Surrealists and I remember doing a study on Picasso for A-Level Art back in 2003...

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- Gazpacho, grilled grouper with salad, ice cream, churros...

Posted by 3Traveller 08:49 Archived in Spain Tagged art market museum spain madrid pre_columbian_artifacts spanish_cuisine Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic City of Toledo

Toledo


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Today I finally managed to visit Toledo, an extremely beautiful, historical town that I've wanted to go to for many years!

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It was a day trip organised by my hostel and we left quite late in the morning so I didn't have as much time as I'd have liked - I only really had time for some photos from a viewing point at the top of the public library...

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... a wander through picturesque, narrow, cobbled streets, a set lunch and then a really good look round the cathedral, including a trip up the belfry tower to see what I think is the largest bell in Spain.

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The cathedral included a museum that was mainly filled with religious art but also contained four silver sculptures from 1695 of a goddess sitting on a globe showing one of the four known continents on the world at the time. I gave a mental cheer when I looked at the Americas one and saw the names of both Guayaquil and Quito carved into the correct places in the space where the country Ecuador would later be created.

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At lunch I tried something I'd never tried until then - octopus. It came in chunks as part of the free appetiser. The texture and taste was much nicer than I expected. I still don't think I'd be able to eat an octopus if it arrived on my plate whole with all its tentacles out, but in the future if a dish has octopus chunks in it I won't hold back from ordering it.

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After I left the cathedral I had just enough time to buy a very special souvenir for myself - a small but high quality knife with a blade made from Toledo steel and the handle handmade from antler. I did the whole interaction with the guy in the shop in Spanish so I didn't understand every word he said, but before I bought it I made sure to check that it's a type of knife allowed into the UK. He showed me the types he had that aren't allowed and said that my one was fine. So fingers crossed it will get through OK on Monday! I've already put it into my big case to make sure I don't leave it in my hand luggage by mistake and have it confiscated at baggage x-ray.

Once I was back in Madrid I met two really nice girls from Philadelphia who had moved into my dorm while I was out. They were very chatty and when they said they were going to Lisbon soon I told them that I think it's one of the best cities I've ever been to, which made them get even more excited about it. Amongst other things, I recommended that they go to the famous Portuguese custard tart shop/café in the area of Belém.

For dinner the three of us joined in an all-you-can-eat tapas event organised by the hostel jointly with some other hostels nearby. There ended up being quite a large group. We were taken on a walk to the tapas bar, which was almost unnoticeable on the street (it wasn't a touristy place), led upstairs and then organised into groups standing up at small circular tables. Plates of tapas were brought round to us, along with very large glasses of a drink very much like sangria. The tapas was very tasty, though not very much at all in the way of vegetables.

After the tapas finished there was an option to carry on to a bar crawl, but the Philadelphians and I decided to give it a miss and head to bed, as it was already very late and we had a lot planned for the next day. They were going to go on a Toledo day trip (I'd recommended it) and there were lots of things I wanted to see and do in Madrid.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:49 Archived in Spain Tagged art toledo museum spanish spain cathedral madrid hostel unesco_world_heritage_site spanish_cuisine Comments (0)

First proper taste of Madrid and I love it

Madrid


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The highlights of today (not in chronological order);

- the same feeling of excitement that I had yesterday

- the Museo del Prado - lots of really famous art by El Greco, Goya, Velázquez (I was particularly keen to see his work because I remember doing an essay in my third year at Swansea about some of his paintings within this museum), de Zúrbaran, Fra Angelico and Titian, amongst others. I only had to queue for twenty minutes and because it was between 6-8pm I got in for free.

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- A lovely walk through the massive Parque del Buen Retiro. These gardens were really pleasant and I came across a big lake as well as the beautiful Crystal Palace... slightly bizarrely the latter had lots of small wicker rocking chairs set up inside, each with a thick book attached to the chair by a string. I thought that was a really good idea. You couldn't stay inside the building for too long because the sun created an atmosphere like the inside of a greenhouse, but it was still a very interesting and rather unusual environment to be in!

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- Another lovely walk, this time round the small Royal Botanic Gardens.

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- Wandering the streets, taking in the beautiful plazas and architecture.

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- Churros and a mixture of hot chocolate and black coffee with sugar for breakfast at the hostel.

- the interior of the Parroquia San Jerónimo El Real, which is behind the Museo del Prado. Unfortunately I could only have a quick look from inside the the entrance because a service was going on, but I loved what I saw.

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These aren't highlights in particular, but I'd still like to mention them. On the way back from the Museo del Prado in the evening, I came across a peaceful pro-Gaza march along a street round the corner from my hostel.

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Once I got back to the hostel I had some of the paella that is provided cheaply there every evening - not bad at all.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:07 Archived in Spain Tagged lakes art museum spain madrid hostel botanical_gardens churros spanish_cuisine Comments (0)

Arrival in Madrid

Bogotá and Madrid


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Edit from January 2019: Las Musas Hostel still seems to be going strong. Unforunately, Asador Arrizmendi restaurant seems to have closed permanently.

My connection in Bogotá was smooth and quick, a nice contrast to the palaver I'd gone through at the airport in Guayaquil! Even though I knew I'd be within the airport the whole time, when I saw the lights of Bogotá as we landed I still felt the familiar twinge of excitement of arriving in a new city and country. It was night time by now.

Before I boarded the plane to Madrid I managed to use up $1.80 of the $4 I still had left in my Ecuadorian bank account on a bottle of Coca-Cola Light.

The nine-an-a-half-hour flight from Bogotá went smoothly; it was a night flight so I spent most of my time trying to sleep. I was in the middle row so didn't get to look out of the window at all.

My journey from the airport to the hostel in Madrid (Las Musas Hostel) took quite a long time but I got there in the end. By the time I dumped my bags in my dorm room it was between 4.30 and 5 pm. I was absolutely knackered. The hostel looked really good but one thing I would suggest to them is that they make their lift a bit bigger and sort out its doors - they swung inwards and then snapped shut very quickly, which made manoeuvring my case, rucksack, laptop bag, coat, two wide-brimmed hats (they wouldn't fit in the case) and paper map through the doors turn into something more akin to a door-wrestling match.

It was still quite hot and sunny and I revelled in being in another new city and country again. I had never been outside of the airport before, so had never officially stepped onto Spanish soil until now. The impressions that struck me on this first evening were;

- the strangeness, in a good way, of it still being quite light outside at 9 pm. In Guayaquil it gets dark between roughly 6.15 and 6.30 pm all year round...
- the lack of humidity in comparison to Guayaquil
- being able to walk down the road without having to watch out for unexpected holes in the pavement
- European faces instead of indigenous and mestizo
- people pronouncing the 'c' in 'gracias' like 'th' instead of 's'
- the change in architecture

Dinner was at Asador Arrizmendi, a restaurant only round the corner from Las Musas. It was delicious. I had as an appetizer of two small chorizo sausages and a bread roll with butter; as a main course prawn and leek pie; and as a dessert a set Basque custard very like créme caramel, with whipped cream and sugared, flaked almonds on top.

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Posted by 3Traveller 05:08 Archived in Spain Tagged airport spain madrid hostel basque_cuisine Comments (0)

Return to Ecuador

More hassle at Barajas Airport, Madrid


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I had a 17-hour wait at Terminal 4S, Barajas Airport. I arrived late evening so didn't think it worthwhile to leave the airport and check into a hostel when I could just spend the night at the airport for free. The time passed more quickly than I thought it would. I did a few rounds of the duty-free shops but didn't buy anything, explored, watched the second half of the Spain-Chile football match that appeared on a screen by one of the boarding gates, and read the three newspapers I'd brought from the UK. I tried to avoid reading any of the books I'd brought because I knew they'd have to last me until Christmas! In the early hours of the morning they showed all of a Brazil-Portugal football match, so I watched that as well. I changed a 10-dollar note into euros, but this only resulted in enough to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola Light, a chocolate muffin and a ristretto coffee. Even the cheapest sandwich cost too much after I'd got my drink, so the muffin was the most filling-looking option. I couldn't use my card because since I didn't tell HSBC that I would be at Madrid Airport, I thought that if I did use it here they'd think it was fraud.

A couple of hours before my flight departure I strolled up to the Iberia desk where I assumed I could get my boarding pass. There was a Frenchman in front of me having a tantrum in English at the Iberia staff, holding up the rest of us. Eventually I managed to see someone, but he insisted that I had to get my boarding pass from the LAN desk in Terminal 4! I pointed out that on my printed out flight confirmation it said that the flight was run by Iberia for LAN (after all, my flight in May was also run by Iberia for LAN and I'd got my boarding pass from the Iberia desk at Terminal 4S), but he insisted otherwise and was quite dismissive. Feeling panicky that I wouldn't get there and back in time, I looked around for some LAN staff to talk to, but the only one I managed to ambush couldn't tell me very much, only that if there were any LAN staff at my flight's boarding gate then I could speak to them instead. There weren't any at the gate though, because it was too early, so I had to go to Terminal 4 after all. Only Terminals 1, 2, and 3 were on the signs, however, so I had to go back downstairs to the information desk and ask for directions.

I had to go through passport control and use the connecting train to Terminal 4. Once I arrived I asked at the information desk where the LAN desk was; apparently it was on the second floor. Just then I noticed an Iberia desk nearby, so on the off-chance that they could print it off for me after all and the original guy had been misinformed, I went up to it and asked - lo and behold, they could and did print my boarding pass for me! I was right all along that Iberia could print it off. Luckily the baggage checkpoints were quiet so I sailed through that (apart from getting told off for not putting my laptop in a separate tray to the laptop case) and passport control and made it back to Terminal 4S with about an hour to spare.

After all this palaver I decided that at Christmas I would fly back with an airline that wouldn't take me through Madrid... This was the third time in a row I'd had hassle there!

Posted by 3Traveller 14:17 Archived in Spain Tagged football airport layover Comments (0)

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