THIS IS GOING TO BE HARD. Not the traveling-alone part. And certainly not the drinking vermouth part. The no-shopping part (of which more later).
I left New York yesterday in yet another snowstorm and arrived today in a city where the sky is blue and the sun is casting long sharp shadows. I’ve been to Madrid once before and don’t know it at all well. When I was here five years ago, I walked elegant boulevards and visited major museums. In the few hours I had today, before setting off tomorrow on my monthlong Mediterranean Eurail trip, I wanted to see what was there was to see on some of Madrid’s old backstreets.
I took a bus from the airport to Madrid’s Atocha railroad station, above, which will be the launch point for my journey tomorrow. As long as I was there, I had my Eurailpass “activated” at a ticket window, which consisted of a stamp and took five minutes. Atocha’s original section has been transformed into an indoor tropical garden; what an excellent re-use for a cavernous skylit space (I believe the state-of-the-art business end of the station is where I’ll leave from tomorrow).
Exiting the station, above, I checked in to my hotel, the NH Madrid Nacional, practically across the street. It’s a business hotel, part of a large European chain. Its exterior (seen below at night, when I returned from my perambulations four miles and five hours later) is as beautiful as its guest rooms are bland and soulless. But convenience is what I was after for my first night. The lobby, below, is where I’ll have my morning coffee.
This afternoon I made a circuit, basically, of the neighborhood known as Cortes, central and very old, walking up Calle Huertas to the 17th century Plaza Mayor, heart of the city, and back along San Jeronimo, weaving in and out of labyrinthine streets, some pedestrianized. I saw tapas bars old and new, lots of old-school stores (upholstery, shoes, hats, fabrics), polished elegance and graffiti, the stylish and the homeless.
Here’s where I popped in for a break — a glass of sweet vermouth and the best olives ever (sorry, Sahadi) at Casa Alberto, two photos below, serving since 1827 from an onyx bar in the house where Cervantes wrote Don Quixote two centuries earlier.
Below, a historic patisserie on San Geronimo.
Eventually wended my way back toward Plaza Emperador Carlos V, around which cluster my hotel, the train station, and the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, which I had missed last time around. It was by then 7PM and admission (normally 8 euros) was free. I headed for the permanent collection and saw Picasso’s Guernica, which used to live at MoMA in New York, and rooms full of studies and sketches illuminating the great work. I saw more Miro in one place than ever before, and spent a long time studying a large-scale model of Josep Lluis Sert’s 1937 Spanish pavilion for the Barcelona World Expo.
Had a catch-as-catch-can dinner (a potato omelette and a glass of wine) sitting at the bar in the museum’s cafe. Below, a Lichtenstein sculpture in the Reina Sofia plaza.
Now about the shopping. I’m already feeling I packed too much. My suitcase, below, weighed 24 pounds when I left New York, and a backpack probably another 20-25. They’re both crammed. Yet look at those espadrilles, in an infinite selection of colors (10 euros; could that be because they’re basically disposable?)
I was sorely tempted, and this is only Day 1.
Off to a bang, Ca!
I am so looking forward to reading your posts. Your photos are amazing. Keep em coming!
Bon Voyage! Great post! Now I see we should have a chat about packing before you left. If you don’t buy a pair of those espadrilles, you will always regret it. (And yes, they are disposable — if they get wet, they start to unravel.) Is it too late to unpack and send back a package? My method: One of those rolling TravelPro suitcases that fits under the seat (the brand has more space than cheaper suitcases that appear to be the same size). Then, no more than three pairs of shoes. Wear your coat. Two pants, five tops, a sweater, a dress/skirt. This lasted me a month and a half, different weather, four countries, and included a fashion tour in Paris of Lesage, Christian Dior, etc. This was pre laptop however; do they still have Internet cafes?
It looks wonderful…fabulous color and antiquity. Get those espadrilles!
Your descriptive and colorful prose are so inspiring and your fastidious organization make me feel like I’m traveling with you on this snowy NY day.
I couldn’t agree more — get those espadrilles and send them home to yourself — you’ll love them this summer at the beach.
. . . yes, get those espadrilles and a pair for me too (size 9-1/2 – 10 :-) and send them back with the items you return to the USA! so vermouth is your drink of choice for those Spanish afternoons? it all sounds and looks lovely — I love Spain! thanks for taking me along on your journey xox
Cate: There are NO MORE internet cafes! They’re a thing of the past, apparently. I debated what devices to bring and ended up bringing all three — iPhone, iPad and laptop (Macbook Air). They’re all in heavy rotation. Meanwhile, there’s no WiFi on the high-speed trains, which surprised me — even the Hampton Jitney has WiFi! However, hotel desks immediately supply you with a password when you check in. You used to have to make a point of asking.
NOW you tell me about the TravelPro suitcase. Although my $99 Brookstone is holding up OK so far. I brought four pairs of pants, about seven tops, no dresses/skirts, three scarves, one jacket (Eileen Fisher, refuses to wrinkle), down vest (Uniqlo, squeezes into a tiny pouch). Two pairs shoes. Have worn most of it already. Don’t think I should send anything home.
Am jettisoning maps and brochures as I go along; in the past I would have brought it all home with me “for reference.”