Saturday, April 05, 2014

Madrid - the old places newly revisited

We got settled and went out for a walk, sitting for tapas at Plaza Mayor and visiting with our favorite street performer before taking the long way home. Mixed weather greeted us morning, but at least it was a bit warmer and not raining as it had been in Granada. 

We decided to head off in a new direction, the benefit of having been here so many times before and not having a to-do list. After stopping at Mercado San Miguel for coffee and a tortel de chocolate and watching a tourist family implode because the younger daughter ate all the churros, we crossed Calle Mayor and went down our old street to buy The Times at the newsstand on Opera Square. There were not yet a lot of people out and about, a surprise to me given that it was Saturday. Even the coffee bar at San Miguel had not been its normal 3 people deep. We crossed in front of the Palacio Real and took a stroll through the Sabatini Gardens and then down, down, down the hill and across the Río Manzanares and into the Parque Viveros, an absolutely outstanding urban open space with great view of the Palacio Real and Cathedral that sit atop the hill on the far side of the river. Tons of cyclists whizzing by on a dedicated circuit, kids in strollers, roller-bladers, families walking and pensionistas making a paseo arm in arm, the life of Madrid out enjoying this wonderful spring morning. Every time we find a place like this and spot an upper floor apartment with a se vende sign on the balcony, we start discussing how to rearrange our life to spend half a year here. It was actually getting hot enough for me to shed my coat, for a second time on this entire trip. Crossing back to the city side we struggled up the hill behind the Cathedral past the old Moorish walls and passing pretty well dressed young African men stationed about every 10 yards along the road making us wonder what that was all about. They were milling about trying to look inconspicuous and failing in their attempts. Back up on top of the first of many hills (all of Madrid seems to go uphill) we returned to our old neighborhood for a lunch on Calle Espejo at one of the three places we’ve never seem to have the time for before. I had jamón serrano with tomatoes and MLW had chicken chunks in a red sauce, both served on a really nice soft roll. Washed down with Americanos of course and the perfect choice for watching lost tourists wander by. Two men came and asked for our table as we were leaving, walking Borzois of all things. Big beautiful dogs. 

Lunch done, we headed back to our place to drop off some stuff and to make a plan for phase two of the day. I was now down to just a light shirt and jacket, my long sleeved thermal was dragging me down. We left via a different neighborhood, La Latina, where the crowd was considerably more real life than that on the other side of the Plaza Mayor. I guess most big cities have clear lines of demarcation between the places of tourists and the places of residents - here in this part of town it’s Calle Segovia just south of Calle Mayor. I like being in the regular places so we stuck to this street for a while before heading back up and across Plaza Mayor and down Calle Las Huertas, the center of Old Madrid’s farmland and a gentrified district spruced up and made welcoming to travelers. Quotes from poets are embedded in the cobblestones, shops are trendy and the cafes, just right. Cervantes lived in one of the houses near the bottom. And on this nice day it was crowded. We sat and ate gelato and tried to judge the nationality of the people wandering by. Brits and Americans are the easiest. 

At the bottom of the hill we turned onto Paseo del Prado, stopping to peep through the bars at the Real Jardín Botánico deciding that it deserved a visit on a sunny day. From there we mingled among the tourist throng stopping at Starbucks for an iced drink and then crossing Carrera San Jerónimo we continued up Paseo in search of El Circulo del Bellas Artes; I wanted to get some photos of the world famous Beau Artes buildings that give the circle its name, in particular El Edificio Metrópolis. The walk in front of the Thyssen Museum was as always a challenge due to straggling groups of students who just seem unable to walk and talk at the same time. We whoosh by them and they look at us, wondering why standing 4 abreast on the narrow sidewalk to review a text on someone’s phone is a problem. The Palacio de Communicaciones at the end of Gran Vía was resplendent against the background sky, now blue and gray-threatening simultaneously. Our goal was just up the way so we turned onto Grand Vía into the crowd and started to climb the hill (again) stopping every 10 yards for another photo. What a great building, coated in carved stone that looks like ice cream and topped by a giant copper dome trimmed in gold. Built in 1911, it is arguably the most famous building in this fair city, which is saying something because just about every one of its neighbors is a beauty in its own right. 

It was beginning to sprinkle a bit as we were treated by a downhill segment into Puerta del Sol, the center of Spain’s road system or Kilómetro Cero as it’s known. We stopped to help a couple of Spanish men with suitcases determine where they were going. Ironic perhaps, but fun none the less. There were many less street performers than I’m used to, replaced instead by people dressed up as cartoon characters including two Smurfs that got me wondering how small the people in the costumes would have to be. MLW took my photo with one performer dressed up as a sailor in a costume made of newspapers. We sang “Sailing, Sailing” to the amusement of people passing by. 

Cutting up a side street to avoid the climb back up,we made our way back to Mercado San Miguel which was now crowded shoulder to shoulder. We wanted a slice of ponche, that marvelous dessert of Segovia for a late afternoon snack. Now it was time for a break and to watch the plaza below us fill up with people for afternoon tapas and beer. Later we’re off for African food.
(click on photos for an enlarged view)







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