I may have mentioned you could walk to Pisa airport and this is probably the only positive thing you could say about it. I joined the ‘convenient’ Ryan Air multi-flight baggage drop and queued for an hour behind an hysterical old woman whose husband had lost her handbag only to move through to a packed-out waiting hall. I sat on the floor by a power point and charged my iPod and checked my messages. I was checking my messages to find out where to meet Elle, who would be my traveling partner in Spain, when I arrived in Madrid. Ryan Air set off on time and thankfully landed on time, to a self-boasting company fanfare.
At the airport I looked around and found Elle. I was originally supposed to meet Elle in Taiwan when I was couchsurfing in March, but that had fallen through due to changing plans, but the opportunity to travel had presented itself again this summer, as she also embarked on a trip around Europe, and we had managed to get to Madrid at the same time. We got acquainted with each other as we procrastinated about getting a subway or a bus into the centre of Madrid. We eventually chose the bus and soon found ourselves searching for our hostel. We skipped through a slightly dodgy area, or two and I witnessed first hand a girl trying to shoplift eight bottles of olive oil, before we finally found our hostel,Mad Hostel.
It was getting late in the afternoon but we took some time to do some shopping on the Calle Gran Via, eat some disappointing paella and calamari in an old restaurant and have a little exploratory walk around our area. We took an early night in our refreshingly quiet dormitory room and dreamt of our adventures for the next day.
We woke up, ate some breakfast and got ready to head out. We took a walk down to the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia. As Italy is famous for renaissance art, Spain is equally famous for abstract and surrealist art. The Reina Sofia is the countries leading exponent of 20th century Spanish modern Art and is the home of numerous works by prominent Spanish artists like Picasso, Dali, Gris and Miro. We took our time walking around the grand halls of the converted hospital and its annexed and more modern building. There were many outstanding pieces but Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was the star of the show. It is worth the admission fee alone.
After a few hours in the Reina Sofia we took some time for lunch. It wasn’t the best but this is often the problem when you visit a city for the first time. You don’t know from experience what is good and it is hard to get out of the tourist trap spots when you don’t have the time to afford to search around.
In the afternoon we walked the Paseo del Prado and Elle went to the Museo del Prado. The Prado is one of the leading art museums in the world and covers a wealth of European history and talent. However, I was culturally spent after the Reina Sofia and not so interested in anything beyond modern Spanish art. Elle paid in and I went for a long walk around the nearby park, Parque del Retiro. Parque del Retiro is a magnificent space. Vast gardens, topiary bushes and trees, roaming peacocks, immaculate lawns, marble monuments to dead kings and an artificial lake. It was a great place to relax in the Spanish sun. Whilst I’m sure Elle was thinking I was missing out at the Prado, i was convinced she was missing out on the park. After the park I took a walk around some of the lower side of central Madrid, watched the Ashes in an Irish pub with a crisp refreshing pint and was engaged in conversation with a Moroccan traveler whilst I waited for Elle to emerge from the Prado. When she did (45minutes late!) we headed back to the hostel. We wanted to go out in the evening but we both succumbed to sleep and woke up too late to really bother.
In the morning we woke up and met our new dorm guest, Daniel, from Germany. We all took a free walking tour of Madrid that was laid on by the rather generous hostel. Our guide was a bit of a know it all, but in fairness he took us around some interesting places like the Plaza Mayor and the Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, the Royal Palace of Madrid and the distinctly Spanish styled Almudena Cathedral.
After the tour finished we took flight from the main group and had an amazingly meaty lunch at the Museo de Jambon, a restaurant-cum-deli-cum-butchery. Not only was it cheap, fulfilling and delicious you could also get a nice cheap sangria or beer with it. We chose to stand at the deli counter rather than take a seat at a table and this paid dividends with speed of service and made us feel like a local rather than a tourist. We also met Gary, an American of Taiwanese descent who had been in the original group. With no plans in the afternoon we bought some drinks and headed to the quiet and sun-baked banks of the river Manzanares where we drank cheap sangria from a bottle and some Spanish beers as we rotated around a young tree trying to stay in its relieving shade.
Gary took leave later in the afternoon and our remaining trio went back to the hostel where we enjoyed some roof top terrace beers and a few games of beer pong with some guys from Switzerland. Starting to feel a little boozy we then joined one of the most poorly organised pub crawls ever. A ticket got us two ‘free’ drinks at another associated hostel and then a drink in each bar. Unfortunately the drink in each bar turned out to be tequila. After a few bars Elle and I headed back to the hostel at about 3am, bored of waiting around and tired from the alcoholic afternoon in the sun. What happened to Daniel I don’t know…
In the morning we checked out, I was relieved to not be too hung over and we decided to walk to the bus station after bidding goodbye to our new German friend. The bus station was a little further than we thought, but none the less we found it and boarded a rather comfortable bus to Sevilla.