Going to see them in London RIGHT NOW!
Joe springs up, shakes Liz awake, and mumbles curses about not going to bed earlier. Liz and Joe hastily cram articles of clothing, maps, toiletries, and everything else people travel with into their packs, throw the key to the pad back inside through an open window, close the window so it locks, and power walk up los calles and onto the metro a el aeropuerto.
We made it just in time to grab a quick breakfast of bocadillas de jamon (ham sandwiches… what else?) and boarded our flight to Barcelona.
The flight was short - only about an hour or so. As we descended upon the city of Barcelona, Joe and I thought about how similar it looked to San Francisco. It’s a large/small city (small enough to walk to most things but big enough to have a subway) surrounded by mountains right on the Mediterranean Sea. This was exactly what we needed - a beach surrounded by enough to keep us as busy as we’d like to be.
We took the metro to our stop (Fontana) and walked down a main street in this bustling area of Barcelona. We started down the street our next home is located on, and immediately heard a voice from above yell “Stop!” in a British accent. It was our host, Jonathan, waiting for us on the small terrace of his third story apartment. We headed up and were greeted by Jonathan and his American wife, Susannah. We learned that Jonathan is a sculptor and saw a few of his pieces in the apartment (a welded metal table lamp he made was actually next to the bed in our room). Jonathan was funny and sarcastic. When we told him we planned on heading to the beach, he suggested the western side of Port Olympica, where “there are less American tourists.” He offered us their beach umbrella and we headed to the metro station, Joanic.
The beach was stunning. Yes, there were quite a few people but what else can you expect in a city that size? The water was the most welcoming shade of blue. It was chilly at first, but once our bodies adjusted we were back in heaven. A perfect start to our day in Barcelona. There were men walking up and down the beach selling beer, soda, and water, but we chose cocktails from the beach bar and happily indulged in a margarita and pina colada.
After the beach we walked through Villa Olympica looking for a place to eat. There wasn’t much except for a bunch of pre-pubescent boys setting off bottle rockets and making a racket. We found free WiFi (pronounced “wee-fee” in Spain) and researched where to get the best paella. We ended up walking to the Barceloneta area and eating spicy, black rice paella with prawns, monkfish, and mussels with a few glasses of white wine. When the bill came we were quite surprised to find that the price of the paella dish on the menu was per person even though it didn’t openly specify. We talked to one of the waiters who offered us his apologies and a free shot. We were disappointed since we were trying to say within a daily budget, but accepted.
After dinner we walked around the beach and the Barceloneta area. Soon enough our sleep deprivation caught up with us. We headed back to the apartment, got ready for bed and watched the second to last episode of Mad Men season 6. I passed out halfway through. And it felt great.
We rolled out of bed, down los calles, and into el museo de jamon- yes, the museum of ham. Croissants mixtas (croissant ham sandwiches) made the perfect desayuna for a cool 3€ total. Our next stop was el museo de Prado, Madrid’s most well known museum.
In the Prado, the works of El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, and countless others lined the walls. No photography allowed. Though I had seen a handful of his works in the past, and learned a bit about him in high school, I never appreciated the extent to which Velazquez was trolling. Seriously- check out his buffoon paintings. We saw Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” “Saturn Devouring His Son,” and other wonderfully dark famous paintings that I had only seen on JFW’s AP Euro slides. The Prado’s collection of marble tabletops was breathtaking, perhaps more impressive to Liz than the paintings.
At this point, we had paid nothing to see art. Many European museums allow students free admittance, and Liz and I both brought our Rochester IDs. Since el museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza would have cost about 8€ per person, we decided that 2 Madrid museums was enough, and that we would spend our time exploring instead. Our host Mike suggested that we check out el mercado San Anton, where a restaurant and rooftop bar can be found above a multiple-story market. Since his suggestions had all been solid to this point, we decided to head over. On our way there we saw el Palacio de Cibeles Centrocentro, and walked through el Paseo de Recoletos. The rooftop bar was fantastic. Liz ordered a frozen strawberry daiquiri, and I had a cocktail made with black vodka and lemons. We were enjoyed the view, the shade, and refreshing mist from overhead sprayers.
We continued through the city streets to another spot Mike let us in on- el Corte de Ingles. Though this 9 story shopping center would have seemed like nothing special, he noted that some of the best views of Madrid are available for free from the top floor’s look-out deck. We got some great shots, picked up some jamon iberico de bellota snacks, and wandered though a shopping area, back through Puerta del Sol, and into Plaza Mayor. Onto Mike’s next recommendation- el Mercado de San Miguel. This particular market was actually more of a gargantuan tapas restaurant that you are free to wander, paying between 1-4€ per dish for some of the most spectacular seafood, cheese, gazpacho, meat, sangria, pastries, and olives that you will ever eat in your life. We had fresh raw salmon with honey mustard, spiced cod, calamari with olive oil, 3 types of cheese, a cup of gazpacho, sangria, and Mahou to share. We were in heaven.
Since we were already so close, we stopped by el Palacio Real, where we gawked at architecture and sculptures, and took photos. We hopped on the metro back to our pad, showered, and shared a bottle of Mahou with Our new best bud, Mike. We told him about our day, insulted the southern United States together, listened to his stories about the nightlife in Prague and London. A great night- but…OH NO! Before we knew it, I was 11:15, and we had not been to THE OLDEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD, Restaurante Botin (founded in 1725) which closes at 12:00. We rushed to the metro, and GAHHH IT WAS CLOSED due to some technical difficulty. Liz did not trust me when I told her we could walk to it in time- we made it in 15 minutes, asked for a table for 2, and were seated in the oldest part of the restaurant next to the wine cellar. WE MADE IT! Mike warned that this place was expensive, but we had to go. We ordered the house specialty- roast suckling pig with a “half pitcher” of sangria (actually about 6 glasses total) with bread and a half liter of water and paid…ONLY 35,50! This was the most unbelievably tasty meat you can imagine, covered in the crisp seared skin. Unreal. We were serenaded by a mariachi-like group of musicians, finished our drinks, and took off into the night.
We walked north of Plaza Mayor into Malasana, (the “rock and roll” hip part of town, according to the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo waitress at the cafe yesterday) where we thought there was a chance we would run into a bar Liz read about- Tupperware (pronounced tupper-wah-ree). Passing through crowds of Spanish-speaking, Brooklyn hipster looking 18-40 year olds, we collided with Tupperware and stopped in, delighted with our luck. I had una cerveza, and Liz a gin and tonic. We admired the funky decor composed of plastic tv character figurines, wall sized murals, and eyeball lighting fixtures. We shared a third g&t and were off. We got a bit lost on our way back, hailed a cab and got back home. We hung out outside on the sidewalk for a few, then went to bed. So much magic in a single day: I must be dreaming.
Sleep deprived and hungry, Liz and I arrived in Madrid at 9:30am. We hopped on the metro in the airport, switched trains twice and got off at the Anton Martin stop. Our airbnb host was ready to meet up with us, but we decided that food was the priority. We half-consciously stepped down a the nearest secondary street and wandered into a friendly looking cafe/bar. Liz had no idea what to order, so the tall, thin, vibrant woman (dressed like the protagonist from the movie depiction of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) suggested a “Spanish omelette,” and Liz accepted. I ordered tomatillos con Brie y jamon Serrano en pan and we both feasted, entirely pleased with our selections (we were both especially keen on mine). We struggled to get in contact with our host, but finally reached him and met up. He lead us down a few calles until we reached a four story building with a large wooden door, and he lead us to the segundo an showed us our room. We unloaded our things and took off for the day.
We journeyed down calle atocha to el Musee national centro de arte Reina Sophia, where there happened to be a Salvador Dali exhibition. I was ecstatic! We explored the first and second floors of the rest of the museum until the time that we were allowed to enter the Dali exhibition on the third floor. The dalis were outstanding- so many famous works that I have only seen in coffee table books and online. We could not photograph anything by Dali, though I got a couple shots of Picassos in other parts of the collection. Liz and I crossed the street, and explored the real jardin botanico. It was relatively disappointing, and we were exhausted and semi-delirious since I had not slept at all since being in New York, (more than 24 hours before) and liz only napped for a few hours on the plane. We ventured back to our new home, and napped. I awoke, and shook Liz awake. Our host Mike was a British bloke who gave us a highlighted and commented map of the city with his suggestions- he noted a restaurant called Terra Mundi where they serve a 3 course dinner for 10,50 euro (euros are now worth about $1.31). We trusted that we would not be disappointed, and navigated to calle de lope de vega. We got a half bottle of vino rojo, pork knuckle, chorizo, potato and jamon croquettes, calamari and coffee (huge servings of everything) for 18 euros- WHAT??? The pork knuckle practically slid of the bone…
After dinner, we walked the city streets, watching the people, observing the nightlife and gawking at people sitting on terraces having dinner as late as 1:30am. We stopped into a cheesy looking Heineken bar where we got tequila shots for 1 euro each (they also offered a bucket of 6 Heinekens for 5 euros). Delighted, we continued exploring. We waked through puerta del sol onto calle de preciados where people (including prostitutes) flooded the street. Liz and I could not believe how many people were out and about until 3:00am on a WEDNESDAY. We ended up at a local bar (that Mike recommended) called la huelga where we had a couple Mahous (Madrid local beer) and met a girl named BreeAnn from San Francisco and her friend Demitrius (who lived on the street parallel to the one we were staying at). Another guy in la huelga gave us an unexpected gift. BreeAnn, Dimetrius, Liz and I shared stories and laughed over more Mahous until almost 5:00am when we crashed. See you again tomorrow, Madrid!