when our train reached madrid late in the evening, it was cold, windy and definitely winter. as had become normal, we walked for a couple miles before reaching our hostel... but this time it was all up hill! gahh! i had no idea madrid was so hilly! we were again staying close to the city center which was a great decision since we walked everywhere. for some reason i always had it in my head that madrid was this exotic, semi-tropical place... but i think i mixed it up with the coastal cities like barcelona, valencia & marbella. even in warmer months, madrid is very much a business metropolitan with lots of sophisticated culture, government buildings and a million jamon (ham) shops.
the next morning i was in the lobby of our hostel cupping my second mug of tea, waiting for my now daily fever to break, when a man and his wife sat down near me and struck up conversation. it turned out that he was american and she was european but they lived in san juan, puerto rico. he was a sailing captain who manages large yachts that are being delivered around the world. he had been in charge of delivering a newly purchased sailing yacht to florida when the owner, who was on board, got all uptight about the iffy weather and made them dock in gibraltar. despite the experienced captain insisting that they either had to cross atlantic then or wait a few months for winter to pass, the owner wouldn't let them budge. so the captain and his crew left (because they didn't want to wait around in gibraltar for 3 months) and the new owner who knew little about sailing, was left trying to sell his newly acquired yacht! the captain and his wife in the midst of traveling back to san juan and decided to tour spain for a little bit so we chatted a about what we'd seen so far before parting ways.
johann & i spent our one full day in madrid stopping in at all the major sights, eating delicious food and buying spanish made shoes:) during our walk through el retiro park, we stopped to warm up & eat chocolate con churros before arriving at palacio de cristal (the crystal palace). thanks to the overcast, blustery day with dry leaves whipping around, the palace was particularly haunting, but add the fossil bone art display & a crucifix of jesus and it just gave the weirdest vibes. on top of that, in the midst of the hushed murmurs, someone was periodically whistling the four notes from the hunger games! we started whistling back and scanned the room to find out who it was. a few people put three fingers in the air (i promise i'm not making this up!) and after watching for a bit, we figured out who the original whistler was:)
as we walked through the middle of the city, we passed through plaza mayor which reminded me a little bit of san marco piazza in venice. plaza mayor is the main plaza in madrid and they had just finished up their huge christmas market so it was a bit chaotic but beautiful nonetheless.
our late afternoon meal consisted of empanadas in mercado de san miguel (the market of san miguel). it's a unique market that consists mostly of vendors selling tapas, meats & drinks. you order what you like from their stall and then either stand at the counter to eat or grab a seat at the small tables in the center. all the vendors share tableware so despite it being fairly casual, you still are handed real wine glasses and silverware which keeps everything really classy!
the palacio real de madrid (royal palace of madrid) is right next to the catedral de la almudena (the almudena cathedral) and both are incredible structures. johann wouldn't go into any museums the entire trip but i talked him into touring the royal palace and it was epic! it has 2,000 rooms! that's still hard for me to believe but it's true. while it's the official residence of the royal family, it's only used for official ceremonies and they reside in a smaller palace on the outskirts of madrid.
i know very little about spanish history and honestly hadn't paid much attention to recent events so as we walked through the hall of collumns, it was news to me that king juan had abdicated his throne in 2014 and that was the room where it was made official. wikipedia has caught me up to date since then;) the cathedral, across from the palace, was completed in 1993 and consecrated by pope john paul ii and then a few years later, it was where king felipe vi and queen letizia were wed.
there was lots to explore in madrid but i think we were both eager to get back to warmer, sunnier barcelona.
oh, and while waiting to catch our train to barca, my bag fell and shattered my phone. whomp whomp. thankful that johann was the one doing all the navigating and not me!
up next, our final few days in spain!