Plazas, Picasso, and Politics in Madrid

See our gallery of photos tagged with “madrid”.

We arrived in Madrid craving … Thai food. After nearly a week in Spain during which not a single day passed without cured meat, there was nothing that sounded as good as a big plate of pad thai. So that was what we found for lunch just a few blocks away from our hostel near Puerta del Sol. After refueling, we headed out to explore gorgeous and energetic Madrid.

Over the course of our first afternoon and evening, we wandered through Plaza Mayor, the Salamanca shopping district, and ended up at a mesmerizing traffic circle right around dusk. It might sound strange, but this traffic circle provided a solid fifteen minutes of entertainment for us. Sandwiched between four outstanding buildings (including the Banco de España and Palacio de Communicaciones), this circle is where two broad avenues meet and it was absolutely mobbed on that Thursday night with cars, buses, bikers, and rollerbladers. We even saw one “tall bike,” which I’ve only seen before in Portland, Ore. We loved the mixture of real-life energy and gorgeous architecture.

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After a dinner of tapas at a cozy neighborhood bar, we returned to a quiet night at our hostel and found we were the only ones occupying our four-bed room. We had expected a bit more energy, given that the hostel owner had earlier invited Dan on an excursion to the club that was slated to start at 1 a.m. Madrid is well-known for its late-night revelry, but we didn’t get a real taste of that until our second night at the hostel (more on that later).

We had breakfast the next morning at the Museo del Jamón, which was a bar/cafe/deli down at the corner of the street we were staying on. It also featured the largest display of hanging jamón that we saw during our travels in Spain, which may have been part of our reason for going there. It was an interesting mix of all ages of people having everything from coffee and toast to beer and a sandwich.

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We then set out to run a quick errand of faxing my credit card information to Namibia for a charter flight. Long and frustrating story short, and due to reasons that we still don’t understand, this errand required three different fax attempts and one phone call to Namibia. In the end, our successful transmission was achieved by e-mailing photos of the authorization form and photos they required. (The photo below shows me in front of the “Work Center” that became my temporary office for the day.)

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The much more enjoyable second half of our day included a visit to the wonderful Reina Sofia museum, which houses Picasso’s Geurnica mural along with a rich collection of modern art. The museum is housed in a huge stone building that used to be Madrid’s general hospital and now features these really cool glass elevators on the front facade. After the Reina Sofia, we enjoyed some fabulously thick chocolate and churros on our way to the Palacio Real — the official residence of the King of Spain. The grounds of the palace are gorgeous at night and apparently elicit passion as almost every bench in the park was occupied by couples discreetly making out.

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We walked through the hip and lively La Latina neighborhood on our way home, but with our tired feet could not even contemplate standing in one of the crowded bars. When we finally made it back to our hostel, we were greeted with a rocking party in the common room, which incidentally was right outside of our room. There were probably 25 people in the common room, with very loud music as accompaniment. But we decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, so we hung out with the group until they all went out at 2 a.m. This was a pretty late bedtime for us, but just the start of the night for our hostel-mates. Despite the difference in sleep schedules, we thoroughly enjoyed all of the people that we met at this hostel and enjoyed the very social nature of the place.

On our last day in Madrid, we visited the Chamberi neighborhood, where we both agreed we would live should life ever take us to Madrid for a permanent stay. (This is also the former home of good friend Susan B.) We wandered the parks and broad avenues of this neighborhood before heading over to the Parque del Buen Retiro. This is a very popular gathering place for madrileños on the weekends and we enjoyed walking with the crowds and watching many others enjoy rowboats on the central lake. Seattle needs more major parks like this!

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Our final activity — and one of the most interesting — in Madrid was attending a recording of the previous evening’s presidential debate hosted by Casa America. We found out about this event while researching how to vote on the Democrats Abroad web site. It was totally non-partisan, although the crowd seemed distinctly weighted toward Obama. We weren’t sure what to expect, but were blown away by how many people were in attendance. We had to stand for the full 1.5 hours, but it was so much more enjoyable to watch the debate with other people than by ourselves on YouTube. It reminded me of watching election returns out at the bars while living in D.C. Also, I accomplished one of my top-priority to-dos at this event by successfully registering to vote and getting an absentee ballot sent to Dan’s friend Bill in Bangkok (where we will be on Nov. 4). It was really heartening to see how many people they were getting registered! Unfortunately we will be on a plane to Namibia during the vice-presidential debate, so we may have to turn to YouTube for that recap.

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After a relatively loud Saturday night in the hostel, we woke up the next morning to more music and loud voices in the street outside. Our first thought was that we couldn’t believe how people really do stay up all night in Madrid. Upon further investigation, though, we realized that a major road-race was going by on the street right outside and we had prime seats.

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