Madrid, or where I learned to drive stick shift
So we had two weekends in Spain. What to do, what to do? My sister had been to Spain, and had lovely things to say about the cities, so we decided to rent a car again and drive on over to Madrid. Here is one of those times a guide book would have been super handy, but alas, we went sans information. Besides, we left Saturday morning and came back Sunday night, so we wouldn’t get to see everything anyways. On the upside, it was daylight savings in Spain, so we did gain that extra hour Sunday morning.
After a couple of hours drive and heaps of money dished out on outrageous tolls, we dropped our things off at the hotel and headed into town. We were a little hungry so we decided to find a plaza and sit down for a coffee and some nibbles. The city was crowded! It was a holiday weekend up in San Sebastian, but it was only a local holiday so I don’t know where all these people came from! Maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve been in a real city, but there were tons of people! And it was a great feeling! I always feel like I’m at home with tall buildings and crowds. Things are going on, and I’m a part of it! I didn’t even realize how much I enjoyed it until I sat down to write this and realized how badly I missed it!
We wandered past the performers and crowds in Puerta del Sol and on to Plaza Mayor. Now here is Europe as we know it! Cafe after cafe with pushy waiters shouting, “Table for two? Right this way” to remind us a) how American we were and b) how rude they were! We picked a place and got seats facing the plaza so we could enjoy the beautiful city we were in! A couple of coffees provided the perfect excuse to sit and relax and just take it all in.
As evening began to swoop in, we knew we had to move and keep exploring if we were going to get to see any more of Madrid. We wandered towards the Palacio Real and the Cathedral de la Almudena. Both beautiful buildings, and a lovely walk! The thing about old European cities is the old buildings are hidden in the complexities of the newer buildings and shops and not as old buildings. I love coming up on an alley and seeing another church or plaza or archway that just seems to fit in. There is an old Anglican church here in Auckland and while it’s beautiful, I always thought it felt so out of place. Chicago is stunning, but it’s the steel and skyscrapers that give it its character. Madrid is old! Not classic like the little towns up north, but ornate and almost majestic mixed in with the chaotic hustle and bustle and crammed to bits with all sorts of buildings and storefronts. Beautiful and so very different than what I’m used to!
After a lot of wandering and asking for suggestions from locals, Andrew and I grabbed dinner at a lovely place where we filled up on some real meat dishes and some veggies. Not super traditional, but I needed some good old meat and veggies after all the salty carbohydrates that we’d been consuming for two weeks. We also shared a bottle of wine, which meant I drank way more than half, since Andrew was driving!
The walk back to the car was even a blast, with performers on almost every corner playing classical to folk to pop. What more could you ask for in an evening in Madrid? Well, I suppose had we found the flamenco bar it would have been nice, but alas, can’t win ’em all!
Did I mention before that Andrew was doing all the driving since all the cars in Spain are manual? Well, sure I learned “how” to drive stick shift in drivers education over ten years ago, but I’d never actually given it a go. The next morning, and with a rental Alfo Romeo Giulietta diesel, we hit a rather large parking lot in a rather empty business district and I successful shifted into fourth gear! I promptly parked the car and let Andrew continue to drive since, let’s face it, driving stick for the first time in a new country wasn’t exactly the best idea. But it was gratifying to get the basics down and hopefully I’ll get to practice sometime in an English speaking country!
After I successfully learned something new, we wanted to hit the Parque de el Retiro, the Central Park of Madrid. After a drawn out breakfast we put on some sunblock and went to the park. The trees were just changing to autumn colors and it had beautifully manicured trees and flowers. And, like the night before, there were performers, puppeteers dancing to Michael Jackson, guys creating huge bubbles for the kids to burst, musicians, and mimes. I regretted putting so few coins in my pocket as I constantly wanted to drop a few coins in the performers hats but was a bit timid taking out my wallet considering how well known the pickpockets were in the area and the crowds were rather usually dense around the performers.
To wrap up our visit, we rented a small row boat for an hour and rowed around a pond in front of the Monumento Alfonso XII. While we definitely only dipped our toes in the wonder that was Madrid, we surely enjoyed our visit! We had some paella and rabbit and set off back to San Sebastian. A short, but relaxing weekend in the city was the best way to end the vacation part of our trip to Spain. A little more work and a long plane ride, followed by a long plane, followed by a long plane ride home, and it was that that was a great realization. After a little over a year in New Zealand…
…here we are, back at home, in Auckland.
Happy Holidays everyone!