Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Madrid: Day 3

After the disappointing end to Saturday, Sunday was actually another perfect day. The weather was again warm. We had a disgustingly fatty (but very tasty) breakfast at a little café across the street from our hostal—we split their Desayuno Americain, which was of course the largest option on the menu: eggs, bacon (much thicker, bigger and sweeter than what we get in the U.S.), thick-sliced white toast, coffee and fresh orange juice. I’m sure the name was intended as an insult, although the owner was very nice to us.

Our first destination was an enormous street market, El Rastro, about a 20 minute walk from our neighborhood. Actually, just about everything we did was within 20-30 minutes of Huertas, where we stayed. This was partly by design—I did some research before booking the place—and partly just good luck—I picked the cheapest hostal the still seemed decent. And, actually, it was more than decent: the rooms were incredibly clean, the bathroom was small but very nice (it’s probably bigger than the one in our apartment!) and the owner, Javier, and his brother, Antonio, were very helpful and kind. Catherine said she was torn between wanting to explore a new neighborhood the next time we visit and really wanting to go back to Hostal Gonzalo because it was just so perfect for us.

El Rastro is huge! I mean, we have street fairs in New York all the time but this thing is as if every street fair in New York happened simultaneously on a couple of crosstown streets stretching from river to river… and everyone in New York decided to go there at the same time. I’m exaggerating a little, but only a little. And it happens every Sunday morning. The crowds were enormous on both of the streets we explored; it took us about an hour to get down just one of them, and we didn’t stop that often. Most of the stuff for sale is clothing and jewelry—cheap stuff, the kind of things you’d expect at a street fair—but there were a few gems: Catherine found some jewelry made by Madrid artisans that we bought as gifts. At one fairly secluded spot, crowds started gathering off to one side of the street. When we got close, we saw men with sheets on the ground loaded with more expensive items: cameras and other electronics, designer goods, purses and things. Catherine joked that we should look to see if my Palm was on one of them and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been.

While we were at El Rastro, we ran into two of the women from the group of students from Wales again. We chatted with them briefly and they suggested we check out a reggae club that they’d been at the night before. They didn’t know the name but they told us where it was, near our neighborhood. Anyone who wanted to could get up and perform and Elroy was thinking about going back and playing some drums. We told them we’d try, took each other’s pictures, and then headed off again.

The rest of the afternoon was all about walking. Up to the oldest restaurant in the world; back up into Chueca to see Hemingway’s favorite café; over into El Retiro, an enormous public park, and finally back over to our neighborhood for some tapas and beer. The Madrileños were out in force everywhere we went and it took us quite a while to find a restaurant that didn’t have a 30 minute waiting list. After lunch, we explored our neighborhood a little more—nothing in particular, just taking everything in on our last day—then went back to the hostal to drop off stuff and rest a little. For dinner, everyone had disappeared and all the restaurants and cafes were closed up. Fortunately, the café we had chosen to try was one of the few that was open; it had a nice ambience and the food and wine were very good, although I think the waitress (possibly one of the owners) would have preferred not to have to deal with us. She tended to drop things in front of us and then walk away.

We considered not going to the reggae club because it didn’t even start until 10pm and we had to get up early on Monday to get to the airport. But then we both said we thought we should at least drop by for a drink. Unfortunately, if the group went to the club last night, it wasn’t when we were there. We did meet one of the owners, Joe from Illinois, when we asked him for a light (we only had 6 cigarettes over the weekend and it really made me glad we’ve quit, but we did meet some great people asking for a match!). Joe’s been living in Madrid for 15 years, lived in the building with his family, and he and a couple of partners decided to turn the empty storefront into a bar and music club. I have no idea how legal it is although it’s hardly a secret, if we could find out about it. They served small beers and drinks and the music was just as good as the ladies had described. We hung around for about an hour then decided we’d put off the packing and sleeping as long as we dared.

We were back in our room by 11:30, packed and in bed shortly after midnight. I tried to write some last night but I finally quit after a few paragraphs—too many days on too little sleep. Fortunately, I have a 7 hour 45 minute plane ride that needs to be filled…

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