Spring 2010 was my first time in Spain. The country in itself was interesting to me because of the history it shared with the Philippines. It was also somewhat of a homecoming because I knew that my ancestors were mostly Spanish.
Madrid—the vibrant capital of Spain, is ideally located in the middle of the country. This city is where you can experience all of Spain, from its food to its architecture. It is also the highest city in terms of elevation (2100 ft above sea level). I truly enjoyed my trip to Madrid—from the moment I stepped into Barajas airport, until I took the high speed bullet train out of Atocha station. My experience in Spain began right at the airport and boy, let me tell you–it was unlike any airport I have ever seen. It was colorful and artistic; with its lime green silhouetted ceiling and the curvy lined steel bars that reminded me of monkey bars in a children’s playground. The pathways were lined with vibrant works of art; some were hanging on walls while some were sculptures standing solo on the floor. Perhaps the most eye-catching of them all was that of a bear, picking berries from a tree. This bear, as it turned out, is the symbol of Madrid. The exhibit at the airport is a replica of the original statue located in Puerta del Sol appropriately named “Oso y Madrono” or in English, “The Bear and the Strawberry Tree”.
After about a twenty minute walk to claim my luggage, I took the underground metro towards my designated stop which, according to my map, was only a few blocks northeast of my first hostel. The metro journey took about half an hour. Once I got to my hostel, I was very disappointed to find out that the lift was temporarily out of service. To add to my current disappointment, a distinct rectangle sign told me that the reception area was on the 3rd floor; the 3rd floor! It wouldn’t have been that bad if I wasn’t hauling a carry-on luggage and a check-in sized suitcase. Left with no other options, I dragged myself and my two pieces of luggage up the stairs, one foot after another, from floor 0, 1, 2, and finally 3, where I was greeted by a very striking, brown haired, brown eyed young man named Pedro; naturally, my disappointment faded. Pedro helped me with my luggage and my reservation. He also went through the do’s and don’ts of the hostel and willingly carried my heavy pieces of luggage to my assigned room. Once inside, I unpacked a bit and changed my shoes. When I glanced at my watch, it came as a surprise to see that it was almost 1pm. Immediately after that realization, my stomach growled and that, became my cue to head on out and start exploring. Walking towards Plaza Mayor (the oldest square in Madrid), I only had two things in mind: first was eat my first batch of Spanish tapas and second, get the prepaid Madrid card ordered online so I can immediately start sightseeing.
The weather was perfect that day. It was a cool 74 degrees Fahrenheit where the sun shined and the wind blew ever so slightly. My ten-minute walk towards the plaza was filled with pleasantries. I came across old churches, outdoor cafes occupied by the young and old, locals and vacationers alike, and souvenir shops highlighting flamenco clothing and soccer jerseys. From fifteen yards out I smelled the aroma of tapas from restaurants surrounding the plaza and as I walked along side them, I was blown away by the selection each restaurant had to offer: fried squid, hams, fried potatoes, some orange-y colored rice thing called paella…it took the better part of my judgment not to buy a little bit of everything. I wanted to use my time efficiently in order to keep up with my agenda so rather than order at a sit-down resto, I got a Serrano ham and cheese sandwich that was cheap and filling (I was on a budget after all) and the rest, well, I just took photographs of them.
My Madrid card came with a three day hop on and hop off bus tour which I thoroughly took advantage of. The route took me to several points of interests all around central Madrid. That day, I’ve decided to go and visit the Prado, the largest art museum in all of Spain. Its collection was impressive, just as they described it in travel books, although after a few hours of strolling through the corridors and looking through a hundred paintings of Spanish greats, jet lag started to get to me so I really did not do much afterwards. I left the Prado, sat on a park bench, to go coffee in hand, and just people watched until my double decker ride came back around.