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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Madrid, Espana--Day One (well, the morning after)

Day one, for normal humans, might have included a long nap. Being a little too aware of the dangers of Jet Lag, however, my partner and I decided to pack the day as fully as possible so we would not have time to give in to the time change--only to give in to Madrid...& there's a lot to give in to. We checked into the Hotel Gavinet (an interesting little place, but more about it later, but the first picture is of the Puerta De Toledo just down the block), then decided to take the Metro to the Opera station to see the Royal Palace (Palacio Real). I warn you, the photo ops were limited, so some of what I tell you'll have to use your healthy imaginations to conjure.

El Palacio Real sits directly across from the Opera Real. The Opera actually comes into this story a little later. But this palace is GOR-GEOUS! There is no photography allowed inside the palace. The palace is still in use for state functions, but when it is not being used for that, it's a museum of Spanish royal history, in a sense (The Royal Family lives somewhere else in Madrid--who knows). We opted not to pay the extra two Euros for the guided English tour. J speaks fluently, having grown up in Spain, and I can pick things up pretty well, but about two rooms in, we realized we had no idea what we were looking at (*HINT* Spend the extra two Euros; as you'll see it can be well worth it for entertainment alone).

As we wandered into the second room, the tour that had been coming up the stairs behind us caught up with us. We had already learned, from reading, that the walls were covered in silk. And by covered, I don't mean a tapestry here and there, I mean floor to ceiling wall-silk. Each room has a different color and design because, well, It's good tobe the king!, and when you're king, you don't have to Count De Monet.

The throne room, as we learned from the "English speaking" tour guide, had new carpets put in regularly--made by the same carpet maker who'd been making the same carpets for centuries for the palace. You've gotta wonder how old this guy is. The thrones, she explained were also replaced, in this case, every time the king was. So the chairs we were looking at had the faces of the royals currently not really in charge carved into them. "But," she said conspiratorially, "They never are sitting in them." Apparently, when state functions require the use of the king and queen, the two must stand the whole time to be bowed at in the receiving line.

The next two rooms were "sitting rooms" -- and it was explained that because state functions meant everyone had to stand around a lot, one could come into either of these rooms and sit for a bit before getting back to being royal. The second room was astoundingly opulent.

Decorated in the Rococo style, (which translates roughly to "youch! that's a bit much, don't you think?") this room had embroidered silk walls with scenes depicting, well, honestly, stuff. As the guide explained, even the silks in each room have to be regularly replaced due to wear and "you will believe me when I tell you that the replacing of these embroidings was a three-year hand job!" She sounded so proud. We ditched the tour.

Out in the courtyard we got some beautiful shots of Madrid from the outer wall.

Then we realized there was no place to sit. We stumbled our way through the Royal Pharmacy--yes, just a collection of glass and ceramic jars marked with whatever vile, stenchy, "medicine" was on offer two hundred years ago. Man I'm glad to be livin in the 21st Century, where we can kill each other civilly (the armory contained large wooden horses festooned in so much silver and with knights festooned upon them that it's a wonder anyone ever died in those wars--other than the horses), and could hop in to the local Walgreens and pick up some Vicodin. Speaking of which...

We left the Palace and went to get some coffee, which is how we learned the ATM card was not working--Now THAT was a fun afternoon of international phone calls. But it's straightened out and we won't be making beds to pay off the hotel room. (HINT: Make sure your bank does not have the country to which you are traveling blocked. Also, just as a general good idea, pre-pay on things like hotel.)

We had "lunch" -- at 6 pm! Welcome to Madrid, honey -- at Comida de San Isidro, on the Calle de Toledo, the same street as our Hotel. The food was OK, but the cost was good. If you go, I recommend the Chistoras--tiny chorizo on french fries.

Then there was the Victor Ullate Ballet, Mind you, at this point, it's 8 pm, we've been up since, well, three days ago when the trip began with a too long drive to Atlanta, and have had only airplane food and airplane sleep until moments ago when we ate chorizo & blood sausage (which tastes disturbingly like falafel and has a similar texture.)

I wish we could have stayed past the intermission. It was AMAZINGly beautiful. I cannot begin to explain the talent Ullate clearly has. Genius is an insult. You should go check out the videos available through a simple google search. Sadly, we were falling asleep in our seats. I will post more on the Opera building, etc., tomorrow. URL:

Today we go visit an Egyptian temple, given to Spain as a gift. I'm adding one more photo here for your perusal--it's the cathedral across from the Palace.

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