Sunday, August 15, 2004

In Madrid

Madrid’s streets are clogged with cheering Spaniards all along my route from the Barajas airport to the city centre. I wonder at the buzz in the late-night air, and Frederico, son of a retired bull-fighting matador, who is driving me to my hotel, enlightens me in charming English, "It is the Real Madrid. They win the football match today!" With Beckham a new feather in the team’s cap, the victory is twice as sweet! As I doze off in my hotel room, I am thrilled that tomorrow, in the bright light of day, I will explore this excitable, exciting city.

Heading out the next morning, the unmistakable spirit and enthusiasm pervading the streets of Madrid infects me too – and I find myself smiling at strangers!

Toledo, my first stop, is about 50–60 kilometres away from Madrid. The route on the one-hour drive is not scenic, but Toledo makes up for it. Narrow winding lanes snake around the rocky hillside and I can actually touch the houses I pass! On foot, I follow zigzag alleys to discover sudden sunlit Toledo squares. The Gothic Cathedral has priceless paintings by legendary names like Goya and El Greco. My footsteps echo against the ancient stone of the cathedral floors as I look around.

Back in Madrid, it’s time for art appreciation. A day is not enough to explore the 7,000 or more works of art at the Museo del Prado. I try anyway and am lucky to catch a temporary exhibition of Titian’s paintings of redheads. Among other art museums is the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which houses Picasso’s Guernica. Although entrance isn’t cheap there is a discount at most museums for students carrying ID. The audio tour, which explains the paintings as I walk around, is a good way to make the most of a museum, especially for an amateur art-lover like me.

The Palacio Real, the palace still used by Spain’s royal family, is opulent and chock-full of things that make you go "oooh"! A dining table that seats about 140 people and takes six hours to set is one of the chief attractions on the guided tour. There are also lots of unusual clocks – all of which work!

If it’s a Sunday and you are stout-hearted, (it is not, and I am not!) you can enjoy a bullfight at the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas, the biggest bullfighting arena in the world. Located on a busy street, the bronze bull and matador displayed just outside the Plaza remind you what Spain is famous for.

Evenings are perfect for strolling along the humming streets. I ignore the rain as I walk alongside tourists and locals, peeping in at shops and buying little trinkets and picture postcards. One could end up at the Parque del Buen Retiro, a garden made for relaxation, with a lake at the centre and boats for hire.

Madrid is only one facet of multi-cultural Spain, a country with a colourful history that straddles Europe and Africa, giving rise to a unique culture. This shows up in Spanish cuisine. Any visitor to Spain must try tapas and paella. Tapas are popular snacks to accompany drinks at Spanish pubs and could range from cheese-and-ham to stuffed olives or even baby octopus! Paella is another thing I want to try – saffron flavoured rice cooked with a variety of ingredients, which could be anything, chicken, shrimp or more exotic kinds of seafood! As I sit and wait at a pavement café for my dish of paella, I look forward to the next day, which promises to be as exciting as the feast filling my senses now.

(This was published in the Deccan Herald, in May 2004)

No comments: