Well this morning I thankfully woke up around 9 feeling fully rested, so I think I overcame the jet lag! I went on my first excursion around the city today and it was quite the experience. I was once again a little nervous about going out alone, perhaps because doing so was strongly discouraged in Costa Rica, but Beatriz thoroughly went over the city map and the metro map with me before I left. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I’d get robbed and/or hopelessly lost, so I put a 20 euro note in my shoe and made sure I had my address memorized, then I was good to go! The metro system here is actually super nice in that its clean, convenient, and extensive. It was easier to navigate than I thought it would be, so I arrived in Old Town Madrid with no problems.
I started off in La Puerta Del Sol, which is apparently sort of the epicenter of the area. It was pretty nice and very calm. Although I had reviewed the map before I left, I’m not that great with directions, so I pretty much just picked a street and started walking. The more I walked around, the more familiar I became with the main roads, and there were city maps every couple of blocks, so that helped a lot! My first objective was to find La Plaza Mayor, but apparently I walked past it and found myself at a very large cathedral, the name of which now escapes me. Beatriz had told me a little bit about it and mentioned that the crypts below the church were open to the public, so I was excited to see that. At the entrance there was a sign asking for a 1 or 2 euro donation as admission. I know its not really a big deal, but I only had a five note on me so I asked if they took dollars. The man seemed really annoyed and said something along the lines of, “we’re in Europe so we use Euros”. Oh well, I hope the church puts it to good use 🙂 The whole thing was not at all like I expected. Maybe I was envisioning a catacomb, but it was huge room, with an alter and pews, as well several alcoves around the parameter that paid homage to various saints. All along the area, there were simply people buried underneath I guess, as graves seemed to be carved into the floor. It was pretty cool because it was super old.
When I left the church I found myself at El Palacio Real, which I had been really excited about because it’s been perfectly preserved since like the 17th century. Admission rates there were kind of interesting. They had general admission, then 50% off seniors, students, or “individual members of large families”, and it was free for young children, large families, and those who are unemployed. I’m not really sure how one would prove those things, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. The discounts only applied to citizens of the European Union or Latin America, so fortunately I had my student ID from Costa Rica on me! The palace was amazing! We obviously couldn’t take pictures of most of it, but trust me, it was really cool. I spent a good hour and a half there, then decided to go ahead and tour the cathedral because why not? At the very top is a huge dome, and we were able to go outside of it on the balcony so I got a really great view of the city.
I then decided to double back towards La Puerta to find La Plaza, but I ended venturing down some side streets in search of some cheap food. I found a very reasonable cafe where I enjoyed a tuna empanada and “barrel beer”, which was quite inexpensive and tasted like a generic pilsner. On my way back from that area I happened to find La Plaza Mayor! After seeing it in so many pictures and videos, it was surreal being there in person. It was packed full of tourist and different vendors. On one of the side streets, there were a bunch of people who had their goods spread out on blankets on the ground. As soon as I entered, a police siren started wailing on the opposite end, and they all simultaneously picked up the corners of the blankets to make a sort of draw string bag. They all stood casually in place until the cruiser left, then they unloaded and continued to do business as if nothing had happened.
I made my way back to La Puerta and was shocked at how the surrounding streets were now packed with tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there had been tourists everywhere the whole time, but now the sidewalks were like shoulder to shoulder. Most of them seemed to speak Spanish, but I think I also heard French of German, and there were a lot people from Japan and China. In the museums I mostly only heard English spoken by those from England or Scotland, but I encountered a couple of people from the US and I felt like we were practically related. I ended up crossing the plaza and going in the opposite direction. I walked for a very long time then ended up in this huge park/garden area, which was fun to explore. When I left, I went to this huge building, that was apparently officially the office of communications or something, and they were offering a free exhibition! It was a collection of Latin American photo’s depicting daily life in war torn and impoverished areas; it was pretty interesting and offered a unique perspective.
I started to get exhausted after I left. I know I said yesterday that heat without humidity isn’t so bad, but seven hours of walking on pavement in the direct sunlight sort of took it out of me anyway. Fortunately there was a metro stop on my line nearby, so I hopped on and was back in the barrio in no time. I’m starting to get used to these streets, but I still can’t believe that I’m actually in Madrid! Spanish is coming to me more naturally than it did last year in Costa Rica, but I still have a while to go. Hopefully school will help with that haha. I keep forgetting that I’m here to go to school. Of course I’m ready to focus on studying and what not, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it on Tuesday.