Saturday, February 9, 2013

Forty hours in Madrid

One of many statues and monuments in Madrid's city center
Obviously, this post should have been published a few days ago as I have been back in the US since Wednesday night. But immediately after getting back to the casa I had to deal with painters and their fumes and decided to run away less than 20 hours after getting home and spend two days with Mike and Candi in Midland. So, there's a bit of leisure time for post number 150.
Somehow I was reminded of New York's architecture when I took this photo
After four days together with Celia in Twyford, Howard and I took an easyJet from London's Gatwick to Madrid's Barajas on Monday afternoon. I hadn't seen his family since my last short stopover sometime last year, so it had just offered itself to fly an open-jaw itinerary to Europe and simply leave from Madrid (especially since Howard lives less than 10 minutes by car from the airport). With Howard having to work on Tuesday, I took the metro (2 euro) to downtown to spend a day roaming the capital of one of Europe's worst economies. And bad it is: The unemployment rate is soaring (about 50% of those under 25 have no job), and the prospects are dim for any kind of real improvement within the short term. Of course, I knew all that from reading the papers and magazines and watching the German news via the internet. but the reality still was quite surprising: The number of beggars was staggering, I saw two small demonstrations/strikes, and every store or restaurant seemed to have a firesale going with prices up to 80% slashed, just to attract customers.
"Magic" street artist seemingly hovering in mid-air on Plaza Major
If they don't beg, they offer "something" in return for a few cents: Musicians and street artists entertain the passers-by, many of whom probably could use extra money themselves. I was surprised by the number of folks who essentially just sit or stand around, whiling away the day. For a long time I have been telling my friends how inexpensive Berlin is, especially when it comes to food and accommodations (compared to places such as Paris or London, which are at the opposite end of the spectrum). But Madrid now has bargains that rival the 2-euro döner that you can find in Berlin: At the Museo de Jamon (really a delicatessen specializing in anything ham rather than a museum) you can buy a beer and a ham baguette with fresh tomato and olive oil for an amazing 2.20 ! On my last visit to Madrid that simply did not exist. In a swank street cafe I treated myself to four fresh oysters and a glass of sparkling cava for a mere 4 —and of course the taxes are already included in these prices.
2.20 for this snack—I was not the only one enjoying it
Most restaurants were offering all-you-can-eat buffets for 9.95 €, and that includes up to three beverages such as beer or sangria. Sure, you can still spend much more, and the snacks in the posh Mercado de San Miguel (just look at the exquisite goodies below) are priced quite a bit higher than my ham sandwich, but there are of course those who do have jobs and who are doing well. It's just that these numbers seem to have shrunk.
Seafood delicacies that fetch high prices
The Mercado de San Miguel attracts well-heeled urbanites
Prepared foods at the mercado
I had planned to visit the Palacio Real, one of those monuments that I have never seen from the inside, but because of some state function it remained closed on that Tuesday. Instead, I was treated to an interesting interaction between the mounted police and a homeless man who was using one of the fountains in the adjacent Jardines Sabattini for what must have surely been a very refreshing bath. Law and order must be maintained, after all, especially in such close proximity to the royalty.
The Palacio Real stayed off-limits ...
... as did the fountain for this homeless man
No visit to a major city would be complete for me if I didn't at least try to find some artisanal beer. Thanks to Google I had a list of pubs around the Plaza Santa Ana, one of which panned out as a true brew-pub. With the unlikely German name Naturbier this small establishments serves, true to its name, an unfiltered Helles and Dunkles. So much for Spanish Braukultur. The beer was excellent, and the accompanying free snack was more than ample. Cost per half liter: 3.90 € for the more expensive dark brew and 3.60 € for the other. Quite a bargain, if you ask this satisfied world traveler.
Madrid's only brewpub that serves "natural beer"
A huge plate of olives and savories, a basket of chips, and fine beer—all for 3.90 €
And thus I spent a fine day in the city, sightseeing, having a beer or two, enjoying oysters, and marveling at the architecture, whether real or just an optical illusion.
Better look twice: This building is not what it appears to be.
In the late afternoon I took the efficient metro back to Barajas and enjoyed my last evening in Europe with my friends. With a civilized departure time of 1 p.m. for the direct hop to Dallas, American has a super-convenient connection that, as an added bonus, does not require the ex-London "luxury" tax that one has to pay when upgraded to Business. As I say so often, life's damn good.
One of American's European hubs: Madrid's Barajas—modern and convenient
And now it's time to deal with paint fumes and the final three weeks of the remodel project in windy Lubbock. At least I'll have a ferocious tailwind driving home from Midland this afternoon.


No comments:

Post a Comment