20 junio, lunes
We spent a lovely day walking through one of the oldest parts of the city: Lavapies (accent on the e). The name means “wash feet”, and indeed, we saw clean feet everywhere! It is one of the most colorful and traditional barrios in the city, and a melting pot of immigrants from China, India, Bangladesh, Senegal, the Middle East and other parts of the world. Lavapies was apparently a vertical slum before a renewal program began in the late 1990s. There appear to be some very talented graffiti artists in residence, some expressing political sentiments and others showing great street-art abilities. In one store, we met a nice young man originally from Cuszco, Peru. We enjoyed practicing espanol with him, and he asked us about some words in English. In addition to the Bohemian vibe, this barrio is different from others in Madrid in that it is hilly, providing a dramatic effect in some areas. There are some safety warnings in the travel books about this barrio, and we probably wouldn’t go there after 9 or 10 p.m., but neither of us felt at all uncomfortable while there. The diversity was delightful. We weren’t hungry then, so took away a few restaurant business cards for future dining.
We finally met Andres! Our building manager has been away for awhile because he became a grandfather for the 7th time. Andres is somewhere in his 60s, a robust man with a big personality, who loves to talk. Though he speaks very fast Spanish and no English, this does not hamper him at all from telling us energetic stories….about his family, we think, but we’re not completely sure….embellished with vigorous hand motions and sometimes jumping and moving his body from side to side. We usually see him when we leave or return to the apartment building. We’re quickly learning to understand comments on and forecasts of the weather en espanol, thanks in part to Andres’ gesticulations and facial expressions. Mike is pretty fluent in Spanish and tries to get Andres to speak more slowly but so far, it has only resulted in Andres speaking more loudly and emphatically. Stay tuned…
21 junio, martes
Today was an errand day. Mike needed some printouts of tickets he had purchased. We found a nice little place nearby, staffed by two women who got the job done. It sure was different from a Staples or Office Max experience! Then we walked over to the post office, where I now feel comfortable asking for stamps for mail going to the United States, all in Spanish! We decided to wander around on new streets in a vague direction towards our street. Since we were just going out to do a few errands, we didn’t bother to bring a map. We wandered pretty far afield and got turned around going in the wrong direction but we managed to find our way home eventually. We were hot and tired and needed a siesta!
Later, we made a delicious late meal of brown rice with lots of veggies and garbanzo beans.
22 junio, miercoles
We were up early and riding the metro to the bus station, west of us. A comfy bus took us an hour northwest of Madrid to Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or El Escorial for short. At the bus station there, we met a lovely young woman named Wendy from Mexico City, and walked/talked with her from the station to the site, a 15-minute walk. It’s a 16th century palace and monastery where generations of the royal family escaped the summer heat of Madrid. At an elevation of 3,500 ft., it can be much cooler there than in the city, and we enjoyed the cooler temp during our visit. The audio tour took 3 hours….the place is huge and there was much to see, including art by El Greco and others, and lots of passageways and rooms. I lost count of the paintings that depicted beheadings, burnings on grills or at the stake, and other hideous ways to kill martyrs. El Escorial was built during the time of the Protestant Reformation, and the extremely Catholic King Phillip II directed the Spanish Inquisition from here. Our favorite room was the Biblioteca (library).
We needed lunch and a rest after this, and we found a lovely outdoor restaurant under big umbrellas and leafy trees in this beautiful hillside town of San Lorenzo del Escorial. For an appetizer, we ordered Queso Brie Frito sobre Mermelada de Frambuesa....Fried Brie Cheese with Raspberry Jam. Holy Kings & Queens, it was delicious! The rest of the meal was also good, but I’ll always remember the fried brie.
23 junio, jueve
Today was a cleaning and laundry day. I haven’t dropped a single clothespin or article of clothing into the courtyard 3 stories down yet. Mike and I also spent time planning our stay in Barcelona, Saturday through Tuesday, and bought tickets to the sites online. I spent quite a bit of time trying to pronounce various words and phrases in Catalan, which is definitely not Spanish!
Later in the day, we went back to the photocopy place and got printouts of the tickets. I had photocopies made of my luggage tags and receipts from the clothing I had to buy due to my delayed bag arrival. The photocopies will go to Aer Lingus for reimbursement. The same ladies were at the store, and also the son of one of the women, about 14 years old. He seemed to enjoy speaking English with us!
We walked around our local area, as we often do in the evenings, and stopped for some frozen yogurt and people-watching.
24 junio, viernes
Barcelona tomorrow! We spent some time packing our carry-on suitcases, and later went out walking. Andres was stationed on the ground floor, in his tiny glass cubicle office, as usual, though he always pops out to greet us and to chat. We know when he’s on duty as soon as we come out of our apartment door on the 3rd floor because he likes to play Spanish music on the radio, not loudly, but it echos pleasantly up the stairwell. We can also smell his cigar, which he smokes outside the building. He leaves the street door open when he’s on duty and, like the music, the scent of cigar wafts up the stairway. It’s all part of the Andres Charm! Today we had our photo taken with him. That was fun….it took a couple of tries because he kept waving his hands around while continuing to talk!
We ended up back at Thousand Cups, and Mike and I shared a slice of that amazing Torta Chocolate….the one I didn’t get the last time. Then we tried to walk it off (ha!) before coming home for an early bedtime. We’ll hop on the metro to the train station and board the 9:30 a.m. train to Barcelona for 3-hour ride. I just love the sound of that…. Barcelona!
More when we return.