June 28, 2013

¡Madrid Maravillosa!

It only took about 10 minutes in Madrid to realize that I wanted to have much more time there.  I had saved it for the end of my adventure, and now had only a few precious days to spend in this ancient city, lovely and magnificent in its juxtaposition of ancient (cobblestone streets, ceramic tile street signs) and progressive (iPads in every hand, Spanish divas in the latest style and fashion, the urban hustle-bustle everywhere).

The Exploration Begins
Wasting not a single moment, I checked-into my hotel - the lovely, clean, cozy and welcoming HRC Hotel in el barrio La Latina.  HRC is perfectly located!  Easily walkable to Cava Alta and Cava Baja -- two very well-known streets in Madrid, famous for tapas bars -- and also very near Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol.  ¿Listo? ¡Vámonos! I immediately began walking and exploring  the narrow streets of La Latina.

I walked up Cava Alta and down Cava Baja, choosing where I would first sample food and drink.  I chose a little spot on Cava Baja and enjoyed a traditional snack (jamón, acetunas, pan y cerveza - ham, olives, bread and beer!).

Afterwards, I continued strolling for just a few blocks until I arrived at Plaza Mayor - a giant plaza bordered by tapas bars and restaurants, the middle filled with an endless supply of activity.  It was a virtual sea of people, everyone going somewhere, shopping, walking, eating, hombres playing hacky-sack, juggling, playing drums... I found some delicious gelato and enjoyed the "live show."

Just Chillin' at Midnight in La Puerta del Sol
Eventually I decided to continue my exploration, so I walked a bit further, along cobblestone streets, passing shops and stores of every kind.  Lots of gorgeous graffiti in el barrio La Latina.  It was nearing midnight on a Tuesday, yet it felt like noon on a Saturday! Faaaabulous!!  The air was warm and the streets were still filled with as many (if not more) people as in the middle of the day!  A few more steps, and the streets opened into (surprise!) another beautiful plaza.  This one called La Puerta del Sol.  There was so much to see, it was almost overwhelming.  So once again, I settled into a "front row seat" on the fountain ledge, in the middle of the plaza, and became one of the locals.  I sat there happily observing people visiting with one another, walking, shopping, singing, listening to street musicians,

As I was enjoying every moment of this seemingly ordinary evening, reality began to sink in, that the end of my adventure was drawing near.  I could feel my heart growing heavy at the thought that I would soon take leave of this beautiful city, and country, and the people, sites, smells and tastes I had come to love so dearly.  In so many ways, Spain felt like home to me now, and leaving would be difficult and sad.  But, I'll worry about that tomorrow (thank you, Scarlet), because for now, I had this night to enjoy!

The next day I awoke early and had breakfast in the hotel café.  Now fortified, I was ready to embark on my last full day in Spain.  I kept my heart-sick sadness at bay as I skipped through what were now familiar cobblestone streets, back to Plaza del Sol where the Metro station was.  I quickly figured out which train I needed, bought my ticket, hopped on the train (look at me, I'm and "old pro" at this now), and headed in the direction of Real Jardin Botanico (the Royal Botanical Garden).

I spent a few glorious hours in the lovely botanical gardens, before the heat drove me to find some respite in El Museo Nacional del Prado which houses a world class European art collection.  The featured artist happened to be Salvador Dali. ¡Perfecto!  After lingering in the museum for a while, I went back outside to the plaza and was drawn to an artist who had his beautiful hand-made jewelry on display before him.  I began chatting with Gustavo - the artist - who quickly unfolded a piece of deerskin and declared "ahora, tú eres mi amiga; por favor, siéntate conmigo" "now you are my friend; please sit with me."  And so I did!

I sat talking with Gustavo for a couple of hours, entranced as I watched him create gorgeous pendants, earrings, and bracelets.  Lots of people stopped to view and to buy his creations.  After some time, I chose a special stone from his collection and asked him to make it into a necklace for my Mom.  I watched as he wrapped the stone in silver right before my eyes.  I was thrilled, as I thought of how much Mom would love it.  All the while, as I was chatting with Gustavo, my eyes were continually drawn back to one particular stone - a greenish-blueish stone with many other colors poking through as the sunlight hit it.  Somehow, he must have known, because all of a sudden, he picked up the stone, and made quick but professional work of wrapping it in silver to create a most intricate and beautiful pendant.  Then he winked at me, pushed it in my direction, and said "Para ti, mi amiga, para ti."  I was shocked, and honored, and could barely find the words to say thank you.  "Muchisimas gracias, mi amigo!" I couldn't have scripted a more perfect moment.

A moment later, la Policía, appearing out of nowhere, were hovering over us, and looking sternly at Gustavo.  In one fell-swoop, Gustavo "magically" folded up his blanket, and with it, all of his jewelry, quickly kissed my cheek and whispered in my ear "Hasta luega guapa.  Tengo que salir immediamente. Disfrutes!" "Until next time.  I have to get out of here now.  Enjoy!"  In a flash, Gustavo was gone!  Literally disappeared!  A permit is required to sell his hand-made wares on the plaza, and apparently, Gustavo didn't have one.  With no contact information exchanged between us, and not even a photo snapped (what was I thinking?) I will simply have to remember Gustavo dearly, in my heart, and every time I wear that precious and beautiful pendant. 

The late afternoon sunshine, combined with the tapas bars surrounding the plaza, suggested a cerveza would be a good idea.  So I quickly chose a table and settled in.  I chatted with some folks at a nearby table, and otherwise, just enjoyed the cold beer in the warm sunshine.  Soon after that, it was time to eat (of course!) and the folks at the table next to me invited me to join them (because in Spain, that's what people do!), and we shared tapas and laughter together for a while.

Spanish days are long in the summer months, but finally I could see the sun was beginning to fall behind the taller buildings of Madrid, beckoning me toward my hotel, almost like  Dad's whistle that rang through the  neighborhood on summer nights, signaling it was time to come home.  Tomorrow morning would come too soon, when I would hoist my suitcases into a taxi and go to el aeropuerto, to begin my journey home.  The thought brought tears to my eyes, but I pushed them back, as I was determined to enjoy my last night in Spain.  In Spain.... In Spain....  In Spain...
In Spain, my adventurous spirit soared! 
In Spain, I tried everything I wanted to try. 
In Spain, I traveled everywhere I wanted to go.
In Spain, I met new friends who quickly became mi familia para siempre.
In Spain, possibly for the first time in my life, I could feel and sense my roots, recognizing mi gente, in the gestures, accents and mannerisms of the beautiful Spaniards.  
In Spain, I was showered with sites, smells, tastes and experiences that will live in my heart, soul and mind forever. 

Reluctantly, I boarded the train back to La Puerta del Sol, where I lingered as long as I could, finding people to talk to, things to see, gelato to eat, anything to put-off going back to the hotel, if only for just another moment.  I walked slowly through the cobblestone streets, breathing deeply as if perhaps I could somehow "keep" the smell of Spain in my chest and lungs....  I lingered at Plaza Mayor, taking photographs with my eyes, swearing never to forget a single moment...  ...and for the last time (on this particular adventure, anyway), just as I had done on my first night in España two months ago, I strolled home along the ancient, magical, Spanish streets (las calles de España) that I've come to know and love so well... 
¡Te echaré de menos, España!  I will miss you dearly!

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