Day 13: Madrid

We woke up hangover free this morning (yay!) and scooted down to breakfast before the best things were taken.  After a leisurely meal, we showered and got ready for our laid-back day.  Our plan was to do a little shopping, see the Royal Palace, and take it easy.  I think this is what people mean when they talk about slow travel.  It certainly meant that for us.

Our first stop was going to be the Royal Palace, but I was starting to get anxious about finding a suitable gift for our neighbor, who was graciously watching our cat (again) for the two weeks we were gone.  I had my sights set on a bowl made out of olive wood (had seen them in Zahara), and had done a bit of research on the internet as to where we could find one in Madrid.  It was much harder than you’d think.

We asked the front desk guy (same one who gave us the “directions” on how to get to the bus station from the day before), and he pointed us in the direction of a store that turned out to be the Spanish equivalent of Pier One Imports.  Cross that off the list, it was a no go.  Next we headed to El Corte Ingles, another selection made by the front desk guy.  Once again, that was a no go – El Corte Ingles is the American equivalent of Macy’s, not exactly the place to go when trying to find an artisan piece.  Further, a salesgirl we found at El Corte Ingles helpfully suggested we’d surely find something suitable in Andalucia.  Oh, you mean the Andalucian region we’d just spent 6 days in and was located 5 hours south of where we were standing?  Yes, thank you.

We decided to check out the places I’d found on the web and, after asking the very helpful TI office outside El Corte Ingles where they were located, we made our way to the first (and closest) one.  This place wasn’t really a store, it was more of an office building where a store that exports Spanish gifts was located.  No one was in the office, so we moved on.  Our second stop was a store called Alambique, where not only did we find an extraordinarily helpful woman who spoke perfect English, but she also had about 6 handcrafted olive wood bowls to choose from.  We selected our favorite, then asked if she could hold it while we went to the nearby Royal Palace.  No problem, she aimed to please.

THIS is a palace

The Royal Palace was a hop skip away, so we got our tickets (after a brief skirmish with a Spanish couple trying to cut in line.  Again, no shame!) and proceeded to tour the third largest palace in the world behind Versailles and some crib in Austria that we’ll most likely see sometime, at which point I’ll commit the name to memory.  This Royal Palace was cool, and I spent the entire visit pretending I was queen.  Huge marble staircases, giant crystal chandeliers, gold gilded walls, lots of regal looking furniture, and tons of serious looking guards at the ready to admonish you if you so much as looked at your camera (no pictures allowed inside).  We walked through room after room of grandeur (the king and queen must not have been home), then left the good life behind to return to the store to pick up our beloved bowl.

Hunger pains started to set in, so instead of fighting it, we decided to stop for lunch at…  McDonalds.  We couldn’t help ourselves.  And dammit if it wasn’t one of the tastiest meals we’d had in days.

After satiating ourselves on fine American cuisine we set off again, this time to find the third and final store in Madrid that the web promised would have olive wood gifts.  I just couldn’t leave Madrid without being satisfied we’d gotten the best of the lot.  The Metro involved a few transfers and many stops, but we weren’t scared.  We were on a mission.

The Metro and subsequent transfers went smoothly, but after finding the street and general vicinity of where the shop would be, we were at a loss – it wasn’t there.  So we asked around and were told it was in the front of a restaurant, like the way you find a gift shop at a Cracker Barrel.  So we dutifully went into the restaurant, where we were told (in excited Spanish, naturally) that the store had been gone for about 3 years now.  Dejected, we left but didn’t feel the mission a complete loss because it took us to a part of Madrid we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Next on the itinerary for our laid-back day was to find the premier tobacconist Jim had found on the internet before leaving the States. Again we found ourselves on the Metro making a few transfers before we emerged in the neighborhood of the tobacco store.  We found the cigar we were looking for (and a bargain at €13, and the owner, Jesus, was pleasant and helpful), then found a Café y Te nearby where we had a coffee outside.

Since our relaxing, slow-paced day had taken us traipsing all over Madrid, we decided to head back to the hotel for a relaxing break and ended up there for a few hours again watching TV.  You’ve never lived until you’ve heard MTV dubbed in German with the English in the background, all while sitting in Madrid.

Around 18:00 or so, we decided to take care of dinner business, and we had a plan:  return to what we knew, VIPS.  This was agreeable to both of us, because I think if either of us had seen another piece of ham or plate of tapas we were likely to cause an international incident.  No need for that.  We happily dined on a salad and chicken sandwich, then started back towards the hotel to pack and get ready for our return home.  Along the way we decided to pop into a bar a few doors down from our hotel for one last cerveza, and this place turned out to be one of the smokiest places ever (just behind the Hotel Polo in Ronda).  Everyone in Spain smokes, a fact underscored in this place.  It wasn’t difficult to say no to a second beer in this environment, so we chugged down the first one and headed out.

We packed, kicked back, and fell asleep sound with the notion that in the next 24 hours, we could very well be eating Portillos.  Aaaahhh, the finer things in life.

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