Sunday, May 31, 2009

uploading photos, little by little

i've managed to upload until week 2 of the great spanish trip, and if you want to see what happened, you can check out these multiply albums:

hola, madrid
my first full day in the spanish capital. started with a short walk around cuzco, followed by a meal at VIPS, and ended with an awe-inspiring performance of "carmen" by sara baras at teatro lope de vega on gran via.

reina sofia, atocha, and museo del jamon
featuring my first madrid museum, my first glimpse of the train station that would be the starting point of my journeys to toledo, barcelona, and granada. topped off the day with a meal at local joint museo del jamon.

madrid sightseeing extravaganza
a whole-day affair that started at puerta de alcala and ended with a delicious meal at las cuevas de luis candelas near plaza mayor.

plaza de espana

i ventured out alone, armed with only a smattering of spanish phrases. well, as it turns out, you learn to order lunch when your stomach is asking to be fed. i ended up ordering surtido de pates (i found out that "surtido" meant assorted, so my first plate consisted of a variety of pates that had me feeling so full when my second plate arrived), grilled chicken with potatoes, and cana.

one of the places that i really enjoyed--a former metro station turned into a museum to tell of the history of the metro. it was half eerie and 150% fun.

museo sorolla
i've mentioned this place already, and the memory of my visit is still fresh in my mind. i actually went back a few days before i flew home, to buy myself a print of my favorite sorolla painting. now i'm all sorolla crazy.

el parque del buen retiro
too bad i only went there twice, but my first visit was enjoyable enough! i got to see a lot of the park while hunting down the palacio de cristal. i heart parks, and this one is no exception. people were taking in the sun, eating, rowing boats, some were even performing their breakdancing moves! it really is a pleasant retreat, as its name says.

the city of steel and religious tolerance (there's some irony in there somewhere) gave me my first taste of renfe, the spanish rail system. next time i go, i'm bringing home a replica of sting!

ikea mondays
foreigners will never get it, but we pinoys just have a soft spot for ikea, no matter where we are. susie and i spent two consecutive mondays eating swedish meatballs with lingonberry at the san sebastian de los reyes branch, since most tourist spots were closed on that day.

museo del prado
the album is an irony in itself. the location of some of the world's most famous paintings, and i only have three images of it on my camera. what was i to do, no photo-taking allowed inside the galleries. i was happy to see some works of bosch and velazquez, and will go back again for a second look.

madrid nights a la javi
an album dedicated to susie's brother, javier, who was our official nightlife guide in madrid. we never did get to join him until the early morning hours, but we always had fun wherever we went. every place he took us to had damned good food and drinks. check out his photos of spain at

scenes from segovia
one of my favorite daytrips! about a couple of hours away from madrid, segovia is known for its aqueducts, but will be remembered for its cochinillo. :D this album is just an introductory page for other segovia photos to come.

Monday, May 25, 2009

it's been seven days

it's been one week since i arrived, and i'm still hung up over my trip.

i'm sorry i haven't written. everything was so overwhelming, and most of the experience is still swimming in my head, unwilling to be pinned down and be committed to words.

but in my 30 days there, most of it spent in madrid, i learned a lot about the way i want to travel. i discovered that i can actually do without the sights and the must-sees. i'd love to go to a couple of museums, and okay, visit some of the recommended places, but what's more important to me is to live like the locals do--eat where they eat, ride public transportation, walk, observe, hang out in a park, talk to the people, and eat some more. somehow, i just find that more enriching and a more worthwhile experience than chasing after the visiting hours of a monastery.

i highlighted eating, and that's because that's what i enjoyed the most during my stay. it's the most fun a traveler, especially a budget traveler, could have. you can't always shop yourself to death, especially in a city like madrid, where everything is expensive, and the euro is times 65 of each peso that i earn. so i just went crazy with the meals, since i had to eat to survive anyway.

i don't think i refused any meal invitation when i was there. nor did i refuse a dish that was served to me. i ate morcilla, chistorra, potatoes, boquerones, anchoas, croquetas, ternera, pulpo a la gallega, cordero, hamburguesas, chuleton, and a bunch of desserts. i had fish and seafood in sevilla, tajin in granada, cochinillo in segovia, and steak in barcelona. for drinks, i would often order a cana, or at times, take some wine, but beer was the preferred drink, and it was one of the best places to have a pint or two.

but more than the meals, i miss the streets. even in our smoggy city, i would walk a lot, and over there, i made the most out of the efficient pedestrian crossing lights and sidewalks. every day, i would always take a walk to either cuzco or tetuan metro stations, which will bring me to wherever i had to be.

their public transportation system is pretty efficient, but it has its kinks. for one thing, waiting for the metro can take up to seven minutes, depending on the day of the week or the time of the day. the walk to interchanging stations can take a while, too, and i actually got lost inside nuevos ministerios, one of the largest intercambiadors there. the signs in that station were so confusing, that i got mixed up and ended in the renfe station (train station) connection, and i had no choice but to go back and pay for entrance again just to get to the exit. it took me fifteen minutes to get out of the station and find my way towards el corte ingles.

the rest of their public transport system is topnotch, though, especially the rail system. i took advantage of the renfe every chance i got, and i used it to get to toledo, aranjuez, barcelona, granada, and sevilla. trains would leave on time, and without the hassle of long check-in lines. the train rides offered pretty good scenery, which i never got to see much of, since i would fall asleep the minute the train pushed off. but i still got to check out the cafeteria car, where i would order a can of olives and a beer.

and as if the comfortable seats and clean restrooms weren't enough, spanish train stations are a sight for sore eyes, and serve as a wonderful welcome after chugging along the rails. atocha, the main station in madrid, has sculptures and tropical plants, while the toledo station boasts mudejar architecture with stained glass windows.

it's so refreshing to be in a city that values beauty for a change. from their awesome train stations, to the flowers in the color of the spanish flag that line the main avenues, it's clear that these folks love to live in a city that looks pretty. the buildings of old have remained to this very day, giving the whole city a charming feel. i could have walked there forever. crossing was not a problem, my feet didn't get dirty, and i could sit anywhere when i got tired.

it's a city that will always have a place in my heart, not only because it was my first european city, but because it was a city that treated me well. the people are not all-out friendly and smiley, like we are, but when they do talk to you, they are sincere and nice. i felt immediately comfortable wherever i went, i never felt judged even though i was clearly an outsider. they don't mock you for the way you dress, they don't care if you're bobbing your head to the music from your mp3 player. they just go through their lives and let you live your own. and that, for me, is the loveliest thing of all.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

first week in madrid

time flies so fast here in madrid, and it would take forever to tell you every little thing i've gone through, so here are some snippets:

museo nacional centro de arte reina sofia
repository of modern and contemporary art, where i got to see picasso's famed guernica. the museum used to be a hospital, and if you're thinking visiting, try to allot three to five hours if you want to go through everything. we got pretty tired exploring, and we only saw two floors!

a part of the permanent collection was closed, though, but it was just as well. call me an uncultured swine, but i really can't handle that much modern art in one day.

if you need a break from all the swirling colors, there are quaint bars and restaurants right across the museum, where you get to enjoy authentic spanish food, and enjoy live entertainment too! that day, i saw jugglers, and listened to a man play the spanish guitar while finishing my merluza.

estacion de atocha

madrid's oldest railway station, inaugurated in february of 1851, is still teeming with life and activity to this very day. inside the station, you will find tall, tropical plants that lend a sense of warmth to the otherwise fast pace of the people inside.

this was also where i took the train to toledo, a province in the south of madrid.

the trains are now pretty modern (most of them, anyway), and i had so much fun during my first visit, and when i was there to leave for toledo. trains are lovely, lovely things.

for train routes and fares, check out renfe.

plaza mayor
just one of the many must-see sights in madrid, along with puerta de alcala, fuente de cibeles, and palacio de la comunicacion.

i remember that i was hit by the reality that i was in europe when i was strolling in this plaza: an accordion was playing in the distance, there were pigeons at my feet, and tables filled with coffee-ing people were everywhere.


platform zero, or the old metro chamberi station, no longer functions as a metro stop, but as a museum that tells of the history of the madrid metro.

the station has been restored, retaining the tiles that used to cover its walls. the ads of old are also still intact, and a wall of the platform has been used to project old school ads to give you a feel of how busy chamberi was back then.

the concept is just genius--the old ticket booths are still there, and they even play a video of the metro's history. the attendants are very friendly, and they accommodated the kindergarten group that visited with us on the same day.

and best of all, entrance is free!

museo sorolla
this is one of the places i really enjoyed. it's the former home of artist joaquin sorolla.

it's filled with his paintings (the photo is entitled nadadores), and has preserved his studio just the way it was when he painted there. from the way his house looks, he seems like a guy i could have gotten along with.

the three gardens are also open to the public. you only pay a fee if you're going inside the museum. ain't that cool?

el parque del buen retiro
a sprawling park close to the golden triangle of museums, the park's name, when literally translated, is "the park of pleasant retreat," and it really does live up to that name.

you see an entertaining mix of every little thing that can give you pleasure--lush grassy areas where i saw people taking in the sun, a large estanque that had a boating area, there are art installations here and there, and even some breakdancing and live music performances. there are small kiosks to get refreshments from, and even a rosaleda for the flora lovers.

the photo on the left is my, and probably everyone's, favorite part of the park--the palacio de cristal. it's located in the heart of retiro, and just so pleasing to the eye that i took around 8 photos of it.


the photo is of the cathedral of saint mary of toledo, just one of the many outstanding sights you will find in this city. toledo is just 30 minutes away from madrid via the renfe AVE, and i highly recommend it for people who have a few days to kill in madrid.

i was bowled over by the train station alone, but toledo holds many more surprises. another thing that amazed me is the synagogue of santa maria blanca, which has moorish, jewish, and catholic elements in one place of worship.

the place is also known for its swords, and i was salivating when i saw LOTR swords there. i badly wanted to take home a sting replica, but it was too expensive, and probably would make me pay for excess baggage when i get home.

so that was my first week in the spanish capital (and toledo). more on food, and the other places i've visited, when i find the time and energy. :D