Our agenda for Sunday was pretty simple: visit the Rastro — a large flea market in central Madrid — and then take in a few other sights around the city, TBD.
We got up, showered, and walked to the Rastro, which was only about 10 minutes from our hotel. It was as I remembered it, and even bigger, perhaps. Booths were set up along both sides of a network of streets, with the main one being “Ribera de los Curtidores”. We strolled, stopped here and there to look at the merchandise, but mostly were people-watching. Items of pop culture were abundant — movie posters, T-shirts featuring the ever-popular Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Che Guevara, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley. Lots of jewelry and clothing. Swords, knives, hardware. Ceramics and carved wood figurines.
When I was in Madrid in ‘84, I purchased a couple of wineskins from El Rastro and gave them as gifts when I got home. This time I bought nothing, but Jean did buy a skirt with some cool European colors and designs.
We walked through various neighborhoods — some thriving, some not so much –and grabbed lunch at an outdoor cafe near the Atocha train station. We sat directly across from the new Reina Sofia Art Center, which is not terribly attractive from the outside, but it opened for the day while we sat and dined, so we saw an increasing flow of visitors arriving there. They were featuring an exhibit by Salvador Dalí, who never disappoints, so that would explain the buzz. But we had other plans, so we pushed on.
We walked up Calle Atocha in hopes of spotting my old building where I lived in 1984, but couldn’t spot it. I had forgotten to bring the actual street address — I think it was Atocha 81, but I would have to dig through some old boxes to make sure. At any rate, we cut across to the Prado Museum, found out when their hours are, and it turns out they had free admission starting around 5:30 that evening, so we decided to pursue some other activities and come back later when we could visit for free.
My international cellular service was only working intermittently, and Jean’s not at all, so we depended mostly on wi-fi to stay in touch with Allison during her last few days in Bilbao. This was Sunday, her last day to study before finals, and she had been battling a bad head cold and ear aches, so we were worried about her. We stopped into a Starbucks — yeah, I know, not very Spanish, but they do have decent bathrooms and free wifi with a purchase. So we bought a coffee and checked in with Allison, who let us know she was doing fine.
We decided to ride the Teleferico, which is a cable car ride that stretches across the western end of Madrid. That was a treat. Jean and Stephen enjoyed seeing the Parque del Oeste (the “Park of the West”) from an overhead view. Hot, dry, grassy, hilly terrain, but still laced with bike paths and running paths, and also with a few picnic tables that folks were actually using, if in the shade. There was an amusement park nearby, which I hadn’t remembered from 1984. So by the time we did the round-trip ride on Teleferico, and took the Metro back to the Prado, it was time to go in. The lines were very long, but we timed it right, getting into line as it was moving quickly into the museum, so our wait was fairly short.
We had only about 90 minutes in the Prado, so we focused mostly on the Spanish painters — Velasquez, Goya, El Greco, along with a few Rafaels and Rubens if I recall correctly. Even though we had only been up and about for six or seven hours, my “dogs” were already getting tired — the museum pace of standing, walking a few steps, then standing again, is definitely tiring on the feet and legs.
After the Prado, we walked through the Parque del Retiro, which is a bit like Central Park in NYC though not as big. We saw roller bladers showing off their skills with fast slaloms, and we saw people with paddleboats on the main pond of the park. We also visited the house of glass.
After a brief walk down the streets Alcala and Gran Via (major tourist route), we struck off down some side streets to the south, and found a quiet street with an outdoor cafe that looked good. We enjoyed some paella and white wine. This meal, again, started late and ended late, but not quite so late as our first night in Madrid, so we were able to get back to our hotel around 10:30 or 11 pm.
Summary of the day: Rastro, Teleferico, Prado, Retiro. And nearly all of it on foot. Not bad!