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Friday, September 11, 2009

Spain -- Madrid 8.10.09

* Estado Puro                       * Reina Sofia                       * Restaurant Botin

Monday 8.10.09 -- Hola, Madrid

After saying goodbye to D at the airport,  E and I went to the Air Europa check in counter for our flight to Madrid.   I requested a window seat as I did not get to see the bird view of Barcelona when I landed.  Shortly after I got the tickets, I realized that I did not get the window seat! !@#$$#@  E had the window seat and offered to exchange the seat with me.  But it was her first time to Madrid, I can not take her seat.  I went back to the ticket counter.  

"Excuse me, I did not have the window seat." I said.
"Your friend has it." The guy who worked at the counter replied. 
"Ya, I KNOW.  BUT I REQUESTED it. Can I have the window seat, please?" I said, a bit annoyed.  
"But you won't be sitting next to your friend." he said.
"I don't care. I don't care." I said rather impatiently.  Thinking to myself, "I think I will survive being apart from E for 1 hour on the plane."  

The guy exchanged the ticket for me.  I gave him a big smile and a sincere "Thank you very much" to compensate my rather bitchy attitude just now.  Good thing I went back to change the seat, because within that 5 minutes, Air Europa changed their departing gates.  

Apparently, the gate changing happened quite frequently that you should always double check your boarding gate just before boarding time. 

As I walked into the airplane trying to find my seat, I had a bad feeling. "Hummm... it better not be the last row"  And yes, I got the last seat on the last row.  The row in front of the toilet, and seats can't decline.  I bet he was laughing now. Oh well, at least I had a window. 

An hour later, we landed in Madrid.  We took a taxi to our hotel, Victoria 4, centrally located near by Puerta del Sol.  The ride to the city took about 20 minutes and cost around 26 euros.  My first impression of Madrid was that it was a small city compare to Barcelona.  The buildings were more concentrated, the streets were narrower, and there seemed to be a lot of construction going on everywhere. 

The room was not ready when we arrived.  We went to Museo del Jamon around the corner to get some breakfast.  Museo del Jamon is a chain restaurant that you can see everywhere in Madrid.  It was a little before noon.  There were people standing by the bar, eating their mid-day snack and drinking beers.  I noticed that the hams in Spain were often curved by hand, so it was a little thicker.  I liked hams cut by machine, thin as paper.  

After breakfast, we got some bottle water and a city map from near by stores.  By 1PM, we were able to check into our room.  By the time we got to Madrid, I was very much "tourist" out from our trip to Barcelona.  I had little emotional attachments to the sights in Madrid.  I was ready to slow down the pace, and to take it as it comes.  E suggested taking the hop on-hop off bus the next day, and we booked it with the front desk.  I also knew that I wanted to eat the roast suckling pig at Botin.  Ya, i know i know, it's a tourist trap. The seasoned Spain travelers are probably rolling their eyes right now.  Well, what do you expect? I am a first time tourist!  We also asked the front desk to make a reservation at the Botin for us. E tried to contact her sister so we could all meet at the restaurant for dinner.  She still could not complete the phone call.  No problem, we asked the front desk for help.  After staying in an apartment for the past 5 days, and having to DIY everything ourselves, it felt really good to be able to call the front desk to get things arranged, and questions answered.  We took a much needed siesta, and did not come out of the room until 5 PM.  

I wanted to check out the museums in Madrid.  Since it was Monday, the only museum open was Reina Sofia. On the way to the museum, we stopped by Estado Puro, a chic wine bar across from the Naptune fountain, for some tapas and Mahou, the Madrid local beer.  We ordered the cod fritter, fried anchovies, and pig's trotter with cutfish noodles.  The combination of pig's trotter and cutfish noodles were quite interesting.  The textures of these two types of food were totally opposite.  I liked Mahou beer.  It was refreshing and light, perfect for the summer. 

We arrived at Reina Sofia around 6 PM, and decided to purchase the "paseo del arte card" for all three museums.  Reina Sofia's collection focused on modern arts.  We saw many great Spanish artists' work including Dali, Miro, and Picasso.  However, one painting struck my attention.  A first glance at this painting of a car crash and the badly injured guy, I thought, "huh.. this painting was pretty dark." When I saw the painting was called "Self-portrait" I laughed.  I thought, "huh, the painter had some twisted sense of humor."  Then, as I looked closer: "Alfonso Ponce De Leon, 1906 - 1936".  The painting was created in 1936 when he was only 30 years old.  The same year he died.  The hair on the back of my neck just stood up.  What was the story behind this painting? Did he die from the complication of the car crash? I tried to google the painter, but there was very little being said about him.  

After we finished most of the important painters' works on the second floor, we got a text message from E's sister and E had to look for pay phones to contact her sister.  I went up to the terrace and had an beautiful sunset view of the city.  By 8:30 PM, we left the museum and headed toward Botin.  I was not sure if it was Monday, it was raining that day, or I was constantly comparing Madrid with Barcelona, the streets felt relatively quiet, and we did not see as many tourists as we did in Barcelona.  Madrid just seemed like a much smaller city on a scale. 

We arrived at Botin around 9:15 PM.  Botin, established in 1725,  was supposed to be the oldest restaurant in the world.  Ernest Hemingway wrote about this restaurant in the final pages of his book  "The Sun Also Rises".  It was also the restaurant that Andrew Zimmern from "Bizarre Foods" of the travel channel tried his roast suckling pig. 

E's sister and her family were not here. E still could not get in touch with her sister, and we weren't sure if they would join us or not. While we waited, I was able to check out the kitchen and the old stove.  After 15 minutes, E decided we should go ahead and have dinner.  We ordered the gazpacho soup, roast suckling pig, a half pitcher of sangria, and closed the meal with rice pudding.  The suckling pig was pretty good, the skin was crispy and crunchy.  Is it great? or the best? I am not sure, but I am glad that I tried it. After the meal, we took a taxi back to the hotel and called it a night. 


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