On the second day I woke up and ate three of the bagels I had packed in my backpack then headed straight back into the center of the city.
The Prado museum was next on my list, suggested by my Spanish friend Olivia as well as several of the people I met the night before. This museum houses the greatest collection of Spanish art in the world and is among one of the best art museums in Europe. Once I found out I could get free entry with a student ID I knew I had to go.
I spent almost two hours wandering the halls and rooms of this museum and I still barely scratched the surface of everything in it. I was very interested in finding the Hieronymus Bosch paintings because I’d seen at least one of these at the DIA before and they are freakin’ crazy. They often depict some really insane hellish looking scenes that contain some surreal looking creatures and other things where you don’t even know what the heck you’re looking at. There was one he did called The Triumph of Death where an army of skeletons are destroying a city. In the corner there one skeleton wearing someone’s face as a mask…and this was one of the less crazy paintings he did.
At the end of this tour however, I started to feel sick, almost nauseous, but not quite like throwing up. I found the exit and sat down on a park bench for a while hoping to feel better. As I sat in the shade I read the The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley which I had bought in the bookstore the night before. I felt a little better but finally determined that I must be dehydrated so I found a store and bought a large bottle of water which I took with me Retiro Park.
Retiro Park is an enormous park in the middle of Madrid with many criss-crossing paths lined with bushes and many interesting sights scattered throughout. After sitting on a bench there and drinking my water I felt much better and got up to explore.
First I ran into the Crystal Palace which is basically a giant mansion made almost entirely out of glass. In front of it is a pond that had ducks, other birds, and lots and lots of turtles swimming in it. There were also several enormous trees growing right out of the middle of the pond.
After this I walked over to a concessions area to grab some food. One thing I had learned since arriving in Spain was that they are very into their jamon, or as we would call it, ham. I’ve since looked this up and they are famous for some of the best ham. So at this point I decided I had better try some and ordered a ham sandwich. The ham was kind of like thick chewy bacon and it came on a baguette.
I then wandered further into the park and found the Monument to Alfonso XII of Spain which is situated in front of a huge rectangular man made pond which reminded me of Washington DC’s reflecting pool. The biggest difference is that in this pond you can rent small row boats and row around the lake.
Nearby was a fairly large gazebo. I ran up the steps of it to check it out. When I reached the top of the steps something colorful caught my eye. It was a bright green post-it note sticking out from under some kind of metal hinge. It had the number six on it and a message in English that read, “Look for the statues, find a black bird’s name.” I stood up and noticed that placed at each corner of the gazebo was a similar post-it note all with the same cryptic message.
A scavenger hunt.
I had to solve the riddle. The number six I decided must mean it was the sixth clue, so I already was already starting ahead. I had no idea what the black bird’s name was but I figured whatever statues it was talking about must have some to do with a blackbird. The most obvious idea to me was to go to the nearest most prominent statues first so I hurried back to where Alfonso was. I scanned along the semi-circle of pillars behind his statues first and at the end of these pillars was another statue. Sure enough there was a stack of colored post-its held to it by an elastic hair tie. I couldn’t believe I actually found another clue!
I had to jump up to reach it but I managed to pull another note down. This one had the number 8 on it so apparently I skipped one. The clue read, “Almost there! What would a pirate use for sailing?”
A boat was the obvious answer to me. The only boats I knew of were the ones people took onto the pond. I ran towards the rental area and looked all around but saw nothing. I considered going in to rent a boat but the rental was too pricey. Instead I looked at other people on the water and tried to see if there were any colorful pieces of paper in or on their boats. Unfortunately, I had no luck.
This was where my hunt ended. I couldn’t even know how recently this scavenger hunt happened. It could’ve taken place weeks ago. Even if it was just yesterday, whatever prize was at the end had likely already been collected.
So I decided to stop role playing the Spanish remake of National Treasure (Which would probably awesome if it actually existed) and decided to roam around the streets for the next cool thing. So I wandered, and wandered, and wandered, until my feet hurt and my mouth became so dry that I couldn’t seal an envelope if my life depended on it.
Some good does come from wandering though, for example, pictures like this.
I decided to head back to the original center of action, Plaza Mayor, to get a drink. It felt great so great to sit down.
Afterwards I got up and walked to one of the next streets over. This is where I discovered the amazing Mercado de San Miguel. It was an awesome market all packed inside a small glass-windowed building. They had all kinds of things to eat and drink inside. After sampling several things throughout the market I decided to make one more stop before wrapping up my night at an Irish Pub called O’Neil’s.
The stop I planned to make was at the bookshop, Desperate Literature, from the night before. I wanted to see if any of the same people were there, but mostly I wanted to thank the shop itself for being such a cool spot in the middle of Madrid.
On my way there I came across the world’s oldest operating restaurant, Sobrino de Botín, founded in 1725. They even had their Guinness World Record certificate in the window. I opened the door and walked in. Then I turned around and left. Now I can say I’ve been to the world’s oldest restaurant.
When I got to the bookshop again the door was closed and I didn’t see anyone inside so I ripped out a piece of paper from my notebook and wrote a short thank you, signed it, and then stuck it into the leaves of one of the potted plants outside the door.
After this I headed to O’Neil’s which I had seen earlier that day with an advertisement saying they were having a fourth of July celebration ad live music starting at eleven. Yes, I celebrated the Fourth of July in an Irish pub in Madrid. When I entered I saw a mass of people all watching the Argentina vs Chile soccer (football) match. I only came across one other American, a student from Texas who had studied in Chile. I stayed until the end of the game after which a group of Chileans began chanting for their team’s victory. Then the “American” band who was originally supposed to start at eleven finally started playing and they were pretty good.
Then, realizing I had a flight to catch in a few hours, I promptly left the celebration. After catching the last subway train and literally running back to the hostel to grab my backpack, I got a cab to the airport because the subway and trains were no longer running. I was barely able to pay for the cab, but I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. After much wandering I finally found the right gate. My legs and feet were so sore I was actually limping by the time I sat down to relax and eat some of the remaining granola I had packed.
When it finally came time to board I realized that, just like when I was leaving London, I hadn’t gotten the right stamp on my boarding pass. This time, I had even asked the security guards if I needed a stamp and they said I didn’t. However, I’m not sure they really understood what I was asking. When I was in line to board I noticed several other people who all had the stamps. I was certain my luck was about to run short and I would be turned away from the flight this time.
My heart was beating as I handed the women my passport and boarding pass. She saw there was no stamp and motioned to it while saying something in Spanish. I could’ve spoken up to explain that security said I didn’t need a stamp, but I figured it would be best if I just acted like I had no idea what she was talking about and play the role of confused foreigner. This was probably the right choice because she quickly scribbled something on the pass, handed it back to me, and in a disapproving tone said in English, “Here you go, have a nice flight.”
So I made it. To Spain and back all on my own, an incredible journey all around. I didn’t get lost, killed, or stolen from. I counted over forty dogs and I think Sangria tastes like wine mixed with Capri Sun.