In the beginning, I stayed in Madrid. Instead of traveling to far off regions, I showed off my own city, becoming simultaneously a tour guide and tourist.
How can such a thing happen? Ali Slack, a dear friend from college, landed in Madrid. As the first one of my close friends to come and visit I wanted to make sure that she fell in love with the city as much as I have. That being said, I left her to her own devices Monday morning to tour the Palace and walk through the streets of Sol, while I met with my conference team to mail out our invitations. (To catch everyone up, I am planning a conference Connectando el Mundo Atlántico: redes, barreras e intercambio (1492-1830) to bring young investigators from across the globe to our UAM to discuss the different aspects of the Atlantic World. You can find more information on our project here. ) Maybe this freedom was best allowing her to create her own mental picture of the city before we met up and went to Plaza Santa Ana for lunch. Afterwards we shopped in Sol before heading to the free hours of the Prado. Ali tested my art history knowledge and I gave my second tour of the collection, the first being to my father. We finished the first day eating tapas in Cava Baja, a street known for its tapas. We happened to stumble into La Concha, which serves an entire Gluten Free menu! It’s the perfect place to get tapas for anyone who has celiacs or is living a gluten free lifestyle.
There are many things to keep you occupied in Madrid, but knowing that Ali loves palaces and gardens, I suggested we take a day trip to El Escorial. Having just been at the Palace I did not take another audio guide, but rather tried to understand how the spaces of the monastery and palace were connected and separated. Like las Descalzas, it is another Palace/Convent, but on a larger scale. I think many of the answers that I am seeking in my thesis come from a better understanding of all the different convents in use during this period, especially other Royal convents. After giving a tour of the Prado, it was easier for both Ali and I to make connections between the art exhibited in both places. Many of the works were commissioned or collected by Philip II and so it is not a coincidence that there is a stylistic similarity at play within the two places. We ate lunch at Canido, recommended by Andrew’s co-worker and then headed into the gardens. I wish that there were photos to document their beauty. The beige stone walls of the palace, free of external ornamentation accentuated the differentiation between sunlight and shadow. Up in the hills, the rigidity of the palace is in constant contrast to its natural surroundings, each one bringing out the best in the other. To end a perfect day, we visited La Isla for patatas bravas. (I would not be surprised if I am addicted to their potatoes!)
To finish our trip in Madrid we ate a large picnic in Retiro before heading to the Botanical Gardens. I had never been to the gardens before. With many roommates, I have discussed how a tourist might know a city “better” than a resident. In the sense that they set out to see all of the sites and a resident lives life staying that eventually they will get there. Generally speaking, life gets in the way of these visits. I am very glad to have visitors come and take me to different parts of Madrid, like the botanical gardens, that I probably would not have visited otherwise. I, particularly, liked that as a place to study and learn about the plants they had insisted to govern the different plants; yet, nature, not the botanists, influenced the way each plant grew. Slight chaos within the rigid structure. From here we stopped by the Reina Sofia during its free hours to see Guernica by Pablo Picasso in person and get a feel for Madrid’s modern art scene. We finished the day with sushi from a cafe near my house and free drinks at Gabana.
It’s easy to take your city for granted, its beauty and charm can become sullied through the mundane of daily tasks. Seeing Madrid through Ali’s eyes brought the sparkle and gleam back to Madrid and quickly it was time to move onto another city, Barcelona.