If there is one thing I hate doing, it's queuing. I hate it. I'd rather have my labia peirced than stand in a queue. It's a sodding waste of time. I should be really good at it as it's in my genes - I'm of Australian and English origins. Poms and Aussies are very good at queuing, but the Spanish - oh my, they have the queue down as an art form.
The last two days have been great, but not without their frustrations.
Firstly, I'm finding the language barrier somewhat alienating. Though I can pretty much get the gist of everything said to me, I can't really talk back unless ordering off a menu, asking for the toilets or the bill, buying something in a shop or saying hello, goodbye, please and thank you. I've mastered., "I'm Australian, I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish - though I can speak French if that helps", too. The fact that the people of Madrid gesticulate a lot helps a heap. When things are written down, it's fine - my French and Latin help to decipher what is being said - still, after a three days of this, I've got brain ache.
I met up with Georgy and Thom yesterday, who helped to show me the ropes around here - and if I'm honest, I think they've saved me from the pits of despair and gave me some great tips about getting about. They're currently on a five month round the world trip and having a ball. As they have seven weeks left of their travels they've seen everything and done a heap.
They made the comment that of all the countries they have travelled, Spain has been the least English friendly of the lot of them. It's true, why should they learn English, it's their country, and it's the language with the third most speakers in the world - but it can make travelling confronting. Or in my case it just makes me feel useless.Then again.when a woman approaches you on the Metro and starts blathering at you, staring at you like you have a wart on the end of your nose, you get to play dumb. When she then says in a deep voice, "Give me some money!", you can respond with a rather sharp no. Thankfully she went away.
Georgy and Thom also gave me the heads up on eating around here. Breakfast is what you can scour out of any open cafe, which finding one before ten can be hard - churros and chocolate are a favourite. Bakeries are good. I've cheated and popped in to Starbucks for a cappucino and a croissant for the last two days - as there is one around the corner and it's easy.
Lunch will normally be your main meal of the day. You can look around for a good deal and for ten euros get a three course meal off a daily selection at a bar or restaurant. And then there is dinner. The restaurants in Madrid open around 8 pm - and start to get busy around ten or eleven. Again, great, but after a solid day of walking and you're famished at six you have to look at your feeding strategies.
Georgy, Thom and I went on a walking tour of Madrid in the morning after catching up with churros and chocolate. The tour took in the major sites near the Plaza Major. It was cool. The guide showed us about, explaining a bit of the history. This was followed by lunch at a great restaurant near the Opera House. It was here we first witnessed the best of Spanish queuing. We must have stumbled across a popular place. The three of us were seated pretty much straight away in a downstairs area and had a leisurely lunch. In the hour and a half we were there, the staircase filled three times over with people queuing. For lunch. Like who queues for lunch?
Similar happened at dinner. We went our separate ways after lunch only to meet for dinner at eight. Once again, we went to a restaurant that appeared to be populated by locals. Once again we were seated quickly. While Thom and I polished off what appeared to be half a cow, people began to queue. We were all amazed. It's one of those cultural things - normally at home you'd be given a time to come back or told to go away, but people lined the aisle waiting for dinner - old and young.
But the mother of all queues happened today. I'd pegged today as the day I'd do the art galleries due to the forecast of rain, the first being the Prado, and it was on my list of essentials. I decided to leave early so I could hopefully miss the crowds and the queues.
No such luck. I arrived at eleven to find that there were two queues going around the block. Though they were moving they weren't going anywhere for the day. Also, there was nobody directing traffic. Why were there two queues? What was going on? They were about as long as each other so I joined the one nearest the building - would be safe bet. An hour an a half later, with the aid of a nice couple from Santander who sheltered me and another with their umbrella fromt he intermittent showers, I got to the head of the queue. What do you mean this was the Renoir line? turns out there was a special exhibition on, the ticket would get me in to the gallery as well as the Renoir. Phew.
Madrid is fantastic for art, though the Prado will always be sullied by the hour and a half wait to get in (as well as no public drinking fountains and a mile long queue at the cafeteria - people must get heat stroke in summer... ) It really was fantastic, looking around some of the great names of Art. The black Goyas have always been of interest and they didn't disappoint. There's a heap of religious art there too, but after three hours of wandering about, you can only take so much of the headless John the Baptists and crucifiction scenes. It was art nerds paradise. Oh, and the Renoir bit was lovely - really striking, just the impressionists aren't really my cup of tea.
I tumbled out three hours later - starving, thirsty and sore. Art galleries are more brutal than football.
After a quick late lunch it was off the to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum just across the road. After a short, fast moving queue (ten minutes, could handle that) I was in what is possibly the best art gallery I've ever been in. Superb stuff - more my cup of tea with more modern fare - Degas, Dali, Lichenstein, Hockney and Pollack - along wth a slather of Dutch, Amercan and German masters to boot. It all ended with a - photo exhibition of Mario Testino photos. Bliss.
I staggered out of the second gallery completely arted out at six thirty. No more galleries for a few days I think but I'm glad I've seen both.
Off to Toledo today. Georgy and Thom warned me get to the train station early - they xray all of your bags on the longer distance journeys here after a series of horrific bombings in 2008.
I'm sad to be leaving Madrid, as I know I've only really scratched the surface and there is so much to see and do here. It's another place I want to return to - but with a travelling companion to make eating more of an experience (they only tend to serve real paella to two or more people in the good places) and definitely after taking a Spanish course.