Thursday, May 8, 2008

Old Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 2 (Part 3)

The stretch of road behind the Palace would make a deep impression on me in the next few days. While we were in Madrid, we would travel this stretch often, as it led us to the old town, and also because this is where the closest lucotorio, or cyber-café is. As the first familiar area to me after arriving in Europe for my lengthy trip, it provided me with great comfort.

The street was very steep and took quite a bit of effort to reach the top. The street wasn't narrow or wide, but had a very personal and busy feeling to it. It was lined with trees, and to your left as you ascend the hill, there were old buildings with faded paint chips flaking off of their uneven walls. Signs and wires were protruding from these buildings. At the bottom of every building were stores, and one can plainly see that this area was not inhabited by the upper class. Of the left, there was a park and a small square of sorts. A brown sandstone wall and some gates separated the street and the park. From the steep bottom of the hill all one would see are the tall walls with some stairs ascending to the park as the ground under the park was filled in as to not slope. Around half way up was our favourite lucotorio in Madrid. It was very cheap, less than an euro for an hour, and the plain tables, chairs and old computers indicated a no-frills, down to earth place for basic Internet access. The top of the street was crowned with a wide bridge carrying a perpendicular street and pedestrian walkways. The bridge was so wide that the street seems to disappear and become engulfed by a long, dark tunnel. After climbing the stairs on the side of the bridge, to your right, you see the Royal Palace, opera house, and various other items of interest as you've now just arrived at the west edge of old Madrid. This street, Cuesta de San Vicente became etched in my memory as I still tried to clutch to something familiar in the first few days of my trip.

The first time we took this route, we weren't sure where we were headed. Climbing to the top of the stairs, we were relieved and excited to see that we had arrived on a busy street with what look like a large square to the right, and a beautiful garden just next to us. Walking through the garden, we see our first glimpse of the Palace. It was huge. And beautiful. The white, gray, and blue colour scheme stood out majestically behind the green of the gardens and fountains between us and the palace. The fountains were not very elaborate, with just barely a small spurt of water from the tops of a few pillars with some spherical designs at the top. The area was stately, powerful, and serene all at the same time. As we waked around the Palace, we marvelled at its size and construction. I also enjoyed the square between the Palace and the opera house very much. The view to the opera house was very symmetric, neat, and pleasing. The sky was clear and blue, with just a few billowy clouds drifting slowly across. It was a very beautiful sight.

Walking around old Madrid using the map as a guide, we arrived at Plaza Mayor. We suspected this was something special as we approached. The roads leading us up to the Plaza were crooked in all directions with a hodge-podge of different stone buildings in all different shapes and sizes. As we approach Plaza Mayor, we see a large, straight building cutting across the street ahead of us at an odd angle, constructed with a very bold, intentional, repeating pattern of windows, roof peaks, and large arches for people to walk through. Through the arches we can see a clearing filled with people bustling in all different directions. Walking under the arches, we arrive in a large, rectangular square, surrounded by a single enormous building with a very symmetrical repeating pattern of arches, windows, roof peaks, valleys, and balconies. One segment had walls covered in a giant, continuous painting of intricate scenes. A large metal statue of a horseman stands in the centre, and small tent-shaped canopies surround the most of the sides of the square providing a most welcoming shade to countless tables and chairs. We decide to sit at one of these tables to enjoy a cold glass of beer.