Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 2 (Part 4)

Along with our beer came a plate of fresh lightly salted potato chips. At first I was afraid that we would be charged for these chips as I'e been charged for many things in Europe that I'm used to getting for free in North America. I've been charged for water (the norm for Europe), ketchup, and other small things. Making me more suspicious was the fact that I read in nearby Portugal they would bring small plates of food to your table and unless you send them back immediately they will charge you for it.

However, we soon found out that night that this was not the case in Spain, and was one of the best things about this country! It turns out that at nearly every single bar or restaurant in Spain, if you order a glass of beer, they will always bring a small plate of food for free with your order! What a wonderful tradition! When you're hungry and looking for a snack during the day, instead of buying an unhealthy snack at a convenience store or fast food place as you would do at home, you would instead pop into the closest bar, order a beer, have a drink and a small plate of delicious and varied food all the while resting and chatting with your friends. Why, it was even common for one to make a dinner out of this arrangement. You can head out at dinner time with your friends, and over the next couple of hours until time for bed, you can pop into a bar, order a beer, receive a plate of whatever tapas they're serving with their beer that day, and move onto the next one when you're done. This makes for a long and leisurely night of hanging out with friends, mingling with people, exploring the neighbourhood and having a variety of different beers and min-courses to drink and eat.

After our beer, and a rather unexciting plate of chips, due to the touristy location of the restaurant, we continued our afternoon of exploring old Madrid refreshed. We walked to Puerta del Sol, the centre of Madrid with its stately white buildings and throngs of people in the squares watching street performers. Taking some photos of the statue of the bear climbing the madroño tree, the symbol of Madrid, we moved on. Unfortunately, it wasn't until later that we heard about the other main attraction of Sol, the nail that marks the start of the main roads in Spain. Since Madrid is located close to the centre of Spain, there is a spot in Puerta del Sol, Kilometre Zero, from where all the highways in Spain are measured from. These highways, starting from the heart of the city that is the heart of Spain, radiate in all directions to reach the outlying areas of the nation in all directions. It is said that putting your foot down on the nail will ensure a speedy return to Madrid, much like how throwing a coin over your shoulder into the Fontana di Trevi wil ensure a speedy return to Rome.

Continuing our walk, we travelled east along Calle de Acalá. This was a most impressive avenue. Surrounding it are large, impressive, centuries old stone buildings with very expensive looking decorations. Many of the buildings had large oversized statues on the roofs. The noise and smells from the hectic traffic, the chatter from the throngs of people moving in all directions, the heat and humidity of a clear summer day, and the buildings that look like they could have been taken out of a story set in a fantasy land was overwhelming. Looking down the avenue, one could see a long line of stately buildings with humongous overly ornate statues glittering with gold looming over the wide and busy street. Walking down this most impressive avenue, we reached on of the most recognizable symbols of Madrid, the Palacio de Correos y Telecomunicaciones, Madrid's town hall. If you have not seen a picture of it before, you must look it up when you get an opportunity to. It is a large, white symmetrical building, most meticulously decorated, and looks quite medieval and overbearing. Combined with its large fountain with a statue of lions drawing a chariot, it is a most impressive sight to behold. It was here that Felix and I took our first photo together on the trip, a great kick-off to the months of unforgettable experiences to come. Throughout the day, I can't help but wonder how impressive Madrid must have been throughout it's entire history.

At this point, it's getting to be late afternoon, so we decided to start heading back. We walked back along Gran Vía, the widest and most bustling avenue in Madrid. Gran Vía was like a wider and taller, but less historical looking version of Calle de Acalá. Although it had less ornate and taller buildings, there were still many gems of architecture to be observed, the most impressive being the Edificio Metrópolis at the intersection of Gran Vía and Calle de Acalá.

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