Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Dose of Culture

Finding things to do on a Sunday in Spain (and in France, too, for that matter) is a bit of a challenge because the world pretty much shuts down on Sundays - except for really, really touristy places. Originally I'd wanted to have a picnic in the Retiro (Central Park if Madrid were Manhattan) but it's just too unbearably hot now - what's a girl to do?

Go the El Rastro outdoor fleamarket, of course! From about 9-10am to 3pm-ish, the La Latina area of Madrid is bustling with hundreds(?) of street vendors and shoppers. The fleamarket just goes on and on, and you can find almost everything there, except food - clothes, shoes, accessories, fans, knick-knacks, used books, even electronics and small appliances! I went a little late because I was too busy packing, but I was able to stroll around for a good 40 minutes, which was nice.

The sun was beating down on me mercilessly and I could feel the tops of my feet burning to a crisp, but a lot of the vendors had fabrics draped across their booths to provide some shade. I saw a lot of affordable, colourful, boho-chic clothes that I´d love to buy, but apparently, you need to know how to bargain or you´ll get ripped off. I can´t bargain to save my life because haggling just makes me super uncomfortable, so I didn´t end up buying anything.

Also, you have to be wary of pickpockets! El Rastro is one of their favourite hunting grounds, so I kept my purse tucked tightly under my arm at all times.

The Rastro kind of reminded me of the outdoor market I went to in Holland - the very large, touristy one that I can´t remember the name of now - except the one in Holland had a lot of food in, so I like it a bit better. :P The atmosphere was somehow lively but tranquil at the same time. Families were just out, walking around, enjoying each other and keeping an eye out for possible things to bring home. After strolling through the market, many of them ended up in the cafés and bars nearby for a tapas break.

After that, I did the only other available Sunday activity in Madrid - I went to the Prado museum for free. Entrance to the Prado and Reina Sofía museums are free after about 5pm on Sundays, so my friend Charlotte and I decided to go ahead and cross the cultural thing off our lists of things to do.

The line wound around one side of the huge building, but most of it was under shade, fortunately. And when the line finally started moving, it moved pretty quickly, so we didn´t have to wait very long at all.

And being inside the museum itself was heaven, because it was so cool. I kind of wanted to just forget about the art and curl up on one of the benches on the lower level. So the two of us (who are clueless about art) sauntered around with the little brochure in our hands and looked at all the masterpieces. ("Ooh, that´s pretty. Let´s go see that one." "Wow, there are so many paintings of Jesus and people dying in here." "Using breast milk to put out fire? What the what???") I saw Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, both the clothed and naked Majas, and Satan Devouring His Child again.

After about two hours, itis hit us really bad because we´d just had a big Galician lunch, so we went outside and did what the locals did - we laid down on the grass under the shade of a tree and just relaxed.

When we felt refreshed (and when the worst of the day´s heat subsided), we walked over to Atocha station to admire the indoor palm garden and turtle pond. The garden was gorgeous, but it was very hot and humid in there, so we didn´t stay very long. The turtles, however, were adroable and there were many of them. It brought back memories of my second trip to Spain when I was 18 years old and travelling with my school!

And that, friends, is how you enjoy a Sunday in Madrid. ;)

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