Saturday, January 5, 2013

One Day, Four Parts. Spain, Day 8

Cathedral in Toledo
I'm on a bus to Toledo. It's very sunny out, which becomes a strong reminder that I should have brought my sunglasses. You don't really think about them when it's cold, dark and gloomy. Then when the sun comes out, it dawns on you. Get it...? It dawns on you? Nevermind.

This post in written in 4 parts. The references of time may be inconsistent because I wrote it over 3 days. I tried to add more pictures, too. Enjoy! 

PART 1: On My Own

Trying to navigate with my ripped up map.
I decided to go solo today. Yesterday was fun trekking around with the LA homie to Avila but for a lot of reasons I knew it was best to go alone today. For one, it's my last day and I want to make sure I get everything done.

I also needed a chance to be out on my own. I needed to feel the pressure of having to figure things out by myself. Through this trip I've almost completely relied on everyone else to get around. When in a group I hardly ever know where I'm going. I know I can do it, I just haven't had to.

So this morning it was all me. I left the hostel and found my way to Tribunal metro station. I knew where it was but it's different when you don't have other people to help you. To correct you if you steer off course. This time there was nobody. I was balancing without a net.

My 7-day pass had expired so I had to buy a new one. By the time I finished getting to the platform, there was already a train there with doors ready to close and leave.

Doors closing in 5 seconds.

I didn't really have any time to think. I couldn't study the map. I had to decide whether to get on this train and I had about 5 seconds to choose.

Now to understand this moment, you have know that when me and Simón were going through the city the day before, he was the one leading the way. I had told him that I wanted to start knowing where I was and navigating myself around and not depending on other people. He said, "No worry bro, trust me." I said I don't want to trust you. I want to know where I am and where I'm going.  So when we'd make a turn to go upstairs or to the left in the metro station, I'd slow down to read the sign or orient myself. He's say "Come on, man, I know this is the way." He kept telling me. "Just feel it. You know it's the right way."

Navigating the metro maps

So faced with this train open in front of me, I knew I didn't know. I couldn't be sure. Making a gut decision, I jumped on. Wherever it takes me, I'll find my way from there.

It ended up being the wrong one. Or at least not the one that Ruben from reception laid out for me. But it just meant I had to find a different route. This way took more time, had me running up and down stairs, but I was the one in charge at least. Lost, but in charge.

PART 2: Toledo and the last seat back

By the time I boarded the bus to Toledo, all the window seats were taken. I sat next to a girl who looked about my age, but she napped the whole time so we didn't talk. I didn't mind, I dozed on and off too.

In Toledo, I had no route or plan, but I saw a sign that said Maps. Ahead of me in line was that girl, and the map guy explained to us the route to take. When we stepped outside, I just walked up to her and asked, "De donde eres?" She said, "Peru." That changed everything. No way! I've been there! What part? We talked for a bit before I said - Vamos? Shall we go?

Me later with my Peruvian friend

And so off we went. Instant friends. Just like that. We walked around and joked all day. She commented how it was nice to have someone to take pictures of you instead of setting up the timer and running like she did the day before. She spoke Spanish in her normal fast speed and I was able to keep up pretty fantastically. Although she, like many of my Spanish friends, thoroughly enjoyed correcting me and making fun of me when I misspoke.  I can tell pretty quickly that it's going to be a lasting friendship when I see the sheer joy someone has at my expense. I'm happy to provide the entertainment.

We stopped and bought "mazapanes" which are treats of just almonds and sugar. I had to because Sara la Madrileña told me like 3 times I should, and I didn't want to face her without trying them. Then later we stopped for a 2 hour lunch. I ate quail. Cathedrals, walls, beautiful views, a hundred rolling streets and stairs. It was a cute little town.

Remember this was my last day here, and I still had some things I needed to do back in Madrid, like go see the Prado. My trip could be considered a complete fail if I didn't get to any museums. I HAD to get that done. The long lunch had put us behind schedule, and la Peruana was going at a leisurely pace. I was looking at the time and remembering the traffic jam that delayed our return to Madrid the day before. I was starting to freak out. It was a 45 min bus ride back and the Prado closed at 8. 

At 5:30 all we needed to do was finish the route circling through the town without stopping, and then head back. It seemed to take forever. At one point we went up 6 flights of stairs in elevation. I thought, this is NOT taking us closer to the bus station. 

In Toledo

At about 5:45 we were actually done with the route and heading to the buses. The roads were winding. If you traced our path it might have looked something like when Billy from Family Circus goes and gets the mail.

At about 5:53 we were running. It wouldn't have been the end of the world if we missed the bus, but we didn't want to find out. (We got off easy 2 weeks ago with the end of the world- let's not push our luck, eh?).

We finally got to the bus station. She had her ticket; I still needed one. After buying mine, I bolted downstairs to the bus. She was ahead of me and got to the bus line first. I could see her and a lady behind her. The bus driver took my friend's ticket, and said to the lady, "Sorry it's full" and points to another bus. "You have to wait for the next one."  Then he waved me on. My friend had told him I was coming, so I got the very last seat.

We plopped down out of breath, overheated, and laughing at the whole thing. I couldn't believe we had made it. Another 5 seconds or one more wrong turn would have had us on another bus.

I don't even know what to do with those moments.  I think, what's my takeaway for a day like this? Is it that I might not be so lucky next time, so I should plan out my day better and leave earlier? Is it that everything works out for a reason? Is it that God's looking after me and sent a guardian angel to stop the bus?

In the end I don't know if there's any lesson to learn. I think it's just a moment to enjoy. To feel a little bewilderment at how life rolls out, and know that this is one to savor a little bit and smile. It doesn't make sense, but it doesn't have to. I was just happy and relieved to be on the bus, headed back to Madrid. 


PART 3: The Prado and Guernica

NOT the famous painter. (Credit: Google images)
We ended up making it to the Prado and saw works of famous Spanish painters Velázquez and Goya. Rembrandt. Durer and da Vinci. Rafael (can't lie I was pretty excited to see work by the namesake of a Ninja Turtle).  

I don't know what to do with seeing that art. There are so many works. There's so much history spanning hundreds of years. There are different styles and interpretations. It's overwhelming. And many are enormous. How do you transport them? Museums have to be huge just to fit the paintings in them. Owning famous art is a sign of wealth partly because you need to own a big enough house and doors to contain them. And, @nathansaxton, how do you frame them or decide how to?

We had a solid hour-plus there, which was enough to appreciate and check off the list.

The famous Prado Museum

But I wasn't done yet. One of my favorite paintings is by Picasso: Guernica. It conveys the horrors of the Civil War in the 1930s.

Here's an excerpt from the book I'm reading about Spain,

Reina Sofia entrance
"At that point, Nationalist leadership decided that the people must be terrorized into surrender. At their request, on Monday April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion bombed the ancient Basque city of Guernica from the air. Monday happened to be market day and the town was full of people from the surrounding countryside. Those who survived the three-hour bombing were then machine-gunned by the German fighter planes...It was the first time in history that bombers had annihilated a civilian target."

As terrible and morbid as the subject is, it's undoubtedly significant. I always loved that painting. In general, I don't connect with a lot of art. I appreciate the talent and vision it takes to do it, but most pieces don't speak to me. I think I saw Guernica in high school or in my Spanish classes in college, but all I know is I loved it since I first saw it. 
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (credit: Google images)

Well the original Guernica is in Madrid. Only it's not at the Prado like I thought. I still had to go the the Reina Sophia museum if I wanted to see it in person.

The Prado closed at 8 and the Reina Sophia at 9. By the time we got to Reina Sophia, it was 8:30 which is when the last entrances are allowed. Again, made it in the nick of time. She had already been there and it was getting late, so that's when I said adios to my new Peruvian friend.

I headed upstairs straight to the Picassos. Gosh I love his stuff.

Finally I turned around and saw it. It was larger than life. I somehow knew it was big, but it's even bigger than that. And so I just stood there, gazing in wonder, dwarfed in the shadow of this image. 

Apparently it's a big deal. Lots of people come just to see this painting. I have no way of knowing if they're feeling the same as I am. I feel like I've earned hipster status when it comes to this particular work of art. I liked it because I liked it, not because anyone else did, and before anyone else did. Even though it's all mainstream now I still like it just as much. Anyway, that was the last thing I had to do on my list. I saw it just before it closed. I got to see probably my favorite painting in person. What an incredible day!! 

But it wasn't over yet.

PART 4: A final toast with my Madrileñas

As soon as I exited close to 9 I had to book it over to the city center to meet my Madrileña friends so we could say goodbye one last time. They had agreed to extend our meeting time to 9:30 instead of 9 so
I could see Guernica. It worked out perfectly because I arrived at 9:20. Thanks for being cool with changing the time!

It was a goodbye to remember. We went to a pub and ate food and had drinks. We toasted probably a dozen times. Cheers to the New Years. To keeping our resolutions. To el dia de Los 3 Magos. To practicing English for them and Spanish for me. To me not missing my flight.

We had started exactly a week earlier as virtual friends, yet strangers in real life. And now here we were talking about our dreams and resolutions. Teasing one another and encouraging each other. Tomando and promising to meet as a group again.

After the amazing week I had already, I had just wanted to close out the last two days with some checked off tourist sites. I didn't expect for it to be anything that lived up to the other days. But today was yet another fabulous day. 

At about 2 am I walked back to my hostel for one last time. I couldn't have asked for a better sendoff!

...Stay tuned for one or two more blog posts to wrap up the trip. 


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