I like touring what are called “sites of interest.” That’s just what I am. Give me a bus, some good walking shoes, a camera, a waterbottle, and a tour guide with a corny sense of humor.
And isn’t Madrid a fantastic place to wander around and bitch and moan about how much your feet hurt as you stare at all the beautiful buildings, the street performers, the political action in the streets? Isn’t Madrid an embodiment about what I love most about the city, the energia, the mixture of turistas and nativos, the change, the action, the history?
And what about the rest of España? The Picos de Europa? Oviedo? Asturga? León?
Every time I take a tour, I always come away with a story or two. Here are some of the most memorable from Madrid and Oviedo.
In the Palacio Real in Madrid, we toured the rooms of the Spanish Royal Family, the House of Borbón (none of them live there anymore except for diplomatic functions). There was a room made entirely of porcelain, an extraordinarily velvety and gilted throne room, and other rooms that resembled Christmas cakes or had Chinese influence. Of course, I was happily allowed to use my trivia-packed brain: the guía mentioned Seneca, the Hapsburgs, and some other bits and pieces. I can never stop showing off, unfortunately.
This is a statue at Las Ventanas of a matador doffing his hat at Alexander Fleming, the Scottish scientist who discovered penicillin. Because of this discovery, injured toreros became less likely to die of infections.
Street performers were everywhere on the streets of Madrid: people painted to resemble statues, people dressed up as "Native Americans," and people who made themselves appear headless. Take a picture with them and toss them some euros for their troubles.
Near the Parque del Retiro, there are used book stalls. Hoping to buy a book in Spanish, I approached an old man to buy part one of Don Quijote for an euro. Unfortunately, he refused to sell it without part two. . .which I couldn't find in the stacks.
I decided to look for the Templo de Debod in my last days in Madrid, but I got lost. I discovered instead this beautiful rose garden with fountains and ponds full of water lilies. I asked a woman there for help using my newly improved Spanish. At the end of my long spiel, she asked me, "Do you speak English?"
The Templo de Debod was a gift from the Egyptian government to Spain for saving several historical sites from the floods of the Great Dam of Aswan. The British family who led me there were nice enough to help me take pictures along with complimenting me on my Spanish. Their children apparently were attending school in Toledo.
The Plaza Mayor was always busy. Those white buildings there? First week, they were there. Last week, they were gone. People dressed as Spiderman and Mickey Mouse wandered around to take pictures with tourists (Mickey, unfortunately, got a little grabby with some friends). Also, the air was always full of the sound of squawking. Why? Vendors sold little whistles to kids, and they filled the air with their. . .noises.
El Rastro is a large open-air flea market in Madrid. Millions of things were sold there, and if you were patient, you could get fantastic deals and one-of-a-kind finds. Profe warned us repeatedly not to let our guard down because of the pickpockets. This is a musician making music with some glasses and water.
Our last days in Madrid, the Gay Pride Parade occurred, so the streets were packed, and those distinctive rainbow flags were everywhere. This is a concert supporting it.
In Oviedo exists La Foncalada, the oldest pre-romanesco civil structure left from the High Middle Ages. It was built in the 9th century by Alfonso III of Asturias.
San Miguel de Lillo has some reconstruction going on. That gray square? It's to protect a particularly intricate window. It's a pre-romaneco church that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One day, my friend Katie and I decided to hunt for the Casas del Cuitu. We got lost for four hours trying to find them. This included a sidetrip to a chocolateria with an accordion-player, window-shopping, getting kicked out of a bookstore, accidentally walking into a funeral, accidentally walking into a courthouse, talking to the police, running into some other classmates, having a conversation with a priest about local fiestas, and finally realizing the Casas del Cuitu were buildings we had passed by several times a week. This particular statue? It's named Maternidad like two others in this City of a Thousand Statues. Why there's a bunch of naked ladies with babies to represent "maternidad," I can't say.
This is Katie during our adventure next to the courthouse we walked into, thinking it was a Casa del Cuitu. Some very nice officials tried to help us before politely telling us we weren't supposed to be there.
One day, I came back from an excursion to Asturga and León to discover these gaita players in the streets of Oviedo. Yes, northern Spain was settled by Celts, so there are the bagpipe-like gaitas among other hints of this heritage in Oviedo.