I got off the bus in Madrid around 10 p.m., joints and neck stiff. I immediately regretted bringing my laptop as it added what felt like at least five pounds to my bulging backpack, and it was becoming increasingly clear that I would not be doing any writing or school work this weekend. The extra weight felt like a penance for being, technically, unproductive. Though, what is the true measure of productivity (kids, just do your homework)?
Also in my backpack: clothes, a journal, assorted broken pencils, my passport, one package of jamón, and one bottle of well-wrapped wine. This made me feel very artistic and romantic: a paperback-ready lone traveler on the open road ready to appreciate and be poetic about whatever happened next.
What happened next was I accidently bought 20 metro passes, and would have bought more had a helpful security guard not pointed out that the reason my metro card wasn’t working was because I was trying to scan it through the train turnstiles, not the metro turnstiles. So, that was an expensive mistake to make, and a hard one to be poetic about.
However, entering into the maze-like metro system of Madrid, my the artistic/romantic headspace came back easily. Unlike Seville’s one, straight metro line, Madrid has 12 with sporadic turns and intersections, all color coded in a desperate attempt to avoid confusion. The tunnels, even at near 11 pm were interspersed with musicians who, with the help of a mustard-yellow tile backdrop created a very bohemian atmosphere.
I arrived at the apartment of friends of my host-family around midnight. They had graciously offered to lend me a place to stay for my two nights in Madrid and I gratefully accepted. We traded wine and jamón for room and wifi password. Their apartment was covered in books, music albums, and art. I slept on a low to the ground, futon-style mattress and could hear amateur guitarists playing in the apartment below me.
I woke up to rain, which was unfortunate, but expected since the weather app exists. The metro tunnels had sprouted big yellow buckets to catch leaks in the ceiling, and the deeper down you went the more humid it got. It was a relief to find fresh air again in the city center, but this was quickly outweighed by the annoyance of wet feet. My pair of spare socks were no match for the two hour wait to get into the Prado Museum, and me and the couple hundred others I was in line with were shivering, huddled masses by the time we threw ourselves onto the doorstep of Spain’s greatest classical gallery (free with a student ID).
The wait was well worth it. It’s a strange, bottomless feeling to see paintings you’ve only read about in history books. El Greco, Goya, Velazquez — everyone was there in all their antique, masterful glory.
However, after the initial star-struckness wore off, I kind of felt like I was on a casual visit with some old acquaintances who aren’t into hugging- “Hey!!! Las Meninas! I haven’t seen you since high school! How the heck are you? You look great. Have you seen El Caballero de la Mano en el Pecho lately?”
When I finally found my way out of the Prado (harder than it seems, the place is excessively huge) I went to the Reina Sofia museum, waited in line for only 45 minutes, got in free (student IDs are amazing, do NOT forget to bring yours), and experienced the same bottomless feeling, and then unprecedented familiarity again, except this time with Picasso, Miro, and Dali.
The next day it didn’t rain! I took this opportunity to stroll through parks and plazas and see what the city looked like dry.
I bought new shoes and in a grand, dramatic, and poetic gesture, threw out my old, holey, perpetually damp shoes in a public trash bin. This felt very symbolic at the time (for what I’m not sure), but I have come to firmly believe Madrid is just the sort of city that makes everything feel very symbolic and meaning-heavy. Maybe it’s the side effect of having so much art.
After arriving at the train station to go home I gave my laughably full metrocard to an arriving student from Germany which made me feel like my mistake was somewhat worth it in some grand, universal sense. I set off on my return to Seville feeling grateful that the journey back was by train, not bus (unimportant thought: which mode of medium-distance transportation is objectively more artistic/romantic?).
In summary, if you want to feel really (possibility undeservedly) artistic, and just generally cultured, Madrid is the place to go. It also features public trash bins that are big enough to throw out a pair of shoes, in case that sort of thing is important to you.