Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Day 8 - Madrid, Spain

Ernest Hemingway once said of Madrid that "I do not believe anyone likes it much when he first goes there." He clearly thought it an acquired taste; but with me leaving for Santo Domingo in the morning, I fear that I haven't really had much time to acquire it.

Having heard of so many tales of pickpocketing, I spent more of the first day looking after my wallet than looking at the architecture; and besides, it seems like the government has decided to rip up all of the streets and start again, so common are roadworks at the moment, but I left the hostel today determined to see as much as possible that the area has to offer.

So it was to the Museum of the Americas, finally, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the Spanish capital. Especially if you speak the lingo. There are thousands of artifacts on display from Chile right the way up to Alaska, and all cases are accompanied by full descriptions. In Spanish. With no English translation. I guess it's fairly anglo-centric to expect them to cater for my ignorance, but it certainly made the trip around the museum difficult. But sketchy as my Spanish might be, it is easier to read a language (especially a latin-based one) than to understand it spoken, so I think I did OK with the importance of the numerous guinea-pig shaped vases and odd-shaped sombreros. I made lots of notes for future research anyway.

From there it was lunch, and then on a train to the town of Alcalá de Henares, the home of the greatest Spanish writer: Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes, for those who don't know, was the author of Don Quixote, often claimed to be the first modern novel and the second most translated book of all time (after the Bible). He was a fascinating character: he lost one of his hands at the Battle of Lepanto and spent 5 years as a slave in North Africa before becoming a spy: the book itself was voted the greatest novel of all time by the Nobel Institute. But although the town of Alcalá has embraced its most famous son - there are predictably plazas, hotels, restaurants, a watchmakers and a pyjama shop(!) named after him - the museum was a bit of a let down. Again almost exclusively in Spanish, but this time with no real exhibits to endear it to an ignorant Englishman, it is effectively just an example of how people lived in the 16th century. It could have been so much more.

Much better in the town was the Archaeology museum. It rather inexeplicably had a huge interactive exhibition about Otzi the Iceman who was found on the Austro-Italian border. Never has dear Otzi been anywhere near Spain as far as I know, but it was a great exhibit and welcome after the earlier disappointment. The town itself is has a beautiful centre, with a fantastic couple of plazas and some genuinely great architecture, but sadly only a few hundred meters from the centre, comes the scruffiness - high rise flats and grafitti everywhere. I returned to the train after a couple of hours feeling that I'd probably "done" Alcalá.

So it's off to Hispaniola tomorrow. Long flight, so all being well I wont have much to tell in the next post.

Adios amigos,


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