I snapped three 30 minute episodes of sleep on my overnight flight to Madrid on Wednesday. Since I don't sleep well on planes, I thought that was not too bad. When I arrived at the hotel a little before 8:30 am, I was offered a smoking room or room with two double beds. I opted to wait until something a little more attractive opened up later, and went to the bathroom in the lobby to freshen up a bit before beginning my wanderings. Only after I checked my suitcase did I remember that my camera was in it. Oh well.

My first stop was Monasterio de la Encarncion. This was a convent built in 1611 by Margarita of Austria, wife of of Felipe III. There are many, many paintings of the family in the convent. It still has a cloistered population of nuns, and during my tour it was interesting to see the signs forbidding people to enter the cloistered areas. The tour, by the way, is the only way to get into the convent. It is also an hour long and only offered in Spanish.

I suffered through 45 minutes of mostly horrendous art depicting either Jesus with gaping, bloody wounds (both sculptures and paintings!) or the royal family, trying not to fall asleep or pee on myself (no bathroom in the monastery and of course I had to go when I arrived), before reaching the reason I went to the Monasterio de la Encarnacion: the reliquary collection. Damn, this was an amazing room! There were thousands and thousands of relics on display, some in fragments, but many in large chunks, like bones. And skulls. I saw at least three skulls stuffed into reliquaries surrounded filled with fake flowers. The crowning glory of the relics is the blood of San Pataleon, which is said to liquify every July 27. If it happens on any other day, it is a warning that the city was in danger! So exciting.

After the monastery, I booked it down the street to Chocolateria de San Gines. This cafe was established in 1871 and filled with photos of celebs enjoying their signature dish: a cup of super thick drinking hot chocolate and a plate of churros. Before ordering my lunch (yes, that's what I ate for lunch), I used their excellent bathroom, where I had my first minor digestive incident of the day, but let's gloss over that and move on to the churros and chocolate. For only 3.7 euros, I got about eight delicious churros with my chocolate. While I was eating them, the young woman at the table next to me was crying on her cell phone. This was disconcerting, to say the least, but I enjoyed my meal anyway.

From the chocolateria, I headed to the Museo Lazaro Galdiano. Sr. Galdiano was a wealthy financier who had a crazy beautiful mansion and art collection that is now open to the public. Although the website is only in Spanish, the museum had great English signs. I arrived not long before closing time, so it was also free. Yay! This was where I had my second unpleasant digestive incident of the day, but that's another story. Anyway, the mansion is gorgeous and the collection is eclectic. My favorite piece is a most excellent painting by Hieronymous Bosch ("The Contemplation of St. Jerome").

After the museum, I walked back to the hotel and picked up some eats, as I was on the verge of collapsing and in no way able to eat dinner at a normal restaurant. I also found an awesome birthday present for Marcus. I am super excited about this. My hunt for an equally awesome birthday gift for Sasha will continue.

During all my wanderings, I was surprised and disturbed by the number of homeless people and beggars. Most sit on their knees on a piece of folded cardboard, in full supplication. It is very upsetting. I ran into the the most disturbing beggar I have ever seen two different times. It was a guy dressed up in full clown costume. His sign said, "Tengo hambre," and asked for donations. I am fairly sure that the clown costume evokes terror in passerby, who are less likely to leave change as they run by, but maybe I am wrong. He certainly distinguishes himself from the other homeless people.

At the hotel, I ate, took a hot bath, and passed out by 7:30. Clearly, an excellent first day.

*Pardon the lack of proper accent marks on various words.

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