Our Do-Over Trip to Madrid.
We made it! The first time I visited Madrid, things went horribly wrong. But Since Stevie had previously lived in Spain and LOVED Madrid, we decided to attempt a do-over. I am so glad we did! Madrid is an incredible city, ripe with sangria and paella and flamenco and oranges, thriving with edgy modernism in spite of it's anciently old history. I am so glad that we decided to take our son and explore this festive city together as a family of three. This was our first trip abroad with a baby, and whoa, we learned a few things along the way. But more on that later. First! Madrid!
We chose to stay in an airbnb in the Recoletos neighborhood, which is mostly a residential (non-touristy) area of town. This spot is close to the city's enormous Retiro Park (much like New York's Central Park), and we knew that would be a nice feature for Everett. We spent a lot of time walking around the park, truly mesmerized by its well-groomed, fanciful beauty. It reminded me of the Queen of Hearts' lawn in Alice in Wonderland, where they are all playing croquet and the hedges are all perfectly manicured. So pristine was this park. Though I had a hard time not staring at all the couples, um, coupling in the grass. I am always rudely reminded of what a modest American I am when I blush at Europeans' very public (let's be real graphic) displays of affection. But I got past it, and we had a lot of fun, lazily picnic-ing and wandering about, and also, SWINGING. Everett loved it, although the other little kiddos on the playground could definitely tell he wasn't Spanish like them. All that blonde hair, you know.
The park! And THOSE HEDGES.
Lunch! We watched a family play soccer while we tore into some baby food pouches.
I don't know how I am going to teach my son not to play with his food. Because I play with his food.
The park itself is huuuuuge. There is a darling little lake with people boating around, and there is a spot called the Crystal Palace - hello! That was clearly a must-see. Because when you go to Europe, you see as many castles as possible. Even if they're like, fake ones. This one was kind of a fake one. But it was still really really pretty, bending the sunlight that was streaming through all the crystallized panes. Pretty pretty.
Speaking of palaces, we spent Stevie's birthday touring the Royal Palace of Madrid! Oh what a delight. He liked the armory, while I preferred the King's residential wing of the castle. Although I must say, the Spanish are sorely under-jeweled. Their crown jewels were pathetic. AND. They don't even use them ceremonially. When someone is "crowned", they don't wear the crown at all. It just sits next to them while they take the photo. WHAT?! I mean. C'mon guys. Wear those baubles. Work that updo.
It made me realize that the queen of England is seriously, seriously endowed. I will never forget the rooms and rooms of crown jewels that she is in possession of. For real. KATE MIDDLETON IS SO LUCKY. Inheritance and whatnot.
The Royal Palace. Not too shabby. I mean, I'd take it.
Palace views of the city. And the country. And the mountains. I suddenly feel like such a peasant.
Birthday boy picking our his birthday baked good. I was like, GET ALL OF THEM.
There are some strange statues in this city.
We wandered around and grabbed a very Spanish birthday dinner in the Plaza de San Miguel. Cheese plate! Wine! Crazy amounts of jamon and baguettes and olives! Everett was such a little champ, staying out much too late with us, sitting in the plaza and laughing and watching the sun go down and the stars come out. It was such a sweet time, the three of us, just being family, exploring the world together. It was exciting and very normal, all at once. Exciting, because everyone around us spoke emphatically in their native tongue, and normal, because we were just eating dinner, like we do everyday. It was such a strange and oddly humbling experience.
Mercado de San Miguel! Where one buys hip wine and overpriced cherries.
Fancy cheese. Of the Spanish varietals.
Oh, and in case you were worried that we weren't experiencing enough Spanish culture, we toasted to Stevie's birthday with hot chocolate churros. So yeah, the trip pretty much felt complete all in one moment. THE TASTE IN MY MOUTH WAS SINFUL AND HEAVENLY ALL AT ONCE. And if you want to be a drillionaire, you should open a hot chocolate churros food truck in the States. I will be the first in line. THE VERY FIRST.
Something that I've had on my bucket list for years is to see the infamous Velazquez Las Meninas painting in The Prado Museum. And we finally got to it! It's such a magnificent painting,some say one of the most important in the world. The meaning of the painting is disputed; there are dozens and dozens of theories about what the different subjects are doing and why - but I personally wanted to see this painting after learning about how it impacted Pablo Picasso. A few years ago, when we were in Barcelona, I saw his series of "Las Meninas"-inspired paintings, which he was compelled to create after being so taken with Velazquez's masterpiece. He created 58 paintings, in his own spectacular style, reinterpreting the original and skewing the sense of light, color, composition, angle and subject. It was fascinating, I remember thinking, "I have to see this crazy Las Meninas picture!" And now, I can say that I have. Picasso was no fool. The original painting was outstanding, so complex and intelligent and full of mystery. It was exhilarating to finally see the real picture, the one that inspired all the others. I felt like I was on a treasure hunt around the world, and a piece of the map came together for me on that day, in the Prado. I wish I could have lingered. But Everett discovered how his voice echoes in the museum and he reeeeeeally liked that... so we had to jet out of there as fast as lightning. I mean, he was loud.
Having a baby along for this particular adventure made me feel connected to people in a way that I never had. Even though I couldn't understand their words, I knew what their smiles, their gestures, and their warm words implied as they leaned down and spoke so sweetly to my son. Wherever we went, Everett somehow wormed his way into the hearts of everyone we met. I thought he was the apple of my own eye, but oh my! He left those little old Spanish women in a wake.
It made me realize that no matter what the vast differences might be between people, not only the language, but the culture, religion, politics, heck, the OCEAN that lies between the United States and Spain, the practice of adoring babies is truly universal. Young men, old women, children, couples, people of all heritages and walks of life - they approached us with warm eyes and excitable hearts. They wanted to speak to the baby, touch his hands (which made me cringe), and engage with his little presence and personality. They wanted to connect, and my little baby boy was the bridge. The olive branch. The conductor of electricity between us and them. It made me feel very human. Very human and very much a citizen of this vibrant world.
I feel insanely grateful that I had opportunity to experience this rich city just like this - as a wife and a mother, and a student of the world, exploring the Earth with my treasured ones.