Madrid – Pretty on the Surface.

When I say to my friends that I will be going to Europe, their first responses would usually be the following countries:
1). London
2). Italy
3). France/Paris

So when I said I was going to Madrid, they just nodded.
I guess Spain doesn’t look like a fantastic holiday location (especially in winter) as compared to the other locations in Europe. But I decided to go to Spain because of another reason: my boyfriend. He’s from the Spanish half of Basque Country, and he’s very proudly Basque. So much that I decided to pick up some Euskara grammar points and phrases from a textbook. I’m still learning Euskara, along with Korean and Spanish (maybe). (I wish I had a language chip which I can insert into my head to save myself all this trouble and pain.) I’ll let you know if reading the language text works.

I am explaining his presence because he greatly affected the way I experienced Madrid and Basque Country (which I will write about in the next few entries). I saw Spain through his eyes, and that view is quite sobering.

Before I start this series on Spain and Basque Country, I must elaborate a little about the history between the Basques and Castilians (the people who are currently in political power in Spain – Another name for the Castilian language is Spanish.)

Before 1514, the Basques had their own country, complete with provinces, lords and commoners. Basques were renowned for their seafaring skills. Two of Southeast Asia’s most famous Catholic saints were from Basque Country – St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius of Loyola. The Basques were mainly responsible for spreading Catholicism to Southeast Asia.

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Euskal Herria, also known as Basque Country. Picture from here.

Due to the infighting between different Basque groups, the Castilians managed to conquer 4 out of 7 provinces of Euskal Herria. The other 3 provinces went to France.

Although they were separated by France and Spain, the Basque still maintained contact – for the smuggling of goods across national borders. There was a delicate balance between the Basques and their colonists. Until the arrival of Francisco Franco. Franco took away the Basques’ ability to self-govern, and did terrible things to groups of people who did not identify themselves as Spanish. The Basques were not allowed to use Euskara, and they had to be like the Castilians.

I am no historian, but I would say that it was the last straw for the Basques. The demise of Franco led to the formation of the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), a Basque nationalist group associated with terrorism. (Incidentally, ‘eta’ is a Euskara word meaning ‘and’.) They gave the Basques a bad name.

Typing all that has made me realise that I need to do a lot more reading. I may have made some mistakes in the paragraphs above, so please do correct me if there are glaring errors above.

I did not have time to go around Spain, but Emily Luxton’s blog has a nice summary of the sights to see in Spain. Sadly, I did not manage to see any of them.

So anyway, I was in Madrid for 1.5 days. I landed in Madrid on an afternoon flight from Dubai on 16 February. The Emirates flight was late by half an hour(?), because the flight had to wait for another flight which landed late in Dubai. I swear it probably only took 1 passenger to make the whole world late. This sort of thing does roll over, you know. I was dying by the time I landed in Madrid – I spent 18 hours (or more!) travelling from Singapore to Madrid. I was SO ready to get off the plane.

After offloading my (shamefully) heavy suitcase at the hotel and having lunch, our first stop was Plaza Mayor.
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It was extremely touristy – we walked past it quickly. It was en route to all our other destinations. Like:

The (window) shopping district. I didn’t buy anything as Le Boyfriend assured me that the same stores were in San Sebastian and Pamplona and everywhere else in Spain.

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We just walked around Madrid to see the architecture.

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So much electricity was used to light up these government buildings, but yet Madrid has many beggars on the streets. The recession has caused many to be homeless, but the city still looks so pretty at night.

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I didn’t insist that we go into the Royal Palace, as I did not want to upset Le Boyfriend.
But there were things to see around the Palace. There was this man making giant bubbles (see above), for example. And artists pretending to be statues on the Palace grounds.

However, we did enter the Temple of Debod, which is located in the middle of Parque del Oeste park near the Royal Palace.

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Free entry is always good!

The temple was a gift from Egypt to Spain, and it looks weird sitting in the middle of an area full of European architecture. Inside, the descriptions were mainly in Spanish.

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I wish I read Spanish. This is so (English-speaking) tourist unfriendly.

One place I would greatly recommend is the Reina Sofia Museum.

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Entry is free!

The highlight of this museum for Le Boyfriend is Picasso’s Guernica.

This painting occupies a whole wall in the Basque gallery on the 2nd floor. We spent a good 3 hours in that museum trying to figure out paintings in Cubism, reading inscriptions and staring at Guernica. We would have spent a longer time in there if we had arrived at the museum earlier in the day.

I didn’t do much in Madrid as I was still trying to get over the jet lag. My later posts on Spain will cover more stuff.

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