Prado y Pandas

While attempting to purchase online tickets for el Museo del Prado, I discovered that you can visit this famous art museum (one of the five most visited sites in the world) for free  during the last two hours of each day.  As we had already purchased a two day city tour hop on and off bus ticket, I carefully planned that for the 2nd day, Sunday we could enjoy a tour of modern Madrid, have something to eat and arrive at the Museo at exactly 17:00.  Much to my delight this part of the plan was fulfilled exceedingly well.  As we hopped off the bus and proceeded to the entrance of the Prado, we became aware of a line to get in.  This line snaked back and forth around the side of the building and probably consisted of somewhere between 500 – 750 people.  The wait was just 30 minutes as the line moved very quickly.  I was a bit naive to think we would show up and waltz right in; nevertheless, we  had the incredible opportunity to be among the work of the Masters.  Most of what we saw was heavily religious themed and the children asked questions and made comments like “Mommy why is his head on a plate to a massive wall sized depiction of John the Baptist?”  or “Now I am scared I will/ we will be nailed to a cross”.

We spent one hour at the Prado and a half hour buying postcards and other souvenirs, including a cross stitch kit by Goya. Always trying to think up ways to keep with the curriculum.  I managed to sneak a couple of photos, the first one I was unaware that it was forbidden and the second, well I just couldn’t help myself.

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The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

The very next day we went to the Madrid Zoo Aquarium, located a few kilometers from the city.  I persuaded Bernie to drive, again a mistake! We looped around Bernie’s roundabout and ended up parking in a swanky garage on Calle de Serrano, this is the high end shopping district comparable to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. After parking the car accepting defeat we hailed a taxi and  implored the driver to admit our 5 passengers, 1 rider above the legal limit and held my breath the whole way… that no-one would get carsick.  We arrived at the zoo, and after a not so easy entry with our smartphone ticket-less tickets, entered the expansive zoo aquarium.  We dashed to the Pandas, the stars of the zoo.  Scarlet’s only wish for this trip was to see Pandas in China.  When I discovered that they have Pandas at the Madrid zoo it was a must see!  We still plan to go to Hong Kong for Christmas, but just in case, we got to see the Pandas of Madrid.   There were throngs of elementary school-age children crowding the Pandas exhibit, but we were able to watch Bing Xing delicately eat a green apple followed by many stalks of bamboo. See the video bellow:

Next we walked around the corner and too are delight saw baby elephants cuddling affectionately with their mothers.

Later we saw many delightful animals, 2 bird shows and very spectacular dolphin show.  We again were limited with the time as I thought the park stayed open until 20:00 only to find out that it closed at 17:30.  I gave Scarlet the choice to go to the gift shop with her younger sisters or run back for another quick peak at the Pandas.  Much to our delight she chose the later and we were rewarding with a viewing of a young female panda,  Chulina (Cutie) was born in January making her an 8 month old cub.  I recently learned that there are over 2000 Pandas in the wild in China and more in zoos. Madrid has had very good success with breeding these magnificent animals.  See the below video:

All was well in the end as we found the right city bus to get us in the neighborhood of our Airbnb, found a mall which contained a  Starbucks and managed to walk several blocks in the right direction,  play at a park, and find our way home.

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driving MAD…rid!

dscn0468.jpgI wish the pop-up ad on the internet would have said ‘Free rental cars in Madrid’. At least then, I would have been skeptical. Instead the ad offered a rental car for 5 EUR a day (about $6). We thought that this was a deal that we could not pass up and rented a car for pickup at the Madrid airport after our arrival  at 10:00 PM. After the paperwork transaction, I naively asked the agent for a map and he explained that all the cars had GPS navigation so I would not need a map. So we locate the car, turn on the navigation (in Spanish, of course since Tiffany speaks fluent Spanish) and start out to find the hotel. Little did we know that the hotel that we had booked for one night a mere 5 km from the airport would take us almost 2 hours to locate! After taking the wrong exits from the  roundabouts on our route and heading off in the wrong direction (of course), the navigation had to continuously ‘recalculate’ our route since I apparently was not following the very polite female voice commands. We traversed five different highways and numerous U-turns to get back on track. I sensed that there were times when the GPS was intentionally ignoring me which only added to my frustration. I thought (out loud) about parking the car and calling a Taxi several times. When we finally thought that we had to be in vicinity of our hotel,  we ended up driving on a narrow road in a very industrial area and thought we had made another wrong turn somewhere. As it turned out, the hotel was just around the block. We had finally made it to our hotel! Eleanore and Grace had fallen asleep (it was almost midnight). We all slept quite well that night and had breakfast at the hotel before heading off to our Airbnb, located somewhere in the ‘center’ of Madrid.

We figured out how to switch the navigation to English and I thought that after last night’s driving fiasco thought ‘how hard can it be’. Well, I was wrong! Madrid is a lot more intimidating in the daytime when you can actually see the throngs of very fast drivers and very large, multi-lane roundabouts. Once again, the navigation system befuddled me when the disembodied pleasant voice told me to stay to the left, enter a roundabout and then proceed to the next right. Sounds easy enough except for the fact the fact that the next right is across 4 very full traffic lanes. Did I mention all the motorcyclists and scooter drivers who seemingly ignore any traffic rules whatsoever and weave in and out of traffic between the endless cars, buses and taxis? I was shouted at by a frustrated motorcyclist “LOCO” translated Crazy.  My family now affectionately refers to this roundabout as Bernie’s roundabout. After over 2 hours of very frustrating driving including circumnavigating one of the largest and most complicated roundabouts in Madrid at least three times, a GPS system that gave me erroneous directions and put me into continuous loops a few times, and one of our children vomiting, we made it within a block of our Airbnb. Or so we thought. The pleasant GPS voice then said that the destination could not be reached for some reason? In a final act of desperation, Tiffany called the Airbnb host and after trying to pinpoint our location by giving him street addresses and intersections, he told us that he would come to us. I looked for a place to pull over somewhere (easier said than done in Madrid’s very narrow one-way streets). I found an illegal parking spot and two minutes later Diego (our Airbnb host) pulls up driving the wrong way on a one way street, in the style of a Spanish caballero (in a fine-cut suit, of course) says “Hello Tiffany”. The belligerent GPS had put us in a continuous loop on the block before the Airbnb. We brought our bags upstairs (2nd level). I had to move the car to a public parking garage a block away since there is no street parking in the center of Madrid for more than about an hour. I have never been a parking garage quite like this one. Sardines in a can have more room to maneuver than the cars in this garage! The cost of parking the car continuously in this garage quadruples the total cost of the car rental.  Lesson learned don’t answer the siren call of a cheap car rental, there is a reason they are giving them away.

Bernie….a little bit from Tiffany