The world didn’t end last week so my sister was able to come to Madrid for a few days after visiting Barcelona and Mallorca.  This was also not her first trip to Spain.  Back in June 2009, she came to Malaga and spent a week in southern Spain with me and my friend Kathryn.  This time around, she got to visit the country’s two biggest cities and some Mediterranean islands (kind of jealous too, I would like to go to the Balearic Islands).

Anywho, she arrived on Thursday and left on Monday so she was here for 4 days.  The first thing we did the afternoon she arrived was visit the Retiro.  I’ve blogged about the Retiro several times now so a lot of the things I mention should sort of sound familiar: the pond with the rowboats, the Crystal Palace, the statue of the Fallen Angel and the Rosaleda rose garden.  The rose garden is actually in bloom now so that was great to see!

From the Retiro, we walked down Calle Alcala which took us through Plaza de Cibeles (where the Real Madrid fans congregate whenever the team wins an important match) straight down to Puerta del Sol.  I have to say, Puerta del Sol really isn’t all that interesting to be honest.  There are a few fountains and the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree.  I’m  not so sure why this square is so important, apart from being where all the major highways start.  The buildings aren’t even that interesting.

However, things at Sol right now are a bit more interesting because it has temporarily turned into a hubbub of student activism and protests.  There were some important government elections in Spain recently and to be honest, I haven’t following the news all that much.  According to Sandrine, they want Zapatero to step down from office.  Anyways, the protests started during the elections and have spread to all the main cities in Spain (Sandrine saw some in Barcelona too).  And I guess the people haven’t finished protesting, because Sol has turned into what looks like Tent Village/a shanty town.  People have brought tents to sleep in and set up makeshift booths with flyers and all sorts of stuff.  Literally, people (mostly students) are just camping out there.  There are couches and chairs and I guess they regularly hold talks since I saw quite a few megaphones lying around.  I’m not sure how long this tent community is going to last (seriously, where do these people shower? Go to the bathroom?) but power to the people I suppose.  Not my kind of scene though.

So after we walked briefly through Tent Village, I took Sandrine to the Plaza Mayor (which had some kind of exhibition being set up).  At one time during the Spanish Inquisition, heretics were publicly burned and executed in the plaza.  Eek.  I have to say, it must be kind of nice to have an apartment overlooking the square, though I must imagine it gets pretty loud.

After Plaza Mayor, we went to the Mercado San Miguel which is right off the plaza.  I also took my parents here and they really enjoyed it.  Anyways, it wasn’t crowded so we got to walk around at our leisure looking at the different food stalls and even indulged in some ice cream (well fro yo for Sandrine, chocolate ice cream for me).

After that, we were pretty tired by all the walking we did so we went back to my apartment and Sandrine finally showed me how to cook “her chicken” she had been telling me about all year.  Most of you know I sorely lack culinary skills and I hate cooking.  But I have to say, the chicken we made was pretty good.

Friday, all we did that day was visit the Prado.  It rained most of the day so once we were done with the museum, we decided to go back to my apartment.  I hadn’t been back to the Prado since 2008 so it had been awhile.  Sandrine has taken art history classes so she explained to me some interesting tidbits about certain artists and paintings I had never heard of.  We saw Las Meninas by Velazquez and also saw works by El Greco, Goya, Zurbaran, and many others I can’t remember.

Friday night, I took Sandrine to see some flamenco at a place called Las Tablas right next to Plaza de Espana (which was also kind of her birthday gift).  It wasn’t the same place I went with my parents but I had heard it was good.  The show was alright.  I did enjoy it and it’s a nice venue.  There were other tourists too which I didn’t mind.  However, when the musicians started playing, people were still being seated and the waitress kept blocking our view of the stage since she had to take everybody’s orders.  On top of that, people talked while the show went on, which I didn’t like.  However, by the second half, people finally shut up and started paying attention to the performers who were really good.  The male dancer who danced his solo at the end was phenomenal.

On Saturday, the weather was nice again so I took Sandrine through part of the Malasana neighborhood down Calle Fuencarral.  This is one of the main shopping districts in Madrid so it’s always full of people.  From here, we walked down Gran Via towards Paseo del Prado to head to the Thyssen-Bornemisza.  Nicole actually joined us here since she had never visited the museum.  Anyways, it was my second time visiting but I absolutely love this museum.  Like I said before, this museum has a very diverse collection.  From super old stuff to the more modern-I know that’s not the best description but I’m not very familiar with art terms.

After a quick lunch at VIPS (this fastfood chain in Madrid), we decided to take a walk through the Lavapies neighborhood, which I had never been to.  Sandrine had looked it up in my guidebook and thought it sounded like a cool place to walk through.

I have to be honest, I was a little wary of walking through here.  I remember my first few weeks in Madrid, I got the impression from the NYU staff that Lavapies was super sketchy and that it wasn’t a safe place.

However, it was broad daylight when we walked around and I felt perfectly safe the whole time.  The neighborhood is where a lot of immigrants live, especially people from subsaharan Africa, China, the Middle East, and India.  It used to be the Jewish quarter of the city before the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492. The neighborhood is centered around Plaza Lavapies (Lavapies means literally “to wash your feet”–not sure where the origin of the name comes from).  According to Wikipedia, the neighborhood is full of steep hills which is unusual in the center of Madrid.  A lot of the apartment building facades are painted in pastel colors (which I was kind of obsessed with and snapped several picturs of).  There’s also more graffiti in this part of the city.  Anyways, the neighborhood definitely has an interesting vibe and some of the streets actually looked like they might be okay to go out in at night.  If this is considered the ghetto of Madrid, it seriously wasn’t that bad.  I was imagining something along the lines of Harlem in Manhattan (which I realized is not as bad as it used to be… but Lavapies is definitely not as rough as Harlem and a lot prettier looking).

One thing that surprised me was this building we came across that looked like it had been bombed or something–we weren’t expecting to run into ruins.  According to Wikipedia, these ruins belonged to the Escuelas Pias, a religious school, which was burned by the anti-Catholic radical left supported by the Popular Front in 1936 (so during Spain’s Civil War).  In 2002, the ruins were converted into a university library.  Another stark reminder of the suffering Spain endured during those dark years.

That night I took Sandrine to the creperie (along with Nicole and Lindsey).  I hadn’t been there since I took Mimi back in March.  I think Sandrine scared the waiter because when he came to see if we were ready to order, Sandrine brusquely said “No!” He even commented on what a “caracter” she had.

On Sunday, we went to the Rastro, which is the flea market held every Sunday in La Latina neighborhood.  This open air market is HUGE–it spans about two whole streets and you can pretty much get anything you want there.  I had only been there once before, earlier in the year.  I’m not really interested in buying things, even though some of the stalls do have cool wares.  Sandrine was mostly interested in the jewelry stands, whereas I was mostly interested in the ones that sold posters.

After the Rastro, we walked back up towards Plaza Mayor to see the Palacio Real and the Almudena Cathedral.  The palace was closed because it was Sunday but the cathedral was open so we went in there for a bit (where there was a mass being done in English, weirdly enough).  After that, we wandered through the Jardines Sabatini and the Campo del Moro park (which I absolutely love).  And then, we headed to a movie theater that showed movies in their original language.  Sandrine was dead set on seeing the French movie “Les Petits Mouchoirs” (Pequenas Mentiras Sin Importancia in Spanish or Little White Lies in English).  I liked it, even though it was a little long (two hours and a half) and the ending was incredibly sad.  Guillaume Canet, a very famous French actor, directed it and Marion Cotillard is also in it.  We then went out to eat at the Japanese restaurant near my apartment.

And then Monday afternoon I took Sandrine to the airport.  It was nice having her visit and spend some sisterly bonding time with her.  I think she had a good time in Spain and enjoyed visiting Madrid, though I think for her Madrid isn’t the most exciting city in the world (I think for both of us, that will always be New York, no matter what).

And that was basically Hermana’s visit.

And now it’s back to the Thesis.  Only one more month to go, thank God!

Oh and here are some pictures.  I included some pictures of Noches de Fuego along the Manzanares River, which were part of the San Isidro festival here in Madrid in mid-May.

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