Beginning of parade (if I can get this to work)
The Feast of the Three Kings in Madrid is celebrated as a Holy Day and National Holiday on January 6th, but the parade is traditionally held on the night before. Don had read about this parade and wanted to see it, so we made a point. Little did we know! We ventured out toward the spot where I'd read that the parade traditionally started (actually, it ended there) and about 3:40 or so we strolled up to a barricade and were checking things out. Already across from us lines of people four to five deep and many many children. The evening before we had already seen preparations going in place - metal barricades were being trucked in by the score and sound checks were already being made for the stage that was set up in front of the what is either the national telecommunications ministry or the local equivalent of AT&T! It's a gorgeous building, whatever its purpose...
Mr. Don was thirsty and hungry, in that order. I was neither. As the minutes ticked on and more and more people crowed in around us, we realized that we held down a prized piece of territory and Mr. Don opted for some of my bottled water. We held our ground. I was sure the parade must start at 5 p.m. Already it was apparent that thousands of parents and their children had arrived hours before to hold down the first spots along the barricaded parade route.
Little did we know...
More and more people crowded around us, some with children. I don't mind the children, but I did mind pushy parents trying to mow me over as if I didn't exist! Mostly, though, the crowd was very well behaved, particularly the children who, one and all, put the "adults" to shame. The entire time we were there (from 3:40 p.m. until we started to work out way backward through the stubborn crowd about 8:15 p.m., I did not hear a single child throw a temper tantrum or even exhibit much distress. Too bad I can't say the same for some of the adults around us.
The hours ticked by. The actual "festivities" did not even begin until 6 p.m. - with a stage show. We did not recognize the young entertainers but I think they were the Madrid equivalent of "The Kids from Wisconsin" - you know the type, wholesome and big-voiced but not necessarily very talented...
When we finally realized that we were at the END of the parade route rather than at the beginning...
Well, we stuck it out. And we'll no doubt pay for it tomorrow. At some point I could no longer feel my feet. And then my left knee went totally numb...
Poor Mr. Don was affected even more, which surprised me, because I think I'm in overall worse shape than he is; but our long flight, and he knotted up in that seat for so long -- it took its toll.
Anyway, he shot several videos of the parade action before we decided to try to leave. "TRY" is the operative word. There must have been at least 300,000 people packed into the area around the Fountain of Cybele, where Calle de Acala, the Gran Via and the Paseo del Prado all meet, as well as up and down the parade route, and even more down along the Paseo del Prado. It was a sight, but not something I ever want to go through again! EVER! Most of the people made no effort at all to try and move even slightly so that we could work out way toward the sidewalk. A few gracious people did -- and many of them wished us luck in English! I had some luck at first leading the way and saying constantly "excuse, excuse" and then Mr. Don took the lead. We lucked out when we hit a stream of people with children who were also trying to leave and we followed along behind them, and then other people followed along behind us. It was a "Conga line" of sorts, but very serious, for the crowd was crushing. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for a young one in a stroller, having already been knee high in people for most of five or more hours!
At last, after at least 20 minutes of hard work and trying not to offend anyone by stepping on them or knocking them over or giving them an elbow in the gut (much as a few deserved it!), we got our feet into the beginnings of the Gran Via, and made a "run" for it - well, at least as fast as the crowd would allow. As far as I could see up (down?) the Gran Via, people everywhere! But there was room to walk, and even as we headed away from the crowd still lined up to watch the final float of the parade - the Three Kings - more people started joining us on the escape route!
The first side street we saw, blessedly clear of traffic - we took a hard left and headed toward the Calle de Cervantes and our hostal!
Mr. Don was hungry and wanted to eat. I just wanted to go back to the hotel. We first headed to the little cafe across from the hostal where we'd eaten breakfast that morning, but he had already closed down for the night. Then we headed back to a taberna we'd passed along the way, right around the corner, but Mr. Don said they were too expensive. I said let's go back to the hotel. He said let's get a pizza.
So I follow him along up Calle de Cervantes and then into - I forget - but we had visited the street earlier in the morning (gee, it seems like a lifetime ago!) and there were at least a dozen restaurants/tabernas/"pizza" places along the way. We stopped at the very first one that didn't look very promising to me but Mr. Don looked at the posted menu and said "they have pizzas for 10 euros" and so we went in.
And had excellent service and an excellent meal.
As we sat and enjoyed our beer (Mr. Don) and wine (me) and then our Marghereta-style pizza, more and more people trickled in. Soon, the place went from nearly empty to nearly half-full, and the single young and friendly waitress who spoke English fairly well was running (literally!) to serve people. From what I could tell, though, the entire staff in the place, which consisted of a cook and a young male all-around helper, were also working their butts off.
The pizza was delicious. The wine was good, and Mr. Don said his draft beer (we have no idea what brand it was) was very tasty, too. I ordered a second glass of wine. Then we ordered cafe con leche and dessert (a sort of crepe with chocolate drizzled over it, very tasty, and served warm, not hot). Our entire meal was less than 26 euros. We left a western-style tip (nearly 20%), and the waitress was very happy. She and the other workers deserved a good tip, more than the usual 5% that might (or might not) typically be left. They gave us great unobtrusive service - and were very good to us with our fumbling mostly non-existent Spanish (I resort mostly to pointing at the menu - for shame, Jan!)
Another looooooonnnnnnnggggggg day in Spain. Tomorrow most things will be closed. I expect Mr. Don and I will walk around and take a lot more photos and videos, and plan our day trip to Toledo.
More later, but probably not tonight. I'm still torn between Milwaukee time (currently 6:06 p.m. and Madrid time, which is 7 hours later, so it's 13:06 a.m. - or something like that...) Time to get some sleep!