After almost a week of getting up at 7AM every morning, we wanted our first day in Madrid to be slow and relaxing. The weather was also forecasted to have rain all day, so we also wanted to find activities indoors. After a free late breakfast provided by our hostel, we headed out to brace the rain, which turned out not so much a downpour but a light yet constant sprinkle.
Our first stop was El Museo del Biblioteca National, the National Library. The Library is free for all ages, but it’s certainly less popular compared to the art museums in Madrid. The building’s exterior is pretty grand. The “300” in the archways represents the Library’s 300th anniversary. This season, there were two special exhibits at the museum. The first featured the prints of Dürer, a German printmaker. Printmakers such as Dürer must have been quite skilled because they had to know how to paint, sketch, and engrave using various mediums.
The second temporary exhibit was called “Piel sobre Tabla,” or “Skin on Wood.” The poetically-titled exhibition displayed book bindings and covers made by Mudéjar craftsmen. Mudéjars were Muslims who lived in Spain but were unconverted after the country was recaptured by the Catholics. No photos were allowed, but the patterns on the book covers were mesmerizing, containing assorted geometric patterns. Seeing such books carefully constructed and decorated, I hope that physical books will not eventually be completely replaced by e-books.
The Library’s permanent exhibit was uninspiring, composed mostly of objects with nothing more than titles and years as descriptions. We whizzed through that section. The only memorable item was a costume worn by the librarians back when the library was first built.
For lunch, we went to a place called Pad Thai. My friend had been craving Asian food for a while, so we decided to take a break from Spanish tapas. Pad Thai has a three-course menú del día for €8.95 per person. My friend started with the sopa de verduras, the vegetable soup. The soup had plenty of vegetables and was flavored with some sort of wood as well.
I had the rollito Thai, the Thai eggrolls, which came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. The deep fried rolls were crispy and quite typical.
For the main course, my friend had the pechuga de pollo crujiente con salsa de limón natural Thai, basically the lemon chicken. The chicken came out crispy despite looking like it was drowning in the thick lemon sauce. My friend’s Asian food cravings were completely satisfied with this dish.
I wasn’t as sold on my dish, the pad Thai con gambas, or the seafood pad Thai. It didn’t taste bad, but I think the dish tasted closer to Chinese chow fun than pad Thai. My friend tried it and said that, while not amazing, the pad Thai was not the worst she has ever tasted. The dish was just disappointing because – after all – the restaurant’s name is Pad Thai. As a no extra-cost accompaniment, you can also order rice: plain jasmine or with vegetables.
For dessert, we both had ice-cream. There’s really not much to say here.
Pad Thai had generous portions and solid service, but if you go avoid the pad Thai and opt for their chicken dishes instead. If you’re travelling to Madrid, I wouldn’t put this restaurant on your list unless you’re looking for a cheap menú del día and also happen to desperately crave Asian food.
After lunch, we quickly marveled at the vertical garden wall by the CaixaForum, an art gallery. All the plants on the wall are real, and I’m amazed at how green the leaves remain.
Still seeking shelter from the rain, our next stop was El Prado, a museum in Madrid’s Golden Triangle that houses older works from the 1100s to the 1800s. El Prado is always free for students, and regular admission costs €14. Half-price admission is Monday to Saturday, 6PM to 8PM. The museum is enormous, so grab a floor plan. I highly recommend following the room numbers stated in the museum map. At first, I thought I could just wander through, but the layout of the museum isn’t always straight-forward, so you may miss some rooms.
The museum is famous for housing Goya’s Mayo paintings, which depict scenes from the Spanish Civil War. Anyone who has taken AP Spanish in high school may remember having to memorize the 3rd of May painting, where the resistance fighters are executed, but a lot of people forget that the painting is part of a set. There’s also a painting for the 2nd of May, depicting the midst of the fierce final battle.
In addition to the permanent collection, El Prado was also featured a temporary exhibition featuring 10 paintings by an artist known as El Labrador. His real name is Juan Fernández, but no one knows his exact background and origins. Many speculate that he had peasant origins, though, hence the nickname “The Farmworker.” El Labrador is a master of still-life, a category of art that many find very basic but requires quite a lot of skill to master. After seeing El Labrador’s paintings at El Prado, I gained a whole new level of respect for still-life. No matter how far or close you stand to his paintings, the grapes look very realistic. After the exhibit, I compared any other still-life paintings with that of El Labrador’s, and nothing could compare.
El Prado hosts a massive collection, so allot around three hours to go through the entire museum. Afterwards, we attempted to go see a procession for Semana Santa. When we arrived at a street the procession was scheduled to pass down, there was already a crowd of people 10 feet wide. It was still sprinkling, so there was a mini battle between umbrella holders and non-umbrella holders. People with umbrellas in the front blocked the view of anyone in the back. Thus, people yelled out “Paragua!” – Spanish for umbrella –to entice people to close their umbrellas. The precession inched out of a church, but retreated back inside after two minutes, as it was decided that the outdoor conditions were too wet. Instead, a ceremony was held inside a church. We threw in the towel because waiting in a line nine blocks long didn’t seem worth the quick glimpse. Disappointed, we left for home.
You may be wondering, “What about dinner?” Well, by 9:30 PM we were too tired to find a restaurant. Instead, we bought some instant ramen at a small bodega near out hostel. Judge us all you want… we were certainly judging ourselves.
Restaurante Pad Thai
Paseo del Prado, 40
28014 Madrid, Spain
Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 5 pm
Mon-Sun 7 pm – 12 am