Going in Circles? Take the Exit Ramp.

Atocha Station MadridDo I turn left or right at the big baby head?

Not the kind of question I ask myself on a regular Tuesday. But when I’m traveling, questions like these arise fairly regularly, usually when I’m lost, having made two or three misguided attempts to find my destination.

That was my predicament in Madrid. After several back and forths across multiple lanes of midday traffic, I was cursing like a conquistador. “Damn it! If Atocha’s behind me, then the f*@%ing Prado must be to my …”

booksAnd then I looked up. What do we have here? A line of weathered grey stalls with yellow awnings, snaking up the tree-lined paseo.  Hugging the southern edge of Parque del Retiro, Cuesta de Moyano is Madrid’s sidewalk book fair that dates back to 1925. I’d never heard of it nor read about it, not even in Rick Steves. Velazquez, Goya and Bosch would wait – there were books to be pawed.

Mind you. My Spanish is limited to vocabulary I’ve picked up from Dora the Explorer. It made no never mind. I wandered up and down the street, flipping through maps and novels and signed first editions.

Book Stall Madrid

Then I found the four-color line drawings of bullfighting scenes. 3 for 18 euro? Sweet serendipity! I’d just arrived in Madrid from Sevilla where I’d visited the Museo Taurino, the city’s historic bullfighting arena.

Sevilla bullfighting arena

Of course the prints languished in a drawer for over a year, but, in a fit of fall cleaning, I just got them framed as a triptych.

bullfighting Sevilla

The clumsy point I’m trying to make is a simple reminder to look up – out of the guide book, away from the map. I did get to the Prado that day, just a bit later than planned, with directions provided by a helpful book vendor. If you don’t take a little detour now and then, you’ll never find out what’s behind the big baby head.

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”-Herman Melville

8 thoughts on “Going in Circles? Take the Exit Ramp.

  1. Love your travel reminder to explore off the beaten path and take delight in getting lost sometimes. We have discovered many things this way, and they are usually the best memories. I think you should make a bumper sticker with your last sentence and the baby head picture! 🙂

    Just read a fantastic bestselling novel from Spain (translated to English) about the love of literature and books, and the “cemetary of lost books” called Shadow Of The Wind: http://www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk/shadowofthewind.html

  2. Should you ever go back to Sevilla, here’s a wonderful option for getting the best in tapas – food and ambience-wise:
    http://azahar-sevilla.com/sevilletapas/tapas-tours/

    Yes, it can be named ashameless plug of the site and activities of a friend – but she writes and photos (and tells and points and shows) very well about it all. Worth a read and a look!

    Best tip we got – of a lot: If you want the best tapas at the best prices and the best ambience, do not sit out in the street with all the tourists. Sit by the bar inside.

    Two quick photos from there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157632913838490/

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