“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”-Herman Melville
Do 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. It’s one of the reasons I usually take a hop on/hop off bus tour immediately upon arriving in a new city.
Hopelessly lost in Madrid.
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 …”
And 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.
The Prado and its masterpieces by Velazquez, Goya and Bosch would wait. There were books to be pawed.
Don’t Speak the Language? No Problem.
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.
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.
I couldn’t wait to get home so I could frame the prints. They waited. And waited. And a year later, when I uncovered them during a bout of fall cleaning, I did bring them to my local framer. It’s one of my favorite travel souvenirs and always brings me back to Spain.
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.
Give yourself permission to get lost when traveling. You might be surprised at what you find.
Heading to Madrid? If you don’t want to START your trip by getting lost, check out these tips for using Uber at the Madrid airport.