Whenever my husband and I plan vacations we feel the pull of big cities. We feed on museums, culture, a gazillion food choices, and the energy that comes from many people living and moving about in one place. Up to a point, that is.
On our most recent trip we ignored the recommendations of our travel agent who suggested a hotel near a quiet square in Madrid. Instead we choose a place we knew — based on one night’s stay a year ago — near two of the busiest plazas in town.
These plazas are well-known for the locals who perform unusual stunts to attract tourist donations. Take the clicking goats, for example. We saw two of them — hunched-over men wearing bejeweled goat masks and covered in sparkly tinsel, an unconvincing goat coat. They made annoying clicking noises while performing frantic dances. I paid the goat in the photo a euro to take his picture and for that felt justified in telling him to stop moving. I haven’t been able to come up with the words to explain why these human ruminants are so creepy, but they are. Every time we heard the sound of clicking we walked faster.
Another popular tableau consisted of a large swami who balanced a smaller swami on a pole he held with one hand. These folks populated several streets and plazas daily.
The most intriguing act, a rider suspended over his motorcycle who waved and winked. We could never figure out the mechanism that allowed him to stay in that position for so long.
As you can imagine, these performances attracted many watchers, especially during the evening, which made it hard to reach the front door of our hotel. Then there were the protest marches.
About the time we’d exceeded our crowd limit for the week, we discovered the Barrio de Las Letras, the neighborhood of letters, more importantly of famous writers. Bordered by the peaceful Plaza de Santa Ana, (something about the name appealed to me) where we discovered a favorite tapas restaurant, the area boasts homes and graves of famous authors, interesting galleries, unusual art and, best of all, tranquility. Not a clicking goat in sight. Next time we’ll listen to the travel agent.