Madrid (April 1, 2012)


Dallas & Bill at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas (famous bullring in Madrid)

Today we were greeted with sunny, warm weather on our first (and only) full day in beautiful Madrid.  I was only too happy to finally be donning my shorts.

Begonia met us in the lobby this morning and then introduced us to our tour guide for the day, Marisa.  Marisa turned out to be another excellent guide with loads of historical and geographical knowledge of the area.  She told us that she herself was in her late seventies, though she seemed to have enough energy for a forty-something.  She was eager to get the tour started, but did allow some of us to run down the block and snap photos of a group from a local Catholic Church who were putting on their annual one-church Palm Sunday parade.  The group just plodded around the block, waving palm fronds and chanting a bit.  The gypsies weren’t far behind, trying to sell their bundles of rosemary and palms, or whatever they had.

A one-church Palm Sunday parade

Cute little Catholic kids!

More gypsies

We then loaded the bus (Marisa introduced us to Jose, our driver) and rode off to see the sites.  First up was Madrid’s famous football (soccer) stadium, El Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.  This large stadium has the capacity to hold 85,000 people.  Marisa said that Madrid has five soccer stadiums, but this is the biggest and most famous.  Madrid hosted the European Cup Final here for four different years.  The stadium looked interesting and modern. We didn’t have the time to tour it at all, but we did take a few photos.

Susan & Jeanette checking out the Stadium

Marisa told us that Madrid is one of the “greenest cities in the world,” mainly because of its large amounts of trees, parks, squares, and other green areas which, instead of tearing them down to make way for more buildings, they keep expanding.  She said, “Parks are all over the place!”  She also said that Madrid is a very clean city: every Sunday “they hose down the streets.”  (Today was a Sunday, and I personally didn’t see any spraying going on, but maybe they do that at night.)

The weather in this area of Spain, Marisa said, is “absolutely crazy” and very difficult to predict.  “We need rain badly.”  She said it’s usually very pleasant in the spring but that, in the summers, it is “just hot!”

Our next stop was to be the very famous bullring, the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas.  However, on the way there, Jose proved himself to be quite an experienced and creative bus driver.  Trying to follow the usual route to the bullring, we discovered that several streets were blocked off by police due to a bunch of people running a marathon.  After becoming stuck in a dead end area, Jose was able to turn the large bus completely around in the middle of the street.   We all clapped for his show of expertise.  He took a different route, and we made it to the bullring.

This gorgeous bullring has a seating capacity of about 28,000 people.  It has a nice monument in the plaza which honors a famous fallen matador.  Apparently, he had taken down the bull and was bowing to the crowd when, lo and behold! the bull rose up and attacked him from behind.  The monument shows the matador (sorry, I didn’t hear what she said was his name) and the bull on the front side, and some angels flying the matador away to heaven on the other.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas Bullring

Memorial to a great matador who was killed in the bullring

Joe posing

Again, we weren’t allowed to tour inside the bullring.  Marisa did say that they would be holding a bullfight later on in the afternoon.  She said that the bullfighting season here goes from the end of March through October.  During the off-season, she said, they hold bullfights in the Latin American countries.

Next, Jose drove us over to the Spanish Royal Palace, the Palacio Real de Madrid, where we were slated to take our tour promptly at 11:00 a.m.  Everything about the Palace, including the huge plaza that connects it to the nearby Cathedral Almudena, was simply gorgeous.  We were not allowed to take any photographs inside the building, which was disappointing.  However, I could understand part of the reasoning for that: there was such a huge throng streaming through the place that, if everyone stopped to snap a photo every few steps, it would take forever to get through it.  There was a gift shop at the end of the tour where people could purchase professional photos and post cards, so I did upload a few cards that I bought so you can see what some of the rooms looked like.  I’ve also included several photos of the surrounding area.  Enjoy.

The Cathedral Almudena near the Royal Palace

Pretty apartment buildings (flats) near the Palace

The Cathedral near the Palace (Claudia is looking at us!)

The Royal Palace

The group heading over for the tour

Me catching up with the rest of the group

Bill still taking photos in the plaza

Postcard of THE THRONE ROOM, view from the western wall

Postcard showing THE PORCELAIN ROOM

Postcard showing THE SMALL ROOM OF THE QUEEN MARIA CRISTINA OF HABSBURG

Postcard showing ALFONSO XII’s SMOKING ROOM, also called THE JAPANESE ROOM

The side door of the Cathedral

At this point, Marisa asked us if we would rather go through the Cathedral or walk over to see the old section of the city of Madrid.  I said, “The old section,” so we veered off from the Cathedral and began walking through some interesting areas.

Joanne, Jeanette & Bob heading up the street

Dallas standing in a pretty square

Ken and John bringing up the rear

Mark, Marisa & Joe

A gypsy at the church door

A pretty balcony

Jennifer (left) & Lori

Bill, Ken & Claudia checking out an art fair

Marisa explaining to the group

We walked up a street where lots of small restaurants were located, and one of them was the world-famous Sobrino de Botin.  This restaurant was established in 1725 and is supposedly the “oldest restaurant in the world.”  It’s specialties include suckling (baby) pig and lamb roasted in the original wood fired oven.  Marisa said the roasted suckling pig was so good that it tasted “like butter.”  According to Wikipedia, “Its other signature dish is sopa de ajo (an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic): a favorite pick-me-up with Madrileño revellers.”  It also states in Wikipedia, “The artist Francisco de Goya worked there as a waiter while waiting to get accepted into the ‘Royal Academy of Fine Arts.’ ”  Marisa said we should all try to eat here if we had time, since it’s a Madrid icon.  She hurried into the restaurant and was able to make reservations for all of us at 8:00 p.m.  After we walked on and entered the large public square, it was time to tell Marisa goodbye.  She did a great job for us!

There it is!  (Marisa, Bob & John)

Bob exiting the Botin (oldest restaurant in the world)

Marisa

I wish we had reservations to see the Flamenco show!

The huge town square in the old section

Lots of people in the square, the Plaza Mayor, on a Sunday

Here’s where we said goodbye to Marisa.

By this time, we were all hungry for lunch, so we walked back along the street with all the restaurants and found a couple of empty outside tables, which we were lucky to find.  After tasting the food at this particular establishment, I’d say we were even luckier.  This was the best and tastiest food I think I had eaten during the whole trip.  We at our table (Bob, John, Mark, & Claudia were seated at another one) ordered five different dishes, which we shared family style, and had a great time eating, talking, laughing, and listening to the enterprising young guitar player who showed up just in time.  (For once, I was happy to shell out some of my Euros for a very well-deserved performance.)  In addition to our Mahou beers, our meal consisted of: bread, mushrooms (my choice), shrimp, olives, salad with various items, & french fries.  (Spain’s french fries and potato chips, by the way, taste very different than ours do–theirs are cooked in olive oil.)

Time for lunch!  (Joe, Tom, Kathleen, Bill)

Bob, Mark & John at the other table

Me

Me and Joe drinking our Mahous

Dallas, Joe, Tom, Kathleen, & Bill

Our food

My plate–yum!

Our entertainer (a very good classical Spanish guitarist!)

After we ate lunch, we split up and Bill and I decided to walk around some more.  I had heard Marisa talking about the Queen Sofia Museum of Modern Art earlier, but we didn’t know how to get over to it, so we hired a taxi.  Disappointingly, since it was Sunday, the Museum was closed.  So then we began walking up the main boulevard to see what we could find.

Musicians playing in the square–they were really good!

As we were walking along, we noticed these beautiful botanical gardens (the Real Jardin Botanico) beyond the fence, so we decided to go in and check it out.  We had perfect weather for it!

The oceanography museum inside the gardens

Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria?

Christopher himself!

Captain’s uniform

Funny hat!

Ocelot (the taxidermy job wasn’t the greatest)

Pretty checkerboard!

After seeing the gardens, we kept walking up the street, past the large Prado Art Museum.  We might have walked inside had there not been a long line of people waiting to get in.  We looked at our map again, and I saw that there was an archaeological museum further up the street.  So we headed for that.

The Prado Museum of Art

The Ritz!

The Palace Hotel!

The beautiful Fuente de Cibeles (“the source of Cybele”), a landmark monument in Madrid

We reached the Archeological Museum & National Library

But it was closed!

Plaza de Colon

Another monument to Christopher

Plaza San Juan de la Cruz

Our lovely hotel…

Bill and I had walked so far and long all day that there was no way we were going to go back down to the Botin for dinner at 8:00.  Besides being tired, Bill was beginning to get sick with a bad cough and achy feeling.  (A few days prior, a couple of the others in our group had come down with a nasty virus, and now it seems it was Bill’s turn.)  We knew we had a very long, tiring day ahead of us, so we decided to stay near the hotel.  Luckily for us, the “best bakery in Madrid” (according to Marisa) was located just across the street and on the corner from our hotel.  It was called Mallorca Pasterleria.  Besides having lovely bakery items, it was actually like a deli, with small sandwiches, cheeses, etc.  So that’s where we ate for dinner, and it was just right!  Then we returned to the hotel to pack up our things in preparation for leaving very early in the morning for the airport to go home.

Goodbye, Spain!  Hopefully, we’ll return again some day.

Viva Espana!