Madrid – My Favourite City

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Sylvia’s colleague Hannah had studied in Madrid a few years ago. She very kindly gave me a list of places to go.

We are staying at Hortaleza, about 10km from the city centre. It’s a stunning day with the only mark in the clear blue sky a short vapour trail. I decided rather than catch the metro a stroll would be nice as it’s always a good way to get to know a new city. Wow this is a nice town with clean tidy streets and lots of statues, parks and fountains along the way.

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Heading for Parque De l’Oeste I spotted a tall tower sticking up above the buildings. It turned out to be across the road from the park and near the Arch of Remembrance.

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I paid the three Euros and took the lift to the top. With expansive views over the city  and surrounding countryside it was just a pity the glass was not clean.

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Behind the tower is the Museum of the Americas with a range of artifacts from most parts of the once Spanish occupied Americas.

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I enjoyed a stroll through the Parque with its concrete-bottom-stream, ponds, statues and rather large rose garden.

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Passing some old gun emplacements I eventually came across Temple Debod. This was given to Spain by Egypt. Originally built in 200BC it was dismantled, shipped to Spain, railed to Madrid and rebuilt in 1970. Probably fortunately it is not very big.

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The day over I caught the easy-to-navigate metro back to a station not far from the hotel.

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Thursday 17 November 2016

Getting off the metro at Opera I took a stroll around some local streets. This place is stunning with lots of squares linked by narrow streets, lined with beautiful buildings.  Lots of people are out and about, street vendors unpack their swags ready for a day’s trade.

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First stop of the day was the Royal Palace of Madrid. Like a lot of these places it has been around for hundreds of years, damaged in battles and destroyed by fire. Apparently it achieved its present state in the seventeen hundreds.

Housed in the southwest corner of the large courtyard is the armoury. This holds a large collection of armour, a lot on mannequins mounted on horseback. There is also a range of old weapons.  Unfortunately I discovered no pics allowed. I really must learn to read signs”

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Moving into the main building I was blown away by the painted ceilings, most surrounded by gold leaf. Large ornate chandeliers hang from the ceilings in each of the large rooms.

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Passageways surround a large internal courtyard.

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Covering over 130,000 square meters and with over three thousand rooms there is a lot we public don’t get to see. This place definitely gets first prize for its ceilings.

To the south is Cathedral Santa Maria, also a huge building.

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The area surrounding the palace is like a well kept garden with restaurants in the buildings surrounding it.

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I enjoyed a wine in the sun before heading across town to the Museo  Nacional de El Parado. After paying my 19 euro entry fee I soon came to realise this was an Art Museum! Most of the paintings were of the type you see in churches around Europe. Apparently most of these type of paintings were commissioned by the local bishops. By the number of paintings in this huge building there are obviously way more paintings than churches to put them in. In case you haven’t worked it out I am not really a fan of this kind of art.

This place was also a no picture place, or so I found out when I raised my camera to take a picture of the ornate ceiling. A woman sparked up as she leapt from the shadows with a string of words, none of which I understood, but I certainly got the message “no photos”

On the way to the local metro station I passed the Puerta de Alcalá. Opened in 1778 this is one of the older post-Roman arches in Europe.


Friday 18 November 2016

Having strolled past what looked like a large park yesterday I decided to take a look. Parque Del Retiro is a 1.4kmsq park that has been around since the 1500s. It was passed to the public in 1868 around the time of the overthrow of Queen Isabella.

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Even as one walks in the main gate the scenery is stunning. With autumn upon us the deciduous trees are displaying an array of golden, red and brown colours.

Not far into the park is a lake backed by a huge statue, the Monument to Alfonso XII, a king that ruled from 1857-1885. Opened in 1922 it’s pretty impressive as it sits with a commanding view over the lake. Atop the 30m high centrepiece sits the king.

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Topless mermaids sit on lobsters with turtles guarding the perimeter. Come to think of it every mermaid statue I have ever seen is topless. Lions led by boys guard the land side of the monument.

There is a lot going on around the lake: people row boats; a bunch of school children scream and laugh as a boat takes them for a spin on the lake.

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Mounted police patrol the grounds. There is a boulevard of kings cast in stone “oops one queen as well” dating back to 612 ad.

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Next stop was the Museo Naval de Madrid. This is really well done walking one through the Spanish naval history from the early 1400s. It describes how Spain was the first nation to create an Empire. Its navy dominated the oceans, trading from the Philippines to the Americas until Lord Nelson gave them a good spanking at Trafalgar. Dissected model ships give one an insight to the cargo and people spaces below deck.

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There are exhibits from most eras. One display case holds a number of weapons from the early Philippines.

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A stroll around the town eventually lead me to the Hotel Iberostar to meet Sylvia. Sylvia had booked us into a Flamenco show. Funny I always thought it was Flamingo dancing – apparently flamingo’s don’t dance!!

After a very nice Citadelle Gin and Tonic at a terrace bar we headed for the show. About eighty people packed into this venue, most on terraced seating with a good view six or seven musicians and dancers crammed onto the small stage. The dancing seemed rather aggressive with lots of foot stomping. To me it was like an aggressive version of tap dancing. Fortunately it only went for an hour, after which we strolled the nearby streets.

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Many magnificent buildings and fountains are well lit at night.

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Saturday 19 November 2016

We took a short stroll back to Parque Del Retiro to enlighten Sylvia to its beauty.

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After looking at the lake and the boulevard we wandered down the south end where we discovered the Palacio de Cristal. Built some time ago it is now a place where people go and listen to sounds. Today it was a ship breaking through ice.

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While looking across the park at the palace a couple of woman asked us to take their photo. We chatted for a little while and it turned out one of them has been reading our blog.

As we wandered around we came across Palacio de Velazquez, a nice looking Turkish-style building hosting an art exhibition that neither of us took a liking to.

From here we strolled northwest through the town. This city is itself like an architectural museum. Even apartment buildings, four or five stories high with their wrought iron balconies have a nice style about them.

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We wandered through the Plaza Mayor a large square surrounded by more well designed buildings.

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We came across Mercado de San Miguel, a market packed with food, booze and hundreds of people.

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Arriving at the Palace square we stopped for a drink at an outdoor bar overlooking this magnificent area hosting fountains, gardens and more statues of kings. In front of the palace they had the changing of the guard.

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We took a look inside the Almudena Cathedral. This one is relatively new; building started in 1883 and it only took a hundred and ten years to build. The pope rocked up and consecrated it in 1993.

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From here we strolled back across town with a stop at the milk bottle shop (named by me for its ceiling) where Sylvia bought a frock.

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Eventually we arrived at the Museo National Arqueologico. The first part of this museum walked us through the evolution of man from 120,000,000 years ago until the evolution of us homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago. Apparently we haven’t changed much in the last 50,000 years.

Bone fragments of a little pre man guy a few million years old had been pieced together.

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It appears that man didn’t start getting teeth cavities until he started consuming grain and pulses fifty odd thousand years ago.

Early man coming out of Africa created large settlements in Iberia (now Spain and Portugal).

There is an Egyptian section with lots of mummies lying around, as well as a large Ancient Greek section and many other interesting exhibits filling this large old building.

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Sylvia was amused by the large footpath frog on our stroll home.

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In the evening we enjoyed a meat platter at one of the many local eateries. Apparently Madrid has more bars and restaurants per head of population than any other European city. At night thousands of people are on the streets enjoying the night and vibe. We didn’t witness any yelling and screaming or violence as often seen on a Friday night in Auckland.


Sunday 20 November 2016

We had breakfast at the Westin Palace, a rather nice hotel nearby.

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We then visited the Palacio de Comunicaciones. This was originally the post office, telegraph and telephone centre and was built in 1904 with steel columns  to allow big spaces, open to the ceiling. Now an exhibition space, it is well worth a look. Unfortunately the observation tower was closed today because of bad weather.

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Around noon we took a taxi to Atocha Station to catch the fast train to Montpellier. We got to the first intersection to be turned back by the police. Large areas of the city seemed to be cordoned off. We don’t know why. Eventually the rather upset taxi driver got us to the station by circling around the city.The station has a Memorial rain forest in honour of 191 killed in the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid.

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Soon we were speeding across the arid Spanish countryside, at times just over 300kph – a little faster than Japan’s bullet train.

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