Madrid – City of Squares (but no grid)

From Barcelona, we travelled by train to Madrid. The Ave Train is a high speed train that whisks along at speeds up to 300 kph and gets you very comfortably from Barcelona to Madrid in just over 3 hours.

We arrived at the Puerta de Atocha station and undertook the walk to our hotel. It was under 30 minutes, but the first stretch was a bit uphill so we had a good workout. The Central Palace Hotel is located in Plaza de Oriente, directly across from the Palacio Royale. The hotel is excellent, with lovely big rooms and great service. Our room came with a rooftop terrace with a great view of the plaza and palace.

The 1.6 hectare gardens of the Plaza de Oriente were designed in geometrical shapes in order to provide air and enhance the façade of the Royal Palace. The equestrian statute of Philip IV stands out in the centre of the Plaza, which is flanked by statues of Spanish kings. It was wonderful to have a hotel facing directly onto the plaza (the pink building on the right).

Warner Brothers has made 30 replicas of the iconic “Friends” Central Perk couch and placed them at locations around the world to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the hit comedy’s premiere, on Sept. 22, 1994. When we came upon one in front of the Palace, we thought we should try it out.

Spain’s Royal Palace is touted as Europe’s third greatest palace, after Versailles and Schonbrunn, and we would agree with the assertion that it has the most sumptuous interior. It is massive, with 2800 rooms. The more than 20 rooms that tourists are allowed to visit are over-the-top with amazing glittering chandeliers and every possible surface covered with art – frescoes, tapestries, sculptures and more. It was an excellent visit, well worth the time and the 12 euro admission fee.

Next to the Palace is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena. Although the foundation stone for the church was laid in 1883, it was not completed and consecrated until 1993.

Behind the cathedral lies the beautiful Romanesque Revival crypt, which is the resting place of some of Spain’s most noble families, and to King Alfonso XII’s first wife María de las Mercedes de Orléans. The crypt has the same dimensions as the cathedral and is considered to be the largest crypt in the country. It has 20 chapels and features over 400 columns, each crowned by a different cap adorned with biblical figures, nature scenes and even the symbol of Madrid, the bear and the strawberry tree.  

Madrid is full of contrasts. The streets vary from the Grand Via, with its high-end stores and restaurants to the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter. The streets run in all directions – definitely no grid. There are a great many plazas – again, the contrast of the large ones, such as Plaza Mayor, with the picturesque neighbourhood squares. We much prefer the smaller streets and plazas, where few tourists venture and one can watch the locals go about their lives.

We happened upon a very fun street, Calle Pez, where Juan Perez, a long-time resident of Malasaña, has created quirky trouser flower pots that lean against lampposts the length of the street, and now is adding shoes to his repertoire.

On Sundays, the people of Madrid enjoy time with their families. They stroll together down the wide, tree-lined Paseo del Prado and we joined them for a delightful walk.

Next to the Paseo and also a gathering place for the local people is the 300 acre Parque del Buen Retiró. Once the private domain of Spanish royalty, it was opened to the public in the late 18th century.

The rose garden in the park was a lovely place for a rest. Even this late in the season, the roses were beautiful. One can imagine what it must be like when everything is in full bloom!

Situated amid the vivid colours of the park are the 19th century glass and iron Crystal Palace and El Estanqué, a lake where many had rented rowboats.

On our last evening, we discovered the Mercado de San Miguel just a couple of blocks away from our hotel. Very unfortunately, we had already had dinner and were leaving the next morning. So sad to have missed what looked like such a gastronomic delight!

However, we didn’t really suffer in our culinary explorations in Madrid – just to highlight a few: paella, churros with chocolate, 1 kilogram Spanish tortilla omelette, tapas and more!

Madrid certainly didn’t disappoint. It is a delightful mix of a modern cosmopolitan city with a family-oriented liveable city!

Cheers,

Bev & Harvey

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