My husband, adult son and I spent eight nights in Madrid most of which was during Holy Week (Semana Santa), the week leading up to Easter Sunday. I note some of the pros and cons we found with visiting Madrid during Easter.
by artslover on September 27, 2012
If you love art, the Prado Museum is a must visit. It is particularly strong on Spanish artists, Velazquez, Zubaran, El Greco, Goya, to name a few, but it also is a must visit for its great Titian works. The museum is encyclopedic in its permanent collection. The organization is generally by countries and historically. A long day at the museum will allow you to cover the highlights. Your admission permits you to leave, like we did in order to find lunch, and return without paying an additional entry fee.The gift shop was also worth a visit for some nice souvenirs.
I spent a long time researching on the internet for a good place for paella in Madrid which was also open on a Sunday. Sadly, many restaurants are closed on Sunday in Madrid. But happily, we found a good one. The restaurant was very busy but with the many different rooms, the ambiance with its homey decorations helped avoid the feeling of being in a crowded restaurant but more like a family gathering.There were a number of choices for paella. We chose the mixed, with a bit of seafood, chicken and sausage. The presentation is great as the server brings out the large pan, called something like a soccarat, and dishes it onto each individual's plate making sure you get something of all the different bits. It was so delicious and when we finished our plates, we were given more.We tried paella elsewhere during our visit but this place was the best.
Context Travel does the best walking tours we have ever enjoyed. The orientation to Madrid was no exception.Our docent, Almu, has a PhD in art history and after working abroad, had returned to her native Madrid. She put the city's landscape, architecture, cuisine and culture within the broad chronology of Spanish history.We walked all over the historic centre of Madrid learning about its history since it became the capital of Spain in the mid-sixteenth century. We learned about the Spanish monarchy from the French occupation and Civil War to the dictatorship in the 20th century. As we walked we also discussed Spanish cuisine, local craftsmanship, and the cultural life of Madrilenos. We looked at the San Miguel market, learned about jamon Iberico and talked about why meals seem to be so late. We also stopped in Puerta del Sol where the uprising against the French in 1808 took place and where the terror attacks of 2004 are commemorated.Beyond Spanish history and culture, our docent also helped us with our plans in Madrid and answered questions about shopping and museum going. It was a thoroughly worthwhile walk and set us up well for the rest of our stay in Madrid.
We went to a bullfight. This is what happened:First, the bull is let into the ring. Then, the top bullfighter called the Matador, watches his chief assistant wave a bright yellow and magenta (or pink) cape in front of the bull to make it charge. He watches this in order to determine the bull's qualities and mood, before taking over himself.Then a trumpet is sounded and several fighters called Picadores, lancers on horse back, weaken the bull by placing spears into it. The poor horses look to me to be the victims in this; some were lifted off their feet by the bull's horns. Hopefully, the padding around them was enough to prevent injury. Then three banderilleros run at the bull and insert spiked wooden sticks, banderillas, in the bull's neck. This takes around 10 minutes. By this point, the bull is seriously weakened.Another trumpet is sounded and the Matador now removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the president or the crowd before beginning his faena.The faena consists of a running at the Matador carrying a muleta, a piece of thick crimson cloth draped over a short stick and draped over the espada, the killing sword. Usually the muleta, in left or right hand, is first held in front of the matador to make the bull charge and is then swung across and away from the matador's body (hopefully) taking the bull with it.The matador stands some ten feet from the bull, keeping the bull fixated on the muleta and aims the espada between the shoulder blades. The matador attacks pushing the espada over the horns and deep between the shoulder blades. If the sword goes in to the hilt it is an estocada but if it hits bone it is a pinchazo or media-estocada. An estocada usually results in the bull dropping immediately to its knees and dying, but if the bull fails to die, the matador may take the descabello (a sword with a short cross piece at the end) which he stabs into the bull's neck severing the spinal cord. The fight is over.Six bulls are killed. We watched for about two hours. I did not take any photos of the bull getting killed.Would I go again? No. But I'm glad for the experience because now I think Hemingway was delusional to think this spectacle was some essence of manhood.
First, Easter is Spain is a big event. That might be expected because so many Spanish are at least nominally Catholic, but we have spent Easter in Italy which is also largely inhabited by Catholics and the public display, even in Rome, is nothing like Spain.On Palm Sunday, we saw many families walking with their huge palm branches, we guess, headed to or from church. And we saw tables of palm branches lining the streets.Most notable are the processions of penitents from various churches. They bring out their historic, precious icons, usually the Virgin Mary or Jesus (in various scenes leading to his crucifixion) or both May and Jesus, and paraded on a route going to and from their church. The intent is to show the Passion of Christ in a very public display. The processions are so popular and numerous we were able to pick up a booklet at various churches which listed the schedule for the processions and the routes, as well, there were posters advertising different processions in shop, restaurant and bar windows. But if it rains, like it did the Thursday we were there, the processions for that day were called off lest the icons, most of which are wooden and very old, get damaged.The icons are on a float, decorated with flowers, jewels and even burning candles, and carried by numerous (I assume strong) members of the brotherhood responsible for the procession. We were told that much effort goes into the decorations. The processions we saw included a band, mainly brass instruments and drums. Most notable were the penitents who were wearing a nazareno or penitential robe. This garment consists in a tunic, a hood with conical tip (capirote) used to conceal the face of the wearer, and a cloak. The colors and forms of these robes depend on the particular procession. The hood, mask and cloak look very much like the Ku Klux Klan costume and while the origins of the KKK gear is not certain, the likelihood that the two are related seems high given the similarity. Some of the penitents carried candles or rough-hewn wooden crosses, some walked the city streets barefoot.Even more surprising, from our secular North American point of view, was the reaction of some of the people watching the processions. Many were crying. Although the Easter Sunday processions were more upbeat with people smiling and the music of the bands less sombre. Our walking tour guide, who was from Madrid, explained that the processions were as much about being Spanish as being Catholic and that even she, who did not go to church otherwise, celebrated Easter by partaking in Spanish traditions.The processions occurred on various days but most were between Thursday and Sunday. Some started as early as 7:00 in the morning and others throughout the day and into the evening. They stopped traffic, which could make getting around a bit more challenging because some of the processions were long and everyone was moving slowly. The processions were televised, not only in Madrid, but you could turn on the tv and watch processions in other cities in Spain.Also interesting were the dress of some of the people lining the streets. Many were dressed up with women wearing black mantillas over a high comb. We saw similarly dressed women at some of the churches throughout the week.The other interesting experience because of Easter was the traditional desserts. A torrija is a bit like French toast or the French pain perdu, a bread soaked in egg and cream, then fried and dusted with sugar. The dish is much creamier than any French toast we have ever had and very, very sweet. But many people were crowding into pastry shops and walking out eating them on the streets. The other unique thing we saw, but did not sample, were cakes shaped like a nest with an egg in the centre, some had real eggs, others had chocolate eggs. And we tried the chocolate eggs which were made of very good chocolate, some with fillings, some were hollow with another chocolate inside.The downside of being in Madrid during Easter was the reduced hours or closure of many small shops and restaurants, particularly on Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. We were told flamenco dancing was not likely to be on during those days as well. There were, of course, some stores, especially the big ones, and restaurants open but many were not. Easter Monday is not a holiday in Madrid, although, we discovered it is a holiday in Barcelona.The Easter holiday did not affect any of the big museums we visited, the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza or Reina Sofia. It also did not stop bullfights on Sundays.The other really big downside of being in Madrid during Easter week was trying to get on a train at the last minute for a day trip out of Madrid. It seems like all the Madrileños were enjoying their holidays by going out of town by train. The trains were full going to Seville or Toledo. We did not book tickets ahead because we wanted to see what the weather was going to be like. Before we left, rain was predicted for most of the week and we did not want to be on a day trip walking around in the rain. As it turned out, it only rained during the day time on two of the nine days so a day trip would have been nice, but we could not book tickets for the times we wanted – a lesson learned. If you want to travel during Easter, pre-book.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009