Written by marif on 29 Jan, 2013
Similar to other big cities like Paris or Berlin, Madrid has a dense concentration of shops as exceptional and diverse as to render shopping around a thrilling feat of exploration. Discovering the delights of shopping in the Spanish capital has become the aspiration of many…Read More
Similar to other big cities like Paris or Berlin, Madrid has a dense concentration of shops as exceptional and diverse as to render shopping around a thrilling feat of exploration. Discovering the delights of shopping in the Spanish capital has become the aspiration of many visitors who include in their Madrid tour long hours of shopping at leisure. Most big cities are endowed with shop-until-you-drop department stores and Madrid is no exception. El Corte Ingles is Madrid’s comparable and only answer to Berlin’s Galeria Kaufhof or the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. With several branches spread out across the city, El Corte Ingles represents all that is good about retail business, particularly where the selection of commodities is concerned. The range of merchandise on display is vast beyond imagination, the quality is first-class and the prices are on the expensive side. It must be said that the opening of several branches of the El Corte Ingles chain (I have counted six but visited just three) across the entire city of Madrid has blown most retail competitors out of the water and consequently the chain has to some extent monopolized the market. The largest and most well-stocked El Corte Ingles branch is well out of the centre on Paseo de la Castellana in the neighbourhood of the Real Madrid stadium. If your time in Madrid is too precious to waste on travelling (at least, two metro rides are needed to reach the Nuevos Ministerios station near which this branch is located), then give this a miss and concentrate on the most central and oldest branch on Calle de Preciados, only a short walk north from Plaza de la Puerta del Sol. Although a dwarf (but it still occupies several blocks) when compared with the Castellana branch, it is a treasure-trove of practically anything you might need. Be it a particular book (surprisingly, it stocks a wide range of travel books in English, Rough Guides included), an item of hip clothing, a fine piece of jewellery or the latest range of tablet, they were all there on display when I visited. For your day-to-day consumables, move down to the basement floor where the wide range of groceries and delicatessens makes choice exacting and challenging. For souvenirs and gifts of quality (no gaudy plastic items, no made-in-China knickknacks), make a pilgrimage to the tourist department on the seventh floor where prices are reasonable and merchandise has …well, a touch of Spain somewhere. Several worthwhile facilities that have rendered shopping at El Corte Ingles a painless experience have recently been introduced. Worthy of mention are: money exchange service, a tourist information centre that provides multilingual interpreters, free distribution of city maps and a shopping card that allows for payment of all purchases in one transaction.Not quite a department store but still a megastore by the sheer size of the building is the French-owned FNAC, a multi-storey storehouse of books, movies, DVDs and the latest in technology gadgets. Located in the best part of the city on pedestrianized Calle de Preciados (with another entrance on Plaza de Callao) only a short walk away from the Preciados branch of the El Corte Ingles department store, FNAC is more than an ordinary book store where one calls in, makes one’s pick, pays and leaves. Visiting FNAC is an experience of browsing through books for as long as you like or listening to your favourite music on the deliberately and conveniently installed CD players. The ground floor is packed with display stands filled to capacity with international newspapers and periodicals. The adjacent cafeteria is an ideal place where you can skim through a magazine of your choice over a cup of coffee. No obligation whatsoever to buy; you are only obliged to put the magazine back on the stand before you leave. English-speaking book lovers will find a real treat on the third floor where the multilingual book section is located. The range of English paperbacks includes all the current bestsellers together with a fantastic selection of classics and book gift packs. The travel book English section includes most Rough Guides and Lonely Planet titles in addition to a wide range of atlases and city maps. Any literature concerning Spain whether travel, history or politics seems to be given pride of place, this section being so vast that I was spoilt for choice when I tried to look for a book about the Spanish Pyrenees. The district of Chueca, northeast of the centre consists of a conglomeration of narrow streets and quaint corners; it’s a wonder that amidst this hotchpotch of disorientation, one finds whole areas filled to capacity with the best bodegas and the most atmospheric tabernas (serving the widest range of tapas I’ve ever seen in Spain) in the capital. On the western periphery of Chueca is Calle de Fuencarral, a lengthy boulevard that runs across Madrid from north to south. The southern edge of Calle de Fuencarral has recently been pedestrianized offering a welcome relief to the dense concentration of shops that inhabit the area. Since the street has emerged from its noisy and traffic-choked atmosphere of yesterday, it has become a landmark of modernity and design, the hub of Madrid’s trendy fashion scene. Nowhere is this feeling of contemporaneity and creativity (or fashion mania?) savoured better than within the Mercado de Fuencarral. Originally a substandard vegetable market, the ‘mercado’ as it is still referred to by locals has been converted into a funky shopping centre geared to youth fashion and trendy wear. For her, three-coloured striped leggings, torn jeans and fluffy handbags seem to be the first choices; for him, silver-studded jackets, torn T-shirts and black leather are given priority above anything else. The names of the shops are as nasty and flashy as the merchandise inside but who cares? The ‘mercado’ is a Madrid symbol and will remain so until it keeps on providing an alternative off-the-mainstream shopping experience. A guarantee of exclusivity over purchases is confirmed later when friends keep asking: "Where did you buy that?" Madrid teenagers are indisputably passionate about the Mercado de Fuencarral; yet this sanctuary of grungy fashion is miles away from becoming the cream of the voguish crop. The place for upmarket high street fashion is not Chueca but Salamanca. Further east than Chueca, Salamanca is a district packed with gorgeous spaces where the best international fashion designers rub shoulders with their Spanish counterparts. Three main streets and several radiating side streets in Salamanca have turned into an arena of chic shops where stunning collections of exquisite clothes, groovy shoes and hard-to-find accessories are waiting to come into the possession of their choosy prospective buyers. Calle de Serrano is the busiest and most interesting street in the area. The exquisite and expensive fashion shops that line the walkways on both sides are a delight to explore, even if your budget is well below the high prices asked for design clothing with a personal touch at Agatha Luiz, Adolfo Dominguez or for that matter, any other fashion shop in the area. A sigh of relief is however felt as one turns on Calle de Goya where the quality remains high but the prices are more reasonable. Right on the corner between Serrano and Goya is a small eighteen-shop mall where fashion shops and cafeterias elbow for space amidst an abundance of greenery. The appropriately chosen name, El Jardin de Serrano, says it all.One more street where a sense of style and quality predominates is Calle de Jorge Juan. A considerable number of Spain’s outstanding designers congregated here and opened design centres where they could manufacture handmade items of exclusive quality and distinction. A pair of shoes from Maison Clergerie is a treasure to own; a pair of trousers from Sita Murt is a guarantee of a perfect fit, stylishness and absolute uniqueness.Madrid’s fashion shops are unquestionably as great as the international hot couture houses in Paris. In addition to these present-day storehouses of fashion and design, the Spanish capital embraces as well hundreds of small intimate shops where buying is a simple one-to-one affair and each transaction takes the form of a personalized conversation. One-room shops are obviously not restricted to clothing and fashion but indulge in all sorts of commercial activities. Central Madrid, particularly the area around Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is the hub of small-size businesses. The most apparent and those most frequented by visitors are the chocolate shops and the wine stores. But nothing is more reminiscent of Spain’s capital than a work of art, handmade in one of the several craftsmen’s ateliers that grace the old streets of Madrid. For genuine religious sculptures of distinction, head to Santarrufina on Calle de la Paz, right behind the main post office. The three-storey display of hand-sculpted statues, hand-woven church vestments, stained-glass panels, silverware and paintings is as appealing and priceless as the pieces one sees in a museum of art. Close
Written by marif on 22 Jan, 2013
Heavily polluted with traffic smog, hot and dry like a desert for most of the year, bereft of invigorating breezes from the sea or the mountains and yet… Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest cities. The River Manzanares that passes through the capital is only…Read More
Heavily polluted with traffic smog, hot and dry like a desert for most of the year, bereft of invigorating breezes from the sea or the mountains and yet… Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest cities. The River Manzanares that passes through the capital is only a small body of flowing water when compared with mighty rivers like the Danube but its ecological importance to the city cannot be underestimated. The Santillana Reservoir, a huge man-made lake-like water reserve northwest of the capital in the region of Manzanares el Real is Madrid’s chief source of water and consequently its life-sustaining artery and its vital root of thriving existence.Originating several miles away from the capital at the foot of the Guadarrama mountain range, exactly where several streams and rivulets that run down the mountain slopes meet, the River Manzanares flows towards the capital passing en route through spectacular terrain before it reaches the Santillana Reservoir, located about thirty miles northwest of Madrid. Providing most of the water necessary for the domestic, industrial and irrigational needs of the capital and other cities in the neighbourhood, the Santillana Reservoir is in addition a peaceful lakeside locality where one can enjoy a one-day break at ease away from the bustling environment of Madrid. Visitors who are reluctant or unenthusiastic to venture beyond the city limits but still crave for a spring-like ambience of grassy landscape will find right in the city centre a fair share of parks and gardens ideal for walking, sightseeing and recreation. Some of these spaces of greenery are large enough for a whole day of walking around at leisure; others are much larger and wilder and so require a good map that points out the routes and pathways so as to make navigation easy and painless. Other green zones are loaded with attractions and walking at leisure from one attraction to the other is a real pleasure, particularly in winter when the weather is fresh and allows for physical exertion without sweating and fatigue. East of the city centre and north of the Antigua Estacion de Atocha, the Parque del Buen Retiro is Madrid’s modest answer to the chateau gardens at Versailles southwest of Paris. The gardens at Versailles are much larger and undeniably more majestic and pretentious but Madrid’s most glorious and popular public park is nonetheless crammed with attractions that make strolling around a feat of exploration. Several wide gravel-covered promenades (each is named after a South American country) lined with old trees on both sides and split down the middle by a tract of mown grass crisscross the park, giving it an air of openness and space. The extensive Paseo de Argentina on the west edge of the grounds is the park’s most extravagant walkway. Littered with marble statues of Spanish kings and bedded with patches of blooming shrubs (showy azaleas and dark pink begonias were all there when I walked along), it is a great spot to hang out in and relish at leisure. One other spectacular promenade that visitors will probably walk along in their attempt to reach the Palacio de Velazquez (a miniature Prado with neo-classical architectural features and temporary displays of classical paintings) is Paseo de Venezuela. Wilder and more natural than Paseo de Argentina, less popular and so ideal for a romantic walk, it runs across a fertile wooded zone of old chestnut trees that afford basic protection from the weather. Midway on Paseo de Venezuela is the Fuente de la Alcachofa, a monumental stone assemblage of tritons supporting the weight of the coat of arms of Madrid. Paseo de Venezuela pays tribute to Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Spanish neuroscientist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, who is immortalized in a majestic stone-and-bronze monument on one edge of the promenade.Several other tree-lined avenues, some wide and straight as a roadway, others narrow and intriguing as a treasure-hunt track traverse the park providing hikers and picnickers with enough opportunities for at least a day. While walking at leisure, it is advisable to look around attentively because the place hosts a considerable number of unpretentious attractions (artistically designed and groomed lawns, elegant displays of manicured hedgerows, quaint statues holed up amidst the trees) that do not show up in guide books but are nonetheless pleasing and interesting. Five gates allow access to the park and all are open from early morning (6:00 am daily) till late at night (10:00 pm winter season, 12:00 pm summer season) but for reasons of proximity to a metro station and guidebook hype, only two are popular with tourists. The main official gateway and the one commonly used is the Puerta de la Independencia near Plaza de Cibeles (Closest metro: Retiro). From here, Avenida de Mejico runs straight to the Estanque, a spectacular man-made pond of huge proportions and the most favoured spot within the entire park. Closer to the Prado Museum and consequently ideal for visitors who are making their way on foot from the Prado to the Retiro Park is the Puerta de Felipe IV (Closest metro: Atocha). From this entrance, Paseo de Paraguay leads to Plaza de Honduras from where the Estanque is within earshot. The main feature of the Parque del Buen Retiro and the spot where tourists and madrilenos come together to celebrate or listen to popular music is the Monument to King Alfonso XII. A semi-circular colonnaded walkway complete with an intricately sculpted frieze and a grand staircase watched over by a pack of bronze lions, it is crowned with a prominent bronze cast of King Alfonso XII on horseback. The ensemble is unquestionably a great artistic achievement for the architect responsible for its design; it becomes an extraordinary sight when one takes into account the area where it is located. Right below the monument is the magnificent Estanque around which people gather, buskers perform and children play. Renting a paddle boat and going up and down the lake is apart from walking the best way to burn up your remaining energy.Before you depart, make sure to look at the Palacio de Cristal, an unusual metal-and-glass pavilion that is indisputably the most extraordinary structure in the park. Further south on Paseo de Uruguay is the Rosaleda, a wonderful rose garden with four thousand species wrapped up in a maze of leaf-covered archways. South of the Museo del Prado and only fifty metres away from the westernmost edge of the Retiro Park is the Glorieta de Murillo where the entry gate to Madrid’s Botanical Garden is located. Small when compared with the Retiro Park and apportioned into sections so as to make navigation effortless, it is a sanctuary of world plants, some providing a source of astonishment for visitors on account of their peculiar exotic beauty, colour or queer appearance. Students of Botany and Biology will find in the gardens enough Latin names to fill a book; non-specialists will be aroused by the unusual collection of Namibian cacti that look more like lifeless stalagmites rather than respiring living plants. Even if your knowledge of world flora does not go beyond the plants in your back garden, make sure to spend some time in the garden’s archive to inspect a priceless collection of plant drawings that are as awe-inspiring as the real thing. Madrid’s visitors whose craving for the wild goes beyond groomed parks or who insist upon more challenging terrain than the Retiro Park affords should in no way feel dissatisfied. West of the city centre and only a short metro ride to station Moncloa is the Parque del Oeste, a forested area where the ambience is definitely tougher and more crude than within the prescriptive Retiro Park. Parque del Oeste is not only a natural wild zone of tree-infested tracts ideal for walking but is in addition Madrid’s serendipitous spot where simple attractions are thrown in here and there solely for the sake of discovery. The park’s huge Rosaleda, though not as well-kept as its equivalent in the Retiro Park is nonetheless a prime attraction.Near the park’s Rosaleda on Paseo del Pintor Rosales is the lower station of the teleferico or cable car that whisks visitors up to the Casa de Campo, an indigenous area afforested with pine, oak, ash and chestnut trees. The view from the cable car over the entire capital of Spain is the reason why visitors should use the teleferico rather than the metro to reach this amazing playground. Ideal for trekking, picnicking and cycling, probably with few visitors around, Casa de Campo comprises in addition a zoo, an extensive recreation area, an artificial lake and an amusement park. Nothing unusual or extravagant but there’s so much to see and so much to do that a whole day is needed if one wants to get anything more than a general overview. Adults will find the leisure areas and the park’s theatre appealing, interesting and relaxing; children and children-at-heart will find the roller coaster rides joyous and entertaining. Who would want to leave? Close
Written by marif on 07 Jan, 2013
Madrid is an ideal winter destination. Winter in the Spanish capital is only a mild and short spell of cold weather with occasional outbreaks of rain and frost that never last more than a few days. Contrary to north European destinations where the winter season…Read More
Madrid is an ideal winter destination. Winter in the Spanish capital is only a mild and short spell of cold weather with occasional outbreaks of rain and frost that never last more than a few days. Contrary to north European destinations where the winter season is long, harsh and gloomy, Madrid is blessed with temperate weather that is never bleak or bitter and consequently allows for leisurely walks, street partying and outdoor celebrations. Unpredictable weather in Madrid is as rare as a snowstorm but it is nevertheless advisable to carry a hooded raincoat if one intends to spend intervals of time in one of the parklands that unfold along the peripheral zones of the inner city.Come rain or shine, one can never be at a loss when one visits Madrid in winter. Even if one’s trip coincides unexpectedly with inclement weather or bouts of heavy rainfall, one will find in the Spanish capital enough weatherproof attractions to occupy oneself for days, if not for weeks.Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s geographical centre, a busy square and metro interchange where the city’s three most frequented underground train lines intersect. West of Plaza del Sol and easily reachable on foot or via line 2 of the metro to station Opera is a conglomeration of stately buildings, memorable reminiscences of distinction that expose with excellence the former grandness of imperial Spain. Northwest of this palatial complex and obscured by two distinct green belts of woodland, lawns and shady pathways lies Estacion de Principe Pio, a major transport interchange of metro lines, suburban railways and intercity buses that trippers will find inevitably useful for southbound trips to neighbouring cities. East of Plaza del Sol and only a half-an-hour stroll away or a short metro ride on line 1 to station Atocha lies one of Europe’s greatest oasis of greenery. Cut across by streets and several endless passageways, this city sanctuary of extensive grasslands, formal gardens and shady woodlands is appropriately named the Parque del Buen Retiro. A grand park of retreat, seclusion and contemplation, it unquestionably is but it represents in addition the entirety of Spanish history, culture and art at its finest and not-so-fine moments. In actual fact, most of the park’s outbuildings, palaces and royal structures, formerly used by the Spanish royalty as auxiliary country residences were turned into some of the best world art galleries. Renowned worldwide for grandness, aesthetics or originality, three of Europe’s greatest museums of paintings are located on the west edge of the park. These are: the Museo del Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. If after visiting these three art centres, your appetite for things cultural has not yet been satiated with excellence, finesse and beauty, then proceed to the Museo de Artes Decorativas located north of the Museo del Prado on Calle de Montalban. It contains a varied and sumptuous accumulation of decorative antiques that symbolise in no small way the former artistic taste of the privileged classes in medieval Spain. Several smaller thematic museums dot the park, making leisurely walking around a feat of discovering their location. The excellent Museo Postal y Telegrafico (free admission) on the northwest edge of the park looking over Plaza Cibeles contains besides other communication-related material complete collections of Spanish stamps, historical postcards and war memorabilia letters that appeal to philatelists and historians alike but obviously for distinct reasons. Three centuries of world philately are represented through numerous stamp collections from all parts of the world while two centuries of telegraphy and telephony are explored through displays of authentic equipment, illustrations, posters and documentation. South of the Parque del Buen Retiro and only a short eastbound walk away from the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is Antigua Estacion de Atocha, one of Madrid’s two main train stations. Most trains travelling south to other destinations in Spain (Valencia, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada and many other cities) depart from Atocha. Besides being Madrid’s largest and most popular train hub, Atocha station is one of the city’s major attractions. With a steel-and-glass roof of extravagant proportions, Atocha is a merger of train terminals and shopping malls complete with a stunning tropical garden that occupies most of the central plaza. The station complex is surprisingly beautiful; it turns into a gem of architectural beauty and exquisite design when one becomes aware that this extraordinary feat of engineering has been here for more than a century. My first tour of Madrid on arrival late in the evening was an unhurried stroll along Calle Mayor starting from Plaza del Sol to Calle de Bailen. Hanging around on Plaza Mayor amidst hundreds of colourful stalls at a time of celebrations, flickering lights and Christmas decorations was the most memorable part of my initial familiarization with Madrid. On reaching Calle de Bailen, it was pitch dark and although the atmosphere in the neighbourhood of the Royal Palace and the Royal Theatre was still lively and exciting beyond restraint (enlivened at times with band music), I decided to return to my hotel with the intention to explore at ease the attractions in the area the next day.I started early from Plaza del Sol where my hotel was conveniently located with a leisurely walk west along Calle del Arenal, peeping occasionally into the side streets to discover the area in an atmosphere of peacefulness with few people around. Of special interest is the Church of St Gines, a tiny place of worship located on a small atmospheric square midway between Plaza del Sol and the Royal Theatre. Close to the church, another place of worship (obviously not for believers but for lovers of chocolate-filled confections) is the Chocolateria de San Gines, a legendary Madrid institution that serves the best hot chocolate and deep-fried doughnuts in town. Right in front of Plaza de San Gines is Calle de San Martin, a charming old-world street that leads straight to Madrid’s oldest sanctuary of faith. Called the Convento de Las Descalzas Reales, it is a huge working monastery enclosed within high windowless walls that seem gloomy and uninteresting from the outside. But on going inside, one will encounter a museum of frescoes, tapestries and wonderful paintings that decorate befittingly most of the thirty-three internal chapels. A short walk further west on Calle del Arenal placed me right near the city’s Opera House. Known by madrilenos as the Teatro Real, it is a huge detached building with a hexagonal design, grey, dull and austere with regards to external architectural features but extravagant and gaudy inside with a lot of deep red drapery and glimmering gold ornamentation. A ticket for a night at the Teatro Real is as expensive as a night’s accommodation in a five-star hotel in the centre but for much less, one can enjoy the place (on a guided tour only) without the music. Right in front of the Opera House lies one of Madrid’s most elegant breathing spaces. Called Plaza de Oriente, it is a monumental semi-circular zone of immaculately-kept formal gardens, gravel-covered passageways and areas reserved for recreation. Lining the crisscrossing passageways is a beautiful display of twenty-five life-size marble statues of monarchs who formerly ruled over Spain. On one edge of the plaza is Café de Oriente, a restaurant and coffee shop with shaded open-air dining areas that afford excellent views over the square and the Royal Palace.Admiring the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) from Plaza de Oriente does not do justice to this colossal masterpiece of stone and granite. The French classical architecture of the main façade, adorned with rows of statues and Doric pilasters can only be fully cherished and appreciated from Plaza de la Armeria, the huge square around which the palace complex is skilfully constructed. Queues to enter the palace may be long and tiresome and unless one comes early, one will easily spend a whole day here just to get a general overview of the interior. The palace is huge (almost three thousand rooms, although only few of these can be visited) and once one gets in the line of visitors between roped-off areas, it is practically impossible to do anything else other than keep moving. The redeeming factor is the excellent audio guide that dishes out concise but otherwise interesting explanations of the exhibits and leads visitors from one room to the next in an orderly and well-organized manner.Out of the palace on Plaza de la Armeria, two other attractions (one on each side of the main building) demand a brief stop. Overlooking the Campo del Moro is the Imperial Armoury, a huge display of shiny weapons, breastplates and mannequins of soldiers in armour. More interesting is the Royal Pharmacy on the east side of the plaza. Amidst thousands of old bottles filled with medicinal concoctions, one can see a distilling apparatus that is still capable of producing drops of curative distillate out of herbal leaves. Close
Written by marif on 22 Dec, 2012
Madrid in summer is an unbearable haunt of stifling hotness that leaves visitors breathless and takes away their enthusiasm for exploration and sightseeing. For this reason, well-off madrilenos (and most residents appear to fall in this category, showing that the economic recession in Spain seems…Read More
Madrid in summer is an unbearable haunt of stifling hotness that leaves visitors breathless and takes away their enthusiasm for exploration and sightseeing. For this reason, well-off madrilenos (and most residents appear to fall in this category, showing that the economic recession in Spain seems to have left little or no dire effects on the capital) leave the capital for a summer recess and travel north where the temperature is more tolerable and the sea ambience provides a cool invigorating atmosphere that contrasts deeply with the hot humidity of the inland cities. I was in Madrid last summer but my repeated attempts to travel around independently and look into the churches, museums and gardens for which the Spanish capital is so gloriously renowned proved futile. Steamily hot, the capital was rendered unwalkable except perhaps at night when obviously all places of interest were closed. Consequently, I decided to cut short my Madrid tour after a stopover of only two days but with the intention to revisit as soon as the weather cools off.My second visit to Madrid in December was contrary to the first one a real treat. Although the streets and squares of the central zone were invaded by swarms of visitors and I was on many occasions compelled to push to make my way through, the general ambience was so great and the atmosphere so intimate that I enjoyed every minute to the full. The weather was perfect for strolling around, the parks and grasslands were as green as any well-groomed house garden in spring and with Christmas just round the corner the partying atmosphere of fiesta reached an all-time high.A tour of Madrid probably starts at Madrid’s Barajas airport, ten miles northeast of the city centre. The best way into town from any of the four arriving terminals is the metro, line 8 offering a direct twenty-minute link between Barajas and Nuevos Ministerios, north of the centre. Being a major metro interchange, Nuevos Ministerios connects with line 6 (a circular route that runs around the inner city) and line 10 (a route that cuts diagonally across the city from its northeast station Hospital Infanta Sofia to its southwest station Puerta del Sur), making one’s way to the centre an easy feat of travelling quickly and cheaply.Madrid’s most popular square and meeting place is also its geographical centre. Named Plaza de la Puerta del Sol but popularly referred to simply as Sol, it is the best place to linger around if one wants to get a real taste of old Madrid. The square has no particular attractions but the atmosphere of rowdiness created by noisy madrilenos on the move is enough to justify a repeated leisurely walk around. The buildings that surround the square are typical of imperial Madrid, ostentatious and imposing but their otherwise monumental architecture fades into insignificance as the restaurants that occupy their ground floor open their doors for a long day of activity. Restaurant owners are undoubtedly privileged to occupy a nook here from which they can make good money but … aren’t such spots of indulgence out of place within a historical quarter? The network of busy metro lines under the square are rightly out of sight except for two unobtrusive access entrances that lead to the city’s most frequented abysmal stations. On the east edge of this vast space stands a small monument that is neither artistic nor particularly attractive. Often missed out by sightseers due to its out-of-the-way location and its diminutive dimensions, it is nevertheless a symbol of the city, a historical representation of allegory and folklore. A smaller-than-life bronze bear, black with pollution stretches itself upright against the trunk of a ‘madrono’ tree in an attempt to reach the fruit at the top. Two other more imposing monumental statues stand on Plaza de la Puerta del Sol but it is the bear and the ‘madrono’ tree that madrilenos find most endearing and precious.December on Plaza del Sol is a month of non-stop celebrations. Madrilenos have a passion for religious festivities and needless to say most are well versed in the art of merrymaking. During the Christmas season, Plaza del Sol and the streets that radiate from it turn into one huge manifestation of carefree enthusiasm where the holiday spirit can be experienced twenty-four hours a day. An eighteen-metre high Christmas tree brightened with thousands of Christmas lights and glittering decorations is set up on the square right in front of the old post office. Several smaller but equally eye-catching nativity decorations like five-pointed stars, artificial snowmen and life-size Christmas statues are thrown in here and there to add to the Christmas atmosphere. Coming here after six in the evening is tantamount to experiencing more than three million dazzling lights that are spread over the most popular streets of the centre like coloured speckles of brightness joined together with partially visible strands. Shop fronts are needless to say decorated with more flickering lights that add to the Christmas spirit and tempt passers-by to look more closely at the display. Blanketed in more dazzling lights is the widespread façade of the Corte Ingles department store, an exposition of dangling threads of sparkles and multi-coloured radiance. A repeated up-and-down leisurely walk along Calle Mayor from Plaza del Sol to Calle de Bailen is an unforgettable encounter with the characteristic features of medieval Madrid. Although most of Calle Mayor has been unfortunately transformed heedlessly into a clamorous shopping district of small individual shops, the street is nonetheless still crammed with old-world charm and stunning architecture. A short westbound walk from Plaza del Sol followed by a sharp turn left on Calle de Felipe III brings one right on Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s most imposing piazza and its most important centre of attraction. Sitting on an elevated rectangular plot of land, Plaza Mayor is indisputably Madrid’s heart, an enclosure formed by four rows of grand buildings that retain uniformity of design and colour. The unique appearance of the piazza reaches its height in the exterior architectural beauty of the Casa de la Panaderia, an impressive building that boasts two side towers and three tiers of exquisite frescoes that run along the whole length of the façade. During the Christmas season, Plaza Mayor turns into an open-air market that brims with rows of colourful stalls stocked to capacity with all sorts and sizes of Christmas statuettes and other Christmas-related creations. Some items on display are mass-produced moulds of resinous material and have little artistic value; other items are handmade works of art, sculpted, painted and gilded by Spanish master craftsmen and consequently carry a certificate of origin. Under the arched walkways and conveniently sheltered from rain and frost are several more stalls that do not however deal in Christmas items but are entirely reserved for philatelists, numismatists and card collectors. The atmosphere on the square particularly after dark when everywhere glitters and flickers with colourful incandescence is lively, exciting and bustling but never business-like. Coming here at night is a guarantee that the Christmas spirit of the Spanish capital will tug at your heartstrings and stir your emotions to join in the fun and merrymaking. Down from Plaza Mayor followed by a short walk west on Calle Mayor brings one near Plaza de la Villa, an unpretentious piazza that embraces a wealth of Madrid-style architecture that is at least four centuries old. Well preserved, the buildings on the square are composed of brick, stone and granite merged in such a way as to create a unique style of design and adornment. The most eye-catching building is the Old Town Hall, a red-orange graceful baroque structure with two slate-roofed corner towers. The oldest is the Gothic Torre de los Lujanes, another merger of brick and stone that dates back to the fifteenth century. The last section of Calle Mayor, further west than Plaza de la Villa is less crowded and has fewer crowd-pulling attractions. It is chock-a-block with small shops of all sorts; to peep in even if you do not intend to buy is a delightful experience shop owners in Madrid accept with favour. Bakeries, florists, souvenir shops, tea shops and coffee shops abound. Less abundant but perhaps more tempting are the artisanal shops and antiquarians whose displays of fine art, artistic handicrafts and collector’s items are often as interesting, fascinating and nostalgic as the pieces you see in a museum. The westernmost edge of Calle Mayor is characterized by a number of nondescript buildings that lack architectural features worthy of note. But further west across Calle de Bailen, the area is one huge venue of sightseeing attractions that can easily keep one occupied for a whole day. The highlight is indisputably the Royal Palace, a huge baroque three-storey place that incorporates in addition to the Royal Chambers, the Royal Library, the Imperial Armoury, the Royal Pharmacy and the meticulously kept Sabatini Gardens. 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Written by artslover on 27 Sep, 2012
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…Read More
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.Close
Written by Mark Gokingco on 28 Oct, 2010
Again, remember I purchased a round-trip transfer from the cruise back to the airport. Other than the early wake up call, the transfer went very smoothly and our luggage was transferred equally as smoothly. We arrived in Madrid around 2pm to begin our…Read More
Again, remember I purchased a round-trip transfer from the cruise back to the airport. Other than the early wake up call, the transfer went very smoothly and our luggage was transferred equally as smoothly. We arrived in Madrid around 2pm to begin our 4 day visit of Madrid.For Madrid, I purchased a two day pass on the Madrid Vision which is their hop on, hop off double decker bus to give us not only an orientation of the city but also a good idea of the major sites and monuments of the city. After collecting our bags at Madrid airport, we found ourselves hailing a cab no more than 10 minutes later. Remember that there is no immigration or customs to visit from one European Union country to another which made it nice. It was as if you were flying from one state of the US to another.A cab ride from Madrid Barajas International Airport to Centro (city center) was around $40 Euros. You’ll find yourself spending more arranging yourself a private pickup. Unless you are by yourself, purchasing a shared ride van transfer isn’t economical. They run around $20 to $25 Euros per person and you’ll be sharing the van with a bunch of other people. In which case, you may not even get dropped off first so some time could be wasted there sitting in traffic while you wait to drop off other passengers. For the same approximate price, getting a cab would be the best bet since the airport is not far from city center.Our hotel was recommended by a colleague who lived in the city called Principe Pio. The hotels location is awesome! About a 4 block walk to the Gran Via or Plaza de Espana and around a 5 block walk to Plaza de Mayor. The Hop on Hop Off bus tour picks up in the Plaza de Espana area which is a 5 minute walk. The hotel itself has the view of the Palace which was nice. Now the hotel isn’t very luxurious. I paid less than $100 per night on the room (try looking for that in Madrid… good luck!) but at least it was clean. It is a bit on the smallish side and the walls were a bit thin but for the price I paid that included breakfast?? I’m not complaining. The location itself should alleviate any unfavorable things. You can stay at other hotels near the area of this hotel but you will pay around $200 per night I swear to you. If you have that much dough, go for it. Unlike me, my thought is that I’m there in Madrid to see the sites, not to stay in my hotel room all day long.After seeing the sites on Madrid Vision, my wife and I had a quick meal on Gran Via at McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds! Believe It or not, after eating really good meals on-board the Equinox and then good local food at some of the cities we visited, a comforting Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with cheese, that phenomenal golden fries and a diet coke seemed OH SO GOOOOOD! We miss home of course after being gone for so long and a trip to Mickey-D’s certainly recharged our batteries.Close
Written by travelwisdom on 27 May, 2005
Today is our first typical day at Pueblo Ingles. Think of it as a "musical Spaniards" talk-athon. Wake-up calls come promptly at 8:15am, and we all head to breakfast. There is no assigned seating, but each table for four must include two Anglos and two…Read More
Today is our first typical day at Pueblo Ingles. Think of it as a "musical Spaniards" talk-athon. Wake-up calls come promptly at 8:15am, and we all head to breakfast. There is no assigned seating, but each table for four must include two Anglos and two Spaniards for breakfast conversation. The potent Spanish café con leche wakes us up and give us a jumpstart on the day.
Following breakfast, it’s off to check our morning schedules. Beginning at 10am, for the next 4 hours we are paired off each hour for one-on-one conversations. Pueblo Ingles director, tall, dark, and handsome Alvaro Medina, keeps both groups on track and focused. There is levity and laughter but no time for slacking here. Schedules are rigidly structured and maintained. The Spaniards love to walk, so most of our talks are outside walking the pathways of the past in the crisp and invigorating mountain air. We average walking about 3 miles each day.
There are no assigned conversation topics, so virtually anything goes. During the first day, conversations are superficial, primarily about jobs, families, and program expectations. We quickly learn that just because our Spanish partner nods and says yes, they do not necessarily understand what we are saying.
As the week goes by, topics become increasingly more meaningful and intense. Discussions include sharing thoughts on the threat of terrorism, the war in Iraq, religious differences, gay marriage, and personal problems, hopes, and dreams. There are also many hours spent discussing the intricacies and inconsistencies of English verbs, nouns, and slang. How do you explain why you wind a clock, but the wind blows your hair?
A late lunch at 2pm each day and dinner at 9pm follow the same format of four per table and new partners at each meal. Spanish wines flow freely with meals. Perhaps the wine helps loosen our tongues and reduce inhibitions, but there is no abuse in quantity consumed. Following lunch, a welcomed siesta until 5pm gives our vocal chords time to rest.
Then, late afternoon finds our entire group convening at the Meeting House for group activities. Greg Stanford, our incorrigible and entertaining master of ceremonies, leads us through group discussions, improvisational skits, and impromptu performances with humor and flair.
There is no break in the evening. At 6, 7, and 8pm there are three more one-on-one talk sessions before dinner at 9pm. As each day passes, dinners become longer as we linger with our new friends over coffee and (of course) more conversation. Bedtime is rarely before midnight, and with younger Anglos and Spaniards, interaction often continues until the wee hours.
This may sound somewhat grueling, and the days are long and often intense, but around day three, the magic that Vaughan spoke of begins to emerge. We discover that the Spaniards are extremely intelligent, warm, polite, and generous. They discover that we are sincerely interested in their success and that we all have much in common in spite of our diversity.
In addition to our paired conversations, there are telephone conference calls with business scenario role plays. Each of the Spaniards must also do a 5-minute presentation for small groups of Anglos. I will never forget the poignant presentation by Miguel. As he tells us about a terrible family tragedy that has affected his life over the past 5 years, we all shed tears and share his sorrow and his dreams for a brighter future. Later, Lucia brings tears of laughter to our eyes with her description of a very different personal journey that went awry.
Surprise activities keep days and evenings from becoming monotonous. One evening we were treated to a Queimada ceremony. Queimada is an ancient potion of potent brandy and other liquors. It is mixed in a large vat and flamed to the tune of ancient incantations in Spanish and English to "drive away evil spirits." We decide that possibly the next morning, the Spaniards will speak perfect English and we will awaken speaking Spanish.
A few nights later, at the sangria party, our Spanish friends attempt to teach us the flamenco and the paso doble. It is amazing to watch as each day their English fluency becomes more pronounced.
Mid-way through the week, we take a field trip. As a group, we walk into Barco de Avila for guided tour of this 12th-century walled city, a visit to local cafés and shops, and to view gigantic stork nests atop the churches. We are introduced to Spanish chocolat and churros, a hot, thick, rich hot chocolate and a fried doughnut-like pastry. Our students become our teachers, helping us negotiate and purchase souvenirs and mementos of our trip.
Too quickly, the final day of our program rolls around. This is a sad and happy day. Today, March 11, is the first anniversary of the Madrid Train Bombing. We have a moment of silence at the hour the tragedy occurred. Tears are shed and memories are shared of friends and family lost that day. Victor’s son and his three friends always rode that train. His son was not on the train on March 11, 2004. His three friends all died that day.
Our day ends with a graduation celebration. As each of our Spaniards receives his or her certificate, we cheer like proud parents. As we receive our Certificates of Appreciation, our Spanish friends cheer with equal pride and affection. As we board the bus for the trip back to Madrid, there were tears, hugs, and promises to stay in touch. The magic that Richard Vaughan promised was tangible.
One of our Spanish friends expressed the Pueblo Ingles experience perfectly, saying, "We came together as strangers with many misconceptions about each other and our diverse cultures. We ended the week as friends with the realization that we are much more alike than we are different."
Since we returned home, several times each day, I find myself wondering how Jose Antonio’s big English presentation in Orlando went, whether Fernando (a captain with Iberia Airlines) will get a route to the US, or how Elena, Gemma, Pepe, and the others are doing. How is their English progressing? Emails and photographs flow back and forth daily from around the world. Thanks for the recipe, Joaquin; we will think of you each time we prepare it and we’ll be sure to put in the cups of love and Gredos memories you included in the ingredients.
Would we like to participate in Pueblo Ingles again? Absolutely! We have traveled throughout the world and enjoyed many memorable travel experiences, but our week in Gredos with Pueblo Ingles was truly the most rewarding travel experience we have shared. The days were long, tiring, and often frustrating for both Anglos and Spaniards. The rewards were great. We feel we left Spain with much more than we gave, and we heard that sentiment expressed by many of our fellow Anglos.
Does Pueblo Ingles sound intriguing to you? Are you truly a person who enjoys talking for hours with different kinds of people? Can you talk on a lot of different subjects? During 2005, the three venues for Pueblo Ingles will require over 1,200 Anglo volunteers. Plans are also in the works a similar program in Tuscany. For more information about Pueblo Ingles venues and programs, visit www.vaughanvillage.com.
Written by KJP on 22 Aug, 2004
With more than forty public parks and gardens, Madrid boasts an abundance of greenery that rivals most any other major city in Europe. What’s more, these are some of the most beautiful and impeccably maintained parks I’ve seen. Here’s a primer on just a few…Read More
With more than forty public parks and gardens, Madrid boasts an abundance of greenery that rivals most any other major city in Europe. What’s more, these are some of the most beautiful and impeccably maintained parks I’ve seen. Here’s a primer on just a few of Madrid’s most popular sites.
Parque del Retiro
The Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s most famous park. Once the playground for Spain’s monarchs and their guests, it encompasses over 350 acres in Bourbon Madrid. The heart of the park is a large boating lake, where you can rent a rowboat or enjoy a leisurely lunch on the steps of the crescent-shaped colonnade below the equestrian Monument of Alfonso XII.
The boating lake and Monument of Alfonso XII at the Parque del Retiro.
Besides the boating lake, there are plenty of fountains, statues, flowerbeds and walkways. The areas near the entrances (Calle Alfonso XII, Calle Alcalá, Plaza de la Independencia and Avenida Menéndez Pelayo) are particularly well maintained. If you venture off on some of the less traveled paths, however, you’ll find that the foliage is more or less left to its own devices. There are many unpaved walking paths, and if there have been recent rains you can expect to encounter some puddles and general sogginess that may force you to retrace your steps and head for higher ground.
The Retiro reminds me of New York’s Central Park. With children's play areas, numerous outdoor cafes, picnic pavilions, a puppet theater, and exhibition hall, there never seems to be a shortage of activity. We took a leisurely stroll through the park after visiting the Museo del Prado, and returned a couple of days later to enjoy a lunch of bread, cheese, fruit and serrano ham we’d purchased at the Mercado de San Miguel as we sat on a bench overlooking the lake.
Location: Calle Alfonso XII
Metro: Retiro (L2); Ibiza (L9); Atocha (L1)
Parque del Oeste
Occupying high ground above Rio Manzanares, the Parque del Oeste lies at the western edge of Madrid. Designed in the English style by Cecilio Rodríguez early in the 20th century, this is one of the best landscaped and most meticulously maintained parks I’ve ever seen. The area around the park is quite hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to climb stairs and navigate some steep sidewalks.
You’ll find spacious green lawns, large shady trees, and sandy walking paths. It appears to be the park of choice for college students from the nearby university whom, if the weather’s nice, you’ll see studying, sunbathing, or idly passing the time. In the lower half of the park you’ll find the Rosaleda, or rose garden, where a rose show is held each spring.
Looking eastward at the two gateways of the Templo de Debod.
At the southern end of the park is Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century B.C. The temple was recovered from an area flooded by the construction of a dam, and was given to Spain in honor of the participation of Spanish engineers in the project. It’s been reassembled in a stunningly beautiful setting along with two of the original three gateways, which are surrounded by a u-shaped pond. The Templo de Debod alone makes a trip to the Parque del Oeste a must see for visitors to Madrid. As an added bonus, a scenic view of the Palacio Real can be enjoyed just west of the temple. This was probably my favorite park in Madrid.
Location: Paseo del Pintor Rosales
Metro: Moncloa (L3, L6); Argüelles (L3, L4, L6); Principe Pío (L6, L10)
Campo del Moro
The Campo del Moro, or Field of the Moor, just west of the Palacio Real, is highlighted by an enormous lawn and shady walking paths, and offers a spectacular view of the palace. The park gets its name from a Moorish army led by Ali be Yusuf, who camped here in 1109 when his troops fought against the Christian army during the reconquest of Spain. The site has had a checkered past. It’s been a jousting ground for knights and a luxurious playground for children of the royal family. It was closed under General Franco, and was not reopened until 1983.
Immaculately maintained lawns at Campo del Moro, with the Palacio Real in the background.
Today, the only way into the park is from the northwest entrance on Paseo Virgen del Puerto. With just one way in and one way out, either take the metro to Principe Pío or allow plenty of time and energy for a lengthy walk down Cuesta de San Vincente.
With such a gorgeous view of the Palacio Real, the Campo del Moro is a worthwhile endeavor. We planned an itinerary with visits to both Parque del Oeste and the Campo del Moro, since both parks are in such close proximity. We walked from our hotel to the Parque del Oueste, and then headed down Cuesta de San Vincente to the entrance on Paseo Virgen del Puerto. By this time we were ready for a rest, and hung around just long enough to take a few photos and cool off under a canopy of shady trees.
Location: Paseo Virgen del Puerto
Metro: Principe Pío (L6, L10)
Plaza de Oriente
The Plaza de Oriente occupies a small tract of land that lies just east of the Palacio Real. Originally carved out of during the reign of Joseph Bonaparte, the garden as it exists today was constructed in 1930 in honor of an architect who served under Carlos III. An equestrian statue of Felipe IV by Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca dominates the center of the garden. Lining the perimeter walkways are statues of early kings that were originally intended for the roof of the palace until someone realized they’d be too heavy.
Statues of medieval kings stand watch over the walkways at the Plaza de Oriente.
On the perimeter of the garden opposite the palace there are numerous sidewalk cafes. We enjoyed relaxing over a frosty beverage as we gazed at the pristine setting before us. One would expect the cafes here to be overrun with tourists due to the plaza’s proximity to the Palacio Real, but that was not the case, as this seemed to be a watering hole favored by well-to-do locals: all the better. This is a very peaceful and relaxing place. You’d expect more clamor so close to the palace, but it must be that most tourists are on a palace sightseeing mission and blow right by without taking much time to notice.
Location: Palacio Real
MadridMetro: Ópera (L2, L5)
Written by actonsteve on 30 Jul, 2001
Even if you aren't a great fan of modern art - you will still love the near unpronouncable Museo Thyssen-Boremisza's. Which along with the Prado and the Reine Sofia makes up one of the corners of the golden triangle of Madrid art. Combined with a…Read More
Even if you aren't a great fan of modern art - you will still love the near unpronouncable Museo Thyssen-Boremisza's. Which along with the Prado and the Reine Sofia makes up one of the corners of the golden triangle of Madrid art. Combined with a trip to the city's showpiece square - the Plaza Mayor, and a wander through the old town surrounding it, - you can experience some of the best Madrid has to offer.
All tourists head for the beautiful Plaza Mayor (see photo) which is the most attractive plaza in Madrid. To reach it from the Gran Via or Puerto del Sol head down Calle Mayor towards the Palacio Real and turn south when you reach the porticoes and speciality shops leading to the square. It is vast cobbled Renaissance square grandly set off with scarlet baroque balconies and sweeping arcaded columns. Built in the 17th Century and used as a bullring, royal jousting arena and a court for the inquisition - it is very beautiful. Baroque towers watch over its southern side while the northern side has the balconied Casa Panederia with its 17th frescoes. The cobbles themselves house cafes, restaurants, portrait artists, and Peruvian musicians - all watched over by the Guardia Civil.
Surrounding Plaza Mayor and stretching all the way to the Paseo del Prado is the 17th century town. This is area is full of narrow streets, tiled bordegas and tapas bars. If you head directly south from Plaza Mayor to Plaza Cascardos and keep on going you will reach El Rastro market. The best day for this is a sunday when it really comes alive. When we were there there was still plenty to see with furniture, dusty books and antiques all on display. The dark spired church of San Isidro is not far away. The interior atmosphere of this church was very dark and catholic. Little priests sat in carved brown confession boxes while wax images of the virgin Mary stood above the altar clothed in sparkling tinsel. That's what fascinates me about Spain - the contrast between the deep piousness and the exuberance shown in Cheuca or the Puerto del Sol.
If you head east through the narrow streets you will end up at the Paseo del Prado. At its northern end where it becomes Paseo de Cibeles is Madrid's most photographed building and the one appearing on all the postcards - the main post office (see photo). This wedding cake fantasy looks more like a palace then a post-office and its interior resembles a cathedral. To the south along the beautiful tree-lined Prado is the Museo Thyssen-Borneiszas housed in the Renaissance Palacio de Vilermosa. Once owned by the super-rich Baron Thyssen, the Spanish government fought off serious bids from Germany, Switzerland, the Getty Foundation and the British royal family (they sometimes have their uses)to buy the collection for 21 million dollars. The fact that the Barons wife was a former Miss Spain may have had something to do with Madrid eventually getting it.
For 700 pesetas you enter an extraordinary Museum. The walls are salmon pink and elegant skylights illuminate the interior. Never have paintings been better lit. Now don't get me wrong - I am no art expert. I usually focus on something in a painting that interests me - "Oh, so that's what cows looked like in 16th century Holland..." But I enjoyed the Thyssen. Modern expressionists included Picasso (his harequin), Cezanne, Dega, Hockney and Georgia O'Keefe. The old school were there with Boucher, Reynolds and a good Constable. But the serious league art was upstairs - gorgeous Canalettos of Venice, Breughals 'Garden of Eden' and the most erotic Adam and Eve I have ever seen.
The Thyssen is worth an afternoon of anyones time, even just to see the collection which gathered such esteemed bidders. After that I recommend sitting down at a pavement cafe, ordering up a glass of sherry and some calamares - and just sit and watch the world go by....
Written by Owen Lipsett on 30 Sep, 2005
Conveniently located near the art museums and architectural highlights that make Madrid such a visual delight are three fine parks. Whether you’re biding your time before a meal, recovering from an overdose of food or art, or simply seeking some solace from the capital’s…Read More
Conveniently located near the art museums and architectural highlights that make Madrid such a visual delight are three fine parks. Whether you’re biding your time before a meal, recovering from an overdose of food or art, or simply seeking some solace from the capital’s boisterousness, the following "art triangle" is a pleasure in every sense.
Parque del Buen Retiro: Located just beyond the Paseo del Prado and the "Big Three" art museums, the "Retiro" was once a royal pleasure garden but today is Madrid’s answer to London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park. Paths named after Spain’s former colonies lead you to the Estanque a vast artificial lake which you can hire paddle-boats to navigate and that is a center of activity of all kinds (you’ll often see street performers in the summer or on weekends) that creates a boisterously festive atmosphere.
Further south, the Palacio de Exposiciones and Palacio de Cristal often host excellent (free) contemporary art exhibitions as well as being attractive in their own right. Further south still is the delightful Rosaleda, a quiet rose garden incongruously watched over by the Monumento al Angel Caído, probably the world’s only monument to Lucifer! It’s best to avoid the Retiro’s eastern edge, which is popular primarily with drug dealers and pickpockets. Unless you’re keen on seeing all of Madrid at play, it’s wisest to visit during the week.
Campo del Moro:Little-visited because it can only be entered from a single entrance along the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, the Campo del Moro takes its name from the Almoravid army that massed here in an unsuccessful attempt to retake Madrid in 1110. Just below the Palacio Real (which stands on the sight of the fortress the Moors sought to take) of which it offers wonderful views, the Campo del Moro’s location illustrates how daunting their task must have been. Seemingly boasting more peacocks (and staff) than visitors, its immaculately kept green lawns are the prettiest in Madrid and its side-paths the safest (as opposed to those of the Retiro), it was originally laid out in 1844 as the Palacio Real’s English-style gardens.
Parque del Oeste: Known to most visitors to Madrid as the home of the Templo de Debod, the Egyptian temple saved by Spanish engineers from the rising waters created by the Aswan High Dam, the Parque del Oeste is even prettier and better maintained than the Retiro, although a bit further off the beaten path, and consequently far less busy. Some of Madrid’s more interesting minor sights stud its sides: the Ermita de Florida (a small chapel whose ceiling was painted by Goya who is also buried there), Museo de America (detailing Spain’s conquests and colonies), and Faro de Madrid(Madrid’s best observation tower). Unfortunately it becomes unsavory at nightfall when it becomes popular with the city’s transsexual prostitutes – at this time it’s best to retire to one of the open-air terrazas of the neighboring Paseo de Pintor Rosales for a evening drink, a Madrileño tradition!