Although we love Paris, we were really looking forward to sun and warmer weather. Stepping out of the Madrid bus station we were greeted with a chilly 35 degrees as we walked to our new flat. After our orientation with the host, we headed to the neighborhood grocery store … in the rain. As Marge Simpson would say, “Hmmmmmmm.”
We had two choices to get from our Paris flat to the Orly airport: the cheaper, three metros + bus, or the more expensive, one Uber. The forty-five minute Uber was one of the wiser decisions we have made recently; even for our combined Dutch and Scot frugality, the extra money was gladly released. The new experience flying Transavia airline went well, no problems. After landing, we took the thirty-minute Express bus into town for our ten-minute walk to the flat. So, if you are keeping score: one Uber, one flight, one bus, one short walk, and then the Over-Hosting began.
Our host is very nice. He met us about a block up the street from the flat, took Marsha’s rolling bag, and led us to our new temporary home. Together we checked out the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. Then we sat down at the table for the longest orientation we have experienced … over two hours. To say he was thorough would not come close. Our travel-weary-brains and bodies were checking in and out as he detailed the best wine and beer to buy, the best restaurant, the best grocery store, travel advice, history of this neighborhood, the history of Madrid, why cats and dogs don’t get along (maybe that last one was a hallucination), how to get to our day trips, etc. etc. etc. We were grateful for all the info, but Marsha finally told him, “My brain is going to explode,” in a very nice way of course. After showing me how the locks worked on our door and the main entrance door, our host left us to recuperate from what he assumed was our traveling … it was more that that.
After buying our usual provisions, we headed out for a quick neighborhood orientation. We found the Puerta del Sol to be very much like a mini-New York Square complete with annoying, colorful, costumed characters walking around wanting you to take a picture with them; the perfect memento of the capital of Spain. The featured image above shows you what greeted us there. I recognized the two guys in front but have no idea what that is in the distance.
After avoiding these three guys we headed to the famous Plaza Mayor. This 17th century cobbled square was the entertainment center of the time; an open-air theater that included bull fights, royalty showing off, and executions. The famous and gruesome La Torre del Oro Bar Andalú is found here. I just poked my head in, requested a photo, and left before I got too close to any of the 8 x 10 depictions of bulls having very bad days. As you can see, it is a very cluttered watering hole for the two-legged Spaniards.
Marsha and I have yet to figure out what the deal is with young, love-struck Europeans who express their devotion to each other by securing a lock to anything with an exposed metal loop. We originally thought this was contained just to a few bridges in Paris. Last June, we saw enterprising guys by these bridges, not only selling locks but engraving them, for a price. We have seen love locks all over Europe … on everything. The image below is of the base of a light pole in Plaza Mayor. Silly kids.
Our walk took us to the Palacio Real. The weather turned on us, and since this was just an exploratory outing we headed back to our warm and dry flat. Later we’ll go inside Europe’s third-greatest palace. The 2,800 rooms should hold some interested artifacts. The original wooden fortress burned down under Philip II. Since Madrid was then the capital of Spain, another, more fire-resistant building was erected by King Philip V with an homage to his beloved Versailles.
Our neighborhood, Lavapies, is a wonderful cultural soup. Just exploring the shops, restaurants, and bars nearby reflects the diversity of this rejuvenated community. You don’t know what you will run into around each corner. There seems to be some type of gang activity in our area. You can unknowingly walk into one of their hoods and see the vandalism they leave behind; covered bollards. Although this might frighten others, I see it merely as Guerilla Street-Crochet. Don’t worry, we are probably safe.
Madrid has some world-class museums. To make sure everyone, regardless of economic means, can have access to the art and history of Spain, many of the museums are free during the last few hours of their openings. Since the Reina Sophia was just around the corner from us, we went there first to enjoy the art of Dali, Juan Gris, George Braque, Goya, Joan Mero, Man Ray, and Picasso … for free! We were most moved by Picasso’s Guernica. This was Pablo’s reaction to the devastating bombing during the 1936-1939 civil war. On April 26, 1937, the town of Guernica was used as a guinea pig to try out Germany’s new air force. Francisco Franco gave Hitler permission to level this Basque market town with all of its civilians totally unaware of what was about to happen. News of this reached Picasso in Paris where he had just started a commissioned work. Pablo scrapped that project and within three weeks he created his masterful and chilling mural. As Marsha and I stood in front of this 11×25-foot canvas tears came to our eyes. Once again, art was revealing to all of us more than just pretty flowers of calming landscapes. Since photos are not allowed, I have included a screen shot of Guernica.
We took two day trips. Each one required a bus ride under one hour. We learned new ways of paying for our tickets while standing in line with our Spanish-speaking fellow riders. On one trip, we paid the driver; on the other we needed to secure a ticket from a machine. Just more traveling savvy we have now added to our international kit.
Our first trip was to El Escorial, north of Madrid. As we bused up the 3,500 ft elevation to reach the Monasterio de San Lorenzo I couldn’t help but notice a light dusting of snow along the road. The pleasant memories of warm Nice felt like a long-lost dream. Leaving the bus, we headed into the buffeting wind toward the Monasterio, which is also known as the El Escorial Palace. As with other cities and villages, the Christmas Markets and seasonal displays are now coming down. This city really goes all-out for their celebration. A four-block area, including their main square, displayed a full Bethlehem replica and life-sized inhabitants that spilled out on to the streets.
The very drafty palace contains 16th century tapestries, 17th century Flemish, Spanish, and Italian paintings, various living quarters, the Royal Pantheon of 26 kings and queens, basilica, and an exquisite library.
Our second day trip was south to Toledo near Don Quixote country. The main draw here is the amazingly beautiful and moving cathedral. Situated high above the city, on the site of a former mosque, it is somewhat deceiving from outward appearance. The rather plain entrance brings you into a vast expanse of marble floors, thick pillars, elaborate wrought-iron, intricate wood carvings, and sparkling 500-year-old stained glass windows that enlightened the illiterate of the day to God’s glory. The cathedral has become a grand art gallery with paintings from El Greco and others. The audio guide was very well done with theatrical explanations of this awe-inspiring cathedral. BTW: Although in Spain it is pronounced Toe-LAY-Doh, story has it that the phrase “Holy Toledo” came from admirers of this impressive church. We can believe it.
Friendly people, diverse neighborhoods, community open markets, excellent metro, great museums, and the general vibe of Madrid has made our stay here fun. We would enjoy another visit during one of the (warmer) shoulder seasons
Our next stop will be three nights in Cordoba. We have checked: it is supposed to be in the 60s and sunny. Maybe we will find sunny Spain after all.
This week’s flat can be seen by clicking on the bed image below.
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We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
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