I’ve been meaning to write a post chronicling our adventures in Madrid, Toledo and Cuenca for quite some time. Ever since the first time I went to Spain over a decade ago I’ve wanted to go back. I fell in love with the country, and it’s like I can’t ever get enough of it. Luckily, a few years back I got my wish granted, and then again, last year. I wasn’t even meant to go, but as luck and a bit of faith would have it, I was able to hop on a plane with hon and go to Madrid. We had a lovely time, and now I’ll share some of the goodness of that trip, both in written and graphic forms.
It is no secret that I love to take pictures. I’ve been in love with photography for a while, but it wasn’t until 2006 when I really, really got into it. I got myself a good point and shoot camera, got me a Flickr account, and since then I’ve been snapping photos here and there and everywhere.
The trip to Spain came about as a suggestion of my BF’s parents. They had been to Madrid, I had been to Madrid, but honey hadn’t. We were originally thinking of doing something small, like visit Montreal or Ottawa, but it was über expensive, and for twice as long, and about the same price we could hop on a plane and spend 10 days in Spain … hard to choose, eh?
We got a very good deal for hotel and flights with Expedia. It came to around 1500 for a 3 star hotel, smack down in the middle of Puerta del Sol (which is very close to the Gran Via, one of Madrid’s main arteries) and to the metro and cercanias trains. Hon is a great planner, and armed with some helpful bits from places like this we went about exploring Madrid’s wonderful streets.
Our first stops were at Plaza Mayor and Mercado de San Miguel. Plaza Mayor, is a wonderful place to stroll and buy souvenirs and have a bite. We had a quick lunch a few times while there. Mercado San Miguel is full of delicious food too. We found this place that served AWESOME fruit smoothies and milkshakes and it made for a good snack or refreshment after countless hours of walking and visiting museums.
Below are some pictures I took of the Plaza, Mercado and Sol.
The next day, after having a yummy breakfast at Cafe & Te (they do an awesome panini which I kept ordering pretty much everyday of our stay), we headed to the Prado Museum. The Prado is immense (not as gigantic as the Louvre, but pretty big nonetheless, especially for someone with heel problems like me). It boasts tons of paintings and exhibitions of artists like Velazquez (and his famous Las Meninas), El Greco (my favourite), Francisco de Goya and his Majas, Ribera, Fra Angelico, Durero, Rubens, among many others. The museum has tons of wonderful pieces to admire. We opted for a ticket to all 3 Museums, as part of a deal. The 3 museums, Prado, Reina Sofia dnd Thyssen are known as the Golden Triangle. If you go to Madrid and have time, visit all 3. For 17 euros, you get to visit El Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. We used only 2 of our tickets (I still have the one for the Reina Sofia as the museums have a day of the week where entrance is free of charge, so we didn’t use our tickets when we went to the Reina Sofia. If you go prior to December of this year I’d be happy to give you my ticket, it should still work).
At the Prado we got ourselves a map which, if you’re in a hurry, is extremely useful, so we flew from room to room looking at as many of the masterpieces as we could. And it was awesome. The Prado has sculptures, drawings, prints and other exhibits which we didn’t get to see much of, but I had been to the Prado before, so I made a point of covering as much of what I hadn’t seen as possible. I’d recommend that if you love art and want to spend the 17 euros, get the 3-way ticket and if you can’t cover the entire museum on one day, come back when they’re open for free. Both the Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza are within walking distance, in case you feel adventurous and want to hit all 3 in one day.
After the Prado, we decided to walk back to the hotel. We were looking for a metro station, but realised that walking wasn’t such a bad idea, as we weren’t that far away. We were taking in all the views, the traffic, a bit of rain, and came around this building, which we’d seen in many photos but never thought we’d accidentaly see. It’s between Calle Alcala and Gran Via.
We stayed close to our hotel for the remainder of the day, doing a bit of shopping and eating. Next day we were going to el Callejon de las Letras, where Lope de Vega and Miguel de Cervantes lived!
Along the way we saw a reenactment of a sword fight between Cervantes (the one with the back towards the camera, his arm is hidden, as you know he was also known as El Manco de Lepanto) and Lope de Vega. Apparently these two weren’t on friendly terms. Both are among the best known and most prolific Spanish writers of their time.
We walked by the house were Cervantes lived, and a few steps down the road was de Vega’s house, which has been restored to its state when the author lived there. No pictures were allowed, except for the outside and the house’s patio. Entrance is free of charge and it has no A/C, which means that we were a wee-bit sweaty, even though it was barely 11am. Since we went in July, both the sales and the weather were HOT!
After that we took the metro to the area of the Palacio Real, where the King and Queen gather to meet with important peeps, but does not serve as the Royal residence anymore. We had our visit to the Palacio planned for another day, so we strolled around the streets a bit more, until we ended up near the Almudena Catheral (just a few steps away on Calle Mayor). Before going to the Cathedral we stopped at Casa Ciriaco (Calle Mayor, #84), a quaint little place were we grabbed a tapa (a small plate of goodies, cheese and ham or bread, or egg salad or aioli potatoes, changes everyday) and a caña or two …. or 3. It was super hot by the time we were near Almudena, and it was also near the siesta time, so a lot of business were closing shop until 4pm or so. Before stopping at Casa Ciriaco, we went into one of the oldest churches in Madrid, the church of San Nicolas de los Servitas.
We then walked to the Almudena Cathedral. It is a beautiful Cathedral where photography is permitted and the entrance is not expensive (a couple of euros, and I think it’s only if you want to make a donation, though don’t quote me on that). It was a nice break from the heat and we had tons to explore. The Cathedral is right next to the Palacio Real and it was commissioned ages ago. Construction stopped during the Franco Era, and was eventually picked up after the Civil War. It was completed in the 90s and has a statue of Pope John Paul II, which consecrated it back in the 90s.
The next day we went to Goya’s tomb and the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Plaza de Espana and Templo de Debod … pheww. Pictures can be taken at many places in the Reina Sofia, but flash photography is not permitted. This is where Picasso’s Guernica is housed, and I took a pic from the room outside of it and I had a guard giving me a bit of grief (I didn’t have my flash on, luckily my camera has a museum setting), until someone had a big ass flash out, then him and another dude went after that guy … pheww. Dali’s works are housed here too. It’s an extremely interesting museum and I loved it, probably more than I did El Prado …. may be that I am inclided to early 20th century art. When the Reina Sofia opened, many of the 19th century and 20th century pieces that were at El Prado were moved to the Reina Sofia, which houses modern and contemporary art.
Our last stops were at the Plaza de Espana and Templo de Debod. We were dead tired, because we had been back and forth that day, but it was well worth it. It was also very, very hot and I fell on my ass while walking around the area of the Templo de Debod. But besides a bruised knee and ego, I loved both places.
After all this walking and coming and going we had a quiet night. The next day we had a very, very packed day. It was the day of the World Cup final, our line-up was to go to the Rastro (Europe’s biggest flea market), possibly visit a museum if we could squeeze it and try to go to the Bernabeu Stadium where the Real Madrid plays. Oh, and did I mentioned that we were looking for a place to watch the game? We did, but I’ll tell you all about it in my the next installment of our Spanish vacation.