Spain
Plaza de Vazguez de Mella

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8 travelers at this place:

  • Day23

    Toledo to Madrid

    July 20 in Spain

    Today we said goodbye to Toledo, stopped on our way out of town for one last photo and then drove to Madrid. We checked into our Airbnb in the centre of town at about 3.30pm. The traffic in the centre of Madrid was crazy. Our host could not believe we had brought a car into the centre of Madrid. She doesn’t even own a car and recommended that we get rid of ours too. I am already scheduled to return the car tomorrow.

    We walked around town to get our bearings. We found a supermarket close by to stock up on supplies.

    Sam had a quiet night in. I had planned to attend the bullfighting display in the Madrid bullring. There were young matadors, picadors and banderilleros putting on a bullfight during the summer while the more experienced bullfighters take a break. It was an interesting spectacle.
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  • Day24

    This morning I braved the crazy Madrid traffic to return the hire car. In some ways I was happy to return the car in one piece after braving the Madrid traffic, sitting on the left-hand side of the car, driving on the right-hand side of the road, and just to add a bit of spice, the far right lane in Madrid city centre is reserved for buses and taxis. The far right lane is the slow lane, my preferred lane in the circumstances, but that was unavailable to me, something which my Spanish compatriots on the road were equally frustrated about - they were all quite keen for me to move into the far right lane, something they regularly urged me to do by use of their loud honking horns. Also, turning right from the middle lane is something the buses and taxis are not keen for motorists to do, as it means cutting through their lane. I discovered that buses have much louder horns than cars, and taxis are even more ready to use their horns as well in such circumstances, as I discovered, having many right turns to make as I circled rather fruitlessly around the train station trying to find the hire car drop-off point. One-way streets are also something Madrid town-planners have embraced with enthusiasm disproportionate to their practicality. I am not sure the complete guidelines around their use was complied with in my driving experience this morning, although I am unsure I could pinpoint exactly where I went wrong. The Spanish were keen to give me hints about this, once again using their horns to maximum effect.

    The hire-car depot was in the huge Madrid Train Station, which is so large and filled with commuters and tourists coming in on the fast trains that it is more like an airport. It took me three hours just to drive to the station via a petrol station to fill up, find the appropriate location to return the vehicle, and then find my way back to the apartment. It was quite an ordeal, for me and the Spanish citizens who interacted with me for various purposes, including providing valuable feedback on my use of large roundabouts.

    As I walked back to the apartment I was sidetracked by quite a few fascinating sights and spectacles in Madrid. It was a Saturday so there were markets aplenty. One market I came across was just all bookstores selling second-hand books. There was a line of permanent wooden stalls that housed thousands of books in little stalls. It was amazing. Even though I can't read Spanish, and there wasn't an English book to be seen, the atmosphere was similar to the stalls on the walkway beside the Seine in Paris. I found a copy of Asterisk in Spain, in Spain, in Spanish.

    I also tried churros for the first time in Spain, having resisted until today. I ordered what I thought was going to be some churros with dipping sauce, but turned out to be churros completely covered with chocolate. A carb overload for sure. I was given a bag-full of them and I only just managed to finish them.

    Madrid is an entirely different kind of city from anything we have seen before in Spain. This is a much more modern city like Sydney or Melbourne. The crowds are packing into the city and its shoulder to shoulder. As our Airbnb hostess was keen and correct to emphasise - never bring a car into the centre of Madrid.
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  • Day24

    Segway Tour of Madrid

    July 21 in Spain

    I came across a shopfront in Madrid, on the way back to our apartment after dropping off the hire car, that organises and runs Segway tours of Madrid. I have seen plenty of them running around many of the other cities we have been to, but it seemed today was a perfect time, and Madrid a perfect place, to give these cute two-wheelers a go. I booked a 2-hour private tour via Segway at 6:30 pm and then returned to the apartment and told Sam. He was very keen, as was I.

    We arrived promptly at 6:30 pm to begin the tour. It doesn't get dark here till 10:00 pm so things are just getting started in Spain at 6:30 pm. We were given instructions on how to ride the Segway, and a guide named Irene (what is it with girl guides named Irene in this country? we have only had two young female tour guides and both of them have been named Irene) proceeded to lead us on a 2-hour journey around the most beautiful sites in Madrid.

    Our tour took us through the gardens which were once part of the Royal Palace. The gardens had a French area, a huge greenhouse and a massive lake. The greenhouse was for plants from the Philippines (named that after Philip the King of France at the time of colonisation) and the massive lake was for mini naval battles using full-size galleons for the entertainment of the king and the nobles.

    We spent about an hour through the gardens, then we went on a tour through some of the older areas of Madrid. We saw the impressive Royal Palace and the Cathedral on the opposite side of the square, both built in renaissance style. We also visited the Main Square which dates from the 15th century and used to be used for bullfights. Also, it was used by the Inquisition to execute convicted heretics - about 4000 were executed in that square alone over the years. Franco, the dictator on Spain from 1939 to 1975 also like to use the square for executions. There were places for hangings, beheadings and garrotings. The last garrotting took place in the square in 1975 (yes, only a little over 40 years ago) under the orders of Franco.

    Ernest Hemingway, the famous American writer who spent a lot of time in France and Spain, travelled to Spain and fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. He also watched many bullfights here in Madrid. His famous book, For Whom The Bell Tolls, is based on his experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He also wrote at least three books in which bullfighting plays a major part in the story, including Death In the Afternoon, and The Sun Also Rises. We saw the restaurants and cafes where Hemingway had a regular table and watched the Spanish day go by in the 1930s.

    We saw medieval prisons, the town hall, museums and concert halls, the world's oldest continually operating restaurant. I have visited at least three restaurants claiming to be the world's oldest, in various countries now, one in Paris, one in Vienna and now one in Madrid. The guide assured me that it was in the Guinness Book of Records so I will have to remember to consult it to verify the claim.

    The Segway Tour was a highlight. They are remarkably easy to control, despite them appearing very difficult to ride. They are very stable, extremely maneuverable, and quite speedy. I really thought these would be useful in Australian cities as an alternative to other modes of transport. They run on rechargeable batteries and go for at least 2-3 hours on each charge. I am not sure of the rules in Australia about their use, but I would presume the rule-makers and fun police would have outlawed them.
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  • Day25

    The Royal Palace

    July 22 in Spain

    The Royal Palace of Madrid was the next site to be explored. Spain currently has a monarchy - King Felipe VI. Spain has been through various versions of political constitution, including republic, dictatorship, monarchy. At the moment it is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. In that sense, Spain is like Australia (except our monarch is really the Queen of England). There are two strong views in Spain - one group say that the monarchy should be eradicated in favour of a republic, and the other support the king. One of our guides said that one day there will be another civil war to decide the matter. Obviously all the previous civil wars have not decided the matter satisfactorily, so I'm not sure what another civil war will achieve.

    The Royal Palace is not the permanent residence of the King and his family, although it is used for special state occasions. The royal family live outside Madrid in a more peaceful setting. The Royal Palace is now used for state events and a whole wing of the palace is open to tourists. This wing is furnished as it was in the 18th century in the reign of Carlos 111 (Spanish for Charles 111). The sumptuous palace and its rooms are magnificent. The artwork and furnishings on display are much like the other great palaces in Europe. In fact, this royal palace is the largest palace in Europe by floor area. It has 3418 rooms. If you visited 10 rooms a day, it would take a year to visit all the rooms!

    The throne room in which the king received ambassadors is furnished as it was. The visitors would wait in a smallish room, to get acquainted with their smallish status, and then enter the grand throne room where the king (and queen) would be seated, elevated, and surrounded by royal fabrics and statues of lions with their paws resting on carved spheres, representing the power of Spain over the earth.

    There was one thing on display that particularly caught my eye. In one room there is a full quintet of Stradivarius string instruments of the highest quality. It is the only such set in the world. They are on display in glass cases. There are two violins, a viola and a cello, all decorated the same. Then there is an additional undecorated cello that is the finest instrument of them all and one of the best in the world. I wasn't expecting that. With all the crowns and gold sceptres around, it was these instruments that held the most value from my perspective. It was tempting to break the glass case right there and do some busking. The instruments are all set up ready to play, and apparently they do get played on special occasions. These instruments would be priceless, but I would reckon the set would be worth more than 150 million dollars if it went onto the market right now.

    The Royal Palace is worth a visit for a number of reasons, not least of which is the collection of Stradivarius string instruments. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in most of the palace, so my photos are only those I could surreptitiously take when the security personnel weren't watching and they will be low quality.
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  • Day25

    The Royal Gardens are attached to the Royal Palace and are as impressive as would expect them to be. The largest palace in Europe is not going to be embarrassed by a small veggie patch and a few pot plants out the back. The formal gardens were huge and well kept. They were pleasant to stroll through and they are open for the Madrid residents and tourists to enjoy on the hot summer days.

    The Madrid Cathedral is very young as far as cathedrals are concerned. It was only completed in 1993, 110 years after the foundation stone was laid on 1883. When the capital of Spain moved from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the church remained in Toledo. The cost of running and maintaining an empire came first for the monarchy, and then some wars with France, civil wars and other costly ventures diverted funds from a project that was alwayd meant to happen, but just didn't for lack of funds. Finally the project was completed in 1993. The external design is classical to fit in with the architecture of the royal palace across the square, but the inside is neo-gothic, a bit more modern. There is also a large crypt which is the same size as the cathedral itself, underneath, which was completed many years ago and houses some famous Spanish graves.

    After visiting the cathedral and the crypt, it was time to wander back through the streets of Spain for our last night in this amazing country. Tomorrow we fly to Paris. It has been an whirlwind tour, and an amazing journey, around this unforgettable country. Grazias, Espania.
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  • Day25

    Prado Museum

    July 22 in Spain

    Today we explored some of Madrid's most amazing sites - the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Palacio Real de Madrid, the Madrid Cathedral and the Royal Gardens. These places are magnificent.

    The Prado Museum takes its name from the "meadow" (Spanish "prado") which once existed in the area gave its name to the location in which the museum now stands. It is one of the pre-eminent art museums in the world. It's collection rivals the Louvre. There are some huge paintings in the collection, and many fine works by artists such as Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Titian, Valezquez, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, just to name a few. We spent four hours there and still did not see everything. It was an amazing place. The artworks are breath-taking. One could just look and the giant paintings by Rubens in the main arched hall for hours and still see new things in them. One of the paintings that captured my imagination was a 16th-century painting called The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. It depicts life as a battle between the forces of death and life, and that death is winning the war and everyone living is, or is soon to be, a prisoner and casualty of death, who is depicted as a scythe-wielding skeleton on a horse leading an army of skeletons swamping the army of the living. It is very graphic, almost cartoonish, and difficult to believe it was painted in 1562.

    There are many famous paintings in the Prado, and around every corner, there were new amazing sights to be seen.
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  • Day206

    Hello from Madrid! Hope our followers out there weren't getting worried about us :) We've been having an amazing time romping around the city with Nick's best friend David, who spent the past month in Madrid taking an intensive spanish class.

    We're not used to having a "local" "guide" to show us around cities, so we took the opportunity to enjoy Madrid as a local would. We ate warm churros with thick hot chocolate in a neighborhood café, drank red wine in the park, dined on tapas and bocadillos (Spanish subs; Nick recommends the calamari, Rachel the chorizo), and lounged away the afternoons in the city's many plazas. Rachel's mom also happened to be in Madrid at the same time so Rachel enjoyed a nice mother-daughter dinner with her one night. We visited the Museo Reina Sofia, a renowned collection of modern art that includes Picasso's Guernica among many other masterpieces. After saying adios to David, we toured the Prado museum, the national gallery of Spain and home to everything from renaissance masterpieces to modern spanish classics.

    One other note before we take off for Bologna: you often hear travelers talk about culture shock, and we can certainly attest to its reality. After spending 3+ months in Asia and Africa, landing in Madrid at 11:30 on a Saturday night and joining the swarm of locals felt like walking into a movie. Shedding the hyper-vigilance that accompanies traveling in developing countries and immediately replacing it with the relaxed party vibe of a European summer weekend night left us dumbfounded, staggering around with our backpacks in awe of the volume of people and complete lack of touts, assault rifles, and general feelings of uneasiness. It took a few days to feel comfortable, but at least we'll be better prepared to come back home now (well, maybe).

    Few random pictures below. On to Italy!
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  • Day30

    Madrid - (walking &) food!

    August 30, 2015 in Spain

    I did another walking tour today, learned a lot more history than on the hostel's walking tour, but mostly visited the same stuff. Here's a picture of the royal palace gardens and a neat 3D door sculpting I came across.

    More importantly, I sampled some Madrid food, and it was delicious! First up, a visit to the semi-authentic "100 montaditos", a fast food chain that serves mini sandwiches/burgers for 1 Euro each on Sundays. It was tiny but tasty! To finish lunch, slices of brie, which is less expensive than regular cheese at the supermarket. Also it surprised me (after at least 15 mins searching the supermarket) that fresh milk is not sold commonly, with UHT milk sold instead.

    For dinner I went out to a tapas bar (Das Meigas - "the witches?") recommended by the tour guide. He said it was where locals go, and he was right - nobody spoke English but I was able to get the idea across with "tapas?" and "tinto de verano?" (the common type of sangria here) and the masterstroke "otro, por favor" (another please). Each time I was given a different dish with my sangria. It was good! I tried to subtly take photos of my food at the bar, so they were probably complaining about tourists to each other but I couldn't understand a word.

    To cap things off, I went to Chocolateria San Gines, known for its churros and chocolate. I got porras instead (thicker than churros), and the chocolate is essentially liquid chocolate in a coffee cup for dipping. I made a valiant effort but couldn't finish. Yum! Urgh, too much!

    P.S. After midnight Madrid is a lovely 23°, great for walking in t-shirt and shorts :D
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Plaza de Vazguez de Mella

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