"Magnificent Madrid" Madrid by sirgaw
Madrid Travel Guide: 5,306 reviews and 10,727 photos
Madrid is one of those major cities in the world that does not have a central landmark building that screams to the world, THIS IS MADRID, in the same way the Eiffel Tower is Paris, or Big Ben is London, but in spite of that it is a magnificent city and well worth a visit - particularly the inner area around Plaza del Sol ringed by buildings that in themselves are truly beautiful - like Real Palico (Royal Palace) which is a must see.
After a 6 hour journey, we arrived in Madrid by train from Bilbao and were warned by friendly rail staff to be very careful of pickpocketers who frequent the metro system, so on high alert we boarded the rather dirty metro train for the few stops to Sol Metro station. We got up to ground level and found the area a hive of pedestrian and traffic activity. With some help we managed to locate our apartment hotel and found that we had lucked in on a great choice for our 4 night stay in the Spanish capitol (see tip). After we had found a supermarket and stocked up with provisions for the next few days, it was time for a cheap eats meal in a local cafe.
As it was our first visit to Madrid, we wanted to go on a tour of the city, but the hotel staff suggested the "hop on hop off" double decker bus as a cheaper alternative - and particularly as we had our Aussie seniors cards to get a better deal. As we travelled around, perhaps what really impressed us after the ornate architecture of Madrid was the magnificent fountains gushing out water. We in Australia are experiencing one of the worst droughts on record and nearly all our fountains have been turned off, so the fountains of Madrid were a sight for sore eyes.
After about an hour of sitting in the cramped seats of the upper open deck of the bus, we needed to get off and stretch our legs - and find a loo. We found one just around the corner, however it was one of the coin in the slot modern loos and we didn't have the right change. I happened to spot the Ritz Hotel and decided to go in there as if we were guests. The door was even opened for us by a doorman - and yes we found the well-appointed loos.
We had passed one magnificent building and so walked there, rather than taking another bus and discovered we were at the entrance of the famous Prado Museum (see tip). Although time was against us, we decided to spend the rest of the day there. We saw room after room full of priceless paintings by such well-known artists as Goya, El Greco and many others. We happened to notice a number of artists had set up canvases, easels and paints right in front of several of the master pieces. A friendly museum staff member explained the artists pay the museum 100 Euro per month. The artist paints and then sells the copy of the master piece to a buyer - usually commissioned to do so - for prices ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 Euro - not a bad job, if you can get it and you're good enough! From our untrained eyes it was difficult to spot which was the original.
When we finally got out of the Prado - OK we were tossed out as it was closing time - we decided to use the hop on hop off bus rather than walk. Sadly it was the last bus for the day and we got tossed off that too. We staggered into a friendly and cheap cafe for a riotous meal where everything we said seemed to be funny for the 2 crazy proprietors of the business.
The following day was an easy one with shopping, downloading photos onto CD, catching up on internet AND washing taking priority, followed by a cook in apartment meal and a bit of a veg out in front of TV.
Saturday pedestrian traffic in the Sol area of Madrid is a mad house, but in spite of the constant jostling for footpath space, we walked to the Plaza Mayor (some say Mayo) and were amazed at the huge square seemingly tucked away with narrow entrances (see tip). We strolled to the Plaza de la Villa and found a sign on a wall which read: "Royal Academia de Ciencias Morales Y Politicas." Translation reads: "Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences" - hmm, morals and politics in the same sentence seems an oxymoron in any language.
From that plaza a short walk to a terraced garden where we enjoyed our picnic lunch and a bit of a break from all the walking. The garden had a fountain dedicated to musicians. A short stroll and we entered the magnificent cathedral of Madrid and noticed the candles lit by the faithful were coin-in-the-slot electric candles that flickered and died as the money ran out - not sure if that would be considered passé by the traditionalists.
The Royal Palace (Real Palico - see tip) was next on the self guided walking trip and was well worth the visit - and in particular the medieval arms and armour - said to be one of the largest collections of its type in the world. We exited the palace and I could hear a haunting rendition of a well-known classical musical piece. We managed to track down a busker who played long stemmed glasses by rubbing the rims of the glasses with his fingers.
We strolled to the Opera House - a very ornate building and then slowly back into the packed with pedestrians streets of the Sol area. My wife heard the loud call of the shops and while she spent more money, I was watching a group of Africans selling all manner of stock from instant foot path stalls - and even managed to snap off a photo. See separate travelogue The streets are jungles.
Whilst wandering we had noticed an interesting looking eating establishment - Museo del Jambon (see tip) and decided the call of the mighty paella seemed very strong - a very yummy restaurant and there is enough legs of ham hanging on display to send a clear warning message to vegetarians.
Our exit from Madrid was by way of the metro to Atocha - the main rail station for our trip to Toledo. While struggling with suitcases down the stairs into the Sol Metro station we had one of the most generous young man help us - see separate travelogue SAINTS AND SINNERS. We arrived at the spectacular Atocha station (see tip) and finally boarded the very fast train to magnificent Toledo - the former capitol of Spain.
Most of the rail stations of the world are quite utilitarian in that they are there to allow passengers to board and... more travel advice
One of the most prestigious museums in the world, the Prado (Musea Nacional Del Prado) is a must-see for all visitors to... more travel advice
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