Getting to Know Madrid

Because of the Wednesday start date of my Southeast Asia tour, I’m staying in Madrid for 10 days and planning on taking it pretty slow. This is the longest I’ll be staying in any one place on this trip.

Fun fact about Madrid, no one speaks English here. Barcelona was very touristy and most people knew at least a little English, but I’ve gone all day and only overheard one English conversation. Even the tourists here seem to be from Spain (probably because I’m accidentally here for Easter week).

My apartment

Back to the city center with this one (thank goodness)! I’m in a VRBO studio flat again, though this one is noticeably smaller than the one in Reykjavik (the “shower” is just part of the bathroom with some shower curtains to stop everything from getting soaked). It’s a good size for one person though and I haven’t felt cramped at all. 

Sunday 4/9

For some reason I was just exhausted today. I woke up at 10 after 10 1/2 hours of sleep and it was still a struggle to get moving. 
Looking over my list of sights, I noticed that the outdoor market El Rastro is only on Sundays, so I figured I’d better go see that since it didn’t look like I was going to get much else done. The market was pretty close to my apartment so I wandered through there for a while. It was an odd outdoor thrift store/tourist market/antique market.

I didn’t want to go back to my apartment yet so I passed it and ended up accidentally attending the end of a church service in Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, which was pretty fun even if it was in Spanish. 

I got some more food for dinners and lunches then had lunch/afternoon snack in my apartment. It was tough, but at 4:00 I managed to drag myself out of the building to go look for a Palm Sunday parade I had read about (thanks Eric McCaslin for telling me today was Palm Sunday and to look for events). 

I didn’t see anything at the Cathedral I first went to so I headed on to the Royal Palace, intending to tour it if I didn’t find anything. I was happy to find quite a crowd along the streets around the palace so I joined them and crossed my fingers that this was the parade. 

I ended up standing there for a good 30 minutes as the crowd grew and the police blocked off the roads (still no English speakers so I couldn’t ask when it was going to start). Turns out it was a parade! And it passed right by me! It went super slow so it was after 5 by the time the end passed me so I figured I’d done enough for the day and went back to the apartment (5 minute walk!)

Part of the market
It’s not on wheels, it’s stuffed with people shuffling along carrying it

Monday 4/10

This morning (after lunch) I began at the Royal Palace. Since I didn’t get tickets online I waited in a pretty long line to get in but from there it was alright. There were a lot of group tours so it was a task dodging those in each room but it was a very lovely place. 

After the palace, I ended up basically taking myself on a walking tour of the city center. From one end of the city (the Royal Palace and my apartment) to the other (the museums and Rietro park) is just over a mile and I stopped at Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol in between them. 

The Royal Palace

Tuesday 4/11

Today (again after lunch) I started at the Thyssen-Bornmisza museum, mostly because I didn’t feel up to tackling the Prado today. As it turned out, the Thyssen was right up my alley with an awesome collection of impressionist and expressionist art. 

It was still pretty early when I finished at the Thyssen, but I didn’t want to go got another museum, so instead I checked out the Royal Botanical Garden. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed. They had some pretty flowers here and there but most of the park wasn’t in bloom and it all felt very boxy and planned. 

Wednesday 4/12

Today I tackled the big daddy of Spanish museums, the Prado. It has one of the biggest collections of Spanish and European paintings there is. I found that at least 2/3 of those paintings are Renaissance era (thank goodness because I can only look at so many Medieval Madonna & Child paintings). Even better, every single painting had a paragraph (in English!) about the story it told, from mythology or the Bible. As someone who only knows the basics of both, I really appreciated these summaries and read a ton of them.

After the Prado, I popped over to see Rietro park. It was nicer than the botanical garden and had a little pond/lake in the center where people could rent rowboats and paddle around. The pond is apparently a hot tourist spot so there were several different little street shows going on there too. 

Rietro Park

Thursday 4/13

Well today I made my dreams come true. My literal dreams that is. Meaning last night I dreamed I was sunburned and today I went out and got myself sunburned. I knew it was happening but sacrifices must be made if you want to see the inside of an ancient Egyptian temple. 

Unfortunately, other than Templo de Dubod, I didn’t manage to get anything done today. I wanted to see some churches, but because of Maundy Thursday they were all closed up and everything else shut down early. I did a lot of walking though and I did see another pretty park. 

Getting a sunburn at Templo de Dubod

Friday 4/14

Since today was Good Friday and a holiday, I, along with most parents in Madrid, decided to head to the Madrid Zoo. Luckily, it’s a pretty big place, so the only times I really felt the crowd was in indoor areas (gorillas and aquarium) and at the dolphin show (which was WAY cool with 8 dolphin performers). The aquarium I think might have been nice, but due to the unfortunate constant screaming of children, I couldn’t really enjoy it and mostly focused on escaping as quickly as possible. 

Madrid has a really nice zoo. I was able to take the metro to it and all the animals seemed happy and active. It was also very shady, which was a big problem when Talia and I went to the Rome zoo in July a few years ago. 

For the evening I booked myself a flamenco show at a restaurant 246 ft from my apartment. I already saw one in Barcelona with Scott but I figured I should see one in Madrid as well you know, for research purposes. 

I concluded that flamenco shows are fun in both cities. My show here was at a fancy restaurant and more expensive than know Barcelona, and this one was clearly the bigger budget production. The woman’s deesses were prettier here and there was a third dancer, but it was a little more serious and there was more time spent with the singers which I’m not as interested in. 

Saturday 4/15

The basilica across from the royal Palace was closed this morning, but I was able to go into the crypt underneath it, which was just as pretty as any church, if a little shorter. 

After the crypt, I decided to finish up the big Madrid museums with the Reina Sofia Modern Art Museum. I almost didn’t go but they have a while Picasso exhibit and after the Picasso museum in Barcelona I felt like it was my duty to see them. I was really regretting it at first, because the first several collections were so modern art that I felt like I was in a horror movie – complete with creeptastic black and white movies and pictures of people. 

I was starting to really miss the good old Madonna and Childs when I stumbled into the Picasso exhibit an hour before my time slot. It was very cool seeing so many of his paintings including Guernica and Three Dancers. I was even more pleased when I found a little room of Salvador Dali paintings, even if they didn’t have the Dali painting (you know the one, with the melting clock). 

Sunday 4/16

My mom talked me into a bus tour today of the nearby cities Avila and Segovia, and I’m really glad she did. Avila is a medieval walled city with one of the longest and best preserved walls there is. We didn’t get to walk on the wall (next time) but we did visit two churches while there. 

Our longer stop was in Segovia, known for it’s gorgeous Roman aqueduct. I had lunch in the plaza next to the aqueduct and then shopped my way to the most beautiful gothic cathedral there is (called the Lady of Cathedrals). We also toured the old Castile Royal Palace (the Alcazar of Segovia). 

The Segovia aqueduct

Monday 4/17

Last day in Europe! The last thing to do was visit the Almudena Cathedral (what’s above the crypt I already visited). It was open today so I finally got to see it! It was a bit of an odd place with gothic arches and architecture that’s from the late 1800s, but with murals, and stained glass that was done in 2004. It made for a confusing sight, but that didn’t make it less pretty.   

I didn’t have anything else I wanted to do, so I just enjoyed Madrid for the rest of the day. I walked from the cathedral down Calle Mayor to Gran Via. I followed Gran Via up to Fuentes de Cibeles and further on to Puerta de Alcalá (the arches marking the entrance to the city). On my way back I stopped for a long lunch/afternoon snack at Plaza Mayor. 


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