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davidx Madrid - A travel report by David
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Madrid,  Spain - flag Spain
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davidx's travel reports

Madrid - as known and less known

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Madrid has been the subject of three RoM awards since 2005. I found them very useful to aid planning and I am not attempting to compete – but you will find a few different places here as well as some very familiar ones.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Unfortunately I was not flying on one of the routes that uses the new terminal 4 of which I have heard wondrous reports and I had to be content with terminal 1. The extremely efficient Metro delivered me to Gran Via with two changes and then I took ages to find my hostal. What a grand road though; what wonderful buildings. However it was not long before I discovered one major drawback of Madrid at this particular time. I know roads have to be repaired but I have never been anywhere where there are roadworks like the ones going on in Madrid at the moment.

However a mass of roadworks is not going to spoil a trip to this great city. There are several parks where they can be escaped completely such as the Retiro, the Jardines Botanicos Reales and the Parque del Oeste. Then of course roadworks don't matter when you are inside and with the Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sofia Gallery, the Palacio Real, the Theatro Real and others I shall mention you are almost bound to be inside a lot!

I'd gladly swap the advantages of age for those of youth but as that's impossible I took full advantage of the concessions to those above 65 – half fare on the tourist bus, free entry to the Prado and so on. I was spellbound by some of Velasquez' works at the Prado; Las Meninas, The Drinkers and The Spinners were perhaps my favourites. I was also intensely moved by Goya's black paintings. I was advised not to attempt to see all the Prado but to concentrate on one or two painters – so I did.

I was very taken with the idea of a genuine Egyptian temple from the second century BCE being in the heart of Madrid. The Temple of Debod was taken down and packed as a present from the Egyptian Government in return for Spanish help with the Aswan Dam. The views of and from it from outside almost, but not quite, match the inscriptions on the stones to be seen inside.

Favourite spots:
Sorolla's studio
Sorolla's studio
How to choose? My trip out from the city may well have been my favourite part of the trip but in the city I think I derived most pleasure from a lesser known Museum, the Museo Sorolla. Sorolla was an Impressionist and also an avid collector. Hence the museum, in what once was his home, built in 1910, has many collected artefacts and other people's paintings as well as many of Sorolla's own. The experience of a visit is calmer and less challenging than going to one of the great museums.

For a day out I wanted something completely different – and I found it. Cercedila is a small town or large village on the way to Segovia and is the terminal for one of the Cercanias lines of RENFE, the national railway. From it RENFE has a special narrow gauge route to Los Cotos with terrific mountain views. The information provided at a Regional Park office was outstanding and enabled me to find a worth while walk that I could manage up to a beautiful lake below fierce mountain peaks.

What's really great:
Vertical Garden, CaixaForum
Vertical Garden, CaixaForum
I had seen Picasso's 'Guernica' before, when I had a short time to wait passing between Avila and Toledo, so I didn't go this time or it would come very high among my recommendations. However I had not been to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza before.

It contains an absolutely wonderful collection but, contrary to advice received, I did not find it relaxing. I felt that a good crash history of art should precede a visit and I wish I had chosen what to see as I did at the Prado. This is not meant to detract from the privilege of a visit.

Somewhere less acclaimed, partly because it is a lot newer, is the CaixaForum with its vertical garden. Entry to the building and its current exhibition(s) is free (to humans as well as us relics!). The exhibition on at the time was a brilliant portrayal of the works of Richard Rogers and partners (see my log entry). Concerts are also held here -some free- making it an impressive resource.

San Francisco from the Cathedral Dome.
San Francisco from the Cathedral Dome.
I started with the idea of giving religious institutions a miss. However a friend persuaded me that the Basilica de San Antonio de Florida was worth seeing for some spectacular work by Goya on the cupula. The fact that Goya's remains are also there did not move me much but it was worth the walk from Principe Pio.

I only went into the cathedral for the sake of the views out from its dome, which were indeed fabulous but I found it most interesting as well to see the architecture of a modern cathedral. To my surprise, I would advise anybody to have a look.

Yet one more! The Dome of the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande is the fourth largest in Europe and it looked spectacular from the Cathedral cupola. The frescoes of the church and the collection of pictures as well as the furniture in many of the rooms and corridors were fascinating and I understood most of a tour in Spanish. The contrast between the traditional style of this building and the modernity of the cathedral is striking

Town Hall, Plaza de Villa
Town Hall, Plaza de Villa
I stayed at a two star Hostal Residencial – the Hostal Splendid on the Gran Via. Great as a view of the street from 5th floor level might have been, I was glad to be at the back with no view, for more silence. It is a great location near to 'Gran Via' Metro station.

I found it curious that a warm blanket and duvet were provided when temperatures were on a par with our summer and the question was only whether I was better off with a sheet or nothing. Every day I left it obvious that I had not used the blanket. Each day the bed was made up with it on.

The place was always spotlessly clean and the showers were piping hot. Hence there was all that I find important and the price for the location was reasonable. Otherwise there was nothing memorable except the towels, surely bought in a job lot from an institution that had practiced flagellation.

Royal Palace from the Cathedral dome
Royal Palace from the Cathedral dome
For any of our older members it may be interesting to know that I was aware of a huge difference in the attitude of people in what were clearly 'young people's bars' from that which prevails here. (U.K.) Even in my 50s I was frequently caused to leave a bar because of aggressive comments and unfriendliness of the young clientele.

In Madrid, in several different places, it could not have been more different. Always a seat, a scarce object, was vacated immediately for me and people engaged me in conversation and suggested what I might like to eat. In fact I was almost treated like a sort of pet! I don't know that I like the idea of being a pet massively but it's a long way better than being an enemy!

Whereas it is true that some restaurants do not open until late, it is perfectly possible to get both tapas and full meals in the early evening which may come as reassurance to some (like me)

Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel
As eating places will take more than one section, I am starting here. First I regret I never got to eat in the Mercado de San Miguel, the oldest market in the centre of the city. I had already eaten as I walked past its cheap and delicious looking tapas. This is near Madrid's splendid Plaza Mayor.

I find it quite pointless to look through huge (like HUGE) lists of places to eat when you can find enough places to last you for a long visit in only a couple of streets. The first night I actually ate on the Gran Via to be near my hostal. The Mercado de la Reina (market only in name) was as good as anywhere I went.

Another street teeming with places to eat was C. de Las Infantas, parallel to Gran Via. It was at El Tigre on this street that somebody referred to me as 'El Pobrecito.' I'm almost 6 feet 2 inches! This was the place for the original idea of tapas – order a beer and a plate of mixed tapas arrives too.

Near Los Cotos
Near Los Cotos
In general tapas have grown in quantity and price – pinchos or canapes are closer to what used to be tapas.
Perhaps the best street of all that I found was the Cava Baja between the Plaza Real and La Latina Metro. If Las Infantas was teeming I can't describe this. I doubt there were really thousands – it just seemed that way.
I had a menu del dia lunch at Toma Jamon where each of four courses was a different and large tapa, with a choice between two at each stage. Then on my last night I found the Casa del Champinon (Mushroom House). The champi dish followed by sausages cooked in cider with a pincho of Jamon de Jabugo was delicious.

Other recommendations:
Templo de Debod, a gift from Egypt.
Templo de Debod, a gift from Egypt.
The Plaza de Colon is usually a spectacular sight. Currently it is hideously affected by works both on the road and the interior of the square. However it is well worth the effort of traversing it from Serano Metro t the nacional Museo Archaeological. This, too, is currently sbject to building a big expansion and it will be trific when complete. However it is worth going even now (free, during the works) to see the fabulous articles on display in the one immense hall currently open. The Dama de Baza possibly impressed me even more than the more famous Dama de Elche.

The free Open Air sculptures in the Via Serano make a pleasant on-off on the tourist bus round 'Modern Madrid.'

No report on Madrid would be complete without a reference to its great internal transport and to Renfe Cercanias lines to nearby places. I bought a ticket for 10 trips in the central area and ended up with exactly 10 trips. On the huge Metro network I never waited more than three minutes for a train!

Published on Thursday October 8th, 2009

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Tue, Oct 13 2009 - 07:02 PM rating by bootlegga

Fantastic as always!

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 11:56 AM rating by mistybleu

David, this is a great read. I love Madrid you've captured it well.
A well desired 5*.

Fri, Oct 09 2009 - 09:10 AM rating by jorgesanchez

David, eres un maestro writing reports. This is simply excepcional !

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 11:28 PM rating by louis

I like a lot your sense of humor and I enjoyed a lot when I was reading this report. I am going to this fabulous city next april and I think that I will use the informations pointed here. For me 5 *

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 08:08 PM rating by gloriajames

take me there now :)
as always .... an excellent report from you.

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 05:07 PM rating by eirekay

Terrific look at some of the lesser known sites! This is wonderfully done! So inviting!

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 01:53 PM rating by antonioagui

Couldn't agree more with the comments above! Brilliant composition in adittion to some humour.

I found your report very complete, I didn't lose any interest despite Madrid is the city where I have lived for the last three years!

And when el Tigre gets really full (almost always I could say), everybody is "el pobrecito" no matter how tall you are! It's like being a sardine in a can!

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 12:59 PM rating by jacko1

This is an excellent report, very well written and filled with useful and interesting information, thank you David.

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 11:59 AM rating by pesu

Very interesting and entertaining report about Madrid, thank you, David. I am glad about having tried to translate and understand it as far as possible for me.

Thu, Oct 08 2009 - 11:04 AM rating by krisek

David, as always you narrate so nicely. I really like your style. Warm blanket in the summer, huh? :) Thank you for your perspective on Madrid.

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