Monday, October 31, 2011

A Weekend Walking around Madrid

Or perhaps I should call this "A Saturday Walking around Madrid", since I'm pretty much going to ignore the 2h walking around on Friday, leave the Sunday for another post and just share the tale of 6-7h walking around on a lovely autumnal Saturday... It was definitely a fabulously crazy and exhausting weekend in Madrid... wonderful! An opportunity to get together with several people from my "Belgian" group of friends (of which only 2 are actually Belgians, lol!) to hang out and enjoy lots of talking, walking, eating and dancing. What more could one ask for?

We started out from my friend's house near the Atocha train station (designed by French architect Eiffel, better known for a little tower he built in Paris and a statue in New York)

Estación de Atocha

We stopped briefly to gaze up at the Reina Sofia museum (20th century art) and made plans to come back in the evening (free admission on Saturdays after 16h!).

Museo Reina Sofía

Wandering up the Paseo del Prado we happened upon this very unique garden:

That can't be easy to maintain!

We passed by the fountain of Neptune (lots of statues in fountains around here)

and stopped to admire the main Parliament building.

Back down on the Paseo del Prado is one of the main celebratory spots in Madrid, if you're a fan of the Real Madrid or the national football team (the fans of the Atletic de Madrid celebrate in the Neptune fountain): the Plaza de las Cibeles, with Madrid's City Hall having taken over a recently restored 19th century Post Office:

Plaza de las Cibeles

We then headed into the heart of the "old" Madrid to admire the buildings along the calle Alcalá

until we reached one of the main gathering points in the city, the Puerta del Sol (originally one of the gates to the city in the 15th century):

Puerta del Sol

with the city's heraldic symbol standing proud, the "oso y el madroño":

People frequently rendez-vous at Sol before going out partying, it's also the biggest spot in Spain for New Year's celebrations since the clock tower is the one that does the countdown to the New Year for all of Spain. The "centre" of Spain.

Sol was also the main spot for the campers from the "Indignados" and "15-M" movement during the regional elections last Spring, and my friend mentioned the police might close the plaza off soon to avoid another campout during the elections for Parliament in a few weeks. It's also the starting point - kilometer 0 - of the Spanish road network. 

Continuing towards the west, we arrived at the Plaza de Oriente, at one side of the 16th century Palacio Real

Plaza de Oriente

Nobody lives in the Palacio Real anymore (apparently it's the largest in Europe!), the King and his family are in the Palacio de la Zarzuela. It's currently only used for official ceremonies, and at other times can be visited as it's basically a gorgeous museum (my last visit was in Jan'98, need to go back!).

Palacio Real

Facing the main entrance to the Palace is the Neo-Classic Catedral de la Almudena which was started in the late 19th century, but construction got interrupted during the Spanish Civil War and it was actually consecrated until 1993! Before this Madrid didn't have a Cathedral... it remained in the country's old capital: Toledo.

Catedral de la Almudena

I loved the bronze doors at the entrance:

doors dedicated to Latin America

Not as elaborate as most Spanish Gothic Cathedrals, but the light was beautiful and I loved the smell of incence!

paintings by Kiko Argüello

It's dedicated to the Virgin called "La Almudena" (the Virgin is supposed to have appeared there to someone once upon a time when under Moorish domination)

chapel for the Virgen de la Almudena

Back out in the street, we made our way through the part of the city called "el Madrid de los Austrias" (a.k.a. the Hapsburgs, so developped in the 15th-16th centuries), and came across a 20th century covered iron market:

Mercado de San Miguel

Inside it was packed! Lots of delicious looking food to either take home or eat there (if you find a spot to sit or stand), but expensive!

We crossed through and continued through the old streets until we reached the entrance to Madrid's main plaza...

I once had the most expensive Coke I've ever had on a terrace there! :p

Here's an encounter between the past and the present, a couple of "tunos":

The "Tuna" is a university musical society that dates back to the 16th century, almost every Spanish University department has one, originally only guys (but now there are a few female tunas) all wearing clothes that hark back to 16th century fashions! The colours depend on which department they belong to (in my Uni blue was for Science, red for Law, yellow History...)

We continued through the famous "Barrio Latino" looking for a place for lunch...

Plenty of great tapas bars there! The idea being you grab a beer and a tapa in one bar then move on to the next... but we wanted to sit down so went a bit further and found one with a terrace. ;o)

After lunch we finally gave our feet a rest and hopped on the metro (wonderful invention!) heading north looking for a British tea parlor for dessert, and then hit the streets again making our way back towards the centre. We stopped to admire the enormous flag flying above the Plaza de Colón,

Plaza de Colón

the fantastic buildings in the Malasaña neighbourhood

and finally arrived at the Plaza de España

with Cervantes gazing down on his most famous creation: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

A brisk walk to a park overlooking the lower part of the city and its forest gave us this fabulous view just after the sun had set:

Don't the Palacio Real and the Catedral de la Almudena look gorgeous in this light? I'd never seen them from this side!

Palacio Real and Catedral de la Almudena

Major surprise for me... just behind us was the Templo de Debod, a 2200 year-old Egyptian temple! Once dedicated to the cult of the gods Amun and Isis near Aswan, it was donated by the Egyptian government in 1968 in thanks for Spain's help in rescuing the temples of Abu Simbel (when the Abu Simbel damn was built, flooding the valley):

Templo de Debod

No time for walking after that because we only had an hour until the Reina Sofía museum closed! So quickly onto the metro and then out at the museum to take advantage of the free admission...

to at least go and admire Picasso's famous Guernica (as well as a few other of his works and some by Dalí):

Not allowed to take pictures of the artwork (grrrr!), but no one said anything of the people! ;o)

As you see you can find yourself spending all day walking around Madrid just going from one neighbourhood / monument to another, or going in and out of buildings, museums... There's so much to see and do downtown! This was barely an introduction to the most famous neighbourhoods! But I don't know if I'd recommend going all out like we did in a single day, 'cause you definitely want to save some energy to enjoy Madrid's nightlife! In spite of painful feet we couldn't help but heading out for the pubs after having a fabulous tapas dinner with more friends who arrived that evening... :o)


  1. Oh Cris, what a wonderful post! I have always wanted to visit Spain and your writing and photos makes me ache for it even more. Your photos are fantastic. I wish I could leave a comment under each one, they're all so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your visit. :)

  2. That looked like a wonderful way to spend the day. The buildings are gorgeous. Man of LaMancha is one of my favorite plays, so I'd love to get a picture of me in front of those statues.

  3. Vee, there is so much to see and do in Spain! It saddens me when I hear people just pop in and out of the country after a few days and basically have just "done" Barcelona. Sometimes they'll add in Madrid or Sevilla or Granada... all great places but there's so much more! (and less touristy)

    Kim, it was a fabulous day! Albeit exhausting ;o) And there's plenty of Don Quixote statues around this country to get some fun pcitures out of! There's even one in Bruxelles! :D


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