Chapter Twenty: Final Day In Madrid & Adios España

11Chapter Twenty:  Final Day In Madrid & Adios España

Days Twenty & Twenty One – A Peaceful Retreat, Colorful Area, Nothing Blooming Here, The Monastery Shut-Out, How The Other Half Lives, Missed It By That Much, The Invisible Man, A Fruitful GinTonic, Are You Going To San Francesco, A Last Stroll Through Madrid, Ginger (But No MaryAnn), What About Flamenco, The Unexpected Return Of Nurse Ratched, Down The Stretch They Come and Maitaitom’s Spain Epilogue

Our last day in Spain and our last day downing excess calories at the Brown Bear. It was ok, however, since we calculated at the end of this day…our 20th…in Spain, we had walked in excess of 200 miles.  Oh, our aching feet!

P1030234After indulging ourselves with even more pastries, it was time for strolling in the Parque…

P1030233…the Parque del Buen Retiro (The Retreat) that is.

P1030239At one time, this park was the place where Spanish monarchs and their friends hung out to play.

P1010127Now it’s a playground for families and certainly a place to beat the heat, because it’s stated that Parque del Buen Retiro “is home to more than 15,000 trees.”   I’ll go out on a limb that the figure is correct.

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The uniquely shaped trees stood out immediately…

2…and the shady lanes seemingly stretched forever.

P1010128We came upon the first lake where families were row, row, rowing their boats (they also have 15-minute rides in a solar-powered pleasure boat).

P1030245It’s on this lake where you can find the monument to King Alfonso XII; erected in the 1920s.

3Sure, we could have visited The Velázquez Palace (built in the 1880s), which houses temporary Reina Sofía Museum exhibitions.

4However being stabbed in the groin sounded better than having to witness more modern art…

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…plus it was beautiful outside and it wasn’t not too hot yet.

P1030256Up ahead was another small lake and next to it stood the Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace), which must be a pane to clean.

7Also constructed in the 1880s, it was originally planned as a gigantic greenhouse to contain tropical plants.  Instead, it is now used for exhibitions.

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The exhibition on the day we visited blanketed (literally) the inside of the Glass Palace.

9Colorful it was…

P1030260…and a good place to get some photos.

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We walked around the artificial lake…

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…and said hello to some turtles and ducks not to mention a swan or two.

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I would think if you lived in Madrid, this would be a spot you’d visit often. It’s a gorgeous green space encompassing more than 300 acres and a nice respite from those hot Madrid days.

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For us, however, it was time to travel to another green space, which was, unfortunately, a little too green this time of year.

5Our next stop was the relatively nearby Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid).  We paid our €3 and entered this garden located near the Prado.

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By the time of year we visited, most of the blooming plants were no longer blooming, so we did not spend an inordinate amount of time here.

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There are 20 acres of plants that come from five continents.

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Although, there was not a lot of color (as you can see, there some colorful flowers), it was still another peaceful breather from the big city…

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…where we now head toward.

P1030299After about ten minutes, we were back at the Elevator (I mean) Puerta del Sol where we said farewell to our buddy Tio Pepe, and then headed down a crowded shopping street.

12There had been one last religious site we all wanted to see, but we had sort of forgotten about it as we meandered about the city the previous day.  The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Monastery of the Royal Discalced, or Barefoot, Nuns) was a place in the 16th century where “aristocratic women — either disappointed in love or “wanting to be the bride of Christ” — stole away to this convent to take the veil. Each brought a dowry, making this Habsburg gem, which was founded by Joan of Austria in the 16th century, one of the richest convents in the land. By the mid-20th century, it sheltered mostly poor women. True, it still contained a priceless collection of art treasures, but the sisters were forbidden to auction anything; in fact, they were literally starving. The state intervened, and the pope granted special dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960. A quarter of a century later, the European Council rated it ‘Museum of the Year,’ and today the public can look behind the walls of what had been a mysterious presence on one of the most beautiful squares in Old Madrid.”

Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales has guided tours, but we barely missed the last one of the morning, and the afternoon tours were sold out. Just another reason to return.

When Mary stated she wanted to go shopping, I feigned a heart attack, so we split up for a few hours.

Tracy and I instead headed to an old aristocrat’s house I had read about. The Museo Cerralbo was the home of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa (1845-1922), the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.  It was completed in 1893 and was actually designed as a house and museum, and is currently a state-owned museum directly managed by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. There was a short line, and after we paid our €3 we were informed that there were no more English audio guides (they couldn’t have had too many because I didn’t hear anyone speaking in English). We took a pamphlet and off we went to explore.

P1030301First we walked outside to see some of the statuary in the garden area.

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The Main Staircase is very impressive with a wrought iron handrail originally from the Palace of Bárbara de Braganza…the current Palace of Justice of Madrid.

P1030310The walls are adorned with some tapestries and paintings.  Here are just a few of the rooms we visited.

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On the “Noble Floor,” we saw the Museum of Arms (take that Venus de Milo) that has approximately 700 pieces of arms and armor.

P1030317On the “Main Floor” we visited the Gala Dining Room where you could have a very nice dinner party…

P1030326…a state room office with some cool clocks…

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…..and some Galleries (three in all)…

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…that had some beautiful paintings.

P1030352The Dance Hall, complete with Venetian mirrors (no disco balls, however) and beautiful ceiling, completed our tour.

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This was an unexpected little treasure in Madrid.

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I hadn’t heard much about it, but if you have an hour to kill, I’d go for it.

Tracy and I hopped in a cab and traveled toward the Cibeles Palace, where we hoped we could catch lunch upstairs.  Once again, we just missed making it by a few minutes (eight to be exact).

P1010119We walked along that tree-lined street back toward the Prado…

P1030361…passing some statues and monuments on our way to a restaurant we had seen the previous day, which was located behind our newest favorite art museum.

P1030364Just before we got there, I ran into a guy who had a serious problem…he was without a head (I surmised he must have been a saint, although he wasn’t holding his head in his arms like saints usually do).

IMG_2726Although I did not make eye contact with him, I did stop to pose with him so people wouldn’t think I concocted this tale.

P1030370Dating from 1927, the Café Murillo turned out to be the place where I had my most healthy and fruitful GinTonic.  Out came a glass full of ice, orange peels and strawberries.

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Our waiter poured a healthy amount of gin into the glass (and I mean healthy), and it was left to me to add the tonic.  Ah Madrid!

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Lunch was terrific.  I chose the hamburger with chipotle mayo, while Tracy dined on a chicken curry salad with watercress and banana bread.

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Now it was time to head back to the apartment and pack…for some of us. I asked the three, “Are you going to San Francisco?”

San_Francisco flowersI believe it was Kim who replied, “Not even if I wear flowers in my hair.”   My traveling companions including my lovely wife were done with sightseeing…but not me.

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I popped into a nearby taxi and said, “Take me to San Francisco!”   It was off to the Basílica de San Francisco el Grande, and I’ll be darned…it was open…it even had flowers placed in the little traffic circle outside the basilica.  Scott McKenzie would have been happy.

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They must have just opened the doors, because there was no one there to take my money, and I had the place nearly all to myself.  This basilica was built in 1760 on the orders of Carlos III, and it stands where (supposedly) a Franciscan convent founded by St. Francis of Assisi stood in 1217.

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It has quite a dome…the largest in Spain and bigger than St. Paul’s in London.

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Walking around the basilica for about a half hour admiring the interior, only a few stragglers joined me.

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I bade goodbye to some saints, and I was on my way back to the apartment where fortunately Tracy had packed my stuff (I told you I married well).

To say we were tired would be stating the obvious.

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We walked for about 20 – 30 minutes in search of a dining establishment, but decided to head back toward Plaza Santa Ana to a restaurant we had passed a dozen times.  The interior looked beautiful, so this where we wanted to plant ourselves for our last Madrid meal.

14Dining at Ginger (Plaza del Ángel, 12) proved that we are truly Americans. It was about 7:58, and it opened at 8.  Obviously, there was no one inside yet (only crazy Americans would want to dine right now, eh?), but we asked if we could be seated inside for dinner.

P1030408They politely showed us to our table, and about ten minutes later they were ready to serve us.  By then, others had come in, and shockingly some of them spoke in different languages, so I guess Americans aren’t the only early diners on earth.

17We enjoyed a very nice meal, and afterward we made a quick trip to Plaza Mayor, and then back toward our apartment we walked.

18I tried to talk the gang into a mai tai…to no avail.

P1030412We passed by a woman who had implored us on more than one occasion to come inside and see the flamenco performance at her establishment.  Exhausted by three weeks of non-stop travel, we politely passed.

Later, as we were about to drift off to sleep Tracy asked, “Are you sorry we didn’t see any flamenco on our trip?”

“No,” I replied quietly. “That’s why they invented YouTube.”

P1030415The next day, we zoomed to the airport with no traffic, navigated the airport with ease, bid good-bye to Kim and Mary, and soon we were comfortably placed in our Business Class Pods headed for home.

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As I eased into my American Airlines Living Pod (which was slightly larger than my dorm room at San Diego State…Tracy’s pod was nowhere in sight) I came back to reality with a thud when I saw our flight attendant was none other than Nurse Ratched, the same evil woman who “attended” to us on our first flight.

nurseratchedShe did not disappoint…she was just as rude on this crossing as she was on the previous flight.

We had a rather long layover in Miami (spending only a few minutes at the crappy American lounge) and dined at Don Shula’s sports bar, where we witnessed FC Barcelona capture the Champions League title and American Pharoah win the third and final leg of the Triple Crown.

Finally back home, I drifted off to sleep in a hurry, and just like that night, I still have dreams about our time spent in wonderful España.

Epilogue:

our view wineJust a quick rundown and random thoughts…

Spain: I found the people of Spain to be the nicest we’ve encountered anywhere on our travels. I am of the belief that if you treat people with friendliness and respect they return the favor by mostly treating you in kind.  I think that a lot of people who find citizens of another country rude should probably look at themselves in the mirror, because my educated guess is for those folks it’s a “you problem” and not a “they problem.” And the sights of Spain…well, simply stated, we were all pretty blown-away by the incredible sights we viewed along the way.

1 Sagrada Exterior                                      1 Sagrada Interior (1)

Barcelona:  What a great place to start our Spain journey.

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Yes, there’s a lot of Gaudí architecture (which I found fascinating) to be found, but there’s a whole lot more…

4 Hospital 6…including learning about our favorite architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

5 Palau 2We went non-stop from morning to night (well, I guess we do that everywhere)…

3 art 2                           1 Mont 12  …and we still just touched the surface in our five days.

Granada:

22We found that gritty, little Granada is a pretty cool place, which was helped by staying at an apartment with million-dollar views.

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The Alhambra was magnificent, and we enjoyed our two-plus days here immensely.

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Don’t short-shrift Granada!

Pueblos Blancos:

P1020037OK, it was not our favorite (I think we’re spoiled by French and Italian hill-towns).  That said, we did see an historic bull ring in Ronda…

P1000569…and our little hotel in Zahara de la Sierra was a winner (great meal).

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It was a peaceful stop for a quiet night along the lake, plus Grazamela was a cute little town worth a diversion if you’re in the area.

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Say “hi” to the sheep and goats.

Sevilla:

P1000711It’s all it’s cracked up to be.

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The Alcazar was astounding…

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…and the city vibrant.

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Three nights was the perfect amount of time to spend here.

41Córdoba:

18Of all the “larger” towns, we would classify this as our least favorite, but that is not to say you shouldn’t visit (competition for the “best towns of Spain” was a tough one).

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The Mezquita is quite possibly the most remarkable structure I have ever visited…

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…and, upon further review, the patios were colorful (probably much more so if you visit earlier in May).

35Toledo:

P1020943I would say Toledo being our favorite was a surprise, but when I think about it, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise.  We were told by many, “Just make Toledo a day trip,” but when I researched the town while doing my planning, it seemed like there was so much to see.

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Every once in a while I’m right.  It wasn’t so much the sights (although I really want to come back and see the cathedral altar) as the vibe.  It was just a great little town.

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And it was here I realized I was an El Greco fan…

IMG_2543…and that GinTonics can be blue.

25Take the tourist train for great views.

Madrid: 

6Now this was a surprise! Reading some accounts, I thought Madrid might be just one big, dirty city.  On the contrary, Madrid also had a cool vibe (dozens of little plazas where people gather for eating and drinking).

P1010132It also has more green space than I thought, a palace for the ages…

23…and the greatest art museum on earth (well, in my opinion).  It’s here where I fell in love with the crazy paintings of El Bosco.

P1030108We liked it so much, we are considering Madrid as a place to spend a future Christmas week.

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This trip was also an important one for me personally.  After getting pretty ill in Paris the year before, part of me thought my traveling days might be over.  Had I not already booked our FF miles before our Paris trip, I might even have canceled Spain. Thank heavens I didn’t.

The rumors are confirmed…“MaiTaiTom’s Insane For Spain!”

RooftopThe people and sights of Spain rejuvenated me, and now it’s onward and upward to further travels…always trying to incorporate the motto:

Enjoy The Journey!
Attitude Is Everything!

 

 

 

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