Day Seventeen – On Track Early, Baby That’s A Big Head, I Could Live Here, Hip To Be Square, Pleasing Plaza, My First Sangria, Regal Royal, Turning Japanese, There Are Never Enough Cathedrals, The Barber Of…Madrid and Dining Like It’s 1725.
I woke everyone early for our short 1/2 hour train ride to Madrid. Due to our early arrival, we relaxed in the patio of the historic Estacion del Ferrocarril with our croissants and coffee.
Arriving in Madrid, Spain Select had a taxi waiting for us (near the Baby Sculpture…With Giant Head… by Antonio Lopez at Puerta de Atocha Railway Station.
The sculpture represents the head of one of his grand-daughters, who must have a pretty big noggin. We were met at the apartment entrance by our Spain Select representative, Alex. “Marvelous” would be the word to describe the Lope de Vega II apartment.
This two bedroom, two bathroom abode had a beautiful living room and dining room, nice kitchen, plus a shower in the bedroom where Tracy and I slept that I wanted to take back to California with us.
The total cost of our beautiful digs was €155 (split two ways). I would stay here if it were just Tracy and me since it is nearly impossible to find a hotel this nice at that price.
Alex gave us the lay of the land. Our location in the Barrio de Las Letras area was terrific. It was just a short walk (about ten minutes) to the Prado.
As soon as Alex left, we checked out our neighborhood and found a fantastic little place where we would have breakfast each morning.
We wandered over to the Plaza Santa Ana (about a five-minute walk) and looked for a place to grab some lunch on the square. Lunch was very good (the crusty bread with grilled veggies and cheese was the winner)…
…and after chatting with a guy from Norway (I dazzled him with the three phrases I know in Norwegian), we headed toward the Plaza Mayor (about a ten-minute stroll along a street with numerous places to eat).
Tracy stopped in a store and made her best purchase of the trip…a €3 fan. Now we had our own flamenco dancer with us.
One thing we knew for sure when we entered Plaza Mayor, it was really hot. Once called Plaza Arrabal when it stood outside the city walls, Plaza Mayor became quite the happening place during the reign of the Habsburgs.
Events included bullfights, festivals and the dreaded autos de fé, which is where heretics were burned during the Spanish Inquisition. On this afternoon, they could have just placed them in the middle of the square, and they’d burn up on their own.
Very near the Plaza Mayor was the jam-packed Mercado de San Miguel, a historic market, and the last remaining iron market hall in Madrid. It turned 100 in 2016.
Mercado de San Miguel is similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona. There are lots of food stands and bars to go with all the fruits, veggies and fish they sell.
After paying our respects to Pinocchio…
Felipe had always been enamored with Versailles. It’s where he hung out with his grandpa, Louis XIV. There are stone statues of the Inca prince Atahualpa and our favorite, the (San Diego State) Aztec King…Montezuma (picture above on the left is courtesy of “Basilio” since mine did not come out). We refrained from singing the fight song (although I might have yelled, “Go Aztecs!”).
We walked past some statues…
…including that famed royal couple as we headed toward the grand staircase.
Once inside the palace (which has a total of more than 3,000 rooms…no, you don’t visit them all), we received the bad news that there was no photography allowed…spoilsports. If any building begs for photos, it’s this one, perhaps the most beautiful palace I’ve ever visited. So the few photos (from inside the palace) I will use come from Wikipedia, and hopefully, it will whet your appetite to visit. Entrance fee is €10, and the audio guide (highly recommended) was €4.
We were all able to capture a few shots of the ceiling above the Royal staircase (a gorgeous fresco by Corrado Gianquinto) before entering the palace.
I could see why photography is not allowed because this crowded palace might get bogged down with people (like us) taking hundreds of pictures in all of these incredibly beautiful rooms.
Oh, speaking of crowded, now I know how it feels to play in a Stanley Cup game. As I was politely listening to my audio guide, suddenly I was slammed (and I mean slammed) into a barrier as a Japanese tour group started barreling through me (easily a two-minute penalty) on their way to the next room. I was happy I was able to keep my balance and not break a priceless vase (or my shoulder).
It was reminiscent of Pompeii, where a tour director nearly beheaded me with her umbrella as she had her group storm one of the homes right as I was entering. I’ve had a fear of umbrellas ever since (I believe it is called BumberShootaphobia).
I was not alone when it came to this group’s zealousness. A short time later, people from the same tour pushed Kim fairly hard as he entered the restroom…
Back outside our wives had a bit of fun as we walked to an adjacent sight. Tracy was definitely getting her three euros worth out of that fan.
King Alfonso XII laid the first stone in 1883 (there’s a Mick Jagger joke in there somewhere), but it took 110 years to complete. Construction was halted during the Spanish Civil War and completely shut down in 1950. It was finally finished in 1993, and Pope John Paul II consecrated it. The door even highlights that.
Once again, the ceilings here take center stage.
We climbed some stairs…
She is the “Patroness of Madrid.”
The stained glass windows here are more modern than most churches, which makes sense.
We walked by the statue of Christ carrying the cross and another Virgin of Almudena statue…
…a pretty oil painting of the Flying Nun (although she was no Sally Field) and the tomb of Queen Maria.
One of the most impressive sculptures had no literature that we could find.
…plus see the homes of Guitars…
Near our restaurant, I started singing, “Figaro! Figaro!”
“What are you doing?” Tracy asked.
Before our walk, we once again made a quick stop at Mercado de San Miguel, where I finally had my first Sangria of the trip (which also happened to be my last Sangria of the trip). I liked it very much (as you can see I became a fan of it, but I felt like I was cheating on my beloved GinTonic and my mistress, red wine.
While Tracy and Mary put their feet up, Kim and I made the short walk to the Prado to pick up our Paseo Del Arte Muso, a pass that would allow us to visit Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Museo Reina Sofía (€ 25.60).
From the website, “The ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase in the museums’ ticket offices, or from the date of the selected visit upon making the purchase online. The Paseo del Arte Ticket must be redeemed at the ticket offices of the museum where the online purchase was made.”
Adjacent to the Prado (and up a hefty flight of steps) stood a beautiful church that we put on our list to stop in after visiting the Prado on the following day.
After a short rest at our apartment, it was back on the streets of Madrid. As you can see, on the way to our restaurant, Tracy was “swept off her feet” by this guy.
In another ten minutes, we arrived at Restaurante Sobrino de Botín (Calle Cuchilleros, 17), which has quite a distinction.
According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, this restaurant (started in 1725) is the “oldest restaurant in the world.” It has a wood-fired oven that dates back that far (our oven goes out every four years at home…go figure).
We were seated downstairs in the old room that gave us that caveman feeling.
Although the food was not overly memorable, it was, however, a good meal. We shared a green bean with ham appetizer. Kim had the roast baby lamb (house specialty), Mary the roasted chicken, Tracy tried a veal cutlet with potatoes, and I opted for the Grilled filet mignon Botín. We shared a bottle of red, and a bottle of white.
Plus I also had a really good dessert…the Tarta Botín…a cream layer cake. Our total price for dinner/wine… €136.
We walked back through Plaza Mayor, Plaza Santa Ana and by a restaurant in our neighborhood that looked busy, so when we got back to the apartment Mary reserved online an 8:30 reservation for the following evening…or so we thought.
Tomorrow, we would spend the better part of the day touring the “Big Three” art museums and then hang out with some college friends who also happened to be in Madrid, a city that would far exceed our expectations. We would also put a famous establishment on the dreaded “Elevator List.”
Next: Day Eighteen – Bear With Me, The Meat Loaf Art Museum Tour (Or Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad), Best Art Museum…Ever, My Favorite Crazy Artist, Going To The Dogs, An Incredible Artist We’d Never Heard Of, I Proclaim You King Of Spain, Lost In Translation, I Hope I Don’t Go Blind Looking At This, War What Is It Good For, What Reservation Are You Talking About, College Reunion and What’s All The Fuss About?