Madrid

I have to be honest, I’ve never been all that interested in Madrid, or Spain for that matter.  There are so many other places I would have chosen to go first.  Boy, was that a mistake.  Madrid is a unique and beautiful city, full of wonderful people, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. In most big cities, there’s a feeling of crowding, some dirt and grime, and a sense that things are just a little worn.  The opposite is true of Madrid.  It has wide, open streets with trees everywhere.  The buildings are well maintained so nothing feels tired or in need of a face lift.  It’s like a city would be if it was run by the people at Disney.  It’s clean, fresh, vibrant and varied.  And it’s like that block, after block, after block.  We walked all over the city and never found a place where we felt uncomfortable, where things were run-down, or you got the sense you were in a “bad” neighborhood.  It is a truly wonderful city. Another interesting thing is the people of Madrid don’t seem to stay home.  The streets are FULL of them.  And they aren’t rushing around like the people in New York.  They are out enjoying the day, interacting with each other, and spreading good will.  It’s hard not to be happy in Madrid, even if it did rain on us several times. My favorite thing about Madrid is Abby was there!  We finally caught up with her and she looks fantastic.  I have to say, her host family is taking excellent care of her and I can’t thank them enough, especially Cristina.  If you ever see this, Cristina,  muchas, muchas gracias!  And, I want all your recipes, especially for gazpacho! Okay, here’s some of the millions of pictures I took : )

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I know, strange picture, but it reminds me of something.  The ground floor of buildings in both Italy and Spain is always 0. So, if you’re looking for street level, punch the 0.  If you want the second floor, that would be 1; the third floor, punch 2, etc.  If there were floors below ground, they were simply -1, -2, etc.

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Here begins general pictures of beautiful Madrid.  Unlike other cities, there weren’t any iconic sights that everyone photographs.  Instead, everything was beautiful.

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I thought this was interesting.  Most of the highway-like roads in the city are underground, kind of like the Big Dig in Boston, only more so.  This isn’t a picture of a bridge.  This is a glimpse into the underground roadway where it emerges. The part of the picture loaded with plants is ground level and there are buildings, sidewalks, roads, etc. up there.

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This may seem like a simple square, but the building on the right dates back to the 15th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.  The one in the middle is 16th century, and the one on the right is 17th century. It still amazes me that such old buildings can look so fresh.

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A beautiful church near the Prado.

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Puerto Del Sol, one of the hearts of the city.  Abby described it as Times Square, and I think she’s right.  It was full of people at all hours of the day and night.  When I took this picture, it was near midnight.

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We found her!!!  Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 10, but we ate at the oldest continually running restaurant in the world.  It’s been open for business since about 1720.  The food was good, but nothing too fancy.

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A view of a street at midnight.

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This made me laugh.  The Ham Museum was actually an everything-ham store.  There were even hams hanging from the ceiling.  I think ham must be the national food of Spain because it was everywhere.  One of the things Spaniards like most is jamon Iberia, or Iberian ham.  It’s a lot like proscuitto, only better.

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More random street views.  Beautiful, everywhere.

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This is Plaza Mayor, the site of the Spanish Inquisition.  Today, it’s a favorite gathering place for Spaniards.

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Umm, Spidey might need a diet.

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More random views we found just walking around.  Actually, the bottom picture here is the same as the night one, above, just from a different angle.

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One of the joys of Madrid is the churro.  It’s often a breakfast food in Madrid, but more likely it’s where the kids go when the clubs close.  (By the way, clubs in Madrid don’t open until 1 am, and they close around 6 am.)  The churros are often served with chocolate for dipping, or somethings they have a little sugar sprinkled on them.  I didn’t see any with cinnamon sugar, like at Costco.  : )

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Mickey better watch it, Bob might want to steal his girl.

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More of the beautiful streets.

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This is the Institute where Abby has her Spanish classes.

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While many people speak English, translations can sometimes be amusing.  Abby said she’s seen several t-shirts around town where schlocky translation made the slogan awkward.  Here, the Gaspacho is described as “could soap.”

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I think this is more what paella is supposed to be, but the menu referred to it as a rice dish.  Bob and Abby loved it, even the little tentacles and black-eyed shrimp.

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After lunch, we just wandered the city and ended up walking through the equivalent of Central Park.  It’s called Parque De El Retiro.

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More of the Parque De El Retiro and the Crystal Palace that’s there.

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Everywhere we went, people were out enjoying the day.  Of course, this weekend was also Columbus Day.  I never thought about how that day might be celebrated in Madrid, I assumed it was just an American holiday.  But I’d be wrong.  It’s actually a really big deal in Madrid.  There was a huge parade with the King, and everything.  More on that later.

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The park was very pretty.

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This is the Prado.  We really enjoyed wandering through, but no pictures were allowed.

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More of beautiful Madrid.

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Now this was interesting.  It’s a vertical garden.  It appears they were replanting the right side, but he left side was well developed.

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So many of the streets looked like this.  Wide, open, lots of trees, clean.

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This is the parade I mentioned above.  It was in honor of Columbus Day.  We waited for it to start, but decided to move on to the art museum instead.

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Apparently, the donuts don’t go over so well in Spain so they focus on the coffee instead.

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More of the parade.  These guys were all lined up and ready to start.  I have no idea who they are, but I’m assuming they were police, branches of the military, things like that.  There was lots of chanting, singing, and cheering going on.

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Okay, time to talk about the hours people keep in Spain because they’re weird.  First, you have to know the sun didn’t rise until about 8 a.m.  When we left the hotel to catch a tour bus at 7:30, it was still dark outside.  I think that’s why typical things for Spaniards are skewed.  For example, breakfast isn’t until about 9:30, if they eat it at all.  Lunch is from about 2-4 p.m. and its the main meal of the day.  This is also the time they take siesta, if they want to.  Dinner doesn’t start until 9 p.m.

While most stores stay open all day, many other businesses still close from 2-4 p.m.  During that time, everyone actually goes home for lunch.  That means there are several “rush hours” in Spain because people come and go to work two times a day.  The same is true of school.  The kids go from about 10-2, then they return at 4 and get out around 7.

Abby was always amazed at how late the Spaniards stay out.  She said the main squares, like Puerto Del Sol, are swamped at 3 a.m. and there are many families still out enjoying ice cream and strolling around at that hour.  That includes babies in strollers and toddlers on their parents’ shoulders.

In the picture above, we were starving at 1:30 in the afternoon.  We stopped in this place, that had just opened, but it was as deserted as a lunch place that opens at 10:30 a.m. in the US.  It was beginning to pick up business at 2:30 when we left.

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McDonalds, anyone?

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This is Puerto Del Sol on Columbus Day at about 3 in the afternoon.  Very crowded.