European Capital of Culture 2000 – Santiago de Compostela

Santiago Cathedral

“Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.” 
                                                                                         Sir Walter Raleigh

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Seventh in the final competition results was another Cathedral, out of a total of five in the top twelve, this time Santiago de Compostela

If El Cid represents the secular aspects of heroism and military conquest during the Reconquista then the spiritual hero representing the religious justification and the Christian ethos of the crusade against the Muslims was Santiago, St James the Apostle, and the patron Saint of Spain.

Scallop Shell Santiago de Compostela

In ‘Don Quixote’ Cervantes wrote ‘St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.’  Ever since the reconquest ‘Santiago y cierra España’, which means ‘St James and strike for Spain’ has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout disciple of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa I arrested and (allegedly) personally beheaded him in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body back to the peninsula. On the way they were caught in a storm and were almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

Besalu Catalonia Spain

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Pilgrims Way of Saint James

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and when I visited there were many who could be identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travel but all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

There was certainly no mistaking that this is a very holy city indeed and the route to the Cathedral was lined with churches, monasteries and seminaries and finally we emerged into the central square, Praza de Obradoiro, where the Cathedral (which is depicted on Spanish eurocent coins) loomed high above in a most spectacular and impressive way.  Inside, the Cathedral is nearly a hundred metres long and over twenty metres high and is the largest Romanesque church in Spain as well as being one of the biggest in Europe.

We took an hour or so to look around but it was a approaching lunch time and so we declined to join the long queue of pilgrims and visitors who were waiting in line to visit the crypt and see the box that contains the bones and other grisly relics of St James and left by a side door that opened onto another remarkable courtyard that was surrounded by huge medieval buildings and magnificent towering statues.

Santiago Saint James The Moor Slayer

The Cross of St. James includes the lower part  fashioned as a sword blade making this a cross of a warrior and in crusading terms the symbol of taking up the sword in the name of Christ.   Most notably, it was the emblem of the twelfth-century military Order of Santiago, named after Saint James the Great.

These days we are a bit more sensitive about religious wars and killing each other in the name of God or Allah and in 2004 a statue in Santiago Cathedral showing St James slicing the heads off Moorish invaders was removed and replaced with a more benign image of him as a pilgrim to avoid causing offence to Muslims.   A Cathedral spokesman in a classic understatement said that the Baroque image of a sword-wielding St James cutting the heads off Moors was not a very sensitive or evangelical interpretation that can be easily reconciled to the teachings of Christ. Good point!

Saint James at Santiago de Compostella

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More posts about El Cid:

El Cid and the Spanish Reconquista

El Cid and his Horse, Babieca

El Cid and his Wife, Ximena

El Cid and his sword. La Tizona

El Cid and Saint James

El Cid and Alfonso VI

El Cid and the City of Burgos

El Cid and the Castle of Belmonte

El Cid – The Film Fact and Fiction

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Burgos Weary Pilgrim

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Reykjavik

Reykjavikk Skyline from Hallgrímskirkja,

Today I continue my series of posts about places that I have visited that at some time have been designated either before or after as the  ‘European Capital of Culture’

With a clear sky we were hopeful that after returning from the restaurant that we might be able to see the Northern Lights but even if they were there then the lights from the city were way to bright for them to be visible so we went to bed disappointed,

In complete contrast to the weather on the previous two days there was a magnificent blue sky in the morning – as I woke I sensed sunlight leaking into the room around the edges of the curtains and from the hotel bedroom window Reyjkavik looked much more cheerful in the sunshine without its heavy overcoat of grey cloud and gloom with which we had become familiar.

And so before leaving we agreed to have one last walking tour of the city which is the World’s most northerly capital ( the most southerly capital is Wellington, New Zealand) and is the twin city of Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki in Scandinavia as well as Moscow  in Russia and (surprisingly) close to me in the United Kingdom, Kingston-upon-Hull.

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

After breakfast we checked out and stored our luggage and then walked into the city to see the parts we had missed on the first day and Mike was particularly keen to show his railway engine discovery to Kim and Margaret.  We had liked the Sólfar Suncraft so much the first time that we made for the seafront again and made a second visit there before we walked further along the promenade towards the docks until finding our progress barred by road works where underground heating pipes were being installed we abandoned this route and turned instead towards the city centre.

Iceland Reyjkavik

There were some bright new recently constructed buildings that reflected the new wealth of Iceland standing close to the older buildings and houses that were utilitarian grey but enlivened by gay coloured aluminium cladding, not gentle pastel shades like those in eastern Europe but strong vibrant primaries, reds, yellows and blues that were presumably chosen deliberately to cheer up long cold winter days.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Maintaining property must be a nightmare here and the timber must require constant attention as in many places the bony fingers of winter frost had mischievously picked away at peeling paintwork allowing the damp to penetrate the wood underneath with no doubt dire and irreversible consequences.  I like to repaint my house every twenty years or so whether it needs it or not but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they have to do this painful operation twice a year in Reykjavik at least!

Iceland Reyjkavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral however was not to visit the interior but to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

Back at the bottom we walked to what I suppose you might call the old town, the site of the original Viking settlement and the administrative centre of Reykjavik with the Parliament building, the President’s official residence and the Government buildings and as we walked Mike carefully nudged us towards the port area for a second inspection of the railway engine.

The docks were busy this morning with cargo ships unloading, the tugs making their way in and out of port and some brave (crazy) men on a training vessel practising some rescue procedures and taking it in turn to one by one jump into the icy cold waters.  Our route took us past the conference centre where exhibitors were packing away their Arctic Energy Conference displays and it looked quite empty now.

Our time in Reyjkavik was coming to an end so we enjoyed one last walk along the waterfront as far as Sólfar Suncraft and then walked back in the direction of the hotel stopping on the way at the little café that we liked for coffee and cake and then to be reunited with the little Chevrolet Spark that we collected from the hotel car park and then left the city in the direction of Keflavik, the airport, the Blue Lagoon and our final hotel.

Sólfar suncraft Reykjavik Iceland

Travelling – Holiday Camps

On April 11th 1936 Billy Butlin opened his first Holiday Camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire and although I worked there one summer season in 1973 I have never stayed at Butlins as a holiday maker I have, on family holidays, stayed several times at the NALGO Holiday Camp at Croyde Bay in Devon.

NALGO stood for National Association of Local Government Officers, a white-collar Trade Union that along with Cayton Bay in Scarborough owned and operated Croyde Bay Holiday Camp for its members.  Dad was branch secretary of the Rugby Rural District Branch so I suppose it was inevitable that we would holiday there and we went for the first time after he had learned to drive and had his first car in 1964.

It was a long drive from Rugby to Devon and without motorways this meant an early start.  Dad didn’t like stopping much once he had got going but I am fairly certain at some point he would have been required to pull up by the side of the road so that we could have the obligatory picnic.  Mum had prepared the spam sandwiches the night before and we were going to eat them whether anyone wanted them or not!

The old Austin couldn’t go very fast and this combined with dad’s steady driving meant a journey that today would take no more than three hours would take five or six squashed in the back seat with my brother and sister and grandparents, because they generally came along on family holidays as well.  Naturally therefore we were all thoroughly relieved when shortly after passing through Barnstable we could see the signs for Croyde Bay and we were really glad when we pulled into the camp off Croyde Road and dad went to the office to register our arrival and be allocated our holiday chalets, which would be home for the next week.

The cost of a chalet for a week in the late 1960s was about £14 which was not an inconsiderable sum and probably just about a week’s wages for my dad.

There were approximately one hundred and fifty semi-detached chalets, all pebble-dashed and painted green and white, each having its own tidy front garden full of rose bushes and standing in neat regimented rows around the various open green spaces.  Inside they were sparsely furnished with none of the facilities that today would be regarded as basic essentials. A lingering smell of tobacco smoke of course because this was in the days before smoking was frowned upon.

Floral curtains at the windows and two single beds, a wardrobe and a bedside table was just about it but they did have a separate bathroom with a gas hot water geyser system so at least it was a notch up from caravanning with communal wash rooms and toilets.

Croyde Bay Bedroom

The camp was nicely laid out with a big central green area where all the events were carried out – sports day, Miss Croyde Bay competition (my sister won the competition in 1972), knobbly knees and so on.  The prizes weren’t very thrilling – vouchers that had to be spent in the camp shop.

Later on they built an outdoor swimming poll in one corner but it wasn’t there the first time that we stayed.  In other parts of the grounds there were grass tennis courts (later converted to clay), mini clock golf and a bowling green exclusively for adults.

The main communal areas were basically a series of wooden huts and here was  the dining room and the concert hall where there was a full programme of events, a couple of dances, a camp concert and a cinema evening.  There was no bar (until 1971) so if adults wanted a drink they had to walk to the village which is where my granddad disappeared to most days.

The Camp of course had its own Ted Bovis (Hi-de-Hi) who had the nickname‘Sporty’ and his job was to provide all of the non stop entertainment for the week.  This must have been a tedious ‘groundhog day’ sort of job going through the same routine week after week after week.  Actually everyone was obliged to have a camp nickname which had to be written on a cardboard badge and pinned on our shirts and blouses.

All of the guests were allocated duties to help the camp run smoothly and every day began at some ungodly hour when someone with the ‘wakey wakey bell’ walked along the rows of chalets with an early morning alarm call.  By the end of the week this was the most popular man in the camp!

Breakfast and evening meal was served in the dining room where everyone sat in rows at wooden tables with plastic table cloths and selected from the menu (take it or leave it) and I don’t remember it being a fine dining experience!

You didn’t want to be  late for dinner either because whenever anyone entered the dining room late everyone shouted “BOX” at them as a reminder of the late fine and they had to put some change in the box that hung on the door.  Dinner was a secular arrangement without grace but I  remember everyone singing out loud the song “always eat when you are hungry” every meal time.   Not sure who started it off each day!

croyde-bay-dining-room

The events started soon after parents had put the children to bed and this was a bizarre thing that I couldn’t imagine happening now but people volunteered to do baby listening patrols and parents were entirely comfortable with this arrangement.  I mean these people hadn’t had CRB checks or anything to confirm their suitability for such responsibility.  They would walk around the camp with a wooden baton as a symbol of their responsibility and if they heard a baby cry or came across a distressed child they would run back to the concert hall and chalk a message on a blackboard to alert the party going parents who may or may not have rushed back to sort the problem.

  

The best thing about Croyde Bay was the location squeezed in between a pretty Devonshire village and a magnificent crescent-shaped sandy beach.  In the village there were quaint houses and cream tea shops and on the beach the sea rolled in and crashed onto the sand in big Atlantic breakers.  A path from the camp led down past the tennis courts and through sand dunes, across permanently soft dry sand above the high tide line and then an endless stretch of hard wet sand that was just perfect for beach cricket and football, flying kites and making sand castles.

There wasn’t really any need to leave the camp so the car stayed locked up resting in the car park while we spent sunny days on the beach or wet ones being entertained in the concert hall.  Most people joined in on sports day and there was a prize giving night sometime towards the end of the  week.  I liked going to Croyde Bay Holiday Camp and it was a good job I did because we returned several times over the next few years in 1967, 1972 when I met and fell in love with a girl from Edinburgh, Jackie Grieg, and finally in 1974 when I was really too old to be hanging about with my parents on a holiday camp vacation.  In between we went to Cayton Bay in 1970 but I didn’t like it there quite so much.

Croyde Bay Holiday Camp is still there but it has been reinvented as Croyde Bay Holiday Village, my Mum went there a couple of years ago and she said that it hadn’t changed very much at all.  I thanked her for the tip-off and went immediately to the Ryanair site to look for a cheap air flight to somewhere exciting in Europe.

Postcard at the top of the post courtesy of –

http://postcardnostalgia.co.uk/west_country/croyde_bay/nalgo_holiday_camp.htm

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Prague

Prague Czech Republic

On arrival in Prague we joined others in a mini-bus taxi that took us efficiently to the city and our hotel for a very reasonable rate.  A good taxi ride, most unexpected, what an excellent start!

The hotel was first class and we had an interesting room in a converted attic that was clean and spacious but with a lot of what I thought were unnecessary instructions on how guests shouldn’t move the furniture around, I mean, unless they were practising Feng Shui and were particularly picky about the bed facing a special direction or something why would anybody want to?

Prague Czech Republic

The receptionist was very helpful but gave far more information about the city than anyone could possibly cope with in one go and forgetting most of it almost immediately as it went in one ear and straight out of the other left the hotel to find somewhere for an evening meal.

Because it was late we decided not to go too far and found a charming little restaurant in an adjacent street and sat outside on an uneven pavement at a dangerously unstable table and ordered a first meal in Prague.

After a generous beef Stroganoff (always one of my favourites) we walked around for a while had another drink and then went back to the hotel.  We found the way back without a problem, but once inside the labyrinth of stairs got completely lost.  We had missed the correct route in the confusing warren of corridors and were in completely the wrong part of the hotel.  We sorted it out after a while, went to bed and slept well.

In the morning there was a good breakfast with the usual cold buffet full of continental offerings but with some unusual hot items in addition.  There were sausages but unfortunately they were frankfurters and I am afraid that I just do not like frankfurters because of that horrible rubbery chewy consistency.  Not much chance of a superior Lincolnshire sausage here because it is close to Germany of course and clearly under the Teutonic influence when it comes to bangers.

Prague Castle and Cathedral

The weather was overcast but seemed to be ever so slowly improving so we left the umbrellas behind and went out into the city.  Our first planned destination was the City’s old town, which was reached by crossing the Charles Bridge and I know that it was overcast and there was no sun to help cheer things up but the famous statues were dull and grimy and seemed to me to be desperately in need of a good scrub.  There must be enough tourist revenues pouring in to fund the process and I am sure that the city authorities are thinking about it but they really need to get on with the job.

I have an idea to help them.  One statue, St John Nepomuk, is supposed to bring luck to those who touch it and it is polished bright where tourists rub their hands on it.  If the City spread the word that touching any statue would bring similar good fortune then they would all be gleaming clean in no time at all.

St John Nepomuk

Actually I found this statue a bit surprising because poor old John Nepomuk didn’t seem to have a great deal of luck himself in his lifetime as he was a Jesuit priest who was tortured and killed by King Wenceslas in 1393 and his body was thrown into the river.  Because of his aquatic final resting place he is regarded as a protector from floods but he must have been off duty in August 2003 when the city endured its worst floods for two hundred years and forty thousand people were evacuated and the cost of repairing the damage ran into billions.

The streets were busy and we walked until reaching the old town, which opened up into a spacious and welcoming central square and it was free of traffic so we were able to wander aimlessly around looking ever upwards and admiring the buildings that surrounded it.

In the centre is the Jan Hus monument, a religious reformer who was burnt at the stake for his beliefs.  I was beginning to detect a gruesome pattern here.  In the Middle Ages there always came a time where persisting with a point of view became dangerous to life and limb and poor old Jan obviously did not get his timing right, a bit like Thomas More and his out of touch views on King Henry’s wedding plans.

It was about half past ten so we sat at a pavement café and had a Staropramen, which is an agreeable Czech beer and surveyed the sky and speculated about whether the sun would come out.  Although it was early I don’t think anyone in Prague would have found this early drinking unusual because according to the Economist, in a poll in 2006, the people of the Czech republic are the biggest alcohol consuming nation in the World.

The weather didn’t look very promising but we strained my eyes searching for spreading patches of blue.  They appeared sometimes but always to be cruelly snatched away just when things seemed to be improving.  We optimistically assured ourselves that it would definitely be out by the afternoon.

Prague Czech Republic

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Travelling – What A View!

Ireland Inch BeachLake Bala WalesWalking in Altinkum TurkeyWest Cork Ireland

European Capital of Culture 1992 – Madrid

Philip IV and the Palacio Real

There was a definite autumn chill in the air when we went early to breakfast today, early because we were planning to visit the capital of Spain, Madrid.  Kim and I had previously planned to visit in March but due to a misunderstanding about train bookings on my part we didn’t make it.

This time there could be no such problem because there isn’t a train station in Chinchón so we were planning to go by bus.

It was still cool as we waited for the five to ten bus to arrive but we trusted the weather forecast and were in our shirt sleeves, which drew some looks of open-mouthed disbelief from the local people who were wrapped in woollies and big coats.  I must confess to having been a bit uncomfortable and I was glad when the banana yellow no. 337 bus arrived dead on time and we relieved to find that the driver had the heating on.

Alcalá de Henares Madrid Spain

It is only forty-five kilometres to Madrid but that is by the direct route and the bus didn’t take the direct route as it meandered around the back roads and made several stops on the way.  For the first part of the journey the journey was through fields of brown earth scorched into submission by the long Castilian summer and now waiting expectantly for winter respite and some rain.

Later it did speed up as it reached the outskirts of the third largest city in western Europe (after London and Berlin) and joined a motorway that took us to the final stop just on the edge of the central part of the city.

It had taken just over an hour and by the time we arrived it had thankfully begun to warm up.  We could have walked to the centre but we weren’t completely sure just how far that was so instead we elected for the metro.  Kim was nervous about this because the last time on a metro was in Athens when she had her camera stolen by a pickpocket.

This time she kept a vice like grip on her belongings but she needn’t have worried because it was way past rush hour and we didn’t share the carriage with that many passengers, which meant that it was easy to keep clear of those on board that she distrusted – and that was everyone by the way!

City Symbol of Madrid

It was only a short journey underground and we emerged quickly into the sunshine in the Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol right in the centre of the city.  After Paris, London, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe and there were a hundred and one things to do and see but all of the interesting stuff had to wait for a few minutes because the first thing Kim, Sue and Christine wanted to do was to go to a cake shop for a snack and a coffee.

This confused Mickey and I but we really had to concede mostly on account of this being Kim’s birthday and she was most determined to have a birthday cake before lunch.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Madrid, compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey or famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.

Madrid Cathedral

After we had had quite enough cakes we returned to the street and walked first in a westerly direction towards the Old City and the Palacio Real.  On the way we detoured via the Plaza Major the original city square with a large cobbled pedestrianised area, perfect for people to meet and chat and with grand buildings, a central statue and pavement cafés all around the sides.  We stayed for a while and then continued with our sightseeing.

It was an unusual day, it was approaching midday and there was a clear blue sky but it was cool in the shadows of the buildings and it was already obvious that we wouldn’t be enjoying the same high temperatures of just a couple of days ago.  We passed through the Mercado de San Miguel, which was no doubt once a proper indoor market but has now been converted to a rather trendy bijou sort of place with specialist food stalls offering small samples and a good range of vibrant tapas bars.  We might have stayed for a snack but we were still full of cake so we just wandered through and left.

Following the Calle Mayor we arrived at the city cathedral which seemed unusually modern and the reason for this is that when the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo so the new one had no cathedral. There obviously wasn’t a great deal of urgency about the matter however and construction of a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena did not begin until 1879 and due to the volatility of Spanish politics in the twentieth century was not completed until 1993.

Catalonia Spain

Next door to the Cathedral is the Palacio Real de Madrid, which with an area of one hundred and thirty-five square metres and nearly three thousand rooms is the biggest Palace in Europe and more than twice as big as Buckingham Palace in London.  It is the official residence of the King of Spain but he doesn’t live there, probably because it must be a bugger to heat in the winter and it is only used for official State Ceremonies.

King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family choose to live instead in the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.

We walked around the outside of the white stone palace and admired the views over the royal gardens and then visited the adjacent Plaza de Orient a spacious and well laid out pedestrian area with an extravagant fountain and equestrian statue of Philip IV surrounded by immaculate gardens with lines of statues of former Kings celebrating the period of the Reconquesta.

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More posts about Royal Palaces:

Spain 2009 – Arunjuez

Palace Real Alcázar, Seville

San Ildefonso o La Granja

Palace of Versailles

Peterhof Palace, Saint-Petersburg

Buckingham Palace, London

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