Category Archives: Spain

Thursday Doors, Besalú in Catalonia

Wooden Door of Catalonia Besalu

My full post about the charming town of Besalú can be seen here

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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Travels in Spain, The Royal Palace and Cathedral in Madrid

Madrid Royal Palace

We had skipped the Palace visit the previous day fearing that it would be too busy following the celebrations for five years of the reign of Filipe VI and the backlog of visitors so today we arrived early and joined a long line of people waiting to pay up and get inside the Royal residence.

It was 14th June and the next day was going to be sixty-five years old but the half price concession was a day away and although I was prepared to try and blag it the man at the entrance wanted proof of age so I decided not to risk pay desk humiliation and meekly handed over the full adult fee.  Anyway, I am sixty-five now (old and cranky according to Crystal) so this shouldn’t be a problem in the future.

I have visited other Royal Palaces in Spain at San Ildefonso O La Granja, El Escorial and Arunjuez so I was interested now to visit the most important of them all.  In fact the King of Spain has eight Royal Palaces to choose from but I suspect he doesn’t stay at any of them very often, most are close to Madrid and one is on the island of Mallorca.  By comparison the Queen of England also has eight Royal residencies but only one is officially a Palace (Buckingham of course). France doesn’t have a monarchy so has no Royal Palaces.

Madrid Palace Gardens

Once inside we began the tour and were immediately aware of the extreme opulence and the wealth of the Spanish Royal Family.  Obscene amount of money actually, there must surely be a way of redistributing such massive amounts of wealth.  If King Felipe VI got out a bit more into deprived areas then surely he would have a pang or two of guilt.

Currently there are twelve monarchies in Europe but rather surprisingly Spain is only ninth in the wealth list.  There are forty-five monarch states across the World but sixteen of these are courtesy of the Queen of England in her role as Head of the Commonwealth.  The three richest Royal Families in Europe are heads of State in three of the smallest countries, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Monaco.  I suspect also that Tsar Vladamir Putin is worth a bob or two.  Surely these people could spread it around a bit?

The walk through the rooms inside the Palace took nearly two hours so it was a good job that we were only visiting twenty-three out of three thousand four hundred and eighteen or else we would have been there for three months or so.  It was a good tour which finished with the Royal Crown Jewels and then the massive throne room.

Outside we wandered through the central courtyard and then to the Royal Armoury where there is a large collection of armour and items of warfare.  As within the main Palace photography was not allowed so this is a postcard that I had to buy in the gift shop…

001

…and this is a picture of my own collection of medieval lead soldiers which was a massive waste of money mistake and which was once in the house but is now relegated to an out of the way display in my shed…

Medieval Soldiers

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 throughout the twentieth century was not completed until 1993.

I am usually nervous about visiting cathedrals because I am aware that Kim is not especially keen.  She thinks that they are all rather similar and I confess that secretly I am forced to agree with her on this point.  Often they are instantly forgettable and all of the detail of the many merges into one.

Madrid Cathedral Exterior

As it turned out this one was a very good one, the usual trappings of a Cathedral of course but also some nice little twists with some good exhibitions and displays which even Kim enjoyed and almost a month after the visit I can recall a lot of the detail.

Leaving the Cathedral we walked back again to the City Centre, we were going to eat at what had become our favourite bar close to the hotel but the owner explained that there was a staff shortage and the kitchen wasn’t open so we went instead to a nearby place where we had enjoyed our daily breakfasts.  I had grilled squid, Kim had a generous tuna salad but for some unexplained reason Richard and Pauline had another calamari baguette which I thought was a very odd menu selection.  It looked equally as bad as the previous day and they both confirmed that yes, it was. Some people never learn.

Madrid Calamari Bocadillo

One thing I found interesting today was that the King of Spain doesn’t allow pictures in his house but the Lord God doesn’t mind.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

More Cathedrals of Spain

Travels in Spain, Madrid Door Three Ways

IMG_0305IMG_0306Madrid Door

Travels in Spain – Ernest Hemingway’s Madrid

Madrid Wine

“When you get to know it (Madrid), it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people, month in and month out the finest climate” – Ernest Hemingway

A nice quote but I am not so sure that even Hemingway was qualified to make this judgment.  Outside of Madrid he visited Pamplona in Navarre and Malaga and Ronda in Andalusia in pursuit of the bullfight but that seems to be about it.  He might have visited Segovia and Toledo near Madrid but this is not certain.  I have visited more cities in Spain than Ernest Hemingway but there again he didn’t have the benefit of cheap Ryanair flights.

Hemingway in Spain

After the unpleasant experience of the bocadillo de calamares and with the taste difficult to shift even with a beer mouthwash we quickly left the restaurant and returned to the streets and from the Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol walked south east towards Atocha train station because we wanted to check the timetable for an intended visit the following day to the nearby city of Segovia.

Well, that was a waste of time.  The man at the information desk had even less of a grasp of English than I have Spanish,  which to be fair is restricted to ordering beer and wine, but we did somehow manage to understand that trains to Segovia do not leave from Atocha but from an alternative station on the opposite side of the city.  He gave us some instructions on how to get there but it was an awful long way away and we had no intention of trying to walk there right now so it would have to wait.

Instead, we walked now to the Parque de el Retiro, which is a huge public park full of tall deciduous trees in their full spring glory and with paths that meandered meaninglessly below them deep in the shadows which gave welcome relief from the burning sun.  It used to be a Royal park reserved for the exclusive use of the King and his pals but it now belongs to the city so any riff-raff can go in and along with half of Madrid it would have been possible to spend an entire day in there alone.

Madrid Cortez

We wandered aimlessly past the monument to Alfonso XII adjacent to a large lake and the Palacio de Velasquez and then to the Palacio de Cristal, a sort of giant greenhouse modelled on the original Crystal Palace in London and open today and host to an unusual sculpture exhibition which I must say made little sense to me but then I also confess that I am the original Philistine when it comes to anything to do with art.

Unless there is nudity involved…

Madrid nude 2

Next to the Park is the World famous art museum  Del Prado where there is an entrance fee during the day but free admission after six o’clock for poor people to enjoy the last two hours of the day so we thought we might wait for that and anyway we were hungry so looked for a bar that might serve a dish of tapas or two with a drink.

If we had been able to afford it we might have gone to Restaurante Botín, open since 1725 on a tiny street behind Plaza Mayor which claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world. It is said that it was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway who regularly dined on the house speciality of roast suckling pig washed down with at least four bottles of Rioja.  Only four?  The front window displays an photograph of the writer and a quote from “The Sun Also Rises” that mentions the restaurant.

The owners of a nearby establishment playfully display a large sign above the door that boasts “HEMINGWAY NEVER ATE HERE.”

Madrid Oldest Restaurant

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile Alfonso the Wise visited a tavern near Cádiz and ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.

We found a bar that suited our budget and just like the king ordered a drink that was served with tapas and then, also like the King, we ordered a second.

Spain Tapas

So now we wandered back towards the city centre along a street of grand Government buildings, including the Congress of Deputies and back to Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol where we had started our first day in Madrid several hours earlier.  There was time for a quick drink at a pavement bar before Richard and I retraced our footsteps back to the Del Prado while the girls chose instead to go the department store El Corte Inglés. Culture is different things to different people and I no longer challenge that.

The free entry at six is so popular that it means that realistically if you want to get in with time to spare it is necessary to start queuing at five and when we arrived just before there was already a long line several yards long and we were a long way back from the entrance next to a grand statue of the painter Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez where we stood now and waited for fifty minutes or so.

This is the thirteenth most visited art gallery in Europe, first is the Louvre in Paris, second the Vatican Museum in Rome and third the Tate Modern in London.

I began to get concerned about how long it would take to get inside and worried that there might not be enough time to see all around the inside of the museum but at about six the line started to shuffle slowly forward at a pace as though people had shoe laces tied together but at about twenty past six we were inside.

Velasquez 01

I don’t really know what I was worrying about because to be honest I was completely bored with it all after about half an hour.  I enjoyed the exhibition of Goya paintings but after that everything was so samey. Let’s be honest there are only so many pictures of the crucifixion that you want to see or two hundred year old paintings of Charles III and the royal family so after only an hour or so I was happy to leave.  I told you that I am a Philistine.

In the early evening Richard was determined to eat at a restaurant recommended by this morning’s tour guide but was quite unable to follow the directions to get there.  We wandered aimlessly about for well over an hour or so before chancing across it and to Richard’s disappointment discovering it to be fully booked all evening.  We found an alternative place nearby and enjoyed a very nice substitute meal.

We planned to eat early, but ate late and like Hemingway stayed out longer than we had anticipated.  We finished our evening at the pavement bar directly outside of our hotel.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Travels in Spain, Statues in Madrid

Last time out I was in Berlin in Germany and was surprised to find so few grand statues.  Not so in Madrid which was my next destination.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

More posts about statues…

Naples, Italy

Statues in Spain

Leif Ericson in the USA

 

Travels in Spain, A Walking Tour of Madrid

Madrid Bear

“To go to bed at night in Madrid marks you as a little queer. For a long time your friends will be a little uncomfortable about it. Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” – Ernest Hemingway

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  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 and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

On the first day we could have taken the option of a city bus tour but I really do dislike them with most of the time spent in long lines of slow moving traffic or at red lights with nothing much to see and then flashing past places of interest with only a split second photo opportunity, so on our first day we decided to take a ‘free’ walking tour of the city.  I knew that it wouldn’t be ‘free’ of course but everyone else seemed to think that it was a good idea.

We joined the tour in the appropriately named Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol because the sun was blazing and in this wide open space the rays reflected off the buildings and the paving slabs and the temperature was rising steadily as we walked past the statues of King Charles III and the Bear and the Madroño tree, which we learned is the heraldic symbol of the city (top picture).

Madrid 04

Interesting I thought as only a month previously I had been in the city of Berlin which also has a bear as a city symbol and I was also reminded now that as a boy I grew up in Warwickshire which has a County symbol of a Bear and an Old Rugged Staff.  I expect lots of towns and cities adopt the bear as their symbol.  In the USA California has one on its flag and the bear is of course the symbol of the country of Russia.

This Berlin…

I Love Berlin Bear

This is my old Boy Scout badge Warwickshire Bear …

Warwickshire Bear

There have been no wild bears in England since William Shakespeare was a lad and none in Germany for nearly two hundred years but there are still some in Spain in Cantabria and Asturias in the north of the country.

The Plaza is the very centre of Madrid and the hub of the radial network of the city’s roads and from here we walked a few streets to the Plaza Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor is the original city square, impressive but not the largest in Spain because that honour belongs to Salamanca in Castilla y Leon.  In the centre stands a grand statue of King Philip III and this place has previously been a market, a bull ring and a place of gruesome public executions but now it is a large cobbled pedestrianised area, grand buildings, temporary exhibitions and pavement cafés all around the sides. We stayed for a while and then left to continue our tour.

The route weaved its way eastwards, stopping every so often to explain points of interest, a Flamenco Bar (where tickets were available for later) the oldest restaurant in the World (where tables were available for later) an expensive indoor market (where tables were available immediately) and a fast food place selling calamari sandwich which the guide explained is a popular lunch time snack in Madrid.

Madrid Calamari Sandwich

The tour took us as far as the Palacio Real de Madrid, which with an area of one hundred and thirty-five square metres and over three thousand rooms is the biggest Palace in Europe and more than twice as big as Buckingham Palace in London.  It is larger even than Versailles in France (sorry Versailles). 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 Felipe VI and the Royal Family choose to live instead in the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.

We decided that we would come back to the Palace later when the tour was finished.

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 and lines of ugly face statues of former Kings celebrating the period of the Reconquesta.

The walking tour finished close by with a selling pitch for more tours and a fee, I just knew that it wouldn’t be ‘free’ but to be fair it had been very good and we enjoyed it and we happily handed over a contribution to the guide.

It was time for lunch so we thought it might be a good idea to sit in the Plaza Mayor but when we arrived there the prices were higher than we generally like to pay so we abandoned this idea and returned to the Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol and looked for a tapas bar.  We selected one in a side street and instead of tapas all decided that we should try the calamari sandwich which I personally hoped might be similar to a nice fish-finger sandwich.  When it came it wasn’t and we wished we hadn’t so we washed it down with a beer and returned to the streets.  It was so bad that I can honestly say that I would have rather had a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish!

Filet O Fish

Or, even better, an English Fish Finger sandwich…

Fish finger sandwich

What would you choose, Calamari Baguette, McDonalds Filet-O-Fish or a Fish Finger Sandwich?

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Some time ago I wrote a post about my favourite Plaza Mayors in Spain.  You can read that post here.

Thursday Doors, Andalusia in Spain

IMG_9345

This is a door in the town of Puebla de Don Fadrique in Andalusia in Spain.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).