“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.
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.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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…