Tag Archives: Madrid

A Look Back at 2019

After a slow start to the year we finally got started in…

April

12 Cornwall

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning

May

Valencia Spain

I like Valencia and this was my second visit, it is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

June

Berlin Spies

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

Madrid Postcard

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.

July

Skipsea Cornfield

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands

September

Algarve Postcard Map 3

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

In 2017 we travelled through Northern Portugal using the trains but this time we planned to go South where the railway network is difficult or practically non-existent, so this time we were driving.  Our plan was to visit the Algarve region and visit the towns and beaches of the south and west and then head inland to the historic towns of Beja, Evora, Estremoz and Elvas and also to spend a few days in Extremadura in Spain.

October

Corfu Map

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

December

Berlin Hoff Hause

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.  This time I liked it a whole lot better – I was right to go back.

All in all, a very good year!

Travels in Spain – Statues

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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.

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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.

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More posts about statues…

Naples, Italy

Statues in Spain

Leif Ericson in the USA

 

Favourite Places in Spain, Chinchon in Comunidad de Madrid

Chinchon 005

From Besalu in Catalonia to Chinchon in Castilla-La Mancha about four hundred and fifty miles to the south.

The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies all painted a uniform shade of green called ‘claros’ and below these shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement.

It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight as it happens, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

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Travels in Italy, A Walk Around San Marino

San Marino View

The bus left more or less on time and drove inland away from Rimini and towards the three peaks of Mount Titano part of the Appenine Mountain Range and each with a fortress built on the very top.

We watched for the state border but with no passport controls we passed through and barely noticed and then the bus began to climb and the road weaved this way and that in extravagant hairpin bends and loops and the engine and the gearbox began to groan and complain.

It was quite a climb because at 1076 feet above sea level and about half way to the top of the mountain the city of San Marino is the sixth highest capital in Europe after Andorra la Vella (3356), Madrid (2188), Bern (1778), Sarajevo (1699) and Vaduz (1403); it is also the fifth highest city in the Italian peninsular.

As it happens I have been to Vaduz, in 2007 on a visit to Liechtenstein and it was probably one of the worst cities that I have been to in Europe, drab and featureless it is on my list of recommended places to avoid and I hoped that San Marino wouldn’t be a similar disappointment.

Eventually the bus wheezed to a halt in a coach park and immediately there were grand sweeping views across the mountains towards the plains and eventually the Adriatic Sea to the east.  It was breath-taking and wonderful.

San Marino Traffic Control

But we were at the bottom of the city and now there was a long walk to the very top, another fifteen hundred feet or so above us and this involved negotiating an awful lot of steps so we set off and entered the city and into a world of mazy streets and secret alleyways that all offered alternative routes to the top.

My immediate impression was that this was a very well maintained city, spotlessly clean with immaculate flower borders and neatly trimmed lawns, quite unlike anything that we had seen so far.  It was a Disney EPCOT World Showcase sort of place where the emphasis was firmly on entertaining the tourists.

It reminded me of Carcassonne, Rocamador and Mont St Michel in France where there is an obvious disconnection with the real world, passing into a place such as this is like temporarily leaving the real world and the route to the top took us past rows and rows of well-stocked tourist shops, restaurants and duty free boutiques.  Thankfully not like Vaduz at all.

San Marino Garibaldi

Inevitably we passed through Piazza Garibaldi and found the statue that I was looking for to add to my collection of photographs and I stopped for a while to reflect on it.  In almost every city and town in Italy there is a statue of Garibaldi to commemorate the Unification of Italy into one single State but here in San Marino there is a statue of Garibaldi to commemorate not being included in that unification.

After Garibaldi we passed through the Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall of the city with the entrance protected by three members of the Fortress Guard Corps in their bottle green jackets and scarlet trousers and although I know very little about fashion I thought this to be a rather odd combination of colours and then the Basilica of the Saint designed and built, starting in 1826, by Antonio Serra, an architect from Bologna.

San Marino Army Guard

Despite these worthy distractions it didn’t take long to reach the top, well, we didn’t actually reach the top as we declined the visit to the battlements because there was an entrance fee involved so returned instead more or less the way that we had come and found a bar for a late lunch time drink.

We wondered if we should stay a while longer but that would only mean walking the same circuit again so at mid-afternoon we made our way back to the coach park and after another frantic tussle to board the bus returned directly to Rimini and walked back to our hotel along the sea-front which was continuing to be dismantled.

They seemed to be in a rush to complete the job but someone told us that a storm was forecast for the next day and they urgently needed to get things stored safely away.  We ignored the news about the storm and went to the same place for evening meal, we didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  Nine and a half miles walked today.

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