We had visited Madrid for a few days several years ago, so some of the major sights had already been seen. But we did want to return to a few, plus see some new ones.
Our apartment was in the Gran Via area, which turned out to be quite “interesting”. First, we were delayed getting there by fog at Santiago, so the meetup with our apartment host was also delayed, he eventually arrived about an hour after we did. Meanwhile, two cars of police had inspected something within the courtyard of our apartment building and left, and we had watched the pretty ladies in high heels and very short skirts greet the male passers-by, or sit waiting on the convenient bollards in the street. Interesting! The street down to Puerta del Sol in the evening was also rather full of peep shows, cheap food shops and English bovver boys. Turned out they were in Madrid for a match between Real Madrid and Manchester City. Plus there was a protest in Sol with several hundred people, a large number of police, about 6 paddy wagons, an ambulance or two and several city clean-up trucks. We walked on and found a nice quiet restaurant. We never did find out why the police were at the apartment building, who won the footy match or what happened at the demonstration. As I said, “interesting”. The apartment, by the way, was a great little place and very central.
First day we were off to the nearby Bellas Artes de San Fernando, photos forbidden. Many lovely examples of Spanish art including Goya, Zuruban and Velasquez which we do enjoy, many portraits which most often are not our style, then an abrupt change to modern art. Seems several key areas were closed which explains that. But most enjoyable.
Then to see Plaza Major again, one of the most pleasing places architecturally because it was designed as a whole with the buildings matching. Salamanca’s Plaza Major was based on this. Perhaps the only place I find a little more pleasing is Place des Vosges in Paris, mainly because it has a park in the middle. This time there were far fewer people in the Plaza which made it much more pleasant. (Somehow Spiderman doesn’t fit here, as Mickey Mouse didn’t in Salamanca.) However, we were probably on TV that night, as we inadvertently sat behind some Manchester City fans who were egged on by the camera crews to sing team songs and drink lots of beer.
Regular architecture makes it graceful
Front of town hall
We exited to the San Miguel market which has become a very trendy spot to buy tapas and a glass of something and sit or stand while you eat. Last trip we looked but didn’t buy. This time we were more confident and lunch ensued: a cornet of Iberico jamon for Nick @ E105/kg (he had 80gm) and 8 oysters for me, plus a glass of wine each. You can buy meat, smallgoods, cakes and sweets, even flowers, but the main function these days seems to be a gorgeous tapas market. Yum!
We wondered why the Cathedral of Madrid wasn’t mentioned in guide books so we popped along for a look. Very new as cathedrals go and only officially opened in 1992, though it took 110 years to build, it is young because Madrid was not the capital city; Toledo was, and is still the seat of the primate of Spain. We very much enjoyed the change of emphasis from heavy gold and lugubrious saints, closed off choirs and inaccessible altars, to a light and colour filled space with attractive modern stained glass and beautiful geometric patterns. There was a nod to the altars of old with one raised transept altar and some very lovely cast bronze doors, the one here being a secondary door, not the main one, but the general feel was of light and colour and was quite uplifting.
Nave and apse
Gorgeous ceiling patterns
Immediately facing the main door of the cathedral was the huge Royal Palace. The cathedral colours echoed its grey and white façade. No photos were allowed inside, but it was room after room of extraordinary opulence with huge chandeliers, silk walls, a state dining table that could accommodate well over 100 and “family rooms” such as one used as a cinema, where you would be almost afraid to sit, let alone relax. The current king and queen do not use it except for state occasions.
Palacio Real, modest little place
Next day we went first to a more homely market in one of the nearby suburbs. Entered by a short escalator, it looked very small, but behind was row after row of shops of all the important kinds; fish, meat, cold meats, cheeses, olives and pickles, chicken, bread and cakes and a few other essentials such as bedclothes, shoes and electrical goods nearby. This was serious stuff and the customers, often older people as this was the middle of the day, came with shopping carts and lined up at their favourite places. I was most taken with the knives of the fishmongers and the total freshness of the fish. I was less amused to see the tiny suckling pigs, whose cousins we had so enjoyed in Toledo. Smaller than a baby, and cleaned very white…eek! Markets can be a bit confronting.
Lots of fish
Look at the knife
The famous Padron peppers. They fry them for a tasty snack
A return visit then to Reina Sofia museum, mainly to revisit Picasso’s Guernica. We surprised ourselves at how much we had really seen on our last visit. This time they had altered the approach to Guernica so that the marvellous photos and etchings about war that had so set the scene on our last visit were absent, which much lessened the impact. We still spent some time there and also in rooms with other Picassos and Miros plus a few Dalis. Most satisfying.
Interesting courtyard roof, Reina Sofia
For a change of pace the following day, we found the Sorolla Museum. This was in his actual house which he had purpose built to include his studio, the family living quarters and several beautiful gardens in the Moorish style. Sorolla is the Spanish impressionist and his use of light is characteristic. He painted many beach scenes and many tender portraits of his family, especially his wife. He had a way of capturing expressions which made his pictures seem to be almost a snapshot of a private moment. The experience was peaceful and the paintings luminous.
The peaceful patio
Dining room. His daughters are painted in the garland
From there we made our way to a park to visit the Egyptian Temple of Debod. It was gifted to Spain after the Spanish government assisted them to save many treasures that would have been drowned by the waters of the Aswan Dam. Unexpectedly to us, the interior was filled with bas reliefs of the kings making offerings to the gods so it wasn’t just a place to look at and leave. The park setting overlooked the city and was cool and peaceful. We had lunch at a café under the shade of trees then wandered home.
Temple of Debod
Reflected in its pool
The orb, cobra and wing device
We ate very well in Madrid finding several nearby restaurants with excellent food. However, on our last night we couldn’t find the one we had selected and chose one called La Cathedral instead. An art deco interior and an inexpensive menu del dia. My first course of scallops in some sort of glue in the shell was so abysmal that we actually asked for an abbreviated bill and left. I don’t think we have ever done that before. We went to a nearby tapas restaurant instead, and on the way out bought a selection of gorgeous sliced Iberican products to eat on the train next day.
A nice meal here behind the tapas section
Avoid La Cathedral
Look at the hanging jamon. Worth a fortune. We took our little bit away.
The holiday is at its half way point.
Next stop: Cadiz