Though it’s been a long time coming, I’m finally getting around to talking about my last stop in my Iberian Peninsula adventure. I apologize for it’s lateness. I’ve been teaching, preparing for my departure from France in about 5 weeks, and for my next adventure.
Anyways, one must not pass through Spain without passing through it’s capital. Madrid is truly the capital of Spain. You can tell. If I had to describe it, Madrid is like the Spanish New York, business men and women everyone, lots of culture, but also lots, I mean LOTS of tourists. Everywhere we walked it seemed as though we were just a part of the big sea of humans.
Unfortunately the first day full day we were in Madrid, it was cold and rainy. I did not properly prepare for such weather. The struggle was quite real by the end of our two weeks. I was almost ready to skip Madrid altogether, especially when I saw how cold and rainy it was. However, I’m thankful that we didn’t.
Despite the weather, my friend, Sara, and I took a free walking tour. Now, I had never taken a free walking tour before because I usually try to avoid big groups of tourists together at the same time (I don’t really like to stick out). However, as it was something FREE to do and as our wallets were quite thin by the time we got to Madrid, I thought why not?
The fantastic thing about free walking tours is that they are absolutely free. Though tips are generally expected and actually rather polite, you still are not absolutely required to tip. Also, they are a great way to see different parts of the city and to learn about the city. I really enjoyed it not only for all of the history of Spain that I learned about but also because our tour guide was quite hilarious. She loved to tell fun little anecdotes complete with impressions and all.
During our walking tour, we learned about the Royal Palace and all of it’s glory and it’s relationship with the cathedral, which is literally right across from it. Now, a little bit of history. The Royal family and the Royal Palace were so ”glorious” at the time that the palace was built that the Royal family forbid the cathedral from looking more beautiful than the palace, because the King didn’t want the Church competing with the Royal family. How crazy is that? So, as a result, the Catholic Church in the capital city of Spain isn’t as beautiful of some of the others throughout all of Spain. I would say it’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t appear to be the cathedral of the capital city of Spain. However, just because the front of the church doesn’t particularly stand out (for it is the side that faces the Royal Palace), that doesn’t mean that the back half can’t be beautiful in it’s own right. Also, if you are looking for something to do, it is open and FREE to go into the cathedral during open hours.
Left: Front of the cathedral Right: Back of the cathedral
glimpse of the Royal palace from the gardens
If you are interested in more ridiculous stories about Madrid’s history, I suggest walking on over to Plaza Mayor. Now, I suggest not eating from any of the restaurants in this square. They are all extremely touristic and highly over priced (and apparently not of good quality according to our tour guide). It’s also a hot spot for people to sell you random overpriced tourist junk. Don’t give in to the trap!
This square as it exists now is actually the fourth one to have been built. The original was built in the 16th century during the reign of King Phillip III. After the first square was built, in order to figure out the cause of/prevent the spread of an illness epidemic, a city ordinance was put in place where no one, absolutely no one, not even children, were allowed to drink water. So, the alternative? Wine and lots of it. So, everyone, even children, were bumbling around drunk, and what do you get when you have that mixed with fires in chimneys during the winter time? Fires, that’s what. So, all according to our tour guide, there were not one, not two, but three fires, three winters in a row! That’s some intense stuff. Wow!
So, the square as you can see it today is the fourth square to have been built. I think thankfully by then they got some sense, stopped building the square and its buildings out of wood, and finally the epidemic passed. Crazy times, they were. I can only imagine.
Plaza Mayor: King Phillip III
While you’re in the area, head on over to Puerta del Sol, Spanish for ”Gate of the Sun,” the busiest square in all of Madrid. This place is crawling with people, making it a fantastic place to grab a cup of coffee under the sun and just people watch. Now, the coffee at these restaurants will be a little pricier than other places because of it’s central location but still a decent price. You can see all types of people here: students, business men and woman, tourists, you name it.
Also, another a piece of advice. Guard your belongings with your life! This place is a tourist hot spot and is known for pickpockets. You can still enjoy your surroundings, just be cautious while doing so.
The history in this square is rich. In this square once existed the main gate into the city during Medieval Times, and the gate faced the South, leaving it wide open for constant sun exposure throughout the day, hence it’s name.
This square is also the resting place of the bear and the tree statue, the symbol for the city of Madrid. According to the legend of the city, when it was founded, the area in which it was built was flooded with bears. Thus, from then on it became the emblem of the city. According to our tour guide, the bear is also supposed to be female, just a fun little fact.
It also contains the famous clock known for the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes to ring in the new year. The tradition: the bell rings 12 times in 12 seconds as it strikes midnight. During these rings, everyone eats one grape for each second, the purpose being that if a person is able to eat all twelve grapes then that person will have a really good new year.
As you can see, quirkiness does not lack in the city of Madrid, and it continues. If you head northwest of the Royal Palace, you’ll eventually come across the Egyptian ruins, the Debod Temple, in West Park. These ruins were a gift to Spain for helping Egypt save the temples of Abu Simbel from a threat of destruction while the building of a big dam. The temple was deconstructed and then reconstructed in Madrid to where it is on display for public viewing for FREE.
I used to be obsessed with ancient Egyptian history when I was younger, so it was definitely on my list of sights to see. Though it was quite small, and though there was not much to learn about, it was still quite fascinating to see and to learn about. Who knew that I could take a quick trip to Egypt in the middle of Spain?
While your there, I suggest not skipping out on going to the Buen Retiro Park. Being quite a massive park, you can spend much time here just roaming around the different parts of it, enjoying the plants, the animals, the sun, and even the man-made pond!
Sara and I walked to this park on our second day, when the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so we spent about a good 45 minutes to an hour just basking in the sunlight while enjoying the view of people paddling boats around in this man-made pond. Renting a boat does indeed cost money, but who needs it when you can just sit, enjoy the sun, and people watch?
And on your way to the park, why not check out the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, aka Madrid city hall. Though most governmental buildings can be quite boring to tour (unless you are very interested in learning about it), this city hall is FREE to go inside, if for nothing else than for a free toilet (guilty. you know, you have to take advantage of it when you can in Europe.) Plus, the outside is a beautiful display of unique architecture, and while I was there, the message displayed is something I can definitely get behind.
Unfortunately, due to our lack of funds and our extreme fatigue from having been traveling for two weeks straight, we weren’t as vigilant about seeing as many attractions as in the other cities we had passed through. However, here are some that you might want to consider stopping by:
- Plaza Espana
- Gran Via Avenue – lots of beautiful buildings and many stores if you are looking to do some shopping
- Royal Theater
- Victory Arch
- etc. etc. Here is a fantastic link that shows you all of the possible things to see and do in Madrid: http://www.madridtourist.info/index.html
While in Spain though, may I suggest just letting yourself roam a bit, get some tapas and some sangria, see what this beautiful country has to offer.
You have to know that we spent our last couple of hours indulging in a nice cup of Spanish coffee and teaching a Spanish man the word ”straw” in English. You never know what you’re going to experience when you start living that traveler’s life. Here’s to more adventures to come, and to this beautiful picture of the Pyrenees as we crossed from Spain over to France on our way home.
Bisous et à plus mes amis….