Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Weekend in Madrid

Well, like I said, I made it back and have been trying to catch up on sleep after a fun two days in Madrid. My friend, Christine, and I caught the 7am bus to Madrid and arrived around 1:30pm. When we arrived we took the Metro (Madrid's subway system) and found this silly sign. It basically says that the Metro system that everyone wants is in Madrid (with the Statue of Liberty implying that the NYC subway is bad), and boy is it right. After my NYC subway experience, the Madrid Metro is squeaky clean - no rats, bums or leaky train cars. I was impressed! After 30 minutes of being lost on the Gran Vía, we managed to find the hostel that I booked. It was a nice little apartment type floor with about 10 bedrooms. Our was quaint and had its own bathroom and such, so we were happy - especially because it was only 20€ for the night! It was situated right on the corner of the a random street and the Gran Vía (Grand Street), which is the most popular street in Madrid, loaded with shopping, restaurants, bars, and touristy shops. But enough of that...you want to hear about the city, not the hostel haha!

We wandered into Puerta de Sol (Door to the Sun) in the middle of the city, which is basically the Times Square of Madrid. We also ran into a million street performers (which they call Buskers in British English...a word I learned from my English classes - funny). Here is a shot of some of them on the street. Sol (as it is called by the locals) was packed but somehow we managed to stumble into a FREE ENGLISH tour...amazing I know. What good luck! (Que suerte). Our tour guide was great and from San Diego, so she spoke perfect English - yay us. It was a 3 hour tour and was pretty in depth and she showed us all around the historical and important parts of Madrid on this great walking tour. There are SO many little annecdotes that she shared with me, but it would be the longest blog in the world, so I will share only my favorites and the ones I think you will like the best!

We started in the Puerta del Sol, which used to be on the outskirts of Madrid when it was a small little city. Now it is the heart of the city, with this huge statue of Phillip III in the middle. Here is a shot of me anf Phil. Originally, there was actually a gate built around the city to wall it in and protect it from outsiders, but once the city started growing they tore it down. The gate into Madrid was called the Puerta del Sol (Door to the Sun) because the sun rose in the east, and when they tore the wall down they wanted to keep true to the Puerta del Sol idea, and as a result made it the center of the city and built 10 roads from the center so when you look at it from an aerial view, it looks like a sunshine with 10 rays of sun! Here is a shot of one of the rays/streets off Sol. Not only is Puerta del Sol the center of Madrid, but it is actually the EXACT center of all of Spain. Here is a pic of me in the exact center of Spain - pretty cool huh? After Puerta del Sol, we ventured off to see more historical parts of town and get a quick history lesson in hundreds of years of Spanish history! We stopped off on a street called Calle de Salud (Health Street) because during the plague, the people who lived on this street actually walled themselves in and didn't have any contact with people outside thier block and miraculously didn't get the plague. We also stopped by La Iglesia de San Ginés, which is a church were a crocodile is buried under one of the statues inside the church. Turns out that a long time ago, some monks were travelling through the wild and saw a baby and it was about to be eaten by this croc, but they couldn't get to the baby quick enough so they prayed for something to save the baby...amazingly a nearby tree fell on the crocodile, killing it and leaving an imprint of the Virgin Mary - a miracle hhahahaha. After passing more gigantic churches and ancient buildings we stopped by the Palacio Real (The Real Palace) which is the main palace of Madrid and was erected to honor all the past Kings of Spain. Originally they wanted to put a statue of each King on the roof, but turns out they didn't calculate how heavy all of those would be, and as a result statues are sprinkled around the garden and all of Spain because they couldn't accomodate them on the Palace. Sad if you were one of those Kings right?! If you look closely you can see some of the Kings on the roof of the Palace. The other statues are just bouquets of flowers to show where the others should have been! Here is me with one of the unfortunate Kings that was placed in the garden. Right next to the national palace is the national cathedral. This is also a funny one! The Cathedral was meant to be completed quickly, but took so long that the architecture of the building is a big hodge-podge. The entrance is Neo-Classical, the back side is Neo-Gothic, the middle section is Neo-Romantic and the inside is decorated with some crazy 1970s crazy funk. Still a gorgeous building though. Another crazy story about this Cathedral is that it has this very important stone statue of Mary. The original statue was wood and was given to Spain by St. James. When Spain was conquered by non-Catholics, the Catholics were scared that thier precious statue would be destroyed so they hide it in the city walls. The secret of where the statue was hidden was passed down from mother to daughter and when Spain finally decided it was safe to bring it out again, there was a little problem. The mother who knew the secret had just told her daughter where the statue was located and then she died...doesn't sound like too big of a problem until you find out the daugther was only 6! The city went on a huge parade around the city with this little 6 year old girl until she found the spot where she remembered her mother telling her the statue was hidden. When she came to the place she started crying and screaming and the wall crumbled and there was the statue - another miracle (you will start to see these Catholics are all about miracles haha). Next on the tour was the place that used to be the best place to commit suicide...this huge bridge. Supposedly there is a story about a rich girl who was in love with a poor boy and her family wouldn't let her marry him so in a desperate attempt to solve her problems she flung herself off the bridge. In that time though, the girls wore hoops skirts so the air got caught under it and she floated slower to the ground and survived with two broken legs - a miracle! Her family realized how serious she was about this love and let her marry him and they went on to live happily ever after with ten kids. I attempted to re-enact her jump hahaha. Next stop on the tour was one of th emost famous Tapas bars in Spain - Cerveceria 100 Montaditos - which basically means bar with 100 sandwiches. We stopped off here for a little taste of Spanish food. Tapas (which in Basque Country they call Pintxos) are basically little appetizers that cost about 1€ each and you eat them with a beer or drink. They are hugely popular over here and we heard a possible story about they started being called Tapas. Supposedly, one day the King was dining at a restaurant in the desert (Madrid is in the dry part of the country) and the waiter (camerero) saw a big gust of dust coming. Not wanting the dust to get into the King's wine, he put a small sandwich together, rushed over and put it over the King's glass. The King, confused, ask what is this, to which the waiter fumbled and said uhhh its a Tapa...to top your glass, basically. After this, Tapas became a huge success and it actually became a law that if you served a customer a beer or wine you HAD to serve them something to eat as well. As a result, these Tapas bars are all over Spain. The Tapas bar we went to required that you buy a Tapa with your drink, eventhough it is not the law any more. Another interesting story about Tapas is how most of them are made with jamón (ham or part of the pig). During the purification of Spain, you basically needed to prove how Catholic you were. Since the country was trying to purify itself of Jews and Muslims (who both can't eat ham), bars started putting ham in EVERYTHING. From sandwiches of ham to dishes that never had ham in them before, Spain is a huge ham-loving country to this day. Even now, many bars hang pig legs from the celing - something that used to signify that all the people inside must be Catholic, but now is just for show. Now that it was getting dark, we headed to the most famous plaza in Madrid - Plaza Mayor. Eventhough they had stuff set up to start the Christmas festival, it was still stunning. Sadly, they didn't turn the Christmas lights on this week (broken heart) but the mural paintings on the outside walls of the Plaza were pretty cool! This Plaza has had its bloody days with hangings and bull fights, but also is the main spot of gatherings. There are always people gathered here, sipping café at the outdoor tables, watching street performers and such. A funny story about this Plaza is that originally there was a statue of a King on a horse and the horses mouth was open. Supposedly, sparrows flew into the horse's mouth and then once they got inside couldn't get out again, and during a fight in the Plaza, the statue fell over and broke and sparrow skeletons flew all over. That statue is now deemed the Sparrow Cemetary, eventhough when the statue was reconstructed the mouth was welded shut! We finished the tour talking about the path Spain took to becoming a democracy! With Franco´s rule finally over, Juan Carlos became King of Spain, and while he promised to uphold the military rule of Franco, he gave up his powers and held free elections for a President. While Juan Carlos is still the King of Spain (which I learned is actually called The Republic of Spain), the current President is Jose Zapatero. After the tour, Christine and I ventured around the city to see it by night. Here is a shot of the beginning of the Gran Vía (that important street I mentioned earlier). Looks pretty exquisite at night right? And here is a shot of the Palacio de Comunicaciones - Palace of Communications, which is basically thier City Hall.

After we decided it was too cold to be walking around, we headed to a Flamenco Show (which I made a reservation for in Spanish over the phone, thank you very much!). The show was incredible. I mean, I have tap danced before, which I always thought was rather difficult, but this was a whole different league. This was no Shirley Temple tap dancing. The dancers (two boys and two girls) were in elaborate costumes and were INTENSE. The speed that they clicked thier heels around was mind boggling! There were two live singers and two live guitarists on the stage as well. For an hour, I just watched, speechless about how good they were. Everyone I have spoken with about Flamenco say that it is difficult to find an authentic show, but I spoke with the guy who ran our hostel (in Spanish...again thank you very much) and found this authentic place - Los Carboneras. It was a small little restaurant with only about 10 tables, and you are only able to come in if you have a reservation, so I was happy we managed to make one and see this! It was a relaxing end to the night, and after the show we retired to our little hostel! The next day we slept in and then headed out to the Botanical Gardens. In the Spring (Primavera) and Summer (Verano) these gardens are said to be the best in Spain. Since it is Autumn (Otoño - remember this from a previous post??) there weren't really any flowers in bloom, but it was still pretty to see all the leaves on the ground in the sunshine. For 2€ you can come here and stay all day! We didn't bring books to relax around but managed to see the whole gardens and even checked out the 'desert' and 'rainforest' exhibit. It's been awhile since I had since a cactus haha. My favorite shot from here was this one of the reflection of the trees in this old building's windows. For some reason it is one my favorites from the trip!

Next on the agenda was the Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia) Musem. It is a modern art musem that is very famous in Spain. Spain has what they call the Museum Triangle because they have the Reina Sofía, El Prado Museum (which has classical art like Renoir), and Museo Thyssen (which has medival to present art). We chose the Reina Sofía for no particular reason, but were happy to find out that all the musems were FREE on Sunday - woo hoo! While you can't take pictures in the musems, I will let you know that the Guernica (by Picasso) which hangs in the Reina Sofía was astounding. It was huge and fantastic and I just started at it for a long time. Here is what it looks like, but sadly I didn't take this picture myself.

Last but not least was the most famous statue in all of Madrid - El Oso y el Madroño - The Bear and the Madroño Tree. If you visit Madrid, or anywhere in Spain in fact, you will see this statues likeness everywhere! It is located in Puerta del Sol and signifies the coming together but seperation of Church and State. This statue was designed after a disagreement between the both involving hunting rights. The bear sybolizes the church and the tree is the government, and the statue represents the union between the church and state after an agreement of rights for each was made. This is the story we were told by our tour guide, but after further research it seems like there is no one concrete story - so that's the best I have for you! After some touristy shopping and checking out some other rays of the Puerta del Sol, we headed to the bus and home.

I love love loved Madrid. It was so alive and was very international - I heard so many different languages. AND it was not rainy one bit! It was windy but sunny the whole time. I had a great time and will probably visit again another weekend, to check out some of the stuff we didn't have time to see. Thank you for reading this blog...I realize its encylopedia-long, but remember I only included my favorite stories - there are so many more haha! I hope you enjoyed it! Oh yea, I forgot to tell - I had Starbucks twice on my trip hooray hahah!


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