I know, I know, this is taking me forever to get this updated. It continues to amaze me how long it takes to write and get the pictures up and looking nice. More to come soon!
I started off my day with another free walking tour. I continue to be amazed at how useful these are. The tour started at Plaza Mayor, which happened to be right next door to my apartment. We even walked past my apartment on part of the tour. Perhaps the most entertaining part of this tour was when we (the tourists) stood in for the royal family and their different marriages. It was a hilarious way to understand what happened to the Hapsburg dynasty of Spanish rulers (they bred themselves out of existence! yay inbreeding, it really can kill).
After the tour, I tried to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants that was recommended by my airbnb host. I successfully found the restaurants, but the two I’d decided to check out were both closed due to the August holiday. I just kept wandering and found another place which had a menu del dia. Sadly, I couldn’t eat any of that menu, but my super rusty Spanish did manage to order food I could eat!
Next up was a trip to one of the major parks in Madrid. Parque del Retiro. It is located pretty much in the middle of Madrid and was a very easy metro ride. There is a decent sized “lake” in the park and there were a ton of row boats out. I say “lake” because it was clearly man made, and really not all that large. But for some place that doesn’t really have natural bodies of water near by, I could see how it would be exciting. The rest of the park has a lot of nice wooded areas with a lot of paths and benches. Actually a very relaxing place to hang out.
The park is near the Prado, so I figured I could take a leisurely walk past there and back to the apartment to see how long it would take me. When I got to the Prado, I saw that after 6 you could get in for free! So I sat and waited a little bit. By the time I got up, I hadn’t realized there was a huge line forming for this free entrance. I took a look and decided it was not worth it and I would come back in the morning and pay.
When I got home, I was looking up to see what else I wanted to do during my time in Madrid, and when I should do it. During this research, I decided I should definitely go to Toledo, but I also found that there was a festival going on right where I was (there had been some things being set up when I was wandering around for lunch but it took some effort to figure out what for). The festival is the Virgen de la Paloma festival in the la latina neighborhood. Not surprisingly, it has a religious based history. Now it is a celebration of Madrid and Spanish culture.
Everything was very festively decorated and there were a lot of people out. I got to see some traditional dance displays and have a few glasses of sangria or vino tinto (which is chilled red wine with sprite/soda, cheaper than sangria and pretty much the same thing). There was some great people watching. It looks like the same deal as festivals at home, where it’s really just a reason to wander around with your friends eating and drinking.
This day I took a day trip to Toledo (toe-lay-doe). Interestingly, Toledo should have been the capital of the Spanish monarchy. It fits the rule for a European city that there must be a Cathedral (a very nice one which I visited). However, Madrid didn’t have a Cathedral until the last 100 years! Madrid was originally a moorish town, at the very southern end or the moorish ruled area. Toledo was a classical catholic town. My tour told me something about how these ended up not being that way, but I can’t remember any more.
Toledo is a short train ride from Madrid. The station in Toledo is in the surrounding flat area, while the town is on top of the hill. I wasn’t positive about how this walk would go, but I decided it wasn’t that far and I had plenty of time.
I started off by heading to the Alcazar (which is an old fortress) now the majority of the building is a library. But the internet (which is never wrong) told me that there’s a cafe on the 5th floor and that it gives you a good view over the town. I agree with the internet on this one. This view really showed you that the town was “organized” before cars. There is absolutely no logic to the layout and you can’t even tell where the roads go from above.
Back down the tower, I took a walk around the outside just for fun. Then I headed over to the Cathedral, one of the biggest attractions of the town. Interestingly, they have a souvenir shop across the street from the entrance which is where you have to go first to get your ticket and audio guide. The audio guide was totally worth it. Mine stopped working after the first number, so I had to go back and get another one, which luckily was not a problem at all.
I took a nice wander around town, looking for a good place for lunch. I ended up eating at a super cute place that was down a dead end road (which a lot of roads are). They had a great menu del dia, which I could eat all of it! I’m pretty sure I will never have a better lunch deal than these menu del dias. I got a glass of wine, two courses and a coffee for 11 euros. You can pick a desert instead of coffee if you want as well. It’s amazing.
Some more wandering around town after lunch, heading over to one of the other gates of the town. The gate still had the doors from shortly after it was erected! Pretty amazing. They are wood covered in thin pieces of iron. The gate now serves as a road entrance into the town. Amusingly, the road is two ways except for the small portion going through the gate.
A bit more wandering around, and then I headed back to the train station. On the way back, I had to stop and obey the sign on the side walk. Definitely amusing to me.
I started the day off with a trip to the Prado. Sadly after this trip, I probably never need to go to another art museum. I was rather amused by the translated captions on the paintings at the Prado. I almost got myself in some serious trouble trying to retranslate the original Spanish using my phone and a translate app. No phones allowed. Oops.
After the Prado I was planning on going to the Casa del Campo, which is the second park in Madrid. It was originally the royal hunting grounds. However, upon studying the metro map, it would be quite an adventure to get out there due to the construction currently going on. So instead I headed back to the Parque del Retiro. A nice relaxing time with a book and some food and some wine.
I took my standard approach to visiting popular places by heading to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) a bit before it opened and got in line. The Palacio is a rather new building as the previous one was burned down in a fire. There is some debate as to if it was an intentional act or not, as it burned on Christmas Eve when no one was at the building. It was interesting, but as it’s new, there wasn’t a lot of history to see in the building.
The most interesting bit I saw at the Palace was the armor display. It’s in a side wing of the building that was used as offices and such previously. Now it’s a huge two floor display of riding and personal armor. It is a super extensive collection and really cool to see. Some of it was parade armor, some of it was combat armor.
Some down time, then I had a late night train to catch. Originally, when I had been looking at train options at home there had been both an over night train and a day train. I had been planning to take the day train as it’s a way to see other bits of the country I wasn’t going to be able to visit. By the time I got to my trip, that day train was no longer an option. Therefore, I needed to take the over night train. This was the first time that the train I wanted to take I couldn’t. I ended up having to take one train, then get off, wait an hour, and get on the Hotel Train. And I was only able to get the classic second class seat reservation. I had tried to book the train earlier in my trip, but I wasn’t able to due to a variety of reasons. Not the best sleep I’ve ever had, but not the worst either. And in the end, it got me where I was going when I needed to be there.