Monday, February 9, 2009

Madrid - City of Fountains - my fur coat!

Sunday 8 February 2009

We went to get dinner in the hotel restaurant last night and it was not only expensive - it was pretty ordinary without a real lot of choice, so I shan't bother you with the details. But the highlight of the night was finally connecting with Amanda and Izabella on Skype. Izabella was more interested in her mates behind her than talking with Yiayia and Papou - but then it is more fun when you can get down on the floor and crawl around I know! This was late here 1 am and so we didn't chat for long as we needed to get to bed!

That taxi driver in Barcelona was right - and he was wrong! The central areas of Spain are definitely colder - it was 2°C overnight and today is predicted to get to 6°C! so it is back to the thermals as we plan to be travelling the busses yet again. But he claimed that it hardly ever rains - and that is just no so!

This morning we rise as early as we can given that the nights are so late. We set the alarm for 8:30 am and crawl out. Still, by the time we skip breakfast but get ready to go into town, it is after 10am. The metro is just a short walk away and we find it really clean and modern. The trains run every few minutes - even on a Sunday. We travel 5 stops to a terminus and have to join the seething masses and change trains to the MetroNorte line into the main Metro station in Madrid - Sol. I am impressed by their public transport system - the trains are sleek and modern, the stations well signposted and very clean. It is hard to believe that so many people are travelling on the train on a Sunday!

Did I say many people - how foolish of me! We alight at Sol and make our way with a even large throng of people into the bright sunshine of Puerta del Sol - one of the main squares in the City. There are so many people - all the shops are open and trading briskly. Our first stop is at the very popular La Menorquina pastelería (patisserie) at the top of the square that claims to have been trading since the late 1700s. Loads of people buying all sorts of pastries and cakes that are so fresh they are still warm - and it looks like they bake non-stop. Huge sweet rings of pastry filled with a gooey thick sweet substance (maybe apple puree - hard to quite put our finger on it) and top with flaked almonds take almost 10 minutes to eat - and another 5 to lick the sticky mess from our fingers! And like Mary Poppins loves - we loved the presentation wrapped in paper and string!

From here we walk further into the Old City and make our way to Plaza Mayor. This is a huge square that once hosted many ceremonial celebrations including two coronations, bullfights and public executions in the times of the Spanish Inquisition. There are three colonaded buildings including three residential buildings with a total of 237 balconies - as much sought after in earlier times as they are today. We are looking for the oficina de turismo (tourism office) for a more detailed map and tickets on the tourist bus. Our time in Madrid is limited to just this one day, so we want to see as much as we can. Map in and, it is faster to make our way to the bus stop and buy tickets on the bus. So off we head again. Street mime artists are everywhere in this plaza and the connecting streets and we watch a few innovative ones including a 'cat' trapped in rubbish bin that alsmost scares the bejesus out of a young boy! I particularly liked this man's face - what character!!!!

And so on to the busses - there are two routes - one of the historical Madrid and the other of the modern Madrid. We decided that we will do both to get a good overview and get set to board the bus on Calle de Mayor. Once we get out of the old part of the city, we are greeted with wide open avenues - some 5 lanes in each direction and many with pedestrian avenues that in summer would be shaded by the leafy trees seperating the lanes of traffic. In every main intersection there is a fountain and despite the cold weather, they are all working. It seems that the people of Madrid built fountains around most of their monuments. In the hot summer for which Madrid is known, these would help to keep the temperatures at least more comfortable! I could bore you with countless photos of at least 12 different fountains but I will just include one as a sample!

And like the wide avenues, the buildings are built on a grand scale. Many have been built at the bequest of one of the kings or another so you can imagine just how grand they are. The city reminds me a little of Vienna - very clean and white with lots of marble and gilding. There are examples of just about every classic style of architecture and the people of Madrid are proud of this heritage. I am constantly amazed at the number of people we see. One of the hostesses on the bus explains that when the weather is sunny, locals flock to the city to walk in the grand parks that provide ample green space in the middle of this capital city, or to shop or even just meet friends. While the weather is sunny, it is still quite cold and hence the reference in this blog's heading. We see more fur coats (real ones) here in Madrid on the backs of local women mature and some not quite so than I think I have ever seen in my life. Move over animal liberationists - thy shall not get in the way of my fashion statement or warmth!

And so we travel round trying to take it all in. Madrid is bidding again for the 2016 Olympic Games and there are signs everywhere proudly advertising the fact and encouraging citizens to support the bid. It is also presently hosting CowParade. This is a parade of life sized painted and decorated plaster cows displaying accessible public art that moves from city to city with an auction of the pieces at the end of the exhibtion benefitting local charities. They are very popular and lots of people young and old clamour for photos with one or more - including us. They are quirky and cute and oh-so-loveable!

We stay in the City until evening - having dinner at the Mesón Cinco Jotas restaurant on one of the pedestrain streets of Puerta del Sol. We opt for the Tapas menu that gives us a taste of Spain with some options for a main and a dessert. The menu consists of:
A shot of potato broth with crackers
Callos, lengua y negro embutido en un caldo gelatinoso (Tripe, tongue and black sausage in a gelatinous broth - Michael slobbers down both portions!)
Plato de carnes ibéricas (Plate of Iberian meats - Iberian 5J Jamon, cheek of veal, 3 types of sausage)
Croquetas de Jamón 5J servido en rodajas de calabacín con las mejores patatas paja (Croquettes of 5J Jamon served on slices of zucchini with the finest potato straws)
Crema de queso, aceite de oliva y los tomates cortados en cuadritos (Creamy Cheese, olive oil and diced tomatoes)
Filete de bacalao frito con langostinos y aceitunas (Fried fillet of cod with prawns and olives) Michael
El solomillo de ibérico asado con pimientos verdes Portk de Padra y patatas paja (grilled tenderloin of Iberian Portk with green peppers of Padra and potato straws) Maria
Arroz con Leche (milk with rice) Michael
Tres Chocolates (three chocolates) Maria

And then a quick trip back on the bus to get a few pics of Madrid by night. Quite spectacular both by day and night and a great day despite not getting into any of the numerous art galleries or museums (basically because they are only open until early afternoon on Sundays in winter). We had gone back earlier to go to the Palace, only to find we were 2 hours too late, but managed to get some photos of this impressive facade from the outside as we strolled and listened to local buskers making the most of the sunshine and lots of passers-by!

A very enjoyable day in a City that appears never to sleep. Talking of which - we need some so back to the hotel we went!

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