Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 38: Beautiful Madrid

The breakfast buffet at Hotel Atlantico was sumptuous, including hot dishes straight from the kitchen. The food was attractively arrayed on various counters and tables, and served in a spacious room with fresh linen on the tables and old tapestries on the walls. There was even a machine that dispensed a decent cappuccino. The attendant was a handsome and courteous young man whose parents had immigrated to Spain from the Philippines before he was born. His English was quite good, and he remembered to ask about our trip to Segovia; he had visited there himself.

This was our day to enjoy walking around Madrid. Our main goal was to tour the Royal Palace, but we decided to walk there so we could enjoy the street scenes. Anyway, it was less than a mile from our hotel, and the morning was bright and clear.

Crossing Gran Via, the boulevard where our hotel was located, we took a narrow street, deeply shaded by 5-story buildings on both sides, with a few modest cafes at street level. It lead to a broader avenue lined with colorful shops.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
The avenue got wider and the stores got larger until we came to a plaza called Puerta del Sol, meaning Gate of the Sun. The plaza is dominated by a large advertisement for sherry, and one of the buildings is shrouded in construction netting, so it is hard to appreciate the tasteful uniformity of the architecture.

Puerta del Sol
iPad photo by Jan
All photos are from my iPad unless specifically identified.
From there we walked down a few streets with remarkable specialty shops. Every shop window was a photo.

Before long, we emerged from the narrow streets into Plaza Mayor, a central plaza built in the early 1600s and dedicated to King Philip III.

King Philip III
The architecture is unified on all four sides. Three sides are residential, and one side is for civic services. The façade of that side was decorated in the 1990s with frescoes of mythical figures.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
Lined by bars and eateries, the large plaza is teeming with tourists, who are entertained by musicians playing classical music and performers dressed in costumes who pose for photos with the tourists. Unfortunately, I took a lot of video footage but not so many still shots.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
Just outside the plaza we found the Mercado of San Miguel, a collection of shops specializing in ready-to-eat snacks and lunches, as well as gourmet items to take home. It was very colorful and the tourists love it.

Mercado San Miguel
Jan's iPad photo
Seafood counter, Mercado San Miguel
Photo by Dan L. Smith
We proceeded on down Calle Mayor, the main street. After a few blocks, Captain Dan stopped to take photos of a small church with a tiny plaza in front. Looking around, he said, "I think I know this place. I was here once before. When we were here in 2000, I came out for dinner without you because you didn't care to eat, and I ate at a restaurant along here somewhere. It was recommended by Rick Steves." There was no obvious marking for a restaurant, so I waited on the corner, content to gaze at the scene, while he nosed about. He came back excited: "This it it. We'll come back and have a meal here later."

It was less than a block to the Royal Palace. We got in the ticket line about 11:00 and waited about 20 minutes.

Facing the Royal Palace across a broad plaza is the Almudena Cathedral. The forecourt of the palace is guarded by a tall wrought iron fence, but the cathedral offers a shady set of stairs which are a favorite hangout for tourists. Standing in the bright sun, an accordionist entertained the ticket queue, beads of sweat on his forehead. A performer entertained the pre-school set by creating huge soap bubbles with a wand and a bucket.

After we got our ticket and stowed our stuff, we emerged into the forecourt of the Royal Palace. The building dates from the 1700s. The style is Neo-classical.

Jan's iPad photo
All photos are by Jan unless otherwise indicated

In the interior, photography was not allowed, except for the Grand Staircase entrance.

Corrado Giaquinto
Religion Protected by Spain

By floor area, the palace is the largest in Europe, with almost 3500 rooms, but the tour includes only 20-30. No one actually lives here any more, but it is used for state functions and ceremonies, so it is kept in pristine condition, and very well lighted.

The decor of the rooms viewed on the tour was both lavish and tasteful. Rooms had decorative themes, realized in fine metals, rich fabrics, and paintings by major artists of the time. We passed through various gorgeous reception rooms, a huge banquet hall glittering with chandeliers, and the very regal Crown room. The decoration peaked in splendor in the Royal Chapel, where the king and queen have a throne-like pew. I grabbed a couple photos off the internet just to give you an idea.

Banqueting Hall
Internet Grab
Crown Room
Internet Grab
Royal pew in the Royal Chapel
Internet Grab
When the tour was over, we stopped by the gift store, where they had this portrait of the current royal couple, Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia
iPad photo of a poster-size photo
For a late lunch, we returned to the Casa Ciriaco, the restaurant where Dan had eaten on our previous trip. Up front was an unpretentious bar, but the dining room was very attractive.

It was all very Spanish. The menu was traditional, and all the other customers spoke Spanish. The food was authentic and delightful. The waiter was an old man who was bent over but efficient. The operation was overseen by a man with a proprietary air. Toward the end of the meal, he stopped by to ask if we were pleased. Dan said, in carefully composed Spanish, "Do you know the American travel writer, Rick Steves?" The restauranteur smiled effusively, and said in Spanish, "He's my friend. He comes here often." Dan explained that he had been here before, because of the recommendation of Rick Steves. They had a little chatter about this in Spanish, then the patron offered Dan a tour of his wine cellar after lunch. While they were down there, he gave Dan a bottle of Rioja.

Ciriaco Muñoz
Proprietor of Casa Ciriaco
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Pleased with our lunch experience, we decided to check out the Almuduena Cathedral, which is just across the street, facing the Royal Palace. The church has a neoclassical façade to make it harmonious with the palace. I took this shot from the grounds of the palace; the fence belongs to the palace, not the cathedral.

Alimuduena Cathedral, from within royal courtyard
Jan's iPad photo
This is the side with the visitors' entrance.

The interior is quite beautiful.

The interior looks very old and very modern at the same time. That's because it was built in the 20th century in a neo-Gothic style. It was started in the 1880s but it wasn't finished until the 1990s, so the decoration is in modern styles, though respectful of tradition.

The church is consecrated to Our Lady of Almudena, a statue of the Virgin and Child that is supposed to date from the 700s. That statue is displayed on an elaborate side altar on a balcony. A constant stream of worshippers mounts the stairs to revere it. I went up the stairs to grab a photo.

Our Lady of Almudena
Before I descended, I took a shot looking down at the interior.

When we emerged from the Cathedral, the late-afternoon light was rich and the temperature was mild. Here's a view of Calle de Bailén from the Cathedral's porch.

We walked back around to the plaza between the Cathedral and the Palace. The Cathedral was casting deep shade across much of the plaza. The accordionist had moved into the shade and enjoyed an audience of tired tourists resting on the Cathedral steps. The musician was very enthusiastic, expressing each phrase with his face and posture. At the same time, he was a vivid example of how to bring out the meaning and the feeling in a melody.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
It was time to head back to the hotel. We decided to take the route through the royal gardens—hedges trained in arabesques, statues of ancient kings, a large fountain. It has been thoroughly integrated into the urban scene and its paths and benches were well populated.

Next we came to a plaza in a cultural district near the opera house. The architecture was very attractive.

When we got back to our hotel, the sun's last burst was bringing out the beauty of the façade. Our hotel dates from the 1920s and is considered an architectural landmark.

Hotel Atlantico