After a 1.5 hour flight delay in Naples, I finally landed at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain. This airport is one of the biggest I have ever stepped foot in and after grabbing my bags, I had to walk twenty minutes to get to the metro station. Although, I think if there was a metro station connecting Pearson airport with downtown Toronto, you would also have to walk for a while to get to it. I had to transfer lines twice to get to Nadia’s house; she is a very good friend of mine from Toronto, but living and working in Madrid for the time being.
I arrived at her place around midnight where she informed me that there was a Barbie & Ken theme party being held at a friend’s house. So I had to shower quickly, get dressed, and somehow we made it there by 1:30 AM with still some time to drink with everyone. I didn’t look much like Barbie, but luckily I have light hair and had a bright pink shirt to go with it. I met some new people at the party and some had really cool costumes, while others didn’t bother to dress up at all. But it was fun and we left at the end of the night happy and relaxed. On our walk home one of Nadia’s friends called us up and we headed to a gay club in Chueca. We hid the bottle of liquor under some tables belonging to a nearby restaurant and went inside the club. So this place had a 10 € cover charge that included one drink which I suppose is better than what any Toronto club would offer. We danced all night and left around 5 AM deciding to finish the bottle of liquor we left under the table, and then headed to an after hours club down the street. There we got in for free and didn’t leave until 8:30 AM! Only once before have I left a club when the sun was out and that was in Vienna a few years ago. This time I was so tired I couldn’t even walk. So when we arrived back at the apartment I collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up until 6 PM that day. Talk about being totally hung over. I hadn’t felt that horrible for a very long time, so the only way to cure it was with junk food! Nadia and I walked down to Telepizza, which is a pizza chain in Spain and other parts of southern Europe. We got 3 pizzas for 15 euros, which is a pretty good deal, and then picked up some pop and chips at the local store. We sat down for some serious chow down and some good old Spanish TV. Spanish television doesn’t have many programs in English. Most of the shows are in Spanish or are voiced over in Spanish. You can also choose to have it voiced over or to listen to the program in its original language. But the voice over is the reason for why Spaniards speak horrible English. How can they become familiar with the sounds of English if they don’t hear it on a daily basis?
Madrid is the largest city in Spain and is comparable in size to Toronto. This is probably the largest city I have visited so far on my trip, and it may be the largest I will visit in Europe. It has a metropolitan population of roughly 6.5 million people. You can just imagine the amount of people in the downtown core during the day and night. The pedestrian traffic is astounding. On my first day I walked down Calle San Bernardo to Gran Via. Gran Via is one of the largest, if not the largest, streets in Madrid and is lined by tons of shops and restaurants. The traffic on this street is also disgusting so my suggestion would be to avoid it if you can. Many of the streets from Gran Via lead south to Puerta del Sol which is the centre of Spain. Here you can find Kilometre Zero which is where the roads to the rest of Spain begin, theoretically speaking. From here I headed northeast along Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de Cibeles. Here there is a very beautiful fountain in the centre of the roundabout called Fuente de Cibeles and just to the east there is the Post Office. You can go to the top of this building, I think for free, at certain times of the day and get a great view of the city. Unfortunately when I went they were closing for siesta so I couldn’t get to the top for some good photos. I then walked south through the park along Paseo del Prado and then headed back west toward Puerta del Sol. It is a good idea to use this place as an anchor point in case you get lost in the city. There is a metro station nearby and it will be easy to find your orientation again.
Southwest of Puerta del Sol is Plaza Mayor. A large square surrounded on all sides by restaurants and apartments. The place is full of people, tourists and locals, and others trying to sell little toys and such for children. There isn’t a lot going on here during the day, but it is nice to get away from the crowds in Puerta del Sol and take a breather. From there I continued to Teatro Real and Opera station. I didn’t enter the building so I can’t share what the interior looks like, but I am sure it wouldn’t hurt for someone else to do it when they head to Madrid. I then met Nadia and another friend to help with some shopping for a wedding. Once that was finished, Nadia and I headed to a cafe where everything on the menu is 1 €! Even the beer! It is a good place to kill some hunger if you don’t feel like eating a big meal. I can’t remember the name unfortunately but it is on Gran Via between Calle de San Bernardo and Calle de Silva.
The next day was the day for my day trip to Toledo, the old capital of Spain. Located about one hour south of Madrid by train, it is really not difficult to get to and definitely a place you should see time permitted of course. This city is a fusion of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and elements from all three religions can be seen in the architecture of the city. When I arrived in Toledo station I took a bus for 2 € that drops people off in the city centre, a good way to avoid getting lost. From the stop I headed south to the Cathedral of Toledo.
At first I was not going to enter the building, but I decided that 8 € was not a bad price for entry and an audio guide in English. the guide gives you the freedom to walk through the Cathedral at your own pace and repeat the descriptions if needed. All I can say is that this cathedral was absolutely breathtaking. When I walked in I had no idea what to expect, but WOW it was gorgeous. The size is impressive and there was so much artwork inside and gold everywhere. There was an art gallery inside as well by artists such as Greco and Cèzanne, totally impressive. I could talk all day about this cathedral but in all honesty, it has to be seen in person to really appreciate the details of the entire structure. Overall the city is nice to walk through. Food is expensive because a lot of tourists visit, but deals can be found. I tried paella here which is a rice dish mixed with seafood or meat. Very tasty but at times can be too salty, so I would suggest asking them to hold the salt if it is something you are not used to eating. Toledo is also famous for mazapán, or marzipan as most of us know it. I bought of a few of these little treats and they taste fantastic. They are slightly different from marzipan but the concept behind them is the same. I decided to walk back to the station to catch my train to Madrid and as usual ended up getting lost in the maze of streets. I had to take a taxi with 5 minutes to spare and miraculously made it there on time. If I had missed the train I would have had to stay in Toledo overnight.
The rest of the trip brought more sight seeing. The most notable places I visited were the Parque de la Montana that contains the Temple of Debod, Plaza de España, and the Royal Palace of Madrid and Plaza de Oriente. There is quite a bit of green space in Madrid, making it a great place to raise children, but when you are in the centre of the city, all the concrete can become tiring. By the time I reached the temple I had already covered a lot of distance that day so it was nice to enter some green space and let my mind relax. The Temple of Debod was a gift from the Egyptian government to Spain as a sign of appreciation for Spain’s help with preserving temples in Egypt. It has stood in the park since 1968. The park is two tiered, with the temple and some landscaping on the top tier and then bike trails on the bottom tier. All the leaves were still green in late September making the park really enjoyable to walk through. After walking through this park a bit I headed to Plaza de España to see square and the monument erected there. The park is laid out very nicely actually, there is a lot of shrubs and trees with a large fountain. The monument honours Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the novel Don Quixote. The monument even has statues depicting some of the main characters of his book. My father called me while I was here and I have to admit that it is really nice when your family surprises you with a phone call, especially when you are alone for so long. While on the phone catching up with my Dad, I walked over to the Royal Palace. Because this landmark is so close to Puerta del Sol there were obviously many tourists around. Well the palace is gorgeous, and the church beside it is even more so. The park in front called Plaza de Oriente is really well laid out and has plenty of space to sit and enjoy the surroundings.
My first impression of Spain was a positive one. The city was clean and I never felt unsafe there, except when the protests would start. I was in Puerta del Sol one evening during a protest and thankfully I had left early because it turned violent halfway through. Police presence is high in tourist areas so usually nothing out of the ordinary happens. The weather there was pleasant in September, totally perfect for walking around all day. However, Madrid is not the definition of Spain. A traveler should visit other cities as well to get a taste of what Spain is, the country is pretty big after all. That’s a lot of ground to cover.
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