Monday, October 19, 2015

Spain Days 3-5

Day 3 - Madrid
We arrived in Madrid by train around 2:30pm and had a quick taxi ride to Hotel Atlantico.  After a short siesta to get our bearings, we headed out to explore a little.  We were hungry and believe it or not, we went in search of pizza.  Yelp said there was a 5-star place close by.  We found it, but decided we weren't as hungry as originally thought, so we hit the shopping street Gran Via instead.  The streets were teaming with throngs of people.  It was like walking in packed crowd exiting a stadium.  We've been in crowded cities before but nothing like this. By the time we made it back to the pizza place, it was closed.  We missed our window for late lunch.  So, we yelped another one that didn't close for siesta.  We went to Pizzeria-Trattoria which was about a ½ mile walk.  The crust was perfect, which made for a good pizza. 

After dinner we walked to Puerta del Sol & Plaza Mayor, the historic core of the city. Due to the volume of people and temporary structures in the plaza, we didn't get to enjoy the space as we'd hoped.  The plaza was set up for some type of show/concert and was not the open space we expected.  Loads of people everywhere.  We made our way back to the hotel.  We asked if the sidewalks are always so full of people and the consierge said no.  We learned a new European store, called Primark, had it's grand opening the day we arrived and the store was about 2 blocks from the hotel.   They had areas of the sidewalk cordoned off with gates so people could queue up in line to get in the store.  The lines went around the block and down the alley behind our hotel ... ca-razy!

Day 4 - El Escorial and Botin
We had a leisurely start to the day and after breakfast made our way to the train station.  We took a 1-hour train to El Escorial.  This 16th century palace was built more as a symbol of power rather than elegance.  It was built at a time when Catholic Spain felt threatened by Protestant heretics.  It is about 650 feet long and 500 feet wide, has 2,600 windows, 1,200 doors, and more than 100 miles of passages.  400 years ago the "extremely Catholic" King Philip II ruled his empire and directed the inquisition from El Escorial.  The building was conceived by Philip II to serve several purposes: a grand mausoleum for Spain's royal family, as a monastery to pray for the royal souls, as a "small" palace to use as a "get-away", and as a school to embrace humanisim in a way that promoted the Catholic faith. This place is immense.  The Pantheon Real (Royal Pantheon)  is several stories deep inside the palace.  It is the guilded resting place of 26 kings and queens - 4 centuries of Spanish royalty.  There are two coffins waiting, unmarked, for the current king and queen.  We climbed the stairs into rooms filled with tombs of lesser royals leading to the Pantheon de los Infantes.  Rooms and rooms filled with the remains of various royal children who died before the age of 7.  There are also a couple rooms filled with the remains of babies.  

The town of El Escorial is slightly different from other towns we've visited in Spain.  It has a hint of bavarian architecture and we suspect this comes from King Charles V, Philip's father, who was from Hapsburg.  

We might have stayed longer to visit some of the other buildings on the grounds, but we had reservations at the famous Botin restaurant. So we hoofed it 20 minutes back to the train station for the 1-hour long ride back to Madrid.  Botin holds the Guinness World Record for longest running restaurant in the world.  Their business card states: Casa Fundada En 1725.  Some of it's fame is derived from the fact Earnest Hemingway frequented the restaurant.  The building has been renovated and some of the floors repurposed over the years; however, now it only serves as a restaurant.  The line was easily 50 people deep when we arrived for our 8 pm reservation.  Theyquickly  funneled us into the door and up the stairs to tables.  These waiters really earn their keep, all the food and beverages are run up and down the stairs on foot (and it is a 3 story building!).  We had croquettes to start, their famous suckling pig, filet mignon, green beans with jamon along with sangria for dinner, and white chocolate cheesecake and pineapple with caramel sauce for dessert.  The pig was delicious but our favorite dish of the evening was the beans and ham, believe it or not.  

Day 5 - Madrid
First thing this day we headed out the door to Palacio Rael (Royal Palace).  It is considered by many to be Europe's third-greatest palace and has a sumptuous interior.  The palace is the product of several centuries.  Philip II made the wooden fortress which stood on this site, his governing center when he established Madrid as Spain's capital.  The current structure was buillt by Philip V who wanted his own private Versailles to match his french upbringing.  The palace has been added on to over the years and now boasts 2,800 rooms full of luxurious tapestries, probably three times as many chandeliers, frescoes by Tiepolo, priceless porcelain and bronze decor covered in gold leaf.  The palace still hosts ceremonial functions including formal state receptions and royal weddings.  It is here where we also saw the Spanish Royal Crown, the Spanish Throne and the Royal sceptre.

Next up Museo Nacional del Prado.  We saw works by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, Diego Valazquez as well as several Italian and Flemish masters.  Goya's black paintings were creepy and disturbing.  His other works were much more enjoyable to view.  We found  we really like the Flemish paintings.  There is a huge collection by Peter Paul Rubens.  We learned there are so many Flemish paintings in the Prado because Spain rulled the Netherlands between the years 1581-1714.  

We spent the later afternoon/early evening shopping.  Madrid is a fantastic place to shop.  Loads of choices and very reasonable prices.  Still hoards and hoards of people on the sidewalks, now add vats of pouring rain and umbrellas to the mix.  Yoy!!  We made our way back to the hotel to dry off and take a quick siesta before heading out for dinner.  

Dinner was a-mazing.  We went to this Taco joint close to the hotel, Takos El Pastor.  It is a tiny place with maybe 20 seats and you order at the counter.  Tacos are a euro each and cocktails were 3-5 euros depending on what you ordered.  The tacos are small, open face with just seasoned meat of your choice and maybe a few diced onions or cheese.  We enjoyed the beef, chorizo, chicken and pork.  We feasted and spent very little.  Oddly enough, we enjoyed these tacos better than the dinner at Botin.  

above: view of Madrid from palace grounds

Day 6 - Off to Seville 
Back on the high speed train to Seville ... more to follow

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