Aug 10, 2006


Once leaving Pamplona, our journey continued southward to the capital city of Madrid. Much like on the bus ride to Pamplona, we took a half hour break or so at a rest stop in the middle of no where. Unlike the day before, this place was rather small, but it served its purpose.

As a side note, I heard lots of Celine Dion on the radio on the bus ride. Apparently she's big in Spain. And mullets. For you mullet fans, the mullet is alive and well in Spain. Funny how I grouped those two things together. Moving on.

It was mid afternoon when we made it to Madrid, and once inside the station we proceeded to the metro... which was really cheap... and then on to our hostel. We checked in, immediately dropped our bags and headed straight for the shower. We both took rather long showers, but it felt so good to be clean.

After drying off and getting settled I was hungry. Sarah had her heart set on paella, so we ventured forth in search of a decently priced restaurant. We stopped at a few shops, and noticed several post cards, statues, and other random collectibles of a statue of a bear eating out of a tree. As it turns out, El Oso is the symbol of Madrid, much like grapes are to Lodi. The bear must be the city seal because I saw it on pretty much everything. Man hole covers, public garbage cans, the tops of signs... everywhere. It started a whole day and a half of bear sightings.

I know it's nothing impressive, but I found it amusing.

Eventually we passed through Puerta del Sol, where incidentally, we came across El Oso y el Madroño. With how large the post cards made it look, we expected it to be bigger. But it's obviously very popular and I snapped quite a few shots.
And then around from the other side, over looking the Puerta. A few streets down in this sort of outdoor mall we found our restaurant and ate paella. It was good, but I prefer tappas.

Next on the list was finding a place to watch the World Cup Final. We came across a place with a big screen TV, ordered a few cokes that came in these cute little glass bottles, and sat and watched the game. The crowd was pretty pro-Italian... I guess no one likes the French. I didn't care who won, I just wanted a good game. Sarah used to play, and then was a referee for a few years, so it was great to have her commentary. Especially since the television commentary was in Spanish. I don't know if you've ever listened to soccer commentary, but it's pretty quick, at least this side of the Atlantic. And then put it in a foreign language. I tried to keep up, but really... it wasn't happening.

After the game we headed back to our hostel, and saw a few people in the streets celebrating Italy's victory. I'm loving the painted face.
Once back at our hostel we basically went straight to bed. Not sleeping the night before in Pamplona had taken its toll, and any sleep we'd gotten on the bus wasn't the most restful. The next morning we checked out and then tried to decide where to go first. I never really had time to research Madrid, and we were basically playing it by ear. All we knew was when we had to be to the airport and how to get there. And so we started walking, luggage and all.

Just so I don’t confuse you, I’ve thrown in a map for good measure. Keep in mind that this is significantly cropped and probably only covers about 1/8th of the city. Yep, Madrid is big.
We walked through Puerta del Sol and down to the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo.
Here is Neptune, or King Triton as Sarah so eloquently called him. We're the UCSD Tritons, so I guess we should have some school pride. We crossed 8 lanes of traffic to get pictures, and were basically walking in flower beds around it to stay off the street. Hey kids, don't try this at home. We saw several fountains... they like fountains in Madrid. Basically at major or even minor intersections they create a plaza and a round about, around a fountain. Or a statue... but usually a fountain.

Sometime after Neptune we made a left and walked by el Museo del Prado, that currently has a Picasso exhibit on. Due to time constraints, we didn't go in. I know, I know, I'm horrible and I missed out on some amazing art and culture. Forgive me for wanting to see more of Madrid.
And just in case you miss those large orange signs, we have...We then saw a Church under construction that I believe was la Iglesia de los Jeronimos. The inside of the Church was nice, but it was nothing compared to the tower outside. Of course, the tower was covered in scaffolding. Next was el Museo de Ejercito and la Plaza de la Lealtad.

Following the fountains we walked down el Paseo del Prado and saw the Robert Indiana outdoor exhibit. The sad part was that someone decided to tag the pieces, so most of them had at least some graffiti.
Once again, although it's obvious I didn't take this... my apologies for the over exposure. The sad thing is that this is under exposed. I guess it's just bright every where in Spain. Among other things we passed the Plaza de Cibeles with the Palacio de Comunicaciones as well as a fountain of Cibeles in a chariot. Cibeles herself...And then Cibeles with el Palacio de Comunicaciones as the back drop. Impressive building isn't it?

Are all the Plaza's confusing you yet? Thought so. Don't worry, there's more. In this Plaza there is also el Banco de España and the headquarters of the Spanish Army. For the record, they wear very funny plastic looking hats. Think black Devo beehives with a flat brim in the back. It was something straight out of lego land.

We then continued down Paseo de Recoletos which is a tiled pedestrian walkway in the middle of several lanes of traffic. It's also flanked by more fountains and trees.

Next came la Plaza de Colón, where there were, not surprisingly, more fountains and a statue of Christopher Columbus. There was also a large Spanish flag, and we spent forever trying to get a shot of it unfurled in the wind. It took quite a few takes I must say.I know the flag isn't blowing in the wind here, but I wanted to give you an over all feeling for la Plaza from across the street. The statue of Columbus is to the right, with the fountains in front. Beneath la Plaza is the Centro Cultural de la Villa, hence the sign. But oh look... flag.

There were also interesting modern block sculptures behind the statue of Columbus with some great quotes carved into the stone. Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that these were designed by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.
It was also ridiculously hot. When we finally made it to a subway for food, I finished the large drink so quickly I wondered where it had gone. Think 32 ounces in about 5 minutes.

After lunch we back tracked down the Paseo de Recoletos to the Plaza de Cibeles before turning onto the Calle de Alcalá which incidentally runs into the Puerta de Alcalá. Hey, at least it makes sense right? We then entered el Parque del Buen Retiro, our final destination for the day. Inside the park is the Estanque del Retiro, a large man made lake complete with cat fish, koi, and a statue of Alfonso XII. Who is he? I don't really know.

But according to whoever cast this statue, he looks like the guy on horseback...I had a package of cookies in my bag, and the ducks looked to be pretty hungry, so we decided to feed them. The problem was that the cookies had chocolate between them and had already significantly melted. We didn’t think chocolate was good for birds, so we took out the cookies, licked off the chocolate, and then threw the cookies in the water. I think one made it in chocolate and all, but the ducks didn’t seem to mind. Neither did the fish. It was good fun for about 5 minutes or so.
Next came el Palacio de Cristal, this gorgeous building that I guess was inspired by the once standing Crystal Palace in London.
For obvious reasons, I absolutely loved this building. And the refraction up close was simply beautiful. To be honest, I don't know why the sky is purple. I think I confused my camera.

Even the floor is reflective, and for some reason they had this really cool idea to let people inside. You walk up the front steps and this lady hands you a pair of socks for free, so that you can walk around inside. Unfortunately, you're not supposed to take pictures. Supposed to being the key phrase.

Of course, the only one I could sneak was while hiding behind a pillar and you can't see any of the reflected or refracted light... but it really was beautiful inside.

This is going to sound horribly non-descriptive, but from that point on we really just saw more statues, gardens, and fountains. The only two notable items would be El Angel Caído which I guess is the only statue in the world to honor Lucifer the fallen angel, and the rose garden towards the exit.

I'm glad we saw the rose garden. I think it's safe to say that it is the largest I have seen while here so far, and it was adorable. I have quite a few pictures because it was so darn cute, but I'll limit it to two because I know some of you really have no interest in seeing more flowers.
Eventually it was time to hop the metro to the airport in order to catch our flight home for some much needed rest.
This shot would be perfect if it weren't for the guys head. Anyway...

To be honest, I think if I'd done a little more research I might have enjoyed Madrid more. I liked what we saw, but I think the city had more to offer that we didn't get to see. The time constraint certainly took its toll. But even if we'd been there longer, I don't think I could have loved it near as much as I did Barcelona.

Not even close...

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