Thursday, April 19, 2007

Real Madrid

Puerta de Europa, Madrid

MADRID... (There are lots of photo links in this story)
flickr photo link: <Madrid, Apr 07>
flickr photo link: <Madrid Bullfights, Apr 07>
05 Apr 07 IB3183 DUB/MAD 1835/2200
09 Apr 07 IB3186 MAD/DUB 1615/1740
Continuing our tradition of quick European Vacations from Ireland, we ate and drank our way through Madrid over the Easter weekend. We loved the parade of strange religious costumes through the streets & alleys on Good Friday. We raved about the grilled prawns in the tapas bars. The art and architecture are not to be missed, but plan your time carefully. And the bullfights, which are something you only have to see once, but are part of the history and culture of this great city.
We flew from Dublin to Madrid with Iberia. Dublin Airport was far calmer than expected and we got to our gate in no time at all. Nice airline, smooth flight. The new Madrid Barajas Terminal 4 is huge and sweeping in scale, more in kind with Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong Airports than any other European Airport. Took a cab to the hotel. The freeways into Madrid are quick & seamless, giving you a distinct impression of being very new (and so much better than Ireland!) Our home for 4 nights was the 2 star Hostal Persal (€99/nt), in the absolute heart of the historic quarter of Madrid (100 yards from the Puerta del Sol, and very near the Plaza Mayor and the Prado, Thyssen & Reina Sofia Museums). The continental breakfast ran till 11am, which was great for us!
Joe... I slept in big time on Good Friday. Didn't get outside the hotel until early afternoon, and found some lunch at a place with a person inside an inflatable chicken suit. Not bad. Clare then spied a little Tapas Bar that soon became our favourite in the area (La Zapateria/The Shoemaker) which had grilled prawns in sea salt (absolutely lipsmacking), octopus, meat kebabs & paella. And of course bottles of the local red (very drinkable), and glasses of Cerveza (beer). Our average bill there was about €35 for 2, including drinks. We then retreated back to our hotel room and did the very Spanish siesta thing.
Clare... I decided that as it was Good Friday, I really should go to Mass. I'd checked with the hotel reception and identified the 2 main "must do" mass churches in downtown Madrid - Basilica of Crist de Medinacell and Church of San Pedro el Viejo Nuncio. I chose the Church of San Pedro (built in 1202 on top of the mosque that was here in the Muslim district in the middle ages), as it was the smaller and much older church of the two. At Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, in downtown Kenmore, Brisbane, the two biggest and well attended masses of the year are Good Friday 3pm mass and Midnight mass on Christmas Eve. With this in mind I actually dressed decently and wandered off through the back lanes of old Madrid (Real or Royal Madrid). On my way down I noticed large numbers of people of all ages heading off in the opposite direction, very well dressed including full length fur coats, yes real animal fur, this is Spain, the land of the bullfights!
I eventually found the Church of San Pedro and sat down for mass which was sparsely attended, to my surprise. With no priest in sight the Stations of the Cross started, led by a lay attendant. So 20 minutes later it was all over. Apparently Saturday is the big day for Easter mass here. There was a small stall with religious items for sale. I bought a magnet of a saint and 2 post cards of the Mary and Jesus statues/icons ? from San Pedro. The Mary and Jesus "statues" were made of wood - quite realistic - standing on a "bed" of silver or gold that has been built to be carried around. After the mass that wasn't, I wandered off and just started popping into churches I found - loads of them. All were different, very different styles of architecture and interiors. Every one had different "statues", particularly of Mary, standing on silver or gold "beds". After the third one I was wandering through the back lanes and stumbled upon a procession of people (men, women & children) dressed liked black Ku Klux Clan people. I thought THIS IS MADRID, and just started following the procession through the laneways. I found the procession around 7.45pm. Later I found out it had started at 7pm and didn't end until 11pm. It didn't travel too far at all, but took a very slow route via small laneways dating back to the 1200's. This is what the ladies in fur coats were doing, following the procession. The people dressed like the black Ku Klux Clan were carrying large candles, others were very, very well dressed women in black "widow" clothes from head to toe, and others were carrying the Mary Statue on a silver bed. Yes, solid silver. It took around 12 men and women to carry it with many rest stops along the way. It was a cold night with frequent showers (the weather in Ireland was actually much better). Even the small children in the procession made it all the way to the church of Inglesia la Santa Cruz. At this point the police escort closed ranks and no one other than the parade people could get into the church. I think the procession of Saint Dolores started in 1592. Pity I can't read the Spanish brochure that the kids were selling. Half way through I went back and got Joe from the hotel and we got some great pics.
The next day (Saturday) we made a concerted effort to be tourists and did the Madrid VISION open top bus tour, then did lunch at the Palace of Jamon (Ham Palace). Don't even start me on Spanish hams from pigs wandering free in the oak forests in the hills. Simply wonderful. Then off to do art: a portrait show at Fundacion Caja Madrid which included Andy Warhol, Picasso & Dali, then Escher's "The Art of the Impossible" near Puerta de Europa (the 2 leaning skyscrapers - really amazing). Then dinner back at La Zapateria followed by a long stroll around the old town. We ended our night at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés. Love chocolate, then this is definitely the place for you - a favourite haunt of many Madrileños, this place serves thick cups of chocolate with churros (long sticks of fried dough) in a white-marbled bar. It's been around for well over a hundred years. All diets on hold tonight.
On Sunday we started with a stroll through the huge El Rastro flea market. Then we started on the art again (it's SO easy to get around on the Madrid Subway system). We saw photos of Madrid from the 1950's to the present, then the large Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the best collection of European art this side of the Hermitage which holds Catherine the Greats collection. Gave the Prado and Reina Sofia a miss due to very, very long queues. (Joe says - the security guards in the museums here all carry guns - these guys are serious about keeping a hold of their art!) Then the bullfights. We had to see at least one bullfight for real. We saw 3 fights at Las Ventas and it's rather cruel. We cheered when one bull tore down the wooden stand in front of the matador, much to the consternation of the Spanish people sitting next to us. The real eye opener was the treatment of the final matador who must have been the best of the day and was carried out of stadium by a frenzied crowd of people and driven away with a police escort. Lots of excitement there!
Back to the city centre and a late night drinks and jazz session at the Central Cafe 2 doors from our hotel (stumbling distance). We had tapas and some serious drinks & cocktails whilst listening to the Lluis Coloma Trio, who were great. This was my type of bar, with a rum menu, which type of Havana Gold exactly did I want? And perfect daiquiris (lucky it was our last night).
The next day we headed back to Madrid Barajas after lunch only to discover our flight was overbooked and we had somehow been placed on standby. Clare produced her Gold Qantas Frequent Flyer Card, and we were immediately upgraded to business class for our flight back to Dublin. So we got on the plane and turned left (as they say). Now this is the life! Madrid was everything that Paris never was. The food, shopping and art are more easily found and enjoyed. Can't wait for Barcelona.
flickr photo link: <Madrid, Apr 07>
flickr photo link: <Madrid Bullfights, Apr 07>

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