Olé - Madrid - Day 1

Trip Start Apr 01, 2009
Trip End Jul 13, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hostel One Centro

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Today, I woke up to catch the early train from San Sebastian to Madrid. The five hour train ride on the Spanish train line Renfe was not bad at all. I sat in Preferente class where I was served an excellent breakfast of croissants, omelets, sausage, toast, OJ and coffee. One of the Star Wars movies was played during the trip, but I missed most of it because I was asleep almost the entire time. The train ride would have been much shorter, but the train had to make 6 stops along the way.

I arrived in Madrid Chamartin train station at around 1PM to a cold and overcast day. After stopping by the Oficio de Tourismo for some quick advice and information, I hopped on the metro to La Puerta del Sol to find my hostel. The metro line in Madrid is very clean, efficient and safe, so it was easy to navigate to where I needed to go. La Puerta del Sol is right in the middle of everything! Sol is actually the geographical center of not only Madrid, but also the geographical center of Spain. The best way to describe Sol is that it is the Times Square of Madrid. After the 20 minute ride from Chamartin station, it took me only 15 minutes to find my hostel, One Centro. The hostel is probably the best hostel I have stayed in so far. The hostel is very clean, the staff is very friendly and the location could not be more perfect!

After settling into my new digs, I got a recommendation from Bruno on where to get a quick bite to eat and what to check out in the afternoon. Bruno recommended that I head to one of his favorite restaurants, which was located in Las Huertas, which is about 10 minutes from the hostel. When I arrived at the restaurant, I really didn't know what to think. The restaurant looked like it hadn't been cleaned since 1985, but after some convincing by the owner, I took a deep breath and dove right in. The owner recommended some sort of stew and a carne (steak) dish. The stew consisted of cabbage, pork beans, and potatoes in a broth. The stew honestly did not look very appetizing, but was surprisingly very tasty! The meat dish was good, but nothing special. After a good meal, I headed off to Parque de la Montana to see the Egyptian temple, Templo de Debod, and catch the sunset over Madrid.

After about 10 minutes of walking, I began to hear a faint noise in the distance and noticed people walking in the direction of the noise. I became curious, so I followed. The noise, which I finally determined to be the sound of drums, became louder and deeper with each step. I turned a corner and the massive Palacio Real was in front of me and a mass of people had gathered in the square. As I approached the crowd, the deep beating of drums became almost intimidating. As I approached the crowd, I saw hundreds of people wearing pointed black, purple, and red hoods slowly walking to the beat of the drum. At first, I honestly felt a little scared because I had never seen anything like it. The hoods are very reminiscent of the hoods worn the Ku Klux Klan, so that might explain the strange feeling that I had. I asked one of the people in the crowd what was going on and he said that it was an Easter procession in honor of Semana Santa. The procession was one of the most incredible events I have ever witnessed in my life! (http://www.gomadrid.com/semana-santa/) See the many pictures. The videos will have to wait. The files are huge and take a very long to upload!

After watching the procession for about 45 minutes, I made my way to the beautiful Parque de la Montana. The park provided a great view the Palacio Real, Catedral de la Almudena and Madrid! After gazing out at the city for about an hour, I headed back in the direction of the Palacio Real. Along the way, I stumbled across the Plaza de Espana where a monument to Miguel de Cervantes stands. The monument features a massive statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I snapped a few additional pictures of the Palacio Real and Catedral de la Almudena and passed through the lively Plaza Mayor. In Plaza Mayor, I stopped into the famous Torre del Oro Bar Andalú (http://www.torredeloro.wellsoc.org/) for a few beers before tasting my first, but certainly not last, Bocadillo de Jamon at Museo del Jamón (http://www.museodeljamon.es/). I then headed back to my hostel for a good nights sleep!
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